Eye of the Beholder review

It’s a whole new year and I made a New Year’s resolution: I decided to try finishing any past games I left unfinished before trying any new game and that includes today’s subject, Eye of the Beholder!

Eye of the Beholder is a dungeon-crawling RPG developed by Westwood Studios and published by SSI. It was originally released in 1991 for the Amiga and DOS. It was ported in 1992 for the PC-98 and in 1994 for the SNES/Super Nintendo and the Sega Mega-CD. An Atari Lynx port was also being developed by NuFX but it was never released.

But as always, let’s first look at the covers:

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OH YEAH!

This cover art made by Jeff Easley is considered one of the most iconic covers of all times and it’s just gorgeous and action-packed. It simply features a skeleton warrior busting through a door but the level of detail in it is simply stunning. You can almost hear the door break just by looking at it.

Most of the covers are either like this one or variations thereof, but the American SNES cover is a bit different:

15226-eye-of-the-beholder-snes-front-coverWhile this cover isn’t as detailed as the original cover, it’s still not a bad one. As one can see, it depicts a warrior and a sorceress fighting a beholder (yes, that floating ball full of eyestalks is a beholder, one of the toughest monsters in D&D lore, which spoils the game’s story a bit).

But alas, it’s time to boot this dungeon hacker:

The game starts with some good music score for the time and then it shows a quite impressive cinematic intro. The intro features a secret council of robed individuals that decide to hire a group of adventurers to go to the sewers below the city of Waterdeep and investigate whatever is going down there, but they’re being spied on by an unseen being through a crystal ball. Then we see our group of adventurers arriving at Waterdeep and entering the sewers, which then collapses, blocking the exit.

Then we go to the character creation screen where we have to create up to four characters. We do this by choosing their race, class (or classes, if you’re multiclassing), alignment, then we reroll or modify their stats to our liking and finally we choose our characters’ appearance by a series of portraits. Although there isn’t a lot of variety of portraits to choose from, the ones that there are, aren’t bad. If you’re not familiarized with this process, then I recommend reading the manual beforehand or even the cluebook to get an idea how to form a good party. I also recommend rolling a cleric, because you’ll definitely need one.

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Fighting kobolds in the first level.

And while you start the game up to four characters, you have the option to add two more NPCs to your party. You’ll find them throughout your adventure (or what’s left of some of them). You have to remember that your party is formed by two columns and who’s ever in the front of the party are the ones that’ll fight the enemies in close quarters combat and the ones behind can only attack using projectiles or magic (but be careful because if you’re attacked from behind or the sides, then the enemies can target your back characters).

The main screen during gameplay is composed of the main view on the left featuring a first-person perspective; the characters on the right (where you can use any items or click their individual portraits to access their inventory, equipment and stats); the directional buttons for movement and a compass, both just below the main view; a message screen on the bottom and a Camp button on the right-bottom corner. By clicking the Camp button, you have access to an in-game menu, where your party can rest and recover health; any clerics and mages can memorise spells (which should be the first thing you do when starting a new game); scribe any scrolls for your mage to access new spells and other game options (like save and load, although the game only has one savestate).

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Character creation.

The dungeon is divided in 12 levels and each level is increasingly harder than the former with one or two monster types per level along with traps and puzzles. Throughout your adventure, you’ll find all types of new items, like new weapons, armor, scrolls, keys, etc. Apart from weapons, armor and food; most of the items are usually used to solve puzzles. The game encourages exploration because you’ll never know what you’ll find behind illusionary walls, traps or locked doors. Just be mindful of any cursed item (luckily there aren’t many of).

The combat is in real-time (like in every dungeon crawler RPG) and you simply click on your weapon to attack (right-click if you’re using a mouse), although to throw spells you need to first click the spellbook or a cleric’s holy symbol, then go through the pages and finally click the desired spell, which can take a while and therefore not ideal when facing a tough opponent on the heat of the battle.

The plot also gets increasingly more complex (although in general, it’s a simple plot) as your adventure progresses and don’t be surprised if you need to backtrack levels for any reason (luckily there are ways which will ease the backtracking, if you know where to look). The game also has lots of secrets to find and even some easter eggs here and there, which might encourage future replays (and also trying out different parties).

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Casting a spell.

Now for the technical aspects: like I mentioned before, the game features some good music during the intro, but throughout the gameplay there isn’t any music whatsoever, which would make a good addition. But even without music, the game provides a terrifying atmosphere in how it uses its simple sound effects; while exploring the dungeon, you can hear the monsters’ footsteps (or other sounds) which will get louder and louder as your party gets closer to the monsters (and then softer after killing said monsters).

