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Immortal (The)

Genre: Action/RPG Developer: Sandcastle Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1 Released: 1991

Long before Diablo ignited the dungeon crawler genre on PCs, Will Harvey set the bar with his trail blazer, The Immortal. Using the isometric perspective that has become the norm for these types of games, Harvey’s adventure/RPG was as innovative as it was hard, and Apple gamers everywhere reveled in all the ways they could bring a graphic and painful end to the inhabitants of the dreaded Labyrinth of Eternity.

When Electronic Arts decided to port The Immortal to the Genesis in 1991, it put the game in the capable hands of programmer Kevin McGrath and his small team. Not only did they do a stellar port, but they managed to find a way to make a great game even better by adding new death sequences. The result was a title that was as hard as it was fun, and know what? It’s still just as hard today.

First things first. I’m a scrub when it comes to really difficult games, and I have no compunctions about admitting it. Suffice it to say that The Immortal was one game that I wasn’t about to tackle without some serious FAQ help. Think it’s unjustified? Spend some time with this one, and you’ll change your opinion. The thing about Harvey’s classic is that it’s mostly trial and error. Enter a room, step onto the wrong part of the floor, and watch as your wizard is gobbled up by a giant worm. Use the wrong item in the wrong place, and you’re turned to dust (or worse). This game is quite hard, and while the manual offers some great starting tips, you’ll have to be patient to avoid early frustration.

But in reality, that’s the beauty of The Immortal. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the gameplay and learned to manage your inventory accordingly, things quickly begin to pick up. Frustration falls by the wayside, replaced by a dogged determinism to use that magical spell or amulet and find the right path to the next level. Along the way to find your master Mordamir, who has disappeared into the labyrinth, you’ll meet his bodyguard Ulindor and his former student Dunric, as well as find yourself in the middle of an underground war between goblins and trolls. You’ll fight giant spiders, brave deadly traps, and use every resource at your disposal to survive just one more level.

It’s a good thing that you’re a fighting wizard then! In addition to powerful spells found within the labyrinth, your wizard is well versed in the art of fighting. Bobbing and weaving to avoid an enemy’s blows, he can tire them out and move in for the bloody kill. And what wonderful kills they are. Over a dozen gruesome death scenes are included, with some especially made for this version. You can slice a foe in half right down the middle, turn him to dust, blow his head up, electrocute him, or flay the flesh from his bones. It’s highly satisfying to win a battle against a goblin and get to really send him out in style. Every time I see these scenes (which can be viewed here), I wonder how on Earth Joe Lieberman overlooked The Immortal when he began his witch hunt…er, I mean crusade against video games back in 1993. He would have had a slam dunk with this one!

Violence aside, there’s more to this game than just the battles. Luckily the gameplay is solid enough to ensure that getting to said battles and winning them isn’t a chore. Simple controller and button presses (nicely detailed in the manual) make combat a breeze, and the game in general is easy to handle. There is some occasional slowdown when you move across a busy screen, but it’s nothing really notable. Using your inventory is simple, and navigating the dungeon’s levels is a natural and intuitive task. I do think that the ladders can be somewhat tricky, as you tend to plunge down them to your death if you approach from the wrong angle. That’s just a nitpick though, and The Immortal brings a tight experience to the stock Genesis three-button controller.

The presentation is equally smooth, with crisp and detailed visuals and a solid soundtrack (I love how the music isn’t constant and instead comes in when something major is about to happen). Combat is very well done, and the brutal death scenes are fluid and realistic. All of this goodness compliments the gameplay perfectly, and it’s incredible to think that it’s all stuffed into a 1MB cartridge. I was pretty impressed with the initial NES port, so a Genesis version gave me high hopes. I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

What you’re basically looking at here is one great-looking, solid-controlling title that’s hard as hell. That’s pretty much all you can ask for, although the learning curve may turn some less patient gamers off. To be honest, I don’t see why that should be so, considering that scrub like me was able to progress to the end (still have to beat that dragon!). If I can do it, then anyone can. With the ample supply of FAQs and hint guides available on the Internet, no one should be at a loss when it comes to what needs to be done next. If the high difficulty is enough to make you give up, then you’re doing yourself a major disservice.

If you’re looking for a great action/RPG and aren’t afraid of a challenge, then you need to give The Immortal a try. That feeling that death is around every corner is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, and there are trolls and goblins that need to learn some respect. Don’t let Mordamir down!

SCORE: 8 out of 10

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