Retro Revisited: Quo Vadis (C64)

Developed by Steve Chapman and published by The Edge in 1984, Quo Vadis is a scrolling platformer infamous for several reasons.

It was considered to be one of the biggest games available at the time, approaching 1024 screens in size, although far more interesting is the fact that the the publisher ran a competition to win a jewel-encrusted sceptre (reportedly worth £10,000) and £30,000 cash if they could solve a series of riddles hidden within the game itself.

Atari had run a similar competition with their Swordquest series and it had been wildly successful, so it’s not unsurprising that other publishers would try similar tactics to persuade people to part ways with their hard-earned cash!

Hidden deep within a subterranean labyrinth lies a jewelled sceptre, the objective of your quest. The labyrinth is a huge, meandering series of interconnected chambers, passages and corridors where it is all too easy to become lost in the endless depths.

Actually finding the sceptre in the first place is a near-impossible task, but finding your way back to the entrance is made all the more challenging, as you won’t be able to simply retrace your steps and follow the same route that you used to find the sceptre – you’ll need to map every possible chamber to find the correct way out.

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Guarding the labyrinth are hordes of demons, serpents and other evil creatures that do not plan to let you reach the sceptre, let alone escape with it.

Your knight can fight back the demons with a ranged attack that hurls a diamond-shaped projectile in the direction that he is currently facing. Moving the joystick moves the knight in the corresponding direction and launches attacks simultaneously, whilst holding down the fire button will anchor the knight in place, allowing you to fire in a specific direction without moving, even when jumping; mastering the ability to jump in one direction whilst firing in another is something that you must learn quickly if you are to survive.

Coming into contact with an enemy (or the fireballs that they cast) will drain the knight’s health. There’s no visible health bar, although the knight will change colour to indicate things are getting serious. Purple means that health is running low, whilst green means that you are now at a critical state and further hits will result in death.

Unfortunately, the knight’s weapon can only have a single projectile on-screen at a time, so killing the monsters always proves difficult and you’ll find your knight ends on critical health very quickly. It’s possible to restore lost health by collecting treasure chests hidden within the labyrinth, but these are few and far between and finding them when you need them is next to impossible.

Watch your step…

Floating platforms and ropes allow your knight to cross the caverns and to reach chambers above or below his current position, and you will spend a large part of the game navigating your way between platforms.

Since the knight jumps a fixed distance, it’s vital to time the jumps correctly. It’s all to easy to mistime a jump and to lose considerable time by being forced to climb the tower of platforms yet again. Worse still, there’s always the chance that you will land in a pool of lava, ending your adventure somewhat prematurely.

Of course, finding the sceptre and escaping is merely the tip of the iceberg here.

If you wanted to be in with a chance of winning the real sceptre then you’d also need to hunt down six clues hidden somewhere in the maze, scribble them down, and solve a ludicrously obtuse riddle.

The clues themselves appear as text written across the background, but I did notice that one of these is written perilously close to a pool of lava, so it’s extremely difficult to get the screen to scroll far enough to reveal the text without plunging into the lava by accident.

Chests offer a rare chance to restore health

It might be painfully clear by now that the game is so ludicrously difficult that you’d have next to no chance of beating the game, let alone solving the riddles.

However, it appears that there were a number of players who somehow managed to beat the game and submitted their answers to The Edge who, unsurprisingly, told them they were wrong. The prize was never claimed, although it’s doubtful that it ever existed in the first place.

It transpires that the owner of The Edge was one Timothy Langdell, the same individual who became embroiled in much controversy a few years back when his company, Edge Games, attempted to trademark the word “Edge”, and attempted to sue Electronic Arts for infringement; I’ll leave you draw your own conclusions.

On a technical level, I suppose the game is quite impressive considering the year of release.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the game map is absolutely enormous, and features some nicely drawn artwork, including enormous braziers, candles, chandeliers and decorative armaments.

However, there’s no getting away from the fact that the game uses a very limited colour palette, with everything ranging from red, to a slightly lighter shade of yellow or orange.

Although not something that makes the game enjoyable, the sense of despair and futility as you wander the labyrinth is palpable, and from the moment you drop off the starting rope, you know that you’ll never feel the sun’s warmth on your skin again.

The sceptre and a riddle!

The game features limited audio with a single tune that loops over and over as you play, although I suppose the fact this – and just about everything else – is sure to drive you insane only adds to the atmosphere.

Sound effects are also practically non-existent, possessing a single “boom” effect whenever you shoot one of the labyrinths many denizens. If you’re looking for a title that puts some sizzle into you C64’s SID, this is most definitely not it.

Those of you who played the game back at release and are blessed with sufficient determination may get some satisfaction from playing the game through to completion (even then, I’d highly recommend finding a trained copy), but there is little reward for doing so. The crippling difficulty, coupled with the fact that you only have a single life in which to beat it, quickly quells the desire for any repeat play.

Quo Vadis is not a fun game to play, although the provenance surrounding it, particularly the supposed rewards for beating it, means that there might still be reason for you to take a look at this game, if only for curiosities sake.

Just be sure to handle it with a pair of tongs and to deposit it in a lead-lined box when you’re done with it.

Author: Alec
PC gamer, C64 fan, Amiga advocate, creator of longplay retrogaming videos on YouTube, occasional wordsmith - follow me on Twitter

4 thoughts on “Retro Revisited: Quo Vadis (C64)

  1. That was a good review!
    Especially with the little culture-historical part about the “winnable” prizes. :) I remember this game was very hard right at the beginning since the first jump from the rope was already quite tricky. If you check the screenshot of Quo Vadis on the GameBase 64 site, there too a failed attempt was immortalised on the first screenshot. :)

  2. i finished this game in one month or two but i didnt submitted anything at the time because im Italian and i was 12 years old at the time :D and i dont remember many ending. you had to find a scepter in the game too and i find it at last.

  3. “Atari had run a similar competition with their Swordquest series and it had been wildly successful.” No it wasn’t. The contest was supposed to take place across four games. Each game had its on prize and there was a 5th Grand Prize planned. Only three of the games were ever released, and only two of the five prizes were ever awarded.

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