Friday 23 February 2024

Gothik (Firebird, 1987)

Game concept and design by Paul Hutchinson.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum version written by Paul Hutchinson, with loading screen by Drew Northcott. Published by Telecomsoft (Firebird) in 1987.

Amstrad CPC version written by Paul Hutchinson, and published by Telecomsoft (Firebird) in 1988.

Commodore 64 version written by Gavin "Gaxx" Raeburn, with loading screen by Paul "Dokk" Docherty. Published by Telecomsoft (Firebird) in 1988.



There are two reasons why I chose Gothik from Firebird's vast catalogue as the second of this year's two February Firebird items: one, because I noticed that there haven't been too many Gauntlet-clones here at FRGCB, so it's about time to have the second one, no more than 6 years and 10 months after Pandora's classic Into the Eagles' Nest, rather coincidentally released the same year; and two, because I didn't have to make a video accompaniment, thanks to one already available in the Mikroview series.

The legacy of Gothik cannot with any honesty be called notable, because at the time of starting to write this entry, it has no votes at Spectrum Computing, the new primary archive for all things related to Sinclair ZX Spectrum. At the archived World of Spectrum site from 2017, though, the game had a respectable score of 7.87 from 25 votes. At Lemon64, the score is only 5.85 out of 26 votes, but it has been called underrated by some users. From the two usual Amstrad websites, CPC-Power's score for Gothik is 11.33/20.00, and the single review at CPC Game Reviews has a 9 out of 10. As such, the scores don't really a good idea on what to expect, but let's see.



Gothik is what some people might call a thinking man's (or person's) Gauntlet, because it's not just running and shooting in an endless number of mazes, finding keys and occasionally smart-bombing all the monsters on your screen simultaneously to oblivion. In this game, you're dealing with norse mythology and magic, and to that extent, your gruesome mission is to recover the body of Hasrinaxx, the druid of Belorn, which was divided into six parts by an evil lord. You can choose to play as either Olga, a powerful witch with strong fire magic, or Olaf, a fighter with skills in combat and archery. While the combat in Gothik is fairly similar to Gauntlet, what makes the game particularly complex is the 32 different potions and eight other varyingly useful items you can collect to aid you in your quest through the game's 28 levels. Additionally, each of the game's seven areas of four levels features a boss room, in which you need to reach the big monster before the disintegrating floor gets you.

This game was one of the first games that I ever saw being played on a C64, and while there is definitely some nostalgia connected to it, I never thought of it as a particularly good game, because I really had no way of understanding it back then, nor for many years since. I wanted to take this opportunity to finally learn how the game actually works and see how the three versions compare against each other, since the C64 version was the last one to get released. From my earlier impressions, though, I would say it's a grower, and a very different - in a good way - experience to Gauntlet, even though it's another single player adventure, rather than a multiplayer event.



Arguably one of the most annoying things about Gothik is loading the game. All three versions use a form of Bleepload, which is one of the slowest fast-loaders of its time. The C64 version of Bleepload only displays changing border colours as the mark of successful loading happening, while the Amstrad and Spectrum Bleeploads screech their way through the entire loading sequence as usual, but with the added bleeps every second, marking the change of data block. And here is how long you will have to put up with the loaders in the three versions:

AMSTRAD: 8 minutes 50 seconds
COMMODORE: 6 minutes 39 seconds
SPECTRUM: 5 minutes 2 seconds

The good thing about Bleepload is, that it allows you to reload from the failed block onwards, if a load error occurs, except the C64 version doesn't actually tell you if the loading has failed, once the loading screen has made its eventual appearance - you just have to rely on your eyes and see when the border stops changing colour to know when it's gone wrong. The Spectrum and Amstrad versions continue to have the info window on the screen after the loading screen appears.

Loading screens, left to right:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.

Speaking of which, the loading screen is based on the cover art (or whichever way round it is) in the Spectrum and Amstrad versions - only the background features a viking ship and a dark sky with a lightning, instead of a dark dungeon hallway. The C64 version only features the two optional protagonists' close-ups from their stomachs up, coupled with a completely unique styling of the title. Honestly, I cannot say that I'm a fan of either design, but if you want something that's close to the cover art, either of the other two should suit your style.



