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Video Game / The Castles of Doctor Creep

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The Castles of Doctor Creep is a Puzzle Platformer for the Commodore 64 created by Ed Hobbs and published by Brøderbund Software in 1984. Your character (or characters in 2-player mode) are trapped in one of Doctor Creep's castles, and must escape. In your way are various devices, traps, and monsters created by the titular doctor, and it's up to you to find a way to get past them all and through the exit door.

There are 13 castles (14 counting the tutorial), ranging from the easy (e.g. Freedonia, Sylvania, Tannenbaum) to the brutally hard (e.g. Baskerville, Rittenhouse, Lovecraft).

A group of programmers managed to reverse-engineer the game and create an unofficial Mission-Pack Sequel called The Dungeons of Doctor Creep, released in 1985. This expansion features 10 more castles and some altered mechanics, including invisible ladders.

A lesser-known PC port was created by the original programmer, but it had some graphical issues and did not survive the transition to 32-bit. A more direct port of the original game, as of March 2022, is available on Steam.

Contains examples of:

  • Achievement Mockery: The Steam port contains a number of achievements for dying to certain traps or enemies, as well as dying a large number of times.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: Attempted. The Unlimited Lives option is provided so that a player can take their time to figure out the puzzles in a castle before they try it "for real". Also, the game features a save feature that allows the player to save their current position within a castle, as long as they're between rooms at the time—essentially an early (and official) implementation of a save state. That said, it's possible for the puzzles, on the player's death, to be in such a way that they are Unwinnable, and the player has to completely restart the castle (or load from an earlier save) anyway. Also, using these will block the player from entering a high score during a run, so these are strictly tools for learning to solve a castle.
    • The PC port tried to fix this by having the player respawn at the start of the room they just entered, with the room in the state it was in when the player first entered, but this only fixed some of the original issues, and also resulted in a new set of Unwinnable situations.
    • One good innovation the PC port had was allowing a player to cycle both directions through the Matter Transmitter colors, and also to cycle through the colors as quickly as the player hit the direction key (in the original, the Matter Transmitter booth cycled only in one direction, and relatively slowly).
  • Artificial Stupidity: The monsters and Ray Gun all have some form of stupidity. In this case, though, the stupidity is deliberate, as the puzzles are built around the monsters' specific forms of stupidity.
    • Mummy: They always try to follow Player 1 (or Player 2 if Player 1 is not present) along their floor. They don't climb ladders or slide down poles, so they can't leave the floor they're on. They'll gladly walk under an active lightning machine or into an inescapable corral area the game has let you set up.
    • Frankenstein's Monster: They walk in a straight line until they encounter a climbable ladder or a slidable pole (or, if already on one of those, a floor), then they attempt to move toward the nearest player; they also change direction if they walk into another of their kind. They have a tendency to get off at the wrong floor, however. It is also possible to get them stuck against a conveyor belt going in the other direction, since they don't attempt to change direction while walking against it, even if a player walks right behind them. A few puzzles take this exact behavior into account. Like the mummy, it's easy to get them to walk under an active lightning machine and into certain corral areas.
    • Ray Gun: They attempt to follow the nearest player, and will fire if on the same level horizontally as a player, even if the player is behind the gun, or there's an impenetrable object or monster in the way.
  • A Winner Is You: Played with. While you get a nice screen of your character running from the castle, then waving to the camera, and you get to enter your initials in the high score chart if you were playing with limited lives, you then get the same GAME OVER screen you would have gotten had you failed.
  • Blackout Basement: Downplayed; some rooms have black floors. You can still see all the switches, monsters, and ladders in a room, as well as where the floor is supposed to be, but you cannot see any conveyor belts or open trap doors. These "black rooms" are common in Dungeons, but they also exist in Castles (Alternation alone has two; the game's only other black room is in Rittenhouse).
