Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

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AUG
10
2017
0

#49 – Kings of the Beach

No crowns required to be kings in this four-player volleyball game.

Very chill setting!

To Beat: Win a tournament
To Complete: Beat the game on the Difficult setting
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 4/7/17 – 4/13/17
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Kings of the Beach – Tournament Mode Final Matches

I am not good at sports. I still like to play them when I get the chance even though I wasn’t blessed with any ability. If there’s one game I am at least decent at, it would be sand volleyball. I organized a weekly sand volleyball night with a bunch of friends for several years, and that afforded me the opportunity to practice often. Now don’t let me fool you, I’m still not all that good at volleyball. However, I am pretty good at playing video games. Therefore, it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for me to complete one of the few NES volleyball games.

Kings of the Beach is a volleyball game developed and published by Electronic Arts in 1988 on DOS. It was ported to the Commodore 64 in 1989 and the NES in January 1990. Ultra Games published the NES port. However, it is unclear if either Konami or Electronic Arts developed this version of Kings of the Beach. The game was only released in the US.

Kings of the Beach is a two-on-two beach volleyball game. You play as professional beach volleyball players Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos. In single-player mode, you only control one character and your partner is computer controlled. The main draw for single player is the Tournament mode. Here you will play against other pairs of players in five different locations all around the world. To win the tournament mode and beat the game, you must win three consecutive matches at each of the five beaches for fifteen total matches.

Interesting cursor choice!

At the start of the game, you move a green cursor around in an overhead map of the beach. This is your menu. The first place you will want to go is the registration tent, which is the game’s options menu. To start, you can assign either a controller or computer control to Smith, Stoklos, and two other competitors. Kings of the Beach supports up to four players simultaneously using the NES Four Score accessory. Next, you can choose between cooperative play or competitive play. This is only needed for a two-player game to decide if you want to play on the same team or not. You can set the difficulty of computer opponents to either Easy, Medium, or Difficult. You can choose if you want to play either a single set or a three-set match, and you can toggle the sound on and off. Choose Exit to Beach to go back to the main menu.

The other menu options are for practice or setting up a game. At the top of the screen there are three beaches labeled Bump, Set, or Spike. If you choose one, you are put in a practice beach where you get easy setups to practice the basic moves. Press Select at any time to exit the training and go back to the menu. At the lower left of the menu is the Match option where you jump directly into an exhibition match with the defined settings. This is the mode you want for a three or four player game. The bottom right part of the menu starts up the Tournament mode. You can select either a new game, or continue a previous game with a password. After that you jump right into the action.

Kings of the Beach plays by standard volleyball rules. Each side has two players and each point starts with a serve from the back of the court. Each side can hit the ball up to three times before hitting it over to the opponent’s court, and teammates must alternate hits. If the ball lands in your opponent’s court, the opponent hits the ball more than three times, or the opponent hits the ball out of bounds, then you win the point. The serving team is the only team that can score, otherwise the non-serving team gains control of the serve if they win the point. In a single set match, the first team to fifteen points wins. In a three-set match, teams play to twelve points per set. In either case, teams must also win by two points. This means play will continue beyond the required winning score until a team leads by two.

Bump, set, spike!

The basic strategy of beach volleyball is to use your three hits to bump the ball, then set the ball, and finally spike the ball. You will use the D-pad to move your player around the court. Quite often you will move on your own to the spot where the ball will land as it’s heading toward you, but sometimes you need to position yourself properly. The ball casts a shadow on the sand that will guide you toward where you want to stand. Press A to bump the ball in the air toward your teammate. To set the ball, press B. To spike the ball, press both A and B. The spike is a powerful jumping hit toward the opponent. You will need to focus on timing for all hits, but spiking the ball requires the best timing. The idea is to run up to the net and jump, meeting the ball with your hands at the top of your jump. For all hits, you can guide it in a direction using the D-pad in conjunction with the hit.

The above moves are mostly offensive moves, but you do have a couple of defensive moves at your disposal. If you know the opponent will spike the ball, you can move up against the net and press A and B together to jump up and attempt a block. Sometimes you can repel the ball right back into the opponent’s court for a quick point. Stoklos has his own signature block called the Kong block, which is very powerful. The other defensive move is called the dig. This happens automatically whenever the ball is just far enough out of reach normally. You will make a dive toward the ball to bump it back up into the air. I didn’t seem to put myself in good positions to do this very often, so in my experience it was left to chance.

