Archon Classic evokes nostalgia while faithfully re-imagining the game that inspired it. In short, it’s virtually everything a classic PC game ‘revival’ should be: innovative enough to give the game a new lease on life, but still faithful to its source.
Archon: What it is
Many PC gamers a little ‘long in the tooth’ fondly remember the classic Archon, first published in 1983 by Free Fall Associates.
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The basic formula is simple: two opposing fantasy armies battle on a chessboard-like field to either take control of five “power squares”—or just destroy the other army.
Each army has 18 pieces of varying power levels and abilities. Lowly knights and goblins (the “pawns” in Chess terms) have relatively little health and only simple melee attacks. Other pieces have varying amounts of health, and ranged attacks of varying speed and power. Archon Classic adds several of its own twists to this formula as well.
Dark pieces are stronger on black squares, and Light pieces are stronger on white squares. And to keep things interesting, a band of squares in a wheel-shaped pattern continuously cycles through a sequence of colors from light to neutral to dark and back again.
Each side also has a single “king” piece (the Wizard for the Light, the Sorceress for the Dark) capable of casting one-shot spells, such as Summon Elemental, which summons a poweful elemental to fight for you, Time Shift, which reverses the color cycle, and Imprison, which holds a creature in place for a color cycle. Other spells include Heal, Exchange, Revive, Teleport, Offer, and Level Up, the latter two of which are new to the game.
More than just retro
Archon Classic PC features a completely overhauled graphics engine, but still retains the flavor of the original game.
New secondary abilities add all new twists to combat. The Sorceress can call down bolts of lightning in addition to her standard attack.
You can even play with the improved graphics and retro graphics at the same time if you like. To each their own.
New board configurations, Runes, and other features add new twists to the classic game’s formula.
Among its many innovations, Archon Classic still recreates the original game down to the last pixel (although it doesn’t default to using this mode). If all you wanted to do is play Archon like you remember it in 1983, you can do it.
But Archon Classic isn’t just a “retro” recreation of a nearly 30-year old game. It’s a re-imagining that adds a whole array of innovations to the original game’s formula without tarnishing its legacy.
In addition to the standard 1v1 game mode, you can team up with a buddy against two other players (CPU or human), or even play a four player free-for all. You can even team up with a CPU player and battle against two other CPU players if you don’t have anyone else to play with.
Each player assumes control of half of the pieces on a side, in addition to their own wizard/sorceress.
Pieces on the same side can occupy the same square, and each side takes turns moving—so it’s possible to have 2v2 battles with each player controlling completely different creatures.
Secondary attack powers
Units have a secondary attack. For example, the Djinni—the Light Side’s “Queen” level piece—has its standard ranged attack, but also a secondary attack that sends the opponent spinning out of control around the board for a couple seconds. The Djinni’s Dark counterpart, the Dragon has its standard ranged attack and a short-ranged cone blast.
Basilisks multiply. Unicorns Teleport. The Sorceress calls down a barrage of lighting. And so on.
Pieces level up
Another new feature is that pieces “level up” with each kill and become more powerful. Generally, leveling up increases the power of both their primary and secondary attacks.
More board options
In addition to the original Archon board, Archon Classic offers more boards. Some boards feature Runes—squares which provide randomized buffs (such as increased recharge rates, faster movement, etc.) to the pieces occupying or fighting for them.
One interesting feature of the Archon Classic is that it has a campaign mode, which is sort of a “challenge” mode in some respects. Basically, you are just given an assortment of pieces on various boards backed by a rudimentary story. Your goal is generally the same: destroy the enemy or win through controlling Power Squares, although the boards and pieces you get to play with vary greatly. For example, in our first campaign he had 6 Knights against CPU controlled Goblins… and a Sorceress.
Mix and match
One nice feature of Archon Classic is that you can turn many of the new features on or off. You can play with retro graphics or new graphics (or both), you can turn off the secondary powers, turn off the leveling, etc. Archon Classic generally allows you to play how you’d like to play: total retro, new school, or somewhere in between.
The Phoenix doesn’t suck
One problem in the original Archon is that the Phoenix was woefully underpowered, particularly compared to its Dark side counterpart the Shapeshifter. The new Phoenix is a much needed improvement. In addition to its flaming burst effect, the new Phoenix also leaves a trail of fire behind it that lingers for a few seconds and damages enemies that touch it (kind like a Tron lightcycle). This greatly improves the Phoenix without fundamentally changing it.
Not everything is perfect
The CPU players can be somewhat boneheaded sometimes in their decisions. (You can set them to ‘Insane’ level as well if you want to get thrashed in the arena fights). And the Basilisk’s secondary power seems a tad unbalanced as well.
Aside from this, the only thing really missing is online multiplayer play. Archon is a game meant to be played by humans, with humans. Hot seat play is all well and fun, but true online multiplayer is the only major feature lacking from the game.
Archon Classic successfully resurrects the original, adds plenty of twists and features, and turns them all up to 11—and all for only $15. If you’re a fan of the original you won’t regret dropping $15 on this game, and maybe introduce your kids to some old-school Archon butt-whoopin (while you still can). Just make sure you have a couple of USB game controllers (they don’t neeed to be fancy) for the best experience.
You can currently buy Archon Classic at Gamersgate or buy it at Stardock’s Impulse for $15. And for you iPhone types, you can even get a version of Archon from iTunes.
And here’s hoping Archon II: Adept gets the same treatment.
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