Insert Disk collects House of Death for the Oric 1.
Today’s retro game review is House of Death for the Oric 1. This retro gaming classic is a horror text adventure game. You find yourself entering a haunted house trying to recover a set of lost treasures. Be prepared though for some great logical problems to solve and an un-nerving dose of old school horror gaming action. House of Death may be one of the most obscure horror games you will ever play but it’s definitely worth collecting if you are a fan of the Oric microcomputer.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. Prepare to be scared, very scared in this horror themed episode. Now I play a lot of horror games but very few ever succeed in making me jump. Today’s game though genuinely startled me and hopefully it will make you jump too by the end of this episode. Grab your garlic and pack your spare pair of underpants as we enter the House of Death.
Firstly I have to say, please leave you pre-conceptions at the door and go with me on this one. There’s no fancy graphics, minimal sound and no gimmicks. House of Death is an exercise in imagined fear, a psychological fear if you will. It’s also a game that very few have ever played and even less have completed it (more on this later). House of Death was released in 1984 for the Oric 1 and Oric Atmos. For most gamers born after 1990 you may have to do a bit of research on this microcomputer. The entry level Oric 1 boasted a 16kb memory and a whopping 1MHz MOS CPU.
In short, the Oric 1 is a system now helplessly out gunned by the technology that runs in your clock radio.
Don’t be fooled though, where there’s obscure systems and dead formats there are gems to collect. House of Death is one such game. So, as you’ve hopefully guessed this is a text adventure game. As such the game play is very much an intimate experience with the gamer. The box instructions give you the basics of what you need to get started. The main commands of Go, Get, Drop, Inventory, Score, Save, Load, Examine and Look. You’ll use these commands to interact with your environment. The box is in some ways fascinating. This sentence is great “House of Death adventure is not one of those “Cheapo” games – you may need to try to phrase things in different ways”. To be fair the game certainly isn’t one of those “Cheapo” games. If you can let yourself engage with it you’ll find yourself slowly drawn in to its charming dark ambiance.
Before starting the game you can elect to read the setup instructions and you can even select the font colour. I’ve gone for a scary blood red. The aim of the game is to recover 5 treasures within the haunted mansion. As the cover states, “All things are logical, and the place can be properly mapped”. The game starts out with a basic task. There’s a locked door with a bell. What should you do? Well of course you either knock or push the bell. ***Knock, knock** There’s a knocking sound and you are permitted to enter the haunted mansion.
Each time you enter a room you find that the game generally states what is in the room and which directions can be used. After a while you’ll be wandering the lonely corridors, picking up a scuba divers outfit, a werewolf mask, out in to the shed for garlic and so on. The game feels very isolated. You really need to be playing this alone in the dark using headphones for the full effect. The slow pace of the reading really encouraged the in depth game play and I found the experience really engrossing. The more you wander around the more the clock will continue to count. On the hour you will even get a chime to remind you of the passing of time. If you are someone that can get in to this type of game I think that you’ll find this very rewarding. There’s few other characters in the game. There’s a witch, mad axe man and vampires but for the most part you’ll feel very exposed and alone. There’s no real help or tips system so you’re going to have to work this one out for yourself.
It is asking a lot of the player but the game does reward you in return. This isn’t a quick fix game of shocks and surprises, House of Death is a narrative that slowly unfolds. Each time you climb the stairs, open that new doorway or get lost in a corridor you sink deeper in to the story. There are of course elements of light humour too if you try to sleep or drink the water you’ll be greeted with a somewhat sarcastic quip. When you get it right though you will feel as if you’re doing well. Knowing to move a carpet to reveal a trapdoor is a very satisfying experience.
In terms of a physical release House of Death comes in an oversized black plastic case. It feels very solid and well made. Inside you’ll get the all-important cassette. One side for standard load and the other for speed load. The artwork is, well, it’s a bit clip art meets MS-Paint but don’t let that fool you. The game itself is very solid. Price is usually not an issue for this game, it’s tracking down a decent edition. If you’re outside of the UK you will almost certainly have to import this one. As this game was made in the UK and the Oric never really gained much traction in other regions this one has become very much a landlocked collectable. I’m please to say that have a mint condition game. I picked mine up for less than £4 or $5 on the online auction sites. The reason being is that like many games these can still be found in what’s known as “New” “Old stock” condition. This is where games have been simply put in to storage by either the manufacturer or retailer due to over stock rather than pay to be destroyed. Years later they once again resurface for us nerds to enjoy.
There is however a problem with House of Death. That problem is that the game can’t be beaten. Back in 2007 a user by the name of Juan raised an issue on http://www.solutionarchive.com
After using the garlic on Dracula it was impossible to exit the room. In true retro gamer fashion another user called Dave was able to modify the BASIC code to resolve the bug. This is all absolutely true. 23 years after its release the game was finally rendered beatable by old school gamers. It’s not only a testament to the collective of gamers but the games hold over players that they would go to the extent of fixing old work just to finally see the games ending.
For those wondering I do genuinely play the games that I review. Playing games that haven’t surfaced in years is a real treat. Although I’m not the biggest fan of old school text adventures I’ve certainly been won over by House of Death. I found myself making maps and making notes just to get further in the game. It’s perhaps something a bit lost on younger gamers but for the older generations it’s as nostalgic as writing out the peeks and pokes. House of Death won’t be a game for everyone, it does require patience and a bit of imagination. Throw yourself in though and I dare say this game has some scary elements. And with that, I’ll let you read this short creepy passage.