    • Dungeons features a room that is completely black, with only the doors and your character visible at all.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: For some unknown reason, one of the doors in Baskerville requires a key acquired earlier in the castle...and already used to open a completely different door. Thankfully, the key still works for the new one.
  • Co-Op Multiplayer: All the castles can be played in either one-player or two-player mode. Nearly all of the castles benefit from two-player mode to some extent, but some castles (such as Parthenia) are built to take full advantage of this mode.
  • Deadly Dodging / Friendly Fire: If a ray gun and a monster are in the same room, often (but not always) that means you want to kill the monster with the ray gun. In later levels, that usually means making the gun fire at you and hit the monster instead (either by being behind the monster when the gun fires, behind the gun when the gun fires, or moving out of the way of the shot). Eli's Special in Dungeons showcases several methods for doing just this.
  • Death Ray / Energy Weapon: The ray gun fires death lasers that can kill you...or any monsters in its path. The gun moves up and down and down along a track, and always faces a particular direction. Only a few objects will block the death laser (including monsters or players, though they will die in the process); it will pass straight through others. Normally the Ray Gun tries to track the nearest player, but if you reach its control, you can control it yourself.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: If you can learn to consistently kill monsters with trap doors, you can make certain castles somewhat easier. This is one way to considerably shorten Romania.
  • Door to Before: It's common for a puzzle or series of puzzles to contain a door or sliding pole that brings you back to an earlier part of the level. Sometimes, it's even a convenience. Also inverted; a few puzzles have you activating a doorbell or a lock from one side just so you can use it from the other side later.
  • Easy-Mode Mockery: If you have Unlimited Lives on, or use the game's save feature during a castle, you cannot enter your initials in the high score list for that run.
  • Edge Gravity: Your character automatically stops at the edge of floors and open trap doors.
  • Escape from the Crazy Place: Your objective is always to escape from the castle you're trapped in. A castle filled with the creations of a mad scientist, including monsters, and you know that the scientist could return at any moment....
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Mummies. Frankenstein's Monsters. Ray guns. Trap doors. Lightning machines. And if you find yourself trapped, you can do this to yourself (see Press X to Die).
  • Excuse Plot: When trying to purchase a castle that once belonged to Doctor Creep, you somehow end up trapped inside it, and now you have to escape before the titular mad scientist returns.
  • Fake Longevity: A common occurrence in castles is for certain puzzles to be solved in bits, and the character has to make multiple trips around the same castle (or the same part of the castle) to finish them up. A few castles take this to extremes. While some (like Parthenia) can be alleviated with the presence of a second characternote , others (particularly Doublecross) aren't really helped with a second player.
  • Flip-Screen Scrolling: Played with. Each time you went from one room to another, it would show you a basic map of the castle, which player (or players) were active, which door you were entering, and which room you were going into. When you returned to a room later, the room would be exactly how you left it...down to the positions of monsters, ray guns, and other objects. Some castles required you to time your departure so that a monster wouldn't kill you when you entered, or to position a ray gun so it wouldn't shoot you dead when you entered by a certain door.
  • Force-Field Door: The Force Field obstacle. You can shut off the Force Field with an appropriate button, but it automatically reactivates 8 seconds later. The Force Field is one of the few things that can stop a Ray Gun's death laser without getting destroyed itself.
  • Fragile Speedster: Your character, in comparison to the other monsters. One touch from the monsters will kill you, and you can't fight them directly, but you can move more quickly than they can.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: Of the two monster types, probably the more dangerous of the two, as it's faster then the Mummy and can climb ladders and slide down poles. On the other hand, it has a different AI that can be exploited in ways that the Mummy can't. You release the monster by walking, climbing, or sliding in front of the open face of its coffin.
