1984 : Below the Root (C64)

Program Details:

  • Published: 1984, Spinnaker Software/Windham Classics
  • Graphics/Design: William Groetzinger
  • Code: Dale Disharoon
  • Music: Unknown
  • Genre: Adventure, RPG, Platformer
  • Controls: Joystick 2
  • Players: 1p
  • # of Disks: 1 (2 sides)

Notes/Review:

On of the great early computer games, epic adventure and Platform-RPG with a spectacular menu-selectable interface. It is a canonical sequel, I believe, that was manifest with collaborative blessing by author Zilpha Keatley Snyder and Dale Disharoon for Snyder's Green Sky Trilogy of 1970s allegorical fantasy novels. I first played this game when it came out along with a few other of the stellar Windham Classics and was hooked for life. Not only that but this game and its imaginative and unique experience provoked me to seek out the book series of which I have read 2-3 times in my life since and recommend heavily to those who like the game as well as children in general. It is one of the great and sadlly obscure American young adult series, and this game is a part of the series and just as crucial in the spectrum of video gaming.

Both the game and books are utterly brilliant, and for the Commodore 64 this game absolutely belongs in my own top 3 of all-time. The game, like the books, are crucial for especially young people whom they were designed as it requires but also helps build thought, harnesses imagination, and is cleverly disguised as entertainment (but is so entertaining in true, invested gamer fashion) and ultimately becomes an asset in multi-faceted ways for cognitive development and introducing a sense of cautionary realism, light ethics and interpersonal relationships! In my opinion, this game is a piece of Art, and few games have successfully tread this same unique territory. Beyond the excellent source material for adaptation, the graphician and designer have simply excelled in perfection on all fronts. The menu and in-game save states that can write directly to disks and modern disk images are perfect. The game can teach some simple lessons but it is forgiving and balanced in its in-world tools and item inventory.

It truly encapsulates a sense of wonder with some bizarre elements and items and scenario. The story unfolding revolves around deeper societial issues and its 3 classes of people including, more prominent, are those who live in the trees, can glide around in 'shubas' (quasi-pseudo russian bastardization - interestingly "polar" opposite (bad joke)), or are specially gifted and can 'pense' (read thoughts, akin to intuition in reality as learning device for children audience), eventually be rewarded after raising their spirit skill (sort of a reward for an odd sense of karma and moreso accomplishment) with extra skills needed such a 'grunespreke' (pseudo-germanic, making tree limbs grow), 'kiniporting' (telekinesis), etc. There is a whole lot in this game, yet it is a totally intuitive and easy experience itself for any player.

The difficulty factor is simply with mapping, light inventory management and flexing problem-solving skills, albeit most players will likely not get bored as they explore the various 'grund' or tree environments, a touch of the ground surface and eventually the underground caves --- all filled with some easter eggs and surprises. I could go on an write a short book myself on the game. Speaking of the books, you certainly don't need to actually read the books and I would suggest even trying to immerse first into the game, which is both standlone and more mysterious without any other reference. More importantly, I would say do not use modern resources to cheat or skim ahead, it will be your major loss and simply it is not needed and defeats the point.

I will likely come back at a future date a write a much better homage, summary and review. The game was also released for the Apple II, but the Commodore 64 colors really pop and the graphics shine to the ideal, which simply could never be outdone or improved---practically crucial to the experience. The world would be a better place if more people played this game and games like were valued.

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