Cartridge Cache: The Immortal

Cartridge Cache is a look backward at the video games of previous generations, both acclaimed and arcane. Some brought about a seismic change, while others simply faded into obscurity but are fondly remembered by a certain few. As a completely informal examination of the medium in its earlier incarnations, this touches on the qualities and flaws of these games but should never be read as a review. Rather, we simply talk about titles we happened to take notice of and, hopefully, bring them to the attention of our readers. And if you have any recommendations, or want to see one of your old faves featured, by all means let us know.

Adjust your expectations accordingly.  Courtesy of bewarethespaceman.com.

Adjust your expectations accordingly.  Courtesy of bewarethespaceman.com.

Both the box art and title screen proudly proclaim this to be from the mind of Will Harvey. As if anyone would name-drop him twenty-five minutes later, let alone twenty-five years. Let's face it: unless you're Sid Meier, Will Wright, Hideo Kojima or...I dunno, David Cage, there's no such thing as a game that sells just on the name of its lead developer. And yet there's something morbidly fascinating about The Immortal - not because it's particularly mindblowing, but it occupies a strange little niche in gaming history that is all but forgotten.

You're dropped right into the thick of it as an unnamed wizard entering an underground labyrinth. Your master, the legendary Mordamir, appears in the flames of a magical candle, beseeching a man named Dunric to come save him.  Well, Dunric isn't around just now, so you'll have to do.  Along the way you'll get mixed up in a war between goblins and trolls, battle horrific monsters, escape deadly traps, and uncover a legend thousands of years in the making.

An isometric dungeon crawler a la Baldur's Gate or Diablo, the primary mode of gameplay has you running around environments (on foot, on a magic carpet, or riding a barrel), gathering items, unleashing magical spells, and running into foes.  This last triggers a combat scenario that fills the entire screen; the fighting itself is incredibly basic (Infinity Blade pared down to the bare essentials), not very responsive, and often avoidable, but since there's not much else to do, you might as well go for it.

Besides, there's the carnage to consider. One half of The Immortal's legacy is its graphic violence, appalling by 90's standards and only slightly less shocking today.  There's something about the simplistic look of 8- and 16-bit games that gets under my skin far more than modern photo-realism, and it's in full effect here. Upon defeating an enemy in combat, you automatically perform a finisher that can range from electrocution to decapitation to dissolution, all accompanied by copious gore and other bodily fluids (check out these gifs if you don't believe me).  The NES version, unsurprisingly, omits most of this, but even more interestingly an entire level is cut - the spider's nest (*shudder*), in which you can get webbed up and eaten by the queen if you don't react fast enough.  The graphics themselves are (with the obvious exception of the NES version) highly detailed; characters are fairly large on the adventure screen and even more so in battle mode, which means you see everything when you slice a goblin clean in half, accompanied by appropriately icky sound effects. On the flipside, the music is the same mundane, tinny shit heard in a thousand similar games.

The plot, too, is fairly mundane and only really develops through a series of optional dream sequences, but there's a reasonable amount of backstory that shows care and thought put into the mythology. A late-game twist is pretty good as well and the final battle, while marred by a lot of the trial-and-error strategy that characterizes the game, is a satisfying finish.  Keep in mind, though, that once you're done, you've seen everything.

But it remains to be seen if you'll even get there. Because you will die.  A lot.

From the moment you enter the labyrinth, you're screwed unless you do exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. The relentlessly unforgiving nature of The Immortal forms the other half of what reputation it has; mistakes are punished quickly and mercilessly, and you are immediately told to "Prepare to continue..." Saying the wrong thing when negotiating an alliance, walking over the wrong floor tile (in the first room), reading the wrong text, not paddling down a river fast enough - the potential for screwups is almost limitless, and will have you throwing your controller down in frustration at least three or four times.

Considering that publisher Electronic Arts is primarily known today as a brand factory, it's nice to reminded of the days when they actually took risks. How this game escaped controversy probably has something to do with why no one remembers it. Also, ridiculous difficulty. But it's worth a look, if only to see what developers could get away with before Mortal Kombat dropped a stink bomb of parental outrage that drowned out all the smaller puffs of nastiness.

Courtesy of mobygames.com.

Courtesy of mobygames.com.

Will Harvey Presents: The Immortal   

Released: 1990-91

Systems: Apple IIGS, Amiga, Atari ST, MS-DOS, NES, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis

Developed by Sandcastle

Published by Electronic Arts