Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Game 89: Tangled Tales (1989)

Tangled Tales
United States
ORIGIN Systems (developer and publisher)
Gary Scott Smith, Alex Duong Nghiem
Released 1989 for DOS, Apple II, and Commodore 64
Date Started: 20 February 2013
Tangled Tales is a silly, inconsequential, pleasant, and relatively easy adventure-RPG hybrid, casting the player in the role of an apprentice to a wizard named Eldritch. The contrast to Chaos Strikes Back couldn't be starker, and as often happens when I go from one game to a wildly different one, I marvel at how many different approaches we manage to cover with the "CRPG" label.

The game is notable for an odd hybrid between a top-town iconographic perspective (in the upper right-hand corner of the screen) and a first-person view (in the upper left). As you move the character around the map in the upper-right, the first-person perspective changes to depict the rooms, corridors, and wilderness areas from the character's own eyes. You can't rotate the first-person view or anything, and to be honest, anything important that it depicts is described in the text area at the bottom, so it doesn't have a lot of purpose except as a series of pretty graphics. It's still somewhat fun.


Icons across the middle of the screen provide the actions of the game: look, cast a spell, take an item, talk to an NPC, perform an action, drop or give an item, save the game, view the party's statistics, equip weapons and armor, and rest (there's a second row of icons toggled by the switch to the right). Each of the actions has a handy keyboard shortcut that makes gameplay much faster.

Using the "action" command. Ever since I found a matchbook, "light a match" comes up as an action for every location, which is kind of annoying.
In tone and approach, the game invites comparison to Hero's Quest: It isn't very serious about itself, it takes place in a fairly limited game world, it has a bunch of light puzzles, and it's not terribly hard. It lacks the wit and...oh, I don't know..."jauntiness" of Hero's Quest, but it has a few of its own innovations, not the least of which is the ability to control a large party of characters instead of a single NPC. In fact, it's one of the first games on my long list in which a player-created PC is joined by memorable NPCs who maintain their personalities even after they join the party. This is something we'll see in Ultima VI and Ultima VII, which makes sense as this is also an Origin game.

When I say memorable, I mean memorable.

MobyGames claims that the game is "specifically aimed at younger people and non-hardcore roleplaying gamers." Some of the screenshots belie the "younger players" idea, but the game is definitely not for the jaded and cynical among the CRPG brethren, with exhibit A being the back story and age of the protagonist. The game comes with a booklet titled A Young Wizard's First Journal in which the PC records some thoughts pre-game, describing difficulties practicing spells, playing pranks on the townsfolk, turning squirrels into dragon-sized monsters, sparring with a fellow student named Drek, and getting into trouble with Master Eldritch. A series of mishaps causes the apprentice to lose all of the master's adamantine dust, which the master punishes by wiping the apprentice's spellbook clean and tasking him to find more.

I really hope that's not supposed to be me.
The character has a standard set of attributes--strength, intelligence, speed, and charisma--with the current level given not as a number but a textual rank. Strength proceeds through "puny," "weak," "athletic," "mighty," and "powerful"; charisma's levels are "offensive," "tactful," "diplomatic," "influential," and "persuasive." They start somewhere in the middle, and during character creation, you can trade levels in one attribute for those in another. The uses of the attributes seem straightforward: strength and speed help in combat, intelligence affects spell points, and charisma determines the selling price of items in town.

NPCs appear frequently on the map, and if you move on top of them, you can have a little conversation with pre-determined options. NPCs fill you in as to the game world, items, and other NPCs. Many of them will sell items, and some will cast healing spells.

Much of the game involves solving various interrelated inventory puzzles. As an example, a circus ringmaster in town laments that his bears have escaped. Later, you find them in a cabin, interrogating a blonde-haired girl who has apparently been eating their porridge and sleeping in their beds. To get past them, you have to bribe them with honey, which you get by purchasing a bucket in town and leaving it to catch the dripping honey from a beehive in the forest. Distracting them with honey lets you into the cabin, where you find a "Silence" spell and collect Goldilocks as an NPC. Later, the ringmaster leaves you some tickets to the reconstituted circus.

