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Lord of the Dungeon (ColecoVision) O2Home > Game Reviews > Review
Overall Score:
(Out of 5)
Gameplay: 5.0
Graphics: 3.0
Sound: 2.7

Lord of the Dungeon was a role-playing game programmed in 1983 by Rex Battenberg for the ColecoVision. It plays like a somewhat simplified Wizardry, a popular computer game from around that time. This cartridge was unique in that it was the world's first battery-backed game, which meant that a single game could last for weeks or even months, something unheard of in those days.

The object of the game is to create an adventuring party of six characters, and then explore an 8-level (so far as I've seen) dungeon. The final purpose, if there is one, is still unknown at this time, although it may be to find and defeat the 8 "Dark Lords" I once encountered in Level 8 -- just before they annihilated my entire party. To do this, you must explore and fight the randomly-encountered lesser monsters, a process which builds up your characters' "Experience Levels," making them tougher and stronger. Along the way, you might find, after a victorious battle, gold and magic items; it's not unlike Dungeons and Dragons.

The game itself is amazingly complex for a third-generation console game. The 8 dungeon levels are maze-like and rather large. There are literally dozens of different kinds of enemies, capable of simple physical attacks, casting Magic or Clerical spells, using poisons, petrification, and even energy drain. You can encounter up to 3 different kinds of enemies at any one time, totaling as many as 45. You can fight them with weapons, magic items, or Magic and/or Clerical spells of your own, depending on the character classes chosen. The fact that it's battery-backed made it truly spectacular.

Graphics in this game are, overall, decent. Most of the time the game is simple text, but, once in the dungeon, the lower part of the screen shifts to a first-person view, which depicts the dungeon in very simple red line drawings (think Vectrex with a red overlay). You move about in real-time, just like Escape From the Mindmaster. Monsters, when encountered, are done in single-colored, non-animated images, and a weakness in the game is shown here: the programmers were obviously rushed, and so unable to program in enough images. As a result, Wolves, Jelly Stings, Big Boas, Gorillas, Crabions, and others are all represented by the same image, although at times the color is different. There are other such examples, but overall the images are appropriate at least 85% of the time, and what is there is beautifully done, especially the Pseudo-Dragon, Seer, Siren/Medusa, and Familiar images. Treasure is represented by a strongbox-image next to the monster. Sound is limited to certain battle sounds, and a good marching effect. Good enough, for a game of this sort.

Gameplay is, overall, excellent. You can choose from 8 character races -- Elf, Dwarf, Gnoll, Human, Orc(!), Ogre(!!), Hobbit, and Kobold -- and almost a dozen different character classes. What combination you want can seriously affect how you must play that character, for all have advantages and disadvantages. You can purchase weapons, if you have enough gold. Spells can do anything from kill a single enemy to resurrect a dead character. Exploring the dungeons is fun, and the battles are great, especially when you happen upon a truly deadly enemy! You can map out the dungeons as you go, so you can avoid the pits and teleportation traps. The fact that there are dozens of different enemies, and that they are randomly encountered, means that you can never be sure what awaits you, although of course the deeper you go, the more dangerous it gets.

Although the game is terrific, it isn't without a few flaws. Graphics have already been mentioned, but a problem with the game is that it loses a bit of depth after the early stages; in the early part of the game, your characters have little gold and so probably cannot buy much in the way of weapons and armor. So, as you fight and gain treasure, you are trying to earn enough to do this, as well as to survive and gain Experience Levels. Unfortunately, once you have enough gold to purchase what you want, gaining more gold is essentially useless. You cannot purchase any sort of magic items -- the only way to get them is if a monster party just happens to be carrying such an item in the treasure box -- and you cannot ever be sure what it will be, or even if you will have any use for it. No monster can damage or steal any of your weapons, armor, or shields. A Mage can only purchase a cloak and a dagger, at a cost of a mere 43 gold pieces; after that, he gains more and more gold, but won't have any use for it! It would have been more fun if you could purchase certain magic items (with limited charges, of course!), and if there was something that could, say, drain a +5 sword down to +2 (or even strip it of ALL magic!) in the course of a battle, and the only way to bring it back up was to return to town and pay PLENTY of gold to do it. This sort of thing would've given the game an extra dimension, and a use for the tens of thousands of gold pieces my current characters have.

Another problem is that there aren't any keys or locks in this game. Doors are always open. The mazes, although large, are never any different.

But don't let any of that fool you. This was the first game of its sort, and so such things weren't meant to be in it. The game has PLENTY to offer, more than enough, and there is something exciting about having to face more dangerous things in lower levels in order to gain magic weapons and items -- exploring everything is the only way you'll do this. Since all characters except for Elves have a limited lifespan, you cannot be careless with time.

It's a pity that this game was never actually released in 1983. Had it been, then the single biggest advantage computer RPGs had over their console counterparts -- the ability to save a game in progress -- would have been eliminated, and later games of this sort would no doubt have matched NES and Sega Master System RPGs in complexity.

In short, Rex Battenberg not only deserves credit for trying something truly new, but for creating one of the best games ever made for the pre-NES (and beyond?) consoles. And a special thanks to Sean Kelly, for making this game available (at Classic Gaming Expo 2000), at long last. If you are a ColecoVision fan and ever have an opportunity to get this game, then by all means do so!

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