For being named The Immortal there certainly is a lot of dying!
To Beat: Beat all the levels
What I Did: Beat the game
Played: 1/14/16 – 1/21/16
My Difficulty: 8/10
What a way to kick off the random portion of Take On The NES Library! I’m comfortable saying that I am good at video games and in particular NES games, but if I have one real weakness it is adventure games. I have no real interest in them and when I have played them trying to figure obscure uses of items leaves me frustrated and not having much fun. The Immortal was a new game for me and now that I am looking back at it I think this may have been good game to kind of ease into how to handle adventure games. It’s either that or I was just really excited about playing something new that I looked beyond my past struggles and actually sort of had a good time with this game.
The Immortal was released in 1990 on a variety of PC platforms, the Sega Genesis, and of course the NES. It was published by Electronic Arts now much better known as EA. For as ubiquitous as EA is in modern gaming the company was not as well known back then. They only published two games on the NES: The Immortal and Skate or Die 2. The developer for the game, Sandcastle, only made two games themselves. The first was Will Harvey’s Zany Golf in 1988 for various PC platforms. Will Harvey is the lead developer on The Immortal and figurehead for the game. I mean, his name is listed all over this game! Will Harvey didn’t make another game after this that I found. He would go on to form his own company and focus his efforts more on gaming architecture and networking from the technical side instead of game design. The Immortal is kind of a one-off looking at it this way.
The Immortal is an isometric adventure game broken up into levels. The player character – a wizard – must descend through a large dungeon in search of his mentor Mordamir. Along the way, he must avoid traps, fight monsters, and collect various items that are needed to get by hazards and obstacles along the way as he makes his journey. Every item has a use somewhere in the game so the wizard will have a nice collection of devices and spells at his disposal. There are 7 levels in the Immortal (some other versions have 8 levels) and you get three lives. You have to start the level over if you lose all three lives. Passwords are given after each level which is nice because the game would nearly be unbeatable otherwise!
One of the main features in this game is the combat. There are two main types of enemies that appears within the dungeon: Goblins and Trolls. They are at war with each other but both see you as a threat and they will either seek you out or attack when you approach. When engaging with the enemy, the perspective shifts from exploration to a dedicated combat screen. The combat is very basic. You can dodge left or right, stab, and slash left or right. Both combatants have a health bar and a fatigue meter. Every attack increases the fatigue meter which causes attack to take longer. Resting by dodging attacks decreases the meter. The enemies strike very quickly so combat is a test of reflexes more than anything. It’s really important to recognize which direction the enemy is going to attack so that you can dodge it quickly, otherwise combat will be very challenging. Of course in this game combat is only half of the equation.
There are many action elements within the normal gameplay as well. Fire plums, poison darts, acid slimes, trap doors, and giant wizard-eating worms are just some of the obstacles that must be overcome. Some enemies will chase you around requiring quick intentional movement to reach the next room. One of the most frustrating elements of this game is the bat enemy. These bats spawn in every room just flying around and they will deal damage to you whenever they come in contact. You have a fireball spell used in the exploration scenes that lets you shoot fireballs which kill the bats, although if they get near sometimes they just stay on top of you and keep dealing damage. The worst of all is when you are trying to focus on figuring out a puzzle and a bat appears to take the focus right back. The bats will kill you if you don’t deal with them. This happens way too often and just frustrates the puzzles even more.
As I mentioned before The Immortal was new to me. I have the Top Secret Passwords NES player’s guide from the early 90’s and I remember seeing the game in that book. For some reason I always thought the game had 10-12 levels so I was glad to see the game was shorter than I thought. I have no idea why I always remembered more levels. The other lingering memory of the game was seeing the screenshot of a huge dragon which shows up during the attract mode after the title screen. I knew I would be facing that dragon at some point!
I was excited to get this game going and in preparation I found a PDF online of the game manual and read through it prior to starting. I’ve decided I am going to look up and read the manual before every game I play from now on. The manual for The Immortal was a godsend because not only does it have a complete walkthrough for Level 1 but it also has hints for nearly every puzzle in the game. When first playing I ignored it to see if I could get through on my own. On my first night of playing I couldn’t figure out how to clear the first stage. I could get pretty far but I got stuck at a dead end and couldn’t see how to proceed. The next day after reflecting on the game I went ahead and peeked in the manual to see what I was missing. I had made it to the end of the level but I didn’t quite understand the trick to opening up the path at the end. You pick up an amulet and when you try to use it the game asks if you want to hold it up to the light. I said yes. Next the game asks if you want to read an incantation on the amulet, so I also said yes. That caused the screen to flash white killing me. You are supposed to stand on a beam of light, hold the amulet up to the light, but not read the incantation. I was close but I didn’t fully understand. Anyway I don’t feel that bad about using the manual here to guide me in the right direction.
Level 2 was what nearly broke me. There were a few pretty clever puzzles that I was able to reason out on my own, but that wasn’t the real issue. The slimes that show up in this level really made my blood boil. They are deadly to the touch and will occasionally corner you with no hope of escape. There are two in the level and neither one can be skipped. A merchant sells some kind of slime oil that helps you either evade them or resist them but I wasn’t able to afford it. There was a trick to getting the oil that I completely missed which would have made the level so much easier and instead I did it the hard way. I guess it’s nice that there is more than one way to solve a level sometimes! I spent a lot of time replaying the level simply because of slime deaths. That led to more enemy fights and as a result I got pretty good at the combat which prepared me for the rest of the game. I also have a confession. I peeked at an online walkthrough for one of the minor puzzle solutions. I got the in-game clue for how to solve it but I misinterpreted the hint and I couldn’t quite figure out on my own. The manual wasn’t much help here as it didn’t have the specific hint I needed for that particular puzzle. So this wasn’t a purely blind beat, and I know someone in the comments will make me feel bad about it, but eh, it’s fine by me.
This could go on for a long time and I’m not going to write a paragraph on every single level. The first two levels were formative for this playthrough as I experienced the getting my feet wet phase followed by the frustration phase so they deserved exposition. Once I got to Level 3, I started to really “get” the game for the first time and as a result I enjoyed playing it a lot more. I didn’t need any hints to solve Level 3 even though I did not complete it in the optimal way. I did Level 4 without help except for another small online hint due to another clue misinterpretation that I would have probably stumbled into accidentally if I just kept messing around with it. Level 5 only required a peek at the manual for confirmation that I was triggering a puzzle correctly, and from then on I figured out the rest of the game myself. The encounter with the dragon was a pretty cool moment of the game, but it was one of those situations where I solved it but I am surprised that I figured it out, if that makes any sense. If I had been in a different frame of mine I may have not solved it alone, but fortunately I got it. The ending was kind of a letdown but I left the game feeling satisfied of my accomplishment.
I dare say once I got over the hurdle of understanding the game I kind of enjoyed playing it a little bit. It has a good amount of action over what I was expecting which plays more to my strengths, and the puzzles were pretty good even though some went over my head. The game has pretty good graphics too. However the combat was tedious and repetitive, and those darn bats really soured a lot of my experience. Some of the action scenes require very specific movements which can be quite frustrating, and when it’s combined with constantly restarting the level and needing to repeat combat scenes it really wears on you after awhile. The Immortal has a reputation for being a difficult game and those are just some of the reasons why. I personally wouldn’t call it a hidden gem, but The Immortal is a pretty decent game. If any of what I described sounds interesting then it’s worth giving it a try. Just make sure you have the manual!