Serving the ball effectively is a vital skill. When it’s your turn to serve, you can move up and down the line to put yourself in the position of your choice. There are three different ways to serve the ball. The easiest method is the underhand serve. Simple press A and B together to lob a slow serve at the opposite court. You want to pay attention to the flags that indicate wind direction because an underhand serve may come up short if the wind is blowing in hard. The overhand serve is more powerful. Press A to toss the ball straight up, wait for the ball to come down, and then press B to do a standing, overhand hit. You can use the D-pad to aim the ball while serving. The most powerful serve is the jump serve. Like the spike, it’s the most difficult serve to perform. Press A to toss the ball just before, but this time press A to jump and hit the ball. The more powerful the hit, the more likely the opponent will be unable to return the ball.

With the right timing, the jump serve is the best one.

One neat thing you can do is argue a call with the referee. Every now and then the line judge will make a mistake on a ball that lands near the lines. If you think a bad call went against you, then you can run up next to the judge’s stand and press Start to dispute the call. You will see your player make a scene as persuasively as possible. If you are successful, the referee reverses his call and you get the ball! If the judge disagrees, then he will shake his hand no and hold out a penalty card. This can be either a yellow card or a red card. The yellow card is just a warning, but if you lose a second disputed call in a set the referee will give you a red card instead and you lose a point off your score. Your opponents and even your partner can dispute a call on their own. One key thing is that if you want to dispute a call, you need to decide quickly and get over to the referee right away to plead your case. You lose your opportunity to argue a call if play advances to the next serve.

As stated earlier, to complete Tournament mode you must win fifteen total matches broken up into groups of three. After you win three consecutive matches on the same beach, you get a password for the next beach. The passwords are up to eight characters long and are normal words that are easy to write down or remember. I noticed that the passwords are the same for each beach no matter what difficulty or length of match. For instance, you can win the first round of matches on the Difficult setting with three-set matches, and the next time you play with the password you can select Easy difficulty and single set matches. You can play however you want!

This was my first time playing Kings of the Beach. The game was a later addition to my collection, but it is pretty common and inexpensive so I have had a few copies pass through my hands. I am not a huge fan of sports games even though I enjoy playing a little volleyball. Chances are I would not have given Kings of the Beach much of a chance if not for this project. Chances are I will also say this same thing about many other future games!

Digs are done automatically. This one was successful!

For my playthrough, I decided on playing single set matches on Medium difficulty. I played as the default Smith and let the computer play Stoklos for me. My intent was to learn the game on Medium difficulty and then go back and play the game again on the Difficult setting. At first, Medium difficulty was enough of a challenge. I understood the fundamentals early on, and other than some mistakes with spiking I was already playing well enough to make some progress. My struggles came in the third match of any beach. I could play well enough to win the first two matches, and then I would lose the third and have to start over at the top. That is awfully frustrating. Kings of the Beach became a fight of attrition and required some good old fashioned grinding to seal the win.

It seems like many sports games have some kind of exploit or tactic that makes life much easier. I found one such tactic that helped me win points much more often. The first thing is I needed is the setup to spike the ball myself. Usually this required getting the first hit on the return so that I could get the third hit and spike, but sometimes I would take the spike myself on the second hit instead. It’s a little riskier but it can catch the opponent off guard. My spike position was up against the net either slightly above or below the center. I would spike toward the corner of the net and the closer side line. For example, if I set up below center, I would aim for the lower line near the net, and do the opposite when closer to the top. The opponent tended to favor guarding the larger area so I could sneak it in on the other side close to the line without either player getting to it. That trick does not always work, but it works often enough to be useful.

My partner is disputing a call unsuccessfully.

I beat the entire game on Medium over the course of a few days. Once I accomplished that, I bumped up to the Difficult setting and repeated the final three matches with the last password. If I can beat the last beach on Difficult, then I should be able to beat any other configuration, so I didn’t bother repeating anything else on Difficult. I did not notice any significant changes between Medium and Difficult settings. Perhaps the opponents make fewer mistakes or make powerful serves more often on the higher settings, but I could not tell the difference. With my spiking tactic, I could score more often than not regardless of difficulty. I recorded my video of the final set of matches on Medium difficulty, and then played the final matches again on Difficult unrecorded. The ending is the same on either difficulty.

I would have considered the game more difficult overall if not for the fact that the computer controlled Stoklos handled nearly all the defense for me. Actually, my computer partner played very well in general and handled many situations better than I could have. Most of the time he plays close to the net so he can utilize his powerful Kong block. My job was to back him up and try to get to anything hit past him if I could. We worked together well on the offensive side too. He is a good spiker and serves very well. He’s not a perfect partner and makes mistakes that are unavoidable, but in my opinion he is a more consistent player than I am. It’s a pleasant surprise to have a competent computer player for once!