Part of what makes Gothik an easily overlookable and underrated game is the amount of keyboard controls you need to memorize in addition to having to use your joystick, when the point of comparison is ultimately Gauntlet, where the only extra key you needed was to use a magic potion. In all three versions of Gothik, Space bar toggles the status screen, but all the other extra keys are different. In the C64 version, your character is controlled with a joystick in port two; the CPC version uses either the Q-A-O-P setup or the cursor keys, which also enables you to use a joystick if you prefer; and the SPECTRUM version uses the Q-A-O-P keyboard setup as its primary option, but you can select other control methods in the title screen with Caps Shift.

For the SPECTRUM version, the additional keys are: N to shoot, Enter to take potion and enter a portal, Symbol Shift to quit, Caps Shift to perform Firestorm, and L to metamorphose food or gold. The AMSTRAD version also uses N and Enter for the same purposes, but ESC is used for quitting, Shift for Firestorm, and Del for metamorphosis. On the C64, the Restore key is used for quitting, but you can also use Run/Stop for pausing; taking potions and entering portals is done with the left arrow key, Firestorm is performed with CTRL, and metamorphosis with number 1 key. What Firestorm actually does is melt away the scrambled-looking debris once you're near enough to the debris to perform the spell.

An important factor to Gothik's playability comes in the screen's scrolling method. All three versions use some type of push-scrolling. In the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, the screen will scroll half a screen at once, when you reach a certain point on the screen. The C64 version uses smooth push-scrolling, which starts once you reach the edge of your reach, which is about a quarter-length of the screen from the screen's actual edge. Both methods have their own appeal, but in my experience, the C64 version's method is ultimately more hazardous for the player, since you don't really get to see on-coming enemies early enough before you are already engaging in battle and/or losing health.

You start your adventure from either the absolute top-left corner of the first tower, if you're playing the SPECTRUM or AMSTRAD version, or from within the room in the top-left corner of the first tower, if you're playing the C64 version. The first enemy to appear in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions is the one that looks like a walking eye that shoots homing projectiles. In the C64 version, it's a large gorilla-like creature that shoots black lightning bolts. If the game's manual is to be believed, there are five types of enemies in the game: gorillas, monks, dragons, icemen and ants. I'm not entirely sure, which ones are which, but as a rule, each area seems to feature two types of enemies. All the enemies are hostile towards you by default, but you will also find that some monsters are hostile towards other monsters.

Soon enough after starting the game, you will get to view the status screen, either by collecting a potion or other item, or by choosing to enter the status screen by pressing the Space bar. For your most immediate needs, this is where you can select your weapon in use, of which you have three: 1) Lightning bolt, which is launched diagonally, and can bounce off from everything, and will use your magic strength slowly but surely; 2) Bow and arrows, which uses no magic, but you do have a finite amount of arrows in your quiver - and these are shot straight forward; and 3) Fireballs, which use more of your magic, and can make a hole in a wall, if you choose to cast them with full power. To adjust the power of a fireball, move your controller up and down when in status screen. All weapons can be replenished by certain pickable items.

Regarding weapon usage, the only notable difference is, that in the C64 version, all enemies, alive or dead, are solid objects to your ammunition, so the lightnings will bounce off of them, and arrows and fireballs will end their journey as soon as they hit something. In the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, all your weapon ammunition (magic or arrows) can go through enemies while dealing
damage, and continue their journey for as long as they reach their natural end of journey. Lightnings do take a long while to disappear, but arrows will meet their end as soon as they hit a wall, and fireballs will explode as soon as they hit any object.

The status screen also gives you information on the collected items and the statuses of your health, magical strength, amount of arrows and the amount of Firestorm energy. The leftmost bar shows the amount of treasure you have collected. The five selectable items under the status bars are reserved for helpful Magic Relics you can use, but first need to find and pick up. The right end of the status screen has the collected shields display on top and the tower level indicator below it.

