• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatCommodore 64
ReviewJeff and Doug

Main review

Once upon a time there was a nice castle full of nice people. But there was someone bad called Morgath who wasn’t nice and decided to take over the nice castle and get rid of the nice people. Thus, the castle became Not Nice Castle. Sorry, The Castle of Madness. You, being the rather nice chap(ette) you are, decide to stumble awkwardly into this castle and do something beneficial for society as a whole. And thus your quest begins. The arrow keys guide you around the castle and for the first few minutes you will be truly lost, the way you move around is a bit odd. The direction you are facing is shown below the display panel as North, East, South or West and can change each time you move to a different room, so in many cases pressing left, then right does not leave you where you started. It makes sense after a while as pressing back repeatedly gets you to the start of the maze, but it takes some getting used to.

This is a game which should rather a lot on language, but the descriptions are minimalistic to say the least. Room descriptions are usually only a line of text and the graphics do little to fill in the gaps, as most rooms look identical bar a few sparse decorations. Items can’t be examined at all, depriving you of that little bit more of a hint what they might be for if you need it, but the most description you ever get is a simple drawing and the name of the item in question. Although this may seem like a bad thing, it’s honestly not missed that much though, the puzzles are never complicated enough to need to know anything more than roughly what the objects are in order to use them appropriately. The hardest thing is figuring out where you are as all the rooms look the same.

The combat is without a doubt the biggest weakness of the entire game, not only will you have no idea how well a weapon will do against an opponent until you go to the enemy, look at the stats and then run away, but the very limited options of what you can do mean you tend to either just attack over and over, or block then attack then block over and over. Still despite this simplicity, you still get quite tense when having to do battle with the (admittedly very limited number of) creatures of the very orange Castle of Madness.

And that’s about it. It’s very simple, but it’s intuitive and gets you into the story very well with excellent art and music. The in game graphics are nice enough, although some variation in each of the rooms would help in keeping track of where you are but overall it’s a solidly enjoyable experience to clean up the mess that has been left around the castle and make the world a better place, but once you’ve done it, it’s not something you’ll come back to for a bit.

Second opinion

While playing Castle of Madness I found it difficult to keep track of my location and direction. This is partly due to the lack of distinction between each location and the fact that when you go left and right, not only do you move in that direction, you also spin 90 degrees. There is a compass displayed in the middle of the screen but all this does little to give you a “sense of place” about the castle you’re exploring. The combat is pretty standard fare for role-playing games like this and it’s a shame that there isn’t more feedback about your actions. You can keep stabbing at the attack key again and again and feel that nothing is going on. If you hit the monster he doesn’t cower, bleed or flinch in anyway, he just strobes psychedelically and act as if nothing has happened but if you get hit the whole screen flashes. It’s not the most satisfying experience and feels more like a game of chance than combat – role-playing gaming reduced to it’s core soulless die rolling.

The puzzles are very simple, and mostly fall into the mould of “find the key, open the door” and use the right object in the right place. You just know there’s been a lack of inspiration when you pickup yet another key, and they’ve used just about every different element in order to identify which key is which! The item manipulation system can also be frustrating, because in order to use an item you need to select your inventory, then select the item to move it into the item section of the screen. Only then can you then press the use key and select the item you want to use. It would have been so much friendly to be able to use any item by selecting it directly from your inventory.

The music is ok for this genre of game, although it soon becomes tiresome. My personal preference would have been to have more sound effects to create an atmosphere and reflect both the player and monsters actions. Once past the reasonable bitmap title screen of the castle, the graphics are rather basic and at first glance you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the game was just using the standard character set. The creatures you encounter are well drawn and it’s a shame that there aren’t more of them, and while they look pretty good, the way they stand motionless in front of you doesn’t make them seem as frightening as the row of stats would want you to believe!

Overall, Castle of Madness is somewhat unsatisfying. The puzzles aren’t that much of a challenge and the combat owes more to luck than any skill or tactics. It’s likely that you’ll either complete the game quite quickly or just give up entirely. It’s hard to think of anything original in this game, but if you like this kind of affair, it’ll give you something to do for a little while.