In the early days of the C64, decent arcade adventures were few and far between. Then Cauldron came along with it’s combination of platforming and shoot -em up mechanics. It also featured a heavy adventuring flavour as well bringing a unique and spooky narrative to the expanding C64 library.
There’s evil abound! In the form of the Pumpking who can only be destroyed by a powerful spell. In order to cast the spell, six strange ingredients must be retrieved from the very heart of the planet. This is where you come in, playing a plucky yet warty witch attempting to put the Pumpking’s reign of terror to an end.
You start in the witch’s house surrounded by six parchments, one for each ingredient to be found. It is here that the final spell is to be made and it acts as a form of ‘hub’. Each time you find an ingredient for the spell you must bring it back to the witch’s home.
Leaving the beautifully rendered cottage, our heroine must travel through the forest in search of four coloured keys which are scattered around the planet. These are the keys which open the doors to the underworld, the place where the ingredients are kept.
To help traverse the various locations such as mountain ranges, sea and a graveyard, the lovable hag can use a broomstick. To take off on her broomstick, she must find a clearing and then a quick push up on the joystick will take her up into the skies slowly.
The flight controls are similar to the arcade classic Defender, with a large amount of inertia to take into account when you change directions. This takes some getting used to and can be initially off putting to players.
The enemies in the game are varied and spooky, on your travels you will pass trees, bats, ghosts and plants spitting death. There’s also environmental hazards such as fire spewing volcanoes, sharks and seagulls. These can be dispatched with some magic when you are on your broom.
One of the more unique aspects of the game is that the four keys you must find are placed randomly around the game world. This makes the game slightly different each time you play. Once you have collected one, or all the keys, it’s down to the darker depths of the globe to grab the components for your spell.
You have eight lives in order to complete your task and initially these are easily lost. There’s an energy bar so the deaths aren’t instant but you will find that taking off, landing and attempting to pick up keys will deplete your health bar constantly. Energy can be replenished however, by standing or hovering over sources of power.
The graphics for an early c64 game are great. The backgrounds are detailed and very effective, as are the spritework. The moon hangs realistically in the night sky and makes an impressive scene when the witch flies in front of it. The animation helps bring the characters to life and there’s effective use of the colour pallette.
This is one of the classic 8-bit platformers which is well recommended. It’s spooky, challenging fun and it looks great!