Format reviewed: Atari 8-bit
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Freefall Associates
Submitted by: Mike Bevan
A truly timeless piece of software, Archon is rightly hailed as an action-strategy classic, effortlessly interweaving a Chess-like board-game dynamic with fantasy arcade-style action. Starting life on the Atari 8-bits, and one of EA's earliest releases for the C64, the game pits opposing forces of Light and Dark against each other on a 9×9 chequered playfield, the aim being either to capture the five 'power-point' squares, or simply eradicate the enemy's entire army. Each side starts with 18 'pieces' – 9 pawn-like grunts (Knights or Goblins depending on which whether the player is Light or Dark), a number of other mythical creatures with varying offensive abilities (in Chess-like pairings), and a lone, highly powerful Wizard or Sorceress, roughly equating to the game's 'Queen'. Each have their own movement abilities, ranging from three squares for grunts to the five of the nifty Pheonix.
Unlike Chess, pieces can move in any direction they desire. When opposing pieces meet the game zooms into a one-on-one arcade style arena battle, where pieces slug it out to the death. The strategy of the game takes the form of knowing when best to enter into battles, and picking off potentially weaker opponents one-by-one. The relatively unhelpful close-range attack of Knights, for instance, has little chance against the long-range projectiles of a Dragon. Complicating all this is the fact that Light pieces are awarded more 'energy' (making them more difficult to defeat) on Light coloured squares, and vice-versa, and other squares on the board cycle through Light to Dark over time. Then you've got other factors like the Wizard's/Sorceresses'spells which can revive fallen pieces, freeze the board's Light/Dark cycle, summon 'Elementals' and more.
Add to that the variety present in the different 'pieces' – Shapeshifters, Archers, Unicorns, Banshees and Manticores (to name but a few) allowing for a pleasingly diverse range of possible combat scenarios. Sounds complicated? Not really – the game is a delight to pick up and play and, after a little trail and error, you'll be enjoying the eternal struggle between Light and Darkness quicker than you can say 'Fiery Pheonix'. Needless to say, Archon makes for a brilliant two-player game. Few moments in 8-bit gaming have tickled us as much as chasing player two's slow-poke Golem around the screen with an underequipped Goblin while trying to give it a tasty wack on the head with a club…