Valhalla Classics
The Lord of Infinity
Episode 1: The Crypt

Review by Jen
February 2002

The Valhalla Classics are the first part of an ambitious project by a small British company called Vulcan Software. These adventure games were originally released for the Amiga in the mid-1990s, and according to Vulcan they were the first "speech adventures" for that platform. Vulcan Software is using the Valhalla Classics as a tool to show off its online community application, the Vulcan Portal. Download of the Vulcan Portal is free, and it is required to download and play the Valhalla Classics.

As of this writing (February 2002), three of a planned 12 episodes are complete. It looks like the release cycle is about one episode every two months. In the immortal words of the stereotypical playground drug pusher: "The first one's free," and subsequent episodes can be purchased for a measly $3.68 each (which fluctuates based on the exchange rate for dollars/pounds).

First, let me talk about the Vulcan Portal. This is an extremely cool little application. Through it, you connect with the Vulcan server(s) and are able to exchange voice mail (yes, that's right, I did say voice mail) with other community members, talk to Vulcan staff members, and, most important, access the Valhalla downloads. Check out the screenshots on the right. The various features of the Portal are represented by the buttons on the top row. The guy on the left is Tony, my Vulcan guide. You can choose from several different guides, both male and female. Tony was by far the hunkiest of the lot, one of those swarthy Italian Lotharios that makes me melt.

This is a very small download—the Vulcan site doesn't specify the size but does state that it takes only seven minutes to download over a 56k modem. And yet it incorporates a speech synthesis program where the "readers" actually don't sound Swedish! Yes, the cadence and pronunciations are a bit off at times, and the Vulcan people could benefit from a good spell-checker, but overall it is amazing to me how well this works.

The green guy on the right side in the second screenshot is a Lizardian, Scragg, who holds the keys to the downloads. Scragg is not a very nice guy, but he's funny to make up for it. And cute. I don't know what it is about them, but green guys really do it for me. Other things that can appear in this rectangle are your own skin (you can either design your own or choose from several presets), the skin of another community member, and part of the Valhalla interface.

Anyway, on to the game. The Crypt is played in a teeny window in the center of the teeny Portal interface. At first this was off-putting, but it turns out you really don't need it much bigger than that. The graphics are simple, and they are plenty clear enough the way they are. I never had an Amiga—in fact I've never even seen an Amiga—and, much to my shame, I am not even sure if it's a computer or some sort of device that hooks up to your TV. I have, however, tried playing an original Nintendo game on my big-screen TV. Each pixel is about four inches tall. I'd imagine the original Nintendo's graphic capabilities are about on par with what was available for Amiga. I'm sure some Amiga nut out there will correct me if I'm wrong. I've gotten completely off track here, haven't I? [Later, much later: My brain is completely filled with Amiga lore galore, so I am no longer an ignoramus on the subject. But keep those cards and letters coming!]

Okay, the nitty gritty—you play as the young prince of Valhalla. Your uncle killed your father and took over the kingdom, and you are trying to reclaim your birthright. "The Crypt" is a misnomer since the whole episode takes place outside. You have to recover four stones to open up a pathway that you hope will lead you to a final showdown with your evil uncle but really just leads you to a "game over, now buy the next episode." Not in so many words, of course ...

Gameplay consists of straight inventory puzzles. You find an item in one place, maybe figure out something to do to change it to what you want, or perhaps hold onto it until you find a location where you can plunk it down to make something happen, or maybe you just leave it on the ground since your inventory space is limited to 10 items. If you do have to drop something, you can always go back for it later.

You move the character with your mouse. When you happen upon something interesting, your only options are look, take, and operate. If you select an inventory item, you can also consume, drop, or insert. Perspective is from high in the sky—you are looking down at the top of the prince's head. If he has something to say, he will look up at you, just one of several whimsical touches to the game.

You can die in the game, and you only get one save. You never have to fight but you can fall in holes or get trapped in dead ends by going somewhere without yet having the proper inventory item. If you make an injudicious save (like I did once) and this happens, you have to start all over again.

The game world is one giant maze, but don't let that put you off. You start out with access to very few areas and slowly open up new ones as you solve puzzles. In your progress, you get pretty familiar with the layout and it's easy to remember where things are. And generally you work only one or two areas of the overall Crypt at one time.

There is no music, and the prince really has very few phrases. There are a few well-placed sound effects, but mostly you hear a lot of huffing and puffing as the prince runs around to the various locations. (He walks, too, but it's ever so much slower.)

The Crypt was a lot of fun for me. As I was playing, I was in turn reminded of the original The Legend of Zelda, sans battles, and the more modern Ico for the Playstation 2. I liked it well enough that I purchased the next two episodes, and I certainly can feature myself playing through the whole set. It took me about four hours to play through The Crypt, not bad for a free download! If I can get four more hours of quality entertainment for my $3.68, I will consider it money well spent.

All of these Valhalla Classics are leading up to a full 3D episodic adventure game, Valhalla 3D: The Curse of Infinity. Visit the Vulcan site for a sneak peek. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Vulcan Software
Publisher: Vulcan Software
Release Date: October 2001

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/00/ME/XP/CE
5 to 20 MB free hard drive space
133 MHz processor
Internet connection
Sound card
16-bit display
DirectX 7.0 or higher
Direct 3D-compatible graphics card (optional)

Where to Find It

Vulcan Software

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