The games in the Catacomb Fantasy Trilogy — Catacomb Abyss, Catacomb Armageddon and Catacomb Apocalypse — were among the first 3D first person shooters (in 1991). Using and developing the idea and technology of the earlier Catacomb 3-D, they are also an obvious predecessor to the more popular Wolfenstein 3D. For those who know Wolfenstein, these games are very similar; levels made up of corridors and rooms created with large box-like tiles, sprite enemies, and rather large pixels everywhere. But here, instead of Those Wacky Nazis, you fight a large assortment of fantasy creatures, and instead of using guns, you shoot "magick missiles" from your hand. The levels are also rather smaller and simpler, enemies have only a front side, and the difficulty level is much lower.
The story of the game is basically that your archenemy Nemesis — a skeletal wizard with a skull surrounded by flames — has gathered up the forces of evil around him, and you must make your way through a series of fantastic but nasty locations while battling creatures matching a similar description. You play a wizard whose power mainly consists of shooting fireball-style thingies called magick missiles.
The three games are ostensibly set at different times in history (at least according to The Other Wiki). Abyss is set in the past, and is a fairly standard fantasy affair. Armageddon is set in the present day, but the only difference to the past seems to be that zombies and skeletons now have hair. Apocalypse is set in the distant future, and it features an odd mixture of sci-fi and fantasy elements.
The usual way of attacking in this game is to shoot out damaging magick missiles that travel forward at a finite speed; the player character's hand rises into view at the centre of the screen as he does this. There are three kinds of items you can gather: zappers, x-terminators, and cure potions. Zappers fire magick missiles rapidly, machine-gun style. X-terminators fire them in every direction at once, which is meant to be used against groups but can be devastating on a single target at a very close range. Cure potions instantly restore all your health, which is just one reason why the games are very easy compared to their later successors. There are also gems that enable your crystal sphere (functionally a radar) to detect different types of enemies, and hourglasses that stop time for everyone else for a while. A very common element in the game are walls that can be destroyed by shooting at them, effectively acting as secret doors but also leaving the question of just how anyone could get around the areas before you got there.
This series provides examples of:
- Arch-Enemy: Nemesis to the player character.
- Big Bad: Nemesis.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: Armageddon has giant red ants, one whole level being their hive. Apocalypse has giant robotic flies.
- Card-Carrying Villain: The Mausoleum of Nemesis has plaques on the wall bearing the inscription "Dedicated to Nemesis and His Great Evil".
- Convection Schmonvection: Walking between or even brushing against walls made of lava or fire does no harm.
- Damage-Sponge Boss: Nemesis, especially in the first game before he starts cloning himself. He takes more hits than anyone else and shoots for more damage and... well, there's no "and".
- Eldritch Location: Possibly the entire Catacombs of Despair, but the weirdest levels are usually identified by the walls, which might be made of pulsating lava, flames, or what might be pure magical energy (and looks the same as all walls do when they're breaking apart from your magick missiles).
- Energy Ball: The magick missiles used by the Player Character and the enemy mages in Abyss. In the sequels, they're no longer ball-shaped.
- Evil Is Hammy: While Nemesis certainly has no voice acting, and no in-game or animated dialogue, he definitely looks hammy in the still image before the game starts, declaring that he either has another NOVICE to feed his pets or that he loves the taste of a WARRIOR's blood (referring to the difficulty level you choose).
- Evil Overlord: Nemesis.
- Excuse Plot: "You arch rival Nemesis has summoned the dark forces of the underworld to destroy all that is good." That's about it.
- Faceless Eye: Abyss features giant, man-sized blooshot floating eyes which shoot fireballs from their pupils. Apocalypse has tiny, grey floating eyes which appear on some levels; unusually, they are not enemies, but guides who lead the player along the right path (though it's hard to keep pace with them, and easy to accidentally kill them with your fireballs.)
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: The Demon Inferno from Abyss and the Flaming Inferno from Armageddon are variations of this idea. They're hot and contain demons. And they're not even the final level in their respective games.
- Fog Feet: The spectres (if that's what the black bat—humanoid things are called) in Abyss taper down to a point and float just above the ground.
- Glowing Eyelights of Undeath: Zombies, later skeletons, Nemesis himself.
- Hair-Raising Hare: The garden level in Armageddon features killer rabbits that initially look like harmless bunnies leaping on the spot (if that sounds odd or contradictory, well, it is), but become much larger semi-humanoid monsters to attack.
- Heroic Fantasy: The forces of evil are mighty and numerous, but fifty magick missiles to the face always does the trick.
- His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Nemesis.
- Hub Level: Apocalypse has a level leading to several other levels, cleverly constructed by controlling the amount of keys the player gets so that, even though each level always resets when it's entered, you can get to the final exit of the hub level once you've done all the sub-levels... or done the same one four times if you like, since there's a limit to how much you can control by rationing keys.
- I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The catacombs are called the Catacombs of Despair. Levels include among others the Garden of Tears, the Den of Zombies, the Demon Inferno, the Torture Chambers, the Halls of the Wretched Pox and the Flaming Inferno. And then there are the descriptions of your current location that appear on your screen everywhere; many of these count as well. Corridors of death. A bloody mess. The chamber of ultimate doom. Gateway to certain termination. The long passage of pain. And so on.
- The Lost Woods: The Dark Forest is a thoroughly nasty mysterious forest.
- Meaningful Name: Nemesis.
- Mooks. Of course.
- Our Demons Are Different: They are large humanoid brutes that don't really look like anything else (except demons), and can take an incredible amount of punishment before dying. Abyss has blue and red demons, Armageddon has two-headed red demons, and Apocalypse has robotic demons.
- Our Liches Are Different: Nemesis is a wizard that keeps coming back from being killed, and he appears as a robed skeleton with a burning skull and glowing eyes. (He also shoots burning skulls that look like his head.)
- Palette Swap: Averted, but sometimes very narrowly. Water trolls in Abyss have about the same appearance as trolls, but they still have unique frames for peeking out of the water. But the only non-colour difference between blue and red demons is that red demons have no pupils or ears. One bipedal automaton in Apocalypse is both a palette and upper body swap of the Pox enemies. And finally there's Nemesis from Apocalypse, who appears to be a palette swap, not of Nemesis from Armageddon as such, but from "Nemesis with his head bowed down while casting a spell", giving him a rounder head and larger forehead.
- Recycled In Space: Apocalypse: Catacombs fantasy in the future!
- Remote Body: In Apocalypse and Armageddon, Nemesis sends clones of himself to battle you. (Of course, it's impossible to tell whether it fits this trope exactly or the clones have more independent control of themselves.)
- Useless Useful Spell: Zappers shoot magick missiles very fast, but so does repeatedly pressing Ctrl; there's no speed limit to how many magick missiles you can shoot normally, and after some practice, your rate of fire can be comparable to a zapper anyway.
- Vanity Window: The game's title and copyright year is always displayed to the left half of the HUD. In the budget releases in the Froggman game line, this is replaced with the Froggman logo, a smirking frog with Cool Shades and a baseball cap—and yes, this silly cartoonish character occupies the corner of the screen throughout the entire fantasy adventure.
- When Trees Attack: The Dark Forest is inhabited mostly by monstrous trees that are inactive and impossible to harm at first, but awaken to attack with clawed hands.
- A Winner Is You: Crossed with Gainax Ending. Beating Catacomb 3-D entails approaching a little old fat guy trapped in a glass tube filled with goo. The game then treats you to a brief closeup of the guy Covered in Gunge and saying "My name's Grelminar. Do you have a towel?" And that's it.