God of Thunder review

With the Thor: Ragnarok movie in theaters now around the world, I decided to review a game with Norse gods in it. And although there several games featuring Norse mythology and vikings, we’re going to take a look at one of the very few where you can actually play as Thor himself: God of Thunder.

God of Thunder is an action game (with several puzzle elements) developed by Adept Software and published by Software Creations. It was originally released for DOS (as shareware) in 1993 and re-released a year later in CD-ROM format. Ron Davis, its main designer, has since released it as freeware.

And no, this isn’t the same Software Creations who developed Silver Surfer for the NES.

But before we take a look at the game itself, let’s look at the CD-ROM cover, shall we?

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It needs a “THWAAK” sound effect.

As we can see, this cover features Thor himself throwing his famed hammer, Mjölnir, at a giant serpent wearing a crown. And before you say anything, Thor here is a redhead because that’s how he is originally depicted in the old Norse myths. He’s only blonde in Marvel media. The cover also has a cartoony look, foreshadowing the game’s humour. It’s not a bad cover, as it conveys everything you need to know about the game.

And now it’s time to boot this sucker:

As you can see, the main title screen is just a reproduction of the CD-ROM cover and then we get to the main menu. The story is that Loki, the god of mischief, has conquered part of Midgard (Earth) with the help of Jorganmund, the Midgard serpent and Nognir, the prince of the Underworld. Odin, who is under the Odinsleep, telepathically recruits his son Thor to fight these menaces with his famous hammer Mjölnir.

The game is divided in three parts, with the first part distributed freely with the option of buying the other two parts (as per traditional shareware practices). In the first part, you have to look for and defeat Jorganmund; in the second, Nognir and in the third, Loki himself.

As one can see in the video above, the graphics and the gameplay look very reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda, with an overworld map with several locations and caves to explore, but unlike The Legend of Zelda, God of Thunder is more linear and has several environmental puzzles to solve in order to progress.

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Receiving instructions from Odin.

Your main weapon, as I said before, is Mjölnir and just like in the comics and myths, it can be thrown and it immediately comes back to Thor. It can be used to defeat enemies and to solve puzzles. But you also can use other magical objects and spells that can be found in the overworld maps, certain caves or bought from vendors, but using or casting these empty your magic meter, which can only be replenished by finding potions. You can also find golden apples to replenish your health meter or more rarely, angels that can fully replenish your health and magic meters.

You can also find jewels that serve not only as points, but also as currency in the shops and vendors, enabling you to buy several items. In some of the screens with puzzles, you can also collect keys to open doors and progress.

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Visiting a village.

The enemies are varied and depending on the difficulty level selected, they can be easy or hard to defeat (including the bosses). But regardless of the difficulty levels, the puzzles have always the same difficulty, meaning they’re always hard! And I mean it! The hardest ones are when there one or more worms on screen (that can insta-kill you the moment you’re in a straight line with them) and you need to push logs and rocks to block their attack. But it’s easier said than done. You’ll spend a lot of time figuring these ones out. But in all the worlds, you’ll find villages that have shops and vendors to buy items and its inhabitants will offer you hints to surpass some of the puzzles.

The graphics are simple and colorful, with all the characters portrayed using small pixels that serve their purpose well. The music is okay with some nice themes, but they tend to be a bit repetitive (I won’t blame you if you prefer to play while listening to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song). The sound effects are a bit weird in some cases, like when collecting items, it sounds like Thor is eating them. The animation is also quite simple and I recommend turning off the turbo mode in the main menu in case you’re playing in an fast computer (or on Dosbox).

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Inside one of the houses where you can talk to its inhabitants and grab every treasure not nailed to the floor.

The controls are responsive, although I recommend the use of a gamepad or a joystick over the keyboard.

God of Thunder is a simple game without any upstanding features that’s good for quick playthrough (as long you don’t get frustrated with the harder puzzles). The humour is quite refreshing and tongue-in-cheek without being obnoxious with lot of references to the Marvel Thor comics. If you enjoy fast action games with hard puzzles, then you might want to give it a shot.

You can play directly in your browser here, or you can go to the Adept Software page here and download it for free along with the manual and hintbook (which I highly recommend). I also recommend you go to a theater near you and check out Thor Ragnarok. It’s probably the best Thor movie ever made.

So, did you enjoy the review? Comment below or on Facebook or Twitter and let me know. Next time, we’re going to take a look at the very first title of a series that still exists to nowadays, but whose latest recent release has met some incomprehensible controversy. Till then, keep on gaming.

Master of Magic review

Like I said in my previous review, this time we’ll take a look at one of my personal favourite games of all times and perhaps the most in-depth game I’ve ever played, Master of Magic.

Master of Magic is a 4X strategy game developed by Simtex and published by MicroProse. It was originally released in 1994 for DOS and ported for the PC-98 in 1996.

