Monday, December 29, 2014

Game 33: Tombs & Treasure (NES) - Square Peg, Round Hole

Game 33

Title: Tombs & Treasure
Released: June 1991 (August 1988 JPN)
Platform: NES
Developer: Compile
Publisher: Infocom
Genre: Adventure-RPG
Exploration - Top-down & first-person
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone (Asteka in JPN)

So, who made this game?
Let the record show that deep down I don't believe this is an RPG. Someone (Infocom) took an adventure game, and then reworked it to accommodate enough trappings to force it into that genre. If my scale took into account time and effort invested into each area, then this would definitely come up short; however, that's much too complicated and I'd rather just play through some short games than stress over into what genre a game most cleanly fits.
I must be losing my touch, I didn't suspect the guide at all
Even more complicated than the genre was the development history of the game. Infocom was definitely the US publisher, and added the RPG elements in order to appeal more to the console market (edit: the RPG elements were added in the Famicom release, not the NES one). The story was reworked a bit from the original Falcom release to fit these changes. Tokyo Shoseki was the Japanese publisher. Tombs & Treasure was based on Asteka II, originally developed by Nihon Falcom. Why then do the credits list artists and programmers that worked exclusively on games developed by Compile? My best guess is that Compile created the port to the Famicom, but the company was left uncredited (a not too uncommon occurrence).
Old books only speak truth
The game began with some back story on Prof. Imes. He took an expedition to Mayan ruins, and his men started to mysteriously disappear each week until only their guide, Jose, was left. The player takes control of a boy that tags along with Prof. Imes' grand(edit: my mistake)daughter. After naming both the adventure opens with the pair in Prof. Imes' office; his secretary was standing there.
Don't all teenagers solve mysteries during the summer?
Before I began playing, I dug up the map and manual that originally came with the game (I only have the cart). The map had hints marked for each location that weren't alluded to in the game. Also, the manual had a hand written section from the point of view of Prof. Imes. I jotted down everything that seemed relevant, and kept both handy as I spoke to the secretary and read the professor's in-game notebook. This is the map I used.
Ma'am, I think your eye is drooping (partial *Plop*)
Prof. Imes' belongings were found at the Well of Sacrifice, which had been drained at the time, but quickly filled up with water. I added the sword, lighter, and silver key to my inventory, which began with a bandage in it; then I read his notebook. It mentioned a sun necklace in the Warriors' Temple that needed a wash, and demons that could be fought with a sword. Lastly it mentioned Tentacula as the demon lord to defeat. First I needed to find the Sun Key.
I'll just call you Zombie Jo
Jose, the last of the professor's expedition crew, was there to meet me as I left the office. He mentioned that all the demons had reset the puzzles, and the first place I should go was the High Priest's Tomb to retrieve a mosaic tile. Actually, before that I should grab the Ixmol Jewel at the Nunnery. Looking into the jewel provided a password to resume the journey.
*Plop* (full control gained)
Once I entered the Mayan landscape I had no way back to the office with the secretary. To the north was the Nunnery, which only held the Ixmol Jewel. There seemed to be nothing more to do there for the time being. I made my way to the Tomb of the High Priest, but was blocked by the first demon. Any action I took caused Skorpor to appear. It was an easy fight, as were most battles.
These are the only stats seen
Combat was a joke. I was either strong enough to kill a monster or not. Monsters were not random, and the same ones always appeared in the same place until defeated. In this way they act more as gatekeepers for each area. Experience, and thus levels, were gained from defeating monsters and solving certain puzzles. Attacks either badly damage the enemy (this indicates winning is possible) or hardly damage at all (running is the only option). Also, the lead character was the only one who participated in combat, which was as simple as selecting the Fight option. Blows were traded, dodges happened automatically, and there's a slight element of randomness to determine who wins in the end. Running from battle was as easy as leaving the area, and HP is fully regained as soon as combat was over.
The other characters help to solve puzzles only
