Computer games based on movies, cartoons, comic books, and TV shows have since the dawn of cave amoebas been ten a penny. What you don’t expect to find is one inspired by an epic religious poem spanning 12 books and over 10,000 lines of verse. There aren’t too many that can make that claim so I probably don’t have to further specify that this one was first published in 1667, written by the then blind John Milton, and is known as Paradise Lost. But I will. I have.
What do you mean you hadn’t already guessed as much? 😉
Turkish coder, Mert Boru (sorry, I don’t do umlauts – they always mess up the formatting), believing literature to be a far richer stimulus than celluloid fiction, named his one and only Amiga game after Milton’s magnum opus. Full marks for having the conviction to deviate from the beaten path. Would you Adam and Eve it? Most publishers wouldn’t touch religious allegory with a barge pole! Hold that thought.
As a platformer – even of the four disk persuasion – it fails to explore the fall of mankind and the themes of good versus evil, temptation, sin and redemption in quite as much depth as the series of tomes on which it’s based. I know, shocking! 😉
Naturally, these issues have very little bearing on the course of the action, and since the scrolling text narrative is so awkwardly written I’d rather skip it. I wish developers wouldn’t assume EFL English is passable for native English audiences. I wouldn’t dream of ‘having a dabble’ at Chinese. Oh, don’t get me started on Chenglish instruction manuals!
In any case, all you really need to know is that you’re the good guy representing the salvation of the human race, and are required to duff up the ultimate source of malevolent nastiness, Lucifer.
First and foremost you’re more likely to be struck by the protagonist sprite… especially since there’s no mention of Wonder Woman on the title screen. Oh, and secondly, by how similar the game looks to Shadow of the Beast… superficially at least. This is no accident Mert openly admits in an interview conducted with Amiga Lore (and expands upon for his blog).
Shadow of the Beast was the pinnacle of presentational flair upon release in 1989, the showcase title all developers dreamed of matching in terms of aesthetics and aural panache. Sadly, in the gameplay department, it failed to advance much beyond the scope of a spectacular tech demo, so anyone purposely attempting to emulate its mechanics would be sorely misguided.
Paradise Lost aimed to replicate it in its entirety, and two years later at that. Pretty graphics, atmospheric audio, foreboding sense of dread and portentous motifs. And yes, the shoddy gameplay too. Where in Beast you’d walk, punch, walk, punch, memorising the enemy’s repetitive attack wave patterns, in Paradise Lost you walk, punch, walk, punch, memorising the enemy’s repetitive attack wave patterns. Just make sure you slay anything that moves before it has chance to sneak by; totally incapable of turning to face enemies lurking behind him, our hero struggles to cope with anything that slips by and lingers. Oops, a few extra frames of animation wouldn’t have gone amiss there. Wonder Woman wouldn’t have put up with this! Otherwise, if in doubt, duck. Deadly peril safely averted.
It nails the parallax scrolling… complete with cute, hopping bunnies in the foremost layer! The diagetic sound effects feel authentic and the climactic music potent, yet the calibre of the graphics and animation is somewhat unbalanced. Bonus points should be awarded for the meteorological effects, however.
Opponents are a jarring blend of monsters from the depths of hell as the story would suggest – many of which are lifted straight from SotB – and a series of polygonal animated shapes you’d be familiar with if you’ve ever dabbled with the demo scene.
In the opening credits sequence we’re treated to a 3D presentation involving an alternately shaded cube vying for attention with the names of the developers responsible for Paradise Lost; the ‘Silicon Twins’ comprising coder, Mert Boru, and artist, Ahmet Ergen.
It gyrates on its axis, flipping between the foreground and background to reveal and conceal the text. No doubt an impressive feat, although it’s debatable if the same technique should have been replicated throughout the game since it appears so cutting edge in contrast to the biblical architecture and thematic cornerstones.
In some boss battles, such shapes orbit the evil-doers serving as a force-field. Elsewhere the configurations of demo-esque polygons or spheres are the enemies themselves. For example, where the air-swimming, neon worms are concerned. These are constructed using multiple identical ball-joints that operate somewhat independently, yet move in unison. If you witnessed more than a handful of ‘cracktro’ animated intros in the ’80s and ’90s these will certainly be ringing nostalgia bells in your head.
