Palace Software‘s 1985 release Cauldron is one of those games that looks great, but is so difficult that it is not much fun to play overall.
If you play the game without cheats, you’ll need superhuman powers to get anywhere. And – even if you play the game with cheats – it’s liable to send you potty with frustration.
You play a witch who flies around on a broom and must find four keys allowing her access to a number of hidden chambers, each containing a special item needed to beat the evil Pumpkin Lord who resides at the end of the quest.
That would be simple enough, if it wasn’t for the game’s strange and archaic (and very annoying) mechanics. For example: the witch – once flying – can only land in clearings. Trying to land on trees or mountains results in the loss of one ‘Hag’. Positioning the witch so that she lines-up with the clearings is, frankly, ridiculous. What I mean by that is: the process the programmer chose for this is ridiculous. It doesn’t work, is confusing, unfair, and… well, stupid. Had a bit more thought (and fairness) gone into that particular feature, then the game would almost certainly have been better.
Other annoyances are: being attacked from behind while flying and not being able to do anything about it; having to make ‘blind jumps’ into new screens; getting trapped in dead ends; unfair platform collision detection… The list goes on. Cauldron very firmly comes from a time when a lot of home computer game developers didn’t care about making their games fair…
Which is a real pity because Cauldron looks amazing. The scrolling is silky smooth; the sprites are great; the graphics overall are beautifully-drawn. Don’t be fooled, though. Cauldron is a bastard of a game and only hacking can save it.
A better sequel – Cauldron II: The Pumpkin Strikes Back – followed in 1986.
More: Cauldron on Wikipedia