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The Dark Spire review

Relentlessly old-school dungeon-crawling meant for just one type of gamer


  • Amazing soundtrack and accompanying CD
  • Two modes of play
  • The retro charm (if that's your kinda thing)


  • Insane difficulty
  • Clunky interface
  • No stylus support

The Dark Spire centers on the classic first-person, dungeon-crawling style of play made popular by such games as Wizardry or The Bard's Tale, with rules similar to Dungeons & Dragons. It's definitely a refreshing twist on modern role-playing games (like Oblivion), but its blindly faithful reproduction of the classics turn what could have been a nostalgic romp into a rather irritating game.

Your quest begins in typical old-school fashion, providing you with the option of using preset characters or rolling your own. We loved customizing our characters but were disappointed to discover that it's a tedious process. The most interesting part about creating your own characters is spending a little time to roll excellent stats. The Dark Spire makes this difficult; what could have been a lot of fun gets bogged down by a clunky interface (which unfortunately is a recurring theme throughout the game).

Furthermore, freshly created characters begin at level 1 and the four preset characters begin at level 2. This means that the boring ol' preset characters see a significant advantage, especially when 1st level mages have only a few hit points, easily dying from a single attack. It's a baffling design choice when creating characters in other games is so much fun and usually has advantages over the presets.

Next up, you're tossed into a dungeon for training. Here you're taught the basics of the game and introduced to the quirky dialogue which usually lies somewhere between humorous and just weird. After completing the training, you're told that you must go to the Dark Spire tower, defeat the sorcerer Tyrhung and retrieve a stolen royal treasure. From this point, you can select from the few places to visit in town, or enter the tower.

Exploring the tower provides a similar experience to that of other grindy dungeon-crawlers, but again the obtuse interface gets in the way. For example, your movement through the labyrinth is mapped, but there is no indicator showing where you are or which direction you're facing. To get this information, you must cast a spell called "Visum Situs." While this may be a design choice made out of nostalgia, all it made us remember is how obnoxious this was in the classic games too. Would it have killed the developers to include an easier way of charting your progress?

More info

GenreRole Playing
DescriptionThe Dark Spire certainly attained its goal of creating an homage to classic dungeon-crawling RPGs, but its confusing design choices and unforgiving gameplay may turn off anyone born after 1990.
US censor rating"Everyone 10+"
UK censor rating""
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)