Friday, July 11, 2014

Game 153: The Return of Heracles (1983)

The Return of Heracles
United States
Stuart Smith (author); Quality Software (publisher)
Released 1983 for Apple II and Atari 8-bit; 1985 for Commodore 64
Date Started: 6 July 2014
Date Ended: 7 July 2014
Total Hours: 6
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 32
Ranking at Time of Posting: 141/223 (63%)
Ranking at Game #457: 308/457 (67%)

As we've seen from Fracas and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Stuart Smith was making some of the most original games of the era. They're relatively quick, challenging, nonlinear, and built for replayability, encouraging players to set challenges beyond the main quest. Most important, they're among a small number of games in the early 1980s based on classical mythology rather than Tolkien- or D&D-derived high fantasy.

In The Return of Heracles, action moves to ancient Greece, where the player can control up to 19 characters from Greek mythology, collaboratively or competitively, either at the same time or in succession if the previous selections die. (They start in different places, and I found it annoying to control more than one character at the same time, so I only played them in succession.) The list includes classical heroes and demi-gods, both male (Odysseus, Perseus, Castor, Ajax) and female (Hippolyte, Melanippe) as well as Pegasus. Each character has various strengths and weaknesses in terms of the game's attributes (strength, dexterity, speed, weapon skill), and a lot of them have special characteristics. Asclepius (the god of medicine) can heal other characters; Polydeuces fights well with his fists; Odysseus gets his dog Argo as a companion; and Palaemon, who starts weak, can literally become Heracles.

The action begins on the Peloponnesian peninsula. Note the bull in the upper-left and the "Trojan spy" in the upper right. These two have as much chance of attacking each other as of attacking me. There are treasures in the lower left and right and eight sub-areas to explore.

The real area corresponding to the above.

The environment of Heracles is in typical Smith style, with multiple portals changing the scale from half a continent to a single room in a few moves, multiple nested areas, and navigational mazes that make it difficult to get back where you came from. The action within these areas also maintains Smith's signature style, which I described in Ali Baba as "joyfully chaotic." Monsters wander on- and off-screen, attack the characters, attack each other, wander into traps, pick up treasure, and otherwise make a hash of any plans the player tries to make.

Exploring the Hellenic Peninsula is laughably deadly. In a longer, more serious game, all of its random perils would be frustrating, but here they're all part of the fun. Picking up treasure is particularly dangerous, with players alternately dislodging boulders that come crashing down on them, catching a disease from a corpse, or getting poisoned by an asp, with consequent losses in hit points and attributes. Janus, the god of portals, may decide he's sick of opening doors for you and smite you instead. There are a bunch of locations where a wrong step will cause you to play out some Greek tragedy, such as being dragged to the depths by nymphs, stumbling upon Artemis bathing and getting turned into a stag, getting killed by a thunderbolt from Zeus if you wander too far up Olympus, or having Selene petition Zeus to grant you immortality, which Zeus interprets as never letting you wake up.

I was just trying to walk through a door. Jeez.

Odysseus walks one square too far.

These events happen with absolutely no warning simply from stepping in the wrong (empty) square, so players would have to take careful notes to help inform future play-throughs. But after every death, you can choose another hero to continue the quest, so "death" isn't the end game until you run out of heroes.

Castor has just died, so I need to bring a new hero into the quest.

As for that main quest, it concerns completing 12 labors for Zeus. You can theoretically go to the Oracle of Zeus to get them one-by-one, then ask the Oracle of Delphi for hints, but it's easy enough just to stumble across them as you explore. By my account, the labors are:

  1. Recover the Golden Fleece
  2. Slay the hydra
  3. Rescue Penelope
  4. Find the treasure of Stymphalus
  5. Slay the minotaur
  6. Find the golden apples of Hesperides
  7. Rescue Helen of Troy
  8. Recover the Cattle of Geryon
  9. Kill the Mares of Diomedes
  10. Rebuild Thebes
  11. Kill the Nemean Lion
  12. Solve the riddle of the Sphinx

Seven of these are the same as Heracles's "twelve labours"; others allude to other Greek heroes or themes. I really think Smith missed an opportunity to simulate cleaning the Augean Stables.

