Companions of Xanth

Posted by Joseph Lindell.
First posted on 07 December 2010. Last updated on 07 December 2010.
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Companions of Xanth
The demons wager on the fate of Xanth.
Companions of Xanth
The game begins, appropriately, in front of a computer.
Companions of Xanth
"This woodwright would right your wood by planing a plain plane with his plain plane."
Companions of Xanth
A troll bridge exists even in Xanth.
Companions of Xanth
Meet the fearsome (or not) Com-Pewter!

No, you are not in Kansas anymore. Rather, you are in Xanth, accompanied by a Naga princess attempting to douse the foul censer-ships that censor and incense the inhabitants of Isthmus Village. Still do not believe in magic, Mundane?

Such is the setting of Legend Entertainment's Companions of Xanth, a zany and pun filled romp based on the fantasy world of Xanth created by famed author Piers Anthony. You are Dug, a non-magical boy (Mundane) who, on a rainy and lonely day, receives a computer game in the mail which transports him to the magical world of Xanth. Because you do not believe in magic (at least at first), you appear to the inhabitants of the world as a computer screen. Accompanied by Nada Naga (who can switch between human and serpent form), you are charged with finding an unnamed prize before it is found by Kim, a human girl who is also transported to the world of Xanth. Your adventures will take you across Xanth, from the 4 realms of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air, to the castle of the Good Magician Humphrey. You will encounter a whole cast of ridiculous characters: the Fairy Nuff, a Fireman and his Hot Dog, and a lab coat wearing troll who speaks with a distinctly Russian accent, among many others.

Yet, troubles are more complicated than they seem at first. Unbeknownst to Dug and Kim, the game is really part of a wager created by 2 demons, E(A/R)th and X(A/N)th, as a referendum on the continued existence of magic in the world of Xanth. If you find the prize first, X(A/N)th wins, and magic remains. If Kim finds the prize first, E(A/R)th wins, and magic is banished from Xanth forever.

The story of Companions of Xanth is adapted from Demons Don't Dream, the 16th book in the Xanth series written by Anthony in 1993. The plot of the game follows that of the book closely, and the wackiness of the game matches the tone of the series nicely. Gamers who are fans of Xanth will undoubtedly be thrilled by the appearance of many of their favorite characters and by the humor. Conversely, those who have not heard of Xanth or who are less than enthralled by Anthony will probably find the game interminably silly, lacking depth, and chockfull of awfully bad puns.

Even the most devout pun hater must admit that the dialog is extremely clever and very consistent with the atmosphere the game evokes. Take, for example, the conversation with the headman of the village, or with the eye-screen. Indeed, talking to almost any object in the game elicits some kind of (usually ridiculous) reaction. My personal favorite is that talking to the game manual returns the response "the game manual flips over on one side and barks loudly in your direction". The developer has certainly put a lot of effort into creating witticisms that feel distinctly Xanthian.

Companions of Xanth is Legend Entertainment's first fully graphical game. While the game's graphics are not particularly evocative of Xanth, they are functional. There are very few animations within the game. Characters are usually not animated; they are prone to move by disappearing from the screen and reappearing again somewhere else. There are some notable exceptions, such as the Fireman rising from the lava or the well in the troll's house filling with water.

The game's MIDI music is unimaginative, but satisfactory. Sound effects are few and far between, and where they exist, they seem awkward and out of place because of the lack of animation. An incredibly odd omission is that you cannot have both the sound effects and music turned on at the same time. It is unclear whether this is due to some technical limitation or a simple oversight by the developer.

Whereas previous games from Legend Entertainment feature some graphics but a text parser for interaction, Companions of Xanth uses a fully point-and-click interface. The interface is intuitive. You can interact with hotspots by choosing from a list of actions on the left side of the screen. The results of your actions are often displayed in text below the graphics. Your inventory is below the text, and it can be used either by clicking on an item and then clicking on a hotspot, or via the same menu on the left side of the screen.

Probably because the game does not particularly take itself seriously, the plot lacks depth. While the characters are colorful, they are not particularly thoughtful or compelling. These problems are compounded by the shallowness and sheer illogic of many of the puzzles in the game. Most of the puzzles are simply too easy, such as the encounter with the Com-Pewter, a character which the game hypes up as being incredibly dangerous but can be beaten through a tediously obvious game of anagrams. Moreover, because of the elaborate in-game mapping system, even the maze is easy. Some puzzles can be solved by just waiting around until the solution presents itself (like for a door to appear in the middle of the air). These straightforward puzzles are balanced out by puzzles that are fiendishly difficult because they are so illogical. Seriously, talking to a pair of manacles to free Nada, despite the fact that there is some caustic moss on the wall nearby?

For the most part, poor puzzle design makes the game much too short. The lack of inspired puzzles is even more distressing, considering the many other superior games (such as Gateway, Mission Critical, Death Gate) from the same developer. I suppose that given the source of material, it may have been hard for the developer to come up with puzzles that are anything but nonsense. Nonetheless, the developer's lighthearted and simplistic take to both the story and the puzzles may leave some gamers unsatisfied and frustrated.

The game is released in both Floppy Disk and CD-ROM versions. The CD-ROM version includes full speech (featuring voices for over 30 characters) not found in the original. Both versions include a copy of Anthony's book Demons Don't Dream.

Overall, Companions of Xanth is not Legend Entertainment's best work. The game is a faithful adaptation of Anthony's Xanth series but is marred by its lack of sophistication and poor puzzle design. Gamers who are fans of Xanth will enjoy many aspects the game immensely, and those who have a soft spot for puns and silly humor will also appreciate the game on at least some level. I certainly have enjoyed the game, but adventure gamers who are more interested in solving clever puzzles or experiencing compelling stories are best advised to look elsewhere.

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