Dark Tower





There are some things in life that upon seeing it for the very first time, you just know it's not going to be good.

Dark Tower is one of those games.


Right from the title screen the game reeks of the dead. It expresses as much life and pizzazz as a microwave oven (and let me tell you that microwave ovens are notorious for their lack of pizzazz), and it has absolutely no artistic composure. I do commend it for at least including a tower, and at the very least actually having a title screen and not just a black background with "insert coin" emblazoned upon it, but the whole thing feels phoned in.

A tower surrounded with graves is a spooky visual to imagine, but the manner it is presented here springs to mind an "in memory of" bulletin board than the graves of the brave men who dared to enter; I wouldn't be surprised if the graves are those of people who fell out the window. Seriously, the sheer crappiness of this title screen astounds me. You gotta love how half the damn screen is taken up with soil.


What kind of visuals spring to mind when you hear the descriptor "dark tower?" I think of a moody establishing shot from a gothic film, a dramatic angle of a castle brimming with spires and towers, lightning crashing against the midnight sky, a creaking gate beckoning in those foolish enough to enter. That, or Stephen King being hit by a car. Instead the title screen looks like a very uninspired postcard.


For the curious, the attract mode doesn't do the game any favours either. There's a whopping two demos, and both of them end prematurely because the player jumps into the path of an enemy. Class act, Game Room.




So, what is Dark Tower about? Is there a tale behind the titular architecture? Is there an adventure to be ventured, a beast to be beaten, or royalty to be rescued?

Don't be silly. The title screen is the closest the game offers to exposition, as it's the only exterior shot of the tower you get. Of course, in comparison to the rest of the game it comes across as a complete non-sequitur; you see that girl leading idly on the window sill?

One would typically expect such an individual to be the driving force behind the non-existent story, as the object of our hero's desires and subject of his compulsion to rescue people in need. Fat chance, she doesn't appear anywhere else in the game.

So... what is the game about?

Beating the shit out of monsters with a club.






You know Snow Bros., right? The arcade game by Irem about snowmen who hop around single-screen levels enveloping enemies in snowballs and then kicking them around in hopes of mowing down other enemies for massive points? I'd like to think so because that would give me a valid excuse to try out a virtual fist bump, but what are the chances of anyone knowing about it? Most folk are more familiar with that specific kind of arcade genre because of Bubble Bobble, but the basic premise remains the same: You're given a static screen of platforms and obstacles, as well as a set number of enemies of varying tactics and gimmicks, and your basic task is to slaughter the lot of them, though the preferred means are by knocking them into each other (achieved in Bubble Bobble by bursting a cluster of bubbles) to rack up multipliers, giving you huge score bonuses and item drops.

It's not a bad little genre, and although simple on the surface, they truly shine when it comes to the finesse they require for racking up a high score - making the best of your character's movements, stunning and immobilising enemies to the best of your abilities, all for the sole reward of the heavens raining fruit upon your head.


Dark Tower has no such finesse or intricacy. Snow Bros. may have its important snowball effect, and Bubble Bobble relies heavily on the (rather unresponsive) bubble bouncing in later stages. Dark Tower is not an imaginative game of whimsical powers, abstract environments or even a sensible means of earning score multipliers; you just run around and whack the shit out of enemies with a club until they fly off-screen. They may bounce off a wall and annihilate everyone else in their path if you're lucky, but for the most part, you're just going to end up beating them up one by one until the screen is cleared. And you know what that is? That's boring.





The main problem is because the game is frighteningly incomprehensible. Nothing's set in stone. General knowledge implies that touching an enemy will get you killed, and yes, that is mostly what happens (resulting in your character flying across the length of the screen as if pummelled by Popeye), but sometimes you remain entirely unharmed. Sometimes you can jump through an enemy without harm, sometimes you die anyway. The same ordeal applies when hitting enemies - all too often, especially in boss battles, you'll be trying to whack an enemy from a distance that appears to be perfect for clubbing the life out of them, but less than half of the hits connect. Then again, sometimes you'll hit someone even if it looks like you're just out of range, so while it isn't always bad, it makes for a very inconsistent experience.
Another unavoidable problem is that, well, the game is sorely lacking in variety. That's a given for any game in this genre, but I'm serious, this game takes it to a new low. For instance, here's the only enemies in the entire game.

