He's not really in this game, alas.
If you say “archaeologist” most people these days will probably think of Howard Carter or Indiana Jones, people exploring Egyptian ruins and digging-up long-lost treasure. Those in the UK may even think of Tony Robinson in a pair of big grey shorts alongside that bloke in the hat saying “ooh-arr, oi be foindin’ a noice bit of Roman paaaartery” in the middle of a field somewhere near Bath. This game, The Archaeologist, doesn’t seem to feature much in the way of either representation, though, in fact I’m not sure what it’s all about.
You see, this game was published as part of a covertape compilation back in 1985 for something called “Spectrum Computing” which I’m guessing was a magazine. Apart from that, I can’t really find out much about it. There’s a very brief plot on the title screen about entering a volcano and passing through the Earth’s core collecting artifacts along the way before emerging out the other side. That’s it – no name for the character, no rational to what he’s doing – nothing. Maybe he does it for kicks. Anyway, I’m not going to talk about an anonymous character again so, for the purposes of this review, I’m going to assume it’s Tony Robinson having decided to do a Time Team episode after too much ale.
No wonder Bjork is so kooky if that's what Icelandic gardens look like!
On starting, we find Tony standing on the edge of a volcano ready to enter the depths and get collecting. It all starts out well – everything is bright, colourful and moves quickly and the volcano actually looks like a volcano. There’s none of the bland look of Stay Kool here. There’s even a tune in the JSW “croaking frog” style but for some reason it defaults to “off” and you have to turn it on using the “t” key (and not just at the start – for every life) if you want to listen to it which, fortunately, you won’t.
Tony bounces around quite the thing and whilst the movement doesn’t feel as smooth and “clean” as in JSW or Fahrenheit 3000 it’s pleasant enough. Collecting the relics (which consist of such fabled antiquities as apples and 1980s telephones) and avoiding the nasties requires some skill, there’s also a nice sense of cohesion to the rooms with the underground theme being maintained throughout (well, except for the bits in Iceland at the start but we’ll forgive that) – this actually feels like exploring a network of caves and the various rooms can be quite atmospheric. There’s even a save/load feature which, whilst unusual in a game like this, is a nice idea.
I'd have expected some sweltering magma, not ZX Spectrums and disembodied Sigmund Freud lookalikes
Unfortunately, this game doesn’t quite work. The first reason for this is that it feels untested and unfinished. Some of the screens, once you get used to them, seem poorly designed and ill thought-out. Another problem is that, instead of altering the room design, the programmer has incorporated some sort of super-jump key which, when pressed, allows Tony to jump much higher than usual. This makes the feel of the game a bit farcical since it seems designed to be played on “normal” jump with the super-jump only existing to rescue Tony from the occasional bit of bad room design (although if you hold it down too long it kills our erstwile archaeologist so you have to be careful). Having two heights of jump (and especially implemented as they are here) feels all wrong in a JSW clone and has a bad effect on the playing experience – I’d much rather one height of jump to deal with problems all the way through thankyouverymuch. And, last but not least, this game has the same “infinite death” problem as JSW except in this game it’s less predictable.
The Archaeologist seems quite good at first but the game’s flaws (especially that ridiculous jump feature) chip-away at its good features leaving it decidedly average. I suppose it should remembered that it was a covertape game and, with that in mind, it’s not too bad but there’s real promise in this game that I’d like to have seen built-upon rather better.
Next up, we should have more underground exploration fun with Subterranean Nightmare.