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Still less wooden than Costner.
“Explain why Robin Hood is one of the most enduring European legends, yet most of the Western world is vehemently opposed to communism.”
Thus asked a friend of me in school, and I reply: “Because Robin Hood was a bumbling cretin who robbed a minstrel, drank nine pints of ale, then accidentally shot Maid Marian and got built into a wall.”
Your confusion indicates that you have not played Millennium Interactive’s adventure game, The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Exposition Jim had a problem, and everybody knew it.
Released in 1991 on the PC and Amiga (identical, but the latter version, as usual, has better sound. Less usually, the difference here isn’t vast), it was, like almost all games I played on the Amiga, pirated, and thus there was no manual. I’ve no idea to this day whether the manual gave much away. I hope it didn’t, because figuring out all the hidden secrets of this game was half the fun. The other half is, quite simply, playing with it, in the traditional, much-neglected sense of simply mucking around. It’s a non-linear adventure with RPG elements and AI teammates. That’s a hell of a lot of design to cram onto a single floppy disk.
You are Robin of Loxley castle, and you begin by cavorting with your happy people in a merry courtyard dance. No, really. It’s a nice little tune. Then the sheriff pops up, accompanied by armed guards, and introduces himself. He claims he’s the rightful owner of the castle, and demands that you leave. You refuse, of course, and in a genuinely funny moment, all your people abandon you. They just plain walk away. No conniving uprising while you’re away on a crusade here. No defiant, roaring Brian Blessed nor Alan Rickman drawling a sinister ultimatum. The great folk hero loses everything when some dude just strolls in and tells him to piss off. And he does.
“Norman swine!”, shouts Robin, once the guards are safely out of earshot, “You’ve not seen the last of me!”. Then he walks out of the castle and sits on the grass. And that’s his plan. To sit there, in plain sight of his usurpers, moping.
This sets the tone, and reveals a defining feature of the game: its sense of humour. It’s a great aversion of the usual pattern, of the mewling, useless peasants waiting and begging for the Heroic Hero to save them. Here, Robin is a dumbass and the people are cowardly, venal, needlessly sarcastic gits. The only thing they do faster than fleeing or betraying you is slagging you off, shouting abuse at the very sight of you. It’s hard not to root for the Sheriff a little.
You control Robin directly by clicking on arrows (or keyboard shortcuts, which make it more natural and comfortable than you’d think) or directly on the map, and less directly via a string of icons, in typical adventure game fashion. Rather than a string of static screens, the world is cut up into more granular isometric squares that scroll relative to you, giving a stronger feeling of control. There are secret items too, which open up extra abilities ranging from convenient to game-altering, and you’d be ruining the fun if you used the internet to find them.
There’s room for 7 graves. It should be enough, but, well.
It’s pleasant on the senses, despite the jerky animations, with limited but satisfactory sound effects, and occasional event music, such as for the druid who tends a shrine to Herne the Hunter (which doubles as the place for NPCs to enter the world, replacing the dead) and gives out cryptic advice to a curiously disturbing tune. Character models are tiny but distinctive, and go about their routines in a way that puts many later games to shame. Even Robin himself might get into a micro-adventure all on his own if you sit back and relax.
Villagers hunt and forage, guards patrol and chase criminals. The sheriff will occasionally pop out to outlaw something, unless you’ve murdered the guards, at which point he’ll complain about how unreliable they are. The monks will gradually build an entire monastery, stopping only to collect and bury bodies, complete with a funeral service and hymn (“Ashes to ashes, mumble to mumble”). Once or twice, I’ve been captured by a Norman after a prolonged chase, only for him to lie down and die of exhaustion. Better still are the beggars (ordinary villagers with no money – possibly because you robbed them) who gladly accept your charity, then walk around in a circle, sit down, and continue begging. In another game I’d call this a bug.
So why should you help these jerks? Well, fine. Don’t, then. Become a villain instead, robbing and killing and harassing the villagers, guards, and clergy alike. There’s no reason you can’t suck up to the guards, or the sheriff – do it while he’s trying to issue a proclamation for maximum passive-aggressiveness. Or you could wander into the inn for a lovely pint, or try to befriend a deer and watch as Robin runs after them like an eejit, eager to be within earshot for any sign of a response. It could easily be retitled “Robin makes a complete div of himself”, and it pulls this off without raising ire – the people are too funny and Robin too lovably gormless. If he’s not being bullied by the Norman guards or shouting “There is a smell of burning in the air” while staring directly at a bonfire, he’s being threatened by his own merry men, or having robberies thwarted when a victim simply runs away.
The only villainous thing the Sheriff actually does.
Disappointingly, swordfights aren’t much use. The villains are at least as strong as you, so your health will usually give out first unless they’re already exhausted from other fights. That only happens if they’ve just killed one of your merry men, so your main option is to assassinate people with the bow and peg it. Your men can’t do that, so their excursions – you can order them to rob and kill and donate – will often end in either death or capture, which means swift execution unless you happen to be nearby. It means there’s not much use to the ‘attack’ icon, but it does, on balance, contribute to the sense that Robin is less a dashing hero than a bungling, faintly Clouseau-esque figure of fun.
Each season brings new graphics and minute changes to AI.
Naturally, your goal is to kill the sheriff and retake the castle, which it’s possible to do in about 5 minutes by shooting him and sprinting inside before the guards realise what’s happened (there’s often a deadpan pause for a moment when you do something unexpected. Considering how little is scripted, it has remarkable comic timing). Some might complain that they can “beat” the game (urgh, how have we allowed that dreadful phrase to take over?) so soon, but more fool them for trying to win at Lego.
Besides, there’s another step first, unless you want the bad ending, of which there are several. Or more precisely, multiple small variations on two endings, decided based on what friends you’ve made, and where you stand on one of three character scales the game tracks. The other two are mostly for flavour, such as Optimism v Pessimism determining whether an idling Robin will wander off for some target practice, or sit around wailing “Oh woe is me!”. NPCs also have stats, which determine how they treat you (near universal contempt to start with).
Aelfstan the druid is metal. He scared me as a child.
This isn’t a game for winning, it’s a game to be poked around with. It’s a sandbox, really, from long before the concept had a name. And a roguelike too, thanks to the PC version’s save system. It’s playable today via dosbox, although apparently not on sale. If there’s an obstacle it’s the simple animation and sometimes slow pace, and a lack of scripted events after the first few seasons, but those are petty complaints. The Adventures of Robin Hood is a small, simple game brimming with detail and lively, imaginative humour that’s aged far better than its humble production values suggest.
Smooth like brick.