I happened across this odd nugget online when looking for something else and accidentally started playing it. I haven’t properly sunk my teeth into a Spectrum text adventure for a couple of years and this one hit several of my sweet spots. First, written with The Quill which gives it that familiar feel shared by many classic Zenobi games. Simple “[GO] NORTH“, “VERB NOUN” constructions and standard four-letter abbreviations (“EXAM” everything, “GET SWOR“). That font, God I love that font. The Pac-Man/Hello From The Magic Tavern colour scheme, black-on-yellow, the inverse of most text-based games I remember. Simple turn-based play, without any auto-WAIT “Time passes…” hurry-up messages. Travel directions are sensibly reciprocal, not like the occasional hellish twisty-pathed game which lets you go NORTH, but makes you go WEST to get back to where you were.
At the link above World of Spectrum describe Horrors of Blackskull Mountains as a 1985 freeware release. How and where it was released eludes me. I’d like to imagine having purchased The Quill and knuckled out a solid adventure author Andrew Bogue set it loose into the world, as a viral copy-as-copy-can game for anyone with access to a twin-tape deck and high-speed dubbing to enjoy. Who knows?
The game itself is a decent enough object-puzzle fantasy adventure. Or so it appeared on my first bloodhawk-dodging, jullypod-boning playthrough (one which ended at the hands of a goblin). Reloading a save state I explored a little more, finding a village deserted for fear of the local vampire. Entering the last cottage, a vampire killed me. I can’t say I wasn’t warned. The lack of un-signposted sudden deaths in a fairly early Spectrum adventure struck me as a definite plus.
My next playthrough I thought to start again properly from the beginning. Heading north from the start I found a barn, inside which was a tractor! Having spent the past half hour exploring a reasonably generic fantasy world where the highest level of technology was the windmill I found that hilarious. Still do.
Commencing to map the game on a piece of A4 old-school stylee meant checking some of the paths not taken. This revealed that I had merely been incredibly lucky in not GO-ing the wrong way previously and experiencing the several unanticipated “Rocks fall, you die” moments which the early part of the adventure does in fact feature. Save early, save often, folks!
I haven’t mentioned what is probably the most distinctive thing about the game, which is the plot. For all that I’ve described the game as embodying standard fantasy tropes these are (largely) eschewed in favour of:
From what I’ve seen of the game so far these quest objects are either well hidden, or left out in plain sight for the incautious to try picking. Unlike other inventory objects they each have their own little graphic too.
You already know what I’m going to say about this game. The director Kevin Smith (he of Tusk) says about his friend Jason Mewes growing up that he never read a bad comic book, he found something to enjoy in them all. In the same way I guess I never played a bad game. Well, almost never.
If you like classic Spectrum text adventures maybe try downloading Horrors Of Blackskull Mountains from the World Of Spectrum link at the top of this article. You won’t be blown away but you definitely won’t be disappointed. The 3/10 mark on WoS is ludicrously off, I’d say an easy 7/10. It has a verb list for heaven’s sake!
Perhaps you better stick to arcade games!