My initial impression, as I entered the maze that is this 1981 dungeon crawl, was less than positive — the text-adventure format has seen many an angle and twist, but has always at its heart been about exploration and adventure. So when I realized that The Wizard’s Castle was essentially a Rogue-style dungeon crawl around a randomly-generated map, I was a little concerned. However, I quickly realized Wizard’s Castle is far from a watered-down text-version of an ASCII game. While far from being amazing, it’s a game that surprisingly enough could provide several hours of solid entertainment, twenty-eight years after its release.
The plot could hardly be more generic — the recently-deceased wizard Zot has created a powerful orb (the Orb of Zot, as the game calls it). It’s hidden somewhere inside his tower, which is filled with traps, treasures, and monsters of all sorts. You, the bold adventurer, are to go in, slay the monsters, steal the orb, and strike it rich in the process. It may not win any points for originality or cleverness, but it’s really not so bad. As soon as you get into the game, you realize that it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to get — the clichéd plot is so ingrained in adventure games you immediately feel all the drive that you’ll need. After all, what reason do you need other than the chance to slay monsters and find priceless treasures?
The Wizard's Castle is incredibly simple, even by the standards of text-based games: Only the first letter of a command is read, so N takes you north, S takes you south; M brings up the map, and so forth. It takes a few minutes to learn the commands, but with a liberal use of the H(elp) key, soon the commands come reflexively, greatly speeding play. There are almost no descriptions and only four types of rooms. Most of the gameplay centers around walking across each 8-by-8 room floor, fighting (or avoiding) the monsters, and recovering artifacts that allow you to survive the often-deadly effects of trapped books and chests, until finally recovering the Orb of Zot in level 8. The game is simple and does get repetitive — it becomes tedious having to comb through the 512 rooms to find the staff that allows you to progress. Also a concern is that many, if not most, of the items (pools, books, and chests) that fill the castle inflict egregious damage on you instead of helping you. With poor luck, the game can quickly shut down even the strongest swordsdwarf.
One interesting point is the game's rudimentary character-creation system, featuring races, sexes, and abilities. Though ultimately the differences are negligible, it is a nice touch to increase the immersion factor. This brings us to what made this game really worth playing: the details. As you wander about the castle, bats fly through the rooms, distant screams echo through the halls, and the smell of roasting flesh wafts across your nose. Magic pools will randomly alter your character's race and sex, and the few books that don’t blind you or stick to your hands lean towards the comical. Little details such as these tend to help keep a grin on your face, even as you trek for the fifth time across floor 3 because of the hidden teleporters scattered across the castle.
In sum, although its other traits might not be so great, it's a fun, quirky game with a lot of spirit. Game-breaking events such as blindness and a general sense of repetition tend to sap the game of enjoyment after reaching the fifth level, in particular. For 1981 it was a strong title, and it’s certainly fun for a pick-up-and-play adventure when you have a few minutes. Unfortunately, to complete it requires far longer than your interest tends to last, and there is no save function.
It runs just fine on XP. Just open the file. The game is almost mute, but on a very rare occasion makes a somewhat startling beep. There’s no configuration needed for it.
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