There are not many volleyball games on the NES to compare, but I think they did well with Kings of the Beach. The game sets itself apart somewhat for having a simultaneous four-player mode. It also performs well as a single player game. The computer controlled players are competent both as opponents and partners. The graphics and music are well done, just as you would expect in a Konami game. The game is a tad lengthy and repetitive, but it’s just the nature of the game so it hard to fault Kings of the Beach for that. If you are looking for an NES volleyball game, you won’t do wrong with Kings of the Beach.

#49 – Kings of the Beach

 
DEC
02
2016
0
Archon Box Cover

#31 – Archon

Let’s kick the board game format up a notch with Archon.

Dueling dragons!

Dueling dragons!

To Beat: Win a match
To Complete: Win as both the Light team and Dark team
What I Did: Completed the game
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
Video: Archon Longplay

Today is a big day for Take On The NES Library! I am finally incorporating game play videos for some games going forward, and we are kicking off this momentous occasion by talking about the first strategy game covered on this site.

Archon: The Light and the Dark was originally released in 1983 for Atari 8-bit computers. It was developed by Free Fall Associates and published by Electronic Arts. The game is notable both for being among the first titles published by EA and a huge hit for Free Fall Associates. The game was so popular that EA wanted a sequel quickly, so the developers released Archon II: Adept the following year in 1984. The original Archon was ported to many home computer systems and was a success on pretty much every one. The NES would receive a port of this game all the way in December 1989 published by Activision and Bullet-Proof Software.

Archon can be adequately summarized as an action chess game. There are two sides, light and dark, composed of fantasy creatures that duke it out for control of a 9×9 grid. Each side takes turns moving a creature from one space to another. If a character is placed on a square occupied by a member of the opposite team, the gameplay switches to the combat arena. Here you take direct control of your creature as you attempt to defeat the opponent by thumping or shooting them enough to deplete their life bar. Defeated creatures are removed from the board and the winner occupies the square. There are also five power spots on the board: One in the middle of each of the four edges of the board and one in the center. You can win by either destroying all of the enemy creatures on the other team or by occupying all five power spots at the same time.

One strategy is to try and hold the power points.

One strategy is to try and hold the power points.

The game board consists of light squares, dark squares, and shifting squares called Lumina squares. Light squares and dark squares always stay the same, but the Lumina squares change color throughout the game after every other turn. There are five different shades of Lumina square: light, light blue, blue, dark blue, and dark. All the Lumina squares start off blue and shift toward dark, then reverse and shift toward light. This cycle repeats through the course of the game. The color of these squares is important because light characters are stronger on lighter squares and dark characters are stronger on darker squares. It is to your advantage to engage in combat on those squares when they match your color.

There are several types of creatures in the game and they can be separated into two groups. There are ground creatures and flying creatures. Ground creatures cannot move through squares occupied by other characters and must have a direct walking path to the desired square. Flying creatures can go over units and land on any square within flying range. Each character has a range of squares they are allowed to travel during a move ranging from three squares to five. If a ground character can walk four squares, then it gets a combination of four horizontal or vertical steps and that’s all for that turn. If a flying character can move four squares, then it gets up to four squares of horizontal movement and up to four squares of vertical movement. As a result, flying creatures can cover significantly more ground per turn than ground creatures.

Ground characters on each side match up against each other on the board for the most part. The leaders are the light Wizard and dark Sorceress. They are the only characters capable of spell casting which I will get to in a little bit, and they also move via teleporting which evidently is exactly the same as flying but with a different animation. The light Knights and dark Goblins are the pawns of this game with short range attacks and weak stamina. The light Unicorns and dark Basilisks are quick and reasonably strong. The light Archers and dark Manticores are a tad on the weaker side but have long range attacks. The light Golems and dark Trolls are very slow but very strong.

The starting lineup!

The starting lineup!

The remaining matchups demonstrate the differences between the two teams. The light Valkyrie is a bit stronger than the similar Archer. On the other side, the dark Banshee has a scream attack that drains the enemy health when in close range, and it is the only attack in the game that allows the character to move while the attack is in action. The light Djinni is the best light attacker though only a little better than the Valkyrie. Opposite it, the dark Shapeshifter turns into whichever enemy opposes it in combat, matching its stats exactly. The light Phoenix can explode dealing massive damage when touching an opponent while doubling as a defensive move that nulls any attack during the move’s duration. The dark Dragon has both the strongest long-range attack in the game as well as the most health.

