Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Escape from Monster Castle (1993)

Name:Escape From Monster Castle
Publisher:Thomas Ehlers and Michael Rieck
Developer:Thomas Ehlers and Michael Rieck
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Time:1 hour 30 minutes
Won:Not applicable

From Germany, today we have a game that can only be described as a spiritual successor to Dandy. From mechanics to gameplay, this takes the concepts from that game and adds a lot of depth. Sadly, despite being really clever, there are some issues.

To recap that game. Dandy is a pre-Gauntlet top-down shooter in which you get treasure and fight monsters. You start at A and end at Z, fighting any monsters, monster spawners, and unlocking doors along the way.

You can indeed move around and shoot diagonally, but it's a pain.

Controls are weird, and the language barrier doesn't help. The numpad moves me, fine, but to shoot you have to hold down space and then press a direction. Questionable, but fine. One shot on-screen at any time. You get medikits and bombs. How do you use those? You hold down space, let go of it, then hold it down again until you get a box with x in the lower right. Then you press left or right until you get a medikit or a bomb. Medikits are self-explanatory, but bombs are used by moving. Like you would with yourself. Any space you could walk to, ignoring enemies, it can be placed. Kind of weird, but okay. This doesn't destroy any wall fixtures, but does take out any enemies, including a few who seem to be otherwise invulnerable.

On this screen, the normally blocking treasure seems to be moving around randomly, allowing the ghosts to move around semi-freely.

So, the levels. The game sort of randomly starts you off on one if you just select start. You can select one specifically if you want. There are five levels of varying difficulty. What's weird is that this sort of loops around and doesn't really end, yet the game sets itself up as much more epic than it really is. This game is so short that I suspect this was a method of artificially lengthening the game, which I find amusing considering there is a literal level editor with the game. For a shareware release, this isn't a hell of a lot. Outside of hilariously crap games like Skunny, there wasn't a lot to this. I even finished what there was before I had actually written much. I was kind of expecting more.

The readme file states that the full game has 25 levels, in addition to that editor, and costs 30 DM, which seems like something of a poor deal even if I like the game. You have to pay to get something more than PC Speaker. Curiously, you can get an additional 100 levels if you pay an addition 10 DM. I'm not clear on the distinction the game makes, but you get levels which are composed of fields, which in turn are composed of screens. I think my by standards, this is one episode of five levels.

Not all screens are as orderly as this one, though if you die in the lower part of the screen you have to leave via the top.

The obvious point of interest is the wide variety of objects in the game. There are a lot of enemies, far more than a game of this length should rightly have. There are also a lot of other things. So I'm going to go over them roughly in the order they appear in the info option:

