Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

The Wizard’s Castle

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 23, 2010

The Wizard’s Castle, published for DOS in 1981 by International PC Owners is an early dungeon crawl.

Avoiding the word ‘year’? Check. Awesome apostrophes? Check. Journey from which no adventurer has ever returned? Yep! Let’s make a journey to the cave of cliches! Good luck!

Cliched-and-basically-nonexistent plot aside, The Wizard’s Castle is actually a pretty solid game. You start by choosing some basic stats for your character (race, sex, strength/intelligence/dexterity, equipment), and off you go to explore the castle and hunt for the incredible *ORB OF ZOT*. You’re aided in your endeavour by a map of the dungeon which is meant to fill in as you explore or use items that reveal information about the dungeon, like flares or the lamp.

Unfortunately, in the version I played, the map is already filled in, which I guess is a bug; I’m told later ports give you a properly blank map to start with. One annoying thing about this game is that the map legend is on the help screen, so you have to keep switching between the map and legend until you learn the meaning of the map symbols. Similarly, the player’s stats are only shown upon moving into a room, so you have to move around to check them. There is plenty of room on the right for both of these, I think. Another, more minor problem is that you must press ‘M’ whenever you wish to show the map; since that is likely to be all the time, it means that the game consists of lots of EMSMEEM, manually checking the map every few moves. It would have benefited greatly from just automatically showing the map.

Map issues aside, how is the game? Well, let’s have a look at the map: the player is on the square marked by angle brackets above; to the west is a monster; to the east is a sinkhole, which drops the player down a level; to the south is a flare, which would ordinarily be very useful, as it lights up the area around the player, but is, in this version, useless due to the map being all filled in. Monsters can be fought, fled from, or bribed, though some (trolls, ogres, dragons) don’t seem to be damaged by the sword I had, so it may be impossible to (successfully) fight some of them. Sinkholes cause the player to fall down a level, and stairs can lead either up or down. Items, such as flares, gold, and treasure, will be picked up automatically, and can be used or (in the case of gold and treasure) traded with the vendors the player will encounter in the dungeon.

Successfully navigating the dungeon involves carefully planning your route, lest you find yourself very dead:

Not all fights should be avoided, though. With the lamp, it’s possible to tell precisely what monster is in an adjacent square, and the weaker ones can be fought for large sums of gold, which is very handy. However, it’s not only the fights that can be hazardous: magic pools can be drunk from, and may either help or harm the player, and books, too,  can be either very helpful or very dangerous–even the chests might explode or release toxic gas upon being opened. After picking up some treasures, the player can choose to leave the dungeon, or continue on, seeking the ultimate treasure in the form of the Orb of Zot.

Seeking the Orb of Zot is harder than it sounds. Scattered about are orbs the player can gaze into in order to gain information about what lies in the dungeon–these will occasionally tell the player that the Orb of Zot is in some particular location, but this isn’t as helpful as it seems–the orbs may claim that the Orb is in several different locations, and I have yet to find it by going to these locations. I suspect there is a trick to it, but I’ve not spent enough time to puzzle it out. For now, I’m satisfied with picking up the lesser treasures.

The dungeon is randomized each time you play, so if you care to, you can play as many times as you like without running out of new dungeons to explore.

The bottom line: The Wizard’s Castle is pretty fun. I’m sure it would have been much more challenging to collect the treasures if the map had functioned correctly in the version I played, so I suspect this game would be good for a few hours distraction here and there. There’s something satisfying about a nice dungeon crawl, and for all its simplicity and lack of polish, The Wizard’s Castle isn’t bad at all. It’s no Nethack, but it’s worth a look.

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