Ocean's follow-up to Batman has had us turning somersaults! Marcus Berkmann flipped his lid, and now reports from Ward E, third bed on the right...
Remember Batman? Who can forget it! Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond's Filmation-style arcade-adventure was a true-blue tie-dyed classic, a game that stands as one of the best ever seen on the Speccy. Combining razor-sharp graphics, endlessly fascinating gameplay and an excellent plot, it was one of Ocean's very finest hours (three o'clock being one of my own best). Virtually my favourite game ever, in fact. Until Head Over Heels came along, that is...
And guess who are responsible for this little beauty? Yup, the self same J Ritman and B Drummond. The newie's not a sequel to Batman - no jetpacks, no Penguins and no munching Pacpersons are anywhere to be found. But it's so similar in style and approach to old Batty that it might as well be. What's especially corky about Head Over Heels is that the plot's just as good as Batman's - but totally different! Instead of one character, you control two, Head and Heels. Both come from a bizarre planet called Freedom, where creatures are made up of a pair of symbiotic animals who operate together as one (Are you sure about this? Sounds grubby to me! Ed) H and H are spies attempting to overthrow the evil regime on the planet Blacktooth, whose empire extends to four nearby planets. As you start the game they've been captured, separated and imprisoned in the castle headquarters at Blacktooth. You've got to get them together and then liberate the odd planet or two before legging it.
A HEADY BREW
Not an easy task, especially when there are over 300 screens to negotiate. It'll take you long enough just to get Head and Heels together, and longer still to get them off Blacktooth. Some of the puzzles are fiendish - either hard to work out (yup, it's lateral thiking time) or requiring finely honed arcade skills (you know, the sort I don't have). Virtually every screen has a different conundrum to solve - some seem impossible on first, second and 43rd sight, but may depend on whether you've chosen head or Heels (or both) to tackle them. Each has different abilities - Head can jump a long way, and fire doughnuts at nasties, while Heels is swift on his feet and can carry things around the screen. Put them together and their abilities are combined.
As you move around the course, you'll often have to split them up temporarily - which can cause problems if one or other gets knocked off, 'cos the survivor is unlikely to get out of the labyrinth without his little friend's help. Sometimes you'll need to split 'em up, put 'em back together and so on, all on the same screen. The combinations are almost endless.
In a way you can't help envying the format, which must be one of the most inspired and adaptable in all computer gaming. Most objects and characters are based around a 3D block size, and all have different capabilities. Some blocks can be moved around (and therefore picked up by Heels) and used to get H and H up to otherwise unreachable higher levels. There are also some rather more static blocks, plus conveyor belts, blocks that vanish when you step on 'em, springs, ladders and switches (to turn off the nasties) - all the classic features of this type of game. You'll also find reincarnation fish (which let you restart at that location when you're killed), cuddly stuffed white rabbits (which magically enhance your powers in various ways), doughnuts, a hooter and even hush puppies!
DOWN AT HEELS
There's loads more to Head and Heels, but half the fun is finding out for yourself. Like Batman, the game has an addictiveness and a compulsive quality which personally I have never found in any other came. Whenever you solve a problem, there's always another one just around the corner - and when you've become skilful enough t get through a screen, you don't find that it holds you up when you play the game again, so you don't get bored. Besides, thanks to the carefully placed reincarnation fish, it's possible to spend hours and hours on just one game, if you're not too careless with your spare lives early on.
If there's any important difference between the two games, I'd say that Head Over Heels is marginally easier to play, but marginally harder as a set of puzzles. Mind you, having played Batman to death, I'm used to placing characters on the last pixel of a block before pressing the jump button. And besides, I'm biased. It may not be everyone's cup of Ovaltine - it's scarcely lightning fast (except where it wants to be) - but it's my bet that Ocean has a real winner here. You'd be batty to ignore it!
