Since I was young, I've always visted car boots (large yard sales for you Americans) along with my family, on the hunt for bargains, especially cheap video games. A lot of people are there to just get rid of old, useless or unwanted junk, and games are always there, especially a few months after Christmas, when the games have been completed and have no use anymore.
There was always one stand, though. They'd have nothing but games and consoles, brand new, cheaper than the shops, along with second hand stuff, and if the owner knew you well enough, 'early access' of upcoming titles...yarr mateys!
Over the years, we always visited that stand over all the others, getting a heck of a lot of stuff and spending a lot of money. They'd often joke about how we were the reason they came every week. Eventually, our family went our seperate ways, much to their dismay, when I decided to stay in this city so I could go to University, while they moved to their dream home on the sea side.
When I first started going to University, I never had a chance to go to the car boot and before I knew it, two years passed. While I was on my third year of University, I finally had a chance and was overwhelmed by the new selection of games.
Super Mario Galaxy 2? Halo 4? What is this sorcery!? I thought. I happily browsed the new selection of games, but was sad as I didn't have a console to play half of them on! Ultimately, I was drawn over to the PC section, where there weren't too many games. The owners told me they had moved more towards console gaming now and pretty much everything was second hand or unwanted left overs of their brand new stock.
I rounded up a bunch of games I wanted, C&C3, Shogun 2 Total War, and a copy of Skyrim. When I tried to give them some money, they just told me to take them. At first I was surprised, but they explained to me that me and my family had been their biggest customers in the years before and they knew I was at University, so to help a little, they gave them to me for free!
After saying goodbye and heading home, I eagerly installed and played C&C3 for a good few hours, before then playing Shogun 2. It was about 9pm when I got around to Skyrim. I was really dissapointed though when I opened the case only to find a plain CDR disc with 'Emulator' written on it.
I did get them for free so I wasn't too heart broken, but I was a bit surprised that the owners of the stall didn't check inside the case first. I'm a bit surprised I didn't! Guess I was still just a bit too excited to care about checking!
I did want to see what emulators and what games were on it though, so I popped the CD into my computer, scanned it with my anti-virus, just in case, and then opened it up. Inside it there was a text file, a folder called Games and a copy of Zsnes (snes emulator)
I read the text file first and it simply read 'I know you had trouble finding all of your favourite games, so I did it for you, hope you enjoy my special gift. PS Couldn't find Castlevania, got something else' It wasn't from anyone I knew and it definately wasn't meant for me!
At first, I didn't really want to play any old games, especially a compilation meant for someone else, but in the end, I thought that if they wanted the disc, the wouldn't have passed it of as Skyrim and sold it to the game's stall. In the back of my head, I wondered it there was a copy of Link to the Past.
Unfortunately no, but there was Mario All Stars and some other games. I was going to close it down when I spotted one file that wasn't named. While the others were named after their games, this one was called 795_23_ASG.
I was a bit skeptical at first. A suspcious file on a CD meant for someone else? What kind of relationship did the people have? Was this sent out of spite or friendship? I didn't know any of these things and thought it'd be best to close things down.
I did leave it for a while, playing around with the other games, but ultimately, I couldn't handle the curiosity. It killed the cat, eh?
I opened up the game, it went straight to the title screen with a cheesy 8bit adventure theme in the background. The screen itself was fairly simple, it had the title of the game, Varnax! written in a bold, outlined text, underneath it were the options 'Start, Code, Options and Exit'
Behind the text was a still image of a set of hills, a little knight on the left side of the screen and a little skeleton clad in armor on the right side of the screen. It seemed fairly interesting! I wondered if it was a sidescroller or an RPG, I clicked play.
The screen faded to black and opened to a scene of a little skeleton in armor running from a castle on the left side of the screen with a prince on his shoulder, followed by a little knight chasing after them. A short text bubble appeared at the bottom of the screen. 'Marian: My fiance, Prince Edwin, has been stolen by the wicked Varnax! I must retrieve him!' How interesting! Usually it would be a male knight saving the princess, but the roles were reversed!
When the text bubble dissapeared, the game let me take control. It was a sidescroller, I could run, jump, duck and throw a sword. It reminded me a little bit of Ghouls and Ghosts! A slight thought crossed my mind, if the armour would also fall off when hit, showing the character in their underwear...before I stopped being such a perv and carried on with the game.
The music seemed like someone tried really hard to copy the music of Castlevania, but fell short on the quality a little. The graphics were quite simple and unique. The backgrounds were quite nice and detailed and the levels themselves had some interesting things on them.
In the first level, you were jumping between the roofs of a medieval village, fighting skeletons which threw bones at you. When one of your swords hit the skeleton, it would explode and leave a little pile of bones on the floor. Falling in a gap between the houses would make you lose a life.
After reaching the end of the level, there was a old fashioned signpost, with the different arrow pointers, the one pointing left, to the castle, was blank, while the one pointing right, where the enemies came from and where Varnax ran to, was the word Die. So cheesy, right?
The second level was in a forest. There isn't much more to explain to it than that. At the start of the level though, was a little sign with a skull with a red X through it. The enemies were still skeletons, there was a new type though that rushed you when it was within screen. Halfway through the level, it started to rain a little, and the further I progressed, the more it rained. Earlier in the level, you could see the hills from the first level through the gaps in the trees, but now there weren't any. Just dark forest and rain. And skeletons, of course!
At one point, the background and rain stopped changing, but there was now an occasional lightning strike, followed by a brief flash. I got to an area clear of enemies, just infront of a little jumping puzzle with water, and went to make a tea. I came back, sat down and got ready to take control, when BOOM! Suddenly lightning! I forgot about it and it startled me a little. The background changed a little during the flash, though, I decided to stay there until the next flash.
On the next flash, there was a silhouette of a hanging person between the gap of 2 trees in the background. I quite liked the detail! I passed the jumping puzzle and arrived at a flat area with branches on the trees you could jump on to. When I came close to the right side of the screen, it stopped scrolling and showed a brief cutscene.
Rattle rattle rattle. Rattle rattle rattle. From the right of the screen came two skeletons, dragging something along with chains. I assumed it was the first boss, but when it came into view, I was confused! It was a hanging cage attached to a post. One of the dragging skeletons started hammering the chains into the floor, while the other approached my knight and a text box appeared.
'I wiill make shure you nevar have your printce! Heel be a skeletyn like os, and YOUU! You, will die!!'
Bad spelling right? That's just what I thought at the time, but it seemed strange to me when I looked back on after all of this happened. If you take each one of the out of place letters, a new, hidden message is shown. I hate you.
Continueing on, though, the cutscene continued. The two dragging skeletons ran out of view and the cage began to comically rattle, before a dramatic 8 bit song started to play and the cage began to launch bones in an arc. Dodging them was difficult but the pattern was easy to get eventually, though something caught me by surprise. The bones, that slightly piled into heaps on the floor, started to fire bone spikes from the bottom to the top of the screen occasionally.
Along with the rain and the thunder, this made for quite an intense boss fight and I failed a few times, respawning just before the cutscene. During the fight, the more damage you did to the boss caused it to catch fire (fire...in the rain. Vidja game logic!) followed by a short, red screen flash. The screen would flash every quater of health, showing, first, one hanging body, like earlier, and with each flash, another body would be shown in the background, until when the boss was beaten, when the screen flashed once more time, showing the forest in the background, and the cage, burning. The knight then walked passed and onto the next screen.
Just before the screen fades though, there was a short glimpse of something different. It didn't look like the cage with skeletons anymore, but it was too short of a glimpse to really see anything other than 'different'.
The screen faded in to what looked like a typical evil castle exterior, spiky, dark, all that jazz. The forest in the background was still burning and the grass had been tinged a brown colour. Overlooking the knight, above the gate to the castle was Varnax! A cutscene started to play. I'll do this bit word for word.
'Varnax: So you finally came. I won't let you take him!'
'Marian: Nothiing will stomp me from taking him bag with me. He is mine, ond II will destroy any wall, crush any minnion you put in mg way.
'Varnax: to get youThen I'm going to get you to suffer every despair. Enter if you dare!'