Graphically wise, the game has a good color palette and all the monsters have a great design but the animation is very limited due to the fact that all the characters only have a few frames of animation. The control scheme is also pretty good and I highly recommend the use of a mouse because the gameplay was definitely built around it.

But it’s time to refer to the elephant in the room. And by that, I mean Eye of the Beholder‘s biggest controversy (only for the DOS version though). But for that I need to issue this:

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If you’re played all the way to the end (or watched my playthrough video above), you’ll see that the end is a bit on the small side (just a text message, really). Anyone that was expecting a cinematic ending in the same vein of the intro, was extremely disappointed. But the truth is, that during development, a proper ending was actually planned but because it would take another floppy disk to fit the ending, SSI decided to just cut the ending to a text message in order to save space (and money). Luckily this was only for the DOS version. All the other versions have a proper cinematic ending (which is why I recommend either playing those versions or look it up on YouTube).

OK, spoilers over!

In conclusion, it’s easy to see why Eye of the Beholder is one of the titles that popularised the first-person dungeon-crawler subgenre (which begun with Dungeon Master) and had a great success among players and critics. With a great intro, monster design, easy character creation, good control scheme (although the spell casting could be better), solid gameplay (with some hiccups here and there) and a great atmosphere, Eye of the Beholder is a true RPG classic and although it might be a bit hard for beginners (especially the final boss), it’s still an essential title to play. Needless to say that I recommend it.

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“But hey, no pressure.”

If you’re interested on trying it out, you can buy it here at GOG.com along with its two sequels. And I also recommend download the All-Seeing Eye, an automap app, which I used for my playthrough (along with the official cluebook).

As far as other versions go, the Amiga version looks and plays just like the DOS version. The SNES/Super Nintendo is also very similar but since the game was designed for a mouse control scheme, it feels weird playing with a gamepad. But the Sega Mega-CD version might just be the ultimate version with new cutscenes, voice-over, an automap feature and a new soundtrack composed by Yuzo Koshiro (also responsible for the soundtracks of the Streets of Rage and Shenmue series).

In 2002, Pronto Games and Infogrames released a remake called Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder for the Game Boy Advance. It changed the gameplay significantly by reducing the number of classes to four (but adding an extra race) and although the game still has a first-person exploration, the combat was changed to third-person perspective, similar to the D&D Gold Box series. Personally I haven’t played this title, but it wasn’t well received by players and critics alike.

But this didn’t stop for fan remakes to be made:

Whew! Talking about starting the new year with a bang! I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and I promise that 2019 will be full of great reviews like this one. Until then, keep on hacking and playing!

Home Alone DOS review

Well, it’s that time of the year again (not that I’m complaining, mind you). Yuletide, Hanukkah (although that ended past December 10th, I think), Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, St. Nicholas Day, or more commonly known as Christmas, the Winter Solstice celebration is one of the most celebrated holidays of the year (and my personal favorite). And here in Retro Freak Reviews, we decided to review a game based on a movie whose plot just happened to occur during Christmas (which makes it a Christmas-themed game in my book). I’m talking about Home Alone for DOS.

Home Alone (based on the movie of the same title) is an action game developed by Manley & Associates and published by Capstone Software. It was released in 1991 for the Commodore Amiga and DOS.

But as always, let’s first look at the cover:

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And just like most games based on movies, it’s easier to simply put the now iconic movie poster in the box cover, although I do like the little detail “…comes to your computer” added to the sub-title.

But it’s time to boot this wet bandit:

And as you can see, the subtitle “A Family Comedy Without the Family” also appears in the title screen. Then we have a small recap of the game’s story using still images: the McCallister family travels to Florida for Christmas but due to all the rush to catch the flight, they end up forgetting and leaving 8-year-old Kevin behind (which I’m sure any Child Protection agent wouldn’t find funny). And now Kevin is the only line of defense against Harry and Marv, the Wet Bandits, who want to rob Kevin’s house.

The game starts during the movie’s final act, where Kevin must prepare all the traps and then face the bandits by himself. In the first half of the game, Kevin has one hour to prepare the traps (around 20 minutes in real time). To accomplish this, you need to explore the entire house, including the entrance and the basement for any objects that can be used for traps. You’ll know which objects you can grab because they’ll start blinking every time Kevin walks by. However Kevin can only carry up to three objects with him (because he’s only eight).

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The beginning of the game.

To grab objects you simple press F1 (if you’re playing with a keyboard, that is), although sometimes you need to jump to grab objects located above Kevin, then you scroll through the inventory with F2 and finally you use F3 to put the objects in specific places for a trap. When you’re scrolling through the inventory, some yellow crosshairs appear on screen and when Kevin goes near any of these, the crosshairs might turn to an “here” sign with an arrow (if you select the correct object) and then you can press F3 to use the object to create a trap.

