Deathtrap Dungeon

…Which is, of course, ‘Ian Livingstone’s Deathtrap Dungeon’ but it sits under D on my shelf, so it’s up next. Like most people who went through the nerdening when they were young enough, I played through a whole bunch of Fighting Fantasy roleplaying gamebooks when I was a kid. I think my brother considered it homework for D&D while he was away at university, and though he swears he used to have this game back when my first round of console gaming was going strong, I think I must’ve either never played it, or played and died very quickly and given up. I was playing a lot of Tomb Raider, Suikoden and Final Fantasy in those days – it’s easy to see where my time may have gone.

01 Cover Shot

So I boot it up to watch the opening trailer, which is great. A lovely tale of terror in a town called Fang, an annual challenge laid down by the baron for adventurers to try their skills against his dungeon with the promise of vast riches to be won, and all the townsfolk quivering in their tavern waiting for a champion to come and conquer the ‘perilous depths’ of Deathtrap Dungeon. Cue evil cackle. You have to say it with a good growl in your throat, too, or it’s no good. Deathtrap Dungeon. Go on, you know you want to.

02 Opening Movie

“Whilst some adventurers get ready for battle on the eve of the quest, others, less experienced, walk foolishly into battle.” This is the picture accompanying that line. It just makes me think of Will & Grace’s Karen. “No, not round ones! I want them pointy like claws!” A good manicure is, after all, important preparation for any budding adventurer.

I also take the time to flick through the beastiary, because if they take the time to give you seventy-one pages of beasties, you know it’s worth a look. And how awesome is this? Four automata, a bloodbeast, the circus of the damned, dragons and dragon knights, the giant hand, plus all the usual imps, orcs, ratmen, zombies and skeletons and so forth. Love it.

03 Giant Hand

First thing I notice is it’s dead silent. Also, I appear to have started as the guy with no selection process, so I quit back to the main menu and have a fiddle with the controls. I opt for the girl. How I’m gonna protect myself against crippling leg injuries in a tiny plate leotard I do not know, but there you are. The fx and music selection screen is great, though; you can hear a guy being tortured at various volumes while you pick your fx levels, and have a bunch of orcs play a nice adventuresome tune for you to set the music volume. Despite all this, I still seem to start the game as the guy – with no sound, so at this point I switch to a different platform to see if that fixes it. (I was being lazy and playing on the PS3 so I could use the wireless controllers.)

04 FX and Music

Come on, now. That’s pretty cool!

Right – this game does not like being played on a PS3 apparently – take note. Anyhow, it’s working good on a PS2 so we’ll carry on and hope for the best. First things first, let’s all just agree on this: the graphics are pretty awful. Considering this came out in 1998, and is contemporary with Metal Gear Solid, preceded by Final Fantasy VII in ’97 and Tomb Raider in ’96, there’s really no excuse for the gritty, bitty dungeon ahead of me. Even Windows ’95 could do better than this. Secondly, the movement controls are gonna wind me up, I can tell, because instead of the d-pad controlling the direction you move in, it controls the direction you face. That’s gonna get frustrating when you’re outrunning traps, manoeuvring around enemies and trying to push switches. I can see why this game has a reputation for being so hard, and sadly, I suspect a large part of it is down to this rather than the challenges within the game. Anyway, enough bitching; we’ll give it a go. Taking bets now on how long before I die. One minute? Two? Twenty?

I’ll be honest, about twenty seconds in I thought I’d just died to a collapsing floor, but apparently this is just how you begin the game; (hurt). But since the loading screen tells me I missed six pickups in a four section piece of corridor with four fireball traps, I reboot. Note to self: must do better! This time I notice the climbable block to the right after the fireball traps. Climb to ledge, three razorspells, pull a lever, jump a gap, two fireballs, hop in a teleporter, one more fireball and that’s six. Back down we go. I’ve taken four hits in falling damage so far, and since the last time I ran over this collapsing floor I took a load more, I now stop to notice that there is, in fact, no where to run to, so I inch backwards onto the crumbling floors and pelt back toward the closing door just as the floor begins to go to catch the shallowest part of the slope beneath. No falling damage this time! Hah!

