Ancient Empires

Ancient Empires is game by a company named “The Learning Company”. It’s also an educational platformer game. This does not bode well. There is a redeeming quality however: the educational parts are fairly light, there’s definitely a game to be found inside it. A somewhat mediocre platform/logic game, that’s true, but it’s still a game. Ancient Empires was published in 1990. The game is mainly about ancient empires. Who would have guessed.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the game is very beginner-friendly. The controls are shown, the goals and tools you have are explained, and there are two difficulty settings. The only thing they don’t tell you is that you need to have numlock disabled if you want to use the regular arrow keys in the menus. Strange, but it might be a DOSBox quirk.

Look! Ancient empires!

The game starts out with a map of four ancient empires. Each location leads to a series of maps, from each of which you must recover six pieces of an artifact related to that culture. Of course, the pieces are typically only reachable after you pass some obstacles. These obstacles come in different forms. There are evil creatures ranging from snakes and beetles to alien-like explosive-spewing things. Each creature has his own behavior which you must avoid to pass the obstacle.

The alien-like explosive-spewing THING in the top-left! What IS it? What ancient empire held such horrible secrets? This so-called educational game does not tell us.

Another obstacle are the logic puzzles. These are in general rather tame (okay, the game is probably not made for computer science majors) and range from pressing the correct combination of buttons to make all doors open, over rotating prisms to make your light beam hit the switch, to time your path past various switches so you can push them in the correct order. Each empire comes with a different core mechanic and associated puzzles, which is kind of cool.

In Greece you are required to fall through the bottom to hit the gongs in the order listed at the bottom right. Meanwhile also avoid the fireball-shooting scorpion. The whatnow? Still not quite sure on the educational worthiness of this game.

In order to fulfill your quest, you have been given three items. In pure educational game tradition, these are absolutely completely real and feasible items. There are the rocket-boosted boots that make you jump higher, the miner’s helmet with light beam that goes as fast as you walk, and the personal energy field to keep the creatures away from you. It’s probably technology developed in the ancient empires but lost to human civilization over the years.

Hmm... What ancient Babylonian reindeer fits on the question mark?

All kidding aside, while there are some details that aren’t quite perfect, this game seems an interesting logical/platforming challenge to a six-year old. And it doesn’t really matter if six-year olds believe in alien-like explosive-spewing things. Serves them well to quietly cry in their bed when daddy doesn’t want to check for alien-like explosive-spewing things in the cupboard. Bloody six-year olds. 6/10.


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