This screen, with your current score, comes up at the end of each task completion.

Most of the quests have some kind of associated reward. For instance, the Nemean Lion's skin turns into a nice set of light armor, the Hydra's blood permanently poisons your weapons, and killing the minotaur gets you his axe. When you slay the Serpent of Ares to get to Thebes, Ares curses you by turning you into a snake. I couldn't tell whether that was a good or bad thing.

Each character starts with a set of equipment (sword, dagger, and armor) and has some default proficiencies with his weapons. As the game progresses, weapon proficiency increases, but you lose it (as well as any poisoning bonus) if you switch weapons, so it's good to find a nice set early in the game and try to stick with them. Frequent shops sell weapons and armor for new characters, or for when weapons break (there's a small chance with every successful hit). There are also shops that sell poison and hemlock for weapons and weapon and armor blessings.
Purchasing an armor upgrade.
As with previous Smith games, combat is mechanically simple but mathematically complicated. If you attack from one square away from enemies, you fight with your sword; if the enemies occupy the same square, you fight with your dagger (or fists, if the dagger is broken). Enemies frequently leap into your square for close combat, and you'll often get into a situation with multiple monsters pig-piled on the same square, each fighting everyone else.
Having been turned into a stag for the crime of seeing Artemis bathing. I didn't last much longer against the hounds.
Accuracy and damage in combat depend on strength, dexterity, the weapon, your weapon skill, the size of the monster, whether the opponent is resting, defending, or unconscious, and a bunch of other factors. Maximizing your chances in combat means avoiding it as much as possible until you can improve these various factors.
When enemies die, the game has fun with metaphors.
What I love about Fracas, Ali Baba, and Heracles is that enemies aren't just generic "monsters" but rather NPCs with their own factions, travel patterns, and goals. The manual catalogs the attributes of all 250 of them, including beasts (boars, lions, rats), humans (treasury guard, inebriated thief, not-very-smart thief), and mythological characters and creatures (minotaur, Cerberus, Erymanthian boar). Some will be hostile, some not depending on their preferences or whether you get in their way. These NPCs can collect treasure, fight each other, and do everything the hero can do. They can even solve some of your quests by killing key enemies (though you still get the credit). In Fracas, they could increase in skill through combat, though that mechanism doesn't happen in Heracles even for the player; the only benefits to fighting enemies is treasure, quest points, and that they stop fighting you.

In Minos's palace, I take on one guard to the right while the other is occupied with a rat.

Character development is thus mostly through equipment upgrades and special encounters that increase statistics, though you can also pay at a gym to raise strength, dexterity, and weapon skill (regrettably, there is a maximum to these upgrades). Money contributes quickly to encumbrance, and treasure would quickly lose its utility except that your multiple character deaths ensure that you'll frequently be needing to get a new hero up to speed to take on the next task. I'm not saying it's impossible to get through the game with the starting hero, just that you'd need a lot of practice and luck, and you'd have to plan the order of events carefully (or do a lot of save-scumming). 
I contemplate a strength upgrade.
As I played Heracles, I had a lot of fun seeing how Smith modeled classic scenes from mythology. The manual has an extensive glossary--it takes up more than half the manual--and I enjoyed reading both it and Wikipedia entries and filling in holes in my education. I beat the cyclops, Polyphemus, in his cave; killed Troilus, Hector, Paris, and Aeneas on the fields before Troy; navigated the labyrinth on Crete; raided King Minos's palace; got rich in the Laureion Mines; killed the flock of Stymphalian Birds; and otherwise traipsed through a thousand years of mythology, completely messing up the canon, in about six hours.

Kids, you all know the story of Perseus and the minotaur, right?

