Monday, December 23, 2013

Forbidden Forest on the Commodore 64 - A Christmas Wish Come True

I've been wanting to write about this game for quite some time now.  I'm not sure why I dragged my feet for so long, but by the time I really got the itch to start writing about it, Halloween was rolling around.  Sure, it's a horror game, but it just didn't feel like it fit in with the Halloween season.  It certainly didn't seem like the type of thing to talk about during Thanksgiving.  (November thru early December was a pretty busy time anyway....we didn't even manage to squeak out a podcast!)  But now that Christmas is just around the corner, the timing is perfect!  True evil monsters in a Forbidden Forest isn't standard Christmas fare, but hear me out.

It's Christmas Eve, 1985.  The atmosphere is electric for my sister and I.  Santa Claus is going to be coming in a matter of hours.  There's a toasty fire roaring in the fireplace and there is lively conversation between my parents and my two great aunts who are visiting for the holidays.  Me?  I'm sitting in front of the family Commodore 64 playing video games.  More than likely I was playing my favorite game....Beyond The Forbidden Forest.  I was completely obsessed with the game.  I was also convinced that it was based on a movie for some reason.  I will talk more about BtFF at another time though, because tonight is all about it's predecessor.

When I was little, my parents always let my sister and I open one present on Christmas Eve if we had been well behaved.  It was usually a gift they were going to use as a stocking stuffer or one of the smaller presents that would have gone under the tree.  This particular Christmas Eve, the gift I was allowed to open early was nothing other than Forbidden Forest....the prequel to Beyond the Forbidden Forest.  I was beyond excited.  I wasn't even aware that BtFF was a sequel, yet there I was holding the first adventure of the nameless archer in my hands.

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the evening battling my way through hordes or enemies trying desperately to fight my way to the evil Demogorgon before bedtime.  No such luck that magical night, but I can remember every second like it was only yesterday.  So let's hit the "Wayback" button on the old Midnight Cinephile Time Machine™.

Forbidden Forest was a side scrolling game in which you play a nameless archer who must battle wave after wave of vicious monsters in a quest to destroy the evil Demogorgon.  The game was released by a company called Cosmi and programmed by Paul Norman.  Mr. Norman was already legendary in my eyes (he programmed Beyond the Forbidden Forest).  Being a former musician, he was especially adept at creating amazingly atmospheric music for his games.  That music is still seared into my brain to this day.  He instilled a true cinematic ambiance into his games.  Perhaps that's why I thought it was a movie as well!

No words can even describe how excited this makes me

Okay so let's get this party started!  There's not much 'Get Ready' time after hitting the fire button.  You are immediately under attack from Giant Spiders.  They will come at you from either side of the screen.  They will chase you under you draw your arrow on them.  Then they'll turn tail and try to get the hell out of dodge.  One shot put's 'em down, but if you miss you best beat feet yourself because they will immediately come back at ya.  If they catch you, you're treated to a gruesome little scene of the archer getting eaten alive.  If you hit a Spider, there's a nifty little blood splash as they flicker and vanish.

Whoa!  That's a big spider!

If it bleeds......I can kill it!

After killing off the prerequisite number of killer giant arachnids (the number depends on the difficulty level you set it on), you will do a little victory dance.  It's cute, but it's the one part of the game that becomes a bit tedious.  Anyway, after you're done bustin' a move, you're back in the action with Giant Bee's swooping down at you.  Once again, one hit will do you...this time when you hit them, they kinda explode.  Not like shower of gore explode.....more like firecracker explode.  Kinda strange but pretty cool.  These guys are a little more difficult to hit because they will jump from the background to the foreground and aiming and firing the arrow takes crackerjack timing.

It's the Attack of the Killer Exploding Bee's!

This fella's trying to get his sneak attack on.