Combat is pretty straightforward. The arena contains the two combatants and a seemingly random arrangement of objects. You can move in eight directions and attack with the A button. When you or an opponent fires off an attack, there is a delay before the next attack is allowed. This recharge time varies per character. A noise will sound whenever the next attack is ready to go. The tone is a higher pitch for the light character and a lower pitch for the dark character so you can easily distinguish the two. The objects in the arena are stationary but shift state frequently enough that there’s no real way to determine how those spaces will behave. Sometimes attacks will go right through them and sometimes they get blocked. Character movement through these obstacles may or may not be permitted or it might be allowed at a slow, plodding pace. It adds enough randomness to the battles so that combat is tense and exciting.

Both the Wizard and Sorceress have access to the same complement of spells. Each spell may only be used once per game, and the spell may not target a character stationed on one of the power spots. If the Wizard or Sorceress is defeated then no spells may be cast by that side. Another interesting wrinkle is that using a spell drains a bit of health from the spellcaster. To use a spell, press A when selecting the caster and a spell dialog will appear at the bottom of the screen. You may cycle through the spells with Up and Down and cast the spell by pressing A. You can also select the Cancel option if you don’t want to use a spell.

Attack from afar with an elemental if you want!

Attack from afar with an elemental if you want!

There are seven spells in Archon. The Teleport spell moves any character on your team to any square not already occupied by another team member. You can move a character onto an opponent to engage them in battle directly. The Heal spell restores the health of any one of your characters. The Shift Time spell reverses the flow of the Lumina squares. The Exchange spell swaps any two creatures on the board no matter which team they belong. The Summon Elemental spell calls a temporary elemental to attack any opponent on the board. It could be an earth, air, water, or fire elemental that is chosen at random and each has different characteristics in combat. Either win or lose, the elemental is removed from play after the battle is over. The Revive spell brings a defeated creature back into play. The revived character must be placed on a square adjacent to the spellcaster. The Imprison spell can be cast on any creature locking them to the board. The affected creature is not able to move on the board until the Lumina squares match the team color, though opponents may engage an imprisoned creature in battle at any time.

One more interesting thing to mention is that there is the possibility of a tie game. If there are few characters remaining on each side and no combat or spellcasting occurs in a set number of turns, the game will be called a draw. This was implemented to encourage combat. The other more straightforward stalemate happens when the last two characters on the board kill each other at the same time.

Combat is a balance of staying out of danger while finding an open line of fire when you can.

Combat is a balance of staying out of danger while finding an open line of fire when you can.

This was my first time playing Archon but I had great success for a beginner. I started playing as the Light team and I got beat down pretty quickly. I was losing characters left and right as I got used to the combat and characters. About halfway through the match the game clicked with me and I started mounting a comeback, but despite that it started to look like it was too little to late. The best character I had remaining was my Wizard and I decide to go for broke and try to take out the Sorceress. She had not moved the entire game and her square is always dark, but despite the disadvantage I managed to win that fight. After that I picked off all the remaining enemies for a win by brute force.

Since it didn’t take me very long to win the game and the dark team plays differently from the light team, I wanted to get a win from the other side. This was the run I recorded for YouTube. It did not start out particularly well but I ended up winning in half the moves required for my first victory. I also won the match by occupying all five of the power spots instead of defeating all the enemies.

Archon is a fun, short game that might be worth a look if you are interested in chess or light strategy games. The graphics and music are adequate and don’t get in the way of the action at all, but the gameplay is solid and that’s what’s important in a game like this. I didn’t even mention yet that the game has a 2-player mode that is sure to be a lot of fun once both players get a few matches under their belt. For myself, I enjoyed playing the game but unless I get another player involved I don’t see myself playing very much more Archon in the future.

Archon Ending Screen

#31 – Archon

 
JAN
27
2016
1
The Immortal Box Cover

#11 – The Immortal

For being named The Immortal there certainly is a lot of dying!

Missing is the wizard walking across the screen

To Beat: Beat all the levels
What I Did: Beat the game
Played: 1/14/16 – 1/21/16
Difficulty: 8/10
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.

You can die on the very first screen.  The Immortal doesn't care.

You can die on the very first screen. The Immortal doesn’t care.

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.

Dodge to the left, dodge to the right.

Dodge to the left, dodge to the right.

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!

Bats will surely attack as you decide what to do!

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.

Certainly this is the most iconic scene of the game.

Certainly this is the most iconic scene of the game.

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!

The Immortal Ending Screen

#11 – The Immortal