Towers II: Plight of the Stargazer, Atari Jaguar

Towers II: Plight of the Stargazer is a rarity on the Atari Jaguar – it’s a first-person 3D Role-Playing Game, in the style of Ultima Underworld, The Elder Scrolls: Arena, or the early King’s Field games, and it’s probably the only RPG that was ever officially released for the console. The game does look pretty grim, but thankfully plays better than it looks.

Towers II is the sequel to Towers: Lord Baniff’s Deceit, which first came out on the Atari ST in 1993, followed by an MS-DOS version in 1994, and then a Game Boy Color version in 2000. The basic aim of the game is to make your way up a tower that is 20 floors tall and to defeat the evil astronomer, Lord Daggan, who resides at the top.

The first order of business is to choose one of four characters and to roll/re-roll their stats to your liking, then you need to figure out how to play the game. Thankfully it’s not too difficult to work out (especially if you’ve read the manual first). The ‘A’ button toggles between movement and a hand cursor (for picking things up, opening doors and manipulating items in the environment and the inventory); the ‘B’ button is attack (when in movement mode) and use/pick up (when in hand cursor mode), and the ‘C’ button casts spells (when spells have been learnt). Player movement is via the d-pad, plus you can sidestep left and right by pressing the ‘4’ and ‘6’ buttons respectively. Pressing ‘9’ brings up an auto-map that fills-out as you explore, and a compass in the top right of the screen helps you stay oriented. To save the game you must press ‘Option’ while the game is paused.

You begin on the lowest floor of Daggan’s tower and find various NPCs walking around (mop-carrying janitors mostly, who you can talk to by clicking ‘B’ with the hand cursor on them, but to be honest it’s not really worth the hassle – just kill them and take any keys they have), as well as the occasional guard, thief or monster (which you must kill and rob of their items, if they have any). If you find any food or useful items you can put them into the slots in your inventory, which can be expanded in size by carrying the backpack found at the start of the game. To eat food or read parchments you must be holding them with the hand cursor and then press ‘B’ while they’re over your character’s portrait.

Your character’s health is indicated by the green bar at the top of the screen (the blue bar is your mana level) and being damaged will deplete it. To replenish your health (and mana) you can sleep by pressing the ‘3’ button. You can’t sleep while you’re hungry, but you can sleep at any time/place otherwise, even if there are hostiles around. If your health drops to zero you’ll die and the game will end. If that happens you can “resurrect” your character via the main menu, which is essentially just re-loading a saved game. There are two types of saved game in Towers II. A full save will record everything you’ve done so far, but will only work while the console is switched on (which is basically just a RAM save). To save the game so that you can turn the Jaguar off and return to continue later you must use an EEPROM save, which saves only the most important changes to the cartridge itself. If you re-load an EEPROM save then some monsters that you killed previously may come back, unless you’ve killed the entire monster group, in which case that is saved to the EEPROM.

Casting spells requires that you first find a spell and then duplicate it onto your spell canvas. When you’ve done that you can then select it (using the ‘7’ button), then cast it with the ‘C’ button. At least while you have enough mana to do so.

Puzzles in Towers II are mostly about finding keys to unlock doors, or switches to open secret passages, and occasionally pulling chains in the correct order to unlock or activate something. Combat is real-time and requires very little skill, other than having to chase down opponents who run away, and making sure you’re equipped with the appropriate weapons, armour and spells to be able to withstand whatever level enemies you’re fighting. As you kill more and more enemies your level will eventually increase, improving your character’s attack and defence abilities (which can be viewed by pressing ‘2’).

One thing I didn’t much like about Towers II is that you have to kill ‘friendly’ NPCs to acquire certain items to progress the quest. Killing a non-hostile janitor for an essential key just seems unnecessary to me, and is also poorly thought-out. But Towers II is exactly that kind of game: a poorly thought-out one. It’s as clunky as hell, and the controls are slow and cumbersome, but there is something intriguing about it that makes it compelling.

I first heard about Towers II recently through a YouTube video where the presenter mentioned that it was one of the more valuable Jaguar cartridges – because it was originally only available via mail order, or from a select few retailers, and also because it’s the only RPG on the Jaguar. It’s certainly not because of the game’s overall quality… That said: as bad as Towers II looks, it is playable and does have an archaic, nostalgic charm to it – in the same way that the first Elder Scrolls game does, or the early King’s Field games do. Everyone knows that they look awful, but people still enjoy playing them regardless.

Towers II was developed by JV Enterprises and published by Telegames in 1996. An Atari Falcon version was released first – in 1995, and a Windows version followed in 1997.

More: Towers II: Plight of the Stargazer on Wikipedia

Towers II Atari Jaguar controls:

A = Toggles between movement and hand cursor.
B = Attack/action (pick up, select, drop).
C = Cast active spell.

1 = Inventory/Portrait
2 = Character Statistics
3 = Sleep
4 = Slide left
6 = Slide right
7 = Cycle through spells
8 = More/Clear
9 = Map

While Paused:
Option = Load/Save/Settings
A = Modify music volume
B = Modify sound effects volume

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