With 19 characters to exhaust, I don't think it's terribly hard to win the game, but the point isn't to win so much as to win with the highest score possible. You get points from completing Zeus's tasks and bonus points for completing them in a limited number of moves and without the loss of any heroes. Apparently, 10,000 points is the maximum; in the manual, Smith says he achieved 9,500 and thinks "9,650 might be possible with phenomenal luck." In about six hours of play, with several false starts and a lot of bumbling around, I was able to get a score of 6,664.

Upon completion of the final task, the game congratulates you, notes that Greece no longer has any need for heroes, and says that the survivors "ride off in chariots of fire to Elysium for an eternity of games and civilized life." You then get a portrait of Zeus.

Zeus: the original "advice animal."

In short, The Return of Heracles is Smith's usual combination of frenetic fun and education. I wouldn't like it for a long game--too much depends on luck and hardly anything on skill and tactics--but it's an original, enjoyable experience for a day of gaming. In a GIMLET, I give it:

  • 4 points for the game world. Why aren't there more RPGs set against Greek mythology? Smith's worlds are rarely very self-consistent, instead liberally adapting themes and stories, but the glossary is a lot of fun and does provide some gameplay hints.

Perseus faces off against the heroes of Troy. He will die in this encounter, and it will be up to Jason to enter the city via the Trojan Horse and free Helen. To balance things out, I had Achilles find the Golden Fleece.

  • 3 points for character creation and development. Unfortunately, a weak part of the game. You get no experience from combat; the only development is plot-based or by purchasing training at the gyms, and it's easy to lose both when a hero dies and you have to start a new one. There are some neat considerations associated with the choice of heroes, though.

Castor was doing well before he got turned into a snake.

  • 2 points for NPC interaction. There really isn't any distinction between "monsters" and "NPCs" in this game, although some of the wandering creatures are in your "faction" and won't attack you. You have no dialogue options and only get messages from NPCs in a couple of places.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. There isn't much in the way of encounters or puzzles, but I'll give some weight to the quality of the monsters, each of whom has hand-set strength, speed, and agility level and marches about with his own agenda regardless of what you do. There are also some fun death "encounters" that have you play out tragic roles from mythology.
  • 3 points for combat. Like most of Smith's games, it's relatively devoid of tactics and based mostly on luck, although you do have the fun strategy of trying to get enemies to fight each other. There's no magic.
  • 3 points for equipment. There's a limited selection of weapons and armor, and nothing like potions or spell items to juggle, but I like the way you can purchase or find "upgrades" for your weapons, and the game rewards you for sticking to weapons that have been with you for a while instead of always jumping to the next upgrade.
  • 3 points for the economy. Although treasure can become overly-burdensome, it takes on a strong role because you have to keep getting new heroes outfitted and trained. You can also use treasure to buy weapon upgrades, attribute training, and hints from the Oracle of Delphi.

It's nice to know religion hasn't changed much in 2,500 years.

  • 3 points for the main quest which has a series of sub-quests and encourages you to maximize your point total with each by completing it quickly and with a minimal loss of heroes.

Do you suppose any player solved this without knowing the answer from mythology?

  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. Probably the weakest part of the game. Smith was never a great graphic designer--even the main screen and portrait of Zeus look pretty lame. Sound on the Apple II is shrill and piercing and best turned off. The interface is optimized for joystick control; those using the keyboard have to use the SPACE bar in place of a joystick button to cycle through commands. I also don't like the way you lose health if you accidentally walk into a wall.
  • 5 points for gameplay. Like most of Smith's games, the difficulty and length of the game are well-balanced. If it lasted a long time, the random events and randomness of combat would get tiring, but if those elements were improved, it would seem too short. The game is very replayable and mostly non-linear, especially given that the heroes all start in different locations.

This gives us a final score of 32, a little bit lower than I normally consider "recommended," but in this case let my text override the score. None of Smith's games are conventional RPGs, and thus they do poorly on my scale, but all have an ineffably enjoyable quality that transcends the common RPG of the period.