Each tower has at least one exit, which by default leads to another tower in the area. There are also other kinds of exits, one in each area, which lead to a treasure room. The treasure room is located somewhere between two of each area's four towers, so when you enter a treasure room, your only way out of one is to destroy the guard within, and exit to another one of the area's four towers. These treasure rooms are what you must find and go through to get all the pieces of the kidnapped druid's body. The other special exit is the gateway to the next area, which can only be entered after you have destroyed the treasure room guard and found a shield.

Which brings us to the differences in difficulty. Already in the second area, you will notice a huge leap in the resiliency and aggressiveness of your enemies in the C64 version, but the difficulty progression is more gentle in the other two versions. Part of the C64 version's difficulty has to do with the way you are forced to walk almost at the screen's edges to push the screen into any direction, but the enemies' toughness does make you reconsider all your moves and weapon choices.

From what I can tell, there is but one more notable difference in the C64 version that sets it clearly apart from the other two. Your character's movement is silky smooth and pixel-based, and shooting your lightning bolts also corresponds to your shooting location in a similar, if not quite as accurate manner. In the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions, your movement is slightly rougher, and your lightning bolt shots move in character block sized skips, instead of smoothly. There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles: with rougher movement, you can premeditate your actions more easily, and with smoother movement, it is possible to attempt maneuvers that aren't possible in the rougher versions.

Technically, the C64 version is more impressive than the other two, but the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions are actually more comfortable to play, thanks to their lack of smooth scrolling. To be honest, the unnecessarily large area of movement in the C64 version is specifically what makes it more than a bit uncomfortable, but even then, you can learn to anticipate your actions with the lightning bolt weapon. It's really the additional raise of the difficulty curve combined with the poor choice of push-scrolling area that makes the C64 version fall behind the other two.




Gothik is another one of those games, that offer a good look at how the graphics are dealt with for all three machines, when the graphic designers are left to their own devices.

Title screens with Olaf and Olga options, left to right:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.

Aside from the obvious title and credits display, the other, perhaps even more important function of the title screen is to display your selectable character. Rather amazingly, all three versions share the same logos, albeit with the game logo having some slight colouring differences, as well as the additional texts, which use the same font. It's the protagonist display that differs more wildly. Most notably, the scroll has been switched to four dancing gorillas below the protagonist in the AMSTRAD version, but the scrolls are differently coloured in the SPECTRUM and C64 versions, and the character design is considerably different in all three versions. Of course, the SPECTRUM version uses monochrome sprites, which allows for better details; the AMSTRAD version going with different coloured clothes, a little more hair and roundness in her features for Olga; and the C64 version goes with brown-and-turqoise suits with only a different mid-body feature to tell the two characters apart. Not very promising for the C64 that one, but the scroll does look nicer.

Screenshots from the first area of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum version.
I'm not going to lie, the SPECTRUM version doesn't exactly start off with a soothing look with the bright yellow floor colour with some bright red patterned walls and everything else being black monochrome things. Sure, there are some darker shades in the walls, but it's not really something you tend to focus on while playing. The only elements that use some other colour are the various kinds of exits, most of which are blue, and the small stretch of green in the health meter at the bottom of the screen. The good thing about the harshly limited use of colour is, there is no colour clash, and you never need to ponder on whether an object is dangerous or not, because no immobile things will harm you. It takes a bit of getting used to, but ultimately, it works well enough.

Screenshots from the first area of the Amstrad CPC version.

The AMSTRAD version uses the same floor and wall patterns here in the first area as the SPECTRUM version, only the colours are switched. The bright pink isn't much more easy on the eyes as the bright yellow, but the monsters, collectables and exits using different colours does bring the game some much needed graphical variety. The action screen is much taller here than in the SPECTRUM version, but the health meter has been reduced to a barely noticable single white line at the bottom of the screen.