4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) is a strategy/managerial genre that’s characterized by selecting a faction, building cities or bases, manage them, explore the game world, raising armies and fighting enemies by employing strategies in battle. Unlike in RTS games, this genre is usually turn-based. It became famous by two other titles also published by MicroProse: Sid Meier’s Civilization in 1991 and Master of Orion (also developed by Simtex) in 1993.

But before continuing with our review, let’s take a look at the cover, shall we?

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And they say that the eyes are the mirror of the soul!

The cover art is simply stunning, with the reflection of a demon in a stylized eye’s pupil. It gives a sense of mysticism and mystery and it can be considered sort of iconic.

But let’s not waste anymore time in conjuring this spell:

The intro depicts a magic duel between two wizards and that’s the main objective of the game: you play as a wizard and you have to battle and defeat other wizards, but the way you do it is where the real gameplay is at. One can say that Master of Magic took the mechanics behind Master of Orion and applied them in a fantasy setting, all the while building upon them.

Every time you begin a new game, you’ll get the game option screen where you’ll have 4 choices to personalize your game: difficulty level, number of opponents, land size and magic strength (to cast spells and summon creatures).

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Ooooh, sparkles!

Then if you choose the intro difficulty, you’ll get to choose between 14 pre-made wizards (although you can still edit hir/her name) specialised in different schools of magic and each one with a different characteristic. If you chose any other difficulty level, then you can customize your own wizard (although you still have to choose a portrait from the pre-made wizards), choosing spell books belonging to five schools of magic, each represented by a specific color:

  • Light, represented by white, specialising in healing and protection spells.

  • Death, represented by black, specialising in necromancy and decay spells.

  • Chaos, represented by red, specialising in fire and destruction spells.

  • Nature, represented by green, specialising in earth and counter spells.

  • Sorcery, represented by blue, specialising air and subversion spells.

There’s also a sixth school, Arcane Magic (represented by the color gray), which is a general magic school, available to all wizards. If you’re familiarised with the card game Magic The Gathering, it’s very similar to it and magic-wise, it follows the same mechanics.

Also, depending on the points available, you can also choose a special characteristic, which will define your play style and isn’t shared with any other wizards during that specific playthrough.

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A somewhat empty battlefield, no?

Depending on your choices, you can start in the world of Arcanus (your typical fantasy world), which grants you access to nine races to select as your starting army, or the world of Myrror, a more dark and harder world (but with more mana and better treasure available) with five different races to choose from. And then, the game world you selected is created and you can start your game.

The objective, as I said before, is to defeat the other wizard (or wizards) and conquer both worlds. For that, you need to expand your army, explore the worlds, build and expand more cities (or conquer them), hire or summon heroes and/or creatures to lead your army, tap into magical nodes, research more spells and finally engage your rivals in battle or use diplomacy to negotiate truces and alliances.

You can only defeat your rivals in 2 ways: either attack and conquer their main capitals (where their wizard towers are located), which will prompt an automatic banishment, or research and cast the Spell of Mastery, which if properly cast, will banish all rivals and automatically win the game.

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“Do not take me for some conjurer of cheap tricks!”

While the gameplay in general is very reminiscent of Master of Orion, the city management and armies’ training is a bit more like in Civilization, in which you have to build specialised buildings in order to train more powerful and specialised units. But what makes Master of Magic special, is its unique fantasy setting and the wide range of spells available, which are divided in summoning, unit and city spells and global enchantments. All of this brings an incredible deep gameplay, in which there aren’t two playthroughs alike.

The game even comes with an item maker program, where you can edit all the magic items one can find in the game. And yes, although you can make a game-breaking item, it’s fun to create items based on famous fantasy weapons and the like.

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Do you guys think my wizard tower blends in well?

The sprites might be a bit small, but they’re all well detailed and it’s easy to distinguish one unit from another. The game is very colourful throughout and the animation might be simple, but it serves the game well, especially the visual effects when casting spells.

The music (composed by Brian “The Fatman” Sanger) is superb and it serves to build a great atmosphere without being too distracting. And there’s a good variety of it available, from simple tunes to epic battle themes. The sound effects are also quite simple and serve the gameplay well with the best ones occurring when casting spells.

The only possible criticism I might have (although it’s more of a nitpick), it’s the fact that the micromanagement can become somewhat chaotic when managing several different cities and units, even with the option of appointed viziers that auto-manage the cities for you, and the cities and armies screens, which show all the cities and units you have and their current actions and location.

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Apparently Mother Nature loves to push people off buildings

With all of these features, one would think that Master of Magic was a great success, right? Unfortunately the game was released with a bundle of bugs, crashes and terrible AI, which made it almost unplayable. The latest official patch (1.31) was released in March 1995, an half-year after its original release, which fixed most issues and made it much more playable. But it was only after that patch that Master of Magic became a cult classic that’s still being played and discussed nowadays.