The December 1984 Computer Gaming World offers a review of the game from none other than Ken St. Andre of Tunnels and Trolls fame. St. Andre highlights what I think is an important point about all of Smith's games: "You can play poorly, but there is no way to do anything wrong . . . you will always be accomplishing something as long as you just move the characters." There are no "walking dead" moments in Stuart Smith's oeuvre, no way to do things out-of-order, and essentially no way to "break" the games. If you can't think of anything else to do, just kill the closest enemy. That's one more you won't have to face on some other screen.

Unfortunately, St. Andre then ruins his own review by making laughably nitpicking comments about Smith's use of Greek mythology, opining that "if you're going to tell the myth, tell it right." Wow. And people say I'm a snob.

Okay, maybe calling Helen "faithless" is a bit of a stretch.

This was Smith's second-to-last game. His last would come out the following year as part of the Adventure Construction Set. (Not counting the repacking of Heracles and Ali Baba as The Age of Adventure in 1986.) Owing to my DOS-only rule when I started blogging, I played his games out of order, hitting the Construction Set before experiencing Fracas, Ali Baba, and Heracles, and thus before I really understood what Smith was about. When I get to the appropriate point in 1984, I think I'll take anther look at the Construction Set (probably for one of the other platforms) and its packaged game, Rivers of Light, which I didn't win the first time through.

For now, I suppose it's back to Fallthru, though I think I've run out of things to try in that game. My next post might be a plea for help.


  1. I love love love when the world interacts with itself independent of the player. It's so lame when everything exists to service the hero. Unfortunately this gets wide-eyed looks from game designers who say, "If it doesn't serve the player, then why is it there?" The wretched fallout of "everything but the plot is irrelevant" writing.

    1. The completely unrelated game, Stalker: Call of Pripyat, had exactly that happen during the play-testing. Given enough dallying on the part of the player, the NPC's would actually complete the game themselves, as they were programmed to have the same goal you have.

      Unfortunately that was removed from the retail release, I would have loved to have felt like I was actively competing against opponents that could beat me to the end of the game.

    2. @Harland

      I'm quite divided on that issue. While I absolutely love independence of the game world I also loathe when games force me to play quickly in order to meet some arbitrary deadline.

    3. Are there many games that do that, though? Offer a world that operates independently from the player? You see SOME of those elements in The Elder Scrolls, but I'm hard-pressed to think of others.

    4. I think Dwarf Fortress' Adventure mode is the best example whee an RPG does it.

    5. Steven Peeler's (Soldak Entertainment) made a career out of turning out variations on the Diablo formula that feature things happening independent of the player. Depths of Peril has you running a player hero guild ("covenant) against NPC covenants vying over the same quests. Din's Curse has a bunch of different factions of monsters that will fight each other (and gain experience from the kills) as well as monster plots that will create detrimental effects on the dungeon or spawn ravening hordes that attack the town, etc. (And the NPCs in town can steal from one another and starve to death for lack of funds.) Then there's Drox Operative, which is described as being a mercenary ship in the middle of someone else's space 4X game.

    6. In the 7th Saga (SNES), you choose from one of seven of the king's apprentices at the start of the game- and the others are all on the same quest as you. While none of them can fully "win" before you, it is possible to get to the end of a dungeon, find out that another apprentice has already gotten the macguffin, and have to defeat them to get it. There's also elements like being able to team up with another apprentice and, depending on your character's relationships (the priest and demon don't get along, naturally) having one of them pick a fight with you in a pub.

      Too bad that beneath a few brilliant ideas like this, it's a pretty mediocre JRPG...

    7. Fallout 3 has quite a lot of this. The problem is that the radius in which it occurs around you is quite large, so there are a couple of area which you will arrive at and find a lot of the town already dead, or return to the same.
      Big Town is the worst case of this. The town is totally open for plot reasons, and you can use skills to train them in how to stay safe. I chose small guns, which teaches them to fight. BAD idea. The script for that only gives them one gun each, so they quickly run out of ammunition. Same with using the explosives skill to set up mines; the mains run out and then bam, no more town. The only safe one is stealth, which teaches them to hide when dangerous people arrive, and then you can actually return.

