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Overview

Dark Castle is the first game in the Dark Castle series, and was released in 1986 for the Macintosh. It was one of the first computer (or video) games to use fully recorded samples for voices and sound effects, and although they were small in number the corresponding effects for yammering mutants and dizzy Prince Duncan were quite remarkable, especially when combined with the detailed backgrounds.

The game starts with you - as Prince Duncan - entering the Black Knight's castle and the gate slams shuts behind you. In order to escape, you have to trek through caves, dungeons, and a tower surrounded by perpetual lightning clouds before you're well equipped enough to take on the Black Knight himself.

The game uses a WASD control scheme, lets you duck with Q and jump with the spacebar and aim and throw rocks with the mouse. There was a later Sega Genesis version that featured colour, but the horrific controls implemented for rock throwing almost made the game unplayable due to lack of accuracy.

The Levels

Great Hall

Great Hall
Once inside the castle you're presented with four exits - two doors on the left, a main double-door in the center and a narrow staircase up on the right side. Each is accessed by tapping the corresponding number key.

The first two doors are arguably the most frustrating aspect of Dark Castle, since they're random. You have a 50% chance of exiting the side of the castle and embarking on your brief journey to earn fireballs, and a 50% chance of getting throw down to the dungeon.

Dungeon

Unfortunately, if you end up in the dungeon, the door locks behind you and you must trek through three screens, get the key, and trek back again, and you're no further ahead (alternatively you could just cheat and restart your game).

Final area of dungeon (or first, if you fall in)
You also end up in the dungeon if you fall into any of the game's pits - they are far fewer in number than in the original, though, as there are only two or three screens (of more than a dozen) that lead to the dungeon. Once there, you must sneak up on the torturer, whack him in the back of the head with a morning star, then leap over his unconcious body and grab the correct key before leaping back again. Time it wrong, grab the wrong key, or take too long and allow him to wake up again, and you're dead. Even if you do earn the key, you have to rock-throw, jump, and run your way back to the main hall again, resulting in an awful lot of painstaking backtracking (in other words, don't fall in pits if you can help it).


Outer Castle

If you do get the correct door, you get to cross a small plain guarded by rock-throwing, gurgling mutants that constantly respawn and climb three sets of ropes (allowing you to swap between them to avoid mutants climbing down at you). The following room has a number of moving platforms, requiring very careful jumping. It's the first area where use of the games' different jumps becomes essential - Prince Duncan jumps higher, lower, or longer depending on the direction you hold while tapping jump, and he cannot fall like Mario. Falling more than twice his height will almost always result in death.

Once past the platforming segment there is  a brief river rapids through dank tunnels and finally you meet up with the reclusive wizard, who will gently anoint you with the gift of fireballs, allowing you to throw them instead of regular rocks. Of course, if you reach him without first obtaining the shield from the lightning tower, his magic spell will instead char you to a crisp.

Lightning Tower

The left stairwell doesn't take you directly to the tower - where would be the challenge in that? Instead, the first room is a vague homage to Donkey Kong, with rocks bouncing back and forth, descending level by level. Since Prince Duncan moves like the Prince of Persia (that is to say, a bit more deliberate than your average Mario-esque platforming mascot) the best route is simply to sneak up ladder by ladder, pausing midway through for the next rock to bounce past. It is possible to duck under or jump over rocks, but this requires an awful lot of skill and patience.

Getting hit by a rock while jumping or climbing near the left side of the level won't kill you like it will anywhere else - it'll send you down to the dungeon.

The second screen pits you against divebombing vultures (all pattern based) and a firebreathing dragon. Since your rocks are completely ineffective against the dragon, you have to climb the stairs and jump to the platform above him, dumping the pot of hot oil on his head in order to make him retreat back inside the tower.

After hurrying into the hole left by the dragon, Duncan must navigate along a series of ropes and poles. The poles are distinguished by their solid colouring and are a very bad idea - shuffling over to a pole instead of a rope results in you slipping, which send you not to your death but, yes, the dungeon.

