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Deathtrap Dungeon (PlayStation) artwork

Deathtrap Dungeon (PlayStation) review

"I have grown to love Deathtrap Dungeon. "

I have grown to love Deathtrap Dungeon.

Still, when I go to sum it up in one word, that word is gonna be 'Savage'.

If I was going to splurge and use two words, I'd say it's 'Really Savage'.
I like 'Tough' or 'Savage' when it's challenging and rewarding of your improving skills in the game, and fortunately, Deathtrap Dungeon is in this category. This adventure has true longevity, if you have the stomach and, yes, the masochistic streak required for it. I will say this up front - if you decide early on in playing that you find Deathtrap Dungeon too harsh, you probably won't revise that opinion.

The easiest reference point would be Tomb Raider, also by Eidos. Superficially, both games have an athletic heroine (or hero) springing their way through dangerous environments, with a roving 3rd-person perspective of the action. Beyond that, the games part ways. DTD (I'll refer to Deathtrap Dungeon as 'DTD' from now on) is a bigger game, far more combat heavy, with nastier and more focused puzzles, and a solid dose of fantasy RPG elements - hit points, magic potions, weapons and armor, spellcasting etc.

You have a choice of 2 adventurers to take into the dungeon: Red Lotus (female) and Chaindog (male). Your choice won't change the play of the game, but obviously changes who you're going to be watching, guiding and listening to the death screams of for months to come. Red Lotus is wearing some amazingly skimpy black 'mistress' outfit ('clothing' is too generous a word), but fortunately everything else about her behaviour suggest she didn't graduate from the EIDOS bimbo academy (unlike Lara Croft...) Things like the way she cuts heads off and emits guttural warcries.

The game concept comes from the eponymous Fighting Fantasy novel. If you've never encountered Fighting Fantasy, it's a 'choose your own adventure' novel with a dice-rolling and roleplaying element. They were a real phenomenon for many years (and are favourites of mine) and spawned a thousand clones and their own spin-offs. DTD was a critical favourite. The ideas, atmospheres, monsters, and of course the traps, have come intact from the book. Anything cerebral has not - the game is gothic hack and slash, puzzling, and survival.

The core storyline of the book launches the game. The title dungeon is the location for a competition for hardened adventurers held by Baron Sukumvit. You play an adventurer who has taken up the challenge, and now must hack and puzzle your way thru 30-something very severe levels to ultimately overcome one very mean Red Dragon, Melkor, and win fabulous riches. Oh, and you'll be freeing the town of Fang from the Baron's grip.

It starts out reasonably easy, with basic switch-finding/door-opening puzzles to deal with, and only a handful of enemies ever attacking at once. Controls are of the action-adventure/survival horror kind - left and right to turn your character, forward and back to start walking. The camera chases you about and mostly does a decent job of showing the perspective you want. You can also run, leap and climb up and down. Before too many levels have passed, you will begin your baptism by fire: Pits, spikes and crushers, monster ambushes, arrows and spears launched from the walls, deadly falls. It's savage, it's dark, and you have no map. You have a supply of chalk with which to make marks on the walls etc.. an atmospheric innovation, but not a really useful one. I find that to beat these hard levels, you must grow to learn them to the extent that the chalk marks are gonna be redundant anyway!

Graphics aren't spectacular. I got this game early in my PSX experience, and have since seen how much nicer a game can look. People and objects are sometimes jagged and the textures aren't really inspiring. The majority are stone and wood, with the banners of your enemies hung about and furniture scattered. Still, it works. The atmosphere is successfully created (lucky the dungeon didn't have to be too well lit). Probably the most important factor overcoming any graphical shortcomings is the scale of the levels. There are tiny tunnels, but there are also huge rooms with openings on multiple floors where you can look up and all around and sense the enormity of the world around you. The levels themselves are huge too. Overall... it's a big game.

