The Black Cauldron is a fantasy adventure game based on the Disney movie of the same name. The original inspiration for both game and movie came from the popular series of children's books, Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.
In this version of the story you play Taran, a young boy on a heroic quest to rescue your beloved HenWen (the magical pig) from the evil Horned King. You also need to find the Black Cauldron and destroy it, so the Horned King can be stopped from conquering your homeland. The graphics and sound are similar to the early King's Quest series released in the late 80's (and are equally primitive), which isn't surprising since both King's Quest and The Black Cauldron were designed by Roberta Williams of Sierra. Al Lowe of Leisure Suit Larry fame also had a hand in the design and programming of the game; however, The Black Cauldron is nothing like the LSL games.
If you wish to cut short the opening sequences, simply hit the space bar. Managing the inventory and the interface of this game is a little more bothersome, even though a 'readme.txt' in the archive covers this subject.
I'll go over the trickier bits here. The readme-file tells you that hitting the Tab key will open the inventory. It does open a very simplistic-looking list of items (depending on what you're carrying), but you can't interact with them. Hitting F3 opens another version of this primitive interface which instructs you to hit Enter for a selection. You use the arrow keys to scroll through the items, and hitting Enter means you are now carrying the item in your hand. The first time I triumphantly hit Enter (after many failed attempts to obtain an inventory item), the screen froze, so I had to greet an old friend: Ctrl/Alt/Del.
In the meantime, Taran was continually dying of thirst because I couldn't get any water to him from the flask he was carrying. The first puzzle is to fill the flask. First you select the flask from the inventory by hitting F3 and highlight the flask. Then Taran must be standing beside a container of water (or river or lake) so he can fill the flask, which he does automatically when you hit F4 - which is the shortcut for using the object you're carrying. Although Taran then had water in his flask, I still had to convince the character to drink it. I repeatedly F4'd hoping the character would drink from the flask, but Taran was having none of it. I F3'd back to the inventory and discovered that 'water' was now listed as a separate object. I'll let you figure out what has to be done next.
An annoying part of the gameplay is that every few screens you're informed that Taran is hungry or thirsty, so if he isn't watered and fed, he quickly dies. The constant filling of water containers, drinking and feeding becomes repetitive and distracting. But once Taran is initially refreshed and HenWen the pig is fed, then you can finally embark on the adventure of a life-time. For the first time in your short life, you leave the safety of the farm and set out to rescue HenWen (who has been kidnapped by a large bird-like creature) and thwart the evil plans of the Horned King.
It's a fun game set within a beautiful forest and deadly swampland with a storyline and gameplay that become more engaging the further into the game you progress. The puzzles aren't frustrating or hard, and once you understand the logic of the game, and the interface, progress is swift. The actions taken during the game don't always correlate with the plot of the movie version. The ending can vary depending on decisions you make along the way, so this is a game that can be replayed many times.
Despite the simplistic graphics and sound, the gameplay is engaging and the story captivating, so all things considered, you should have many hours of fun playing The Black Cauldron. I rate this game at 3.
For more information on the game from one of its creators, Al Lowe, go here.