There's that excellent spellink again. This time, it read 'I'm going to get you' Keep in mind, while I was playing I didn't think this was anything other than bad spelling, though I was a little convinced this was something other than a simple Ghouls and Castlevania clone.
The knight entered the castle. Already I was intimidated. They were swinging axes across a set of lava pools with a few small platforms with a new type of skeleton on, this one had a bow and constantly shot at you from the moment you entered the screen. Through 1337 (deaths) skill I managed to beat the first section. When I was at the right side of the screen though, I had to enter a set of stairs that transitioned to the next screen. Before the first screen faded, though, there was a brief flash of something different, just like with the skeleton cage boss earlier.
The skeletons weren't skeletons, at the castle looked brighter. The red banners hanging from the ceiling could definately be seen as a definite blue colour.
The next screen was even more intimidating. There were swinging axes again, and spikes on the floor, and skeletons...oh and lava. Can't forget the lava. To top it off, the narrow platforms were moving from left to right this time. It was strange though, there was a small flag halfway through the room that acted as a kind of checkpoint. I guess there had to be one for a level so difficult, but when I first touched it, the screen froze and a code appeared on the screen. I waited for a while but the emulator wasn't responding anymore. I wrote the code down, 7HEY12 411D34D UD1D17
It was a typical long code, at the time. Looking back on it, along with the hidden messages earlier, what does the code say if you turn the numbers into letters?
I closed the game, relaunched and entered the code. A satisfying 'Ping' was heard before the game loaded me back at the checkpoint. All of the obstacles were gone though. The skeletons were left as little piles of bones on the floor as normal and I was puzzled as to why those were left while everything else was gone.
I just went to the other screen, to the final encounter and last boss fight. Another cutscene played, the knight was on the right side of the screen, the Prince locked in a cage next to an evil lookin' throne on the left side of the screen, with the evil lord Varnax stood staring at the knight, dramatically.
'Edwin: No! Father...'
'Marian: Fear not fiance, I am here! Nothing will keep us apart, in the end!'
'Varnax: You won't take him, knight! I won't let you have your way!'
Then the fight began. Varnax jumped around the screen while throwing swords. Spikes would be called from the floor, and, to my surprise, Edwin was throwing things at my knight as well! Didn't he want to be saved?
The fight was surprisingly simple and easy, compared to the blasted skeleton cage boss and the previous platforming. Each quater of health, the screen would flash, showing the castle change from evil to good. The dark stone walls would get brighter, the red banners would turn into blue and gold banners. Varnax, an evil skeleton clad in dark spiky armor, turned into a king with bright white armor and the Prince would be out of a cage.
Eventually, Varnax was defeated, causing the screen to flash, several times, and ultimately, the castle became 'good' (with the blue and bright) and the king was kneeling, clutching his chest. The prince was shaking and my knight began to walk slowly over, while speech played between the characters.
Marian: You are mine, Edwin, come, let us be married and live...happily.
Varnax: No...you can't...take him....
The screen flashed and the king was shown laying on the floor with a small red patch under him. The knight was dragging the prince by the hand along the floor and the credits began to roll.
For each of the names, it simply read 'Anonymous'. The credits screen...did show the real nature of the game.
Each scene showed the areas you had played through, an opposite as they were before. The skeletons had been replaced by a dead knight with a small patch of blood underneath it. The castle, now appearing as the throne room. The forest was mostly the same, though the skeleton cage boss was replaced with a burning catapult and a few dead knights.
The village was burning, the bone mounds were dead knights and there were a few dead villagers near the houses. The knight dragged the prince through all of them, back to her castle.
I was surprised, a lot. I was controlling a wicked knight on a destructive quest to steal a prince, Varnax was the king protecting his son...The screen faded to black and I was left with a sheer 'WTF' expression.
I put the game away and after a few days decided to play through it again to see if there were any more hidden secrets, which is when I found most of the hidden messages.
I did a little research about the game but I didn't really find anything, after going back to the car boot and asking the owners of the game stall about it, they didn't know anything about it other than the Skyrim case was bought alongside a bunch of other PC games.
Maybe I'll never know who made the game, who made the disc or who the disc was meant for, but I've since stashed it into my game collection and I'll be left with the mind F for a good long while.