With combat as basic as can be, almost mimicking an adventure game itself, I almost called the game off as not an RPG. Why does Jose, a character who's supposed to be much strong than the lead character, do absolutely nothing during combat? Instead, I get to use his strength to push, pull, or turn things. He's the only one that can push open up the secret passage. Inside was a tomb, and the mosaic tile I sought was sitting on top. The lid opened as soon as I took it, revealing the skeleton of a high priest. He had a strange one-eyed burial mask, which I picked up as well. Jose pointed out that the tile was used to open a secret passage in the El Castillo Pyramid.
Each location showed a little walking animation as the party entered
The demon guarding the pyramid was the fearsome two-beak. At first I thought I was in the wrong place as he nearly killed me off, but it turned out to be a bout of bad luck and I easily put him down on a second attempt. I was then free to explore Castillo. The first room had a strange hole in the floor, which I could do nothing with; a second room lay ahead. That room was a small hallway with a hollow set in the far wall. When I placed the mosaic tile into that it caused the walls to raise (or lower... I'm not sure) and revealed a treasure filled room.
This could be a trap...
This was a strange room. The girl wouldn't let me leave before I found everything, which I did finally by trying every action on each item in the room. By looking at the flask in the upper right I found a small rod. I easily picked up the golden mirror, small bowl, and golden stand. I also took the silver globe from the statue's arms. Something shined from within the tall green flask, but I couldn't find a way to get it out. I ended up having to smash it (one of the many actions available in the scrolling icons menu).
Before I could say "cursed ring" the girl slipped it on her finger
After all that she still complained that I could carry more. I looked over my inventory now that I picked up some items. The small bowl seemed to have a pin sticking up in the middle. I tried to combine it with a small rod, and voila, a compass was born. Not helpful at that time, but I'm sure it would come in handy. Still not enough to leave I turned my attention to the stone box. It contained some heavy tablets, but I couldn't read them in such little light. I tried to use the lighter, no luck. Seemed the game wanted a very specific solution to my lighting problem. In the end I found I needed to move the pile of coins in order to find a red jewel.
Fitting the red jewel in the sword made it more powerful; fitting it into the one-eyed mask allowed me to see things otherwise unseen
Once I found everything I was allowed to leave Castillo. I headed for Caracol. I had tried the Warriors' Temple, but found the Cadaver enemy there proved too powerful. The same was true of the Ball Court with its Hornskull. The Snake Master at Caracol was a bit too much though at level 5. I ended up at the Well of Paradise to wash the mirror off; I retrieved the golden pipes there and reached level 6. There's no announcement when gaining levels, it just happens in the background. I explored the last couple locations. There was no enemy at the Well of Sacrifice, but the Court of Columns had one called El Slug.
It's also possible to look at the enemies to gauge their difficulty
I was able to beat down El Slug, but couldn't find anything to do at the Court of Columns. I made my way back to El Caracol, and easily defeated the Snake Master. With the demon out of the way I explored the room with a single window and pedestal. Out the window I could somehow see directly to the Court of Columns. The pedestal looked like it would fit the silver globe perfectly, and it did, but nothing happened. Jose mentioned there should be a second floor, but I couldn't find a staircase. Only an hour in and I was starting to get stuck on clues. I consulted the map for hints, and noted that the girl should play music at Caracol, but the pipes were cracked. I stumbled upon the solution to fixing them while staring at my inventory: the bandage. Back at Caracol, the lead character played them poorly, but the girl was more musically talented.
Go thatta way!
Following the beam of light back to the columns, I found the one it was pointing towards and dug at its base. Buried there was a golden sphere. Performing the same actions at Caracol, this time with the golden sphere, resulted in a different column highlighted. At the base of that one was a stone head. My first thought was to place that on the headless statue at El Castillo, but for some reason I failed to choose the correct action. Instead of the 'put' command, I tried the 'use' command and it told me I couldn't use it. I was stuck trying to figure out what I did wrong for quite some time. What threw me off was the statue was described as a woman, but the head was in such poor shape that I couldn't determine the gender.