Screenshots from the first area of the Commodore 64 version.
For the C64 version, the first area's colouring was chosen to be decidedly more earthy and sedate with a green tile pattern as the floor and turqoise walls, with some grey and yellow in their shading. With some brown in your chosen character's armour and some darker brown in the gorilla sprite, the total number of colours used in the first area adds up to no more than six, which is just about as many colours as you get in the SPECTRUM version, only less hostile on your eyes. The action screen's size is just about as high as in the SPECTRUM version, but much wider than both of the two others. As a nice bonus, the health meter is stylized a bit with a yellow line surrounded by a container of two shades of brown, and to the left of it, the text "LIFE" in purple letters, which is surprisingly effective at bringing in some much needed colour.

Screenshots of the first area in darkness, left to right:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.

Eventually, you will accidentally gulp down a potion that brings darkness upon you. The way that darkness has been handled across the three versions is amazingly versatile. In the SPECTRUM version, the whole area turns dark blue with black outlines - only your health bar stays the same. In the AMSTRAD version, you see everything much more clearly, with everything being coloured with various shades of blue, including the health bar. The C64 version looks the strangest, with black and blue all around, except for yourself, all the monsters and the health bar still looking exactly the same as in daylight. I like how it looks, because I have grown used to it, but seriously, the other two versions do the darkness more effectively, as well as more stylishly.

Status screens, left to right:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
The status screen can be viewed at any given time, and it also shows up as the Game Over screen, when you kick the bucket. The most instantly visible difference is the screen size, which makes the SPECTRUM version have a particularly squeezed look, with the item selector having only two squares under each item to show if you have them and/or can use them (right square), and whether the item has been selected (left square). Otherwise, the SPECTRUM version's status screen looks much like the C64 one, which uses two halves of balls for the item indicators, although the C64 screen is wider and the colours are different. In the AMSTRAD version, the status screen is stretched to fill the screen by putting gaps between items and their indicators, and even the copyright has been included to fill the bottom of the screen. Counting colours here might seem a bit odd, since all three versions use different colours, but in case you're interested, the SPECTRUM version uses seven colours, the AMSTRAD version uses four, and the C64 version uses at least eight colours - I'm not sure how many colours are used in the flashing skeleton parts that have been collected, but it's an effect that the other two versions do not have. Also, the C64 version's skeleton has the most natural colour to it.

Screenshots from the second and third areas, left to right:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
I still haven't managed to get further in Gothik than the third area, which is a lot further already than I ever managed to reach when I was young. From what I have gathered, though, you will have seen all the enemy types by the third area, so apparently, the only thing to see later in the game are differently coloured and patterned areas. A word of warning to anyone who attempts to get further than the second area, though: you WILL be needing a good map.

Judging solely from these two areas, the C64 version could grow to look a bit drab and boringly brown for a good portion of the game. For now, it's practically impossible to tell, though, unless you're willing to take the plunge and actually play it through (which I'm certainly not), since there are no walkthrough videos online, nor could I find any screenshots beyond the first area. Happily, at least there is a map of the SPECTRUM version available online, which shows at least some variety in the seven areas, with one of them having a grey floor, two with cyan/turqoise floors and the other four being split between two shades of yellow. The AMSTRAD version continues using plenty of colour, but most of the floor patterns are just too heavy on the eyes - almost as if you were looking at some of those magic eye pictures as the background. Some of the later areas look less horrible, but how many of us can ever claim to have gotten further than the second area? Be that as it may, it is a good thing most of the enemies are different enough in their colouring to be visible enough, but it is painful to watch for longer periods of time.

The first two treasure rooms, left to right:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.

Here are the first two treasure rooms as I encountered them. The treasure rooms can also be dark, if you took a darkness potion prior to entering the treasure room, but here they are as they normally appear. The treasure room layouts are largely similar between the AMSTRAD and C64 versions, but somewhat smaller in the SPECTRUM version. All of them use the same colouring as the main area you are playing at the moment.

Big monster explosion effect from the first treasure room, left to right:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
When you reach the end of the treasure room and get next to the big monster, the way to defeat it is to just press the designated "pick up" key on your keyboard, and the monster will explode. I had to show this one before moving on to the next section, because it's one of the cheapest and disappointing graphical elements in the C64 version. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions treat the explosion almost as a full-blast fireworks display, while the C64 version just has eight smaller, contained explosions exactly in the space previously occupied by the monster. Sad.

