Human beings have the compulsive urge to classify everything, to put things into labelled drawers. That is why websites like this one have all these badges for their game entries, like “genres” or “themes”. It must have been a great time before these had been firmly established and turned into trite clichés. This game, being roughly as old as myself, certainly comes from such a time. Although its exact publication date is a matter of discussion, it was definitely developed before I was born, as developer Warren Robinett already left Atari in 1979.
With gameplay rules not fully set in stone, there was room to experiment, and so the theme of the original Crowther/Woods (text-based) Adventure became the inspiration for what retrospectively could be called the first “action adventure”. The elements of the seminal inspiration are definitely there: the goal is to retrieve treasure (a magical chalice, sparkling in many colours) and return it to the safe starting location. There is a maze of “twisty passages, all alike”. There is darkness. There are enemies to be slain. And there are even small puzzles.
Just that it all takes place in real time and without the indirection of a text parser. The player moves a dot across the screen with the joystick. Items can be picked up just by touching them, which will make them stick to the player. Enemies are dispatched, for example, by carrying the sword and running into them tip first instead of typing HIT DRAGON WITH SWORD. This is all completely intuitive, which definitely needs to be applauded.
On a system like the Atari VCS, this comes at a price, of course. The interaction is rather simplistic. Apart from fighting dragons (which have another good point: you don't die from any touch, but just by being eaten with their beak), puzzles boil down to opening locked doors with differently coloured keys, crossing chasms with a portable bridge and grabbing stuck items with a magnet. Only one object can be carried at a time, which makes for a lot of running back and forth. On the other hand, without this limitation, the game would have become much too easy, of course.
Speaking of easy, there are three difficulty levels. The first one is rather basic and can be finished within about 5 minutes. The second one adds hidden rooms and items as well as a bat which flies around stealing objects from the player (i.e. it fulfils roughly the same function as Zork's thief). The hardest level randomises the starting location of all objects.
So there is at least a little replayability and the intuitive simplicity certainly has its charm. Though it also has to be admitted that the technology of that time was just not there to produce a game in this style, but with the scale of the original. The text adventure offshoots of the genre certainly have aged better than this; even if its historical significance cannot be challenged.