How do I know this? First there’s still a quite active fan community that produces mods and fan patches (1.5 at the time of this review) that fix bugs left in the 1.31 patch and rebalances the AI. And there’s also a bunch of ports, fan-made remakes and spiritual successors. Here’s a few of them:

    • Civizard: Majutsu no Keifu, a Playstation port, made by Asmik and released only in Japan;

    • Leylines, a fanmade remake;

    • Caster of Magic, a complete modification;

    • The Age of Wonders series, a spiritual sequel by Triumph Studios;

    • Worlds of Magic, a spiritual successor by Wastelands Interactive.

So, with all of this, do I recommend it? ABSOLUTELY! Like I said at the beginning of this review, Master of Magic is one of my favourite games, not only due its high fantasy setting but also due to its depth and wide range of gameplay options. And where can you get it? Right here at GOG.com.

Phew! I know that this was one lengthy review, but after my absence, I figured you all deserve it. Luckily, the reviews’ frequency should come back to normal and next time, we’ll take a look at another great classic. Till then, keep on playing and casting spells!

Dungeon Hack review

Confession time: I never really got into tabletop RPG. I’m not saying it’s bad or something. I’m simply stating that I’ve never had the patience for it. However, I do love RPG videogames, whether they’re western computer style or eastern console style. And my introduction to computer RPGs was also my introduction to dungeon crawlers and to the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. I’m talking about Dungeon Hack.

Dungeon Hack was developed by DreamForge Intertainment and published by Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI). It was originally released in 1993 for DOS and re-released in 1995 for the PC-98.

Dungeon Hack is a Roguelike dungeon crawler made using the Eye of the Beholder 3 game engine, based in the Forgotten Realms campaign.

But let’s look at the cover:

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“The dark fire will not avail, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow. YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

This cover was made in the style of a D&D game book cover, with gorgeous artwork. It depicts a large beast in front of a typical fantasy adventurer. It looks like something made by the likes of Frank Frazetta, Luis Royo or Boris Vallejo.

But let’s take a look at the intro, shall we?

As you can see, you play as an anonymous adventurer hired by a mysterious sorceress to find an orb located inside a dangerous dungeon. The intro is small and simple but it serves its purpose as a backstory.

Then you go to the menu screen, where you can choose between several pre-made characters or create your own. But before you go into the character creation screen, I recommend reading the manual first because the character creation uses the Advanced D&D 2nd Edition rules and if you’re not familiar with those, then you need to read the manual to understand all the races, classes and spells available in the game.

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What? I can’t roleplay as a half-human, half-hobbit chimney cleaner? That’s racist!

After you choose your race, class (or classes, if you’re multiclassing), gender, alignment and properly reroll your stats; you can choose your character’s portrait from several options. Although the game doesn’t have a lot of character portraits (more male than female ones), it still has a good range of portraits for simple characters.

And then you go to the dungeon customization screen and this is where the game really shines! The game creates random generated levels with each new gameplay with the option of a “real death” (in which if your character dies, all save files are automatically erased). But you can also customize your dungeon by choosing between several variables and options, like monsters’ difficulty level, how big you want the dungeon to be, magic traps, etc. The number of possible combinations is very large and quite impressive.

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So, I can create a dungeon based on Disney World.

Each level has more or less the some basic layout (apart from some exceptions): usually with two different monster types with a third type acting as an end-level boss (which can be a normal monster type in the next level). And the deeper you are, the harder the monsters will become. The monsters are all varied and based on the Forgotten Realms campaign. There’s even a bestiary in the manual, however it’s incomplete… Luckily, you can rest (when not surrounded by monsters) and recover health. But it does however reduce your food bar.

During the gameplay, you have access to an auto-map, which is probably the most useful tool in your possession. It not only marks your already explored path but it’s also useful for backtracking and locating monsters out of sight.

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OUCH! Asshole, that hurt!

You also have a limited inventory space, so you need to manage carefully your inventory during later levels. You also need to eat during your adventure and collect better weapons, armor, potions and scrolls. Careful though! You can end up with cursed items (although there’s a way for lifting said curses or identify unknown items).

Although apart from the title theme, there’s no other music in the game, but there’s a wide array of ambient sound effects ranging from the monsters’ noises to every time you open a door. It creates a proper atmosphere when you hear monsters all around you, but you can’t detect or see any at first glance.

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When camping used to be good.

The graphics are all quite good for the time but the view screen is somewhat small. The designers could perfectly rearrange the size of the other screens (character items, movement arrows, portrait, etc) in order to make the view screen bigger.

Depending on your choices, the smallest dungeon is still 10 levels deep, which can create properly long adventures. And the wide array of variables during dungeon customization, creates very good replay value.

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The main menu screen.

So, not only I recommend this game as an introduction to dungeon crawlers in general or to the D&D franchise, but I also recommend it as test drive of sorts for possible characters you can imagine.

And you can buy it here at GOG.com bundled together with another D&D RPG, Menzoberranzan.

So, what do you think of Dungeon Hack? Like this review and leave your comments below. Next time, let’s look at the world’s most popular sport. Till then, keep on hacking away and playing.