Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
Horror Soft, 1990
Every movie and TV series got a computer game license in the early 1990s, and these were rarely good. Horror Soft's Elvira: Mistress of the Dark was a rare exception.
It doesn't have all that much to do with 1988 horror-comedy film of the same name, but that's really not a problem. Like the film, Elvira has inherited property and has found a recipe book of spells that she can tap into.
This time, however, it's a castle in England, and instead of being up against conservative US America and a scheming warlock, Elvira is facing off against mediaeval witch-queen Emelda and the unquiet dead that she's brought along with her, conveniently allowing this modern-set game to have the look and feel of a fantasy RPG.
To tackle this, the Mistress of the Dark has... placed a small ad in the local paper and hired the first person to come along and answer it. That's you. You don't get a name, and you don't get to be Elvira, but you do get to interact with her.
This is one of my favourite games that I've never finished. I adore the lush atmosphere, the lovingly rendered B-movie gore, the adventure-game/flick-screen dungeon crawling RPG hybrid gameplay and interface, fantastic soundtrack, and the presence of bisexual icon Elvira.
It is proper hard, though – combat is in real time, enemies respawn, you only get limited magical reagents, and dozens of gory deaths await you.
While all this is going on, you have a series of adventure puzzles to work out, many of them by gathering information from books and conversation. It's not always immediately clear where to use specific items, however, and some are single-use and can be used in the wrong place.
Horror Soft would later rebrand as Adventure Soft and continue making seminal British adventure games, notably the Simon the Sorcerer series.
I'm strongly tempted to throw this on the Steam Deck and officially declare that Halloween 2022 will not be over until I've finished it. Wish me luck with the touch controls.
Buy it for 4.99€ on GOG – https://www.gog.com/fr/game/elvira_mistress_of_the_dark
Or with its sequel for 8.49€ – https://www.gog.com/en/game/elviras_horror_bundle
Either way, play it on more recent hardware using ScummVM: https://www.scummvm.org/ (Your preferred DosBox is also fine. Works fine in FreeDOS on vintage kit, too.)
I have entirely misplaced my extensive collection of proper screenshots, so here it is running on 3DS.