This brown ape-like beast is about as threatening as warm toast.

The green lizard-like fellow is only threatening due to his lightning fast reflexes - you cannot get the jump on this guy if you try and drop down on him from behind, because he will just instantly punch you into next week. That's a recurring theme throughout the game.

The mummies, rather inexplicably, breathe fire. This isn't even the kind of projectile you typically expect from a video game, where you see it move and thus have an opportunity to evade the blast - this burst of flame covers half the screen and appears instantly with little to no warning. You don't want to approach more than one of these guys at once. As if things weren't bad enough, it's possible to be burnt alive, leaving you as a burnt crisp, and before you respawn another guy can approach you and punch your poor sap off screen. It doesn't take off two lives, fortunately, but I wouldn't be surprised if the game did do that just to be an asshole.
You'd expect this red demon fellow to be a severe nuisance simply based purely on the fact that he looks like a servant of the satan (if not the satan himself), but his only gimmick is the ability to turn into a bat and fly to a higher platform. You know how much good that does him? Nothing. It's a sad fact that can be applied to the rest of the game.
And finally, meet the boss. Nope, not even "the first boss" or "the boss of level 21" or an adequate descriptor like that. This guy is the only boss in the game. This blobby bastard sits around in his lair like some vast slug, periodically hopping to the next platform after his corpulent posterior causes the previous one to collapse under his weight, all the while projectile vomiting baby slimes around the room. A thorough thrashing is enough to make him explode, but the boss has some unfair advantages, the most notable being the collision detection is terrible.

You know what I said earlier about the clubbing not connecting? For any other enemy that's just a non-issue. It may happen, but it doesn't really set you back. When it comes to this guy, you seriously want to get in any many hits before your lives hit zero, otherwise you're going to have to start the fight from scratch. While you're doing this, seemingly-inoffensive positions will kill you quicker than bizarro-asbestos, and the baby slimes will sneak up and spell our your doom using your blood and entrails. What's his other crafty tactic?

The fucker can get stuck in the wall. You know, just in case life wasn't bad enough. Class act, Game Room.






The game is fifty levels long, which is a reasonable amount for a game of this genre, but the real issue is that there's no such thing as a difficulty curve. The game has a mere four enemies to throw at you, and only two of them mean any legitimate threat. It also doesn't help that the game is very reluctant to even do something as simple as, say, rearranging the enemy positions.

On the left is level 5. On the right is level 35. Can you tell the difference?

(if you say anything nitpicky like the score or credits then I WILL VIRTUAL PUNCH YOU)


Matters aren't helped by the fact that they don't even try and just recolour a few enemies, speed them up and pretend that's enough to compensate for the lack of variety. They don't even bend the rules to make a second boss! From then on, for the rest of the game, you fight two blob monsters instead of one. This makes the fight a little more challenging[?] thanks to doubling the amount of collision-related deaths and twice as much baby slimes flying around the place, but it also smells like a hell of a copout.




I feel I've rambled long enough without touching on the subject of the player character. Arcade games like this essentially rely on having a cute mascot to attract attention, and it's no surprise that Bubble Bobble's Bub and Bob (it should not be so fun to say that out loud) are essentially what personifies Taito. Nick and Tom from Snow Bros. don't quite compare, especially since they're a certain kind of ugly-cute more than legitimate cute (the large-sized portraits of them really don't help their case), but snowmen are cute, right?

In Dark Tower's attempt to rip them off as much as it possibly can, you take the role of... what the fuck is this thing?

