Platform: ZX-Spectrum 48/128
Producer: Odin Computer Graphics
Publishing year: 1985, 128к ver – 1986
Genre: arcade maze
Controls: Kempston, Sinclair, Cursor – joystics, redefined keys

History

Robin Hood (originally known as Robin of Locksley) lived in Nottinghamshire in the second half of XII A.D. After he once killed the king's ranger, who insulted him, he had to join the outlaws of Sherwood. Being ranger's son himself, Robin trained archery while still a child, and became an excellent archer. He quickly became a leader of the Merry Men of Sherwood (or the Free Archers, as they are called in some sources), and his good policy of robbing the rich while helping the poor made him well known all over England (and also abroad)...

And as the rich were mostly Normans, and the poor - Saxons these days, Robin is also attributed as the Protector of Saxons from Normann oppression. Nowadays the character is popular all over the world. It's still unknown whether Robin had a prototype in real history, or his adventures are purely fictional, but surely the ballads of Robin Hood are an invaluable gift for the English folklore. Even if the character of "Good Robin" is collective.

Game base

«Robin of Sherwood» serial (1983-85), based on the very ballads, brought plenty of mysticism in the classical image. In particular the characters Ent and Witch, symbolism of the Silver Arrow for the Saxons, and overall image of Robin - the last defender of the Saxons, their culture and even gods, represented by Hern the Hunter (Saxons were christened even before the Hastings Battle), were borrowed from the movie. As for the hermit (who is depicted very similar to a druid), the suspicions can be proved or disproved only by a serial fan, in the original instruction text he is called just an ancient hermit. This contradicts but slightly the image of Father Tuck - Robin's band member, - 'cause the latter was not so ancient.

For all that, only Ent and Hern the Hunter are purely mystical characters, all the other characters and the very prologue have a simple earthly explanation.

Prologue

After conqering the England Normans set their law and order, limiting old Englishmen rights in many ways. Also every poor baron (Norman as usual) enjoyed almost unlimited power in his own feud, using it freely for his privte prosperity. The last means to feed themselves were taken from the peasants by the Hunt Law, which prohibited hunt in the King's reserves (that is, almost everywhere). The law disallowed to live, and sometimes only poachers-outlaws managed to survive.
The sheriff of Nottingham, old enemy of Robin Hood, was robbed and humiliated by him many times. He devised a trap for Robin, proclaiming: «Let it be known that on the third Sunday of this month at the castle of Nottingham, there shall be a grand tournament of archery. Come all who may to try and win, for he who shoots straightest shall be hailed as the best archer in all of England, and to him shall be presented an arrow, crafted in solid silver of inestimable value and antiquity. Long live Prince John, Regent of all England».
As it goes in original instruction, the tournament prize was an "arrow, made of solid silver, engraved with characters as ancient as the very forest. It was indeed the 'Shaft of Power' of the Saxon nation, symbol of freedom and peace, more precious than the crown of the Kingdom itself to the Saxons. Yet it was with this arrow as bait that the Sheriff planned to capture this mysterious 'Robin of the Wood'... to offer it as a prize, as though it were a mere trinket or bauble, appealed to him as a prime insult to the serfs, and worthwhile simply for that reason. It was when he realised that such a prize, while meaningless to himself, would be certain to attract Robin to the contest that he finally decided. There was to be a great archery contest - the prize was to be the Silver Arrow - and for the Sheriff, the main prize was to be the death or capture of Robin."

Tasks

Thus Robin decided to repossess the Silver Arrow all by himself. The easiest way to do this is to win the grand tournament, which also could prove his fame as being the Best English Archer, if the winner would be identified with time. But, surely, Robin has joined the Merry Men not so long ago. His arsenal consists of a quarterstaff (which he wields quite well) and the Hern the Hunter Protection, which can shield Robin from ten and halften wounds. He is to get more weapons: a sword and a bow, and also the charmed arrows. The rules of the grand tournament allowed each archer to shoot three times (there were far too many of them), and these special three arrows are able to draw one's attention from the owner. These five items are enough to reach the contest, win without being recognised and retreat without being captured after the charm is gone.

