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Review: Mystic Towers

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: NR - Not Rated
My Rating: Ages 10 and up
Genre: Action
License: Shareware
Release Year: 1994
Review Published On: July 1st, 2020
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Steam

Save System:

As this is an older game, there is no autosave* feature. Instead, you can save* the game at any time by pressing F2.

To easily pause the game, press P. Pressing ESC* will take you back to the main menu, which might not be where you want to go.

Summary of
Major Issues:

There is some mild violence as you zap monsters with various spells. Many of them can zap your character back, and the rest just scratch or bite. There is no blood or gore.

There are also a lot of references to magic. Most of the time, the Baron's spells are treated as little more than an alternative form of ammunition.

Screenshots

[view screenshot]
Exploring a room

[view screenshot]
An evil lemon monster

[view screenshot]
Gathering map fragments in a Wizard tower



Game Overview

Mystic Towers is an old isometric adventure game that came out for DOS* back in the day. The basic idea behind its gameplay is pretty simple: taking on the role of Baron Baldric, you explore various towers, slay the monsters that are found within, and make it back out again alive. The trick is that every tower is filled with puzzles and a unique roster of monsters, preventing you from getting too comfortable.

Every tower has four things in common. There are always five floors, a Monster Generator is somewhere on the third floor, the entrance is locked with a special hidden key once the Baron enters, and Baldric never brings any spell charges with him from a previous level. From a practical standpoint, this means that your goals are always the same: find a spell charge for the Bomb spell and use it to destroy the Monster Generator.

Once the Monster Generator is out of commission, you can start hunting down the various creatures it created to populate the tower. With the Generator gone, they can't respawn*, and eventually Baron Baldric will be the tower's only inhabitant. At this point, all you need to do is locate the Tower Key, unlock the front door, and leave.

Now, there are two gameplay mode available, and which one you're playing on determines what happens after you leave the tower. The main game mode is called a "Quest Cycle". This mode gives you nine lives* and has you progress through each tower in succession, starting with the "Apprentice" versions of each tower and ending with the "Wizard" version. As you might be able to guess, the "Wizard" variant of each tower has a different layout, more traps, and features other tweaks to make the game harder.

The other game mode is a Practice mode. Here you're given one life and are allowed to choose which of the twelve towers you'd like to explore. Completing a level in this mode simply ends your game without fanfare or applause. This mode is mostly there so you can learn your way around the later levels and develop strategies for beating them.

Despite the high difficulty spike (which can be partially countered by cheat codes*), this is still one of the better games from the DOS* era, and worth a look if you're interested in old school* computer games. At the very least, I'd suggest looking up the title theme on YouTube; it's easily one of the most impressive songs from this time period.

Points of Interest

Practice Mode lets you see what's coming
When you start a new game, you have the option of practicing a tower instead of playing through them all in a pre-determined order. Since the tower layouts aren't random, this is useful for learning your way around later levels without much risk. Alternatively, you can simply practice a specific tower that's giving you trouble in the Quest Cycle mode. Unfortunately, you're limited to one life* in this mode, so you'll need to make it count.
Each tower has two forms
This can make it a bit confusing to talk about the game's level design, as there are six towers but twelve levels. You see, each tower has an "Apprentice" and "Wizard" version. This reflects the difficulty of the level; Wizard towers don't automatically provide a map, their teleport rings don't connect in a sequence, and the tower key can be hidden anywhere. Both versions of a tower use the same set of monsters and level gimmicks, however.
Lots of little secrets
Most of the items you'll come across are in plain view, but there are several exceptions. The designers were fond of using the game's limited viewpoint to hide objects under each other or in the spaces where they can't be seen by the player. In some cases, there are even hidden doorways and secret rooms.

But not every surprise is a good one. Poison tiles are hidden traps that disguise themselves as regular spots on the floor, and there are a couple of traps that zap Baldric with magic. One the plus side, rooms containing poison tiles usually have a mark on one of their walls and you can sometimes see a border on the tiles that activate the magic traps.
Variety in monster designs
Each of the towers has their own unique set of monsters for you to fight. While none of these are simple reskins*, as every type of monster has a unique look and behavior, there are a few things you can expect. For example, every tower has at least one monster that can cast offensive spells, and there's always one rare and very strong monster in the group.
High difficulty
As mentioned above, you're playing with limited lives*. The Quest Cycle game mode expects you to tackle all twelve towers with only nine lives*, forcing you to conserve them. This isn't helped by the traps, most of which can't be dodged when triggered and severely injure the Baron. Healing spells are also in short supply, and some towers have little to no water sources, making it all too easy to die of thirst. Thankfully, there's no autosave*, so if things go especially badly, you can reload a previously saved* game and try again.

Concerns and Issues

Mild violence
None of the monsters found in this game are particularly violent, nor is there any blood or gore. Harming a monster simply makes it flash, and once they have taken enough damage, they'll explode and leave behind a random foodstuff. While it's a bit odd to witness a dragon-like creature pop and leave behind a slice of watermelon or loaf of bread, it's pretty useful during the latter part of the stage as the Baron does need to eat regularly.

Speaking of the Baron, he doesn't react to most monster attacks. He'll just stand there calmly while something chews on him. It's kind of surreal. On the other hand, if his health* runs out, he'll scream and dramatically sink into the floor. If you have spare lives* left, the scene will also just as abruptly reverse itself and he'll rise back up.
Magic
The entire game is filled with magic, though the primary way the player will interact with it is via spells. Baldric can cast ten different spells using his Lazarine Staff, but he needs to have at least one spell charge for a given spell before he can use it. Since most of his spells fire projectiles, this makes it feel less like "magic" and more like using different types of items or like ammunition for an unusual "gun".

Some of the monsters can also cast magical spells -- in particular, they cast the same spells you can use; they just have an unlimited supply of ammo. This detail can get very old very quickly, as offensive magic does a lot more damage than normal monster attacks.
Bizarre monsters
All of the monsters in this game are created by a device called a Monster Generator. This gives the impression that they are just simple constructs, and quite possibly not even really alive in the usual sense of the word. Only a few of them seem to be aware of their surroundings; most of them just wander around until they bump into the Baron, and the magic using monsters aren't intelligent enough to recognize if they're attacking thin air or an actual target.

On a different note, each of the monsters in this game has a very unique design, with only one or two resembling something from mythology. Also, none of them appear scary or demonic, as they all share the same cartoony design as the rest of the game.
Use of alcohol
As you explore the various towers, you'll find various things to eat and drink. Some of the drinks available include are alcoholic, and drinking any of those temporarily makes the Baron drunk. This mostly consists of him "dancing" and making funny faces, but it also makes it a little harder to control his actions. Even though he'll sober up in a few seconds, this may place him in serious danger if monsters are around.
Crude behavior
Similar to the above point, Baron Baldric sometimes performs random actions on his own. This usually takes the form of picking his nose, passing some gas, or another silly tic, but he'll temporarily ignore your input when this happens. If it happens a lot, it can be a little annoying.
Problems with the decor
Some of the objects in the game world, such as sconces, paintings, statues, and so on, depict things that parents may object to. This includes various demons, dragons, and monsters, but it also includes the occasional topless woman. The limited resolution* prevents these images from being too scandalous, but they are present.