I don’t think any word better describes Will Harvey’s The Immortal. When Billy created this title, I don’t think he realized what he was doing. Here we have the kind of game that inspires gamers to hurl paddles at screens, screaming at the top of their collective lungs, yearning for the blood of their cartridge. If you don’t mind dying every few seconds in a game, then please read on. Otherwise, turn away, keep walking, and never look back. 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 dice up, 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 freakishly 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. Worse are the heavily trapped areas covered with zero-traction floors. 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 tries.
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. Don’t always try to kill everything in your path, as running is often the best and only option. In the end, these often require well-timed use of your items and make up quite a few of the game’s puzzles. Ironically, the in-depth battles are far les interesting.
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 nothing more than holding down the A button while pushing left and right to dodge the attacks until the enemy gets tired, then attacking by pressing left and right without holding anything down. Since there are only five enemy types in total, counting the two bosses you meet, and since each one battles in the exact same way and has nearly the exact same amount of life, these fights get real old, real fast. However, because the battles are in real time and start with little warning, it’s not that hard to get torn apart.
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.
Unfortunately, pretty much every other aspect of the game was bad or worse. The visual presentation was probably the best of these rejects, but in a weird way. You see, the entire game is shown with blandness in mind. Everything is fuzzy and pixilated, special effects are kept to a minimum, and the entire game takes place in a brownish-yellow dungeon that never really changes. Even the character design is pretty dull. Beneath that boring cover, however, lies a dark, twisted, and downright impressive other side.
The death scenes, whether for you or your enemies, are surprisingly graphic for a game this old whether in or out of combat. Thanks to the large and randomly activated list of fatalities you have, exploding heads and eyeballs are the norm, and don’t be too shocked when you decapitate a troll or two. Once in battle, the graphical quality goes up a few notches allowing for some rather gruesome detailing to be shown (as well as a nice view of an old man’s rear end), and even after the battle is over, the corpse remains intact. Considering today’s level of gore and pain, this doozy is years ahead of its time visually. It’s still pretty darn ugly though.
Of course, no blood fest is complete without a variety of splattering noises to accompany it, but The Immortal is surprisingly barren. Almost every death scene outside of battle is completely muted, and what is there is nothing more spectacular than a thud or two. The music is a little better, and even manages to stick with you afterwards for a while, but the lack of variety makes the game’s medieval soundtrack nothing special in the end.
What’s really disappointing in the game, though, is the storyline. Allow me to summarize. Generic wizard is looking for master. He fights things along the way. He meets two or three easily forgettable characters. Story ends with a minor plot twist that you saw from a mile away. There’s not really much more to say about this. Really. Oh, there are a few dream sequences that more or less helped you figure out what was going on, and I think there was some sort of war in progress between a bunch of goblins and a bunch of trolls, but you really just wind up killing the lot of ’em. I mean that’s the entire storyline. There’s no background. Nothing. It’s pitiful.
Now while the game seems less than great so far, the entire thing is topped off with a decent set of controls. Cons would include a slightly screwy menu setup and battles that start off a bit too fast, but aside from that, everything is put together well enough.
In the end, the game is only average at best, and that’s if this is your kind of game. To most, I wouldn’t recommend it, but to gamers who consider themselves history buffs of gruesome, gory titles, this game is a veritable classic, and if you don’t own a Genesis, don’t feel too bad. It’s available on a plethora of other really old systems as well. Still, don’t go out of your way hunting it down. All in all, it just isn’t worth it.
No offense Will.