In a cavern, in a canyon

Lost Dutchman Mine logo

ONCE upon a time there was a man. He was Dutch. He was also very forgetful. For example, he had a gold mine and he lost it. Now the thing about this mine was that it was full of gold. Not completely full of course, there must have been enough space for the Dutchman to get in and out for instance.

Anyway, so there is gold enough to provide a ransom not only for the king but right down to the wife of his second cousin, but it is all lost down in a hole somewhere. Do you think the prospect of being killed by Indians, bitten by snakes, caught in cave-ins, robbed by robbers or drunk by drinks in any way worried the average '49er? Neither do I.

LDM is a sort of graphic adventure-cum financial strategy game. Control is both by mouse and by joystick: the mouse is used to select the icons while the joystick is used to control your prospector's movement and actions in particular scenes.

The game is based around a small town surrounded on four sides by desert and split by a dirt track connecting this backwater with territories to the northeast and the southwest. A solitary river winds its way through dusty valleys, providing a much-needed supply of fresh water and food.

Everything you need can be bought in the town, with the perennial provider that you actually have the money. The Mercantile store sells the tools and rations you need to run a successful mining operation and also firearms for protecting yourself.

A saloon is a good place to kip when it gets cold and can alos be an unexpected source of income if you can get into a poker game with the stranger in the corner. Watch him though, he is good.

The town also features a bank to keep your hard (or sometimes easy) earned loot. Unfortunately banks are not necessarily as safe as houses, and the local bandits treat this particular branch as a kind of early cashpoint machine. They ride in, insert their guns into the cashiers nostrils and request to make a withdrawal. "Thnertainly thir", says the cashier. "Ith that in thacks of fivethz or tenthz?".

Of course, if you should run into these robbers in the dusty wastes you might be able to capture them and take them in for a huge reward. Easy money.

Panning for gold does not cover your costs unless you take some hooks and do some fishing as well. The real money is up in the mountains down abandoned mines. The mountains are even more inaccessible and dangerous than the desert.

It requires a special kind of nutter to roam around the lower intestinal passages of structurally unsound mines on the off-chance of becoming spectacularly rich, doesn't it?

A great degree of planning is needed if you are not to starve or dehydrate on your way to a mine. There is also the problem of carrying any ore back. The answer to most of these problems is a mule. They come in three models - Alice (Metro), Clara (Transit) and Betsy (Juggernaut).

Although most of the screen is fairly static, and the map view is terribly dull, the animations in the upper display are good. There is generally a fairly comig element in the illustrated sections.

Sound effects are minimal but well used, apart from the terrible noise when you go fishing.

This game may take some time to complete, and although packed with semi-random features it can get a little boring travelling backwards and forwards all the time. But behind it all is an exceptional piece of coding. Many games players think that metal-bashing, super-scrolling mega-demos are real programming, but to me the ability to create a game with all these features and remain OS legal (well mostly) is real genius.

Lost Dutchman Mine logo

Magnetic Images
Price: £24.99

Back in the days when men were men and pensioners had rights the gold rush was in full swing. This particular tale is one of money, donkeys, and yellow metal.

LDM follows the fortunes of a decrepit prospector whiling out his last few months attempting to find a highly profitable, sometimes, mythical, and definitely lost mine.

The game is presented on two main screens. A large map of the surrounding area is used to help navigate the ancient miner to rivers, mines and home. When the miner is digging or panning for gold or he is the town, a close up screen is brought up showing the miner and his immediate surroundings.

Being as you are playing an OAP, you are quite prone to the elements. The temperature in a desert go from bloody hot at midday to freezing cold at midnight, so a canteen, some food and a set of a long johns are available from the local store. Buildings in the local town include a bank, an olde western saloon, the jail, doctor Bob's and the all important assayers who will value and buy your gold off of you.

Until you work out where the mines are most of your time is taken up knee-deep in the local rivers with panning for gold nuggets. But not everybody is as nice as our miner friend though, there is the constant threat of bandits - after all it is the west and it is most definitely wild.

Unfortunately, there is not too much of a game in there. It tends to lose a bit on playability through repetition. For the most part it is one man and his donkey against the elements, traipsing back forth between river and town.

The graphics are smart. Nice backdrops and digitised characters add to the presentation. However LDM features one of the worst pieces of music I have heard - a horrendous cacophony of off key warbles and clanks.

A pretty nondescript game, but will find favour with the Sunday afternoon games players who are perfectly happy to sit back and admire the scenery.