So, here's what we have, in short: the C64 version has nicer scrolling, as well as less aggressive colours and floor patterns to look at, but the amount of colours can make it eventually a bit boring; the AMSTRAD version has the most colour used, but also the most violent floor patterns to look at; and the SPECTRUM version uses the least amount of colours, but the monochrome sprites are beautifully drawn. The usual stuff, in other words. If the AMSTRAD version looks too busy for comfort, the C64 version too brown, and the SPECTRUM version too monochromatic with steep colours, the question is, which look is the most befitting for the game? And which is the most technically advanced? This could be partly a matter of opinion, but I think the C64 version has a slight edge over the other two.




Let's start this section with the SPECTRUM version, since it's the easiest to deal with. There was no 128k version of this game, so it's strictly beeper sounds this time. The theme tune is a fairly militant pseudo-techno thing that's a bit difficult to decipher further, because it uses the beeper in such a way as to create multiple noises simultaneously, but the lower notes are not clearly anything. It does have a clear melody, though, which varies itself through a few keys, but it only occupies less than half of the theme song's playtime of 3 minutes and 4 seconds. The simplicity of the theme tune is enough to make it memorable, if not exactly something you would necessarily load the game up for. There is no other music in the SPECTRUM version, which is a pity, since there are one or two places, where more music would have been welcome.

There are plenty enough of sound effects, though, starting with a downward spiraling phaser effect when you enter a new place. Walking makes a dual-pitch tapping noise, opening up blocked debris with Firestorm makes an electrical rattling noise, picking up non-potion type items makes a "blip", shooting any weapon makes an ascending "flurrrp" noise, enemies shooting at you makes a similar but softer noise, killing a monster makes a higher pitched descending "flirrrp", and picking up potions makes a quick series of weird, undecipherable noises. So, even with the basic sounds you get to hear more constantly, it's a fairly rich sonic environment to play in. The less common sound effects are the explosion of your fireballs, the weird suckling noise of the floor disappearing in the treasure rooms, and the explosion of the treasure room monster. You get no sounds at all in Game Over. Still, eleven different sound effects, most of which occur commonly, makes Gothik on the ZX SPECTRUM a surprisingly busy soundscape.

The AMSTRAD version uses the same theme tune as the SPECTRUM version, only this time with the advantage of the machine's soundchip. Unfortunately, the advantage isn't particularly notable, apart from all the sounds actually being clearly using different waveforms, but the main issue is still, that only one melodic line is present simultaneously with the drum section. In other words, there is no rearranging compared to the SPECTRUM version of the theme tune. It does sound slightly better, though, so that's something.

With the presence of an actual sound chip, the AMSTRAD sound effects have a much more designed feel to them. All the shooting and explosive noises sound more like they normally do on machines with an actual sound chip, the potion sound effect is more jingly and magic-like, picking up other items makes a "blip" sound more akin to the more hearty "blip" noises you hear in old NES games, an enemy's death makes an odd high-pitched "twing" sound, and the eye-monster's shooting makes a more metallic shooting noise than any other shooting noise. On the more annoying side, entering a new area makes a two-part sound effect of a backwards "swoosh", followed by a slow step-descending boom sound, and your walking noise is extremely loud compared to most other sounds. In the treasure room, the floor's disappearing noise sounds like the big monster is actually eating up the floor, and the monster's explosion noise is very effective indeed. From what I managed to count, the amount of sound effects in the AMSTRAD version is similar to the SPECTRUM version, but I'm not completely certain about the quality. Some of the effects annoy me to no end with either their unbalanced volume or otherwise illogical design, while others feel much more appropriate and properly designed here than in the SPECTRUM version.

