Apart from Sonic the Hedgehog and Herzog Zwei, few video games evoke as many fond, and exasperating memories as Will Harvey’s classic adventure, The Immortal, on the Sega Genesis.
Originally released for Apple IIgs and ported to numerous systems, The Immortal is a fiendishly difficult, but incredibly rewarding experience. Though short in length (it can be beaten in roughly 30 minutes if you know what you’re doing which will take many hours), it has a surprisingly rich and intriguing story, and one of the most memorable, thrilling final boss battles ever conceived.
You play an old, nameless greenhorn wizard searching for your lost master, Mordamir. As you traverse eight levels of a dangerous, trap-filled dungeon known as the “labyrinth of eternity” in isometric view, you’ll unravel the mystery of your master’s disappearance. You will also meet your end more times than a cat with nine lives.
I doubt it’s a coincidence that the game’s cover and title screen feature the grisly visage of the Grim Reaper. There are just so many ways to die in The Immortal – plummeting down pits, being eaten by ravenous worms, butchered by goblins or trolls, immolated by fire, dissolved by acidic slime, eaten alive by spiders, drowned by a water monster, and even potentially poisoning yourself in various ways. Part of the allure of the game actually stems from making mistakes and witnessing the gruesome ways your plucky wizard perishes. I even went out of the way to embrace death just to enjoy the gruesome spectacle. To add to the macabre, there are an equal amount of even more ghastly deaths awaiting your foes in the Genesis version.
Unlike the previous computer and the NES versions, The Immortal features scenes of extreme violence and gore after each successful combat. You muster your stamina by dodging and then start slashing the enemies to bits with your sword. For magic, there are several spell scrolls to pick up, and at one point even a magic spellbook that allows you to cast a minor fireball spell infinitely.
The Immortal is arguably one of the most blatant gory games of the 16-bit era, even surpassing the immensely bloody Mortal Kombat, yet it’s relatively quiet profile by comparison meant that nobody voiced their discontent, A crack on a goblin’s head with your trusty staff results in their cranium exploding in a shower of blood, brains, and eyeballs. You’ll eviscerate goblins up the middle and watch as their legs flop over the flayed halves of their bodies. Slicing them in half results in their innards spilling out all over the floor, and trolls have their own separate demise that include being skinned. It’s certainly not for the squeamish!
The game also has certain points where you can hover around to avoid the giant worms and tiny aracnids by using the magic carpet and the levitation spell. This mechanic feels redundant as it’s almost like controlling a car that can constantly accelerate. An accident waiting to happen, the controls are quite horrendous and it’s hard to survive these trying segments, as well as the one further in the game with the creature in the water canals known as “The Norlac”while travelling precariously on a barrel.
There’s more to The Immortal than just death and dismemberment, however.. The Immortal is, at its core, an adventure game with thought provoking puzzles waiting to be solved.. Solving each stage requires both luck and logic, as well as a heaping amount of trial and error. Unlike the video games of today, It doesn’t hold your hand. Many of the puzzles in The Immortal will test your patience and increase your blood pressure countless times during repeated attempts to solve them, and the solution is pretty vague.
This will undoubtedly frustrate most gamers, yet it’s one of the reasons I was enthralled to the game back when I first played it. I just kept coming back for more with each failure. Though it’s a strictly single-player journey, my best friend came over, and we would play the game together in the hope that two heads were better than one when it came to the game’s devious obstacles. Stressful it may be, but the feeling of elation when you finally do get past a hellish tough point is heavenly. Rarely have I felt such a great sense of satisfaction for completing a level in a video game.
Rarely have I ever been as frustrated, however, once I encountered the game’s notorious worm room. Late in the adventure, you discover a sensor that emits a high-pitched squeal relative to the proximity of the game’s wizard-devouring invertebrates. The problem is, the sensor lasts only briefly, forcing you to hurry through the room carelessly. The manual attempts to outline a route is largely indecipherable and more often than not you’ll find yourself becoming wormcowder. Indeed, I had to rely on divine luck alone to successfully clear this room .
When I was a young gamer, and before I became “King”, I was desperate enough to call EA’s hintline – the only time I have ever done such a thing for a video game. A friendly staff responded, “There’s really no help I can give you. You just have to get lucky and hurry through it.” Well, thanks a lot, so much for being a helpful hint guy! It was $1.99 per minute well spent!
After traversing the dreaded Worm room, the rest of The Immortal is tough, but certainly doable. Many of the tasks are quite memorable, from navigating a hall covered in sticky spider webs and egg sacs, to using the lethal slimes to your advantage. Certain key items that seem hazardous to your health eventually prove useful, but it’s also possible to accidentally waste an item that is needed later on, forcing the player to restart.
The game’s graphics look appropriately dingy, but are by no means hideous. The colors are drab and muted, but suit the game’s dark atmosphere perfectly. Complimenting this gloomy ambience is an outstanding soundtrack that easily ranks among the creme de la creme the Genesis system had to offer. It may not have been known for its audio processor, but the music and sound effects in The Immortal are truly fantastic. Weighty wooden doors thud loudly, entrails spill with a repugnant, sloshy plop, and the grim soundtrack pulls you into the tenebrous, twitchy atmosphere like no other.
In Electronic Arts’ massive catalog, The Immortal is little more than a footnote, but it has left a lasting impression on gamers who’ve played it for its sheer difficulty, extreme gore, ingenious puzzles, and phenomenal soundtrack. It may lack replayability, but that hasn’t stopped me from coming back dozens of times over the years, just to experience it again and to ensure my Genesis is in working condition. Not forgetting, more botched attempts at the worm room. Chomp!