You can create some of the traps seen in the movie, like the blowtorch above the door, but you can also create new traps, like using toys on the floor to slow down the bandits. When the clock reaches 9 PM (or when you press N), the bandits arrive, whether you’re ready or not. In the second half, you run around the house armed with your BB gun (if you grabbed it in the first half) thwarting the bandits as they fall for all the traps you’ve planted before. Both Harry and Marv need to reach 50 points of damage each to win the game, but if each of them grabs Kevin, then it’s game over and back to the start.

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Setting up a trap.

Luckily, the notepad located above the main screen informs us where in the house is each bandit located, although there’s no map available. But at least Kevin’s house isn’t too big and can be easily memorised. But when entering a room, if Harry or Marv are right at the door of said room, then they can grab Kevin before you have any time to react. And the BB gun only counts as damage the first time is used against any of the bandits, but it can still be used throughout the second half to temporarily paralyse the bandits, enabling Kevin to run past them. However, you still need to be careful when encountering your own traps, as Kevin can trigger them (although he doesn’t suffer any damage), nullifying the trap. So I suggest jumping over any traps laying around the floor to avoid them.

The game is quite easy to get into but hard to win as the time limit during the first half might not be enough to prepare all the traps you need. If that’s the case, you might as well restart the game. And after winning or losing the game, you can enter your initials in the scoreboard. The score is determined by the number of damage each bandit suffered and the time it took to stop them (if you’ve managed to do so).

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9 o’clock is here and Kevin’s ready to deal some punishment.

The graphics look nice and colourful with somewhat big sprites. The animation, however, could be better. The music isn’t bad, although I recommend playing the game with a Roland MT 32 soundcard (or emulated sound) over the PC Speaker, as the latter sounds horrible. The sound effects are also pretty average, but they get the job done. The keyboard controls are somewhat responsive, however. I’ve only encountered a slight delay when using the BB gun and jumping. Also the control scheme is a bit weird, since it uses the F1, F2 and F3 to manage the inventory during the first half.

So in conclusion, Home Alone for DOS isn’t a bad game and it has its positives, like how easy it is to understand the controls and the gameplay during a first playthrough, but the time limit in the first half and the lack of a map make the game unnecessarily hard. If you’re a fan of the movies or enjoyed the console versions, then you might want to give it a shot. And if you want to play the game on your own browser, then go here.

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Ufff, right in the “pescis”.

I’ve played the Amiga version a little, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, it’s just like the DOS version. The console games, however, were made by different companies and therefore are considered different games, although the majority share the same premise and some gameplay mechanics. But unfortunately I haven’t played those.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this special Christmas review and just to say that this’ll be the last review of the year. I might write a special message before the year ends, however. Until then, keep on playing and have a Happy Christmas, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or simply Happy Winter Holidays.

Batman: The Caped Crusader DOS review

Do you know what day is today? It’s Batman Day! That’s right. And I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to review a DC Comics licensed game (since I’ve already reviewed Marvel games). And I’m reviewing the first game ever to be released on the PC of my favourite DC superhero: Batman.

Batman: The Caped Crusader is an action-adventure game developed by Special FX and published by Ocean in Europe and Data East in the US. It was originally released in 1988 for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. It was re-released the following year for DOS.

Although this is the first Batman videogame released for the PC, it’s also the second Batman game ever made (the first one being Jon Ritman’s Batman, published in 1986, also by Ocean, but never released for PC). These two games, along with Batman: the Movie, are part of Ocean’s Batman game trilogy.

But, like always, let’s first take a look at the bat-cover:

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Not going to lie, the cover art looks great! It really looks like a comic book cover, with Batman fighting the Penguin with laughing Joker cards in the background. It’s probably more action-packed than the game itself (as you’ll see in a minute). And one might think that such cover was made by a comic book artist, seeing that the art style is very close to Neal Adams’ but it was actually made by the late Bob Wakelin, one of the best video game cover artists of the 80s.

But it’s about time to boot this bat-sucker:

The game is divided in two independently bootable sections: A Bird in the Hand, where Batman must stop Penguin’s robot penguin army and A Fete Worse than Death, where Batman must find and disarm the Joker’s bombs and then find and save Robin. In each section, we’re treated to probably the worst title screen I’ve ever seen. When I first saw it, I thought it was a pre-title screen. And I recommend reading the manual before playing as it not only has the backstory but also explain the menu icons and the control scheme.

