Gateway to Apshai is a solid contrast to many of Epyx's older action/ adventure games. For one thing, the company has finally eliminated the need to boot the game with a BASIC cartridge in the slot, which generally results in choppy, frustratingly slow action. For another, Gateway to Apshai is available on cartridge, a welcome boon to would-be adventurers who have yet to add a disk drive to the computer collection.

This is unquestionably one of the finest action/adventure games on the market today, and is definitely the top choice among the cartridge games. Gateway to Apshai packs more punch than many games on disk. This action-oriented dungeon exploration game features 16 different eight-level dungeons. More than 7500 different areas await the stouthearted, and the player can even mix and match dungeons - and levels - during the course of each game. It all adds up to more variety than you can shake a joystick at.

The gamer uses a joystick to control an on-screen hero (seen from a bird's-eye view) as he makes his way through a multidirectional scrolling playfield. Each section of the dungeon is only made visible after it's been entered.

Each dungeon chamber might contain chests crammed full of riches, weapons and/or armor, spell scrolls, locked or secret doors, traps... and, of course, monsters. On the first level, they're your basic sewer vermin - large bats, sewer rats, and garter snakes, for the most part. Subsequent levels are a bit harder to survive in, with the likes of trolls, evil wizards, and zombies strategically placed to make life miserable.

With the help of the option, select, and start keys on the Atari, gamers unlock doors, cast spells from scrolls, pick up bounty, check on their status and weapons, search out secret passageways, and brandish their swords (or bows and arrows) at villains.

Players start the game with five lives, plus strength, agility, luck, and health scores. The former three statistics influence the hero's fighting (or fleeing) ability, while health is affected by wounds suffered during the course of play. When health reaches zero, the character dies. After finishing each level or choosing to go on to the next, bonus points may be added to the player's strength, agility, or luck, and health points always increase as well.

As the levels increase in difficulty, treasures get better. Adventurers are advised to explore thoroughly, because better armor and weapons are scattered around to help gamers face even greater dangers. Bows, arrows, chain mail and healing potions are just a few of the pickings for sharp-eyed swordsmen.

Gateway to Apshai deserves the highest recommendation. With its fast action "real time" fights, attractive graphics, variety of pace, and emphasis on both brains and brawn, this is one of the best bets on the block for any action/adventure fan.