Grasping for something to do, I used the One-eyed Mask in that room and found I could then read the stone tablets
While searching I attempted to battle the last two monsters at the Ball Court and Warriors' Temple, but both were too powerful. The one at the ball court suggested I needed a blue jewel. I saw that jewel in the head of a jaguar statue at the Warriors' Temple. Viewing the tablets put me up another level, just enough to defeat the Cadaver. There was a statue of a girl there, and she held the sun necklace. Ripping that away from the statue caused the jaguar statue in the middle to come to life. From the tablets I knew I could transform it back into a statue if I could play music at noon; however, I couldn't know the time of day until I washed off the necklace.
It's nice it came with instructions on the back
When I returned to the Temple of Warriors I found the jaguar and statue missing. Behind it was a suspicious hole with an iron key stuck inside. My first thought was to find something magnetic, but looking in my inventory I couldn't think of anything that fit. Messing around for too long caused the jaguar to return, and I used the pipes to return it to statue form. I was then able to pull out the blue jewel from its forehead. That jewel, affixed to the sword. allowed me to defeat Hornskull. Inside the Ball Court was a mechanism held together with a stone pawl, and there was a corridor that led deeper.
Well that's not suspicious
Along the path I found a blue stone. I passed by the first time and headed deeper still. In the next room the wall again looked suspicious, but I couldn't find a differently colored block. Attempting to go any deeper was met with a warning that it was too dark to go further. Apparently no one had figured out how to make a torch. I made my way back and took the blue block. This opened a side passage with a green jewel sitting atop an engraved stand. It looked like a trap. I took it anyway.
It was a trap
Up to that point I felt confident that the game wouldn't allow me to dead end myself. Since combat allowed me to restore with little issue, I figured the game had certain safeguards. The "press reset" was meant quite literally. I took passwords while playing, but it became apparent I would need to start from the beginning as I loaded up the game and took stock of my options. Most notably I had the severed silver head, the key in the hole, and the mystery of the second floor of Caracol to solve. First though I removed the pawl from the Ball Court entrance and noted it closed off the corridor.
Also found a use for the blue stone
The blue stone fit into the hole in the Castillo Pyramid. The room below had another gear system, but while this one had a handle there was no pawl to keep it in place. I tore off the pawl, placed it there, and used Jose's strength to turn it into place. This caused a rushing of water somewhere nearby. It was the Well of Sacrifice emptying out. With nothing else proving fruitful I headed over there and climbed down, ignoring the warnings of Jose that I needed the Akbal Jewel (the green one), crystal key (never seen this), and the mirror (the only item I had). Jose and the girl stayed behind as I climbed down.
I promptly died
I was out of ideas at that point and called it a night, hoping that I could come back with a fresh mind. I've already finished the game at this point, but I was a bit frustrated at the time. It seemed like such a short game only to get hung up on mechanics I consider bad design. Join me next time for the exciting conclusion.

Elapsed Time: 2h23m (Total Time: 2h23m)


  1. Seems like a nice little point and click/puzzler, though the over simplistic fight system ruins it for me... some strategy would be nice.

    1. It's fun, but getting stuck with no warning sucks that fun right up. The fight system is kind of meh and could have been more puzzle based or some additional strategy to make it a bit more involved.

  2. A strange foray into the console market by the IF giant, Infocom. They released several non-Interactive Fiction games for the PC, but this was their only console game. With only one game, I have to wonder why they bothered to begin with. Hope for a quick infusion of cash? We'll never know.

    1. It is a bit strange to see Infocom take on the publishing, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were approached to do this since the game was an adventure title. This is about the time Infocom titles were going downhill, and they may have jumped at the opportunity to splash into the console market. I don't think the game sold all that well in the US though.