Has any member of your family ever been snatched by a 30-meter dragon and carried off to a wizard's lair? Well, it is the kind of thing that used to happen all the time in the Dark Ages, or so Incentive would have us believe in this all-singing, all-dancing, cheese-eating, Freescape spectacular.
Freescape pioneered 3D adventuring way back in 1988, when Driller utilized solid geometric blocks to create an arena you could walk on, crawl under and touch. It was inevitable that Incentive would eventually turn to the usual adventure fare of castles, wizards and ghosts.
Legend (and the title sequence) has it that your twin has been nabbed by the aforementioned dragon and stashed in Castle Eternity. So you set out to conquer the fortress armed with your wits, courage and a handful of rocks with which to 'kill' any ghosts you meet on the way. This may not be the world's most desirable arsenal but it will do.
The castle comprises four towers, each with three levels. Throw in a catacomb maze and a gate-house or two as well as sundry other essentials like a chapel and you have hours of frustrating entertainment guaranteed.
The first priority is staying alive - not as simple as it sounds. There are three things that any sussed knight should know. Eating plenty of cheese - huge wedges of Cheddar are everywhere - keeps you strong, falling in or off things is fatal and when you bump in the night the ghoulies drain your strength quick.
The game is controlled either from the keyboard, or by mouse or joystick. Two sets of cursors (direction and aim) appear on screen together, which means your first few steps are faltering. The icon controls are fine for rapid strides or swings in one direction, but they lack the response for fine movement, so keys are the only option for close control. And you will need to walk tightrope like catwalks - one slip and you are gone.
Naturally, it is not feasible to burst in, grab your bro's or sis' and bug out - that would be too easy. First you have to find the right keys to open the right doors. A monumental task in itself, because the darned things are not labelled. And there are more mysteries to solve en route, too, if your quest is to end in a reunion and not in a morgue. Strange 'pentacles' have to be collected, while literally littering the place are unmarked potions that do everything from restoring strength to granting you the nifty ability of 'stone travel'.
To find the treasure, pentacles and keys means you have to look at, in and under everything - try performing a James Heriot on the back end of the horse and all you manage is to get an "aaaaeeugghh! " message.
Saying that there is a lot of exploring to do in Castle Master is a bit like claiming that Vindaloo is a hot dish full of tasy, tangy spices. The plot can be written on a postage stamp. There is a kidnapped prince or princess ot rescue and numerous towers to rummage through. But when you mooch around Castle Eternity the game system comes into its own, as you crawl under tables, run and see in first person perspective.
This is the first Freescape game to be developed specifically for 16-bit, and it is the first with a medieval-style theme. Freescape games have always had a mixed press. Criticisms range from the trite "Why can't there be a few more rounded edges?" to the more reasonable "well it is a bit on the slow side, isn't it?". The speed seems to have picked upa bit, and while the squares on screen won't make you stop and think "there is a crumbly old turret, if ever I saw one", you are drawn - quite literally - into every nook and cranny of this game.
The puzzles become harder as you progress into the game, unlike the menyu commands which are nicely ergonomic. A simple point/click of the mouse on the appropriate icon will allow you to take a whole range of actions from eating, reading, collecting, throwing, to moving the whole or just part of your body slightly or completely. En route there will be a number of spectres to slingshot, some of which are disappointingly easy to kill, and others which will try your patience.
Castle Master is just too short on either combat or strategy to appeal to either the regular adventurer or arcadester. On the other hand, if your taste is for a hybrid with a soundtrack so bolshy it can raise demons, then it is well worth a try. A success.
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