Castle Ralf is a shareware interactive fiction first released in 1987.
The background story: While driving out on holiday, you get lost in the middle of nowhere, when suddenly your tire has a puncture. Remembering a driveway just before the tire blew, you return to it, and guess where it leads? Right, to Castle Ralf. (Reminds me of Rocky Horror Picture Show, that.) The game starts with you trying to enter the castle.
Once you did it (this won't be too difficult, but will cut off the way back), you'll quickly find that Castle Ralf is quite big and peculiar, extending onto three floors and a basement, including a Grand Central Closet and a sauna. You'll find some keys, enough burnt pizza for 87 people and a gigantic cheese, a video game called "Chiwawars!" which you can play, but also some technical puzzles which you will have to solve, designed by the castle's slightly eccentric owner, some Dr. Bellefleur.
Castle Ralf features an innovative user interface: Besides typing your commands the traditional way, you can also select verbs with the cursor keys. This comes with a simple but well-done parser which understands some unusual and/or useful words, like IT, MAP (which gives you a map of the places you visited so far -- interactive fiction with automapping!), SMELL or COGITATE (which may or may not give you some hint). You can also use multiple commands, as " N. W. S. GET BEANS." All in all, the parser / verb selection combination works quite well, once you got used to it.
The game's puzzles are quite challenging, but logical. As you will die a lot, you should SAVE often. The texts are short and to the point, being often quite funny and even a little Zorkian. They thus manage to convey a unique atmosphere while you are exploring the vast castle and try to solve Bellefleur's devious mechanical puzzles.
One of the early shareware text adventures, Castle Ralf is a fun dungeon romp first released in 1987. The official blurb of this funny but very difficult game: "... When the drawbridge crashes into the moat, you can only hope there is another way out - somewhere beyond the castle's dark entrance. But don't expect the owner of Castle Ralf to show you the way. Dr. Bellefleur Q. Izgotcha III invents phenomenal puzzles to frustrate and tantalize the finest minds. And, since the castle is his workshop, a myriad of obstacles block your exit, including an acrobatic hamster, some incarcerated alligators, and a less-than-friendly Chihuahua. To escape from Castle Ralf alive, you'll have to learn how the Castle itself, and some of Dr. Izgotcha's most amazing inventions, work. Can you beat the odds, the alligators, and the puzzles to get out?"
The game is fun, largely thanks to off-the-wall humor and challenging puzzles, which range from dealing with burnt pizza, portable cyclotrons, and alligator love potions. Most puzzles are quite hard, but fair. In an innovative touch that predates Legend Entertainment's games, Castle Ralf features a menu-based interface that you can use instead of the text parser: just select verbs from the menu shown at the bottom of the screen. This means you can see at all times a full list of verbs you need in the game - a nice touch that IF beginners will find helpful. There is also automapping: a map of your surrounding is displayed in the bottom right corner, and constantly updates as you explore. If you are looking for a harder and funnier fantasy text adventure than Zork, Castle Ralf is well worth your time.
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