QUByte Classics – The Immortal by PIKO; now there’s a busy title for a video game. It tells you who published it, who remastered it, but importantly somewhere in the middle you also know what the actual game is called. Now the title doesn’t say who made the game itself though, and that credit goes to William Harvey, a developer who subsequently went on to do IT projects unrelated to video games. Apparently, it’s things like inventory management systems and whatever else. Interestingly, The Immortal would be his final official video game project.
The Immortal is far from acclaimed, or even something well-known within the retro gaming subculture. In fact this release on Xbox is actually a compilation of two of these identically titled games. One thing to note before we get into this review is that not every game from yesteryear was a great game. Believe it or not, games getting mixed reviews happened in the old days too, and so not every game is automatically a “classic” just because it happens to be old.
That being said, we are better off having more games preserved than losing them completely to the annals of time. Having The Immortal preserved on Xbox is a good thing, even when the actual experience itself isn’t all too hot. To be clear, this is the first of many QUByte classics to come, and while there are some worthy classics on the horizon, The Immortal is an interesting albeit weak start to this retro preservation initiative from the publisher. Still, it’s a welcome remastering of something that is, at the very least, interesting.
Going back to the point of the release being a compilation, here we have the 8-bit and 16-bit versions of The Immortal, where the former is based on the version released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) while the latter is likely based on the SEGA Mega Drive version of the game. More than just obvious graphical differences, the level design and pacing are also quite different between the two games. Still, as a whole you’re basically signing up for the same weird masochistic experience.
This isn’t a recent Souls-like trend, as historically most gamers have had strong masochistic tendencies beyond just simply looking for a decent challenge. It may have to do with bragging rights, but there may be the odd pleasure involved too. Whatever makes gamers happy, there’s something for everyone. The Immortal fits the bill perfectly, as within the opening moments, and just in the first room, stepping on the odd-looking tile will send the old wizard hurling down to a bloody doom.
The crazy old guy on the key artwork is the protagonist, a wizard who for whatever reason finds himself inside a labyrinth of doom. There is a vague story setup here, but the gist of it is that the wizard is stepping into the labyrinth to save another wizard, and as you go along there are brief story development moments. It’s not meant to be a story driven experience by any stretch, but as an isometric action-adventure game with light RPG elements, there is a sense of atmosphere to the lore and setting presented.
So as an isometric action game, The Immortal by PIKO has you exploring set labyrinth that are absolutely loaded with traps; even in the earlier areas it feels like every nook and cranny is filled with traps, everything from trap doors to flying daggers and man-eating plants. It quite literally feels like walking on eggshells. No doubt it is frustrating and discouraging, and yet it is strangely thrilling and hilarious too. No surprise the game was the subject of an Angry Video Game Nerd episode.
There is some exploration here, as you discover new items, some mildly helpful NPCs, and some useful items. At the heart of it, The Immortal requires you to carefully learn and practise the areas, knowing where all the traps and enemies are, and this will require a fair bit of trial and error during repeated playthroughs.
The real drawback to the experience is the combat system, where it takes a weird pseudo turn-based RPG approach as you mostly fight goblins and other creatures (it’s a pretty limited cast of monsters by the way). You can attack and dodge, and occasionally land a spell and fatal strike, but the whole ebb and flow of the battle is nonsensical and messy; you can’t help but mash buttons in confusion.
The 8-bit version is interesting because as a late NES game released in the early ‘90s, it really pushes the relic hardware to the limits especially in detailed battle animations. The 16-bit versions fares better in flow and gameplay, but at the core they’re both frustrating and cumbersome isometric action games where the combat system is just a vague mess.
QUByte Classics – The Immortal by PIKO on Xbox is a restoration of a weird and interesting retro game, which by no means is a classic by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not the kind of game you want to go out of your way to experience, as it’s not a must play title from yesteryear. Although the release itself does a good job of restoring The Immortal by providing two versions of the title, there are far better classics to scratch off your gamer bucket list. And far better QUByte Classics on the horizon too.
You can buy QUByte Classics – The Immortal by PIKO from the Xbox Store