As the Texan author Robert E. Howard at the beginning of the 1930s for Weird Tales, an extremely popular Pulp magazine,
in which also Howard’s friend H.P. Lovecraft published some of his short stories, invented the prehistoric Conan the barbarian, was hardly predictable what traces this figure would leave in the popular culture of the 20th century. With the commercial success of the two films Conan the barbarian (1982) and Conan the destroyer (1984) with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a musk-laden swordsman, it was no longer a question that this barbarian had to conquer our home computers.
Datasoft has not put too much emphasis on the C64 world, as seen from Evergreen Bruce Lee (1984), who is one of the most popular games of that time still today. Conan, sometimes with the addition of “Hall of Volta”, is a game almost forgotten today, although versions were released for several platforms.
In the game, Conan has to defeat a villain named Volta, who even fights with a Van-de-Graaff generator (Level 6). This does not seem right to fit into the barbarian universe since the background story remains completely insignificant for the game process. Conan is a classic platform game à la Jump Man where our hero has to overcome seven screens to beat the game. In doing so, opponents must be defeated with the sword, abysses skipped, and keys found which leave the exit free. Teleporters are also available. Objects such as keys and precious stones are absorbed by touch and bring points.
Joystick control, which uses only six of the eight possible positions, is quickly learned. Conan can run and jump, climb ladders up or down and throw his sword. Yes, Conan throws his sword like a boomerang, so he has ten of them in the beginning, which he should not consume too quickly. This is somehow illogical, like many others in this game.
These proven genre ingredients could form the basis for an entertaining platform. But they do not, because the technical, optical and musical implementation is less pleasing than the basic idea. The background artwork is not good, but still functional. The two-voice melody is annoying but can be deactivated. The sound effects are limited to undefinable hissing sounds. There is no scrolling, each of the seven levels is placed on a screen that has to be traversed.
Technically, Conan is extremely poorly implemented. The code was ported by the Atari and adapted to the C64 with very little effort. Thus, e.g. On Sprites, which is expressed in the main figure in a continuous flicker. But this is not the biggest problem of the game, because it is really hard when many opponents are playing on the screen at the same time. Then the process slows down to unplayability. It is also incomprehensible that Conan was only released on diskette: the reloading of the individual screens would have been unnecessary with a somewhat less unclean programming.
In addition to the technical deficiencies, the program also plagues several difficult decisions of the programmers. Thus, Conan can descend deep abysses without carrying injuries. For this he can not even climb slightly elevated places and must take long detours to overcome a knee-high root. In other levels, a fall from low altitude is enough to lose one of the three lives.
There are points when Conan defeats an adversary (including bats, insects, dragons), finds precious stones, swords and keys, or opens locks. Also for finishing a level, there are points, sometimes even extra. Since there is no saveable list, the conan_datasoft possibility for the point maximization is but little as an additional motivation.
Despite all its afflictions, the game is not without charm. Since the game in the first levels is not too difficult, you want to know, despite all the shortcomings, what awaits you in the end. If you have the opportunity to do so, you should try the better with the Apple II implementation. This is considered the most successful version, even if it also suffers from the flicker of the main character.
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