Sunday, March 3, 2024

Ankh (1984)

Developer:David van Brink
Genre:Top-Down Shooter/puzzle
Time:1 hour 30 minutes
Won:No (83W/67L)

Ankh is a game that seems to have just appeared one day in Datamost's catalog. Its author, David van Brink's only other credit is an Apple II Tempest-clone. You can tell because Ankh is one of those games that comes from a misunderstood genius or a crazy person. This is no Egyptian-themed game, this is pure surrealism.

At the start of the game, you are given a choice between two options, left or right. Left is...uh...what seems to be a weird snake game or a strange paint option. It looks like a creation tool, but the way its implemented makes this awkward at best. This is the start of the game's weirdness.

Right brings you to the main game. You are a strange...uh...pyramid...? You move by nudging the joystick or arrow keys in any direction, you don't stop until you press or hold space. Touching anything drains your health. As there are many things in the game world to interact with, you naturally shoot them instead. Three shots on-screen at a time. Shooting anything that isn't a wall, in addition to killing hostiles and activating switches, also increases your health. Once, anyway.

Playing this a few times, I find myself wondering where the heck to go after a while. This is clearly leaning in on the top-down shooter design because of the era, this is a puzzle game through and through. Enemies respawn whenever you leave a room and the only threat they seem to pose is in numbers. Eventually, I search for the manual. I find it. Its worth a read even if you don't play the game, this is a trip. It also reveals two aspects to this game that I didn't know about. There are items you can pick up and by pressing Shift lock, or caps lock on a modern computer, you switch to a touch mode. This is, of course, vitally important, because shooting things and touching things are entirely different actions.

After some introductory areas you are given a choice between east and south. South is the tutorial area according to what I've read. Somehow. There are a series of rooms, each containing a button, a door and something inside that door, usually another button. Find the button outside that works, which then opens a door. The button inside activates another button, activate that one and so forth until you get a triangle. What is the triangle? I have no idea, but they seem to be important.

East leads to another fork, north and east. I go north first. Firstly, you get a map room, which isn't obvious at first. Obviously rooms fill in as you go through the game, but what isn't obvious is that this is a map rather than an indication of where you've been. Further north is a button and an object, press the button and a bullet heads north out of the gun, a great way to shoot yourself. Then one east of here is a weird door, which requires you to press the button on this side, find a way to the other side, then find a way in to get another triangle. No triangle reachable from here though.

East is a weird maze of doors. What's tricky about it is that whenever you go east or west you return to the center, so you can't go around either outer corridor. This is where I got stuck before I figured out the whole touch trick. Further east is another fork, south are enemies. A lot of enemies. This leads to an ankh room with a switch which does something, but not here. Doors further south are very locked.
East back from the fork. Another north/east fork. North leads to some kind of gun spamming bullets, can't get past here yet, so east again. (I later discover that this is the path to another triangle) A room full of bombs and another fork, this time I go south. I open a door with a switch and pick up something I later discover is a shot rebounder, shots bounce off it at 90 degree angles.
Now we have this. This is a remote controlled, well, to quote the manual, other, as the PC is an other of the actual player. Use the touch mode to activate everything. The first room is easy, you get up, down and stop. The second removes stop. The third removes up. So you only get one chance at it. I failed. Back east leads to one last fork, now one leading west/north.

West leads to a clever room, a door that moves when a tape is shot, only you can't get out in time if you shoot the tape. At first you think its a case of movement, but back north there are two shot rebounders that you pick up. Place it down and you have enough time to grab the second triangle.  Further north are two locked doors I have no idea about. I would try, but seeing as I have to restart the game for that one area with the remote controlled other, and that isn't going to be fun, I decided against it.

Simple, three shots on-screen. 1/10

Every enemy is the same, it wanders around and it shoots. 1/10


Interesting design, but marred by poor execution in some areas. 4/10

Player Agency:
Nearly the best you could expect out of pure keyboard controls. Shoot in one direction, move in the other. What is annoying is how you either constantly move or move one pixel at a time. It is annoying that you don't get to chose where you drop items though. 6/10

Mostly clever puzzles, but just not enough ideas to fill up 64 rooms. 4/10

Very weird. The introduction animations set the scene, while the game world feels suitably bizarre as a followup. I'm still not sure what's going on with the GUI, since it seems to change constantly. 4/10

Unappealing and crude. 1/10


A variety of weird, albeit not unpleasant, sound effects occur. Some are very useful, as you always know when something activates something even if it isn't on-screen. Shots in particular continually make noise until they hit something, and it isn't actually that bad. 2/10

And that's 23.

1984 continues to rise above past years. Reviews all describe the same things I did, and the only exception seems to be more modern players finding the game too weird.

These days, Mr. van Brink is working on another game in the same concept...which has been worked on since 2016 if not earlier. Occasionally, I clown on games for taking forever to be developed, and this definitely seems to be another case of it, but I can't help but hope that he succeeds with this one.

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