During the eighties, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, lit up late night television with a parade of B-list horror flicks while occasionally slicing into each with her razor wit. The vampy host was as renowned for her revealing cleavage and leggy character as was the irreverent personality lurking beneath her pale skin turning her into a horror icon.
She also had a huge following in Europe where a UK company named Horror Soft (aka Adventure International, or Adventure Soft Ltd.) created a number of games based on her character. It wasn’t their first time dabbling in horror, either, thanks to their release of Personal Nightmare in 1989 which also uses Elvira’s image as a part of their logo. You could tell that they were huge fans.
The first game was released in 1990 as Elvira: Mistress of the Dark for the Amiga and it later found its way to other platforms such as the C64, Atari ST, PC-98, and DOS. Accolade imported the title and published it in the States as simply Elvira with the tagline “The Fantasy Adventure” at the top of the box with Elvira gazing right back at you.
Elvira asks “Can somebody help me find my chest?” on the back of the box and it doesn’t end there. The game easily brought her character, and her humor, into a lengthy and tough action RPG romp through a castle that she’s inherited. She asks the player to explore the castle, which is now infested with monsters and other resurrected horrors courtesy of nasty Queen Emelda who has come back from the dead, in order to find a chest of spells to set everything right again. It’s easier said than done.
Elvira herself is in the game and aids the player in mixing up spells and potions – as long as the player can find the right components, that is – to keep them alive as they fight their way through the “800-room castle” while collecting up to “300 ominous objects” ranging from simple weapons to magical doodads. And of course, Elvira is always within reach to whisper a few pieces of advice your way.
The gameplay is driven by the icon-based menu system which only requires you to use a mouse to pretty much to everything you want it to, such as turn left or right to get a better view of whatever place you happen to be in. Actions that you can apply to whatever screen you’re looking at are listed to the right such as “Mix” or “Use” and a string of your personal stats line up above the inventory window on the bottom. If you don’t want to use the mouse, you can always jump back to the keyboard giving it the feel of an old, grid-based CRPG like the Bard’s Tale.
Combat was rough. There’s no other way to say it. It’s in real-time so when a guard attacks, it’s happening without waiting for you to decide on something. The general gist was something along a scissors, paper, rock kind of set up in which you attacked the guard using your limited set of moves in the hopes of predicting what he won’t be ready to defend against. Mashing attack was often the surest way to die in this game, but fortunately, you could save pretty much anywhere you wanted.
As for horror, the game didn’t rely so much on scares as it did horror of the gory kind with decapitated heads in full, bloody pixels onscreen for when you meet an unceremonious end. The game also featured digitized voice samples and rendered every inch of Elvira in all her pale glory.
It was also something of a success with a number of critical reviews praising the graphics, humor, and from the ad above, even making comparisons to the venerable Dungeon Master from FTL Games. Elvira would go on to two other games after this one – the sequel, Jaws of Cerberus, and an arcade action title. Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet been remade or re-released for today’s audience, though it can be picked up as abandonware if you look hard enough. A fan-site dedicated to Horror Soft and Elvira also has part of the game set up as an interactive demo here. Horror Soft’s first game, however, can be found on Good Old Games along with another of their classics, Wax Works.
For Accolade, it meant another title to help bolster their adventure game collection which they promoted through a number of other games such as Les Manley in: Search for the King and Altered Destiny. It was a nice change of pace for a company whose reputation was often tied more to its golf and Test Drive series.