ARCHON ULTRA from Free Fall Productions

Reviewed by Matt Ownby
Reviewed by Yaron Karasik

          Computer       Graphics       Memory         Disk
Minimum   386            VGA            2 MB           7 MB
Max/Rec.  386/25

Control:  Keyboard, Mouse, Joystick
  Sound:  Gravis Ultrasound (native mode), Sound Blaster Pro
  Notes:  Modem support, Will not work with PAS16 even in SB mode

Reviewed on: 486dx/33, 4MB RAM, ET4000 1M VLB, PAS16

The year is 1984. You walk into the dimly lit room and sit down in the squeaky chair. Old aluminum cans lay crushed on the floor and a half- eaten salad sits, rotting, off to one side. Resting directly in front of you, basking in all of its glory, is your coveted Apple ][+, boasting a whopping 64k of RAM. Removing the black 5.25" disk from its white sleeve, you slide it, roughly, into the bulky external drive and shut the lid. Turning on your computer, your disk drive whirs, making loud grinding noises. Within a matter of seconds, a fabulous black and white title screen pops up. Pressing a key, you excitedly embark into the world of... ARCHON.

The year is 1994. You've got the 486dx2/66 computer, the 1280x1024 SVGA display, the 16 bit sound card, the 28.8k modem, the laser printer, and the triple-speed CD ROM. But you haven't got Archon. Oh sure, there are plenty of other games to occupy you, but a wave of nostalgia passes over you time and time again as you remember all of the 8-bit classics that have yet to be successfully reproduced for 32-bit towers of power. One day, as you are lazily browsing the aisles at a local software store, your eye catches a title you have not seen for millennia. Adjusting your eyes in disbelief, your hands trembling, you slowly reach for the box with the words smeared across its cover in majestic splendor: ARCHON ULTRA.

Archon Ultra, by Free Fall Productions, is a significantly enhanced version of the original Archon by Electronic Arts. In it, two-players battle each other in a game that resembles chess in visual appearance, but I was repeatedly reminded of STAR CONTROL 2 (Accolade) during play, specifically the fight sequences. The programmers of Star Control 2 aided in the development of Archon Ultra and there are many similarities in the two games. Where in BATTLECHESS (Interplay Productions) one would simply watch a short animation of two game characters fight, in Archon Ultra one actually controls the characters during battle. This adds a whole new twist to the game because, unlike chess, the favored character will not always win.

Archon Ultra boasts colorful 256-color graphics and incredible music and sound effects. In addition, it takes full advantage of the 386/486 protected mode for yet more raw power. Perhaps Archon Ultra's greatest unique feature is its built-in modem support, a facet of gaming technology which very few have even bothered to develop. However, Archon Ultra may not appeal to some because of its inconsistencies and lack of a wide variety of options.

One of the things that impressed me most about Archon Ultra was its support of the superior Gravis Ultrasound (GUS) in native mode. Archon Ultra also supports the Sound Blaster Pro. A bad feature is that the ProAudio Spectrum 16 (PAS16) will NOT work at all, even in Sound Blaster emulation mode. There are switches to force Sound Blaster mode, but trying these has proved unfruitful. The graphics in Archon Ultra are reasonably average as far as action games go. They support the standard 320x200x256 graphics mode and feature impressive scrolling in battle scenes as well as detailed artwork of each individual character right before combat. Looking at the actual combat sequence however, one does not feel that the artists have tried particularly hard to make them look awe-inspiring.

Archon Ultra supports the three standard input devices: keyboard, mouse, and joystick. The programmers recommend using a joystick, but I found the keyboard to be the best suited device because of the critical maneuvering not always possible with a joystick. The pull-down menus of the game proved to be a problem. It was unusually difficult to set parameters in the menus and even to quit the game itself. The menu options also weren't accessible at all times in the game, often leaving the user at the mercy of the computer for several seconds.

