Nethack is one of my all-time favorite games, one I’ve been playing since 1200 baud was smokin’ fast. Wil Wheaton
Nethack is the most brutal RPG I’ve ever played. One of my best games involved getting murdered while shopping. My buff Level 6 Elven Ranger who had just finished clearing out a room full of orcs encountered two small mimics and one large mimic hiding among the shop items. He barely escaped — only to be killed by my pet dog who went feral. Seriously.
Nethack has been around since the 80’s. It’s essentially a text-based game meant for play in a terminal window. I’ve been trying to get my head around this game for ten years but gave up each time. I didn’t understand the controls and the lack of graphics was hard to get my head around. There are graphic–enhanced versions but the last graphic port for the Mac was for Power PC processors — OS X Lion won’t run it. At first I found the iOS port iNethack (and iNethack HD) to be indispensable but I grew sick of the menu–based navigation.
There is so much going on with this game. It’s a Rogue–like so if you die it’s permanent and need to start over. The dungeon generates randomly each time you play through, as does the function of each type of potion, scroll, ring, and spell book. Some items are cursed, some are blessed. In addition to your typical fantasy character classes you can also play through as an Archeologist, Caveman, Samurai, or Tourist (they start with a credit card, camera, and sometimes a towel). You can try to domesticate nearly any monster in the game. There are genies who grant wishes. And a surprising amount of eating raw whatever it is you just killed, like hobbits and dwarves.
As with all command–line applications there are no mouse controls, just the keyboard. It seems like nearly every key on the keyboard is used, including SHIFT + Key combinations and some CTRL + Key combinations. On top of that there are some actions that you type out after hitting the # key. It’s crazy, but after a while you get used to it. Typing on a keyboard is direct and only limited by your typing speed though you should not go through this game quickly as you will die. You’re meant to take a step back and assess your situation more often than most games.
After I grew adjusted to the interface I went back to the ASCII version seen above. Then I discovered alt.org – a Nethack server that you can telnet to by visiting nethack.alt.org. It’s great. You can see a record of all of your games (here’s mine), see high scores, see what other people name their pets, and even watch other people play live. Obviously this also means you can play from any computer that has a command line as well.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of this game. Nethack was actively developed for 16 years and the depth and variety of gameplay shows it. I hear there are towns, puzzles, and even the Amulet of Yendor, the item that you are there to retrieve. I’m probably one Level 25 permadeath away from throwing in the towel, but I can say with certainty that I’ll pick this game up from time to time for the rest of my life.