Developer: Paul Hutchinson, Drew Northcott, Gavin Raeburn
Played Before: Yes
Also on: Amstrad, C64
Progress: 4th stage
Here we have the usual tale of a benevolent soul enslaved and in need of rescuing by a passing warrior. The respected druid Hasrinaxx has been taken prisoner, his body divided into six parts and hidden away in towers full of monsters. It’s a little difficult to resolve this problem yourself when you’ve been left in this state and two paracetamol and a lie down in a darkened room are hardly going to do the trick. It’s down to your choice of warrior, a manly man or a manly lady, the former more resilient and better with arrows, the latter possessing better magic ability, to see what we can do about battling through the towers, piecing the druid back together and returning peace and contentment to the land.
Gothik may look and sound conceptually like a Gauntlet clone, but it isn’t that much. First off, this is an adventure for one player only and there aren’t hordes of monsters popping out of generators or locked doors and mazes of twisty little passages, all alike, to deal with. Additionally, while there are bits of equipment to select, use and manage, we aren’t heading into hardcore Dungeons & Dragons territory. The physical environment is Gauntlet-lite, but Gothik is different enough to present its own challenges to the player. Firepower is limited and can be replenished by collecting the appropriate objects or being lucky when drinking a potion from the many identical bottles littering the tower floors. There are 32 different potions, most of them having positive effects on the player, but they automatically activate and you don’t know what you’re getting until you pick them up. Most of the effects are temporary and health does not constantly tick down like in Gauntlet, so you’re generally OK to take the risk and find out what the potion does if there aren’t any monsters around. However, some will drain your resources, meaning you have to take time out from the main quest to go hunting for replenishing items. Luckily, the heroes have the ability to metamorphose food into treasure and vice versa, which helps greatly when you’ve been subjected to the rough side of the tower denizens.
You’ll need to make wise use of the five magic relics which can be found in the towers or you’ll soon find yourself dead and buried, allocated one of a range of 64 tiered reputational rankings. Everything status-based is displayed on one rather busy screen, seen to the right, which doubles up as pausing the game. Selecting a relic or weapon is as simple as pressing left or right to move the cursor along the bottom of the screen and pressing fire. Each has a pair of studs underneath, the right one lit when the equipment is available and the left lit when activated. The five large bars relate to the basic items which can be collected and these will be used up when utilising certain weapons or abilities. To the right, large yellow rectangles indicate whether you’ve collected the shield for a tower, and a smaller block of lines and squares denotes your present location within the towers. A thin magenta bar allows you to define your magical weapon strength (lightning and fireballs) by pressing up or down. The main event is the druid’s skeleton, showing which limbs have been gathered so far. This screen also briefly appears upon collection of a potion to let you know what’s happened, with the effect appearing in place of the current ranking at the bottom. The only status bar not shown here is your hero’s remaining life energy, which has a more convenient place below the action on the main game screen.
The instructions go into a fair amount of detail but aren’t comprehensive, so here’s what you have to do to beat a set of floors and retrieve part of the skeleton. First off, it’s worth searching around to see if one of the five magic relics is located on the current floor. These special items will come in very handy later on when you’re running low on health or other resources, allowing you to freeze enemies on the spot or temporarily disappear, among other things. Your way may be blocked by bracken which can be burnt away by using your firestorm ability. Bracken can be used tactically to snipe at enemies, so think about what you’re doing before going in with arrows flying as you’re liable to lose a fair amount of life energy that way. There are three portal types in the game. The first has arrows on and jumps you sequentially between areas on the current level. You’ll need to make regular use of these to hunt down basic items, relics and the other portals. The second portal type leads to the big monster room. This is initially blocked off until you locate and collect that tower’s shield. The entrance will then open and allow you to enter the monster room itself, a single screen passage where you must run to the end without being swallowed up by darkness. Once you reach the big monster, prod the enter button to destroy it and get yourself part of the druid. It’s mildly disappointing that there are no epic end of level battles, but the pace of the game doesn’t lend itself to this sort of thing and it’s not a deal breaker. Finally, locate the portal to the next tower, which looks a lot like the Woolmark logo, and do it all again until you’ve pieced the druid together. When the druid’s skeleton is complete, the final task is to locate his cloak, which will resurrect him and complete the game.
On the technical side, there’s certainly not a whole lot to get excited about. The game runs in semi-flick-screen format, with fixed scrolling in the desired direction when the hero reaches somewhere near the edge of the screen. It’s a shame that there isn’t constant scrolling in the relatively smooth style of Gauntlet and that the hero can’t move eight ways, but the scrolling technique employed at least means there are less nasty surprises than if it was truly flick-screen like many other multi-screen adventures. Characters are shown with good detail in the monochrome format that became standard form in the Spectrum’s fast action genre and each level having its own colour scheme and monster sprite variants is a nice way to alleviate looking at what is essentially the same task seven times over. There’s no in-game music and the fairly forgettable title theme plods along at a leisurely pace. Spot effects are of the standard farty variety and the hero’s footsteps are a familiar tic-toc-tic-toc heard in hundreds of other Spectrum games. The two most impressive effects in the game are when launching a powerful fireball spell to break down a wall, which could have done with using more colour, and the brief but impressive sparkly pixel explosion when dispatching the guardian of each body part.
I’ve been banging on at a few people recently to give Gothik a try and it may be that it’s not necessarily a great game, but it is a fondly remembered highlight from my childhood hunched over a gently toasting Spectrum keyboard. If you’ve never tried it, I definitely recommend giving it a go. Gothik’s major advantage over the Gauntlet series is that it has a clearly defined quest with an end, while the randomised potions lend it a minor Rogue-like air that means each game is slightly different, even if you’re familiar with the layout of the towers. Having only ever played the Spectrum version, I had a look at videos of the C64 and Amstrad ones to see if there were any obvious differences and there doesn’t seem to be. However, the C64 one is ugly as sin in the main gameplay screen. The Amstrad version is a lot less chunky and makes very nice use of colour, while the Spectrum one, with the expected hardware caveats, features better character detail. With gameplay essentially identical across the three formats, it’s entirely up to you to choose which you’d prefer to play, whether you’re a Fearless Pune or a Supreme Warrior.