If there's one sure-fire way to drum up free publicity for your latest gaming venture, it's by wheeling out an update.
In the case of The Bard's Tale, you'd have to be a fairly grizzled old school gamer to remember the original and its sequels from when they first showed up some 20 years ago. This particular update isn't quite as cynical as some, though - not only is the original developer Brian Fargo involved, but he's used his return as an opportunity to send up the RPG genre.
Many of the nods to the clichés of the genre are made by the Bard himself, expertly voiced by The Princess Bride's Cary Elwes in cockney mode. A refreshingly witty but shitty character, the Bard is concerned only with earning cash through whatever means necessary, and encouraging the land's various buxom wenches to play his purple flute. Naturally, his less than noble efforts at getting his rather unsavoury end away are channelled into a more wide-reaching plot involving saving a beautiful and, of course, rich princess. Just how much of a cad the Bard is throughout the adventure is, to a limited extent, up to you, as you can pick whether to be bolshy or nice at key points during conversations.
READY TO ROLE?
The Bard's Tale is an action-RPG - a genre far more familiar to consoleites. It's even based on the same engine used for Dark Alliance and Champions Of Norrath, which are the console versions of Baldur's Gate and EverQuest respectively. Taking into account that the Snowblind engine is effectively four years old helps to explain it looking less than state of the art, but it's by no means terrible.
The majority of the RPG elements have been stripped down to their bare bones. The loot regurgitated by vanquished enemies (one of many commonplace RPG nonsenses acknowledged by the Bard) is automatically sold, and you
have to distribute a couple of experience points every now and then when you level up. The summoning system proves to be the most interesting aspect, as once you've collected some summoning-tunes, it's left to you to select the best combination of allies to call upon to help you out at any given point.
The biggest sting in the Bard's tail is that it doesn't realise that taking the piss out of the genre's clichés doesn't excuse it from relying on them. Most of the quests consist of a repetitive and sometimes excruciatingly strung-out series of battles. The fact that the combat itself amounts to little more than uninspiring button-bashing leaves the impression that much of it is there merely to serve as padding.
While The Bard's Tale is told amusingly enough, the disappointing combat fails to lift it from the upper end of mediocrity. Although the gags fail to hold a candle to the likes of Monkey Island and its ilk, they still just about maintain your attention long enough to make it to one of the multiple endings. Ultimately it's lightweight stuff and would be a better buy if it was going for a song.
A tardy tale
- Excellent voice work
- Summoning is interesting and adds a tactical edge
- Some reasonably amusing gags
- Crap and repetitive combat
- Unresponsive controls
- Save points: GNAARGH!