Welcome to the very fourth, and last edition of Second Opinion. Over the last few months, I've reviewed over twenty-five games and this issue we end up with the "pure" puzzle games - plus a couple of the oddities which didn't really fit in anywhere else. I don't promise that this was an exhaustive list since I wouldn't dare review a game I hadn't bought - still I hope you've found it a useful guide to extending your Sam software collection.
This has got to be one of the simplest games ever - and yet when it was released on a multitude of formats, it was Crash Smashed, YS Megagamed (twice!) and one advert quotes 23 magazines' awards! So when the Sam version was announced, most owners got quite excited. The idea is to place pieces of pipe on the screen to form the longest continuous tube possible starting at the one block on an otherwise empty grid. You are given pieces at random, and you are given a cursor to position them on the grid. There are no aliens, or the complex systems of Waterworks (see last issue) but you are against the clock - after a short time the "flooz" starts to flow through the pipe, and if you haven't built enough by the time it reaches the end, your game is over.
Of course, there are extra features which appear later on such as immovable obstructions, one-way pipes, delay wells (very useful) and very nasty end sections which you must guide the flooz into. Unfortunately, the bonus levels and some of the other features from 16-bit versions have not be included. There are various modes of play, including two-player simultaneous! That one's a bit pointless though, since it is impossible to really work together, and since the players usually concentrate more on blowing up each other's pieces than on making the longest pipe, the game tends to be over after the first round. Although the graphics and music are suitably good, this initially playable and challenging game eventually falls just short of being completely amazing due to its limited content.
Overall: 8/10 Excellent for a short while
Otherwise known, inexplicably, as Jummy Atoms Spacewide Challenge. So, it has nothing to do with hexagons, more like Chemistry. You're shown a specific molecule (helpfully, this screen can be recalled at any time) and the idea is to recreate it on the playing area using the individual atoms provided. To do this, you select an atom and move it horizontally or vertically; unfortunately it does not stop moving until it hits something. To aid or hinder your task, there exist walls, trampolines (for want of a better term) and blocks which start to crumble when hit. Space is usually very restricted, and on later levels difficulty is increased exponentially by making some of the walls invisible....
Music by Fransizek Fuka is rather good, but during the game sound consists mostly of a droning note when atoms are moved. Graphics are, er, functional - but don't really change over the seventy levels. The most annoying "feature" is the fiddly control, despite being pointer driven this game doesn't support the mouse and the accelerating keyboard control doesn't work very well. Difficulty-wise this game has problems, the first thirty or so levels are trivially easy but then the game becomes extremely difficult without much of a curve. However, since every level has its own password, determined players can have several goes at the more difficult ones without any trouble. Regrettably, the samey graphics leave little room for a great sense of progress; with no particular time limit the game also lacks any sense of urgency, and it is generally more rewarding to go and play somehing else instead.
Overall: 6/10 A nice idea which didn't quite pay off
A pack of two; "Triltex" is the main game with "Viking" as a sort of added bonus. The latter is an ancient board game, but since the program cannot itself play, you need to find a human opponent. (MAJOR disadvantage, otherwise what is the point in converting this?) Dull graphics with slow and boring music; these do not attract me to a simple game without any of the complexities of chess or even draughts. I'd played this game years ago at school; I didn't like it then and I'm afraid I still don't like it now. Fortunately, Triltex is a much better game boasting superb music and much better graphics. The idea is to rid the screen of tiles by clicking on identical pairs. The layout is in almost-3D, so you must remove the tiles at the top of a pile before you can reach the ones underneath. There also exist special tiles, which in various ways affect the tiles surrounding them.
It starts sensibly enough, but soon becomes ridiculously hard and solutions are available only by lucky guesses or dogged persistance. For example, sometimes you must bomb a certain number of pieces leaving tiles to match some at the bottom of another pile, but you only know what those tiles actually are until it is too late... Later on, some of the tiles are even left blank so you can't possibly reach the solution by thought or logic. Daft! Twenty levels may not sound much, but an extra pack is available, although from what I've seen those are even worse. There's like I like less than a game whose stupid solution is completely unfathomable - so there must be a lot of games I like better than this one.
Overall: 5/10 At least it supports the mouse
Batz 'n Balls
This is one of the aforementioned oddities - not a puzzle game at all, but an updated conversion of a very old genre. Remember Telly Tennis, anybody? The aim is to destroy a collection of bricks at the top of the screen, by hitting each of them with a ball. You control a bat moving horizontally at the bottom of the screen, and must keep the lightning fast ball in the air by hitting it repeatedly - you lose a life if it goes past the bat, and you have a supply of only ten. Now that might sound a lot, but there are 150 levels to play which later on feature inconvenient layouts of permanent walls, with stubborn bricks which either take many hits or even reappear a few seconds later! Fortunately you are aided in your task by the power-up icons which, every so often, are released from the bricks you destroy. These have varying effects such as making your bat bigger, adding a laser, and many more.
Well, what can I say? This game has everything - aliens, bonus levels, even five end-of-stage baddies - all moving fast and smoothly, to produce and addictive and superbly playable game. Passwords are given every six levels (though they actually exist for every screen!) for spot-on difficulty pitch. Graphics are crisp and the movement is, despite the patterned backgrounds, clear; tinky sound effects are overlaid on an almost-musical thumping bass line. Admittedly, keyboard and joystick controls are somewhat approximate, but for exact control the mouse comes into its own here. In fact, this game is worth buying a mouse for.
Overall: 10/10 Game of the month!
And this is the other one. PacMan by any other name, this sees you as a ladybird wandering round 100 single-screen mazes, and attempting to eat every dot therin, plus the food bonuses which appear from time to time. Four ghosts for some reason object to this activity, and chase you around. BUT a few special pills let you overpower them for a short while! Later on you get one-way walls, and locked doors for which you must collect a key.
Obviously ESI have really tried to make an old idea more interesting, but sadly their efforts have met with limited success. The one-way system is very annoying since the passageways are indistinguishable from normal walls, do you often die trying to find the route out from a tight corner. The ghosts, of course, always know exactly the best route to take. The sprites are colourful, but so are the backgrounds which can make the action very difficult to follow particularly since the dots are white and so small. The sprites all move very fluidly, but the game plays very slowly even on the highest levels and soon becomes rather repetetive. A big plus, however, is scored by the excellent music; this was released soon after E-Tracker - ESI were apparently showing off. There is also a good difficulty curve, there are passwords every ten levels and each is an attainable goal. All this serves to rescue some scrape of addictivity from what would otherwise be an outdated, unspectacular game.
Overall: 7/10 Fun but nothing special