“See-ta-dul, See-ta-dul, See-ta-dul, See-ta-dul, See-ta-dul. Soo-peerior Software pre-sents: See-ta-dul”
With those words, mangled by the BBC’s malfunctioning-cyberman voice-sythesis, and a title screen which features a man with a triangular nose and David Coultard’s chin, Superior Software’s Citadel announced and indeed anounces itself to the world.
In this game, a mixture of platformer and adventure game originally published in 1986, the player has to collect several crystals scattered around the titular fortress and its immediate surroundings and take them to what Wikipedia describes as “their rightful place”.
Gameplay consists of controlling a wee man (or wee woman depending on what sex you choose at the beginning of the game) as he/she leaps and erm collects across dozens of rooms making-up the castle. Rather than lives the player has energy which is sapped on touching enemies. Personally, I have more than a bit of a bug bear with energy-sapping enemies because I think they encourage lazy screen design and take away the sense of danger from the player since they know that they can risk a certain amount of collisions with the enemy. Citadel, however, has a novel take on this since the player is only allowed to make contact with an enemy for a very short time before suddenly being hurled back to where (s)he entered that particular screen. This both means that the player can risk brushing against an enemy sprite but can’t, for example, just wander through a group of static monsters guarding a doorway. It’s a novel take on the energy-based platformer which deals very well with the usual problems and, to be honest, I’m surprised and disappointed that it wasn’t more influential.
Whilst he (I can’t keep up the male/female thing, folks, sorry; let’s just assume we’re playing as a chap from now on) explores the rooms of the Citadel the player character will come across numerous items which can aid him in his quest. The uses for some of these (eg pink & white keys open pink & white doors) is obvious whilst other items have more obscure uses and it’ll take a little experimentation to find out what to do with them. I would guess that amongst these collectables is the crystals mentioned above but, to be honest, I’ve not managed to track any of them down yet. The “jump” key is used to collect items, only two of which can be held at once, and for this reason items can only be taken or dropped on certain marked places on the floor. You can also fire a rather dull looking, erm, line at the enemies although the only bad guys this actually works against are the ‘monks’ (large bad dudes whose faces are obscured by hoods and who wear horribly garish robes) encountered on some screens: shoot em in the face and they fall satisfyingly to their doom leaving you free to adventure forth.
Despite taking some obvious cues from games from other systems (castle full of rooms with names, Jet Set Willy anyone?) Citadel feels fairly unique and, to be honest, is hard to imagine on any system other than the BBC Micro; it’s like what happens when someone tries to do the games you played at home on the computer you used at school. None of this, incidentally, is meant in a negative way: Citadel is a playable game which encourages and rewards exploration and will probably take a while to master and beat. It has its flaws – the graphics are a bit rubbish and there are some irritating features such as the bulls heads on the walls which sap your energy despite looking like decorations – but it still holds up quite well in the cold light of the 21st century and it would be nice to see someone have a shot at remaking it with tarted-up graphics and sound, and maybe a few extra rooms. Not the greatest arcade-adventure of the 8-bit era but, y’know, quite good fun all the same.
And if you give Citadel a shot and quite like what you see/hear/feel why not seek-out the sequel, Citadel 2, which touched-down in 1993 and looks like being more of the same.