Combat is juicy. To me it's the most important ingredient in DTD, and you will get major thrills out of the bloodsoaked medieval chopping that goes on here. Your basic weapon is the sword. With the X button and directional pad you can send your character into a series of stabs, slashes, whirls and leaps which will decapitate goblins, send limbs flying (yes you can see them flying) and spurt blood on all 4 walls (yes, you can then hang around and watch the blood dripping, if you're as sick as I am). Some timing and parrying skills are required, as is judgement of the best kind of attack to use in the circumstances. It's exciting and very satisfying. Your character is a good fighter, but you're not superhuman. If you get outnumbered and surrounded, you'll need to get a bigger boat, uh, I mean, bigger weapons.

Let's stop here for a moment and consider the awesome number and variety of foes you will get to face in DTD. In 'Resident Evil', to make a comparison, we're pretty happy to have maybe 10 different kinds of monsters to fight with. In DTD, there are about 45 entirely individual monsters to deal with. And that's not 45 variations on a theme. Here are some examples -

Imps, the basic enemy soldier, are as tall as your waist. They giggle and chuckle (think Beavis and Butthead and you're there), move in erratic dashes and stab you with little knives. Compare these guys to Warrior Priestesses. They're your size, they're fanatical and somersault and scream on their way into battle. Medusae slither around, trying to smack you from out of your range with long ball and chains. Hive insects can be heard buzzing from a great distance, but attack with frightening suddenness, closing your range in the time it takes to blink. There are gigantic enemies too, who for a change, really are gigantic! 'Automatons' (animated robots) who are 3 stories tall and brandish flamethrowers. Rats that fill a tunnel. A giant hand. Dragons that occupy a whole level. Spiders who spit poison. The list goes on. It's got to be the best lineup of enemies in any similar game I own, or have played, and they really are different to one another.

The game comes with an EXCELLENT 70 page booklet entitled 'The Bestiary', describing all the monsters in detail, suggesting strategies and weaknesses, and with great illustrations too. More games should have genuinely interesting and attractive accompanying documentation like this.

How to deal with all these monsters? There is an equally impressive array of weapons, both melee and missile, normal and magical. There are categories of magic, from black to red to white. Early firearms feature here, as do different kinds of blades which are more or less effective against different enemies. There are 6 missile, 7 melee weapons, and 8 offensive spells, plus 8 more special items which will do all kinds of things - give you psychotic strength or speed, protect you from magic or dragonsbreath, make you invisible etc etc. You will need to command them all. Some of the firearms will make you smile and think of Doom, such as the 'Infernal Device' which is a rocket launcher at heart.

Ok, so that's a lot to think about! But the game is so long you will have time to deal with each element as you are introduced to it.

Well, you also need to negotiate the deathtraps. They can be arbitrary. Remember, this is Deathtrap Dungeon, built by a sadistic baron. He's rarely going to warn you that the door is about to lock and that the room will fill with fiery death. The surprises are often cruel - that is the idea. You may bang your head. But the save points are well chosen. Before a really nasty enemy or trap, there will generally be a save point. It's not one of these games that will force you to do lots of really hard work, And kill a boss, before it will let you save. So if you keep that in mind, and get into the cruel spirit of the game, you will enjoy the heightened sense of danger. You'll need to like it, for few games are as dangerous as this one! If you don't like the idea of this (and it's somewhat atypical game design) - you will not like this game one bit.

Sonically, it's a fairly blunt game. Basic sound effects are all solid enough, your own screams and grunts, your footsteps, and the sword shreddings of combat - but the enemies' sounds aren't as varied as the enemies themselves. The majority are of a fairly guttural quality, and won't key you in to the presence of a particular enemy, with a few exceptions.

The music is never very sophisticated either. In a way this doesn't worry me - droning, slightly unremarkable music is suitable for levels of this length. You will spend a lot of time exploring, and more involving music might distract. Though the 'charging battle' music is just downright annoying. It's the supernatural sound effects that are the best - the sounds made by your spells when you launch them, or the pulsing of a save game area. Maybe these needed to be a bit more focused. You can often hear the pulsing from too far away for it to be useful in tracking the source of the sound down.