The gameplay itself is similar to chess in a lot of ways. A board with alternating black and white squares is set up in which each side (light and dark) takes turns moving a single character. Each character has a certain amount of squares to which it can transport, and some characters can fly over others instead of being forced to walk around them. Unlike chess, the characters found in the light and dark sides are completely separate from each other. The players on the light side represent "good" creatures (eg Phoenix, Djinni, "good and noble" Wizard) while the dark side is composed of evil beings (eg Dragon, Shapeshifter, Goblin, and of course the "evil and deceitful" Sorceress). When a character from one side lands on a square occupied by a character from the opposing side, they both will enter a large arena and fight. An interesting variation (which was present in the original Archon) is that some of the colors on the game board will change color slowly, alternating between white and black as the game progresses. If a battle is fought on a black piece, a dark and fire-pervaded landscape will serve as the arena, and the evil character will be automatically granted extra hit points. If a conflict ensues on a white piece, a peaceful and serene forest will be the battleground, where the good character will enjoy the same advantage. As in Star Control 2, each character has two attacks instead of the single attack found in the original Archon. One is intended as a direct onslaught, while the other is usually meant for defensive purposes. On the game board, there are five squares called "power points". If a single side occupies every single power point, they automatically win. Unlike in the original Archon, if a battle takes place on a power point, a character will, at certain times, be able to stand over the power point during battle and recover its lost energy.

An average game of Archon Ultra will probably last forty-five minutes if the opponents are evenly matched. It is not particularly fun to play against the computer, but a two-player competition can be very enjoyable. The game would be a lot more entertaining if not for some inconsistencies. One example is that the phoenix's special attack, a floating feather, will continually follow the opponent around and will never disintegrate, nor can it be destroyed. This is highly unfair. Also, the game was slowed down too much by the developers, making it too easy for enemies to dodge incoming projectiles from slower characters. It is unfortunate that the designers did not include an option to speed the game up for veterans wanting more of a challenge. Archon Ultra is also not versatile enough in that games will often be played the exact same way many times. It lessens the satisfaction of playing knowing that you will only be able to beat your opponent by matching his patented strategy with a patented strategy of your own. The ending of the game is appropriate for the game's style and length: A simple full- screen graphic showing the winner and the loser. Anything more or less would probably not be as suitable.

Archon Ultra's modem play is excellent, even at 2400 baud. The difference between a 2400 baud modem game and a regular real-time game is almost negligible, except for longer pauses on the game board screen; battle mode is remarkably close to the real thing. This aspect of the game was extremely impressive.

It is tremendously pleasing to see a classic, such as Archon, be re-made into a full-scale 256 color version with heart-pounding music. GUS support, and modem support exceeded all expectations. Lack of any sound support for PAS16 users, languid battle sequences, and imbalances in army strengths were all disappointing. Although I personally have never played Archon II, I know that many people felt that the developers fell short by not including it with their remake of Archon I.

Archon Ultra is not a spectacular game. Considering the potential available to the developers, it could have been much more. However, it still ranks very highly on my list because of the outstanding features that it does have, which, in my opinion, make up for its weaknesses. Any game which emphasizes modem support as much as this one does, ought to be promoted. Die-hard Archon fans and people who love games playable via modem should definitely pick this one up. Those who like playing against another human opponent should also seriously consider it.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Matt Ownby for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.


Reviewed by Yaron Karasik

The name Archon is certainly not new to anyone that has been playing computer games since the mid 80s. Released in 1982, it became one of the most popular games of that era, and is still a classic today. It was a well balanced mixture of arcade action, chess-style strategy, and AD&D style monsters and spells. Very wisely, SSI has decided to release a new version of Archon, named appro-priately Archon Ultra. Although the graphics have gotten a full scale make over, the heart of the game is still there, and it is still as addictive as ever. Don't expect to get any sleep in the next couple of days.


