Review: Bloodwych


ST Format Review

My Review
So to get this up and running I fired up the latest version of Steem SSE and chose a 1MB STFM with TOS 1.00 (the release which ran in all of the gaming machines until the STE came out later in 1989). My first attempt used Automation’s menu 122, which also features Winter Olympiad, a game I can heartily recommend. Other releases are available, such as that found in the TOSEC collection. The pirate into menu features some suitably jolly music and the now-standard scrolling text so beloved of the demo scene, and I can press 1 to enter the game.

It’s worth setting the scene a bit, this game is fundamentally a Dungeon Master clone (see also Captive and Eye Of The Beholder). For those who haven’t played Dungeon Master, a more modern comparison would be Legends Of Grimrock. If you’ve not played those.. well, imagine an RPG where instead of free roaming around a map you’re walking, in a party of 4, around a dungeon that is mapped as square tiles. Each move you make moves you to the next tile, so your movements are only ever in those 4 directions. Bearing in mind this was before texture-mapped 3D was a thing, so it allowed developers to substitute pre-rendered walls and combine them inventively to create an illusion of 3D. The transitions were not animated, instead you jumped instantly from tile to tile. Enemies moved in the same way, the sprites scaled as they got closer.

Dungeons and Dragons and assorted ripoffs were somewhat popular, evidenced by the enormous popularity of the kids TV show Knightmare which put teams of nerdy kids into dungeons filled with traps, monsters, wizards and the occasional dragon.

Legendary 90s TV series Knightmare

Bloodwych takes the Dungeon Master formula and adds something remarkable to it – split-screen 2 player action. Sadly I don’t know anyone else masochistic enough to play a late-80s blobber, so I won’t be able to review that side of the game, but if you do know someone then you’re in for a unique experience. The second addition is that not everyone in the dungeon is hostile, in fact you can even talk to some of them.

We begin rather less slickly than with Dungeon Master, an ugly menu allowing us to choose our champion – I preferred the way DM drops you at the entrance and lets you wander the maze looking for a champion. Graphically the choice to build for 2 players has led to the screen being somewhat constricted, the view doesn’t expand to fill the available space, instead where the screen would be split horizontally for the two players, one half is simply centred. This constriction makes the view a little less pretty, but more troublingly leads to the text being tricky to read (though this is also not helped by the developers choosing a god-awful font).

If you compare the screenshots below with Dungeon Master’s simple screen covering stats and inventory (click here) you can see that the interface is suffering from being scrunched up, but also suffers from some generallly poor design (that font being an absolute crime). The spell insterface looks an absolute horror and the manual offers no real clues but I hope all will become clearer as I play. Onwards.

A person.. thing.. stands in front of me, animation consists of the sprite moving from side to side but not much beyond that. In the absence of better ideas I recruit the bastard. Looks like he might be a fighter. Next bloke explains he’s a cutpurse so I add him. I finish up adding some lizard chap, and my party is complete. Two fighters, a thief and an adventurer. No wizards because I didn’t find any.

Conversation seems rather limited, as one would expect of a game of this age. My early impression is of a game that was mightily ambitious but was perhaps thwarted by that ambition. The two-player mode is a great idea, but most people will spend most of their time in single-player mode, and that mode seems crippled by the tiny screen through which to view the world and an interface crammed into a tiny space. Outside of usability issues, the graphics do a pporer job of presenting a real place. Where in Dungeon Master it’s easier to get a sense of where one is, the layout in Bloodwych is not so well conveyed through graphics, and the spaces themselves aren’t so well designed, leading to a feeling of being lost, but lost in a bad way.

Can anyone tell me why this skeleton is wearing shoes? It’s a puzzling idea, given he is wearing nothing else. Annoyingly, because he’s there I can’t move forward to press the button to open the damn door. This is in fact a common theme throughout the first area, finding myself trapped by gibbering idiots wandering around blocking my path. Give me Dungeon Master’s paintings any day (if for no other reason than you can see their sodding stats).

Can’t I just go to bed? I expected to be able to click on the draw to open it but this proved to be futile. The bed is purely decorative. Why does a dungeon have beds?

Rosanna Swifthand. Must.. not.. make.. filthy.. joke.

I’ll be honest, this game tested my patience in a bad way and was probably not the best comeback for the ST Format Challenge as honestly it’s a bit of a turkey. There’s a chap who played rather more than I did [] and perhaps his comments offer more validity than mine – he notes that the gameplay is repetitive, the setting derivative, the NPCs a nice idea but never actually useful, overall he’s quite scathing and I’m inclined to agree with his assessment. A disappointing game.


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