Curse of Enchantia
|Curse of Enchantia|
Cover art by Rolf Mohr
Virgin Games (PC CD-ROM)
|Programmer(s)||Robert Toone (Amiga)
Ian Sabine (PC)
|Composer(s)||Nuke (Martin Iveson)|
|Distribution||Floppy disks, CD-ROM|
Curse of Enchantia is a comic fantasy graphic adventure game developed and released by the British video game company Core Design for the PC DOS and Amiga in 1992. The game tells the story of Brad, a teenage boy from modern Earth who was magically abducted by a powerful evil witch to the titular world of Enchantia and now needs to find a way back to his own dimension.
Curse of Enchantia was Core Design's first attempt in the adventure genre as they set up to compete with LucasArts and Sierra On-Line. The game features some highly unconventional and controversial game mechanics and design choices for an adventure title from that era, including having many simple action game style sequences and being practically devoid of in-game text and conversations.
Nevertheless, Curse was generally well received upon its release, especially by the Amiga magazines, where the game's graphics and animation received particular praise even as its illogical puzzles and unusual design choices were often criticized. A direct sequel was briefly planned but eventually turned into a spiritual successor game titled Universe and released in 1994.
Curse of Enchantia uses a point and click user interface, similar to the King's Quest series. The player character is commanded with an icon based control bar that is accessible by pressing the right mouse button, which also pauses the game. The control bar features seven main actions: inventory, pick up/take, manipulate/use (opening up a sub-menu with eight further actions: unlock, insert, push/pull, eat, wear, throw, give and combine), look, talk (only either "Help!" or "Hi!"), attack, and jump. Usually, the protagonist has to stand in the immediate vicinity to the game's objects and characters, which then appear as icons in a separate bar, in order to interact with them. A joystick or computer keyboard input can also be used.
The game does not feature text-based object descriptions or conversations, and its few short scenes of dialogue use a minimalist system of pictograms in comic book-style speech balloons. Instead, the game features several action-style sequences, like dodging hazards or timing the use of items. However, the character is never at risk of dying and thus every "dangerous" task can be repeated until successfully completed, risking only losing a few points from the score. Objects of value, such as jewels and gold coins, can be collected throughout the game for a higher score.
In a parallel universe, the titular fantasy world of Enchantia is suffering under the cruel rule of a coven of wicked witches. Their leader, even more sinister than the others, seeks a male child from another dimension as the final ingredient of her desired spell of eternal youth. For this purpose, she has promised to make the other witches young forever, acquired their magic powers, and even destroyed two of them in order to create a portal connection to Earth. One day in the 1990s, a young American teenager named Brad plays a baseball practice with his sister Jenny when all of sudden he vanishes in a flash of light when the witch summons him through time and space into captivity. But the boy soon manages to escape and sets out on a journey to break titular curse and return home safely. In the course of his surreal adventure, he braves various dangers, meets a host of friendly and hostile characters, and rises to become a reluctant hero against evil.
The game begins in a dungeon cell where Brad is being held, dressed in medieval-style clothing. Breaking out from the prison, he falls into a moat before coming to a halt in a maze of an underground cavern. Reaching the surface, he arrives at a village, which is then sealed-off by guards. This location is repeatedly revisited throughout the game, as Brad comes back here after traveling to the various corners of the land: the Edge of the World cliff, the Ice Palace, and the Valley of the Lost (a place where all kinds of things lost on Earth have gone to), all while searching for a set of items that would help him emerge victorious from the game's final showdown. In the end, a friendly mage teleports him into a grave in a vampire-haunted cemetery just outside his ultimate destination of the witch queen's castle. Inside, the boy needs to defeat her once and for all. Once she is no more, he gets instantly transported back to the baseball field where it all had started.
Core Design's original idea for the game was to make it more like an action-adventure. The project's working title was initially Zeloria, which later caused some confusion as several video game magazines continued to use "Zeloria" as the name of the world in the game; at least one magazine also incorrectly assumed Enchantia to be the name of the game's main witch antagonist (who is actually unnamed). Some articles in video game magazines featured an earlier and slightly different version of the plot, which involved a castle of three evil witches, who needed to drink a special potion every hundred years or else they would turn to dust, and the protagonist Brad's original task involved a rescue of his captured sister Jenny.
