Castle Master II: The Crypt, Amiga

A direct follow-up to Castle Master, published by Incentive Software in 1990 and again using the Freescape Engine – one of the earliest 3D game engines.

In The Crypt you again begin by choosing to play as either Prince or a Princess and must rescue the one you don’t pick from the clutches of evil. This time the environment is different (as you’d expect) and you are are exploring a coffin-packed series of rooms containing obscure puzzles and solutions. There’s some basic combat with bats and demons and lots of opportunities to die instantly. It’s a prerequisite of early 3D video games…

The tune that plays in the background of the Amiga version is a bit weird. A bit like a Tears For Fears 80s hit pop song… Atmospheric nonetheless.

Domark published both Castle Master games together in one package. They are companion pieces, and are worth exploring as a pair.

More: Castle Master on Wikipedia

Castle Master, Amiga

The fourth Freescape game, Castle Master, was developed – not by Major Developments this time – but by Teque Software Development. It was published by Incentive Software in 1990.

Again: the Freescape Engine took first-person 3D adventuring a little bit further in terms of gameplay and frame rates, although – like Driller, Dark Side, and Total Eclipse before it – it was still very simplistic and didn’t really feature any moving characters.

You choose to play as either a Prince or a Princess, and the one you didn’t choose is hidden away inside “Castle Eternity” for you to rescue. There are riddles written on walls that give hints, and many secrets waiting to be uncovered.

Evil spirits can be found in some rooms and will sap your strength until you throw a rock at them. Yes – a single rock can kill these ghosts! Your life is represented as a single bar and you only get one life. Thankfully you can save and load the game which saves a lot of ball-ache restarts.

Castle Master is still atmospheric, interesting, and challenging to play now, even if it looks rather basic. Getting anywhere does take some trial and error, but making progress is kind of rewarding, in a perverse, retro-gaming way. 🙂

A sequel, called Castle Master II: The Crypt, was also published by Incentive and Domark that same year.

Note: The back story to Castle Master was written by the infamous writer and game designer Mel Croucher (the guy who created the Spectrum classic Deus Ex Machina).

More: Castle Master on Wikipedia

Cauldron, Commodore 64

Palace Software‘s 1985 release Cauldron is one of those game that looks great, but is so difficult that it is not much fun to play overall.

If you play the game without cheats, you’ll need superhuman powers to get anywhere. And – even if you play the game with cheats – it’s liable to send you potty with frustration.

You play a witch who flies around on a broom and must find four keys allowing her access to a number of hidden chambers, each containing a special item needed to beat the evil Pumpkin Lord who resides at the end of the quest.

That would be simple enough, if it wasn’t for the game’s strange and archaic (and very annoying) mechanics. For example: the witch – once flying – can only land in clearings. Trying to land on trees or mountains results in the loss of one ‘Hag’. Positioning the witch so that she lines-up with the clearings is, frankly, ridiculous. What I mean by that is: the process the programmer chose for this is ridiculous. It doesn’t work, is confusing, unfair, and… well, stupid. Had a bit more thought (and fairness) gone into that particular feature, then the game would almost certainly have been better.

Other annoyances are: being attacked from behind while flying and not being able to do anything about it; having to make ‘blind jumps’ into new screens; getting trapped in dead ends; unfair platform collision detection… The list goes on. Cauldron very firmly comes from a time when a lot of home computer game developers didn’t care about making their games fair…

Which is a real pity because Cauldron looks amazing. The scrolling is silky smooth; the sprites are great; the graphics overall are beautifully-drawn. Don’t be fooled, though. Cauldron is a bastard of a game and only hacking can save it.

A better sequel – Cauldron II: The Pumpkin Strikes Back – followed in 1986.

More: Cauldron on Wikipedia

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Megadrive/Genesis

Developed by Sega and released for the Megadrive/Genesis in 1990, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a masterpiece platform game that has stood the test of time extremely well.

The game itself is pretty simple: running, jumping, climbing, and swimming, with Mickey on a quest to save Minnie Mouse from the evil witch Mizrabel.

Mickey’s main weapon is his bounce, which he can perform while jumping and which helps him defeat enemies. He can also pick up items, such as apples and marbles, to use as projectiles to throw at enemies.

To defeat Mizrabel, Mickey must find the “Seven Gems of the Rainbow”, each of which can found behind a door, in a different realm, protected by one of Mizrabel’s henchmen. There are six different – graphically distinct – stages (The Enchanted Forest, Toyland, The Storm, Dessert Factory, The Library, and The Castle), with a boss battle at the end of each.

Castle of Illusion still looks and plays great to this day. If I had any complaint it would be that the Megadrive doesn’t have transparent pixels (like the SNES does), which means that the designers had to make do with using ‘stippling’ in the water sections (which is ugly and makes the game look dated). Otherwise: it’s marvellous (still).