Stylistically dissonant, the game’s own animated intro – beyond the Star Wars scrollers and dancing cubes – is a more traditional affair. Logically, the opening vista appears to have been modelled on the Garden of Eden what with its allusions to natural tranquillity and harmony…
…rapidly supplanted by the deathly flow of a river of blood and rapturous thunder. A couple of other glaring clues in case you’re still not sold on the idea: the wildlife’s sudden departure, and the decay of the previously picturesque forest scene that follows. Oh, and the emergence of the Paradise Lost title graphic.
In-between the 2D side-scrolling sections the game flips into 3D, requiring us to instead run into the screen. Strongly influenced by Unreal (the one developed by Ordilogic Systems and published in 1990), we’re initially confronted by various prehistoric, overgrown bat-like creatures that descend from the heavens. Betraying their cartoony, monochromatic art style, they’re not especially hospitable so we’re obliged to put our journey on hold to fend them off. Maybe studying Unreal will help us learn how best to tackle them since they stalk the primordial skies therein too.
Now’s not the time to admire the synchronised squadron of birds fluttering past in the background, as much as we may appreciate the attention to detail, so we’ll move on. Anyway, hang around too long and they may well do a Silkworm and double back to get us.
For each kill we earn a glowing diamond/gemstone representing an individual soul. Collect 20 and the road yawns open, swallowing us whole. We plummet head over heels into the uncharted gloom of a seemingly bottomless well.
Well, well, well, this looks familiar.
Only seemingly it …erm, seems. Our desperate shrieks of terror (and fall) are soon broken by a surfacing, sewer-dwelling, two-headed Loch Ness monster. Perched precariously on its back, the battle resumes, once again in 2D.
‘Soul orbs’ – I’m going to call them – accrued in the previous stage constitute our means of attack in the terminal battle against the Prince of Darkness himself. Our fists presumably ineffective, we hurl these orbs at him instead – using a clock-like force measure to gauge the distance – until he surrenders. Punching Beelzebub would have looked a bit ridiculous I suppose.
After going to all this trouble to track down and slay the ferocious (ish) beast we’re informed that this isn’t actually the devil, but one of his right-hand lackeys, and we’ll need to play the upcoming sequel in order to finish the job entirely.
A follow-up that never materialised since the Silicon Twins had such a hard time getting the first game published and distributed. In 1991 they visited the UK and spoke to some of the most influential names in the industry, yet none of them took the bait.
Mainstream avenues closed, Mert and Ahmet returned to Turkey to see if they could stimulate some interest on home turf. Shops and publishers alike complained about the number of disks the game would have to be delivered on in its current state and the packaging costs this would incur, thus ultimately declined to invest in the prospect.
As a result, Paradise Lost was only stocked in a few shops in Istanbul and distributed in a DIY package for $14. Partly thanks to rampant piracy very few legitimate copies were sold, so up until 2013 the game was appropriately considered lost to retro-gamers. This was the year Mert himself requested that it be added to the Hall of Light database and provided ADF images of the long-since forsaken disks.
Whilst it’s heartwarming that the duo’s 14-month labour of love project has been preserved for posterity, I can easily see how it managed to slip through the cracks and remain undiscovered for so long. It was shunned for a genuine reason, multiple reasons probably. There’s the olde worlde religious angle that would make many publishers recoil in horror (or sheer boredom). How would they market the Book of Genesis towards kids? Then there’s the derivative nature of the whole thing, the absence of any real challenge and disappointing brevity of the game (check out the 20-minute longplay on YouTube – over a quarter of that is the intro). Take your pick.
Shadow of the Beast II was already out by this stage, and III was just a year away. Should that make Paradise Lost tantamount to Shadow of the Beast 2.5? Maybe in Turkey.
It would be an amazing piece of work for a PD title. However, as a commercial release, it simply doesn’t stack up to the competition in terms of polish and depth of gameplay. You can’t wait for Shadow of the Beast to go stale, replicate it with inferior graphics and audio and rationally hope for the result to provoke shockwaves or yield a significant financial return.