If I were to judge what it was using only the miniscule and barely detailed life icon to go by, I would say it was some kind of weird bear in a hat, but not only is it a terrible life icon, it's not even recoloured for the second player's HUD. It really doesn't help that its colour palette it used in an exceedingly stupid manner - rather than having a variety of colours and just using whatever is necessary, this guy's whole palette is just blue and brown with that single shade of white. I guess, maybe, he's a bearded fellow in glasses with disproportionately sized arms and wearing no pants. There's enough subtle shades to suggest an ear and a bit of his face beneath the hair and glasses, but it's needlessly difficult to tell.


I hope I've made it clear that the game fluctuates between being easy, difficult, cheap and flat-out boring. Once again, I remind you that variety is the spice of life, and other games in the same genre tend to not only have constantly changing level designs and enemies, but they also have items just to make things interesting. What wide range of power-ups does Dark Tower have to offer us?

An axe that makes your club bigger, and a potion that speeds up the character. That's all. Exciting.

The potion is amusing in how sloppily coded it is. It speeds up the beardy-bear-beast in every possible way. He jumps faster, he walks faster, he attacks faster, he falls faster... Yep, rather than actually speed up his reactions in a more intelligent manner, the game speeds him up by simply doubling the rate of his movements, so he falls twice as fast. Without the potion he's got a mildly slow and floaty jump that's common in platformers, but the way the potion works it gives the impression that while doubling his muscle mass and body strength, it also makes him weigh as much as a friggin' house.






By now you're probably wondering, what is the ending like? Well, that's what was on my mind the whole time I was playing it, and I was desperate to find out. The game is just catastrophically bad, and it seems to have no real idea of what it's doing. The concept is poorly thought out, the difficulty curve is nonexistent, and given what little variety there is, there's no real reason to keep going.

I mean, the final stage of the game is exactly the same as level 20. No change in background, no change in bosses, no change in even the friggin' music. It's a very soul-crushing experience. So, I beat the boss so badly that the background mis-aligns, I earn my bonus score. And proceed downwards. But to where? Does treasure await me? Is there a chamber of harem girls waiting to be rescued and/or utilised? What lies downs there?

Level 1.


Yes, after all that effort, the game just loops.

With no changes following from then on.

Class act, Game Room.








There really are a million and one things wrong with the game, I could write another few thousand words just detailing a few of them. Like, why are you descending the tower, if the title screen appears to imply you're trying to rescue a maiden located in the vague direction of "up"? Is the player character the owner of the tower and trying to escape his abominable creation, or a servant of the true villain and is destroying the many creatures that have entered to stop them? Why is time included on the HUD if there is no timer?

Quite frankly, the game doesn't deserve such thought and imagination because it stole all of its content.

If you're familiar with the expansive arcade library of the 1980s and couldn't help but think "I've seen those guys before!" when looking at the enemies, that should come as no surprise. All of them were stolen from other titles and slightly edited. The green red-eyed beast is an edit of the monster introduced in the second level of Snow Bros., which is why it's got such a bold outline in comparison to everyone else.

The ogre and the demon originate from Capcom's Ghosts 'n' Goblins, tweaked only to change their head shapes a little bit. The mummy is pinched from Black Tiger, a more obscure Capcom platformer, and they did a careless job of stealing it, as a lot of the dark lines on Dark Tower's mummy show up as transparent. Whoops!

Although it's not an immediate resemblance, the hero of the game appears to be styled after Arthur, most notably in the way they pose and the shape of their heads. The basic standing and walking animations are quite different, but the resemblance shows clearly when they attack or jump.

I'm told the sound effects and music are also stolen from Double Dragon, but the audio of this game is so dreary and death-inducing that I could hardly notice. I did notice this, however.

Looks like someone forgot to remove their Double Dragon tiles from this game! That... that's just terrible. It's one thing for silly little teenagers to steal and edit sprites to make their own game, but it's another to actually release it in arcades to turn a profit from a shoddily produced shitheap. I suppose it's fortunate there's no ending and thus no credits, otherwise I'd need to track down those responsible behind the game and drop a boulder on their heads.


Class act, Game Room. Class act.