Too Much Free Time

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

Archive for the ‘DOS’ Category

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.


Posted in 1981, Decent, DOS, Dungeon Crawl, Full Review, RPG | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

First Impressions: Novatron

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 24, 2008

Novatron is a DOS lightcycles (tron) game released by VeriSoft Works in 1982.

First Impressions: Novatron

There have been quite a lot of lightcycle games through the years–MobyGames lists 10, though I suspect it’s missing quite a few. The most recent that MobyGames lists is for the Xbox 360 (Tron, 2008), and the oldest is for the Intellivision (Snafu, 1981). Novatron is a fairly old example of this type of game, and it shows.


Though the graphics are fairly nice, and the controls responsive, Novatron is quite difficult to play. The keys used to control your lightcycle are F9, F10, Insert, and Delete, which are poorly placed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an original IBM PC keyboard, but I don’t recall that they would have been in ideal positions on that keyboard either. Positioning aside, I kept confusing which of Ins and Del turned which direction, so I lost quite badly. Too, I found it difficult to tell just how much space I had left before running into a wall, probably due to the viewing angle.

In short, the game isn’t terrible, but isn’t really worth playing when there are so many better examples of the type. Personally, I’d recommend Armagetron Advanced.

Posted in 1982, Arcade, Bad, DOS, First Impressions | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 23, 2008

Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? is an educational game released in 1986 by Brøderbund Software, Inc. for DOS, Amiga, Apple II, and Commodore 64. I’ll review the DOS version.

We begin by learning that some crime has been committed, and we’re given a deadline for solving it–about a week, in the games I played.

The Great Serpent Mound has been stolen by a masked female! Who ya gonna call?

Once we’re told of the crime, we’re dropped in the city where it took place, so we can begin to investigate. There’s a little information about the city (education!) together with a fairly nice picture, and we have the option of questioning witnesses, leaving for another city, or putting what we know about the thief into the crime computer to figure out who the thief is and get a warrant.

Each city has three locations you can visit to question witnesses. Questioning them takes times, and there’s a deadline, so if you just need to know where the thief is headed, you don’t have to talk to all three people–only as many as it takes to learn the thief’s destination.

The witnesses generally tell you some clue to where the thief was headed next, together occasionally with a little information about the thief. In this case, the comment about the Bears tells us that the thief’s favorite sport is (according to wikipedia) football, which we can use to narrow down the list of suspects.

Once we know where the thief headed, we can go there, and question the residents of the new city to discover more about the thief.

If we don’t know enough–if we only know the thief’s sex and favorite sport, for example–the crime computer can only tell us who the possible suspects are, and we have to keep searching for more evidence to discover the thief’s identity.

Once we have enough information to positively identify the thief, though, the crime computer will issue a warrant, and all that’s left is to follow the thief to the next city or two and eventually catch her.

Success! Once again the day is saved, thanks to my rudimentary detective skills.

I’m guessing the game was intended for children around ten years old or younger. Despite the young intended audience, Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? is really quite good. The graphics are nice, the game’s mechanic works, and kids may even accidentally absorb some knowledge about geography while playing it. It’s a little too simple for adults to play for long, but fans of educational games will surely want to give it a try, if only to see an early entry in the series which spawned over a dozen games, a similar number of books, and several television programs.

Posted in DOS, Educational, Full Review, Good | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on January 1, 2008

After far too long a break, a new game. Or, rather, quite an old one: Donkey, written in 1981 by Bill Gates.

Donkey was written1 as a way to showcase the capabilities of the BASIC programming language which shipped with new IBM PCs. Therefore one might expect it to be a very simple game–and simple it is:

The object is to avoid the donkeys in the road as you drive. The controls consist of only a single button, the space bar, which is used to switch lanes. Each time you successfully pass a donkey, your car moves a bit closer to the top of the screen, so that it will be more difficult to switch in time to miss the next one. If you hit a donkey, the donkeys are given a point, you explode, and you start over:

Every eleventh donkey that you pass, you are reset to the center of the screen and given a point. The game keeps track of the score, but there’s no particular reward for reaching any certain score; the game just continues until you exit. As simple and unrewarding as this game is, that’s likely to be fairly soon after starting.

Update: I’ve added a video demonstrating the gameplay below.

Download the game here.

  1. According to Wikipedia, which has a lengthy article, if you’d like to read more. 

Posted in 1981, Bad, DOS, Driving, Full Review | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »