This article was written as part of the Make a Wish Week Amigathon. Donations are now being accepted to help fulfil the dying wishes of terminally ill children.
What’s wrong with the Chevy Chase road trip movies and Thexder is that they don’t feature nearly enough incest and necrophilia. Eye of Horus sets out to redress the balance, and we’ll get to that all in good time. Hold onto your Hedjet, we’re going in.
An action-adventure developed by Denton Designs and published by Logotron in 1989, Eye of Horus is sort of like an organic, avian Thexder in that it’s two games in one; a traditional platformer and a shoot ’em up.
In runny-jumpy mode you embody the ancient Egyptian deity, the falcon-headed Horus, yet can transmogrify into his alter ego – a more typical falcon sans the human body appendage – whenever the mood takes you. This manoeuvre is executed simply by pushing up on the joystick, as long as you’re not standing on a lift at the time.
In the game’s manual our hero is referred to as a “hawk-headed humanoid”. I have no idea what Denton had against falcons, some of my best friends are falcons. Actually, even in the original scriptures from which the character is drawn the terms are used interchangeably so I’ll let them off the hook.
We’re always complaining about how flimsy the back-stories are in retro games so Denton should really be commended for going the extra mile with Horus. Plot-wise it’s based on real Egyptian mythology – if you’ll excuse the oxymoron – tweaked and sanitised to be palatable for a younger audience. Take it away Mr Manual…
“An unfinished legend…
Our story – or at least part of it – is told in hieroglyphs on the walls of a hidden tomb in ancient Egypt. It’s a tomb shrouded in a labyrinth of painted passages – where the hieroglyph paintings have actually been known to move – even come alive!”
“The story, chiselled in stone, is about a once-powerful king named Osiris. Osiris was a benevolent king, loved by all – except for one: his half-brother, Set. Set tricked Osiris into lying in a chest. Set then nailed the chest shut and sent it down the Nile, hoping to end his brother’s life.
But just as the captive Osiris was about to breathe his last breaths, his beautiful wife, the legendary Isis, found the chest with her dying king. In the joy of their reunion they conceived a son whose name was Horus.
Osiris never lived to see his son – for he died in Isis’s arms. She tried to hide his body, for fear that Set would find it. But to no avail… Set did find it. And he tore the corpse into seven pieces, scattering them throughout the tomb.”
“Now it is well known that a soul can not lie in peace unless his corpse is whole and properly placed in its sarcophagus. Even his loved ones are unable to rest until his body has been restored. And so it is that neither Osiris, nor his family – Isis and Horus – are depicted on the final paintings inside the labyrinth. And not until Horus reclaims the scattered bones, returns them to the sarcophagus and defeats the evil Set, will Osiris and his family reclaim their rightful place on the eternal sandstone of the burial chamber. The unfinished legend is now up to Horus. And up to you.”
What the manual brushes over is that when Isis found Osiris – who is actually her own brother – he’s already dead, his limbs having been disjointed and scattered hither and thither throughout Egypt by his half-brother, Set. The number of body parts varies between interpretations of the myth, though in each Isis manages to scavenge and reconstruct them all bar one, his ‘manhood’. As a substitute, she fashions together a golden phallus and using a magic spell brings her sibling back to life long enough to conceive their son, Horus. No wonder he ends up looking like a …I can’t say ‘Mongoloid’ anymore can I? A mutant, there that’s better.
Classical mythology is awash with these kinds of shenanigans and they’re even taught in school without anyone batting an eyelid, yet make it a central theme in a video game and you can be sure there would be outrage. Pixelated entertainment is to be feared and lampooned – if we let our guard down for a second it could corrupt kiddy’s fragile little minds and turn them into psychotic killing machines.
So, scandal averted, how was all this translated into an Atari ST, DOS, C64, and Amiga game by coder, Dave Colclough, graphicians, Ally Noble, Colin Grunes, Ed Knight, and Paul Salmon, and musician, David Whittaker?
Your task is to explore the labyrinthine tombs to retrieve all seven hunks of your poor father’s molested body and deliver them to the chamber of awakening where they can be reassembled.
“Baby, you’re the one, You still turn me on, You can make me whole again”
Sorry, I don’t know what came over me there. Highly inappropriate, I know. With Osiris’ powers restored – despite remaining dead – his royal omniscientness can confer the strength to confront and defeat his treacherous brother, Set, who up until this development should be avoided like the plague. Don’t worry, you’ll know when he’s in the vicinity because the tomb will start to shake. Stealth isn’t exactly his forte.
Only one body part can be transported at a time so to save you traipsing back and forth throughout the open-world level structure, Isis can be summoned via the relevant amulet. Hand her the – hopefully not unpreserved, rotting – chunk of flesh and bone and she’ll whisk it away, depositing it in the body restoration department on your behalf.
18 other amulets can be collected along the way, each serving a different and not always discernible function, whilst 8 colour-coded keys are used to operate the lifts. These allow you to navigate between floors, as long as you don’t accidentally re-activate an already unlocked lift, giving rise to an inescapable dead end. Bear in mind that both amulets and keys can only be acquired and deployed when Horus is on foot, forcing you to regularly switch back and forth between your various guises.