The final portion of your task involves leaping diagonally up a series of disappearing platforms, which change in such a way that you must zigzag your way up and down and sideways in order to make it to the very top without dizzying yourself or cracking your skull open on the hard stone floor. The top of the room is the top of the tower itself, with a moving thundercloud that occasionally fires out a bolt of lightning. Avoiding that and grabbing the shield at the end will cause the cloud to home in on you, and you must activate the shield just before it zaps, warping you back to the great hall.

Black Knight's Sanctuary

The double-doors in the center lead you to the Black Knight. It should be noted that the game never explicitly states that you need the shield and fireballs to complete the game, but it is physically impossible to navigate the rope/platform maze in the first room before you hear a loud barking/whooping noise.

That noise is the gargoyle, who is immune to regular rocks and will fly over to you (wherever you are), pick you up, and toss you into the pit to the dungeon. The only way to kill him is to have the fireball upgrade, and that's the only way you're finishing that level.

Once navigated past that you'll end up against the Black Knight himself, who sits in his throne in the middle of the room. There are four switches in each corner of the area that must be pulled in order to defeat him, and as you run and climb he'll toss beer mugs at you. These can be avoided, but it's much easier to just tap the shield button as they fly through you. It's a bit anticlimatic, but once all the switches are pulled, you complete the game and your high score is recorded on the main menu.

The Enemies

Enemies of Dark Castle
There are not many enemies in Dark Castle, but the ones that are present are quite distinct from one another.

Altering the difficulty on the main menu changes the level completion bonuses you earn as well as the placement and number of enemies - it also affects how long certain enemies stay stunned when hit by your rocks. Needless to say, there will be many more (and less forgiving) enemies on advanced difficulty as opposed to beginner.


Bat

Bats are probably the most common enemy in the game other than rats. When you enter a level they will be curled up at a particular point, sleeping, and will not awake for about five seconds. You can use that time to hit them from afar and smile to yourself as their lifeless corpse plummets to the ground with a splat, or you can wait for them to wake up and take advantage of a closer target as they fly towards you. They have no real pattern other than a general desire to fly straight towards you and kill you, which is a reasonable urge given Duncan's proficiency with rocks.

Rat

Rats are very uninteresting - they cannot kill you instantly, however, so you can touch one ever so briefly while running fast. Just don't linger, or they'll turn you stone cold dead. They have no pattern and simply wander back and forth on whatever ledge or floor they're on. Killing one starts a hidden timer, and after a while a new rat pops out of the appropriate rat hole and charges forth, so time the kills and your dashes well.

Guard

The guards wander back and forth in much the same way as the rats - they're just bigger, invincible, and carry crossbows. The guards will only fire when facing you and while you're on the same level as them, although their crossbow bolts are subject to gravity and will lose a bit of altitude if you're all the way on the other side of the screen. Hitting them with a rock will make a thunderous tin can noise and knock them unconscious for about ten seconds, giving you time to sneak past. If you have fireballs, of course, you can kill them outright. Guards are only found in the dungeon.

Mutant

Mutants can throw rocks - not well, but they can throw rocks. They have a single, grotesque eyeball in the center of their bodies, massive hands, and yammer and gurgle unintelligibly while waving their arms and smacking their bottoms at you. Occasionally they stop this display in order to hurl a rock in your general direction. Mutants can also descend ropes, and (like rats) will respawn shortly after being killed, up to whatever number of mutants are supposed to be in a particular group.

Burning Eye

The burning eye is a gigantic floating eyeball that is, well, on fire. It slowly glides in your direction and only stops when you hit it with a rock. Your reprieve is only temporary, however, and you'll have to stop your platforming occasionally in order to stun the eye before it gets too close to you. Of course, if you're lucky enough to have them, fireballs will drop the eye for good.
 

Trivia

If you load Dark Castle when your system clock is set to Halloween (October 31st), a number of the enemies will be altered to fit the Halloween theme, such as pumpkin heads and candy. Similarly, when you set the system clock to Christmas (December 25), there is a Christmas tree in the foyer. The game also responds to setting the system clock to any Friday the 13th.

The game also replaces the tilde (~) key with a castle icon, which you can use when entering high scores.

Dark Castle for the Mac required a very specific (and streamlined) version of the Macintosh 7 operating system, requiring a boot diskette even for Macs with an internal hard drive. However, even with the game files and OS on the same disk it fit on a regular single density 3.5" floppy.

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