I think my mother skipped a couple of passages when she read me the story as a child.

During these puzzle-based wanderings, you run into a host of random and fixed encounters with creatures, including (so far) goblins, giant snakes, ogres, rats, and lizard men called "reptons." Combat is of the simplest sort. You simply hit the "attack" button, and the game tells you how you and your NPCs performed. It usually takes multiple clicks to win a battle. There are some small tactics: you can run away, cast healing spells, or cast other spells like "Fear" and "Silence" for your round while your companions make physical attacks. I haven't found any offensive damage spells yet.

A few rounds with a "repton."

The spellbook is a key to both puzzle-solving and overall survival. As I mentioned, you start with it blank and slowly accumulate spells during your explorations. The first one I found was "Light," right in Eldritch's tower.

Spells are divided into "Continual" spells, which drain magic until you turn them off, and "Noncontinual" spells, which have a fixed casting charge. Things got a little easier when I found the "Heal" spell.

Casting a "Light" spell to illuminate a dungeon.

So far, I've found five NPCs in the game, four of them through solving puzzles and one who works for a fee. The NPCs add a little color to the game. They make comments on the environment or holler war-cries before combat. (Goldilocks usually yells something like, "I'll break my nails!" but fights well anyway.)

Alvin really punctuates his sentences.

NPCs don't make combat any easier, though: the game scales the number of enemies you encounter relative to your total NPC count. With 5 NPCs, I face 13 giant rats instead of only 3.

Honestly, CRPG developers: Why not giant hamsters, or giant lemmings, for a change?

The game also has an odd approach to NPC equipment. I can choose what weapons and armor to equip for myself, but not for the NPCs. I can't even see what they have. If I find myself with a stray piece of armor or a weapon, an NPC might suddenly ask me, "Say, Chester, I could really use that dagger if you don't want it," making me wonder if he's been beating the rats with his fists the whole time.

From both enemies and traps, the main character and the NPCs can take damage, ranging through "Not at all," "Bruised," "Lightly," "Heavily," "Intensively," "Critically," "Unconscious," and "Dead." In keeping with the game-for-novices theme, though, there's no permanent death in the game. When you die, Eldritch simply resurrects you with all hit points and gold. Unless there's some disadvantage that I'm seeing, it's actually a better deal than paying for healing and resurrection.

The Grey Lord needed a crystal ball like that.

The game takes place in a walled town with several buildings (including the mage's tower) and the small surrounding Fairhaven Valley, which contains a few structures and small dungeons.

A map of the valley from the mage's tower.
The game began in my bedroom in the mage's tower, and this is what I've accomplished so far:

  • Explored the tower, got the quest from Eldritch to find some more adamantine dust, and found the "Light" spell in the library. Eldritch also told me to get help from a man named Riley.
  • Visited the tavern. Ate some stew that was so bad that it caused me to faint, but got a book of matches. Found 40 gold pieces in a barrel. Talked to a dwarf fighter named Sir Isaac who wanted some apples. Tipped the bartender for some intelligence and found that a man staying at the inn plans to take on the evil wizard Xavier by himself.

  • Visited the inn, but the desk clerk wouldn't let me into the back room until I paid 70 gold pieces for a room, which was 40 more than I had.

No, thanks. I think I'll just find some acid for my eyes.

  • Visited the bucket shop. Couldn't afford a bucket yet, but discovered from the owner that an adventurer named Alvin had headed up north to kill goblins and could probably use some help.
  • Met a fighter at the fighter's guild named Sedrick, who wanted 50 gold pieces to join me and insisted on saying everything in rhymes. I later hired him, but he got too expensive and I had enough other NPCs, so I booted him.

Anybody want a peanut?

  • Headed outdoors. Freed a bunny from a cage. It turned into a beautiful nymph who gave me some magic seeds.

