Killed by your own daughter while trying to rescue her from voodoo brainwashers, your soul is now that of a panther as you search the darkness for her. Sometimes man, sometimes panther, you must walk, run, jump, climb, and fight your way through a forbidding world. Collect potions, keys, and other items to add life, open doors, and help you kill!
~ advertising blurb
William R. Fisher III is perhaps not that well known in greater gaming fandom, but he's sure made a name for himself in the indie scene. Perhaps best known for The Last Half of Darkness trilogy that remains somewhat relevant to this day, he also developed the wonderfully creepy Romantic Blue in 1994 (which is also on this site). That same year, he took a stab at transposing those dark themes into a cinematic platformer with Death by Dark Shadows.
Before we get into the game itself, a little backstory. The complete version of this shareware title has sadly been lost to time. While waiting for a distributor that never came, Fisher sold only a handful of the final product in the San Diego area of the United States. Thinking someone would eventually take on the unique title, he didn't think to hold onto a copy for himself so all that remains is the short shareware release and an unfinished Beta version that only includes 5 of the 7 chapters. If any of you just so happen to live in that area, check the attic and basements of the entire street just in case.
The loss of such a game is palpable, and perhaps adds to the darkly melancholy tone to the game like a cursed creepy pasta. I can imagine a teenage writer describing a cursed final screen killing those few patrons who played it to the end. The creepy content we do get to see does give such a tale credence. You play as Dr. Jones (no, not that one) who has been brutally killed by his daughter whose mind has been corrupted by a voodoo cult. But not all black magic is dark magic. Voodoo also gives this man the opportunity to save himself and his offspring thanks to a priestess named Takicca. The only caveat is that he's now a black panther of all things, and this is where the game begins.
If you've played Prince of Persia, the gameplay is very familiar. Jumps are to be deliberate timed and executed to navigate platforms and avoid deadly traps. The ultimate goal in each chapter is to find the key that will open the door to the next area, but this is just a means to an end. Everything around this objective is just as meaningful. When you encounter an enemy, for example, a sword fight of sorts takes place. At least when you've discovered a voodoo charm that gives you the ability to temporarily turn back into a human. This charm take on the form of a skull, naturally, and it also acts as your weapon. It appears to be pot luck as to whether you hit, though. Like Prince of Persia, I'm sure this isn't the case but I've never been able to figure out a fool-proof pattern in either game. It might as well be rock, paper, scissors for all I know.
Find the Voodoo skull before you can engage in a fight (left).
If you lose any health represented by the purple bar, drink one of the potions laying about (right).
You prowl in your cat-like form using the number pad. 4 and 6 move and combined with 8 allows you to perform a long jump. 8 on its own jumps straight up, while 7 and 9 are used for more precise hops in either direction. 2 crouches, but is also used to pick up and interact with objects. In combat, it becomes one of your attacks along with 1, 3 and 0. This layout fits the gameplay very well, and despite my ineptitude at brawling, I became quickly engrossed.
I solely put this down to the thick and foreboding atmosphere entrenched in every pixelated screen. Occasionally, flashes of macabre images like flesh dripping off skulls or a pin plunged into a voodoo doll will surprise and unnerve in equal measures. When the story progresses through in-game, dialogue-free cutscenes, you become invested with an outcome you know will never come.
The shareware version, while short, contains the full moveset of Dr. Jones. In combat, he can kick in a number of ways as well as force his raspberry-blowing skull into an enemy's face. In the Beta version, he only has different variations of the latter. It's also a little buggy though not exactly game-breaking. Jumps can occasionally miss and fights will often meander into solid rock revealing the pre-release nature of this version.
I highly recommend playing through both of them anyway. By doing so, it will give you the best idea of the full game that once was. Even in this form, Death by Dark Shadows is still a truly engrossing cinematic platformer that I highly recommend. Now, if only one the residents of San Diego would uncover those missing floppies...
To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses the DOSBox Daum build of DOSBox 0.74 to bring the game to modern systems. Original Shareware and Beta versions included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 10 Mb. Install Size: 24.8 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Death by Dark Shadows is © William R. Fisher III Studios
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me