Review – The Immortal (Switch)
The classic games of the late 80s and early 90s are lauded and praised by the people who lived through that era. You need only to take a small walk into any discussion about the era of the Amiga, the NES, the Apple IIE, and the like, to find defenders and nostalgia enthusiasts. They/we wax poetic about the fun and amazing times we had with simpler approaches, the enjoyment that came from discovering a game from the ground up without having access to walkthroughs or cheat forums.
Hell, some will even talk about trading tips and clues through BBSes or paid phone calls to get help and advice. Naturally, as a child of the 80s myself who really came online when my parents bought a Nintendo Entertainment System, I welcome any and all opportunities to go back and try the titles that may have slipped through my grasp. So, when QUByte Interactive published a port of a game that I had always eyeballed back in my childhood, I knew I had to give it a try.
The Immortal (originally made by Will Harvey, now rebuilt by PIKO Interactive), is an isometric adventure game that plays like an RPG but, in actuality, is a puzzle/action title in disguise. As a nameless wizard (who I guess is immortal), you must venture into a vast labyrinth to find your master, Mordamir, who has gone missing. The teacher has left a message to Dunric to come and rescue him, and that’s just strange because your name isn’t Dunric. Then, right after you start the first room, you find a ring that says Dunric on a dead body, so maybe Dunric isn’t doing so well in his rescue attempt?
Anyways, what happens next is a series of interconnected rooms that require knowing where invisible death traps are, picking up a considerable number of items that will hamstring your entire journey if you don’t, and having frantic, seemingly random combat with enemies that you also need to help out eventually. It’s a bizarre choice of ideas, and everything seems so haphazard, but damn if it doesn’t work out in the end.
With this release, QUbyte Interactive wanted to have players enjoy the two perspectives of The Immortal, presenting both the 8-bit and 16-bit versions in a single release. You can choose between them at the start, and you get generally the same game from each. Besides the 16-bit version having better graphics, the overall experience is a bit gentler. The traps are more numerous in the 8-bit version, and the enemy sprites seem to move faster. However, not all of the important items are in the same location, though general proximity is the same: you aren’t going to find the charm scroll on a different floor or anything.
The combat on the 8-bit version is much easier: mash A like crazy and win. The 16-bit version actually needs you to watch and react/predict the enemy’s swing, so it takes more time to be effective. Both games get the regular retro treatment of being able to adjust the screen through filters and ratios, so you can fine tune the experience the best you’d like. I personally recommend the original 8-bit for a few reasons I’ll touch upon shortly, but give both a try to see the grand differences.
As an isometric game, The Immortal is, straight up, a learning experience on how to control everything initially. It’s important to know the hows and whys of walking, because you are constantly beset by traps on the floor that can and will murder you instantly when you step upon them. There are items to be found everywhere, and there’s never an instance where what you find should be left behind: this isn’t a LucasArts adventure where something exists just to be hilarious.
Additionally, navigating menus and making choices takes a bit of getting used to. Perhaps as a result of being developed for such other consoles, there’s no such thing as a floating menu option: you need to hold the direction for the choice you want to make or the cursor will simply snap back to the center. This means you constantly need to continue holding to the left or the right when trying to access something or decide something, because, otherwise, the game will default to choosing nothing and this creates more than a few issues.
It doesn’t take long to realize that The Immortal is as much about trial and error as it is about memorization. There are multiple instances where you’re given an item that clearly says what it does (the aforementioned charm scroll) and then just need to be at the ready to drop it when the situation provides. However, there are just as many where things feel strangely obtuse, or even just clandestine, and you need to figure it out from there.
A great example is the amulet found on the first floor that ultimately reveals the way to the second. The only way you can use it is to read the incantation on it in a certain room, but not reading it aloud. Reading it aloud means instant death. Using the bag of bait in the wrong room is instant death. Planting the spores EVER means instant death. You have nothing but the most extreme punishment waiting for you if you decide to take a chance and it’s wrong. Nothing quite like needing to bust out a pad of paper and a pen to take notes on how a game will murder me.
Speaking of murder, the visual design of The Immortal is really impressive for a game of its time. Both the 8 and 16-bit titles look fantastic, with the 8-bit version being a triumph of what was possible on a system as slow as the NES was. You get very clear images of the artifacts and foes that you meet along the way, and even the effect of the smoke-ghost message right at the beginning is shockingly well animated.
The 16-bit iteration does have the advantage of a larger color pallette and more horsepower, though the dungeons look, oddly, worse. There’s something about the stark nature of 8 bits that makes everything very clear and clean, whereas the 16-bit port seems foggy and almost blurred in comparison. The older brother showcases the “combat” with good sized representations of both wizard and enemy, whereas the younger one has a good variety of death scenes for whomever wins the fight. If I was 9 years old and I watched a troll’s head explode in very graphic colors, I would probably need to take a break from video games for a while.
Lastly, the sound quality of The Immortal is similar between the two games, with some interesting differences. The 16-bit version obviously has a stronger fidelity, but the two titles, having almost the same score, seem to favor the 8-bit one for better presentation. If you will, remember that this game is designed and targeted towards D&D enthusiasts of yesteryear, and the 8-bit soundtrack captures the pseudo-organ sound in a far more tinny and pleasant sort of way. I don’t know, it’s almost like if you heard someone say the phrase “I attack the darkness” in both a serious and comical tone. You’d favor the comical because it’s more on par with what you expect of the delivery, even if the dramatic fashion sounds better. The Immortal looks like a dungeon crawler that actually isn’t, so having a soundtrack that seems like it’d be fantasy gothic but isn’t just fits better.
There’s a fascinating bit of game history here with The Immortal, and QUByte and PIKO have done due diligence in capturing that time period while still making it accessible to the current generation of gamers. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t the game that will take up your whole life. The Immortal will draw you in, frustrate you, and you’ll figure out how to beat it out of spite. You’ll grimace but grin at the death animations in the 16-bit version, fistpump at figuring out where to use the troll bombs, and become utterly enraged to find out you can’t beat the game ever due to what you did on the third floor.
Once everything is clean and clear, you’ll stun yourself to find that you can go from start to finish in about 30 minutes or so, and that’s all there is to it. For a game with such a grandiose title, The Immortal has a shockingly short life, but it’s a colorful one. If you missed this as a child or simply want to see why your father grew up to hate video games, you’ve come to the right place.
Stunning for their time, The Immortal has aged well, visually speaking. Just don’t stretch it to a fullscreen ratio.
Once you figure out the pattern, you can blow through the static story quite quickly.
Tight and dreary, The Immortal captures the joy of ancient, ambient chiptune.
As angry as my needless deaths made me feel, I still charged ahead to great satisfaction.
Final Verdict: 7.5
The Immortal is available now on PC, Xbox, PS4/5 and the Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of The Immortal was provided by the publisher.