That is the most pathetic-looking bunny I've ever seen.

  • Found a rope leading downward in a hollow tree. Followed it into a goblin lair, killed some goblins, and picked up my first NPC: Alvin the elf.

  • Found a shovel in the dungeon. Used it to dig and plant the seeds outside in a garden. Seeds grew into a big apple tree. Plucked the apples and gave them to Sir Isaac in the inn. He joined me. Also dug with the shovel in the garden to get some worms. Fed the worms to some fish in a fountain, who rewarded me by retrieving a blue key.
  • With the gold I'd obtained from the goblins, got a room at the inn, met Riley, and got him to join me.

Oh, yes. There was a whole Sir Isaac Newton/gravity thing going on. The game thinks it's terribly clever.

  • Found some sale coupons in Moe's Magic Shop. My fellow apprentice, Drek, had been going on about waiting for the next sale. When I returned to the mage's tower and gave him one, he ran off excitedly, allowing me to search his room and find the "Heal" spell.
  • On another part of the map, found a pool full of slime. Swam through it, to the astonishment of my NPC friends, and found a cave full of lizard men.
Calm down, man. That's just how I roll.

  • Found a statue of the ancient Archmage Fizzle on an altar in the lizard men's cavern. Invoked it. It told me that Fizzle was slain by the evil wizard Xavier and asked if I'd avenge him. I said yes. Told me to seek out the "secret study" under Fizzle's cabin in the mountains. This is where I encountered Goldilocks and the three bears, as covered above.

"No" just gives you the chance to do it again.

That seemed good enough for my first session. There are a few open puzzles, including a locked door in the mage's tower, a pink pool in the basement of the mage's tower that I have to throw diamonds in for some reason, a miner wandering outside offering to sell me his pick, and the search for the evil Xavier's fortress. A few other notes before I close for the night:

  • There's no sound in the game.
  • At one point, I chose not to kill some "friendly" snakes and got a reasonably funny screen:

  • There isn't much to buy in the game, but it's also slow to give up gold pieces (I've been chronically under-funded), and there's at least one reason to save up lots:

If it turns out to be "42," I'm going to be pissed.

  • You only get one save slot, so you want to make sure you haven't screwed anything up before saving.
  • I'm not sure if my many combats are doing anything to advance me in the way of "experience." There's no experience meter in any event.
  • Time passes in the game, and quite quickly, with only about 84 moves between noon and midnight. But the time doesn't seem to affect anything: stores are always open, NPCs are always in the same place, and it doesn't get dark or light.
  • A limited set of actions in each area almost guarantees that you'll choose the right one. It would be very hard to get stuck in this game.

I don't know how long this game will take, but if a prophecy from a soothsayer comes true, we won't be spending very long on this one.

Then again, maybe she's talking about Keef the Thief.


  1. First? Sorry, I wanted to do that at least once.

    This is a game I remember seeing ads for, but never played. Looking forward to reading these posts.

  2. I don't think any of the other games covered so far in this blog have been as "on the nose" in aiming at the teen market as this one. I certainly don't recall there being this much cheesecake in previous entries.

    1. No kidding. That Goldilocks screen shot feels like it ought to to have a Brazzers logo.

    2. Infact the Grimm Fairy Tales were censored since the first plublishment, they had much adult content ;-)

    3. The game seems to pay special detail to certain anatomical bits, even when I'd rather they not have. Oh early video games, what you were able to get away with.

    4. Raifield: I think you can get away with quite a lot in today's games as well; For example, I'm playing The Witcher right now, where you try and sleep with as many women as you can, and get an erotic playing card for each one.

      Mass Effect had more content then this in its overblown sex scene.

  3. This looks like quite a silly game that you are going to blast through in 3 posts. Are you enjoying this game? It's hard to tell as you adopt a somewhat neutral tone in this posting. Having said that, I often find your posts on the bad games (such as 'Don't Go Alone') just as enjoyable as your posts on the classics. It is fascinating to get a bit of an insight into games that I have never even heard of, let alone played.