Characters - Ent
By chance, ent, the Master and the Spirit of the Sherwood trees, a good acquaintance of Robin's, has in his possession all the precious items Robin Hood needs. To get them, Robin just has to prove himself to be the loyal son of his country, giving ent three purses of gold for each. This gold will then be wisely distributed by ent among the English peasants. Ents rarely walk, but as the game starts it is impossible to say for sure where he can be found. He looks like a small, sturdy tree with branches for hands, two eyes and a broad smile.
- Bishop
Robin knows, that "the evil Bishop of Peterborough", who became rich by stealing the alms and tithes of the laymen, enjoys walking in Sherwood Forest. He always has a considerable sum of gold upon him and walks with a Norman archers escort. But the guards are a bit silly and quite cowardly, so do not pose a threat to Robin. By defeating the guard, Robin sets the Bishop on a run, throwing all his money on the ground. The Bishop is very purse-proud and won't allow the outlaw to intimidate himself, so he could be met again very soon, again with an escort and again with full pockets. Therefore a number of robberies in the favor of the poor can provide Robin with the necessary equipment.
- Witch (Marian)
Still, even with all the items vital for victory Robin has to solve another difficult task. That is to get into the closely guarded castle. All its gates and secret wickets were shut and locked to prevent unwelcome guests, outlaws mostly, from participating in the tournament. Robin has but one chance.
One explanation, mentioned in the original instruction, suggests him to seek help from the wood witch. They are often met in the forest this time of year, looking for herbs and flowers for their magic purposes. They also seek unwary travellers who could possess the things the witch needs. If Robin doesn't have items interesting for her, its more than probably he won't ever notice her presence when passing by. In other case the witch would enchant Robin, taking his will away. Then she would take all the herbs he has found from his bag (but no more than three flowers per meeting). If the Robin had not found any, then he was as unwary as only could, approaching the witch with just the gold (really, if Robin has the rare herbs also, the witch won't pay any attention for the gold!) But the herbs they can also be bought, so the witch won't mind taking one purse. If flowers were too few, or it was gold, the witch would just send him back where he had come from, won't letting him pass! If he brought her two flowers, the grateful witch would cast a spell renewing the Hern Protection power. And if he fetched three different herbs, the witch could magically send Robin to a small garden, separated from the rest of forest by impassable bushes. And it is in the garden where a key was so neatly lost, a key from the gates leading straight in the castle's southern wing! By the way, with this key one can open also the side wicket and even the dungeon door.
The other, more materialistic explanation, tells that the garden adjoins the chamber of Marian, Robin Hood's beloved. By bringing her flowers, Robin could ask her to cure him, or even to lead him in the garden secretely. But if Robin meets Marian with no flowers but robbed gold, the lady won't forgive his behaviour and would take the gold away (hopefully to distribute it to peasants herself).
- Sheriff
At the tournament Sunday the Sheriff, leaving some guards in the castle, left for Sherwood to seek the Robin himself. He usually sets an ambush in a convenient place on a forest path. The skillful archers of his own guard hide all around, so stepping in the trap always ends getting Robin captured (the latter wisely keeps himself from resisting). All the trifles (including the key) are taken from him, then he is thrown into and locked in the castle's dungeon. This grim maze of damp passages and grates is clean out of the useful items. The only sight to see there are the door and the key. Mind your way to each to save time and energy in the future.
- Hermit (Friar Tuck)
This priest has build himself a hut somewhere in the forest and, surely, is well aware of the Merry Men and even approves their goals. If you meet a hut with a cloth over the entrance then he is nearby. When he heard of the dangerous task of Robin's, he has promised to heal the outlaw in time of need, and even to give him healing herbs (that is, another try). But after each restoration of Hern Protection his supplies run low, and some time is needed to make it possible to find help here (that is, try to spend at least what he has given you :).
- Normans
The sheriff has send the main bulk of armed forces of Nottingham to comb each path. "They had orders to shoot on sight, and shoot to kill." Each Norman warrior is armed with a crossbow, but isn't as good in melee, so Robin can come close without much resistance. Dangerous are the Normans when shooting from behind the bushes (all the time till the Robin gets a bow) and even from adjacent screens! To slaughter all the Normans in the woods, the castle and the dungeon is a mighty and valiant task - while totally impossible, cause the bodies are soon carried away, and the army is reinforced by recruits, who choose any place to patrol around it.
