Welcome back to the Zodiac review column which takes a fresh look at some of the older releases for your favourite micro. This month, Andrew Collier stretches the words "Platform Games" to their very limits...
Enigma Variations - David Box / Rob Holman
Even though they called it "Multi", you'll only find two games in this pack! The first is Sam Strikes Out, a cute flip-screen jump around game starring the cartoon character from Mel Croucher's user guide. You have to collect all the glowing energy pods, but there is also the added complexity of having to find and use cushions (which let you fall further), keys (to let you through locked doors), invincibility tablets (to get past the nasties) and big jumps (which - well, I'm sure you can guess!)
The graphics are little short of sublime, but colourful, clear and (mostly) well animated. You get a jolly little tune playing through the game (which, fortunately, you can switch off once it has started to drive you mad) and simple sound effects. However, the extra complications to the game have ruined the classic simplicity of this game style. Instead of learning where and when to jump properly, you'll find yourself reaching lazily for the special effect keys, and wondering why the game never seems quite as challenging as it should. Fun while it lasts - but it doesn't last for very long.
The other game, Futureball, is supposed to be a high tech, advanced sports sim. In fact, it consists mostly of kicking a ball around for no very good reason, with the added "attraction" that the pitch often decides to kill you without warning. You must complete four training events whereupon you are given the chance to join the team. The trials are exactly the same as the training events - only you have to do them all in one go. The graphics and sound are not particularly impressive, and the game is not interesting enough to grab attention (which is a pity, because the idea could have gone a whole lot further.)
Overall: 7/10 Offers good value, but not much else
From an original (and very old) spectrum game by Incentive, this game follows the adventures of a character called Zippy. Your view is from above, and the landscape scrolly randomly in all four directions; (OK so it's not really a platform game then) If Zippy gets scrolled out of view, he dies. All you have to do is survive for a set time limit - and apart from picking up a few points bonuses, that's it.
Sound is fairly good with one sampled effect and probably one of the best in-game tunes yet, but the graphics are, frankly, appalling - having changed little from the spectrum version many moons ago. Control is far from perfect, and the awful jerky scrolling could certainly have been improved even given the Sam's limitations. This all serves to mask what is actually rather an addictive game - the three landscapes put up quite a challenge in later stages - but I can't help thinking a few extra weeks' work wouldn't have gona amiss.
Overall: 6/10 Fun, but playability has suffered
Back in the mists of time when 48K was a huge amount of memory for a home micro, in the days when most top-selling speccy games were written in Basic, and when Sir Clive Sinclair could get away with fisticuffs versus his ex-executive Chris Curry in the Baron of Beef, Cambridge; software houses could rise from nowhere with a single game which took the world by storm. Software Projects did exactly that, and Manic Miner, possibly the first ever platform game and arguably still the best, seems to have influenced almost every other since. All you needed to do was jump around each of the twenty screens watching out for dissolving platforms, without falling too far or running out of oxygen, whilst avoiding bushes and monsters, and collecting all the keys before rushing to the exit.
The game itself has been well converted, though there are one or two minor changes which slightly tarnish the classic original: conveyor belts are handled in a less complex manner than before, so some screen designs have had to be changed to accomodate. Also, the titlesof two levels have been changed; perhaps "Eugene's Lair" (referring to the infamous publishers Imagine) and "Attack of the Mutant Telephones" (a satire on some of Llamasoft's titles - Don't ring us Jeff, We'll ring you....) were considered too close to the bone, and an anacronism in a modern Sam release. Nevertheless, the graphics and sound are happily much improved from the original, and as an extra bonus there are two entirely new sets of twenty levels with even more devious layouts, adding to the already generous playability.
Overall: 8/10 As addictive and playable as ever
Prince of Persia
Yet another conversion; this time not from the Spectrum but from the mighty 16 bits. You are an ordinary foreign adventurer who happens to have fallen in love with the Sultan's daughter; the Grand Visier Jaffar - a master of Black Magic - wants the throne for himself and is out to get you. You are thrown into the deepest dungeons, and have just one hour to escape before the princess, locked in the palace towers, is forced to either marry Jaffar or die. The action takes place over thirteen flip-screen levels featuring magic potions, collapsing floors, pressure pads, portcullisses, metal blades, spikes, enemy guards, undead skeletons and a sinister magic mirror. You'll need all your skill and stamina to survive this one, but most of all you'll need a sword....
Prince of Persia features only simple background graphics, but proudly displays the best ever animation in any Sam game yet. The character moves so very fluidly and smoothly that you can almost feel you're really there. The game is not easy by any standards, but since you can die as many times as you like (?) within the time limit, it is easy enough for a beginner to learn accurate control skills. The maps are gigantic, with plenty of dead ends and hidden routes to entertain the cartographically minded. The only real minus is that, contrary to the manual's claims it is not possible to save the games partway through; this becomes an irritating fault when you are close to completing the game, but need practice on later levels.
Overall: 9/10 Almost the best...