The abundance of baffling power-ups is staggering, so much so you couldn’t hope to understand what the purpose of them all might be without the aid of the manual, and even then it’s not entirely clear…
“Amulet of the Heart – The seat of the power of life, and the source of good and evil thoughts. This amulet will summon Isis only when she can help Horus. Isis loved Osiris very much and will help Horus as much as she can in reconstructing the Unknown King’s body.
Amulet of the Scarab – An insect of remarkable power. Its ability to roll balls of dung along the ground was associated with rolling the sun around the heavens. It is believed that if a God had such powers he would be most awesome indeed.
Amulet of the Buckle – This buckle of Isis protects the wearer from ‘him that would do unto him anything that he holdeth in abomination’. Archaeologists have taken this to mean ‘the passing of water upon a foe’.
Amulet of TET – This amulet represents the tree trunk that Isis used to conceal the body of her dead husband. It is a highly religious symbol representing the reconstituting of a body.
Amulet of the Pillow – This pillow is found placed under the neck of a mummy in a coffin. Thus it is used to lay a creature to rest permanently.
Amulet of the Vulture – The power of Isis as the ‘divine mother’ is given to Horus with this symbol. It can be used to vanquish Set’s minions from a chamber but it only holds strength in certain areas of the tomb.
Amulet of the Collar of Gold – When worn around the neck, this holy symbol will free a man’s soul from his body for a short time
Amulet of the Papyrus Sceptre – This amulet turns light, water and dung to papyrus.”
“Amulet of the Soul – A human-headed hawk made of gold inlaid with a precious stone. They say the man who breathes life to the golden hawk will have the hawk by his side until death.
Amulet of the Ladder – This ladder is used to escape from earth to heaven from the top of a mountain, where the two are closest. Osiris cannot allow any soul to leave the tomb until the mural is complete, so use of this amulet by Horus will bring him to the place where he was given life.
Amulet of Two Fingers – Represents index and medius fingers. Use it with care to temporarily vanquish all that lurks.
Amulet of the Eye of Horus – Representation of the Sun. It is said that no evil can stand in the way of strong light.
Amulet of the Nefer – This amulet is in the form of a musical instrument and represents good luck. Its blissful music will aggravate Set and tell you what he doesn’t want you to know.
Amulet of the Serpent’s Head – The power of Isis as the ‘divine mother’ is also given to Horus with this symbol. Like the amulet of the Vulture, it can be used to vanquish Set’s minions from a chamber but it will only work in different areas of the tomb to the Vulture.
Amulet of the Menat – When worn around the neck or carried in the hand this symbol represents good health.
Amulet of the Sam – Typical Egyptian representation of a penis, it will summon Anubis to aid Horus with a gift.
Amulet of the Shen – A symbol of eternity used to incapacitate new foes.
Amulet of the Steps – These steps up to heaven or the throne of Osiris in heaven are used to examine a situation from a distance. The ‘situation’ however, will only be that discovered so far.
Amulet of the Frog – Teaming with life and resurrection, this symbol gives Horus new life.”
Phew! We got there in the end. Now you’ve thoroughly digested and memorised all that we’ll move on…
Amulets and keys are selected from your inventory by pulling down on the joystick, or by pointing and clicking with the mouse. A maximum of seven can be held at once, so those in your possession must be used quickly to free up slots for carrying additional ones.
Some amulets serve to map previously explored areas of the environment, destroy the hieroglyphs brought to life by Set or replenish your energy as measured by the position of a scarab beetle crawling along a length of rope in the HUD, while others upgrade your papyrus darts or conjure up a protective shield or baby hawk satellite.
If you’re really struggling, Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife can be summoned to lend support when you finally face Set. We’re a good way off that though; before we reach the executioner himself we must contend with his painted, respawning minions, and somehow squeeze every last thread of rope out of our paltry three lives. Apparently a feat no-one has so far been able to accomplish and record for YouTube.
Denton Designs emerged out of the ashes of Imagine’s much-publicised bankruptcy debacle, largely financed by Ocean. They are fondly remembered for producing an array of innovative, highly acclaimed titles for the 8-bit platforms, most notably, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Gift From The Gods (of which Horus is reminiscent), Sorderon’s Shadow: The Legend of Elindor, Bounces, The Great Escape, Where Time Stood Still, Shadowfire and its sequel, Enigma Force.
Evolving to produce mostly uninspiring sports titles and the utterly dire Batman Returns, sadly they struggled to recapture the same magic on the Amiga following the Liverpool-based company’s restructure in March 1986, which resulted in Ally Noble being the only remaining developer from the original lineup.
Eye of Horus doesn’t do much to turn back the tide; it’s challenging in all the wrong ways, the graphics are barely a step up from the Commodore 64 edition, and the gameplay is repetitive and dull.
Without the sprite transition mechanic, which let’s face it, was lifted straight from Thexder, and David Whittaker’s atmospheric pan-pipe soundtrack, it’s hard to imagine Horus would have received even mediocre review scores.
When re-released as a budget title by Prism, Horus could be yours for a piddling £2.99, the same price as many cheapo Spectrum games at the time. This tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the publisher’s optimism for its sales potential.