Welcome to the D&D world!
The first time I saw this Dungeons & Dragons based arcade game was at the Tilt (which was the arcade at my local shopping mall). It was in a big four player Capcom cabinet, and most annoyingly, it required 2 quarters to start playing. Of course, I couldn't pass this up, I had been a D&D fan for too many years. So I dropped my quarters in, and began.
Dungeons & Dragons: Tower Of Doom was released in 1993 as Capcom's first title in their newly acquired D&D license. It used Capcom's CPS-2 system, and was jamma compatible. Most of them were four player, but two player versions were common on games that were converted from older titles.
So you leave in the morning? Well then, register your name, and have a good sleep.
Upon dropping in my money, I was prompted to "select a character". My choices were the fighter, the elf, the dwarf, and the cleric. I picked the elf (simply because the elf was a girl, and I always tend to pick the female characters when I am playing video games). Then I was prompted to put my name in (already, I haven't even started yet!). Then the game finally began.
Tower of Doom had a nice high score table that showed more than initials. I believe you could put in somewhere around 7 or 8 characters. But this couldn't be easily toggled in by a deceased player (especially while his buddies were still hacking away at the monsters). So instead, you put your name in at the very beginning. One thing of note, when factory settings to this game are restored, the name at the top of the high score table is Gygax. Which is a nod to Gary Gygax, the man who got the whole D&D thing started (there is a great node on him, which is well worth your time if you are interested).
What should we do?
My little long eared avatar finds herself in a pastoral setting when I am first given control over her. I find myself under attack from a pack of kobolds almost immediately. I quickly dispatched the first group, when a second batch appeared, led by a gnoll wielding a halberd. By the time I finished off these beasties, I was left with the feeling that this all seemed somewhat familiar. The graphics, the controls, the gameplay. Somewhere, I had played this game before. I just didn't know where. A cut scene began a few seconds after the gnoll died. I was given a choice of what to do! Now this was new. I actually got to pick the next level!
The graphics, and to a much larger degree, the game mechanics, were largely borrowed from Knights Of The Round and Final Fight. Exactly how much was taken is unknown, but a few of the animations are identical to things that already appeared in those earlier titles. Tower of Doom also had a suicide chip, like many of Capcom's games from that period. The game was a ticking time bomb. Failure rate for these games is 100 percent given time. All because of a small battery on the motherboard designed as an anti-piracy mechanism. These dead boards can now be fixed, largely due to the efforts of the emulation community and their attempts to emulate this game (which now works perfectly under MAME). The choices at the end of the level often boiled down to, "be brave" or "be a wuss". Being brave would get you more items and experience. But the game took a lot longer that way. Picking the easier option would often skip you to a boss character, without having to go through a long level to get there. But it wasn't worth as much XP. So a true XP whore should always pick the braver sounding option.
ACK! Magic spells, and attacking dragons!
Eventually I discovered that the fourth button allowed me to switch through a variety of ranged weapons, spells, and even magical items. Although all the ranged weapons seemed to be quite similar in effect. The spells however were all quite different and interesting, and made for some great attacks. One nasty thing was that some items would get damaged if you were hit too many times, (like the nifty boots of speed, that were on the boat level). All these items did me little good when I finally went up against the seemingly unkillable giant red dragon. He quickly ate the last of my quarters. I didn't get to finally defeat him until many years later.
Both the elf and cleric characters have access to a variety of spells. But the elves spells and attacks seemed to be far superior to those of the cleric (who despite his name, did not seem to wield any healing magic). The dwarf and the fighter were both very similar in power, mainly differing in attack style, and minor details, like how far their weapons reached. I preferred the fighter, due to the longer reach of his sword. Late in the game you are given a choice between taking a long route, or fighting a nearly unkillable dragon. The dragon is defeatable, and is the best way to get a truly killer top score. But it is very hard. He has an instant death breath weapon. He will use this 3 times (it is very hard to avoid). You cannot even damage him until he uses up his breath weapons. Until then you should just dodge. Try using this strategy to quickly defeat the dragon. Use the elf, save up all the scrolls and rings that you find in the earlier levels. Then unleash them all one right after another (as soon as the dragon's health bar appears). He will die quickly, and you will get a huge score, more than likely taking the top spot on the high score table.
I want to play!
Dungeons & Dragons: Tower Of Doom can be played perfectly in several emulators (most notably MAME). You can also buy a JAMMA board of this game for your a quick swap into an existing arcade game. Although I don't recommend wasting your money, because it will die eventually due to the suicide chip (however, you can fix it if you know how to burn roms and solder fairly well). This game was followed up in 1996 by Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara. Which had vastly improved graphics, but left gameplay virtually unchanged. Both games together were released for the Sega Saturn in a 2 disc set called the Dungeons & Dragons Collection, but this was only available as an import, and load times were a real problem.