This game is all about treasure hunting on the high seas or, more to the point, about chasing after information to discover the location of long-lost shipwrecks. As well as having a slice of adventuring it also has an educational component.
The story begins as you arrive in Golden Creek, a small fishing village, at the invitation of your uncle, Tuck Pinkleton. He has sent for you because he's in dire need of your help. Recently he built a sparkling new Maritime Museum in Golden Creek, but it's still just an empty shell. Unfortunately, he lost all of his spare cash on an unproductive treasure hunt, so now he's handing over the reins to you to see if you can improve on his performance and fill the museum.
During the course of the game, then, there are 5 treasure hunts (shipwrecks) to pursue. However, your uncle first sends you out to make contact with locals who have expertise to help you. When you have finished this 'test' and collected a piece of map from each person, you have your first shipwreck to hunt down ... The San Antonio, a Spanish galleon.
But X does not mark the spot just yet. You need to carry out the research to find your quarry. To this end you have at your disposal a small computer which is not only a link up with the outside world, but also collates your clues, displays your budget, and gives you very handy hints if you drag your feet.
So for each wreck in turn you must complete the research then, when you have sufficient information to ensure a successful hunt, you can visit the bank manager to get a loan before you hire your ship and crew. The expeditions themselves are just a matter of sitting back, observing and learning. Here you are given basic information on the trials and tribulations of various types of sea exploration and, as artefacts are retrieved you can select each one for more information about that particular object.
Actually carrying out the research comprises most of the gameplay in Treasure Hunter. Sometimes, as with the first hunt, the library is the place to go. Other searches will have you winging your way to the beaches of sunny Madagascar or to Malta to gather information. During these escapades, too, there is an educational twist as each wreck is associated with a particular historical period/event so along the way you'll learn about the early explorers of the 'New World', as well as about piracy and the history of the Knights of Malta.
The educational component here is meshed with exploration and problem solving. Sometimes information is presented in books or videos, etc, or, as with the Maltese Knight, you have to prove yourself and learn about his Order before he'll help at all. There is an assortment of more traditional adventuring problems to overcome as well, for instance, finding the history of the Knights presents a succession of problems and there's a small maze to negotiate, a sequence of buttons to figure out, and various objects to find to meet your ends. These more traditional adventuring problems, however, are not difficult and, just in case you do come to a standstill, your trusty computer will put you right on the track.
Treasure Hunter is a first-person perspective game so your character is in not represented on screen, you don't even have a given name. Pity the writers didn't allow for a genderless character, but you are most definitely 'Tuck's nephew' and a very young and inexperienced lad by my reckoning. Either that or the first meeting with archaeologist, Lucy Campbell has some pretty silly dialogue with the opportunity to ask a new acquaintance "Aren't we going to embrace?"
The graphics in this game are quite impressive; the sleepy village of Golden Creek looks good. I say 'sleepy' because there's no one around outside but you. Also, the sketches that comprise the stories that you collate about each wreck also work very well. A direction star with flashing pointers allows you to move around the game world and movement is smooth and flowing. Sometimes a 'step' forward, though, will be just that, at other times you will sail on to some pre-designated spot.
All dialogue is sub-titled in Treasure Hunter and icons below the picture screen allow the selection of actions such as walk, look, talk and take/operate objects. Here there is also an inventory (I don't recall ever carrying more than one item), as well as your computer and a travel icon. Once you have chosen an action the cursor changes into an all-purpose throbbing green ball when returned to the playing screen. Different, but it doesn't serve any purpose other than to disguise the action you have chosen. Personally, I found it quite distracting, but I did get used to it. And I also got used to the save game system, which is of the type that only saves at specific locations. Hence when you reload you are never quite sure where you will start out.
Treasure Hunter is a title that is orientated towards edutainment rather than being a straight-out adventure game. Not that I think that edutainment-type titles can't be fun, or that pure adventure games can't have educational elements, but integrating the two can sometimes detract from the overall game. To some extent this is the case with Treasure Hunter as along the way it loses that 'spark' of adventure and that ability to keep reeling you in for more.
To be fair, it is a reasonable game, just not particularly gripping. I spent a lot of time waving that green ball around to no avail, as you are quite limited in what you can do. Considering the educational component and the copious hints available Treasure Hunter is probably more suited to younger players, and they might well get more fun out of it than I did. And, as for the ending, it's about as predictable as could be. A reward in store for our young adventurer ... guess who, waiting to whisk him off to who knows where in his Uncle's yacht? ... I thought Lucy was an archaeologist, I didn't know she was a prize!
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1998.
All rights reserved.
PENTIUM 90Mhz, 4xCD ROM, 8 MB RAM, 5 MB Hard drive space, Sound card.