A remake of Castle of Illusion was made by Sega Studios Australia in 2013 and is currently available on Steam.

More: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse on Wikipedia

Pac-Man, Arcade

Known as “Puck Man” in its native Japan, and renamed as “Pac-Man” in the West*, this 1980 video game is one of the most iconic brands ever created in the history of the human race. And I’m not being funny here – Pac-Man is actually seen by historians as exactly that: instantly recognisable to most people and indelibly fixed in our consciousness.

While not the first colour video game ever made, it was certainly one of the very earliest, and one of the very best.

The aim of Pac-Man is simple: move around the maze and eat all the dots to complete the stage. There are four ghosts, however, whose role it is to stop you, and they can do that simply by touching you. So avoiding them is paramount.

You can turn the tables on the ghosts for a limited time by eating one of four ‘power pills’, located in each of the four corners. Once eaten the ghosts turn blue, allowing Pac-Man to chase them and eat them for bonus points.

The maze has a useful ‘portal’ which allows Pac-Man to exit one side of the screen and come out on the other side. There’s a ‘pen’ in the middle where the ghosts come out (and are sent back to when eaten). There’s also a space underneath the pen where a series of fruits and other bonus items appear, which Pac-Man can eat for extra points.

As the game progresses the difficulty ratchets up ever tighter as the ghosts get faster, and the time power pills last gets shorter (until, at the highest difficulty level, they no longer turn ghosts blue).

Pac-Man was originally intended to have no ending, but a bug in the game meant that a so-called “kill screen” appeared on level 256, corrupting half the screen and making it impossible to eat the required number of dots to complete the stage (the kill screen is shown at the very bottom of this article).

Still great fun to play now, Pac-Man spawned a number of sequels and remakes, and an inevitable tsunami of clones. Check out Pac-Man Championship DX for a modern take on the concept.

* = When releasing the game into English language territories Namco were concerned that people might change the ‘P’ in the original title to an ‘F’, and therefore bring the game into disrepute, which is why they changed it to Pac-Man. 🙂

More: Pac-Man on Wikipedia

Pac-Man Kill Screen

Pac-Man Kill Screen

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, PC

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge is the 1991 sequel to the classic The Secret of Monkey Island and is arguably even better than its fondly-remembered predecessor.

Created by essentially the same team as the previous game, Monkey Island 2 once again follows the exploits of Guybrush Threepwood and his adventures into pirating and comedy. And once again he is up against his arch nemesis, LeChuck, only this time LeChuck is a rotting zombie due to him having been killed in the last game and brought back to life in this.

Like all LucasArts point-and-click adventures, Monkey Island 2 features beautiful graphics and laugh-out-loud dialogue. The solutions to many of the early puzzles are not too difficult to figure out, but some do take a leap in imagination to make the link between certain items and locations.

Monkey Island 2 was the first LucasArts game to use the iMUSE music system, which basically adapts depending on the situation, and it also opens with dancing monkeys! And everyone loves dancing monkeys… Well, digital ones, anyway.

A HD remake was released in 2010 and is currently available in various outlets. These grabs show the original 1991 DOS VGA version.

Monkey Island 2 really is a belly-laugh of an adventure and is arguably the high point of the series. It’s well worth playing.

More: Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge on Wikipedia
Steam: Monkey Island 2 Special Edition on Steam
GOG.com: Monkey Island 2 Special Edition on GOG.com

Monkey Island 2 artwork by Steve Purcell.

Monkey Island 2 artwork by Steve Purcell.

The Secret of Monkey Island, PC

This is the original MS-DOS classic, as released by Lucasfilm Games (later to become LucasArts) in 1990. The Secret of Monkey Island is a humorous point-and-click adventure introducing wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood and his evil arch nemesis the pirate LeChuck.

The game uses the SCUMM system and uses a mouse to click on a list of verbs and objects on-screen, in order to carry out actions. Conversations play a big part in the game and there are always multiple answers you can choose from. Actually, the dialogue on The Secret of Monkey Island is one of the things that helps make the game so special – it’s very funny. Even the mundane characters have a life to them…

There are also a number of special mechanics in the game, like sword fighting, and… insulting. Both of which you learn by taking on a related quest and eventually beating the Sword Master. The insults are hilarious and play an active role in combat. If an opponent insults you and you give the wrong response (or don’t respond in time), you lose. Choose the correct response to an insult and it puts the ball back in the opponent’s court. And if they then don’t respond correctly, they lose… It’s tense stuff! But very much fun.

Playing The Secret of Monkey Island is a rite of passage for any self-respecting gamer. If you’ve never played it: rectify that ASAP and get it added to your gaming heritage.

A Special Edition was released in 2009, with updated graphics and gameplay.

More: The Secret of Monkey Island on Wikipedia
Steam: The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition on Steam
GOG.com: The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition on GOG.com

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