Requirements: Amiga (reviewed here), IBM PC and compatibles, Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore 64. IBM version works in CGA, EGA, or Hercules Monochrome modes, or in 16-color mode on the Tandy 1000 series.
Are you the type who would enter a haunted house for fun? If you are, Dark Castle may be your kind of game. If you're not, Dark Castle's two disks of beautiful screens, realistic animation, and blood-curdling digitized stereo sound may still be able to lure you into the danger.
In Dark Castle, your goal is to slay the Black Knight. Of course, the Knight knows you're after him, but he's not especially worried—after all, what chance do you stand in his heavily protected castle? Not much, as you'll find out when you begin play.
Work Of Art
Dark Castle's main achievements are to be found in its brilliant graphics, sound, and atmosphere. Each room shows lavish attention to detail. In this review, I'll focus on the Amiga version of the game—the most impressive—but most of the following comments apply to the other versions as well.
Simply put, the artwork in this game is beautiful. Each room is hand-drawn and is loaded from disk when you enter. The animation is second to none—each character in the game has a generous number of animation frames.
Each room is populated by the castle's undesirables, and each "undesirable" has its own digitized sound effects—the crows caw, the bats shriek, the rats squeak, and some strange little characters make faces at you and yell "Nya nya nya nya nya."
Dark Castle has a distinctive style that pulls the animation and sound into a coherent whole. More than any other game available for the Amiga, this game has atmosphere and class. As you travel through the rooms, you can almost feel the clammy walls and cold floors. This is one of the programs you'll use to show off your Amiga.
In Dark Castle, you progress through the castle's rooms, trying to find the Black Knight in order to slay him. You face many different kinds of opponents, which, if you're accurate, can be disposed of with rocks. To do this, you first point your arm in the direction you wish to throw, and then make the toss. It doesn't take much to dispose of your character—if you trip over a small step or fall in the water, you're dead.
Dark Castle features stunning graphics with careful attention to detail.
The most severe problem with Dark Castle is that game play is so difficult. Your character can be controlled by either a joystick or the combination of the mouse and keyboard. After years of playing games with joysticks, I found the keyboard/mouse duo unfathomable. Unfortunately, the many actions that need to be performed in the game become hopelessly complex under joystick control.
Even considering the trouble with controlling the character, the game seems overly difficult. For over a week now (in Easy mode), I've been leaping off a certain precipice, trying in vain to grab hold of a swinging rope. I've never caught it. Frankly, if I weren't so anxious to see the flying monkeys and other enemies the package illustration promises, I would have given up several days ago.
There are other flaws in this game which will keep it from occupying my list of favorites. The first is its copy-protection scheme. While it's understood that game producers have more to lose from piracy than other software producers (after all, you don't need a manual to play most computer games), I can't bear to hear my disk drive grinding its way through the protection sequence each time I want to play. I simply don't trust that the software respects my expensive computer equipment. In the case of Dark Castle, the protection is so severe that the game occasionally crashes my computer on boot-up—or worse, while loading the screen for the next room.
That brings up another problem— the frustrating wait between levels, as Dark Castle loads the graphics and sound data. Players with two disk drives will be annoyed. Those with one will be positively aggravated. It would be great if you could put this game on your hard drive, but the copy protection prevents that. (Note: The IBM version is hard-disk installable.)
Nonetheless, Dark Castle deserves admiration for its excellent sound and graphics. Whether it is worthy of play is another matter. Dark Castle has shown us what a game on the Amiga can be. We hope that future games will combine the excellent presentation of Dark Castle with better playability.
2105 South Bascom
Campbell, CA 95008
$39.95 IBM, Amiga, and Atari ST versions
$34.95 Commodore 64 version
Macintosh version available from:
Silicon Beach Software
9770 Carroll Center Rd.
San Diego, CA 92126