THE BLACK CAULDRON REMAKE / Dreammaster / PC

 

The Black Cauldron game was one of Al Lowe's early projects before he went on to create the Leisure Suit Larry series. It was intended as an adventure that even young children would be able to play, so instead of entering text commands into a parser as with other adventure games of the time, the whole game was controlled by four actions mapped to the first four Function keys at the top of the keyboard. Ironically this ended up being a barrier to a number of adults enjoying the game, as the system was too unfamiliar and initially confusing to them.

This remake by DreamMaster isn't exactly a "remake", per se, it really just takes all the assets of the original game and overlays it with a mouse-based icon system similar to that of Sierra's later adventure games. For those worried about the "freeware" status given the use of all these original elements, Al Lowe has released the original game as freeware on his own site, so I assume it's all legally kosher.

The movie was the last of the "classic" Disney animated films before Michael Eisner took over and infused the company with epic doses of evil. It isn't one of the more well-remembered movies of their roster, but it was based on a series of books that by all accounts was a lot better. It's also one of the darker Disney movies, with a rare genuinely disturbing undead villain and almost equally bad ghoulish henchmen who are created from the corpses of the living. The original movie was apparently gruesome enough that they had to cut a number of scenes due to fears of getting slapped with a PG-13 rating, but the game is pretty much all puppies and sunshine for the most part. There's dark environs and a few violent deaths such as falling off a wall to get munched by a pit of crocodiles, but none are at all explicit and are treated more as a joke than anything else.

The game starts out seemingly overly simplistic, and the biggest knock against it is really that it assumes that you've seen the movie and remember everything about it. Without having seen the movie (or having it be over 20 years since you did) you're sort of dumped off at the beginning with no real idea what the hell you're supposed to be doing. Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran is tasked with escorting the magic pig Hen Wen to the land of the Fairie Folk to protect her from the marauding armies of the Horny King, but the master pig-keeper or whatever just kind of sends him off suddenly with a vague wave and only minimal preparation. Bastard can't even be bothered to point you toward the Fairie Folk, so you are left to sort of wander the land doing whatever you are able for awhile until the structure of the game starts to shape up.

The upside is that this game is pretty advanced as far as structure goes, for what is both a kids game and a game from the mid-1980s. There's multiple paths and puzzle solutions all throughout the game, and even multiple endings.

This "remake" version is a nice choice if you want a smooth mouse-driven interface and a painless Windows install. More could have been done with the music aside from converting the original simple melodies to MIDI files with generic piano as the instrument for every channel, but other than that, it's a nice little piece of work.

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