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May 27th 2014, 01:09 AM
Bard Male United States
Please Cindy, say the whole name each time. 
Thanks to you all for the kind words of encouragement. This one was not easy for me to write, but I pushed through.

120: Cloud Castle Authors: Sabretrout, Arik Release Date: April 17, 2002

"Of course, a megalomaniacal fairy. How did I not see this coming?"

Well, crap. I've been good about this for a while, but I forgot to open my screenshot software again before playing this one. I'm bummed about this, but I'm not gonna replay the whole thing to get screenshots, sorry.

Anyway, "Cloud Castle" is the first DMOD by Sabretrout or Arik. Obviously, it's the predecessor to their famous 2004 mod "Cloud Castle II: Scarab," which is one of the highest-rated DMODs on The Dink Network. The original, while a tidy quest in its own right, seems to be intended almost as a prologue to "Scarab," for which there is a trailer within "Cloud Castle."

This time around, Dink has just purchased some land and moved in when he discovers that mysterious kidnappings have been occurring in the area. I'm honestly having trouble remembering the exact details, but Dink ends up traveling to a castle in the clouds in order to rescue the kidnapped people from an evil wizard and help out some fairies. Unfortunately, it turns out that the fairies were even more evil than the wizard, and Dink has played right into their hands - their sparkly, glittery beautiful fairy hands. The head fairy is called "Monkeynuts." As a coconut monkey, I can't help but approve.

This mod's sense of humor seemed to teeter between sardonic and wacky, and I enjoyed it. A couple of my favorite conversations include Dink taunting a wizard until he admits that he's a wizard (he doesn't want to let on because "I guess I just get annoyed with the prejudice. It's always 'Fantayen, help me with this' Or, 'My pig/duck/bonca fell down the well, teach me hellfire, please?'") and a completely awful exchange between some jerk and Dink, who is also a jerk, discussing how fat and ugly the former jerk's daughter is even though she can clearly hear them:

Miller: My daughter was walking by the river - she was collecting mushrooms.
When she came back, she was crying, and locked herself in her room.
Dink: What do you think happened to her?
Miller: She saw her reflection in the water?
Daughter: *Sob*
Dink: Harsh. But fair.

I guess I'm kind of a jerk too for finding that funny.

My favorite thing about "Cloud Castle" is a little touch in the dialogue trees. The choice statement titles are used to provide a description of what the NPC looks like and what they're doing:

"A tall man with a silver cross over his neck sips from a tankard with a disgusted look on his face"
"An exceptionally ugly man looks at you from behind a large swollen nose"

It reminds me of the sort of brief descriptions you'd get from the "look" command in a text adventure game, or from your dungeon master while playing Dungeons and Dragons. In an environment like Dink, where we use the same stock sprites over and over and can't actually show these things, this is a brilliant way to give some flavor to the world and help the player understand a character quickly. I wish I'd thought of it.

When you get to the actual portion of "Cloud Castle" that takes place in a cloud castle, **** gets real in a hurry. By the way, is the title one of several references to Heroes of Might and Magic in the DMOD? There are potions of Steelskin, and I noticed some others - could be just a coincidence, I guess. Anyway, you have to fight a tough series of battles against knights, and although you can save before fighting the wizard boss, the save point is in a room full of knights, and if you lose to the wizard, you'll have to fight them again. This kind of situation is very frustrating and should be avoided. The wizard himself is stupid hard, having an attack where he suddenly runs at you much faster than you can run; I sure couldn't find an effective counter to this. I was strongly tempted to cheat here, but after several tries, I managed to win (barely) by cowering behind something like a she dog. However, I was completely dismayed to find that this was not the last boss, and found the fairy boss to be utterly impossible. I am certain that almost everyone to ever play this DMOD either gave up or cheated. It might be possible with a few of the steelskin potions from early on, but I never had enough money to buy more than one! Not to mention that it's unconscionable to expect the player to see into the future and know that they've got to bring them.

Early on, a lot of DMODs had final bosses that were too easy, but I now realize that, while that's kind of disappointing, it's greatly preferable to final bosses or boss sequences that are too hard. I've lost count now of the number of mods in which I've run into a wall at the very end, and it really does a lot to drag down an experience I may otherwise have enjoyed. You know, I might not be the best at Dink Smallwood, but I think I'm pretty good at it. I mean, I've had a lot of practice. If I not only can't win against the end boss, but feel strongly that it's not even close, then I have to conclude that the author has simply failed to balance the mod acceptably. I don't really want to end on this negative note, but the fact that I easily could have demonstrates how much impact an impassable final boss can have on the mood that a player comes away with.

"Cloud Castle" was still a pretty good time overall thanks to a sharp wit and a story that set itself apart from the standard DMOD plot a little bit (even if I can't remember it all that well, *sigh*). There's a tease for "Scarab" at the end, and I have to admit that it kind of makes me want to go ahead and play it. I can't do that, of course. I have to play... *looks it up* "Baywatch" next. Oh. Super.