    P.S. Should it be "Game 89", not 88?

    1. "Enjoying" would be too strong. It's passing the time inoffensively, like an episode of some mid-grade sitcom.

      Thanks for the numbering correction. I started this posting before I posted on Dunjonquest and I forgot to bump it by one.

  4. IIRC, charisma also limits the number of NPCs you can have in your party, and you must have certain NPCs to solve certain puzzles (can't remember the details though). Which makes it probably the first game, where social stats really have some importance ;)

    1. Oh, and I *think* your character's level increases only through advancing the main quest (completing archmage's errands), but I might be wrong, it was a long time since I played this.

    2. That does appear to be the case.

  5. Visually the game looks like the much more hard core Knights of Legend that was released at about the same time, also by Origin. I could swear I've seen Mary the inn keep somewhere else, hopefully in a game and not in real life.

    1. Its fascinating that someone else sees these screenshots and thinks of knights of legend, as well.

      That was the first thought that came to my mind.

  6. I'm sorry, I keep expecting Alvin to pull out an electric guitar and just pump out some sweet eighties jams. Something about him screams "I'm going to multiclass into bard and you will never get rid of me".

    1. I'm definitely getting a Brett Michaels vibe. "Every roooooose has it's thornnnn..."

  7. "Eldritch simply resurrects you with all hit points and gold. Unless there's some disadvantage that I'm seeing, it's actually a better deal than paying for healing and resurrection."

    I think you lose gold when you respawn, which might explain your lack of funds.

    It's an easy game to the point where I played it (quite a bit further than you) but it didn't keep up my interest.

    1. Maybe if you have above a certain amount. I checked my before-and-after gold levels the last time I was resurrected, and they were the same.

  8. I was taken in by the colorful graphics and thought to myself, "Yay! A modern game." I am eager to see you break into the early 90's.

  9. Love the Princess Bride and Hitchhiker's Guide references!

  10. Continuous and non-continuous spells! Its interesting to see this implemented in an ostensibly simple game, given how rare it is. I don't recall experiencing it myself until Dragon Age. I think this can be a great system that eliminates the need to decide between constant buffing and ignoring key spells.

    1. I think Ultima Underworlds had these (e.g. light, levitate, etc.), which started to drain mana as long as the spell was active.

    2. And we see another example of RPGs inability to name things.

      non-continuous? How about 'instantaneous'?

    3. Nothing will ever beat Swords of Glass's "Possible Things to Be" instead of "Available Character Classes."

    4. Don't get crazy now, that's 6 whole extra letters they need to fit in memory. ;)

  11. Sorry for offtopic but Legend of Grimrock 2 is announced :)

    1. Wahoo! I'm playing through Grimrock now and enjoying the hell out of it. :D

  12. Hello

    Sorry for the - maybe - silly question, but, where did you donwload the game ? I found nothing on Google.

    1. I haven't been following abandonware sites for a while now. Is this a new one. I don't remember seeing it during the age of the-underdogs.

    2. Abandonia was the best resource after HotUD went down, but has a better selection

    3. I'm afraid I don't remember, but Raifield's answer seems promising.

  13. For the first time since I started following you, I can honestly say I haven't heard a thing about your current game. Usually, if I don't know the game personally, at least I know some tiny bit off it. Not this time.

    Still gonna read it, though :D

  14. Ahh Tangled Tales is a game I enjoyed on the C64 (one of the last good games for that machine as I recall) The combat as I recall does not give you any experience points. I think you only get it by solving quests.

  15. Now these look more like graphics that I consider playable. Lush colours, big characters, I can get behind this.

    UI wise, I'm sad to see all games going for the minimalist UI. While it is true they help immersion, a large, macroist UI can be nice as well, and this game shows some potential ideas for that, back when UI conventions were less set in stone.

    Sorry I'm so behind, I'll catch up soon Chet!


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