      But yeah, playing the game on consoles is a joke, since you can't resurrect important NPCs when they die, or more commonly, rescue them from the staging room when they fall out of the world through a 1x1 px flaw in the map.

  2. Concerning the riddle....

    1. I've always liked this one:

  3. If I had played that game as a child, this might have been my entry into the Greek mythology. Sounds like quick, good fun.
    I've always liked the Atreides, but apparently they do not appear here - their stories might have been too dark anyway...

  4. I played this often. The use of different heroes gives a different style of play each time. For example, if you use Pegaus, you cannot upgrade since a horse is not allowed in shops and gyms, though you can use found armor and weapons. Some characters, like the Amazons, start further away. Odyssesus seemed too weak. His famous intelligence is not a factor in the game. I suppose that is why they paired him with Argus.

    I found the music to be infectious. Perhaps it played better on my Atari computer. Even though I have not played this in decades, I still remember that theme like any good pop song.

    I don't think Smith was looking to make a CRPG as we now think of them. His games remind me of Steve Reeves' Hercules movies, simple adventures that you can have again and again. They don't take more than a couple of hours.

    You are right about Greek Myth being largely passed by in the CRPG world. I don't care that Smith makes a mess of myth. Euripides himself made Odysseus a villain in Women of Troy. There are at least two versions of the birth of Aphrodite and so on. If anything a game like this would stimulate someone to read the myths.

    1. I think the reason you see so few ancient-myth based CRPGs is what I'll call the Paladin problem.

      The ancient conception of Hero in most (western) cultures had little to do with behaving well, and a lot to do with behaving in ways that acquired honor (kleos), even if it involved or accompanied nasty behavior (see: Enkidu, Odysseus, Jason, Rape of the Sabine Women, Ragnar etc etc etc).

      With the spread of Christianity in the late Roman and early Medieval period, people behaved just as nastily, but the nasty parts are unacceptable and so get papered over into allegory or ignored (ie. Roman de la Rose, Froissart's Chronicles vs. A Distant Mirror).

      This trend continued (more or less) up through the Victorian period which so powerfully influenced Tolkien's characters (see: Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians for a humorous look at the hypocrisies), and into both D&D (as Paladin) and many early CRPGs, of which Ultima IV is the extreme example.

      And so today we've reached a point, where in CRPGs that let you play amoral or immoral characters (like Elder Scrolls) you have people writing thousands of posts justifying who they might possibly feel comfortable sacrificing at Boethiah's altar, rather than accepting that they're playing in a world where action that we might consider immoral today is perfectly acceptable so long as it achieves honorable ends (like gaining the favor of a god; to end on topic: see Iphigenia).

    2. The Cretan Chronicles (gamebook series) did a pretty good Greek-myth take where you had an honor stat and if you let it drop too far the player dies just as easily as if health dropped to zero.

    3. I don't think it's hard to set a game in a greekish world, I'd say CRPGs are by default set in greekish worlds.

      D&D was more influenced by the Greek tradition than any other mythos.

  5. One other thing. I remember when visiting Olympus, Poiseden turned my hero into a crab. This broke the game, since you cannot kill the hydra. Hydras and Crabs are friends in this game.

    1. There are a few outcomes like that. You just have to introduce a new hero.

  6. Btw, Trickster started his Quest for Glory 2 postings today!

    And to keep this comment slightly on topic, the only other Greek themed cRPG that I have played is QfG5, though I have only played it for 10 minutes at this point and put it aside so that I can play Savage Empire next. There must be more out there, but the Greek/Eastern Empire world is pretty far divorced from the Germanic/Western Empire world that American fantasy is so enamored with.

    1. The only other Greek-themed RPG I can think of is Titan Quest. It seems like Greek mythology is used more in action and strategy games than it is in RPGs.