  • Gang Up on the Human / No Zombie Cannibals: The monsters will never go after each other; they always go for the players. Doctor Creep made them that way.
  • The Ghost: Doctor Creep himself. You never encounter him in person; you're just trapped in one of his castles and have to escape.
  • High-Voltage Death: Walking under an active Lightning Machine will result in this.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Some of the castle names, like Doublecross, Baskerville, and Lovecraft, are particularly ominous. Appropriately, they tend to be some of the tougher levels.
  • Inconveniently-Placed Conveyor Belt: One of the many obstacles. On the one hand, they're impossible to run against (they move faster than your character); on the other, if you reach the switch for it, you can turn it off...or change the direction. In some castles, switches are placed so the player cannot reach them.
  • Insurmountable Waist-High Fence: It's possible for a doorbell to be positioned in a way that looks like your character could activate it by reaching for it, but your character actually can't. Also, a floor gap of only a few pixels cannot be crossed by any means.
  • Lightning Gun: A somewhat more realistic version with the Lightning Machine; this is a large stationary Van der Graaff-type generator operating at high voltage and amperage, but it only affects the floor underneath it (and for a short distance around). These machines can be turned on or off with switches.
  • Lock and Key Puzzle: Common. If a key is not required for the exit door itself, then the locked door will protect something needed to progress further.
  • Mad Scientist: Doctor Creep. The castles are filled with his inventions and monsters.
  • Marathon Level: Several castles take a long time to solve. Baskerville is probably the best-known.
    • Chess Horror in Dungeons is a major example, with sixty-four rooms to traverse. (The largest castle in the original, Callanwolde—also an example of this trope—has only 24 by comparison.)
  • Mission-Pack Sequel: An unofficial one in The Dungeons of Doctor Creep.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Doctor Creep.
  • Mummy: One of the two monster types. It's not particularly fast, and can't climb ladders or slide down poles, but it will kill you if it touches you. It's released from its tomb by your character walking in front of the corresponding ankh.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Doctor Creep.
  • Nintendo Hard: Some of the later castles are absolutely brutal in difficulty.
  • Obvious Beta: Not the original C64 version (nor the Steam port), but the PC port was this, especially with the player and monster graphics.
  • One Bullet at a Time: Each ray gun may have only one laser on screen at the same time. Some puzzles require you to exploit this.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: If you get touched by a monster, you die.
  • Outside-the-Box Tactic: Quite a few of the castles can be made easier or sped up by resorting to these. Romania in particular can be cleared in under 10 minutes in-game time with a clever tactic in the final room, though screwing that up will make the castle Unwinnable.
  • Portal Network: The Matter Transmitter. You teleport from a colored booth to a matching color target elsewhere in the room. You can change the target by changing the booth's color (hold up on the joystick; on the PC version, down would cycle through the colors the other way).
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: If left idle, the game will cycle through some rooms of the current castle. On the second loop, it will start playing a chiptune variation of Johannes Brahms' Hungarian Dance N°5. The game also cycles through a set of songs, some of which are upbeat, including Funeral March of a Marionette.
  • Press X to Die: If you hit Restore, your character is killed and (if you have any lives left) respawns at the original spawn point. This is provided in the case you find yourself trapped with no escape, and no other suicide method. In 2-player mode, Restore kills any characters on the screen (which may be both players, or just one).
  • Puzzle Platformer: An early example.
  • Red Herring: Occasionally, a key or other item will prove to be unnecessary. The red key in Alternation is one major example. Also, several doors in the labyrinth section of Sylvania and in the sequel's castle Chess Horror lead to dead ends.
  • Schizophrenic Difficulty: The castles in the original are supposed to be in order of difficulty, from easiest to hardest. While it's generally true, there are obvious exceptions, especially early on. (Dungeons lists their levels in rough alphabetical order, not by a theoretical sorting algorithm, with the exception of its introductory stage.) The order is:
    • Sylvania (Easy)
    • Callanwolde (Difficult and long)
    • Tannenbaum (Easy)
    • Alternation (Moderate, but long)
    • Freedonia (Very easy, and short)