- Wild boars
Represent the Sherwood game, though for some reason it's impossible to hit them. Instead, they are more dangerous than the Normans. In melee they inflict multiple wounds and are able to kill before you realize the best thing to do is to give way to a boar. They dwell on the hidden pathways, farthest from the castle, where nothing hinders their run.
- Robin Hood
It's him you are in control of. Robin moves through the forest (the castle or the dungeon), the part of which is shown in the ornated frame at the top of the screen. A huge game map is really 320 times bigger than the shown part!
The screen can be left in one of the six directions, if there are no obstacles. They are left, right, up and down of the left half of the screen, and up and down on the right, respectively. The map part shown on the screen consists of the background (picturesque wood sight, a wall of a medieval castle) and foreground - to see, which way one can leave this place. The middle part – the path or the castle passage – is usually free, but there are sometimes bushes/barrels/walls at the side edges, which prevent leaving to the adjacent left or right screen. An obstacle seldom divides the screen in two. The characters except Normans («they are everywhere!»), don't show up on these blocked-path screens, they prefer open spaces. The sheriff, the ent, Marian-witch and Tuck's hut appear among background trees – meet them once and you'll learn to recognize the screens on which they can be met with. As a rule, these screens don't have passages to adjacent pathways (that is, North and South). The others can move along with you, by the pathways to the left or right, but, unlike them, you can whisk in any opening between trees (a narrow passage in the castle) to another pathway. By the way – the life stops out completely on the path you've left. So you can forget your vain hopes to let the boar past you using the trick.
The four forest pathways doesn't have any obstacles for left-right movement. The boars are always and only here. Also, after a short run along one of these you can find to your surprise that the terms East and West are somewhat wrong here – the map just loops in these directions.
Robin starts in one (random) of the startplaces. The game can even begin in the dungeon, therefore, you would have to learn leaving the place before you take up the duties. The dungeon along with the castle occupy exactly 1/5 of the map, the rest are trees and the spaces between them.
In addition to the directional keys, there is only one button - hit/shoot. You can't choose the weapon you use! While the Robin's only weapon is quarterstaff, he can attack the enemies only at a wery close distance; the sword allows to hit a bit quicker and somewhat further, but don't forget to turn in the enemy's direction. And when the Robin takes his trusty bow… and finds it quite confusing to don't have a single arrow (just kidding, it's not likely, cause the quivers are often met)… pressing the "shoot" key makes him to choose, which weapon he will attack the enemy with. Robin would use the bow at a long distance (of course, if the arrows are present), and the sword for a close combat.
All the other actions (that is interaction with other characters, picking up things) are done either automatically or by coming close. Robin collects the flowers, the purses, the garlands, the keys and the quivers when you step over them. The flowers and the purses are shown in the middle of the info space at the bottom of the screen. You can carry up to 8 of them at once. The key is palced up left of them, only one key can be taken, but it suits all the doors (Robin-a-burglar, well, he's a professional thief after all :). The tries left are shown under the key. If there is nothing, it is because you have not found any garlands and have not spoken to Friar Tuck. The garland for the grave turns on the "archer" sign under the key place, along with the digit - 1 – for one additional try. After that the number can increase or decrease, depending on your success in life prolongation. You don't have any additional tries when the game starts!
A bit to the left in the info space a quiver shows up (when you find it). Only one can be taken, containing twenty arrows. The charmed arrows, if you are lucky to buy them, are placed in the leftmost part. All the right part of the info space is left for the beautifully depicted weapons – the sword and the bow.
Between the info space and the game field there is - not the ornament but the important indicator, the seven-branched antlers, which were worn by Hern the Hunter. Their color is white at the start of the game. It changes with every wound inflicted, darkens gradually and at last becomes dark-blue. This means Hern can defend Robin no more. Only Marian (the witch) or Friar Tuck can help you not to lose the try or even your life with the next wound!

