Programmer: Michael Jakobsen
Title screen and music: Lars Osterballe
Publisher: Superior Software
Date Published: 1985
Platforms: Acorn BBC Micro model B and Acorn Electron
Genre: Arcade adventure
Note: this write-up describes the BBC Micro version.
Citadel was a huge and challenging side-on platform
adventure computer game
, which saw you running, jumping and climbing through over a hundred screens, dodging enemies, collecting valuable items, and solving puzzles. The game was set largely in a castle (or citadel), with various locations to either side: to the west was an Egyptian pyramid
, a witch
's house, and prehistoric standing stones
, while to the east was an island with a temple. The castle itself had cellars and a deep well, and towers on top. The goal was to solve puzzles to gain access to a teleport
, then travel to a strange alien place, and defeat the powers of darkness.
The basic gameplay consisted of collecting objects, and working out what you should do with them and where; this was often a matter of trial and error. To get around, you had to jump from platform to platform, climb ropes, and avoid various bad guys. The gameplay owed a debt to the likes of Jet Set Willy, but there was a much larger emphasis on problem solving. Puzzles required things like taking an ice crystal to the appropriate place to freeze water and walk on it; bringing various mystical articles to temples; and putting a chicken drumstick in a fireplace to cook it and then giving it to dog-faced guards so they let you pass. There were also a number of colored keys which would open the appropriately colored doors.
Unlike most games of the time, which gave you a number of lives and where each contact with an enemy would immediately lose you a life, Citadel gave you an energy meter. It started at 100 and if it reached zero, you would die. Energy could be recovered by collecting bottles labeled with an 'E', which were hidden around the play area. Loss of energy was caused by contact with the enemies and a variety of spikes, fires, lack of air, etc. If you were losing energy too quickly, you would be rescued by being whisked back to the entrance of a room with a strange sucking noise. This saved too great an energy loss, but also prevented you running straight through large pits of fire.
You were confronted by many enemies which ranged from glowing abstract blobs, moving flames, snakes, pig's heads, and strange crab-like things, to the very sinister and evil hooded monks with dark faces and glowing eyes who waited around levels or manned guard posts and in either case would slowly drift towards you. Luckily, you had the ability to shoot at the villains, although not all enemies were vulnerable, and it wasn't entirely obvious what your weapon was.
The game also gave you a good deal of control over the player's movement. In many games of that era if you pressed jump you would sail through a pre-determined arc, and have no further influence over the character until you landed; if you fell from a high platform you would drop straight down like a lead weight; and most annoyingly you could only climb ladders if you stood at the base and aligned yourself precisely. In contrast, Citadel let you zoom around in constant control of your character's direction: you could swerve in mid-jump or steer yourself as you fell, and leap nimbly onto and off ladders and ropes (much the same feeling as the NES Mario platformers).
Citadel was a classic largely because it was a hugely challenging game without ever becoming really annoying. Partly the high level of challenge was because it was very difficult to work out what many of the objects were supposed to be, and thus almost impossible to determine what you were supposed to do with them. A flattish object like a horizontally-stretched 'H', which my sister insisted was a bed, turned out to be a bone, and had to be dropped in a witch's cauldron
. A light-blue rectangle was in fact a slab of stone that had to be taken to a Stonehenge
site, and not any kind of pill.
Bigger hassles were caused by the fact that there was no saving the game. To complete it might take two or three hours, but one or two major slip-ups could strip you of your energy and kill you off, meaning you had to start all over again, and there was a lot of fruitless running around as you tried to solve problems. But at the time, we knew no better. You also had a very limited carrying capacity, meaning there was a lot of retracing your steps to collect objects as you attempted to try each object in each location.
As described above, the platform gaming side of Citadel was very well implemented; there is little doubt that without the freedom and control over your character, running around the castle would be a real chore. The degree of backtracking required was annoying, but the game's charms overcame this. Many of the villains seemed to have real character, like the pig heads which floated up and down in a sinister yet ludicrous fashion, and the green snakes that rushed back and forwards on the ground.
It was definitely one of the key games on the BBC Micro. Graphically, it was great in its time with bright colors and some excellent design, but even compared to later BBC games it is very dated with its static screens (no scrolling) and tiny sprites. But graphics are not everything, and Citadel appealed to every gamer who likes problem-solving and drawing elaborate maps. For all these reasons, it is fondly remembered for its personality and great gameplay.
One of the more notable features of Citadel came before you even began to play. Its publisher Superior Software was at the time trying to sell speech synthesis
software, and part-way through loading you would hear a voice intone "Citadel, Citadel, Citadel, Citadel," maniacally rising in pitch. The point of this was uncertain, and it probably added a couple of minutes onto the tape loading time, but it was cool.
The game was promoted with a competition to find the location of crowns hidden in the game and win a cash prize. Another gimmick was the ability to choose whether to play as a boy or a girl: the only real difference was pigtails, but it added to the slightly offbeat atmosphere and the sense of player freedom.
A second game, Citadel 2
, followed from a different developer but still through Superior Software. Despite bigger and arguably better graphics it was less interesting than the first game. It was also significantly easier. Part of the problem was that this time you could tell what most of the objects you came across were supposed to be, which was boring. It also lacked some of the charm of the original. And the larger sprite
s meant each screen was less packed with challenges and little passages than before.
There are a number of BBC Micro emulator
s available today for Windows
PCs and other platforms. Most of them will play Citadel, so if you can legally obtain the binaries
you should have no trouble playing the game in the comfort of your home. Typically emulators allow you to save your position in the game at any point, but for the authentic experience don't do that.
Most of this write-up comes from my own memory and playing the emulated game, but some information came from:
Tim Margh. "Citadel". The House of Timmargh.
If you have any other information or memories of Citadel, please let me know.