On The End Of A Quill

On The End Of A Quill

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Soulless, Commodore 64 Review

Getting turned into a monster has long been a problem some videogame heroes have had to endure. Think of Aarbron (and no-one ever does!) from Shadow of the Beast, or even more recently Skyrim, were you can prance around as a werewolf if the fancy takes you. The whole point of Altered Beast was to get turned into different monsters so you could defeat the various bosses, but I’m guessing being a monster was preferable to being dead in that instance. Not that being dead is any hindrance, as usually all you have to do is make a deal with some demon and you’ll be allowed to hack and slash your way back to mortality (or will you?). But what if you’re not dead?  What if your soul has been taken and you’ve been locked up for a thousand years? That is what has happened to Rizek in Soulless, a new game for the Commodore 64. Where, in over 70 screens of action, you have to piece together the fragments of your soul and reclaim your rights as King.

Cart and C64 hooked up to my TV

Soulless running on a real C64
Yes, you read right, a new game for the good old C64. It’s brought to you by Georg Rottensteiner and Trevor Storey, and it’s released by Psytronik Software and RGCD. You can buy it from Binary Zone retro store, or in cartridge form at the RGCD website. There really is a myriad of versions of this game you could buy. Get it on tape, disk, premium disk, cart, or download; you can even download it for free from the Commodore Scene Database if you so wish. Okay maybe not a myriad of ways, but you get what I mean. Plus if you buy the deluxe cartridge version you get a host of extras on top of the snazzy new light-up cart that you can plug straight into the back of your Commodore. These include a 7 track soundtrack cd that also has some amazing artwork and making-of bonus materials on the disc. You also get a double-sided poster, one side with a handy map, some stickers, a comic book/instruction manual, and some sheets to keep track of the 12 soul pieces that you will have to input to finish the game. Now I know what people are thinking, they’ve been around long enough to know that all these extras does not a good game make, and the Commodore era was rife with games that gave away free stuff in order to mask the shoddy game underneath. But thankfully this is not the case, and you will be treated to a great game that will give you many hours of entertainment.

As has been mentioned, it contains over 70 screens to navigate through as you search for keys to unlock new areas, as well as find those twelve spirit stones that you have to place in the correct order in the Spirit Chamber at the end of the game. Each screen will have some enemies to avoid and items to search. In a very Impossible Mission way, it takes a few seconds for Rizek to search each item he comes across, hoping that he will find a spirit stone or perhaps a potion that kills the enemies on the screen which will make his life a whole lot easier. With all the stones collected, (and you have been noting where each one goes yes?) you can finally regain your human form and finish the game. That all sounds well and good, but it isn’t all easy going, you can only take a couple of hits before you die and with precious few lives, you will need to plot your way around the castle very carefully. Also when you start a new game, all the spirit stones will have randomly moved, so you will have to start jotting down their placement all over again. It’s not an easy game by any means, but it is never unfair. The controls are responsive and if you take a hit, you only have your own timing to blame. The majority of the enemies move in a designated path and speed, so timing really is the key. In the long run it pays to try different approaches to each room, but still know when to turn and run back to the nearest health regenerating spot before tackling rooms afresh. Often there is more than one way to enter an area, plus it is never so big that you end up getting lost. Only on two or three occasions did I find myself wondering where to go, or caught in a frustrating loop of insta-death (of my own making!).
Packaging and extras are top quality
The graphics are another high point, different areas have different colour schemes, the main character is nice and big, and the opening and ending cinematic are both well done. The music in game is nice and long before it loops back around, and it never grates after prolonged periods of play. Its gameplay reminds me of a cross between the castle parts of Shadow of the Beast (though it may be the theme playing tricks in my head!) and those of Sceptre of Bagdad (another Psytronik game). It could hold its head up with games released in any of the last 30 years of Commodore gaming. I have no hesitation in recommending that you procure yourself a copy of this game if you are in anyway interested in gaming on your C64. Plus with all the extras it’s still value for money, I remember paying over forty quid for cartridge games back in the early nineties, and some of them were god awful.
 You can buy Soulless here, Psytronik and here, RGCD So what are you waiting for?