    2. I think it's because for whatever reason, game designers decided that the best design for these games is to have you you play as heroes (for the most part) of the myths as opposed to letting you create your own character. That kind of design lends itself better to action games, but for RPGs most players don't want someone they didn't design themselves (except when playing JRPGs.). Still doesn't answer why the designers cling to the method, though. I would think it'd be fun to make your own hero, then he or she gets to meet and interact with the legends and gods.

    3. Looks like it's time to mess with the "upcoming" list a bit.

    4. There's a JRPG series called "Glory of Heracles" which are sadly just generic JRPGs with Greek names pasted onto things.

    5. There's also God of War (with very light RPG elements) and Rygar (also with very light RPG elements).

  7. This was one of my favorite games when I played it as a kid in the 80's. I managed to get about 8,900 points with careful planning using Achilles (whom I think is the fastest character in the game, with the possible exception of Pegasus). There are a few quests that are really tough to get a good amount of points on because their areas are so large, but you can balance it out by playing with two characters and timing the completion of a long quest with the immediate subsequent completion of an easy quest, thus getting maximum points on one to balance out the low score on the other one. Still, I never got close to 9,500.

  8. I played this games lots on the Atari 800. One element the Addict isn't figuring in here is that the game is built to support multiple players. (I believe the Atari 800 version supported up to four joysticks at once.) Having multiple characters for some of the fights improves the tactical options a bit, as you can have one character tie up an enemy in close combat while the others safely engage from a square away.

    In any event, the game is NOT designed to be played through with one character. I usually started with Cadmus to kill the Serpent of Ares, then used him to trigger the "deer little feet" event while sending the Serpent's Teeth off to mine for gold. Heracles then arrived, grabbed Theseus' stash of weapons and armor, prepped himself with money, killed the Lion, Minotaur and Hydra in the order and soloed the rest of the game.

    A cheesy tactic for maximizing your score: trigger the two quests that give you additional PCs as quickly as possible (means founding Thebes). Bring in most or all of the starting PCs. Move to the point where you are ready to complete all the remaining quests you can. You get 0 points for turn bonus on the first, and maximum on the others (often it will take 3-5 moves to complete each). Unfortunately, the Odyssey requires you to conquer Troy first, so it isn't quite possible to run the board.

  9. Zeus Advice animal made me giggle. I love that meme. I wouldn't want to take his advice thought.

    "See a hot chick?? Woo her by turning into a bull."

    1. Uh-oh. If Reddit finds its way here, we're in trouble.

  10. I think Smith is actually a bit of a design genius. I love reading about your experiences of his games. His design philosophy would have been perfect for the tablet era of gaming. Brutal, zany and short.

    1. Yeah, I was just thinking that this would make a great app game.

  11. This... This is one of the games from my childhood I remembered... but not it's name. I loved this game soooooo much (that and Mail Order Monsters, both from the 8-bit era).

    I aways picked Achilles personally, but didn't mind trying the one that was "Swift as an Arrow" in speed or something (Artemis? don't remember). I was too young to really plan out a Strategy and usually found myself trapped by "Carib and Scylla" or being turned into an animal from looking at some goddess... Ah good times !

    They should remake this game "a-la-FTL", no need for PS3 graphics, just a faithful remake (Mail Order Monster too heh).

    Thanks for the review, I can now put a title on that game =)
    -- Francois424

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Sorry for double post, still learning the ropes as someone that is registered.

    3. I also remembered this game once I saw the first gameplay screenshot, but I never would have remembered the name for the life of me. I remember not being very good at it at all, but I was less than 10 years old when I would have been playing it.

  12. "Why aren't there more RPGs set against Greek mythology?"

    Over in Japan, Data East created the "Glory of Heracles" RPG series, a set of four games released in the years from 1987 to 1994. None of these games were officially translated or released outside of Japan.

    After Data East went bankrupt in 2003, Nintendo and Paon acquired the series rights. They made the fifth and likely final RPG in the series, "Glory of Heracles" for the Nintendo DS. This game was officially released in North America, but didn't receive that much publicity.

