The Immortal Creates Tension Through Countless Ways to Die
The Immortal is a pretty funny name for a game that kills you as much as it does. While I’ve played many NES games that will happily snuff out your life in seconds, this one is somehow worse. Filled with cryptic puzzles, deadly traps, and challenging fights, it’ll take an incredible effort to see our frail wizard hero survive until the end. You’ll do so often and so fast that sometimes you might not even know what killed you. That proximity to death makes for a tense experience the whole time you play. It can literally all fall apart in an instant.
You’ll likely have been playing for three seconds, tops, before the game tries to kill you. At least it warns you the first time, though. “It might be a good idea to move.” You’ll receive this message when you step on an indented section of the game’s blocky floor. If you hesitate at all, a massive worm will burst up from the floor. It launches you in the air, the creature swallowing you in a single gulp. Not only was this a warning that you were in danger, but the death itself is another type of warning. It lets you know that this game will kill you instantly. And it’ll do it often.
Once you respawn after your demise, you’ll know to skirt around that tile. It won’t be the last time a worm eats you in The Immortal. Most of the future times it will be a total surprise, too. The game loves to surprise the player with death as they explore. Although it isn’t always cruel about it. There are a few pit traps that will open up right under your feet throughout the game. Being a wizard, you have a staff with you, though. You automatically use this to catch yourself before you die. However, you need to press a direction to haul yourself out of the hole before it breaks. The staff breaks if you take too long or fall into too many traps, too. Being surprised by a pit trap is kinda unfair, but at least you have a slight chance of surviving!
There are plenty more traps throughout the game. Once your step outside the first room of the game, you’ll be in a hallway full of traps. Fireballs continually burst from holes in the walls. Flame traps on the ground launch incinerating blasts from under your feet. At least you can see the mechanisms for these devices to avoid them. However, there are so many of them that you’ll likely blunder into one of them. There are many rooms that just have so much dangerous stuff happening all at once that it gets you to start rushing around to avoid getting hit. This usually leads to stepping on a fire trap and bursting into flames. At least you die quickly.
The Immortal gets even worse as it introduces enemies into the fray. Large goblins and ogres wander the dungeon, and running into these will shift into a battle sequence. The viewpoint changes to you and your enemy all by yourself. You don’t have to worry about traps any more while you’re locked in combat, but you do have to be careful. The game lets you dodge and strike from one side or the other, and you need to weave around enemy hits while landing your own. You also have a fatigue meter that builds up, so try not to get too tired while swinging and stabbing. Your attacks will slow down significantly and you’ll get picked apart. It feels a bit like Punch Out!!, but if your life were on the line.
The invisible enemies are a bigger concern, though. Shades are totally invisible in dark rooms. In lit ones, you can at least see their shadows. Thankfully, they don’t kill you instantly. It’s a nice change of pace and shows the game isn’t totally unfair. However, they often swarm you while you’re trying to dodge other traps or trying not to stumble off cliffs. I’ve been alarmingly close to getting out of a room by taking a ladder down a floor, only to walk off the wrong side while dodging Shades. Dodging near-invisible foes does tend to make the game feel like a bit of a scramble.
And all of this is just what you run into during regular exploration. You’ll be doing a lot of looking around as the dungeon is full of puzzles and cryptic paths forward. The Immortal gives you a vital item at one point. Trouble is, using it actually kills you. You just need to HAVE it. There are other items you pick up that can only be used in specific spots. Barring that, there are things you can loot that you really shouldn’t. Rifling through someone’s pockets can get you killed very easily. You need every gold coin and item you can get, though, so you’re always taking these terrifying risks with your searches and items.
There are also entirely unique moments where you’ll have to use those special items to survive. Choose the wrong one, or use it at the wrong time, and you’ll be burnt to cinders, melted in acid, or electrocuted with lightning. Worse, you might just overuse an item that only has limited uses and find yourself dying to dragon breath. You’ll die a lot from not knowing what to do. You’ll die just as many times from knowing what to do, but doing it wrong. The game is extremely unforgiving and only has a few checkpoints between areas, so you’ll often be quivering from fear at how easily you could die and have to start the stage over again.
The Immortal can be very frustrating at times since it’s so willing to kill you. Just the same, when you start to figure things out, it becomes a tightrope of relentless tension. Any moment could see you stumbling into a spike trap or having the ground fall out from under you. Those moments are jarring and terrifying, but load every living moment with this incredible unease that makes it hard to put down.