Archon Ultra is actually chess meets D&D - you move your pieces around a chess board A La chess, but when a piece enters an occupied space, it does not mean sudden death - the two monsters have it out, and the winner of the fight, that envolves magical weapons and special powers, occupies the space. Like in chess, there are two sides - the white side, representing the "good guys", and the black side, representing the evil side. Each side has its share of monsters and fighters, each with their own special magical abilities. For example, The Phoneix, which is the white side's strongest piece, has a "homing feather" - a small feather like missle attack that moves toward its enemy - as well as the ability to turn into a huge fire and burn anyone within range to death. Its arch-rival, the evil dragon, has a fire breathing attack, and a poisonus gas attack. Each creature has a certain number of hit points, as well as a "Block Per Turn" speed, which represents the number of blocks he can move, per turn. Some creatures can fly, and thus can pass over other creatures, while some can only walk on land. Also, each side has a magician that can cast a small number of spells. Although these are not very useful, they add some variety to the game. The spells include Summon Elemental, which brings forth an Elemental to fight one of your enemy's creatures, Imprison, which denies any action from a creature, and Revive, which brings a dead character back to life. These spells can only be cast by the Wizard or Sorceress, and each can be used only once per game.

Combat is the heart of Archon Ultra, and is handled very nicely. There are three different combat fields - lake, lava and rocky. Flying creatures are not affected by landscape, but ground creatures suffer heavy damages from lava pools and acid lakes, and are slowed down in water. I found defeating Non-flyers easily, by bringing my flying creature right on top of a lava pool, and leaving the enemy no choice but to enter the pool, and die. Each creature uses two attack buttons for its two special attacks, and once you attack, you must wait a certain amount of time for the attack to regenerate. By holding down the attack key, one can decide where to release the attack, how long it will last, or even aim it using the creature control keys.


In one word, the graphics are great - each creature is rendered very beautifully, with attention to every detail. The animation of a creature moving from one place to another is excellent, especially in creatures such as the Unicorn and the Phoneix. The three different battle scenes are also very nicely rendered, yet not very special. Also, every time two enemies fight it out, you see two HUGE (50% of the screen), AWESOME digitized portraits of the two enemies. My favorite portrait was the shapeshifter - a black ooze with different parts of the assorted white creatures sticking out, such as the unicorn's horn and the phoneix's head. I'm not going to compare the graphics to the original Archon, which featured 2-D black and white graphics.. I'll just say that the improvement in graphics makes a BIG difference.. :) The only disappointment in graphics is when you win - a simple screen showing the Wizard and Sorceress playing chess and a small message "The Light/Dark side wins".. What a shame...

Sound is scarse in the game.. I would even dare to say that it is non existent. There are two or three fitting tunes that keep on playing, one for the battle screen, one for the game board. They don't add much, and are very basic. The same goes for the sounds effects. I think that much more could have been done here.


You can play Archon Ultra against the computer, or against a friend. There are two human play modes - you can move the pieces AND fight the battles, or, if you are a strategy freak that has no skill for shoot 'em ups, you can have the computer fight for you, and just control the pieces on the chessboard.

One of the greatest things in Archon Ultra is Modem play - simply put, you can play against the friend using a modem. The game has a small menu that you use to set up and call you friend, as well as trasmit a small "In-Game" note. This new angle in Archon playing is sure to be a hit.

During the game, you can use a mouse, joystick or keyboard. Although the control method has no meaning while on the game board, it helps to have a joystick while fighting. If you select the keyboard, player one can use the arrow pad, while player two has to use a very frustrating alignment of keys, that has caused me to fail as the second player. The Up/Down keys are adjacent, and it is simply uncomfortable. I think SSI could have easily added an option to set the game keys.


Overall, Archon Ultra is the just as good as the original Archon, with the addition of fine graphics, a bit of sound support, mouse support, and modem support. If you liked Archon, get this game ASAP.. It's addicting as ever! If you didn't play the original Archon, here's your chance to re-live part of computer game history, with a terrific strategy and action game, and you don't have to suffer with 2-D monochrome graphics. Archon Ultra is a worthy adition to any gamer's library.

This review is Copyright (C) 1993 by Yaron Karasik for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.