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The Black Skull
(Iodine Software)


"Hand-to-hand combat amidst a world of turn-based RPGs"

Get ready for some classic sword-swinging action, because The Black Skull is a game that offers medevil battles in the form of unit-to-unit attacks. Walk along the forest, searching for missions that will bring you closer and closer to the Black Skull.

There are two types of characters to choose from in the Black Skull. One character is a fighter, a master of hand-to-hand combat. The other type is a mage capable of long-range attacks and healing spells. A balance of these forces will be needed to overcome the never-ending onslaught of skeletons and goblins.

Graphics (n.)
The use of animation and visual effects to stimulate the senses
(Very Poor) I really hate handing out Very Poor graphic ratings to QB programmers, who are usually more noted for their programming skills than their artistic ability. But when I see a game that commits technical and artistic flaws the way Black Skull managed to execute it, I had no other alternative.

All the action in The Black Skull takes place on what appears to be a 16-color, 640*480 mode. The hero, who is tacked onto the screen like a black post-it slip, travels around towns and forests while occasionally encountering other lowly-detailed enemies.

But what makes The Black Skull really difficult to play is the flickering. Usually if the sprites within the game flicker and the graphics are under average, that's still enough to give the game a one-star rating. But in this game the whole TOWN flickers! There's no fancy scrolling-effect. The game literally erases what's on the screen and re-draws everything, causing a blinking effect that makes this game very hard to enjoy.

Sound/Music (n.)
The smooth blend of atmospheric sounds and original harmonies
There's PC sound, but the music sure isn't Beethoven; random notes that hang in Windows make the game's ambiance discomforting.
Gameplay (n.)The precision of control and involvement of character within its universe (Very Poor) Black Skull is essentially a variant of the good old Dungeons and Dragons formula for making an RPG. The first step is character generation, which give you a few dicerolls to determine how strong your character will be at the beginning of the game. Then, you're brought to the first town. After purchasing some weapons and armor, you begin to walk your merry way outside of town, searching for some heinous creatures to attack.

This is where Black Skull takes a real departure from the usual turn-based battles that make up QBRPGs. Black Skull's battle system is inspired by a mixture of Zelda II and the FCI Ultima games. Here's how it works: while walking around in the terrain you can see the enemies walking toward you. You can try to walk past them for a while, but if the enemies catch up with you the game shifts to a battle screen. In that battle screen your character has to move around a grid, battling enemies and making sure he doesn't get surrounded by too many creatures.

Although the battle system is somewhat intuitive, the rest of the game's aspects fall short. The enemies are ridiculously strong, and you earn gold pretty slowly. After a while, the battles get monotonous. Also, the interaction you have in towns and in battle is governed by a clumsy menu system.

Story (n.)
The creativity and presentation of the game's critical plot
(Very Poor) I tried playing this game for about two hours, giving it a real spin and hoping that there would be some plot which I could reward with some story points. But after much exploration, I discovered that Black Skull lacks a plot, has only two towns, and has only a limited set of enemies to attack. It was particularly disappointing that the game laughs at you whenever you lose. Gigantic "Ha Ha" signs plop up on the screen until an even bigger "You Lose" shows up in the very middle. I was thinking to myself, "Well, if this is the most dialogue I can get from this game, then this game deserves no story points."
Replay Value (n.)
The timelessness of the gamer's delight, such that the experience can be repeated again and again
(Very Poor) From Black Skull I noticed a serious lack of depth. It would have been nice if Iodine Software added some dimension in battle. Perhaps a magic spell or two, or some advanced battle tactics. Alas, Black Skull does not have either.

However, Black Skull's lackluster effort for visual effects is probably what hurts this game the most. The graphics look too simple, especially for the seasoned QBRPG veteran. The flickering problem doesn't help either, as it becomes painful just to look at the game.

Challenge (v.)
To strike the mental nerve in such a way as to stimulate human thought and reflexes
The game's enemies remain a constant strength. The key to beating this game will be purchasing the right weapons and armor right off the bat (typically the most expensive available). If you're patient enough to battle for a few more gold pieces, the armor will make you strong enough that the game won't get much harder.
Fun Factor (n.)
The overall entertainment value as maintained throughout the adventure
(Very Poor) It's really too bad that Iodine Software isn't around anymore. The Black Skull is a representation of some ideas that haven't been introduced to QB before, like movement-based battles similar to Koei's Inindo and the early Ultima series within an original looking world. But it's a shame that the execution of these ideas were far from perfect. Most of the problem of this game lied in simple things like flickering and graphic glitches. A lot of games can compensate with an excellent story or some solid gameplay. Sadly Black Skull offers such play options, but it's just too painful for the eyes.
Players 1 player Genre: Role Playing Game
Rating To solve: 5 min Final Rating: 2/35

To download this game, click here.
Installation Tips
wTo run this game, you must have any version of Microsoft QuickBasic.
wTo play Black Skull, unzip the file and run "BSKULL.BAS" from QuickBasic.

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