Revelation - Balor Knight
This is an original Sam game from the coder who went on to write Dyzonium, as raved over last issue. You are the Astroball, bouncing around the skies, looking mainly for coins and points bonuses, but also finding razor-sharp Deathstars and an electrified floor. "All" you have to do is negotiate the platforms scattered liberally over the scrolling play-area, collecting various power-ups where appropriate, avoid the stars, and DON'T HIT THE BOTTOM! This would all be very easy ere it not for the fact that you usually need to jump onto platforms which aren't on the screen, so you need to guess where you're going... You get a map of each level (there are thirty in all) but you can only see it once; after that you're on your own with only your reflexes and instinct to help.
This is a superbly playable game. The full screen scrolling is as smooth as whichever part of a baby you care to mention, and the controls are expertly worked out that you can instantly play like a pro. The game is well pitched in terms of difficulty - though with enough time you'll always be able to complete all thirty levels, since whenever the game is over, you're allowed to restart on the level where you left off. The sound effects are rather athmospheric, and the title music is also pretty funky. All in all, one of those games which no Sam owner should be without!
Overall: 10/10 Game of the month!
This game lies somewhere between Sam Strikes Out and the Spectrum's biggest name: Dizzy (the mere mention of whom will halve the number of people who read the rest of this review!) The plot goes something like this: You want to go home. Simple as that. No fair maidens to be rescued, evil wizards to battle with, confused trolls to sort out or indeed, and of the refined touches which helped Dizzy to become such an incredible money-spinner for Codemasters. All you need to do is find the three components of your time machine (one of which is the starting handle, for crying out loud) and twenty dubious potions. To do this, you'll need to access obscure areas of the map, by collecting various objects and using them when the time is right.
The puzzles range from very simple, all the way down to blindingly obvious. This is certainly the game's worst fault: any vaguely competent Dizzy fans will consider the game far beneath them, but the Dizzy haters hear the word "puzzle" and won't touch the game with a barge pole. The Sam Strikes Out bit comes up because the landscape is populated with fast moving, nasty looking denizens. Unfortunately, platform fans don't get any consolatory entertainment out of this, because said denizens are in fact about as threatening as monsters which take away tiny amounts of a plentiful energy supply. On the plus side, the graphics are fairly wonderful and the music is also very good. What a pity I can't think of anybody to recommend it to.
Overall: 5/10 A well-programmed bad game
Revelation - Phil Symons / Andrew Fish
Although not really a conversion, this game has its roots firmly planted in the old Repton / Boulderdash / Rockfall (On Syncytium - but I can hardly review that, can I?) style. On a par with Splat in terms of not actually being a platform game, this sees you negotiating 100 scrolling levels - but at least in this one you tell the scrolling where to go (which, in one sense of the phrase, I usually do with Splat also). Gravity plays a starring role in this sort of game - although you can move freely wherever you like, other objects like rocks and diamonds (or at least, their 23rd century equivalents) fall downwards if there's nothing to support them. Collecting the last radium pod usually involves pushing one rock out of the way, collecting the pod and scarpering before you get crushed by something else landing on top of you. You also get nasty things like mutants (which move predictably but are very fast, and deadly to touch) and other surprises creeping up on you later on. There are passwords every five levels, so you don't have to trudge through the easy levels every time you want to play the hard ones.
First the good points. The graphics, which change from level to level, are very, very good. The music is also superb, both in the quantity and the quality of the tunes. The scrolling is fast and flicker-free, and the game plays at the speed of a runaway cheetah. Unfortunately this comes at a price; namely that the rocks fall rather strangely, and obey rather fewer of Newton's Laws than most ordinary rock could get away with. However, much the bigger problem is that the control keys (or ther joystick) are not very responsive at all. In fact, the puzzles in this game, and the way rocks fall down on you straight away without leaving any sort of a gap, rather demands accurate control but sadly this game doesn't provide it. Trying to shift quickly from one direction to another is a prime example: it just cannot be done without holding down the pause key and playing the game one frame at a time. Whenever this is important (and such situations are quite common, given that the traps in some of the levels require the intellect of a genius and the reactions of a terminal caffene addict to beat) (Did I tell you I'm up to level 95?) the game, regrettably, falls. Not flat on its face, because there are lots of neat features to keep you interested. Just very close, that's all.
Overall: 7/10 Excellent but for the controls
Revelation - Matt Round
This is a much more recent release and there is little left to say which even the newest Sam owners won't have heard already. Still, this is my column, and I'm adding my tuppence worth. Contrary to some claims, this games says "GamesMaster" at the first glance - but this doesn't necessarily matter. Matt has, as usual, stretched the package to its limits with his phenomenal graphics skills, and produced a fun little game. I say "little" becuase I completed it in two days, and in two player mode (in which, after completing the last screen, you play the first again; as opposed to the one player game which has one extra level, gives you a fireworks display and then crashes) the game finishes when I get bored, rather than there being any vague posibility of running out of lives.
On the other hand, I could sum up T'n'T in ten words: "Far too short. Far too easy. Far too playable... What?" The novel graphic touches, silly features, and the unexpected variety between the levels gives this game that undefinable something which many others lack. To complete a game five times over and still want to play it; it must be a good game.
Overall: 8/10 I don't know why I love it, but I do