This is my absolute favorite video game of all time.
I should probably note that I'm running on sheer nostalgia fumes, here. My very first exposure to video games was through IntelliVision, growing up on games like Burgertime! and Snafu, fueling my desire for mindless entertainment that would, in later years, propel me through Nintendo in all its many incarnations. Before everything else that was to come, though, there was the IntelliVision.
In my recent ongoing quest to pretend that I'm six years old again (having already successfully reclaimed the beloved MPC Star Wars R2-D2 and C-3PO model kits from my childhood), I began searching for a good IntelliVision emulator, and finally realized that the now-official site, intellivisionlives.com, has a perfectly legal, fully-functional copy of the one game I wanted to play again more than any of the others. The name is different, now, which is the reason it took me some time before I realized it was the one that I'd been looking for; they're calling it "Minotaur" now, since of course the Dungeons & Dragons trademark is still the property of TSR. The game play is the exact same, though, and that's all that's important. (I prefer the new name anyhow. Of course, just about anything would make more sense than a video game with the word "cartridge" right there in the title. No, I'm serious. The game was actually called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin Cartridge.)
The basic premise behind the game is that you're searching the labyrinth, in first-person perspective, of the dreaded Minotaur, and have to navigate the seemingly endless maze in order to destroy him and capture his treasure. Making your way through the maze is a challenge unto itself, but you also have to deal with lesser monsters who are roaming about, some of which are quite powerful in their own right. You begin equipped only with a bow and some arrows, but you can find other weapons and equipment along the way to add to your inventory (the only remains of the unlucky adventurers who came before you, I should think).
This sounds all well and good, very similar in premise to many of the RPG's that would come later (indeed, I don't think the RPG genre even existed when this game was created, even though it's basically a very early version of Dragon Warrior). The game is extraordinarily primitive, though, having been released two decades ago, way back in 1982. The walls and doors are completely featureless, for starters. (Many years later, I would discover Ultima Underworld for the PC, only the machine I played it on had very limited memory, and I had to crank the detail level down to its lowest possible setting, just so I could play. And even that was more realistic.) It also completely lacks music, and isn't much on sound effects either (the only ones you hear are a sort of whoosh/growl sound when monsters pop up, and the sound of your weapons hitting their target, not unlike a dartboard being struck). The game would probably be unplayable for me now if I didn't already love it so much.
The real fun begins once you start to find the Special Books, though. These amazing little items are your reward for putting up with the frustration of having to navigate the maze, assuming you can find them eventually. Most of the time, you have to fight a very powerful creature in order to lay claim to them. Specifically, a door. Not just any door, though; this one's an Evil Door. (I have no idea if that's the beast's official name or not. They're not referenced in the instructions.) At first, it looks just like any other ordinary door, but when you try to open it, it promptly turns yellow. It's a very strange phenomenon in the otherwise visually-set-in-stone Minotaur universe. All the walls in the universe are green, and every door you ever encounter is blue; therefore, any deviation from this pattern can be pretty damned exciting. After discovering that it can't be opened by conventional means, your only option is to attack it; the door's hit points show up on the screen and it lets loose with everything it's got. If you manage to defeat it, whatever spell was cast upon it dissipates, and it reverts back to a normal door. Behind the door is one of the Special Books.
There are three Special Books, each a different color and producing a different effect when used. The pink book is incredibly useful, enabling you to see right through walls. It becomes completely unnecessary to open every door you come across, sometimes in vain, in the desperate hopes you'll find some useful armor or a low-level monster to boost your battle power. Now, you can plainly see precisely where the goodies and baddies are, providing you're at least somewhat nearby. That's only half the equation, though; if you manage to get your hands on the purple book, it gives you the power to teleport a step ahead, regardless of whether there's a door or even a solid wall in your path! Either book can be used separately (you usually find one before the other), but they're exponentially more useful in conjunction with one another. With both of them at your disposal, not only can you see all the objects and creatures on that floor, you can go to them instantaneously! (The third book, the red one, enables you to turn weapons and treasures into platinum, being the highest grade possible in the game. By the time you find this one, though, most of the weapons you find will kill monsters with one blow, so it's kind of pointless.)
Needless to say, the first two books also cut down signficantly on the game time. Instead of wandering around aimlessly, covering ground you've already cleaned out in a desperate search for the ladder that leads down to the next level, you can zip through to the next floor in a matter of seconds. (Actually, I stumbled upon a rather disappointing artifact of the way the game is programmed. Don't read this part if you intend on actually downloading and playing the game, since it significantly ruins the fun: All the ladders in the game are lined up along the same north-south axis, so it's a guarantee that as soon as you descend, the next ladder is either somewhere directly in front of you or directly behind you. All you have to do is go straight through the walls until you find it. This does allow you to progress through the latter levels in no time, but it makes things so unbelievably easy that I actually wish I'd never discovered it.)
Another anticlimactic discovery I made was the revelation that the Minotaur is not, in fact, a unique entity. He doesn't start showing up until fairly deep into the game, and you can forget about killing him until you've descended to Level 20 or so. Well, even after dispatching him, it's possible to continue down to the next level, and who should be waiting for you but yet another Minotaur! Now, before you write me and suggest that maybe I'd never actually killed him, and he somehow snuck away, well... play deep enough into the game, and two Minotaurs begin appearing on the same level, sometimes one right next to the other! Now if that ain't dirty pool, I don't know what is.
For the longest time, I had this idea that it was impossible to finish this game. Back in the day, I'd become powerful enough to destroy the Minotaur many times, but that darned treasure chest of his proved to be quite the challenge. You couldn't use the command to Open it or Use it; none of the keys you found in the game would work on it; and no matter how strong you were, as soon as you tried to pick up the chest, you died. I was convinced that the only way to actually grab the treasure chest was to play through the entire game, all the way down to Level 256. (The closest I'd ever gotten as a kid was around Level 205, but it was way past my bedtime and I had to call it quits.)
Well, it took about 16 years until I finally got a chance to take another crack at it. It turns out, quite to my surprise, that the abrupt ending I'd been seeing when I was ten years old was, in fact, a victory. For some reason, I'd never noticed before that the subscreen map had changed ever so slightly; the treasure chest pictured on the map, as well as the white blinking "you are here" marker, had disappeared, and the castle above the labyrinth was now in front of a daylight backdrop instead of the dark of night. (I guess I never noticed the difference before because I only ever looked at the map when it comes up at the very beginning, and a full game typically takes several hours to finish.) Regardless, I've got to say that it's one of the most lackluster game endings I've ever seen. Can you blame me for being confused?
In any event, after having finally finished the game (and being aware of it this time), my interest in it gradually waned and I've since moved on to bigger and better things. I guess the idea of finally accomplishing a long-sought childhood dream was what kept my love for this game alive all these years, and having completely mastered it now, I have no immediate desire to return to it. I mean, I've still got The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask to finish, and a modern-era game is just a little better at capturing my long-term interest.
Minotaur still has a special place in my heart, though.
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This Page Created: 5/1/2002
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