    I doubt Glory of Heracles sold very well, since used copies can be found dirt cheap today. If anyone here wants to experience an unusual hybrid of Greek mythology and the anime-style characters & narrative endemic to JRPGs, check it out. It has a largely original story and relatively loose ties to Greek mythology.

    1. Other old Japanese RPGs set against Greek mythology (or at least with an ancient Rome flavor) include the Arcus series and Fantasian (1985). The latter in particular is a weird Anime-style Roman incarnation of Wizardry, with wireframe dungeons and all that.

  13. We had the "Age of Adventure" version of this, and I was way too young to even remotely understand what you were supposed to do or how you could accomplish it, and yet I still loved roaming around at random, bumping into things, getting eaten by monsters. I can't remember if it was this or Ali Baba that wedged the phrase "WHOSE ARMOR SOFTENS THE BLOW" (with line break between "armor" and "softens," leaving the odd phrase "WHOSE ARMOR" sitting on the screen by itself) into my memory...

  14. When you're a deer, what does the 'know thyself' action do? It sounds racy.


    2. Yeah, I was amused by "Know Thyself" as an option, too.

  15. I loved all of Ali Baba, Return of Heracles and Rivers of Light. They were great games to play multiplayer on the same computer. My friends and I had loads of fun with them as kids. I wish there were something similar today in a hotseat context. I did play through Ali Baba with my own kids, and we had a lot of fun. I once made a Doctor Who module for Adventure Construction Set, with the amusing result that the Doctor NPCs would be far more violent than in the TV show. How do we get Stuart Smith to make games again? Thanks as always for the great post, Addict.

  16. For 1983, that is a staggeringly detailed picture of Zeus. It must have had quite an effect on gamers when it first popped up on the screen.

    I remember the Adventure Construction Set title screen being really impressive, too, when I first saw it. I wonder if the artist was the same?

    1. Yes, I was also surprised by Chet writing it looks "pretty lame". While I agree the graphics aren't great in general, I also find that particular image not bad for a 1983 game - can't recall screenshots on this blog from other CRPGs of the era being much more impressive. I understand this blog looks at games from a current perspective, but this remark seemed to compare it to contemporaneous products.

      As an additional historical-etymological aspect, I assume the "gyms" at which you can increase (physical) attributes are the original Greek "gymnasions" from which the English short form originated
      (see e.g.

  17. The author of this guide claims to have a personal best of 9726, along with instructions on how to get it:

    1. That was Me!

      I am no longer the #1... someone beat me by like 15 points doing a multiple hero strategy. Obsessive and awesome. My hat's off.

      P.S. I find it funny when someone reviews anything by its sound on the Apple II!

    2. I also enjoyed Ali Baba, but that game lacked the ability to speed up sound and movement, so it could be a slog as you waited for combat to resolve.

      One of the fun things I used to do with Heracles was recruit every Hero and all the extra characters, station one in each screen, and be the Police of Greece, slaying the random monsters as they spawned. We'd even go and kill the unkillable monsters like the Symplegades and Scylla and Charybdis. And the Sphinx.

  18. It's a shame you played the Apple versions of this and Ali Baba, which is why you gave them such low marks on graphics and sound. The Atari 800 versions are far superior in graphics and sound. I found Heracles especially attractive and loved the music (which still plays in my head on occasion), but also adored Ali Baba's primitive look and sound. I've checked both games out on Apple and C64 emulators, and they pale in comparison. It's important to play the Age of Adventure re-release of Ali Baba, however. On the Atari 800, that version added in a game speed setting, which should be cranked to 5 (max), so that the game doesn't take forever moving monsters/NPCs and displaying messages. Return of Heracles already had separate monsters and messages speed settings.

    1. What you consider "far superior" is by the standards of the early 1980s. By the standards of 2015, the differences you perceive wouldn't be enough to budge the score by even a point on my rating scale.

  19. I put so many hours on this game when we had an Atari 800XL. As dated as it is, I would love to find a version for PC or Mac. I suppose it's too much to hope someone ported it to work on modern computers?


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.