Of course, this is where things usually get sort of unfair in favour of the C64, but let's see. The game boots up to a sampled speech saying "W-w-w-welcome, welcome to Gothik" in a low, booming voice, and you will never hear it again. This is already a brilliant bit of sound design that you wouldn't expect and surprises you further by only appearing once. In terms of music, the C64 version has three different tunes: a main theme tune, a Game Over jingle, and a status screen loop. The main theme tune is a completely new one that takes on more of a disco/funk-like approach, so you get a sampled drum loop under a bassline and two melodies on top of those. This, as you might be aware, tops the more commonly used three channels of the SID chip by adding the sampled drum loop somewhere. I'm not sure about how it works, but it's brilliant, and it shows the C64 version's creator, Gavin Raeburn, was definitely more in tune with the SID chip than the game's design. The main theme tune lasts for no more than a minute and 50 seconds, but it squeezes in so much of musical information even in its relatively simple chord progression and structure, that it can certainly be called a matter of quality over quantity. The Game Over jingle uses the same drum loop as the main title theme, but only stays at one chord for a couple of bars, with a descending melody. The status screen loop is also a two-bar sequence, which doesn't have a drum beat as such, but instead uses a more quiet, heartbeat-like element as the basis, and uses three different tones sort of jiggling around the same low note to make a hypnotizing little loop that's as synonymous with Gothik as any of the other music here, if not more so.

As for the sound effects, the C64 version tops the other two versions by having fourteen different sound effects. When you enter a new area, the game makes a weird stuttering noise that I can't really describe even remotely as anything recognizable, but I suppose it's the sound of a retrofuturistic norse teleporting device. After that, most other sounds feel oddly natural. Walking around makes a soft thumping noise, similar to as if you're walking on a lifted wood surface with hard-bottom shoes. Using the Firestorm sounds as if you were using a blowtorch. Picking up potions makes an ascending "paauung" coupled with a faint white noise in the background, while the other items make a weird electrical splash noise when picked up. All your weapons have a different sound effect: lightning bolt has a clearly electrical strike type feel to it; bow and arrows make a soft "thhwap" sound; and fireballs make an odd plastic "pungg" sound before a huge explosion, which features at least two different sound types. Hitting an enemy with your projectiles makes an oddly plastic sound that feels like the enemy is saying "ouch", while their deaths makes a lower "oooff" type sound - similar to taking a hit, but lower. In addition to having music in the status screen, the C64 version also features a faint "ping" sound for when you select a highlighted item. The treasure room has your walking noise replaced with the chomping noise of the disappearing floor, and the monster explosion is another different type of noise, which, to be frank, is a bit underwhelming, but is nonetheless another different noise. While most sound effects are excellent, there are a few of them that feel a bit off, but all in all, it's quality and quantity combined, which makes it an easy win.




Once again, it's a matter of playability versus audio-visual representation. If you really want to play Gothik as it was intended, the Spectrum and Amstrad versions will take you there quite nicely. Perhaps the Amstrad version suffers a bit from the visual side, making it slightly less enjoyable to play on the long run, but if visuals and sounds is your requirement for an enjoyable gaming session, then the C64 version is the way to go.

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 6
2. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5
3. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4

The scores given here are, as usual, a wild approximation, and my personal opinion, after having played all three versions properly now, is that I would most likely choose the Spectrum version over the other two, if I wanted to actually play Gothik in the sense of attempting to complete the game. If you want to have a look at the game's three versions in action, you can check out the Mikroview comparison below, which doesn't feature footage past the first area, but you do get a general idea of it.

That's it for this year's Firebird February - next year's will likely be the last one, since I'm starting to run out of good candidates for Firebird games. Next month will be another quieter one, since I will be focusing on starting the new season of My Nostalgia Trip Games in addition to doing my actual work, but I will try to squeeze in one comparison for March.

Thanks for reading, see you next time, whether it's here or on YouTube! Cheers!


  1. I want to express my gratitude for the practical tips and advice you consistently provide.

  2. Gothik" sounds like an intriguing game, especially for those who enjoy thinking and strategizing. It combines elements of Norse mythology and magic, and the mission is not just about running and shooting but also involves collecting items and using different potions and items to aid in completing the quest. Despite the slow loading times, the game's controls and challenges are exciting. Definitely worth a try!