ON YOUR TOES
Here's Heels in Blacktooth Castle's deeper dungeons (no relation). The room is two screens long, and although it may look easier to go along the near side by manoeuvring the two portable blocks in the gap, you'll actually find it more profitable to go the other way. Pick up the bricks one by one and take them to the screen's far side, then push them into the gap. Remember that Heels can jump only about one and a half squares in all. The ride the conveyor belt and jump over the first of the two blocks at the end, 'cos it's a vanisher! What awaits you is a reincarnation fish that's very much worth netting!
Head and Heels reunited on the planet Egyptus, and it's a real teaser. In order to reach the next level, you need to get both of 'em up to the top step, standing on the spring (which doubles their jump) with the drum underneath. Head can launch himself off Heels' back, but that leaves Heels, having collected the drum, to go up the stairs avoiding the toasters. And every time he jumps up a step, he's frazzled! The solution's pretty easy though. Instead of jumping, stand underneath the first toaster and drop the drum. You'll then be standing on the drum and can walk onto the first step. Then pick up the drum and repeat all the way to the top.
DIGGING HIS HEELS IN.
Nary a screen goes by in this game without some sticky teaser (Oi! Don't call me sticky! Ed) confounding and mystifying you. So can Heels get his reincarnation fish?Look pretty solid, don't they? But you can bet your bottom dollar that one or two of those blocks will vanish just as you step on them. Down you'll go, and you'll have to nip briefly off-screen (to let it reset) before returning for another try. Better to jump all the way along the ramp and pick up the fish in passing.An excellent specimen of the much revered reincarnation fish. Gobbling this is your insurance policy against getting killed later, as you'll then have the option of resuming the game right here. But make sure the fish is wobbling a vibrating - if it's dead so will you be, for good!This is planet Safari, home of warlike jungle people and the old "safari, sagood" joke. Most of the planets are fairly similar other than in background, but at least it makes for a little atmosphere.A haaandbaag? This is what Heels needs to carry around those blocks, drums and the like that lie around waiting to be pushed up against a door and jumped off. It also makes Heels a useful person to know, although I imagine it produces some ribald comments down the wine bar.Heels can pick up useful bunny powers too. As well as Iron Pills, he can also get a Jump Higher Bunny, which gives him ten leaps at double height, double distance. And for both H and H, there are also extra lives (two per wabbit) from time to time.Both Head and Heels start the game with eight lives, but you'll be amazed how easy it is to fritter them away. And if one of them pops his clogs for good, there's not an awful lot of point carrying on with the other, as you won't get very far. So use the cuddly bunnies and their extra lives with care.These represent the magical powers (temporary, sadly) that Head can pick up in the form of cuddly stuffed white rabbits. Iron pills (represented by the shield icon) make him invulnerable, while the Go Fast Bunny makes Head - well, what do you think?Doughnuts for firing at nasties, and a hooter for firing them with. Nasties freeze up when hit - though they're still lethal to the touch - until both characters have left the screen. Don't waste you doughnuts (or eat 'em) because they're not exactly scattered around.Curious beasties, these hush puppies. Always asleep, often arranged in staircase formation, they're nevertheless alert enough to vamoose whenever they catch sight of Head (he's dogged by bad luck). Heels, on the other hand, they welcome with open paws.
AND THERE'S MORE!
Loom out for these bits and bobs as you troll around the Blacktooth system...TELEPORTSThese'll help you get off Blacktooth and onto Moon Station HQ, from where you can teleport to any of the slave planets. Or if you're sensible, back to Freedom and a hero's welcome. Beam me up, Scotty!CROWNYour eventual target on each of the slave planets. Grab the crown and you'll have liberated the planet, which is why it's always in the most inaccessible of places. and if you don't get it right the first time, more often than not you'll have to go all the way around the planet again!SWITCHESUseful, these. With a switch you can just turn off any aliens who are bearing down on you. Just be careful not to switch them on again by accident.CUDDLY STUFFED BUNNY RABBITSEh? No, missis, put those titters away, 'cos these little beauties are vital to your chance of success. Some give you extra lives, some make you invincible, while others give Head speed or Heels height. Just don't go out of your way for a bunny if there's an easier route elsewhere.