Tips:

  1. since the game is actually a labyrinth, and quite a big one too, it may be useful to start with a map-sketching.
  2. better start the map from the castle/dungeon corner (so that it won't come broken into pieces on your map due to the looping maze - so it was on the author's first map :). Alternatively you can start from the pathways of boars.
  3. don't forget to mark the meeting-places with characters, start places, positions of the keys and the doors. The most important of these are screens chosen by the witch. If she is forgotten of, she could put you out, taking the gold away. It's useful to know where can ent be found, though his low mobility during the game hinders to mark every meeting-place. The one thing left to say is that no map known to author can tell all the meeting-places!
  4. the important screens - these are doors to open - can be found using the sign - the boulder with an arrow drawn upon them. Though it could be hard to make use of them without a map (e.g. everyone can find the castle inner yard - the aim of Robin's quest - where the tournament is to be held. But the sign to it can be easily missed if one knows not of the yard)
  5. if you've found a key, don't consider yourself too lucky. Every time Robin opens the dungeon door he would leave it in the keyhole (has no time at all, eh?..). Thus you won't succeed in carrying away the key taken in the dungeon guard-room. You need another one, which was lost in the garden. It won't pay also bringing it to a dungeon, cause Robin opens the door immediately after entering the screen where there is one; and as it was mentioned above, the moment he has opened the dungeon door, he would leave the key.
  6. you've picked up the flower. Try to leave the screen and enter it again. It may hapeen the new one would grow up on the same place.
  7. if you meet with ent on the screen within two screens left of a castle wicket – you can sing a requiem, or better press CAPS+BREAK to restart the game. All the ways leading here are blocked by the witch. The only chance for you is to run about after the bishop in order to drive him in this screen. In other words, it is all about searching the bishop, killing his guard and (without any means to transport the gold to ent) searching the wealthier again, until he will be occasionaly met on the very screen with ent – this last is very rare! Such fun wouldn't seemingly be to your liking.
  8. don't take the three flowers until necessary. If you would come by some gold and would meet the witch, it would be as well as if you simply gave her everything collected so labourously. As it goes in tip #7, she is looking over the exit from the castle, the only exit by the way!
  9. the Watling Street road, which went near Nottingham, leaving it on the left, and continued to the North for Lincoln and York, provided a sure income for the Merry Men – for that time it was a busy highway, the traders and wealthy men of all kinds crossing the Sherwood by it. There is something of the kind in this game. Finding the road you could considerably decrease the death-rate brought in by the boars by crossing the dangerous pathways quickly. The castle corner where it begins is even marked with unusual vegetation across the pathway.
  10. do not ever attack the bishop when he passes through or close by some obstacle - the money he would drop would be inaccessible as you are unable to pass them. And after you have scared him off, do not rush to pick up the gold. Strange as it is the Norman horde loafing through the forest won't pay it any attention! This is the way to conceal your income from the accidental tax-paying (to a witch), so you'd better remember this palce and
  11. bring ent only the number of purses divisible by three. This way you won't have change left which could be occassionaly given away (not to him).
  12. the Sheriff is not as terrible as his special service is. Before locking you away in the dungeon, the soldiers won't miss a chance to pour out heir hearts and to train the crossbow-shooting before the tournament. Always mind the Hern Protection to ensure such an amusement won't end in a tragedy.
  13. when you would come by a bow, you would supposedly want to use it instead of the boring sword. Soon you would find it difficult to not only shoot an arrow - the Normans have being approaching too quickly - but to hit the target without taking 3-4 wounds in return. Shoot across the whole screen and do not stand on the Norman's path. One of the best targets is the top of his helm.

Game versions

The game was published on several platforms, which seemingly was the reason for some rumors and inventions concerning its Spectrum version. So, the witch won't bear a grudge against you if you haven't collected any useful items – she won't waste time stopping you. The friar Tuck would rather consider your wounds and not your aggresive behaviour.

2 different versions are known on ZX. The first was released for 48k in 85 andwas quite popular (you'd think so, immediately after the TV series – by the way, wasn't it "Robin of the Wood" which started the tradition?). After the game loads it rather distinctly asks the leitmotiff question of the game. Nice music is played in menu, the game starts with a furious laugh of the Sheriff. The game itself is not music-backgrounded, the sound fx' are few, but the graphics depicts all the locations quite vividly. There are plenty of movement phases for the main character in battles, and, after capturing you, the Sheriff magnificently points the direction where to drag you, with his hand :) . The other characters are reasonably animated.

The other version was published withtin a year, this one for 128k, the fact claimed on the very loading picture (slightly revised for good). The game has considerably diversified the sound spectre, with the three-channel melodies in menu, during the game (fortunately, this can be turned off any moment) and after each combat victory. By the way, the victory tune is a piece of the ORIGINAL ballad tune. In response to the collisions with the boar, the Sheriff, and to the wounds received from Normans, the participants randomly comment the situation. Besides all this the gameplay was modified – and it became harder. The Normans attack Robin with their crossbows from a shorter distance, and quite accurately – it is almost impossible to hit the Norman with an arrow from a place, which he can not aim at in turn! A pity this almost prevent one from using the bow, and therefore from wishing to use it. The boars on the other hand are less deadly, inflicting one or two wounds per collision - that is if you do not stay close for long.

There are several maps for the original game, some were drawn by hand, some were published in journals. One was made in the emulator with a map-building function. Their main flaw was mentioned above in the tip #3, but for all that they are quite sufficient.

Plot: 3
Graphics: 5
Sounds: 4
Gameplay: 5
Difficulty: 4

Requirements
ZX-Spectrum 48k ( / 128k+AY co-processor) or 100% compatible emulator :), 50-70 kB free disk/cassette space, keyboard, speakers/headphones.
19.10.2008 TomCaT