After blowing some bee's out of the sky, you do another dance (get used to it!  The dance tune will become deeply ingrained in your head). and then it's on to one of the stranger encounters.  Giant Frogs falling from the sky.  Okay, well it seems more like they're jumping from behind the hill over there, but the point is they're trying to jump on you and crush you like a nut.  You've got to maneuver yourself between the frogs and fire away.  Again, one hit will do in a frog.  They turn a sickly yellow color when you hit them.  I dunno why.

It's raining frogs!!!!'s raining frogs......

Well that blue and red pile of goop WAS you.....

After you kill enough frogs, do your little groove and such, it's on to more fantastic and exotic evils.  Up next:  The Dragon!  I think these were one of the most difficult creatures to kill in the game.  They would either come flying up from the background and spit fire directly down at you (giving you only a split second to fire one of your arrows) or it would fly in from either side of the screen...again spitting fiery death at you.  To make things extra hard, your arrows would harmlessly deflect off of the Dragon's tough hide.  You had to shoot him in the mouth to put him down.  It was absolutely glorious when you did though.  The Dragon would become engulfed in flames and fall to the ground, burning to ash.  In the more difficult modes you had to kill multiple Dragons!

The anticipation of waiting for the Dragon to fly into range was killer!

An arrow up the nose will do it!

The next enemy was one that haunted me throughout my childhood.  Pun intended.  Up next was one of the most frightening enemies I had ever encountered in a video game up to that point:  The Phantom of the Forest and his Skeletons!  Now first of all, you've got skeletons rushing you (much like the Giant Spiders did in the first wave) with spears.  You can spend all day long killing skeletons, but it won't do you any good.  The only way to end this encounter is to shoot the Phantom in the face!  Okay, well he doesn't exactly have a face....but you need to fire an arrow right into his hood.  When you score a hit, if there are any skeletons on screen, they will freeze and the Phantom will scream while slowly disintegrating.  This was the stuff of nightmares.  The tones used for the Phantom scream must have been concocted in a Warlock's cave because it sounded absolutely evil.  I can remember lying in bed...that awful sound echoing in my head....being so thankful for the He-man nightlight that offered some illumination in my room.

The weird thing is that these skeletons BLEED when you shoot them!

Shooting the Phantom in the face!  Harsh!

After the phantasmagorical horrors of the Phantom and his Skeletons, we're back in the realm of jacked up and over-sized animals.  The Giant Snake will rise up from behind the trees and spit venom at you.  Much like The Dragon, you've gotta fire one right up his nose to put him down.  When you hit him, he'll fall to the ground and a metric shit ton of blood will ooze out of his head.  Apparently his venom is also highly acidic because should you get hit by it, you'll be dissolved into nothing.

Talk about a Cobra attack!  Go Joe!
Wow, that's a lot of blood!  It's a gusher!!!!!

 If you manage to survive the onslaught thus far, you will finally get your shot at the Demogorgon.  You may have noticed as you battled your way through wave after wave of monsters that the forest was getting darker and darker as the overcast day turned into a dark starry night.  The Demogorgon is hiding in the darkness.  Only his shadow faintly visible against the stars and the moon.  Only when the lightening strikes do you see him.  Expert archers are able to track and kill The Demogorgon before the lightening even strikes...but it always took me a while to get my bearings.  You cannot take to long however because The Demogorgon draws ever closer and eventually will come down on you and all will be lost.

Hhhhmmm.....what a peaceful sign of evil!

0_o  Kill it!  Kill it!  Kill it!!!!!!!!!

These days if you want to play Forbidden Forest, it's as simple as downloading an emulator and the ROM.  If you are a fan of the Commodore 64, or retro gaming in general, I highly recommend this unusual and challenging game.  I hope you enjoyed this little trip back to a Christmas Eve 28 years ago.  I know it's not standard Midnight Cinephile fare....this almost felt more like something I would have written back in the Wizard of Vestron days....but I was feeling a bit nostalgic.  Keep your eyes peeled for the sequel (Beyond the Forbidden Forest) soon!

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