Adventure games

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Kobyashi Naru

Kobyashi Naru by Mastertronic - in-game screen
Kobyashi Naru - an icon-driven text adventure from Mastertronic

  • Release year: 1987
  • Publisher: Mastertronic Ltd
  • Authors: Les Hogarth, Clive Wilson
  • ZXDB archive entry at Spectrum Computing


I had absolutely no idea whether this game was well-known or not. I certainly played it when it came out. Mastertronic don't seem to have forked out for much advert space - in fact I haven't found a single one. I'm sure the eyebrow-raising £1.99 price tag gave it a decent circulation though, and this interview with Clive Wilson indicates that it was one of their better selling adventures.

In case you either weren't aware or hadn't noticed the screenshot, the main feature of the game is that despite it essentially being a text adventure, it uses an icon-driven system. This means there's no guess-the-verb shenanigans that text adventure players had become accustomed to.

Kobyashi Naru inlay - small
Discover knowledge, wisdom and understanding, and potentially a giant lizard thing, on your road to immortality (click image for a larger version)

First of all, let's deal with the William Shatner in the room. Or rather, Captain Kirk, and the supposedly non-winnable challenge he had to undertake, the Kobayashi Maru. If you're not a Star Trek watcher, you can look it up, if you want. You might be able to find a parallel or two in this game if you look closely enough, but it's really a completely different kettle of fish. So, onto:

The Game

So what do you have to do? Well, in order to gatecrash the best after-party in existence and hang out with your newly acquired immortal buddies, you're given the task of successfully completing THREE mini-adventures, your goal being to collect the three objects representing KNOWLEDGE, WISDON and UNDERSTANDING.

Kobyashi Naru - the first of three parts
Most of the location graphics are a bit simplistic, but colourful and pleasant enough

The icons surrounding the location graphic represent a verb (PUSH, PULL, ACTIVATE, JUMP etc.). Using cursor keys, you pick one, then highlight a word in the location text to act on it. Or possibly two items in the case of THROW x AT y. Better than typing? Yep, I think so, it definitely gave me a LucasArts vibe and made things a whole lot easier.

That's not to say the game is completely straightforward. There are quite a few occasions where you can be killed quite suddenly, catapulting you back to the start of the game.

Kobyashi Naru - sudden death is fairly common
One of a number of ways you can meet your demise in the game. This one sounds a bit messy

Having said that, SAVE options - both memory and cassette - mean deaths aren't really that annoying. Each of the three sections is small, short and relatively easy. Aside from the WISDOM section which had me briefly stuck at one point, the puzzles don't pose much in the way of obstacles for long. Mainly because there are very few locations and objects to collect and interact with.

Another nice feature is that you can do any of the three sections in any order. You also don't carry objects between them, so they're truly self-contained if you get stuck somewhere. The only caveat is that once you've entered one of the three areas you can't leave until you find the object you need, as the games master seems to lock the door behind you, Crystal Maze style.

Kobyashi Naru - a dangerous plant encounter
This chompy chap, the KRAKOD, is likely to be your first proper challenge, appearing in part one, KNOWLEDGE

I can't recall any point in the game where I was carrying around more than two objects, and most locations only have one or two things to interact with. As mentioned there are very few locations in the game and I'd forgotten how small each section was. This means that you won't get lost, or need to resort to a map.

Having found all three objects (I wanted to write 'sacred', but that's probably not right) you can return to your starting location to complete the game.

Kobyashi Naru - the beginnings of a map that didn't need finishing
I started drawing a map, as I'm a proper adventure game trooper. You won't need to so I'd suggest don't bother. Save your paper

There are 23 icons that you can use in the game. Mind you, once you've taken off the directions (including ASCEND and DESCEND for up/down), SAVE, LOAD, QUIT and SELECT (that one you only use in the first location), you're down to a lot fewer. DIVE and SWIM are clearly water-based, and of course there's the obligatory GET and DROP.

So ultimately if you get completely stuck, there aren't THAT many choices to cycle through if you have to resort to a use-everything-on-everything-else tactic. The game certainly gives you enough information not to need to do this, however.


Kobyashi Naru - object descriptions are detailed and helpful
Examining an object gives you a nice picture, and a description that is quite helpful as to the object's intended purpose

I'm fairly sure that I completed this game when I originally played it. I don't recall resorting to hints (though I may have done) but I remembered nothing about it - having played it again I completed it quite easily. Given that I can probably count the number of adventures (text or otherwise) that I finished back in the 80s on the fingers of one hand, this is a solid indicator that it's probably an easy game for most. It's even easier with modern day emulator snapshots - and no, I don't count that as cheating as the game has a RAM SAVE option anyway.

The icon system doesn't take long to get to grips with, and the game responses are detailed enough to give you enough hints about what you should be doing.

In the magazines of the day it was met quite favourably. It received a creditable 83% in the Crash review, and a similar score (4 out of 5) in Sinclair User.

Kobyashi Naru review in ZX Computing magazine
ZX Computing's Tony the Tiger reviewed the game and said it was "GREEAATT!!" (click image to go to the magazine review itself)

Overall I'd say it was a decent game. The icon control system works and it's very pleasant to play. I'm not sure how it would've been received by the mags as a full price offering, it's not too taxing and you might have felt slightly short-changed if it'd been, say, £7.95 or over. Especially as I think you could possibly finish it in a single evening, despite what the ZX Computing review claims.

Nevertheless, 'Team Zenobi' (Les and Clive) clearly had some pedigree and ability when it came to producing these adventure games, and the Zenobi name is well-known for this genre of game. It's also nice that Mastertronic were willing to put their publishing weight behind an adventure game like this one.

Definitely one to try if you fancy having a crack at a Speccy adventure game that is eminently completable. I'm sure Captain Kirk will tell you it's a lot easier than what he had to do...