Thursday, 16 October 2014

Chapter XXI: HeroQuest

While I could consider myself a gamer since the moment of my earliest memories, it wasn’t until I was about 10 that I discovered what kind of games I did really like. Since then, and throughout the next twenty years, almost every of my gaming hours were spent with RPG’s. The game that changed everything was Hero Quest.

On a superficial level it’s hard to understand why that game had such an effect on me, since the RPG’s elements were very lightweight, and unknown to me at the time, it was just a conversion of a simple board game. When me and my cousin Walter The Baptist first tried the game, we had a bit of difficulty in understanding the rules, and for some time we couldn’t even attack the monsters. Most of our time playing was just running away from them and trying to survive as much as we could. I can picture some kind of Benny Hill running dynamics through those dungeon corridors. But even so, I loved that game.

One day, while visiting a relative, and with both of us being totally bored, it occurred to me how to finally face those orcs on equal footing. I couldn’t wait to get to Walter’s house to try it. At the time I had no doubt that it would work, and the sound of my first vanquished foe is still very much carved into my memory. It was a glorious day.

Eventually I learned through Amiga Power that this was a conversion of a very popular board game in the UK. Unlucky me for having been born in this forgotten Atlantic soaked rectangle. What would I give to play with that board game.

Many years later, in 2003 to be precise, I went on a road trip through Ireland with my sister, and we stayed in a hostel in the middle of nowhere. It was a strange hostel, filled with evasive cats and with owners that seemed to have slipped from some Lynchian nightmare. The hostel was empty except for us and a group that consisted of a middle aged man and a group of teenage Asian girls. It’s seems like too much details for something with apparently not much importance, but the fact that the lounge from the hostel had a very old box of the Hero Quest board game made me remember every single detail of that day.

Even though the box and its contents were mostly ripped and vandalized by the children of countless of hosts past, it still couldn’t erase the big sneer on my face while I unloaded the contents of the box to play with them. My sister was baffled by my reaction and even after I told her why I was radiant, she found weird. She was probably thinking that the hotel had some kind of Shining-like effect on its hosts and was getting scared.

While there are some details of the game that have probably been forgotten by now, I still remember many of them vividly. One of them was the great intro, and the other is the wonderful music of the game. It’s impossible to separate those two, since I can still hum the intro song while visualizing the amazing medieval images that were being presented. The path to geekdom had just begun!

The intro didn’t disappoint, and it is as thrilling as I remembered. The music is absolutely marvellous, and it’s no wonder that it was composed by the same person who did Super Cars II and Harlequin’s soundtrack, Barry Leitch. The pictures presented conjure a foreboding and mysterious atmosphere, not the kind of light and harmless medieval imagery that is so prevalent in games and films. I wish more games did this kind of low fantasy aesthetics, because the only recent ones I can think of are Dark Souls and The Witcher.

The story is the same old “smart but ambitious young magician becomes impatient and steals knowledge too great for him to comprehend, becoming evil in the process”, but really who cares? I never cared much for plot in games, and I’m much more interested on how they are told and the atmosphere and vibe the game creates.

By reading some old reviews, many magazines claim that it’s best played as a multiplayer game, which is kind of news to me. I used to play it with the four characters, as if they were a regular party like in every other RPG. Staring the game gives us the option to pick any adventure module in any order. This was something that bothered me at the time, since I had to force myself to play the game in sequence to get some semblance of continuity, and it never recognized what quest I had already completed.

The RPG credentials of this game are barely visible, and I suppose it’s mostly because of the Games Workshop association. Character progression through levelling, one of the staples of the genre, is completely absent, while equipment is only available through the store between levels. I suppose that’s what this game tried to achieve, to be a faithful conversion of the boardgame, and on that front it succeeds admirably.

The art style of this version, most notably the colour palette, is impeccable, and even if the DOS conversion has more colours, it doesn’t look as good. It’s not uncommon that some systems limitations ended up favouring some games, as the Amiga 500 versions of Loom and The Chaos Engine (compared to DOS VGA and Amiga 1200, respectively) proved it. I suppose many graphics designers at the time just felt too excited at the opportunity of using extra colours and it that process the visual character of the games suffered.

Just like the intro music, the in game music is just beautiful. Epic, mysterious and melancholic, it sets the mood perfectly, and just shows how high were the sound standards in this era. If wasn’t for the Indie revival of the last few years (Hotline Miami yayy!), I don’t know if I would care for game soundtracks ever again.

While technically it’s a very pleasant and slick game, it doesn't have enough depth to remain interesting for a long time. The game becomes repetitive, and I quickly lost interest as the wonder of nostalgia started to fade. If I ever have the urge to play this again I think I’ll just stare at some in-game screenshots and fire up the soundtrack.


  1. Amazed to find someone else actually having enjoyed this game back in the day. I got this board game as a Christmas present in 1989 or 1990, whenever it was sort of new - can't remember precisely. This was because I had already played it at a friend's house earlier with other friends. It was really something epic to play this with 3 other kids, and we almost went through the whole quest book in a week or two. Never got to really enjoy the computerized version of it, because it lacked the atmosphere created by friends around a game board and all that stuff, but doesn't mean it wasn't a great game. Oh, the memories..

    1. At least you got to have the board game:) Yes, it must have been great to play it with friends. As for the atmosphere, one thing that i mention and it's quite a feat is that i think they managed to nail it, which isn't probably easy for a conversion of a board game. But yes, it's still not the same as the real thing.

      The closest I got to that was playing Fighting Fantasy books, and then swapping those books with my colleagues.