Have you played Atari today?

November 7, 2008

I have.


A little Gnome told me that Zenobi has made some superb adventures for the Atari ST and that I should give one a whirl. So whirl I did, straight into The Magic Shop. This kind of game is almost completely foreign to me, so I felt comfortable in the knowledge that an adventure fanatic is steering me on the right path.

  • The Magic Shop
  • Vintage: 1990
  • Developer: Jason Taylor
  • Publisher: Zenobi Software

The first thing that struck me about The Magic Shop was the distinct lack of typing. “This is no text adventure,” thought I, getting my gnome whacking stick warmed up. However, this game may not be a text adventure in the strictest sense, but it is interactive fiction, just with pictures and a point and click interface. By the time I had realised that this would be the standard fare throughout the game, something had me hooked: the game’s unique atmosphere. So, with whacking stick holstered I set to my first proper soiree into the world of interactive fiction.

I hope they sell chattering teeth.

I hope they sell chattering teeth.

The Magic Shop is powered by Talespin, an adventure creator that enables the creation of these mouse-driven adventures with no prior knowledge of any programming language. Creating programs with Talespin is quick and easy, but limited in scope and sometimes the interface is a little clunky due to not being tailored to suit the game currently being played on the system. These problems are evident in The Magic Shop. Often, you will find you are resorting to random clicks around the screen as it isn’t obvious what is interactive and what isn’t. For instance, on one screen, clicking on a patch of grass regales you with “Short stubby grass, slightly parched in places by the sun,” whereas a click on the identical piece of grass ten pixels below reveals an option essential to progress. Very frustrating.

However, by the time you are beginning to get frustrated by these factors, the game’s mysterious theme has got its claws in you and just won’t let go. As a game of this type revolves around its writing and plot, I will attempt to do this without any spoilers.

Yes it is a nice car. Wait a minute. What exactly are you doing with your right hand?

Yes it is a nice car. Wait a minute. What exactly are you doing with your right hand?

You start the game outside a magic shop. Upon entering (expecting a glorified joke shop selling novelties and the like), you are greeted by a strange shopkeeper who informs you that the shop only appears to magicians and therefore you must be a magician (news to you). She then offers to show you some magical items, and the effect these magical items have on you sets you on a very strange, almost Twin Peaks adventure encompassing strange aliens, poncey petrol-head show-offs, death himself and much more besides.

The graphics are a little patchy, well drawn in places and sketchy in others, but always managing a high level of clarity, your confusion is never caused by misidentifying an item or character.

Get used to seeing this screen. A lot.

Get used to seeing this screen. A lot.

An advantage of the Talespin system is the opportunity to save at any point you wish, and you will need to use this option regularly as death is never too far away, and drudging through all too familiar dialogue boxes over and over will have you reaching for the power switch.

So in summary, the Talespin system does frustrate, but the frustration can be endured for the quality of writing and compelling atmosphere.

Slot your ring into the concrete penis, but keep an eye on the fiery imp. I told you it was surreal.

Slot your ring into the concrete penis, but keep an eye on the fiery imp. I told you it was surreal.

As I am far from an expert on the genre, you really shouldn’t take my word as gospel. Get yourself down to www.zenobi.co.uk and order a DVD. Ten pounds for every Zenobi game ever produced? An absolute bargain, especially when you consider the days and days worth of gaming it would take to play them all through (not to mention the man hours gone in to making them).

Score: stickstickhalfstick



  1. Nice writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

  2. Oh well, guess I should be whacked with a stick (a bit) for not making the nature of the interface clear, but the Magick Shop is indeed my only ST Zenobi experience. Oh, and I actually agree with the review (another great one – what a blog!), even though I didn’t quite find the thing more frustrating than -say- the first Space Quest games. Or Zork. Besides I’m almost used to pixel-hunting. Not, that I’ve finished it either, but that has more to do with my severe lack of gaming time…

    Anyway. I promise I’ll be reviewing a few Zenobi text-parser ST games as soon as I get back at proper blogging.

  3. This is the best game ever! Nevermind your PS3! Think I’ll start working on ‘The Magic Shop II’

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