Disney, known for its captivating animated films, has an often-overlooked gem in its catalog: The Black Cauldron. Based on the fantasy novels Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, this film ventures into a world where a young Assistant Pig-Keeper named Taran finds himself amidst a unique destiny. While not destined to save the land himself, Taran’s duty is to protect a special pig named Hen Wen, who holds the prophecy of saving the world from the terrifying Horned King. Taran, despite not being a natural-born warrior, encounters a host of intriguing characters, including the beautiful Princess Eilonwy and a minstrel named Fflewddur, on his quest to combat evil. Although The Black Cauldron underperformed at the box office, it still holds its own, and had it been released alongside the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy, it may have garnered more recognition.
The Sierra Computer Game Adaptation
Sierra, a renowned game developer, saw the potential in The Black Cauldron and developed a computer game based on the film. Collaborating with Al Lowe, who had previously worked on Disney properties, Sierra introduced a game reminiscent of the beloved King’s Quest series. Although using the same AGI engine and vertically looping landscapes, The Black Cauldron game has a more compact and focused approach. The primary landscape spans four screens in both width and height, encompassing locations akin to those found in the novels, such as the Witches’ hut and the Horned King’s castle. In terms of scale, the game is about half the size of a typical King’s Quest title.
Branching Paths and Multiple Endings
The Black Cauldron game sets itself apart with its branching events and multiple endings, a rarity among Sierra titles. Initially, Taran’s mission is to escort Hen Wen to a hidden fairy village, a mere three screens away from the starting point. Along the way, the skies teem with monsters poised to attack and potentially steal Hen Wen. However, unlike the enemies in King’s Quest, this theft does not spell the end of the game. Instead, it adds an extra layer of challenge, requiring players to rescue Hen Wen upon reaching the Horned King’s castle.
Similarly, players have the opportunity to befriend Gurgi, a lovable and ravenous creature, by offering him an apple. If successful, Gurgi will selflessly jump into the Black Cauldron at the game’s conclusion, mirroring the film’s poignant moment. Unlike other Sierra games, failing to accomplish this task does not result in an unwinnable situation. Rather, players must devise alternative solutions. At the end of the game, when the witches present various rewards, players can even choose to prioritize their own desires instead of resurrecting their loyal companion. The ending, therefore, varies depending on the actions taken throughout the quest.
A Compact Quest for Young Adventurers
The Black Cauldron game intentionally caters to younger players with its simplicity. Unlike most AGI games, like Mixed-Up Mother Goose and the Manhunter series, it does not require text input. Function keys replace the need for text, enhancing user-friendliness. To access the inventory and equip items, players press F3, while F4 activates item use. F6 acts as a general “interact” verb. Although initially confusing, this innovation was quite remarkable for its time.
One aspect that remains slightly outdated is the handling of hunger and thirst. Players must respond to in-game prompts to eat or drink, as ignoring these prompts will lead to the protagonist’s untimely demise. While water is readily available, food is scarce, unless players discover the endless food wallet hidden beneath a bridge. Fortunately, this issue can be easily resolved, and it does not significantly hinder gameplay.
An Approachable Adventure for Modern Gamers
While some may dismiss The Black Cauldron game as merely for kids, its simpler interface, structured gameplay, and reduced difficulty level make it surprisingly accessible to modern gamers. Even the arcade segments are relatively straightforward. In this regard, the game may even outshine the groundbreaking King’s Quest series, proving that simpler mechanics and increased accessibility can have their own charm.
Intrigued? If you’re ready to embark on a quest filled with adventure, danger, and memorable characters, dive into the world of The Black Cauldron. Experience the excitement of this forgotten gem and uncover the secrets that lie within.