Ancient China has always been a rich trove of stories and settings to set them in and in 1986, Firebird released Golden Path steeped in oriental mythos.
Golden Path was one of many adventure games released during the 80s as computers continued to take off in the UK and as the competition attempted to scrabble together increasingly novel ways with which to tell interactive tales of adventure, mystery, and daring. Firebird, which was part of Telecomsoft (which, in turn, was part of British Telecom as part of their effort to push into the growing field of video games on computers), published the game as a part of their identity as a budget title line. It was created by a small development team called Magic Logic and, unfortunately, was apparently the only game created by them.
The game was released for the Amiga and the Atari ST platforms and boasted great graphics for the time with detailed backdrops, a music track, and some neat sound effects. Included with the game was something else to get players further immersed within its world — a manual that was prefaced with a 20 page story written by Kim Whitmore.
The story stokes ancient mysteries nested in a legendary book kept safe at a Tibetan monastery “beyond the eyes of ordinary men”. A lone excerpt from its mysterious pages tells the story of Y’in Hsi, the Golden Emperor, who lived in China before the rise of the Great Wall and “before the last dragons had been killed”. But before he became emperor, he was merely a man who studied the sacred ways of the world with other monks before discovering his true destiny. Vowing to reclaim his lost birthright, he inadvertently slips the ring of his deceased father on his finger, turning him into an old man. The only way to reverse the spell, and to prove himself worthy of reclaiming his throne, lay along the Golden Path.
The Path itself is literally a breadcrumb trail shown on the lower right corner mini-map showing the scene that the player is in displaying the possible pathways through the area. The game’s space split into several scenes and the player is tasked to solve puzzles and try to not get killed. A withering “vine” above a sparse, four slot inventory area shows how much health they have and performing actions such as kicking and punching (because there are going to be those that don’t quite care for your quest) will wither it as will getting smacked around by whatever hazards are nearby.
There’s no parser to enter commands like “take flowers” or “kill dragon”. Instead, the player guides Y’in Hsi using the mouse. Clicking at his feet bends him down to pick up or place on the ground items. Clicking ahead of him tells him to move towards your cursor. Clicking above his head prompts him to throw whatever he might have in hand. Right clicking on him while holding an object will get him to use it and hopefully solve a puzzle (success is indicated by a ! above his head…continued puzzlement by a ?). Right clicking on him when he doesn’t have anything in hand will cause him to try and kick or punch at whatever is in front of him.
But be careful at who you hit. Hitting innocents can cause his life vine to brutally wither even further. The good news is that he can replenish some of it with food found lying around (and which respawns by leaving and then entering the screen). The bad news? Food effects diminish every time its used.
The controls can take a bit of getting used do since getting him to follow the mouse cursor can sometimes test your patience. Simply clicking on a spot on the screen isn’t enough to get him there as with some other adventure games. The limitations of your inventory can also be a puzzle in and of itself. You’re only able to hold four items in his pockets meaning that you’ll probably need to leave stuff you don’t need right away on the ground, hopefully where you can get back to it easily.
A criticism of the game is that the puzzles can range from the relatively easy to the oddly bizarre and there’s no save feature, either. This is an adventure game built in the era when getting killed was all a part of the experience, and Golden Path can easily prove that again and again making it part traditional adventure game, part arcade.
It can also make the game extremely frustrating given its puzzle-like nature and how many steps you’ll need to repeat to get to where you may have died. The Golden Path you can follow can also “branch” into different areas from one side of the screen, though it’s not always clear looking at the mini-map making it possible to wonder just where to go next when the path you need is only a few pixels above the path you were on.
Still, Golden Path’s design casts it as one of those ancient ancestors of the action adventure genre where picking up items and running about an area to find out where they should go was typical stuff, much like what Atari’s Raiders of the Lost Ark in ’82 on the Atari 2600 had touched on.
The game was later included in a collection of other games in 1988 but dropped into obscurity after that (unlike Tetris which was a part of the collection). The ending of the game ever so slightly suggests another adventure could be possible, but sadly, this one title turned out to be the start…and end…to this Golden Path.