The Black Cauldron

Moby ID: 194
DOS Specs
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Description official description

Based on the Disney movie of the same name, The Black Cauldron focuses on the story of Taran, who is an assistant Pig-keeper in the land of Caer Dalben. One day Taran notices that one of his pigs, Hen Wen has magical powers. The Evil Horned King wants the pig so that he can locate the Black Cauldron and ultimately rule the world. Taran must now embark on a mission to rescue Hen Wen and defeat the Evil Horned King before he can discover the Cauldron's location.

The Black Cauldron is a side-view adventure game. Gameplay is similar to other Sierra adventure games of its day (such as Space Quest II or King's Quest III) but does not use a text parser. Instead the function keys are used to initiate actions. Players control Taran and can make him walk, run, swim and interact (talk) with other characters in the game. Puzzle-solving and advancement in the plot requires item manipulation of using the right item at the right time or at the right location.

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Reviews

Critics

Average score: 67% (based on 7 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.5 out of 5 (based on 59 ratings with 6 reviews)

A good game, with features before its time!

The Good
The game was made to follow Disney's not well known movie of the same name, in this sense it is accurate in portraying the events in the movie. For the time of it's release the game had average graphics, and sound. The feature that set this game apart from other adventure games was the lack of typing commands. Instead the function keys were used to control your character. This allowed one to enjoy the game without typing in long phrases, or getting stuck trying to figure out the proper verb for a command. It had all the standard features in Sierra's games for the time, inventory, save & load, volume control, etc. The function or "action" key feature is what set it apart, it's a shame it didn't stick as it could have made early adventure games easier and more user friendly. Sierra didn't attempt this until the early 90's with King's Quest 5 which used a similair system using the mouse and a simple command bar.

The Bad
The game was short, and if one had seen the movie easy to go through.

The Bottom Line
An average adventure game with a good story and easy to use interface.

DOS · by Jonathon Howard (114) · 1999

Great game that recreates the magic of the books

The Good
This was the first game I ever got for my PC - I was 11 at the time and had been fascinated by the Disney movie of the same name. For an 11 year old boy, this game was awesome - great cartoon graphics with cool animation, loads of fantastic screens to explore, mazes, arcade sequences, sword fights, a great storyline and intuitive, simple controls. I spent the first couple of days not knowing what to do, so I just went around and explored, and it was great - a superb introduction into the adventure gaming world.

The best parts of the game are trying to get into the marshes of Morva (via the swamp), swimming through the alligator infested castle moats, the colourful characters and the secret passages in the castle. Once I finished this game I replayed it about 5 times, just exploring every nook and cranny, and trying to find all the hidden extras that I missed the first time.

There are multiple solutions to most problems also, which deviate from the movie storyline, but reward the player with more points for thinking for themselves. This gives the game a great replay value, much more than most other Sierra adventures of the time and makes up for its length somewhat.

The user interface was ahead of its time, predating the point and click interfaces used in modern adventures by 4-5 years. After enjoying this game so much I got all 5 books in the Chronicles of Prydain series (the movie/game was based on these) and have read them all at least 6 times since then (I'm 26 now).

The Bad
I only had CGA graphics at the time and had to put up with the nasty colours while drooling at all the 16 colour shots all over the box. I couldn't understand why California Games and Moonbugs could make my PC look like it had an EGA card while my favorite game had only 4 nasty colours. OK so there's not much wrong with it - even playing it now I get all nostalgic and it takes me right back.......The only real issue is that once you get into it you can finish it in a couple of hours. But this game was intended for younger audiences, so the length isn't too bad.

The Bottom Line
A great, colourful game that is absolutely brilliant for kids to get a taste of adventure gaming. It has the essence that all the great adventure games have had, and that is that if you want to, you can just wander around lush environments exploring and enjoying the sights, while meeting other game characters who are actually interesting and likeable. You're not really restricted that much either. The non-linear paths through the game make it that much better, rewarding people for trying out different things. A very under-rated game!

DOS · by Anthony Bull (24) · 2003

A well-crafted adventure with an innovative interface.