So the looks and sounds of DTD are a bit ragged. If you demand the 'highest tech' graphics and sounds, that might put you off. But basically, DTD has got supreme and very challenging gameplay. It has huge levels, tons of combat action and blood, tons of enemies, tons of spells and tons of weapons. It can keep you busy for months. If you can complete it, you can feel pretty macho and brag about it, as I know for a fact that many many gamers give up. The game has an unpopular reputation in that respect. Many players even make it through all the levels, only to give up on the last battle in the game, with the red dragon Melkor. Yes, Melkor can be that hard. Hence, I suggest the masochistic streak in your personality. DTD is always hard, but never ridiculous. So you will feel an amazing sense of toughness and achievement if you can best it.

In my final score for DTD, I subtract a couple of points basically for the slight rawness of the technical qualities of the game. Everything else about the game is huge, numerous, and tough, and completely absorbing. I think Deathtrap Dungeon is a great fantasy adventure game. Just remember that it requires a certain kind of hardcore mentality to see it through.

Deathtrap Dungeon - 8/10

bloomer's avatar
Community review by bloomer (March 07, 2004)

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zippdementia posted June 03, 2010:

Nice to see a review for DTD up here! I once-upon-a-time owned the original book. Think I sold it, though... did you ever get into Lone Wolf, Bloomer?
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overdrive posted June 03, 2010:

I never had the Deathtrap Dungeon book (or game, for that matter), but I did buy the "sequel" to it, which took place in a revamped Deathtrap Dungeon ("Trial of Champions"). Of the Fighting Fantasy series, that particular one basically took its flaws and multiplied them times about 6,000,000,000,000.

To survive the dungeon, you had NO ROOM for error, as you had to collect all of these gold rings, find three sets of numbers; solve a riddle or three AND conclude with about 2-3 battles against foes that were at the maximum difficulty level you could get in those books. Evil stuff...
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zippdementia posted June 03, 2010:

That was kind've the point of Fighting Fantasy, though, right? The game style was "the one true path" and the challenge was finding that path over multiple play throughs. You almost never made it on the first go. The cruelest (but also probably the coolest) of the series was Creature of Havoc where you don't even know what you are and your instincts take over in the form of random rolls that decide which direction you go in certain paths.

Of course, some of these paths make the book unbeatable which means you have to roll the right random number in order to proceed.

Different from, say, Lone Wolf, which had one true ending but multiple paths to get there.
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overdrive posted June 03, 2010:

Yes and no. Yes in the fact that FF games were "one true path" games and you would need to go through them a few times to get them, but No in the sense that Trial of Champions took things to a truly sadistic level.

In the other 2-3 FF books I went through, there was at least a little margin for doing things a bit differently. There always were certain items and stuff that you needed to get, but there was a bit of non-linearity to them. In this one, you have NO wiggle room. You have to essentially find the correct path and not deviate one inch from it, as going down this corridor instead of that one would mean you'd miss a gold ring (of which there were 8-9) or set of numbers. And that would mean you would die eventually.

I guess my problem with that book was that it eliminated ALL aspects of you having any control over things. You had to follow a set path perfectly while, of course, surviving luck-testing rolls and winning battles (some of which were among the most brutal in FF series' history).
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zippdementia posted June 03, 2010:

I never made it to Trial of Champions, so my knowledge is limited, but it reminds me greatly (from the sounds of it) like Citadel of Chaos, with those damn... what were they called?... Gamgees?
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sashanan posted June 03, 2010:

I've played a number of FF books over the years and recently (well, two years ago, heh) picked up a couple that I found for cheap. The margin for error varies per book, and is usually on the steep side, but I remember Deathtrap Dungeon as being particularly nasty.