  • Ghosts, called 10% through 40% monster in-game. These guys go towards you and try to touch you. Shooting them turns them into a weaker variant until they're dead.
  • Green guy, called 50% monster zuf.luaf. in-game. These guys wander around randomly, so they're not terribly troublesome outside of dealing with a ton of them.
  • Orange eye guy, or 90% monster. These guys weren't as nasty as that implies, since they're rare and tend to only spawn out of some massive death spawn or something.
  • Blue reaper, or 45% monster. In theory not that bad, they're kind of slow, but they tend to spawn in areas which make killing them difficult and they take multiple shots.
  • Demon heads, or kopfs. These spawn the corresponding ghosts. They're not too difficult for a spawner.
  • Frog head, they spawn the green guys.
  • Purple smiley thing, or barrel head. I don't remember it, but it's likely I just shot it. It's one of the creatures that spawns a bunch of other creatures upon getting killed, which you have to plan around.
  • Blue head, or Platzkopf. These spawn the orange eye guys, but what's tricky about them is when you shoot them a whole bunch of things spawn where it was. You can take advantage of this by taking one out in a cluster of things, which the game seems to anticipate.
  • Hearts, they come in red and blue kinds. The red ones are only applicable to 2 player, which I did not play. Blue ones resurrect you whenever you're inevitably killed. You really, really don't want to shoot them, because they then turn into walls which turn into strawberries when you approach. You do not want to deal with strawberries.
  • Medikits, bombs and treasure. You know what these are thanks to the controls, some medikits are used upon picking up, some can be used anywhere.
  • Keys, they open doors of a particular color. Unfortunately, the game doesn't tell you what colors you've picked up.
  • Trick walls, you can shoot these. Sometimes you can walk through them.
  • A to Z, A is where you come in, while Z either teleports you back to the start or advances to the next level.
  • Wuchermonster, or a galaxy. These guys are fast and spawn more of themselves, and when they're shot, they turn into ghosts. Annoying, but didn't pop up too much.
  • Purple egg, turns into something that spawns reapers.
  • Grey castle heads, what the eggs turn into. Very annoying the one place they popped up.
  • Shield, kind of useless? Every time they popped up I didn't really get a good chance to see it's combat effects. Slowly drains.
  • Lasers and block spawners. These usually appear together. One shoots out lasers and one shoots out blocks which disappear whenever they hit a wall. Whatever is in the path of a block is killed, which means you in most cases. There's a third variety which shoots out in a circular pattern.
  • Cute creature spawner, these create 8 cute creatures around them. Very annoying.
  • Cute creature, these are slow and not very deadly, but annoying because of the rate at which they spawn.
  • Green bomb, if you shoot them, and you're within the blast range, you get killed. Doesn't hurt anything else.
  • Gold wizard, slow and technically not deadly, but slowly drains your health one point at a time. Seems to be invulnerable to everything but the bomb.
  • Disguised walls, some walls are hiding monsters. This is sometimes obvious, sometimes not, but usually they're the very nasty ones.
  • Strawberry, usually the ones hiding. Kills you in one hit, spawns a whole bunch of blue heads. Generally ruins things.
  • Purple gargoyle, I thought it just took a lot of shots to kill, but apparently the game just randomly decides if it's going to die whenever you shoot it.
  • Monster gegen Spieler, weird alien looking things that come in blue and red kinds, an enemy I thought just took a ton of shots to kill, but just turns out to have something to do with the two-player mode. I think it spawns something when it dies, but I don't remember what.
  • Super Square Head, spawns a bunch of monsters in a 5*5 field around it when killed. Annoyingly, it spawns other monster spawners, so you can end up pushed back by killing one. On the bright side, it destroys other monsters when it spawns.
  • Purple wizard, teleports around and shoots lasers at you. Annoyingly, lasers block your shots, but otherwise not difficult to deal with.
  • "A place for shots", a green lightblub monster who, when shot, shoots lasers in every direction it can. More annoying than deadly.
  • Teleporters, they teleport you to a teleport of the same color.
    And a few other things I don't think I saw.
Enemies blocked off by items off a lot of options to deal with, do you take them out via the available corridor or cut through and try to take them out that way?

Which makes it all the more disappointing that the game is so short. Each level has it's own interesting piece to it, like doing a series of corridors in the right order so you don't end up overwhelmed by enemies, or a wall turns out to be a strawberry. Whenever you're not just shooting your way through a horde of enemies the game is quite deep and interesting, it just never builds up to anything in this short time. It's just sort of a thing...that ends when you want it to. I think that even in the presumably limited world of German DOS shareware games, this is what killed the game rather than anything else.

I took a video of what I think is the final level so you can get how this plays.

Simple gun. It's kind of tricky to use the bomb, but that trickiness comes with some very satisfying outcomes. 2/10

Far too many enemies than a game of this caliber should have. Yet, somehow these enemies feel like their own thing. It's weird. 7/10


Interesting, but very short. Starting a particular level is tricky too. 3/10

Player Agency:
I absolutely hate the way you activate medikits and bombs, and it takes a while to get used to. Once you've done that...it's okay. 3/10

A lot more things are destroyable than they should be. A lot. 2/10

Despite the simplistic nature of the game, this have a kind of creepy vibe to it. Sort of halfway between cursed game and funtime Halloween game. 3/10

Surprisingly effective. Despite the large number of objects, everything is visually distinct. Further, it definitely succeeds as a horror game, monster designs are creepy. 4/10


Simple PC speaker sound effects. 1/10

That's 25. Better than I expected, but suffers from some obvious flaws, the most damning of which is the lack of levels. It's kind of weird to be criticizing a game for being too short for once.

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