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Archon Review

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Developer: Free Fall Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 1989 Also On:
Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, PC Booter, ZX Spectrum

Boy, I was starting to feel like the rest of the games under ‘A’ were going to let me down. Thankfully, I finally arrived at Archon. At first, I must admit, I hated this game, but with practice and a careful look into game mechanics I was quite pleased. It’s one of the best titles on the NES for fans of strategy games.

Archon opens with a cool, minimalistic title screen and then goes into a well-detailed game board with various pieces. The colors are consistent and varied, there’s no flicker and though the sprites are a little small for my tastes during the combat scenes, overall Archon is a great looking game, especially considering its age. An ending would have been nice with some cool art instead of the lame text, but oh well. High marks here.

And, thankfully, we up the beauty of Archon some more with an absolutely splendid soundtrack. Great opening theme, a wonderful, atmospheric theme for the game proper and some killer combat music. This stuff will really stick in your head. I enjoyed the feel of the music you hear while looking at the main board and moving pieces, it really gives Archon this sense of ‘otherworldliness’ and fantasy that fits the concept perfectly. The sound effects sound great too, very fitting. More high marks for Archon.

So what is Archon? Chess, checkers, battle chess, what? Archon is a strategy game that takes place on a chess-styled gameboard. The player (or players) take control of one of two teams; the light side or the dark side. Each side has its own special pieces, strengths, and weaknesses. After the pieces move and are positioned on the board, play can be random or selected to start from a particular side. Pieces are moved a certain number of spaces (not restricted as in chess other than distance), and each has its own powers. So, the goal is to move the pieces around, take advantage of position and beat your opponent by either capturing the five magic squares on the board or decimating their army. This happens through combat. By moving a piece onto an opponent’s you enter a battle arena and use your piece to destroy the other. Some of them shoot, some require close contact, and others can even cast spells or do some special little tricks. You really need to learn your pieces to play this game, and combat is no picnic, the computer plays for blood and you have to really be on your toes and know how Archon works to win. Check it out:

Other than the fact that, at first, you’ll probably find Archon difficult, I have to say it’s one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played. The gameplay and challenge is perfectly balanced, the controls are fluid, the strategy is actually there and isn’t simply a cheap programming trick or glitch. Archon is just a good game, period. It’s a bit frustrating at first to get used to how the pieces function, and without the manual you may have some trouble, but stick it out and you’ll soon find yourself engrossed. The intricacies of play here are too numerous to mention, suffice to say Archon does not fail to please in the category where it really counts, gameplay. I was amazed that the differences between pieces even mattered to begin with, but the way they managed to balance everything is superb. The light side, for example, is best geared to wearing away at the dark side’s weaker forces, and the dark side is best geared for brute force, with cool characters like the shape shifter, which manipulates its body to become anything on the board! Heck, even the board itself comes into play and you have to pay attention to the space colors to have an advantage. They didn’t leave anything out of this one.

Archon, though a port of an older PC title, is an incredibly creative game. This is what Battle Chess should have been. The amount of depth they managed with the creative usage of a combination chess/action is spectacular. But not only do they use the basic board-format, they take it even further and add special skills, spells (such as one where you can summon an elemental), different ways of winning, and so forth. Archon is as creative as all hell and really pushed the envelope.

As for replay value, I played Archon consistently for over a week before I finally was good enough to beat it. And even after I did and saw the lame, text ending, I still wanted more. It’s so well-balanced and organized that you’ll easily become obsessed. It’s great fun, and with another player a total war. The computer plays wonderfully without cheating, but throw in another human element and get ready. And the length is perfect. Couldn’t have made it any longer with some sort of tournament mode or something, one game takes about an hour or so to finish depending on how you aim to win; just enough for a good game, but not too long that you regret starting. High marks for Archon again.

Archon is without a doubt one of the best strategy games on the NES, if not the best I’ve played. It’s highly imaginative, has a wonderful atmosphere, great challenge, fun with another player or alone, there is simply very little I can find at fault with this game other than the ending. Archon has something to offer for the casual or hardcore NES fan, it’s a title that simply must be played. This is one that deserves a lot more attention and needs to become nostalgia to future generations!

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 9.5
Gameplay: 10
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.3
Written by Stan Review Guide