Mystic Towers: Out of the retirement home

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1994’s Mystic Towers. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I can’t tell you how often I have this urge to take all of these interesting and amazing computer games that I somehow missed from my youth, package them up, and send them back through a wormhole to my teenage self to enjoy with all the copious amounts of time he has. One of those titles would definitely be Mystic Towers, but as always with this series, better late than never!

Mystic Towers caught my attention this past year with a screenshot. There’s something about the three-quarters 3D view here that is instantly appealing, especially with the colorful fantasy graphics and the idea of a dungeon crawler puzzle solver. I’ve been dying to play this for a while, so let’s get into it!

The splash screen warns me that this product is NOT shareware and should not be reposted on a BBS. Oh, is there anything more ’90s than that statement? Other than the EVGA graphics and Apogee logo, I mean.

Woo boy, there is a lot going on in this screen. So from what I can deduce, you play this very old sorcerer who is trying to climb up multiple floors of a tower. Only by beating all of the monsters and destroying the generator can you unlock the next floor. Since everything is at an angle, moving and facing directions is a little awkward… at least at first. I’m going to have to read up on this one.

The controls really take some getting used to. Due to the isometric perspective, moving is at an angle — as is interacting with objects and attacking. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to defeat this non-attacking bug with my ice spells due to it wandering off the straight line that I was shooting.

So this isn’t really a dungeon crawler in the vein of Diablo, but rather a puzzle games with occasional combat. You explore the floors, pick up useful spells and items, defeat monsters, and unlock sections until you get where you need to be.

Pro-tip: Don’t eat the mushrooms UNLESS you’re poisoned. Otherwise you’ll die right away. Good to know.

Other than the difficulty in trying to handle combat at an angle, my only other initial gripe with Mystic Towers is the use of CTRL at your catch-all “use” button. The problem with this is that it’s all context-sensitive: If there’s something in the game world that you can interact with, this button will do that, otherwise it defaults to firing off your selected spell. And since all of your spells — save for ice — have limited charges, it’s really easy to waste shots. So I’ve gotten paranoid about switching to ice unless I’m gearing up for combat.

Well, “gearing up” as much as an old guy going commando under a robe can, really.

One other factor that you have to consider is food and water. Yup, years before “survival games” were all the craze, Mystic Towers had you track those annoying food and drink meters. The tower has plenty of these items, but I’m still a little annoyed by the timer function that they serve. I’d rather explore without having to rush.

Still, every room here is a treat. I like taking this tower one bite-sized room at a time and looking around for secrets and interactions.

Not that a video game from 25 years ago is taking any of my calls today, but I would advise that Mystic Towers would’ve been better off without combat. It’s easily the most awkward part of the game due to the diagonal facing and enemies’ tendencies to continually move around until you really, really tick them off with enough attacks so that they come straight at you. In my opinion, this game would’ve functioned a whole lot better as a pure puzzle game than this hybrid format.

This dragon looks so, so sad. I guess I’d be, too, if I was given a job of holding a red-hot bowl of fire on my back and stuck in a lonely room.

I’m sad to say this, but I’m just not feeling it with this game the way I had hoped. I really do love the premise and the graphics, but the actual gameplay isn’t hitting my fancy. I feel like I’m meandering about without any direction or even understanding what’s a puzzle, and I would like to move on to another game.

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