by: Dr. Boogie
The Immortal is a Sega Genesis video game of contradictions, the most egregious of which is the title. You are not immortal. In fact, you might just be the most mortal video game protagonist there is. Death waits for you around every corner. Death is lurking in the exact same room as you. Hell, you carry death around in your pocket and you don't even know it until you accidentally use the wrong item.
At first, I thought the story of an elderly wizard seeking to rescue his even more elderly wizard master seemed a bit strange. I mean sure, everybody has to learn from somebody, but you'd expect that the master/apprentice dynamic would have broken down a little once the apprentice is on Medicare. All I can think is that maybe the designer made the player character super old and wearing a dingy robe to really make it hurt when you see him suffer countless violent deaths at the hands of traps, monsters, and sometimes himself.
There's only one way to know for sure, and that is to look at some of these gruesome deaths ourselves to see how sad we get seeing an old man get totally destroyed. Also, consider this your *spoiler alert* for those of you who've been waiting for the perfect time to play through this 26-year-old game.
Worms are prevalent in the dungeon and give almost no indication that they're in a given area. This room marks the one and only location that you'll be warned of an impending worm attack when you step on the wrong tile. There's no explanation as to why that particular tile is wrong, just an urgent warning of "It might be a good idea to move!"
And lest you get frustrated with seeing the same worm kill animation over and over again, there's a second one where the poor wizard gets even less warning about death by worm. It's too bad there aren't any sound effects to go along with these animations because I would have loved hearing the wizard let out a startled, "whuuAAAUUGH!!"
And we haven't even left the first goddamn room yet! You start this game, you take a wrong step, and one second later you are worm bait. No rescuing your mentor, no fun adventure in the dungeon, just you dead before you even see the little answering machine message your mentor left explaining his predicament. What a letdown.
Once you've seen your man get devoured by worms, getting pegged by an Indiana Jones style arrow trap seems downright pedestrian. Just get on the ground and crawl, for god's sake! Or hey, wouldn't it be neat if that staff of yours let you do magic or something, World's Oldest Apprentice?
Pit traps are almost as common as worms. Granted, the whole premise of the game is to get to the lowest point in the dungeon, but not this quickly. Still, props to the wizard for having the reflexes necessary to flip that staff around and catch himself. He can even muster enough core strength to carefully lift himself out, though I haven't quite nailed down exactly how to do it, but you'll pretty much never want to be in a situation where you'd need it. Particularly because that staff is only strong enough to break your fall once.
Here's where misadventure surpasses worms, goblins, and other dungeon fauna as the biggest threat in the game: You find a bag of spores and when you try to use them, you're told you can't plant them on a tile floor. Well lo and behold, nearby is a room with some uncovered soil in it. Let's try these babies out! And how could you not? Look what mushrooms did for Mario.
Well, as you can see above, they have the exact opposite effect on you.
This is by far the most infuriating death in the game, particularly when you think you've beat a floor and are ready to climb down to the next one. You approach the ladder from the wrong side and plummet to a sad, pointless death. Is it too much to ask that the great wizard have enough willpower to stop at the edge of the pit and walk around to the ladder? You see that giant pit just about him? He will not walk into that one no matter how hard you try, but the minute he has the opportunity to drop down a ladder hole he just can't get in there fast enough.
What happened to those catlike reflexes that let him catch himself with his staff? Amateur hour over here!
This one requires a little explanation: in one of the levels, you have to drink a shrinking potion to make yourself small enough to pass through a crack into a troll compound. Problem is the potion is time based, and a shrunken wizard can't do much against a full-sized troll. The disgusted troll wiping wizard guts off his foot really makes the whole death sequence.
Slimes really are the model of efficiency. In the span of one second, they dissolve the wizard. No messy corpses, no pools of blood, just a pile of bones and valuables. And the floors look great, too!
By the way, if you're searching through someone else's bones and you spot something underneath that looks wet and green, just remember that this is the kind of game where sometimes, you just have to leave stuff alone.
I'd have thought floor spikes would be a staple in a dungeon, but there's only one room where you have to worry about them. They even have the courtesy to show themselves off if you wait long enough. The trick is remembering where each one pops up so the wizard doesn't wind up doing the old human coat rack trick.
You've got plenty of opportunities to burn yourself to death in the game, but the flying carpet sequence hurts the most. Everything seems so wonderful and magical, then you accidentally hover over a jet of flame and realize you should've sprung for the asbestos undercoating. ALWAYS go for the undercoating.
(Never go for the undercoating)
Who would ever do this? Who would look down a small tunnel lined with cobwebs and, after seeing an enormous spider reaching out of it, proceed to climb right in? Surely any rational person would immediately climb back up that ladder and wish their wizard master the best of luck.
This one's totally on you, wizard.
Furthermore, once you've done the ludicrous and penetrated deep into the lair of the monstrous spider, do you then drop your head and charge at it like an annoyed rhino? Can't you magic that thing away? Why does that knife have to do all the heavy lifting? He does not seem sufficiently magical at this moment.
To complete the "nope" meme trilogy, especially don't touch any giant spider egg sacs. I don't know how long those spiders have to live before they become as huge as that one, but as soon as they hatch they are ready to go.
Also, not that it matters but this is the only time when dropping the staff causes it to burst into flames instead of blink out in a shower of sparks. Perhaps there truly is magic left in the world.