One of my all time favorites, City of Thieves, has a couple of moments where taking the right path is necessary to collect the items you require to proceed to the endgame. At that point, if you follow the rules to the letter, you have three ingredients and have to make a choice of two of them to mix a poison for the Big Bad out of. Of the three possible combinations, only one is correct, and only at the very end (if you get that far) do you find out if your choic worked or not.

Of course anybody who does play the game and makes the wrong choice at that point just flips back through the pages and tries again until they get it right, rather than starts from the beginning. But that kind of cheating is not just extremely common in CYOA style books, I think it is kind of expected too.
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zippdementia posted June 03, 2010:

Recall, too, that the video games that existed at the time when these books first came out were on the level of pacman and donkey kong. Great games, but not something to fill your evening with. Having a reason to read an adventure over and over was appreciated back then.

We're a faster-paced culture now, but gamebooks seem to be making a comeback! Joe Dever (creator of Lone Wolf), in an interesting interview, said it's because books have suddenly become convenient again. You can shove them in a bag or a pocket, they don't weight 25 pounds or cost 3,000 dollars, and you can read them in the bath with little fear of damaging them or the need to plug them in.

Anyway, they'll always have a place in my heart. There was a period in my pre-teens where Lone Wolf and Choose Your Own were the most common books to see in my hands.
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zigfried posted June 04, 2010:

The three best Fighting Fantasies out of the first 21 (because that's all that the US got -- I never even knew the series continued until my Australian friend brought some with him to college):

Forest of Doom
Deathtrap Dungeon
House of Hades

Note -- those are in order of release, not in order of greatness. I actually created a ROM 2.3 MUD area based on House of Hades, my love for that book was so great.

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bloomer posted June 04, 2010:

Hades? That must be 'House of Hell' but with the name changed to 'Hades' for the US market.

Thanks for reading another of my 10 years ago reviews Zipp. I reread it and it's alright for y2k vintage.

Re: what Sash was saying, FF's vary enormously in (non-cheating) difficulty depending on the author. The best known of the least forgiving ones were mostly written by Ian Livingstone. Everyone here mentioned Deathtrap Dungeon, and Trial of Champions - those are both his. Crypt of the Sorcerer is also superbitchy. There's a remarkable section where you have to go out of your way to behave badly (-3 luck points for disturbing a gravesite, etc... the book seems to send signal after signal that you are doing the wrong thing) but that's all just preamble to getting an item essential to prevent death later.

I actually think the most insane ones were written by Robin Waterfield, including Phantoms of Fear and Masks of Mayhem. The latter for instance suddenly asks at the end of the book if you have any idea who the master villain is. If you do, you'll know what paragraph to turn to. The only place the villain's name appeared was back in the introduction to the book, where a paragraph number is embedded in his name.... stuff like that.

I have 45 of the 59 FF's now. Some of them are becoming very expensive to buy on Ebay.

I love Citadel of Chaos. I just felt it had killer atmosphere, especially the illustrations. Yeah, the Gangees drove me insane!

I have 2 Lone Wolf books. Shadow on the Sand I got in year 5 I think, and my friend and I went apeshit over it. But I never had another one til a few years ago, when I picked up the very first Lone Wolf from a 2nd hand book fair. Haven't played it yet.

I also have issues 1-3 of Warlock magazine, which include the original short versions of Caverns of the Snow Witch and House of Hell.
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sashanan posted June 04, 2010:

I remember Forest of Doom as actually being fairly forgiving. As I recall, if you make it out of the Forest without the required items, you are allowed to circle back and go through again with the same character, though obviously that has the odd result of all encounters having respawned.

