One of the greatest natural resources that the NES possessed was their adventure game reserves. Somehow, this feeble system managed to gather one of the best adventure game collections in console history. Some, like Shadowgate and Déjà Vu, managed to gather enough recognition to gain cult classic status, but others are mysteriously ignored. One of them was The Immortal, made by sadistic madman Will Harvey. Here's my review.
After a long and perilous journey, you have finally reached your goal. In the midst of an ancient valley, you see the ruins of Erinoch before you, a city ravaged by dragons years ago and by time ever since. Perhaps your master Mordimar has traveled here to further explore its mysteries in the Labyrinth of Eternity. In any case, you are obligated as his student in wizardry to find him, and if your duty requires you to violate the sanctity of an ancient temple, then so be it. Your journey begins within the cursed halls as you enter, armed with your master's journal, your blade, and whatever magics you can muster.
What we have here is a combination Action RPG and Adventure game, mixing some of the more interesting aspects of both. As you control your wizard hero in this isometric world, you have to disintegrate, dodge, or disarm the many traps that lie in your way while trying to descend through the seven floors of the labyrinth. And trust me on that "many traps" part. This game is quite difficult and does not let you forget it for a moment.
First off, we have the simple traps. These range from fireball launching wall cannons to spider egg sacs just bursting with arachnid-sized goodies. Almost every room contains something built in and ready to kill you, and you'll be pleasantly surprised if you last more than ten seconds after entering a new room. Next up are swarming bats that infest the dungeons, forcing you to endlessly fight off generated enemies. Worst of all are the heavily trapped areas covered with zero-traction floor. These fairly common rooms take literally dozens of tries to get through, and there's usually a bit more to the level than just them. Since you only have three lives per floor, this gets very aggravating after a few attempts.
Next up, we have the many puzzles. Items are scattered freely around this underground nightmare, and only through careful/lucky use of them will you manage to survive, let alone reach the lower depths of the dungeon. When you combine all the red herrings and the many leaps of logic needed to figure out how to use these things, you'll soon find yourself desperately trying even the most bizarre combinations. However, the cruelest part is that some items can be used in the wrong places, and since every item is one-of-a-kind, you might find yourself having to restart far too often.
Enemy encounters come in two varieties: simple and in-depth. Simple battles occur any time you enter a room with enemies in it, and usually consist of you using whatever items you have on you in an attempt to keep your foes from getting to you, or just throwing fireballs at them like mad. In the end, these often require well-timed use of your items and make up quite a few of the game's puzzles. Alternatively, the in-depth battles provide a bit more of a test of skills.
Whenever an enemy closes in on you and doesn't kill you instantly, the game shifts to a combat mode. Here, you try to dodge the enemy's attacks while getting in your own. This requires you to shift back and forth from defensive to offensive, trying to dodge the enemy's attacks while waiting for an opening to get in hits of your own. Because the enemy tends to throw attacks at random and can block your strikes, it requires a bit of skill to get through these. Need help? Practice Mike Tyson's Punch Out. Sadly, there isn't much enemy variety available, but hey, it's the NES
With all these death-dealing obstacles in your way, a finely crafted and easy-to-use save system would be nice, wouldn't it? Sadly, our good friend Will Harvey decided not to include one. Instead, you get a clunky password system that allows you to get a new password for every floor you get through. I admit it gets the job done, but a save option could have helped. Fortunately, a hint guide comes in the back of the manual, making saves a little less necessary, but not by much. Anyway, it's hard, it's entertaining, it's a nice brainteaser.
The rest of the game fares well enough considering the system, but the graphics are probably its weakest point. As you travel through this rather blocky dungeon, you'll see some rather creative looking enemies and objects, but not many. The sheer repetitive blandness of the game gets to you after a while; better than most primitive NES titles, but then again, this was made in the 90s. I do have to comment on the in-battle graphics though, which are a few notches higher and have some more impressive fight animations.
The sound also stinks up this production a bit, consisting of the NES' usual effects, but the music is better than it is in the Sega port. Not only is there better battle music in this dungeon soundtrack, but the quality seems more at home this time. Don't go hunting down the soundtrack (as if it actually existed), but don't hit the mute button.
Another strong point would be the storyline. While the story is really nothing more than hunting down your imprisoned master, and while progression consists of meeting about a half dozen forgettable characters, this is as good as it gets on this system. Why? It's because the translation makes sense. As an avid player of NES titles, this and this alone makes all the difference.
Finishing off on a mediocre note, we have the controls. On the one hand, we have the interesting battle system, but we also have a slightly screwy menu setup.
If you're looking for a decent adventure game with a mix of mental and reflexive skill involved, you might want to give Will Harvey's The Immortal a go. However, if you don't own a working NES, you can probably find it for some other system you own without too much searching, since it's been released for a plethora of old systems, some ports being better than others, but all having their own advantages.