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SummaryInteresting strategy/adventure/rpg mix, simple but addictive
The GoodWhen, some years ago, I had a quick look at this game, I though: Oh no, yet another of these ugly BASIC games from the beginnings of the IBM PC. Now I had a second look, considering this game is one of the first PC games ever publisher, and I have to admit that I was wrong. Yes, it really does not look good and you really need some time to get warm with the user interface and the basic game mechanics, but after a while, you get hooked.
Despite its simplicity, it actually has some depth -- you need a while until you realize how to survive and get better in the dungeons, how to use the different items, what to do and what to don't; you have to use your resources thoughtfully. For example, you have to consider that some enemy can make your weapon break (which leaves you completely defenseless), and that your armor only holds a certain amount of damage -- quite amazing for 1981!
Once you start feeling at home in the dungeons, it's time to think about how to retrieve the Orb of Zot. This is not so easy as you'd think -- you have to solve a clever puzzle build in the game to get it.
Another fun factor are the slightly goofy texts. For example, when opening a book, it may just be an old copy of "Playgoblin". I also enjoyed the irreverent way the player is treated when he does a wrong input ("Silly elf, that wasn't a valid command!").
And last but not least, the random generation of the dungeon at the beginning of each game makes the game highly replayable.
The BadWell, first of all, the game looks really ugly. It's not just the fat 40-column text -- as old-time PC gamer, I'm used to that. It's just that the creator didn't really care about some structure. When you play the game, all you see is just a list of text lines, each one looking the same as the other.
Another thing that is quite annoying is that the version I played has a BIG bug: You normally aren't supposed to see all squares from the beginning, so you really have to explore carefully. In this version, you can see the content of each square from the beginning -- which makes the Lamp and the Flares completely useless and takes some fun out of the game. But not much. (I only realized that it was a bug when I had a look at some later implementations of Wizard's Castle, like Temple of Loth, Leygref's Castle or Mission: Mainframe.)
The Bottom LineAll in all, this is a very respectable game, simple, innovative and addictive. It looks may deceive, but once you're into the game, you can play for hours, just trying to get that stupid Orb. The author has made a great job of packing so much game in just 1000 lines of BASIC code. Considering some of the games of today (millions of lines of code, fun for five minutes), it's impressive.
Still, you shouldn't expect this game to be a full-fledged RPG. I would rather describe it as a quite innovative boardgame-style strategy game with interactive fiction and RPG elements. This is not only due to the boardgame-like design of the dungeon (8 dungeons with 8x8 squares each), but especially due to the fact that you really have to proceed strategically to get the orb.
The game was quite influential in its time (it was one of the first games released for the IBM PC), and it is no wonder that there have been several other implementations of the game. Most of them also look and play much better (and they don't have the aforementioned bug). The Wizard's Castle clones I'd recommend are Temple of Loth (which is quite faithful to the original, just with different colors which already helps a lot), Leygref's Castle (with a very nice user interface) or the superb Mission: Mainframe, which is Wizard's Castle in a sci-fi setting.