It took a month for the project to be completely storyboarded before any programming work started on it. While the game's design evolved over time, its original plot remained largely intact. There were, however, several late revisions that resulted in some of the already made some graphics and other content being cut from the game, in particular in the final area (the castle's interior). Curse of Enchantia was described by Stuart Campbell as "a funny version of Lure of the Temptress with a different plot." Its story was partially inspired by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Snow Queen, and relies heavily on surreal humor and slapstick. It contains several Easter egg pop culture references, including the shop called "Benn's Costume Shop" (complete with a costume of Batman), a band named "The Slugs" (consisting of four humanoid slugs), getting into a frozen realm through a wardrobe, and encountering the wreck of Marie Celeste.
Versions of the game for both the PC and the Amiga were developed separately and simultaneously, in order to make the best possible product for each platform, rather than a quick port from one system to another. A version for the Amiga CD32 had also been planned. The game mixes backgrounds hand-drawn with acrylic paint and then digitized by the concept artist Rolf Mohr, and sprite bitmap graphics made in Deluxe Paint and Brilliance on the Amiga with some rotoscoped animations. The animators Billy Allison and Stuart Atkinson created "huge" DPaint-made character sequences but they had to implement them in game in more efficient way due to computer memory limitations. In addition, the PC version used the full 8-bit color of a 256 color palette, but the Amiga version had to be downscaled to only 32 colors (including 24 colors for the background and eight colors for the main character; the other characters had to be drawn with these colors).
The game was supposed to be "an adventure for people who hadn't played that kind of game before." The protagonist's effective invincibility was a late demand by the executive producer Jeremy Heath-Smith, resulting in a series of minor plot changes. Toone said that the idea behind the concept was to make these parts of the game "interesting without being difficult." Core Design's Ian Sabine stated that the lack of text "speeds up gameplay". Regarding the decision to keep the onscreen text to a minimum, the game's co-designer and the Amiga version's chief programmer Rob Toone said that "too much reading can slow the game or kill it, like The Adventures of Willy Beamish," with Mohr adding that "hopefully, a picture will say a thousand words and make this system easy to use." According to Toone, "Lucasfilm gets most of its humour out of its text, whereas we hopefully get ours from comical animations and daft happenings."
Curse of Enchantia was officially revealed under this title by Core at the European Computer Trade Show (ECTS) in April 1992, along with Darkmere. The game was originally planned to be released in September 1992, but got delayed two months to November 1992. It was the first adventure game by Core Design as well as one of the first CD-ROM adventure games. Virgin Games bundled it with many of the earliest PC CD-ROM drives in 1993. The release was accompanied by a promotional campaign with valuable prizes (computers and money) in some magazines such as France's Joystick. Nearly two decades later, an advertisement for Curse of Enchantia was featured in GamesRadar's article making fun of "what game ads looked like when the SNES was alive."
Critical reception of Curse of Enchantia was mostly positive, especially in regards of its graphics and animation. However, the game was derided by some for its confusing user interface system, often illogical puzzle solutions and what some reviewers thought was a lack of quality humor, plot development and atmosphere, attributing it to the absence of text and dialogue.
British reviewers in particular have often praised the Amiga version of the game. Amiga Action gave this "well-made and cleverly constructed package" the Amiga Action Accolade award, calling it "flawless" and "easily the best adventure game on the Amiga to date". It hinted that using a joystick for control may make certain sections of the game "less annoying to play." Amiga Computing gave it the Gamer Gold award, calling the game "excellent", "down-right bloody enchanting" and Core Design's "easily greatest and most impressive game yet," and even advising to "buy it today because if you don't you will more than likely commit suicide, it's that good." CU Amiga gave the game the CU Gold Screen award and said that while "some of the puzzles are a bit illogical, the further into the game you get the more luxurious it becomes. Around each bend the graphics get better and better." Amiga Power called it "a classic adventure, which with a few tweaks could have easily beaten the Monkey Island [series] and the like. A worthy addition to any collection and will stand as a challenge to any adventurer."
The "absolutely enchanted" reviewer for Australia's ACAR said the game's "delightful" graphics and animation "are among the most tastefully executed I have ever seen," but noted the problems with its interface system and difficulty. One preview in North American magazine Computer Gaming World called it a "a pretty looking product" of "a Loom / KQV / Legend of Kyrandia approach," but another called it "actually more of a multi-screen puzzle game than a traditional animated adventure," adding that "gamers with a strong penchant for puzzle should find it entertaining" despite its "a bit clumsy" interface. Australia's OZ Amiga called it "a light-hearted and funny adventure that appeals to almost everyone" and "one of the better releases of 1993."
