Many recall, and perhaps lament, the transition from Atari Inc. to Atari Corp. The transition was a period when Atari and most all of its assets were sold by Time Warner to the Tramiels, who owned it until the very end. The Intellivision also had a similar transition from being owned by Mattel to being owned by INTV Corporation. INTV owned the Intellivision copyright and all of its games and licenses from 1984 through to 1990 when the Intellivision was officially discontinued because of Nintendo’s restrictive publishing practices. It is unanimously agreed upon that the six years the Intellivision spent with INTV were the best it ever had in terms of quality of games released. Many original Mattel games were re-released with slightly simpler packaging, you can tell an INTV release from its label, if the label is white it is an INTV release, these are general rarer than the Mattel releases and are more desirable to collectors. Many of the new titles were spiffed up versions of the Intellivision’s initial sports game lineup, and are all regarded as being the best sports games the system ever had as the initial groundwork was spiffed up, tweaked, and perfected. Several games though were entirely new, or were completed prototypes, games like Tower of Doom, a completed D&D prototype, Diner, the sequel to Burgertime, and Thunder Castle, something new and unique, are considered to be the holy grails of enjoyment on the Intellivision (the real holy grail is Spiker: Super pro Volleyball, and I would recommend against trying to buy one unless you have an extra grand lying around as a doorstop, but anyway.) I’ve acquired all three of the games listed above and certainly intend to review all of them, starting with… Thunder Castle.
The game opens with an excellent title screen that keeps the classic Intellivision color bars and text, but instead of a static screen there is a fire breathing dragon chasing a fleeing knight. After that fantastic title screen you’re treated to a fantastic splash screen of a giant green dragon wrapping its tail around one of the best castles I’ve ever seen for the system. All of the splash screens are fantastic, and they even contain easter eggs, splash screen two shows a yellow clad wizard scowling down at you with another amazing looking castle at his back. Not only is the added detail of the mouse on the staff adorable, the programmer Connie Goldman also managed to hide her first name and her initials on the staff itself, you’ll also find her initials in the pile of skulls on the third splash screen. Seriously the splash screens are works of art, I’m already calling this game art and I haven’t even gotten to the part of the game that you play and interact with. The play screens are very blocky mazes which on their own aren’t all that impressive, but when you stuff so much detail into the mazes it doesn’t really matter how blocky they are. The first screen is a forest maze, and the castle from the splash screen is in the top corner. Screen two is the inside of a castle, the perspective is a bit strange since you can actually run over one of the towers but I’ll excuse it because the detail is gorgeous. Screen three has you running about a Hell fortress, I surmise that from the blood dripping from the ceiling, the pitchfork wielding demons chasing after you and the currently unoccupied noose in the top right corner. All around this game has some of the best I’ve ever seen on the Intellivision and here’s hoping that the sounds and gameplay can hold up as well.
In a word the sounds are splendid. There is a healthy mix of excellently put together music and that crunchy bass-y Intellivision sound chip that we all adore. You’ll be treated to a rousing medieval sounding tune at the title screen and upon starting the game you’ll get a blast of frantic noise a wondrous explosion and then of all things, Symphony #8 In B Minor, D 759, “Unfinished” by Schubert. There isn’t a sound in this game that feels odd or out of place, all of the music is on-time and on-key, and as a bonus when you’re ‘energized’ (I’ll get to that soon) you’ll hear a different tune for each of the three screens, unfortunately they aren’t quite as memorable as Schubert. So the graphics are awesome, and the sounds are awesome, how is the gameplay?
Not as great as the other two but still quite good. Imagine Pac-Man without the pellets, and your only objective is to collect the power pellet and kill the ghosts. You’re main goal as the knight is to kill everything that happens to be trying to kill you, which is easier said than done. In order to kill your pursuer(s) you must become energized, you can achieve this in one of two ways, you can collect the power creature that’s going around the stage or you can collect one of the magic items and hope it’s the right one. Each stage has a differently behaving power creature, in screen one there are two green bats that aren’t confined to the maze that you must collect to kill the evil dragon, thankfully the bats will move to predetermined locations around the screen. Screen two has a mouse that will scuttle around the castle, this one is confined to the maze itself but will actively avoid you. Screen three has masks that will appear and disappear at random times to certain points in the maze, this is the only one that I feel is unfair since there is no indication of when it’s going to disappear again, leading to many cheap feeling deaths. Once you become ‘energized’ you must run down your attackers and kill them, they will actively avoid you and the invincibility period doesn’t last long so you’d better corner then or use the appropriate magic item. Your pursuers also vary by screen; you are given a good look at them on the splash screens. Screen one has one dragon chasing you through the forest, screen two has you getting chased by two wizards, and screen three has you being chased by three pitchfork wielding demon creatures. To keep the game from being too easy you must kill each enemy three times, they will start green, turn to yellow, and end up being red, each different color gives the enemy a higher intelligence and pretty soon they will be pursuing you mercilessly. To keep you from getting killed endlessly by too-smart enemies the programmers made the certain walls of the mazes slowly appear and disappear, you can cut off or corner enemies if you can time things right, or you might wind up getting stuck in the wall, this is what gives the game it’s fairness and it’s challenge.
This is a fantastically good looking and fun game, I only wish there were speed options because things can feel a bit slow at times but the game is still very solid despite that. I wouldn’t hesitate to call this a gem for the system, perhaps not a hidden one but a gem nonetheless. Due to the fact that this is a late release INTV game and is also a good game to boot makes it very desirable and with desire comes price. The cheapest loose cartridge on Ebay is 70 dollars while the cheapest boxed copy is 64 dollars out of Canada, this might be the first time I’ve seen the boxed listing be cheaper than the loose one. Needless to say the game most certainly isn’t worth that much and is only really worth around 20-25 dollars, so it’s best to wait for a more sanely priced listing to show up. Unfortunately due to the ridiculous prices Thunder Castle has to go regrettably into the Collector’s Zone, unless of course you find one for 20-25 dollars in which case buy it immediately, even if you don’t have an Intellivision, this game is a system seller.