Late in the game, you're called upon to help some goblins solve their water supply problem. Their particular water problem is that there's a giant tentacled monstrosity called a Norlac gumming up the works. Naturally, you discarded your flying carpet because really, how useful is it to fly above the ground and beyond the reach of things like swarms of spiders eager to crawl all over you? *shudder* Thank goodness there's a barrel for you to paddle around on like geriatric Tom Sawyer.
The plan is to lure the norlac away and into a whirlpool at the opposite end of the tunnel. The reality is you'll probably end up in same whirlpool many more times before the norlac.
And that's not even taking into account how many times you'll screw up racing that same monster back. No grand monster battle for you then, just the wizard getting unceremoniously yanked off his barrel and dragged under. This is another one that you'll see plenty of because it turns out using a magic staff as a paddle doesn't work so well. At least he got some use out of what seems to be little more than a walking stick with a glowing tip.
Oh, how many times did I try to do this as a kid? Racing all the way to the end and dying because there was nothing but a whirlpool, so you figure you must have to augur that barrel in just right so you can climb back up the ladder. It takes a dozen tries to get the angle just right, but it's totally worth it when you nail it and climb up the ladder in triumph. Then you get yanked right back down and realize you've been wasting your time all along.
So it comes down to the final battle: you versus a dragon. We've already established that the our wizard is as useless at wizardry as he is at blundering into traps. Thank god he came across a bunch of scrolls just before dropping in. Now it's just a matter of working out which ones to use, and when. Maybe the title of the game is referring to our poor old man, because I'm not sure even a capable wizard could anticipate exactly what to do and when to do it without repeatedly getting bent over and screwed by the capricious gods of video game fate.
Things don't get any easier when your master shows up, turns out to be a giant dick, then starts using actual magic on you in ways your old guy can only dream. Woe is you that the ceiling is high enough that he can call down lightning. Again, sound effects for this would have been nice, but we can use our imagination to conjure up the sound of an old man being strike by lightning while a slightly disinterested dragon looks on.
Finally, a death with a little bit of noise to clue you in. And thank goodness there is, otherwise you might never put together that you were getting killed by some kind of intense noise spell. And then how would you know what to do? Obviously through trial and error like you did with the rest of the final battle, but... you know... pretend like it was wizard instinct or something.
Raising the dead in order to create more dead. That's the kind of cosmic irony that deserves at least a second glance, but the old wizard can't even be bothered to look in the direction of the ghost that's coming to chop his head off. The evil wizard even gestures in such a way to let you know that something is happening to the left, and is coming his way. Don't get me wrong, dragons are impressive, but clearly that one is too invested in your lopsided wizard battle to do anything but watch, and possibly mutter the Draconic phrase for, "Don't lose your head!"
But turnabout is fair play, so here's his death sequence:
Now that's what satisfaction looks like: finally seeing a different wizard getting wrecked.
All of this has been from the Genesis version of the game for two reasons: it was the version you readers were most likely to get your hands on, and the developers decided to add close-ups for when you got into combat. The actual combat wasn't anything special, but once you defeated an enemy...
Remember when I was saying earlier that it didn't seem like the protagonist wizard did much in the way of magic? Well here's where all that magic went:
I'm not saying I don't appreciate that he can cause a goblin's head to expand and then explode. I'm just saying it seems like a strangely impractical spell to keep in your repertoire.
Really, they're all kind of in that same category. Like a spell that turns them to ashes. It's a good spell, it just seems very situational.
No irresponsible magic use here, but goddamn, old man! Look at that leg just flop over!
Incredibly, the ESRB would not be created for another four years.
Just look at the carnage he unleashes with just one hand! And without all that much effort. He just casually leans his staff out of the way while he scalps this guy!
Good god, that knife is sharp. And the old guy, he doesn't even care. I'm starting to think his robe started out white, but turned gray from all the dried goblin bowels.
The trolls don't get off any easier. If this wizardry thing doesn't work out, the old guy could make a fine living as a tanner!
I don't really understand what's going on here. Maybe his soul is being banished, and all that's left after that is some stray pixie dust? Oh, what an enchanting world to live in!
Lightning? From that humble stick? What a shocking development!
I'm imagining the next adventurer who comes strolling through this dungeon and finds a knife in a pile of troll-colored dust. How scared is that guy going to be?
Do you remember when I told you how sharp that knife was? Well it's not getting any duller.
Look how shocked that troll looks. It'll probably be another two minutes before its brain even realizes it's dead!
Nothing spectacular for the giant spider like bursting into flames or all of its legs blowing off at once, but seriously, fuck that spider. Also, now we know that giant spiders are filled with purple Ecto-Plazm. The more you know.
I used to wonder if the close-ups with their gruesome enemy deaths were added because the Sega Genesis could accommodate more than some of the other platforms, but then it dawned on me: the developers made this game where the player character is getting brutalized all the time. When it came time to release it on the Genesis, they realized that no one in this game should be safe from a grisly demise, and neither should the player be spared the sight of such gory deaths.
It's downright egalitarian if you ask me.
So did any of you ever play The Immortal on the Sega Genesis, NES, or elsewhere? If so, what'd you think about it? If not, which of the aforementioned death scenes was your favorite? Let me know in the comments section below!
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