On the other hand, Amiga Format calling Curse of Enchantia "light years behind" Monkey Island with "no comparison" to Monkey Island 2, as "the textless interface just doesn't work - despite the designers' belief, you do need words" and there is "no humour to speak of, no genuinely amusing humour, anyway." The One Amiga said that "the game lacks real humour and atmosphere. This may be partly due to the lack of text in the game - it's hard to relate to the characters you meet," and "although entertaining, Curse of Enchantia is to Monkey Island 2 what Smash is to mashed potato," that is "just a weaker substitute." The Age opined that "Curse of Enchantia might be seen as a mite disappointing by fantasy gamers with moderately sophisticated tastes."
In France, Curse of Enchantia was given the high ratings of 84% in Gen4 and 90% (Amiga) / 91% (PC) in Joystick. The game also received a score of 79% from Sweden's Datormagazin. On the other hand, German magazine PC Player gave it only 38%, saying that the game may make the players "nostalgic for Sierra titles." It received better scores from other German magazines, including 79% in Amiga Joker, 68% in PC Games, and 70% (DOS) and 71% (Amiga) in Power Play. Reception was strong in Poland, where Curse of Enchantia was positively reviewed in C&A (95%) and Secret Service (76%), and featured among "the best adventure games" of 1992 (alongside Alone in the Dark, Indiana Jones IV and The Legend of Kyrandia) by Computer Studio. However, in a 1993 ranking of graphic adventures games by the Spanish magazine pcmanía, Curse of Enchantia received only three stars out of six, due to its "strange" design and despite Core Design's "trademark" good graphics. A 1996 retro review by France's PC Soluces gave it three stars out of five, stating that the game's interesting characters, surrealist feel and varied graphics were dragged down by "a bit weak" plot and an interface that was not intuitive enough.
Retrospectively, the website GamersHell found the lack of any text messages and dialogue in the game to be "an interesting design element." However, Gry-Online.pl included the lack of even partial descriptions of objects among the reasons why Curse of Enchantia failed to become an outstanding game, along with a too many user interface icons and "useless" features. Wirtualna Polska ranked it as the 27th best Amiga game, but noting that "proponents of adventure genre's purity" to this day dislike the game for its "unwise flirt" with action-adventure. It was also ranked as the 26th best Amiga game by the Polish console gaming magazine PSX Extreme, noted for its strong playability. Curse of Enchantia was also the first Amiga video game owned by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, who in 2012 made a Let's Play video of the PC version of the game, saying it had "great graphics, great animation, appalling game design."
A direct sequel for the game was briefly planned by Core Design. Few details were made available for the second part, but was indicated that Brad would return and his sister Jenny was considered to play a much larger role. However, it was never released (in part because of Robert Toone's departure from the company), as the new game "has grown up so much during the development that it has simply became a follow up." Its working title has still remained "Curse of Enchantia 2", but only "for practical reasons".
This spiritual successor game ultimately became known as simply Universe, Released in 1994, Universe uses an upgraded game engine of Curse of Enchantia and a similar user interface. Responding to some of the criticism of directed at Curse of Enchantia, Core Design described Universe as being "a lot" more logical and less linear than their first adventure game. They also described the text-based system as an improvement over the use of only icons, its benefits including allowing conversations between characters. They also acknowledged that Curse of Enchantia has "suffered considerably" due to inclusion of action sequences, something that "adventure gamers don't want in their games." The game's premise is also similar to that of Curse of Enchantia, featuring a young man (the protagonist's name was changed from Brad to Boris, but he also has a sister named Jenny) who is transported to another world which has to save from an evil ruler, but the game is more serious in its tone, as the humor only serves as comic relief and "it was never intended to be as silly as Enchantia."
Simon the Sorcerer, a 1994 adventure game similarly featuring a modern boy protagonist transported to a fantasy world where he has to vanquish an evil wizard, which was partially inspired by Curse of Enchantia. The game has also inspired the name of the Polish reggae band Enchantia, who chose this name because they thought it "feels warm". The game's chief artist Rolf Mohr said the cover art for Disney's 2007 film Enchanted could have been inspired by his cover art for Curse of Enchantia. He called it "a case of Art imitating Disney imitating Art," since he has been himself "definitely" inspired by Disney while working on the game.
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