This may be bad for my “nerd cred,” but I haven’t had much experience with Dungeons and Dragons – exposure, yes, but never any actual in-depth table top playing. D&D was right there from the start though, as some of my first memories are of the awesome cartoon from 1984. I also owned various Monster Manuals, though mostly for the artwork and creature designs within. It felt that with D&D there was this heavy, pure, “concentrated fantasy” world that seldom strayed from its core and was a brilliant amalgamation of many different mythos, and in full honestly, I can’t tell you why it is that I have yet to roll a multi-sided die. As far as fantasy in general goes, I adore the genre and always felt it was criminally underrated. It always seemed to get tossed aside in the mainstream or seemed like a sub-category of other genres such as Sci-Fi or horror. As far as cinema goes, in the 80’s, there was an abundance of fantasy films (mostly trying to recreate the success of Conan The Barbarian from earlier in that decade) that were a strong inspiration to me. There would be countless VHS tapes at the video stores that just screamed “low-budget knockoff.” These films would usually have big, beefy guys posing with a bunch of valkyrie-type women flocked around their shag-carpetted moon boots.

Steroids…  apparently readily available in ancient times

It wouldn’t be until late Summer 1996, when I went on a trip with my parents to Sturbridge, MA, that I saw a game in the little hotel arcade that I fell in love with, Dungeons and Dragons: The Tower of Doom. Side-scrolling beat-em-ups were nothing new and there were plenty to choose from at that point and, if not for the arcade cabinet title and art, I would have assumed it was just another Golden Axe entry. The fast pace, graphics, action, and variety of monsters gave new life to what was becoming a somewhat stale arcade genre at that point. Many a quarter was surrendered that weekend and I was high on high adventure, … even when those with no arcade etiquette would jump into the game without invitation and start giving orders….

Kids today will never know the struggle

When I got back to Philly, I bought Dungeons and Dragons: Eye of the Beholder on impulse and this is where the confusion and disappointment set in quite a bit. This one came out in 1991 and was ported several times before the good folks at Capcom brought it to the Super Nintendo in 1994. Maybe it was the contrast between Tower of Doom and Eye of the Beholder that threw me off somewhat – kind of like eating filet mignon and then moving on to bologna. But really, over time, I think that comparing the two is more an “apples and oranges” thing. … yes, I am a bit hungry.

Lord Piergeiron kicking back at Waterdeep where errbody be straight trippin’

Eye of the Beholder puts your party of chosen assembled D&D archetypes in the town of Waterdeep. Lord Piergeiron there has hired your crew to venture down into the underground sewers and catacombs of the town to investigate and exterminate a rising evil there that’s suspected to be caused by a Beholder named Xanathar. For those who aren’t familiar, Beholders are monsters with large globular bodies that move through levitation. An optometrist’s meal ticket, they have ten eye stalks, each with its own magical abilities, as well as one large eye and a mouth filled with razor sharp teeth on their faces. They’re also big jerks.

Upon entering the underground lair, a trap is triggered by Xanathar and the way you came is gone, now buried under a huge pile of rocks. There’s no turning back now…

Your view is a first person perspective with the screen broken up into different sections with commands, a compass, menus, etc. which is remindful of Shadowgate, Dungeon Master, etc. so that had a lot of initial charm to it. One biggie that seemed to slow progress a bit was the unexpected need of micromanaging the party. This element added a lot of new strategizing and a more realistic layer to the game, but with having the attention span of a goldfish, making sure all my characters had enough food and got enough sleep, etc. detracted a bit from the sheer fun of the quest for me and as Stef from The Goonies put it so well, “It feels like I’m babysitting, but I’m not getting paid.”

As you progress and descend through the levels, things naturally get more challenging. NPCs you meet can be persuaded (or dead bodies resurrected) to join your party, which is a nice little plus. The music is great in moderation as it builds the mood of angst and helps to build the already claustrophobic atmosphere. If you should get lost in any area the music only gets grating and this is an easy thing to do as the levels keep a fairly consistent appearance and can be repetitive, making it tough to know where you have and haven’t been. One interesting little tidbit to note: for an ancient, monster-infested sewer system, it’s awfully tidy down there.

Monster battles are real time and with a party of up to 6, can require you to act quickly and use some degree of tactical skill. Secret doors, traps and puzzles will also litter each level and keep you on your toes.. or on the ground, dead, like most times when I’d play. When you finally meet Xanathar, he monologues more than a James Bond villain and keep referencing his incredibly vague master plans, his goal to conquer Waterdeep, and how he’s the source of each single trap, monster, and your every woe on the way up to him (a bit of an inferiority complex there). You can duke it out with him and hopefully hold your own or you can throw him off his game by constantly back stepping through his level (cue the Benny Hill theme song!) and let him get impaled on one of his own precious little traps.

Woah! – he ain’t coming back for the sequel.

At the end of the day, Eye of the Beholder hasn’t aged terribly well and it also feels like it would serve better as a side quest to a much larger adventure, but ultimately, D&D fans most likely dig it as it’s a solid and campy, fun dungeon crawler.

Michael A. Jones

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