The action occurs on screens of different sizes, reminiscent of comic panels. And every time you move to another panel, the new panel appears on top of the old one. It’s a novel presentation that would appear on some later comic-inspired games. But because a lot of panels are very similar, it’s very easy to get lost. I recommend drawing maps to avoid it. The art style in the game is very reminiscent of the Silver Age Batman with some Bronze Age elements here and there.

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“I am vengeance. I am the night. I AM BATMAN!”

Both sections are very similar gameplay-wise. You control Batman and you have to grab items lying around the floor and use said items to solve puzzles to progress through the sections. But your health is constantly depleting and Batman can only carry up to 10 items. I guess Penguin and Joker must have poison Batman and stole his utility belt before the game. To replenish your health, you need to eat food. You can find it lying around or you can defeat enemies, of which some drop food. However, food dropped by the enemies only replenish some health, unlike the other food you’ll find that fully replenish it.

You use the directional arrows (or pad, if you’re using a joystick) to move Batman and an action button along with the arrows to fight, grab objects and access the menu. In the menu, you can check Batman’s health at the bottom (where it slowly turns into a skull), your progress percentage on top, your inventory on the sides and other options in the middle. Like I said before, I recommend reading the manual to understand the meaning of each menu icon.

One of the first objects you can grab is the batarang, which I highly recommend because it’s the best way to confront the enemies. And talking about the enemies, there isn’t a lot of variety (usually henchmen and smaller enemies, apart from the Joker and Penguin) and every time you defeat one, another one appears when returning to the some panel. Unless you need to get food from enemies, most of the times is just easier to avoid them and concentrate on solving the puzzles.

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“What are you?” “I’m Batman!”

The puzzles range from easy to hard and personally I found the Penguin section easier than the Joker section. On the top of some of the panels, there’s a short description which not only provide some clues but also helps distinguish similar panels and make for good references. But sometimes the clues aren’t enough to solve the puzzles and because of the limited inventory space, you’ll end up backtracking a lot (especially in the Joker section). And of course the debilitating health makes the game even harder! Is almost like the developers added this last feature to increase the difficulty tenfold.

And of course, if your health reaches zero, it’s back to the start of the section. There isn’t a save option nor checkpoints throughout the game. And I did found a point of no-return near the end of one of the sections. Meaning that if you reach that point and you don’t have the necessary objects to finish said section and enough health left for it, you might as well restart the entire section. At least, every time you solve a puzzle, you can drop the object used because you won’t need it again.

Graphically wise, the game looks nice, albeit with some small sprites (especially of the objects lying around) that almost blend in the background. They are also quite colorful but I wish there would be more variety with the sprites because, like I said before, most of the panels are very similar to each other. The animation is okay, but I wish there would be more of it during the action to know when we’re being attacked and Batman walks too slow, which sucks in a game with constant debilitating health.

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The title music isn’t bad but because it’s in a continuous loop, it gets old very fast and I don’t blame you for turning it off in the menu screen. The sound effects are almost non-existent, with some sounds when using the objects correctly when solving puzzles and the sound effects during the action.

The best part of the game for me are the controls, of which the keyboard is actually quite responsive, although Batman needs to be in the perfect position to go through doors or climb stairs, but apart from that, I didn’t had any problems controlling Batman. I don’t know how the joystick scheme is because I couldn’t configure my gamepad.

So, in conclusion, Batman: The Caped Crusader is a game that although it had a good success when released (mainly because there was only one other Batman game), it aged quite poorly. It isn’t very action-focused, with the real focus on the puzzles. Yes, I know that Batman is DCU’s greatest detective, but he’s still a superhero and I think there should be more action in the game (ironically, this wouldn’t be the last Batman game with puzzle elements, and I’m not talking about the Arkham series). And the constant debilitating health is an unnecessary feature. Some of the puzzles are hard as they get without the need to add more frustration to it.

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“Who the hell do you think I am? I’M THE GODDAMN BATMAN!” – Crazy Steve

So if you’re a Batman fan, you might feel some curiosity towards Batman’s beginnings in the videogame realm, but honestly I can’t recommend it. I haven’t played any of the other versions, but the Amiga and the Atari ST versions have better graphics, sound and music and the Commodore 64 version is considered by some the best version out there.

In 1989, Tim Burton’s Batman would be released in cinemas worldwide and it had such a success that inspired several games in all platforms (home computers, consoles and arcade) that would overshadow all previous Batman games and begin a slew of action-oriented games (albeit with at least one exception, which we’ll take a look at a later date).

I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and I hope you have a great Batman Day. Until then, prowl the night and keep on playing!