Dark Castle last edited by Mento on 10/14/19 02:53PM View full history

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 Prince Duncan entering the Black Knight's castle and the gate slams shuts behind him. In order to escape, Duncan has to trek through caves, dungeons, and a tower surrounded by perpetual lightning clouds before he's well equipped enough to take on the Black Knight himself.

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

The Levels

Great Hall

Great Hall
Great Hall

Once inside the castle Duncan is 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 random. There is a 50% chance of exiting the side of the castle and embarking on a brief journey to earn fireballs, and a 50% chance of getting thrown down to the dungeon.

Dungeon

Unfortunately, if Duncan ends up in the dungeon, the door locks behind him and he must trek through three screens, get the key, and trek back again, and make overall zero progress.

Final area of dungeon (or first, if you fall in)
Final area of dungeon (or first, if you fall in)

Duncan will also end up in the dungeon if he falls 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, Duncan must sneak up on the torturer, whack him on the back of the head with a morningstar, then leap over his unconscious 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 Duncan is dead.

Outer Castle

If Duncan does get the correct door, he will cross a small plain guarded by rock-throwing, gurgling mutants that constantly respawn and climb three sets of ropes (allowing him to swap between them to avoid mutants climbing down). 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 held 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 Duncan meets up with the reclusive wizard, who will gently anoint him with the gift of fireballs, allowing him to throw them instead of regular rocks. Of course, if Duncan reaches him without first obtaining the shield from the lightning tower, his magic spell will instead char him to a crisp.

Lightning Tower

The left stairwell doesn't take Duncan 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 the 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 Duncan like it will anywhere else - it'll send him down to the dungeon.

The second screen pits Duncan against divebombing vultures (all pattern based) and a firebreathing dragon. Since his rocks are completely ineffective against the dragon, Duncan has 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 Duncan slipping, which sends him not to his death but, yes, the dungeon.

The final portion of Duncan's task involves leaping diagonally up a series of disappearing platforms, which change in such a way that he must zigzag his way up and down and sideways in order to make it to the very top without dizzying himself or cracking his 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 Duncan, and he must activate the shield just before it zaps, warping him back to the great hall.

Black Knight's Sanctuary

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

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

Once navigated past that, Duncan ends 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 Duncan runs and climb the Knight will toss beer mugs at him. These can be avoided, but it's much easier to just tap the shield button as they fly past. Once all the switches are pulled, the player completes the game and their high score is recorded on the main menu.

The Enemies

Enemies of Dark Castle
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 the player earns as well as the placement and number of enemies - it also affects how long certain enemies stay stunned when hit by 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 entering a level they will be curled up at a particular point, sleeping, and will not awake for about five seconds. They can be defeated quickly before they wake up, or can be taken out as they fly towards Duncan to make it easier to aim at them. They have no real pattern other than a general desire to fly straight towards Duncan and kill him, which is a reasonable urge given Duncan's proficiency with rocks.

Rat

Rats are very uninteresting - they cannot kill Duncan instantly, however, so he can touch one ever so briefly while running fast. Just don't linger, or they'll turn Duncan 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 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 Duncan and while they're on the same level as them, although their crossbow bolts are subject to gravity and will lose a bit of altitude if they'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 time to sneak past. Fireballs will 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. Occasionally they stop this display in order to hurl a rock in Duncan's 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 Duncan's direction and only stops when hit with a rock. This reprieve is only temporary, however, and the player will need to keep stunning the eye before it gets too close. Of course, fireballs will drop the eye for good.

Trivia

When loading Dark Castle when the 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 the system clock is on 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 can be used 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 fits on a regular single density 3.5" floppy.

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