(Review archived from February 25, 2023)
Transylvania is yet another game I can trace back to some of my earliest experiences with video games in general and adventure games specifically (it’s a bit of a tie between this, Space Quest, and Zork but through the fog of intervening years I’m not sure which one I encountered first). The year was 1985, and whilst out parents were otherwise occupied, a friend of mine fired up this quirky game called Transylvania on the state-of-the-art Apple II computer in her Mom’s office. The premise was enthralling to me, an idiosyncratic world loosely based on campy vampire/monster lore, in which you could seemingly do almost anything you wanted via textual prompts entered in plain English. I don’t know that at that point I really even had a conception that games had an end goal in mind; to me it was just fun to see what kind of wacky hijinx that text parser would let me get away with.
It was a fun memory, so much so that when I got older and developed interest in retro-gaming, I sought to find information about that goofy Transylvania game I had played from years before. And … I found very little at that time, even well into the era of the internet. As opposed to the other early adventure games I mentioned above, this one seemed to have vanished in complete obscurity. I knew I hadn’t imagined it, but I had really begun to wonder if it was some kind of obscure regional release.
But fast forward to 2023, when the urge to play Transylvania once again piqued my interest, I was actually able to find a good deal of information about the game as well as a playable copy! I should make note of the history of the game, being as it turns out that this really was something of an obscure release, coded by a single teenager who also drew all the wireframe raster graphics by hand once the game was nearing a distributable state.
So, enough with the personal and general history of Transylvania! The real question is, how does the obscure relic of the early graphical adventure game era hold up in 2023? Well I’m happy to say Transylvania mostly holds up fairly well! … Mostly. There’s a certain surreal ‘weirdness’ I find to be a common thread in these early adventure games, a bit like Monty Python style humor mixed in with a good dash of David Lynch-ian style narrative logic. It’s one of the things that I love about adventure games from this era, and Transylvania has that in spades. Vampire castle? Obviously. Free roaming werewolf, tracking you relentlessly? Naturally. UFO encounter? Definitely. It’s a fun trip, and despite a rather generic setting (and game title!), Transylvania really does make it’s world seem unique and like its own thing. The puzzles honestly are relatively straight forward, in terms of what you need to do, save for one ever present issue …
The text parser in this one is very finicky. I encountered more than one scenario where the parser would only accept very specific verbs, so much so that in a couple of cases I’m convinced that it only accepts one single specific phrase. I don’t have vast experience with other text parser games from this era, but for instance the Zork series has a much more robust parser than Transylvania, to compare it against one notable contemporary. I actually had to use Google a couple of times, not to figure out what action to take, but rather to figure out the very specific way I needed to communicate my desired action in such a way that the game would accept. So that part is not so great in a modern setting. It’s like there are two games running simultaneously; the one where you’re roaming the Transylvanian country side, and the continuously running guessing game you play against the parser.
But all told, I enjoyed my time in Transylvania, though it needs to be said that a healthy dose of nostalgia probably didn’t hurt. I could definitely see myself moving on to the sequels at some point in the future. If you enjoy text parser driven adventure games of this era, Transylvania is a fun little title. If the parser-driven frustrations I described above sound like a special kind of gaming hell, you’d be well advised to beware in these darkened lands, wayward traveler.