The SwordQuest series was a unique attempt to combine comic books and videogames into a contest of epic proportions. Unfortunately while the comic books were well thought out, the games themselves were boring, difficult, and about as much fun as smashing your thumb over and over again with a hammer. This along with the crumbling videogame market eventually lead to the series being canceled, leaving the contest and story unfinished.
The goal of each contest was to find a series of five words which would qualify the player for the national tournament. These words were hidden in the comic book, and clues to their location were given by the cartridge for solving various puzzles. If the player found all five words, he was given a certificate of merit and his name was entered in the drawing for the tournament. The national tournament consisted of a handful of other finalists competing against each other in a special "tournament" version of the game. These tournament versions were much easier than the normal versions, requiring only one or two items in each room. The contestants had to see how far they could get through the game in the 90-minute time limit. Rumor has it that these easier tournament versions were released overseas after the contest had been canceled.
Winners of the tournaments were awarded a gold and jewel encrusted prize related to the game (supposedly valued at $25,000). The prize for the EarthWorld contest was a jewel encrusted talisman with a small sword in it's center, for Fireworld there was a jeweled platinum chalice, for Waterworld the prize was a golden crown, and for Airworld a philosophers stone (a large chunk of white jade in a jeweled box). The ultimate prize was a $50,000 jeweled sword, which would be awarded to the winner of all the national tournaments. The talisman and chalice were awarded (the talisman was melted down, and the chalice resides in a safety deposit box), but the rest of the prizes disappeared after the contest folded. A popular rumor is that the sword hangs above Jack Tramiels fireplace.
Each SwordQuest cartridge was really a set of action sequences loosely held together by an overall goal of dropping the right item in the right room. The player would wander from room to room competing in various action sequences to gain items. These items had various properties that would help or hinder the player. If the player managed to put these items in the proper rooms in the correct order, he was rewarded with a clue.
The comic book was supposed to supply hints on what items needed to be put into the various rooms. For instance if one of the twins used a sword against Taurus the bull, that would indicate that the sword was one of the items that went into Taurus's room. If the player successfully put all the proper items in a room a numeric clue would appear. These clues would look like 16-4 or 27-2, and meant that the secret word was hidden on page 16 panel 4 or page 27 panel 2. The words were hidden somewhere in the picture, but could be found after a few minutes of searching. To keep people from just randomly searching the comic book for all the hidden words, Atari planted false words throughout the comic. These hidden words were not part of the final solution, although some clues pointed to them. The reader had to figure out which words were true and which were false. Each comic book had an introductory poem, which gave the key to the clues in a concealed way. It was up to the reader had to figure out what the secret to the poem was.
The storyline for the comic books was imaginative and well written. It revolved around a pair of twins named Tarra and Torr. After King Tyrannus's guards, spurred by a prophecy from the wizard Konjuro, killed their natural parents they are raised by thieves as commoners to avoid their parents' fate. They are interrupted while trying to plunder Konjuro's sea keep and inadvertently reveal their true identities to him. After stealing a large jewel from the keep, they flee to avoid a large demon which Konjuro summed to kill them. After accidentally dropping the jewel it breaks open freeing two robed and hooded beings, which turn out to be Tyrannus's old councilors who were imprisoned by Konjuro. After a brief conversation, the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery and the Talisman of Penultimate Truth are revealed to the twins and the pit opens up which leads to EarthWorld. After many encounters with the zodiacal denizens and another thief, Herminus, they are transported to the central chamber for a glimpse at the Sword and the Talisman. As they reach for it, they each gain a sword, but not the true Sword, which burns a hole through the altar into the ground below and falls to the second world, Fireworld.
In addition to its main elemental theme, each cartridge was supposed to have a secondary theme that dictated how the room structure and action sequences would look. The secondary theme for EarthWorld was the Zodiac, so the game consisted of twelve rooms each with it's own Zodiac symbol. The action sequences and comic book also reflected the Zodiac theme with names like Aquarius Rapids, Sagittarius Horns, and Leo Waterfalls.
The four tests in EarthWorld are:
As I mentioned earlier, there are eight items in EarthWorld, which you must deposit in the various rooms. However these items have a secondary purpose and will help or hinder you character depending on the situation.
The following items don't have any secondary use, but are used to trigger some of the clues.
Overall the SwordQuest games are a series of very sub par "adventure" games loosely held together by an ill thought out contest. The concept was innovative and interesting, but the execution was terrible. Had the games been better and the contest less confusing, Atari might have had a hit on its hands. Instead players got a frustratingly difficult game that was absolutely no fun to play and an overly complicated contest which most players solved by luck than skill. The SwordQuest series is better known for what wasn't (AirWorld) than what was, and will long be remembered as one of Atari's more costly failures.