The Good
The Black Cauldron is a cleverly designed, well crafted adventure game in the Sierra tradition. The Black Cauldron is a "light" game aimed originally at kids, the usual parser has been replaced by an - easy to use - interface that enables the gamer to initiate an action immediately by pressing one of the function keys. So you don't spend a lot of time by searching for the right words.

Game design is very clever; there are different routes through the game, you can enter places in different ways and you're always able to get your self out off - what may look like - a dead end. My favourite section of the game was the Horned King's castle. To get in, you could swim past the crocodiles in the castle moat or sneak in via the henchman's carriage. You could roam the castle in non-linear fashion and there were different ways to get out as well. I enjoyed experimenting with the different items & locations. It's fun to play some parts of the game again just to try a different solution. The Black Cauldron uses the AGI graphics system that we know from King's Quest III and Larry 1 (among others) to create several interesting locations.

The Bad
Well, I could say that the game is a bit short & easy, but hey this game was aimed at kids and what is wrong with a game you can finish without a FAQ. I could mention that there are some - annoying - action sequences in the game, but you can avoid most of these sequences by taking a different path. I could say that the sound is bad, but what would one expect from a game that's made in 1986.

So is there nothing wrong with The Black Cauldron? Well, since it is a short game and there's not much dialogue, the characters that you meet in the game are not fleshed out very well. Fflewdurr Fflam, Dallben, Gurgi, they all make an appearance but people who haven't read the books or have not seen the movie will know very little about them once they've completed the game.

Finally, I can't understand why you can not see an object (read a description) or preselect an object (by pressing F3 you preselect an item, later you can perform a context-sensitive action with that object by pressing F4) from within the inventory screen.

The Bottom Line
A fun adventure which allows the player to take several different routes through the game. Innocent fun for all ages that's never frustrating. It runs fine on modern computers and is now available as freeware (see trivia section) so what are you waiting for?

DOS · by Roedie (5239) · 2001

[ View all 6 player reviews ]

Trivia

Alternate paths

This was one of the first graphical animated adventures to provide true multiple paths through a game. There was the basic route that adhered to the plot of the movie, but completing that route would not net you a full score. The game actually rewarded players more, who tried different paths through the game, such as taking Hen Wen to the Fairy realm under the lake. To get a maximum score in the game you had to take these alternate paths. This encouraged players to think for themselves and be creative, instead of copying the movie storyline. Additionally it meant the game had great replayability because there were many solutions to a lot of the puzzles.

Books

That this game is based on the Disney movie with the same name may be obvious, but the movie it self is based on a series of fantasy books by writer Lloyd Alexander set in the magical land of Prydain.

The first book of the series was released in 1964 and is called The Book of Three. This is the exact title of the book that Dalben is reading when you enter his cottage at the start of the game.

The other books of the series are: * The Black Cauldron * The Castle of Llyr * Taran Wanderer * The High King

Code Decryption

The infamous sierra name of "Avis Durgan" appears in the code for this game as well: it is the key for the code encryption.

Engine

The Black Cauldron was the only Sierra game to be developed in three generations of Sierra's game system, As AGI v1 (a booter disk), AGI v2 and AGI v3.

Freeware release

The Black Cauldron is now available to download from Al Lowe's website.

References

The Black Cauldron features a reference (shameless plug) for another then-current Sierra adventure title, a practice that had already become common by then.

To see this one, walk Taran repeatedly into the east wall of the room where Fflewddur makes his brief appearance. At a certain spot he'll discover a crack in the wall and peek through, finding somebody on the other side playing King's Quest 3: To Heir Is Human.

Remakes

As of 2000, this is the second most remade Sierra title next to King's Quest.

Information also contributed by Anthony Bull, Gerauchertes, jeff leyda, Roedie, Terrence Bosky and Yakumo

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Are you familiar with this game? Help document and preserve this entry in video game history! If your contribution is approved, you will earn points and be credited as a contributor.

Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Donny K..

Amiga added by POMAH. Apple II added by Guy Chapman. Apple IIgs added by Kabushi. Atari ST added by Belboz.

Additional contributors: Terrence Bosky, Jeanne, Macs Black, Patrick Bregger.

Game added August 10, 1999. Last modified August 14, 2023.