05 Collapsing Floor

Seriously? That armour isn’t protecting shit. I’m gonna get shivved in the buttocks. 😦

Next level: Kill three orcs, grab a razorspell and a warpig from ledges in the room (seven falling damage!) The door to right has more things to hack and slash, a bunch of moving platforms and lifts (I managed to miss the jump twice and did myself approximately forty damage which I begrudgingly healed), a load of stuff to climb and a spike pit; the one to the left has a fireball trap activated by a lever (which I noticed just in time), more orcs and a secret door that gets you access to something called an Arc of Power – ooh err – and completing both rooms lifts the cage in the main section of the dungeon which grants you access to the next area. I’ve picked up a bunch of healing potions and spells along the way too. I have to say, I’ve mostly gotten over the dodgy controls – they’re not as fluid as Tomb Raider but it’s much the same idea: run, jump, hack and slash rather than shoot. It’s not quite a platformer but much like a lot of action-adventure games, it’s a hybrid. The low-level beasties are just lulling me into a false sense of security, I suspect. They die in a hit or two and announce their arrival by snarling, squealing or growling at me. Thus far we’ve had orcs and – I want to say gremlins, because they’re little gnomish blue things that remind me of the master gremlins in Heroes of Might and Magic III – but the bestiary tells me they are in fact imps.

06 Imps

…with their little ‘Death’ hoodies, red trainers, and blood-soaked cutlery.

Before I head on to the next section, I realise that the little floating skull in a silver glowing cylinder that’s appeared is a save point. I encountered one of these a couple of rooms ago and was very disappointed to find the skull was not loot. Suppose I should’ve hit all the buttons or read that nice thick manual they gave us. Regardless, before I head on up to the next area I waltz in to a room that’s newly appeared to pick up a flame lance and activate another lever to open up a portcullis to a secret room with coins, potions and a bomb shot, whatever that is. Also, while we’re at it, who wants to bet that the male hero doesn’t need to do gymnastics in order to climb up blocks?

07 Gymnastics

Mind you, I never questioned Lara’s acrobatic climbing skills, and she had a special handstand move.

So next is a spiders’ lair – and these spiders shoot green goo, presumably poison (given it gave me an antidote as I stepped into the room). I don’t find out how crippling it is, however, because in running away for a bit, I learn that you can get one spider to accidentally kill the other and then just go in and hack up the remaining one without getting shot. Good to know. Next is a moving platform puzzle. I get up the gate first time, picking up a load of goodies on the way, but I can see a potion on a platform below that wasn’t part of the route up so I carefully jump my way back down and take a different, tricker route to get to the one remaining item. This is where I get into trouble, though. Either the platforms have fallen out of sync or it’s just much harder to get up there the second time and on the final jump, so high up I can’t even see the floor, I miss. This, folks, is the first time I die. Second time’s the charm, though – and I manage to get them all in one run. My score? Kills: 24/24; Secrets: 2/2; Pickups: 24/24. Aww yeahhh!

08 Cage

While we’re at it, just where is my waist, and how on earth is my spine holding up that rack?

The intro to the next level warns me that ‘knackerers’ can’t be harmed by any means; I just need to run away, apparently, and so I’m teleported up in a little cage with this god awful sound of something clattering about and I can see it flying past the door every few seconds. This music kinda reminds me of Silent Hill, when the otherworld starts to descend. It’s effective, anyway – I don’t particularly want to step outside. Still…

So there’s a a huge, automated steam-roller whizzing about, fire balls dropping from the ceiling, and as soon as I run through the portcullis and up into the lift, I have to get off it again before it roasts my ass.

09 Toasty


I cross to the next gate run through and pick up the three bombs and here, sad times, is the second time I die. The automata was following my movements as I approached and when I ran in to hit it, it spat fire at me – dead in one. Guess that’s what those bombs were for, eh?

10 Game Over

At this point, I’m a little platformed out to be honest – and given the next game on the PS1 shelf is Excalibur, I figure this might be a good time to jump to a different console for a while. I don’t have any 3rd gen consoles currently (though there’s a couple on the list to get) so my options are:

4th – Mega Drive – Lemmings; or SNES – B.O.B.

5th – N64 – Perfect Dark

6th – PS2 – 007: Quantum of Solace; Dreamcast – Jet Set Radioooooo; X-Box – Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance; Gamecube – Beyond Good and Evil; or GBA – Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

I do have a bunch of 7th Gen consoles, but I think until the 8th Gen is more soundly established, we’ll leave the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and DS off this blog. It’s not like I’m short of things to play!

Oh, also, just for shits and giggles, before I put Deathtrap Dungeon away, I rebooted and started a game as the guy, just to test my climbing gymnastics theory.

11 No Gymnastics Here

Noooope. No flippity-flips here.