    • Carpathia (Difficult puzzles but not too long)
    • Parthenia (Easy with two players; long and moderate with one)
    • Teasdale (Moderate but long)
    • Rittenhouse (Very difficult)
    • Romania (Long and difficult)
    • Doublecross (Long and difficult)
    • Baskerville (Difficult and very, very long)
    • Lovecraft (Very difficult)
  • Schmuck Bait: It's very common for the red target (the default) for the Matter Transmitter to lead to a spot that you don't want to go when first solving a room's puzzle, either because it only goes anywhere when the puzzle is cleared, or because it leads to an inescapable fatal trap.
  • Shout-Out: Several of the castle names are a shout-out of one kind or another.
    • Two of the early castles are named Freedonia and Sylvania. Teasdale may also be a reference to the film.
    • A late castle is called Baskerville.
    • The last castle in the list is called Lovecraft. Appropriately, it's a difficult one.
    • One of the castles in Dungeons is titled "Red Death". It's loosely based off the seven rooms in Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Masque of the Red Death", and indeed the seven rooms have similar color schemes (as far as the game engine would allow, anyway).
  • Take Your Time: No matter how long you take, the doctor will never return while you're stuck in the castle you're in.
  • Trap Door: A very common obstacle. Thanks to Edge Gravity, the only way to die to a trap door is to be standing over one when it opens. Trap doors are the only trap that a monster can trigger.
  • Trap Is the Only Option: Very often, the only way out of a castle requires that you trigger a trap of some kind, generally the release of a monster.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: Some castles feature this, with lethal consequences for getting it wrong. This trope is one of the reasons that the Unlimited Lives option and the save feature exist.
    • The first non-tutorial maps, Sylvania. note 
    • Alternation can trap the player behind a conveyor belt. note  Additionally, the upper room can require guessing whether to approach from the left or right, assuming you didn't see the screen from the demo reel.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Quite a few puzzles have a failure condition that makes the castle unwinnable.
    • Tannenbaum has a particularly obvious one in the third room; if you awaken the last Frankenstein's Monster in the room, it opens up a trapdoor that blocks your progress.
    • A puzzle late in Baskerville (in the middle leftmost room) can render the castle unwinnable for a player with limited lives if they get it wrong, and the correct solution is not immediately obvious to most players.
    • One On One from Dungeons has a failure condition related to its gimmick; if you don't have a second player, you can't exit the first room because it requires that you open the door for each other.
  • Video-Game Lives: You have three lives, represented by the text color (Green=3, Yellow=2, Red=final). You can also enable unlimited lives, but can't enter a high score if you do.
  • Video Game Tutorial: The first "castle" in the list is actually a tutorial for how the game works. It contains all of the various game elements, a textual description of each, and allows the player to interact with them in a (theoretically) non-lethal manner. The player has to go out of his way to die (i.e. either walking into the lightning machines while they're active or climbing the ladder to the mummy) if he's by himself.
    • Dungeons includes an introductory level, which rehashes some of the elements in the previous game and showcases some of the new elements (such as invisible objects). Eli's Special in the same game could be considered a tutorial for more advanced game concepts, such as ways to kill with the ray gun.
  • Visual Pun:
    • The escape screen for Tannenbaum castle has your character running past Christmas trees. Additionally, the final room (unlocked with a green key, and colored green, appropriately enough) resembles a giant conifer.
    • Chess Horror has sixty-four equal-sized small rooms arranged in an 8x8 pattern with alternating colors. That's right, it resembles a chess board.
  • Yet Another Stupid Death: If you're not concentrating, it's easy miss a step in solving a puzzle, and subsequently find yourself walking into a monster or deadly trap, or else find yourself in an inescapable situation. Even if you always solve the puzzles that are self contained in a room, woe betide you if you forget to flip a switch or press a doorbell to open a path for later before leaving the room. Two-player mode can occasionally result in this with one player failing to pay attention to where the other player is, and (for example) hitting a lightning machine switch at the wrong time....

Alternative Title(s): Doctor Creep, The Dungeons Of Doctor Creep, Dr Creep