One scene in Forest of Doom that I still remember is where you can end up falling into a pit trap and breaking a leg, forcing you to wait for it to heal - better have enough rations left or you starve right there and then.
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bloomer posted June 04, 2010:

Forest of Doom is forgiving. If you're referring to my Ian Livingstone observation, remember this was only the 3rd FF book, and the books didn't even have numbers at that point. When the popularity levels got high enough, they rebranded the earliest books with numbers, brought in more authors to help, and generally the possibilities for really savage or tricky books to cater for experienced players jacked up a lot.
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zippdementia posted June 04, 2010:

Lone Wolf has had a HUGE revival. Not only are they reprinting all the books, they've also released a few pen-and-paper RPGs and have a video game coming out sometime next year from the makers of Gungrave (there's a long history behind the development that I'm not going to go into right now).

Probably best of all, though, is Project Aon. Here you can play all the original Lone Wolf books for free online, in a handy HTML format. This is thanks to Joe Dever letting the license go to the project so they could do this.

Play Lone Wolf online
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sashanan posted June 04, 2010:

That reminds me that every so often I have vague plans to turn one of the books into text adventure format, obviously also handling character creation and having a combat engine. I really need to put that idea into practice someday. Maybe with Warlock of Firetop Mountain. It can only turn out better than the DS game from what I hear.
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zigfried posted June 04, 2010:

I started to make a text adventure out of Talisman of Death. I didn't get very far, as I was significantly expanding each scene, but it does feature the following:

* trolls and living statues!
* a combat system that incorporates graphical lifebars and MUD-style battle messages!
* an old wise man, who you can beat the shit out of!
* the old wise man's corpse, which you can beat the shit out of!
* a maze of twisty passages, all alike!

I'll dig it up and post it for download/playing sometime, although it is terribly unfinished.

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overdrive posted June 04, 2010:

I've only done 3 Fighting Fantasy books, Zipp, so that Citadel of Chaos deal is unfamiliar to me. What's the issue with that monster or whatever you mentioned?

My three were "Trial of Champions", which I've described my feelings about.

The "Snow Witch" one, which was more lenient, although still brutal, was kind of neat. You kill the Snow Witch about 2/3 of the way through it, but you and one of two prisoners you rescued are cursed by a slow-acting poison-curse deal, which leads to you having to get cured before the gradual loss of HP kills you.

A Samurai one I have kicked ass. You also had "Honor" as a stat and if you acted in a way that stripped you of all your honor, you immediately "game over'd". It was really neat in that you had two plot branches. Each one potentially gave you 3/6 of the book's summons. Late in the book, you fight a demon who summons three monsters. You have to guess what summon to use on what monster. You get all three right and you only have to fight the demon. BUT, you only auto-lose the book if you didn't get any of the three summons from your path (you get overwhelmed with the battles).

Also have about 3 Lone Wolf and 3 spin-off Grey Wolf books. Lone Wolf is a series that you either do ALL the books or you cheat, as I learned because the first book I played was the third. You get the Sommersword in the second. In the third (and future books), there are a number of times where you are disadvantaged (or simply fucked) if you don't have it. And of course, being able to add new powers for each book you do is HUGE. That's what makes Project Aon so awesome...I can do the books like they were meant to be done, instead of pretending I had all the stuff you're potentially able to obtain throughout earlier books.

Along those lines...Zipp, what is the bizarre deal with Cauldron of Fear and how the Sommersword is devastating to you for the final battle? If you have it, the dude is 44CS/50life. If you don't have it, he's 34/40...and you get the ability to potentially one-hit him if you have a magic dagger. It goes against the entire grain of the series (that the Sommersword is this holy weapon of goodness) when possessing it makes a villain near-impossible to beat (as opposed to simply very tough...or an auto-win).

One I really liked was the GrailQuest series. Entertaining writing and a neat vibe, where you get TONS of items that give you huge battle advantages over most foes, but there is a HUGE emphasis on puzzle-solving and being thorough (which is marred a bit by a couple cheap auto-deaths just for going everywhere you can). You have the same mandatory-fetch-questing that the most cruel FF games have, but you can repeatedly visit places if you screw up.
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sashanan posted June 04, 2010:

I've made one attempt on Snow Witch (a book that was played into my hands because an ex of my girlfriend at the time had left it with her and never reclaimed it so she passed it on). I never reached the Snow Witch, I eventually got killed because I lacked an item I was supposed to pick up somewhere earlier. So straight out traditional stuff. I'll have to retry it, and the other 10 or so unplayed books I have, someday.

