Taking Kingdom of Kroz out for a test drive

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1987’s Kingdom of Kroz. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

A decade ago — when most of you were suckling infants, I assume — I spoke with fondness of an old ASCII puzzle/adventure game I used to play as a kid named Kroz. The game was named Kroz, not me. It featured very simplistic “graphics” but fiendishly addicting gameplay as the player adventurer sought to progress through many levels of a strange land.

The full Kroz series was released as freeware a while back, with 3D Realms saying, “Kroz holds a special place in the history of Apogee. It’s the original game in the company history. It’s recognized as ‘The first Apogee game,’ and it was released in late 1987. There actually were a few games put out before that using the name Apogee, but that was just Scott Miller solo projects, and not as ‘Apogee’ (the company). An awful lot of people owe their livelyhood to this 22 year old silly (by today’s standards) ASCII game. ”

Despite the nostalgia goggles I have for Kroz, I haven’t touched it since I was a pre-teen. That’s all going to change today as we dive into the 1987 original, Kingdom of Kroz!

So here’s the full game screen for Kroz. It’s deceptively simple: You use the number pad to move in eight directions (you’re the little red ASCII face) in an attempt to grab goodies and reach the exit. Gems are used as life, whips clear out a path all around you, teleports throw you somewhere random on the screen, and various keys and scrolls and traps do other things.

What made Kroz so intense — even today, I was on the edge of my chair — is that it’s a real-time game. The enemies (the weird red As and green Os up there) are always gunning for you, so you have to move fast. You can position yourself so enemies kill themselves on destructible walls, but otherwise, it’s usually futile to attack them with the whip. Just juke and run and try to get as much as you can before reaching the exit.

There are so many different types of levels, and ones like this are designed to freak you out. Basically, it throws you into an enormous, mostly empty room full of enemies, and you got to BOOK IT to the exit. The only advantage you have is that you move faster than the bad guys. But, as you can see, there are so many of them…

I always loved the little notes and other details that Scott Miller left in these levels. His level design is downright fiendish… and creative. Sometimes you got levels where everything was side-view rather than top down, making you consider gravity. Here, the very deadly blue enemies make it a rush to the exit… but I want those whips so badly!

And I need those whips, too, because the next level here requires a lot of dirt breaking. It’s entirely possible to get into a no-win scenario by lacking enough whips to win this level, meaning a restore or a complete game restart.

Anyway, that’s all the time I had today to play Kroz during my lunch break — but it was a really fun trip back down memory lane! The original Kingdom of Kroz had 25 levels, but all of the games combined racked up to over 200 levels. I don’t think I ever beat all of it.

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