Citadel of Chaos is the one where you're a mage's apprentice and you pick out what spells to take along when you create your character, right? Awesome one, that. It also has an anti-cheating measure in that you have to piece together the code to a combination lock to get to the final battle, and when you are at that point in the story, it simply tells you to go to the paragraph number that is equal to the code. Oops. A similar thing is done by sci fi FF book 'Starship Traveller', which also had such other neat features as a crew to pick away mission members from and phaser battles (stamina it not involved - you get hit, you're gone).
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bloomer posted June 05, 2010:

Heh, lots of us tried to do the text adventure conversion, then.

I started turning 'Khare, Cityport of Traps' into a computerised version when I was a kid. It had no parser, you just picked options from a list like you would in the book. After doing the first scene from the book the program had already used 20% of the Apple II's RAM. I only know that now, but what was still obvious at the time was -- this is too much work.
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bloomer posted June 05, 2010:

Re: Snow Witch...

Yeah, that was Ian Livingstone's savagery again.

The reason that it (weirdly) has you offing the Snow Witch halfway through is that it was originally published as a half-length adventure in the FF magazine, Warlock, which concluded with the Witch's death.

To publish it as a book, they needed to double the length, hence the addition of the post Snow Witch adventure. And maybe some pre, too.

What was cool was the 2 versions had completely different artwork, as well.
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bloomer posted June 05, 2010:

Re: Sword of the Samurai (OD's one)

Yeah, that was way cool. I also found it extremely hard. I last played it a year or two ago while on holiday.

The 2 guys who wrote that, and Talisman of Death, took the Ninja-y world they used as their setting there and produced their own series of excellent gamebooks with a Ninja theme, the 'Avenger' series.

There's also an Avenger videogame or 2 for the c64.
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overdrive posted June 05, 2010:

That makes sense (re: Snow Witch), then. There is a prelude to her dungeon where you're helping some dudes living in the vicinity with a yeti-like thing, that leads to you getting dumped into her place.

The book is probably 20% prelude to Snow Witch's Lair; 50% Snow Witch's Lair and 30% Post-Snow Witch's Lair. Or 15-50-35.
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zippdementia posted June 05, 2010:

To OD:

@Citadel of Chaos: First of all, it was written by Ian Livingstone, who has been adequately described as masochistic in his writing. Citadel is one of those book where there are three separate "road blocks" that you have to pass and you can only pass them by having gone the right path, fought the right battles (and run from the right battles, too!) to get all the required items. There may be one place where you can have one or two different items to pass, but I can't recall. Probably not as harsh, still, as the one you describe, but to someone coming from Lone Wolf, where the "one-true-path" is the one you make, it was quite a jolt.

Speaking of which...

@ Lone Wolf: of course this has come up before in fan discussions. I even had the opportunity to clarify it with Dever himself, so we've pretty much got it squared away by this point.

Basically, Joe Dever kind've screwed himself by (as you point out) giving the Sommerswerd too early in the series and having it give too big a bonus, a !@#$! +8 to CS! (I would later fix this in my own editions of the series by having the SS give a DAMAGE and not a CS bonus)

Anyway, it gave him a masterful headache in trying to fix the Enemy CS. If you recall, LW can start with anywhere from 10-20 CS. Add the 8 from Sommerswerd and you have potentially a range of 18 to correct for! His answer was to "punish" players with the SS by giving them harder end-of-book fights, thus evening out the difficulty.

It felt forced, though. I personally think he should've had the Sommerswerd stolen or broken somewhere in the Magnakai series (this can actually happen in a couple of books... Castle Death being the first to spring to mind).

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