Remember Pang? Wasn't it great, considering all you did was move a little man left and right and fire vertically at things? And what about Bubble Bobble? A veritable classic, even though all you did was jump a little dinosaur around blowing bubbles at baddies. In considering the criteria necessary to define a good puzzle game, it would seem simplicity features pretty near the top of the list - basic gameplay, simple controls and short, one screen levels usually do the trick. A simultaneous two-player mode (which the above games also boasted) would also seem like quite a good idea because, employing a phrase we reviewers like to slip in surreptitiously when rating two-player games mainly because it sounds a bit rude, whatever you do in life, the chances are it'll be more fun with a friend.
So then, let's just recap. A successful puzzle game needs to be instantly playable and ideally incorporate a simultaneous two-player mode. And, a-ha. Helter Skelter is instantly playable and incorporates a simultaneous two-player mode, so we could be on to something good. Or possibly not. But that's the lot of the reviewer, so you needn't worry about it.
So what's it all about? You play Billy the Ball who has to advance through 80 single-screen levels by squashing all the monsters who are wandering around the platforms of each one. The snag (and challenge) is that only one monster (highlighted by an arrow) is vulnerable at any one time, and if you hit any others by mistake then they split up into two smaller baddies meaning that you have more baddies to squash to complete the level. And considering how tight the time limit is, this is not a terribly good thing.
Helter Skelter is one of those 'real-physics' jobbies you must have come across in some form by now. Rolling the ball Left and Right, you bounce around by pressing Fire which exerts a ‘downwards force’. So if you are stationary on a platform, then pressing Fire pushes you against the floor which in turn shoots you up in the air. A subsequent Fire on the way down bounces you higher, whilst a press on the way up reduces your bounce. The 'real physics' part of this lies in the fact that this is, of course, a perfect working example of Newton's second law. Every Action Must Have An Opposite And Equal Reaction. Mr Jones, my old Physics teacher, would have a field day if he ever got to see this.
Don't worry - the control method is a doddle to grasp and within no time you'll be able to drop the ball on the target monster with pin-point accuracy. That is, until you reach about Level 3 where the platforms are so diabolically placed that you'll find yourself ricochetting all over the screen. Or when you reach one of the later levels and spend ages trying to squash a baddy only to discover that you have three seconds left in which to get off the platform, deftly dodge the remaining beasties, drop through a miniscule gap and... damn. Or ) when you and a friend take the time to plan the most effective routes around the screens and divide the workload, and player two knacks it all up. Never mind, eh?
Anything else? Well, there are bonuses (to freeze monsters, make all monsters vulnerable, stop the clock or warp to the next level), letters (collect E-X-T-R-A for a life), and a password every ten levels. And there's a level editor as well, squirrelled away on the other side of the tape. It's very easy to use, but one thing that narked me was that you couldn't turn off the eye-wrenching backdrops.
Right. Hardcore YS fans may have noticed that, so far, I have said much the same about Helter Skelter as Jonathan did in his previous incarnation when he Megagamed the thing back in May 1991. They may also have noticed that, to save time and effort. I've basically just copied out his review and re-worded it slightly. (But I'm praying they haven't.) Ahem. Anyway. Helter Skelter is actually reasonably good - for some reason its concept is not as satisfying as that of Pang or Bubble Bobble but it's a good barg buy.
* There is a connection, honestly.
Uppers: Nice 'n' simple 'n' addictive gameplay, unique(ish) controls, good two-player mode.
Downers: There's no difficulty curve - you just get thrown in at the deep end - and it's a tad harsh in rationing out the time.
If I had to choose between this and a stoat in the ear, I'd plump for Helter Skelter.
Bounce, flounce, trounce, pounce. (Start again, Ed). Er, have you ever had the feeling of being watched? Or in this case, of being dropped on by a killer ball? (And again, Ed) I'm worried, Doctor. It can't be simple paranoia - there's a big arrow over my head. I keep getting the feeling I'm being watched - by a ball.
Blimey, this game is frustrating. Just when you think you've conquered the controls, you hit the wrong monster, and AAaaAAArrRRRGHhh! (Sobby pause.) It's frustrating.
Oh, come on. Point nine of a second left, and there are four monsters, including one on the other side of the screen, hiding behind an edge-block. I can't stand it, I really just can't stand it. In fact, I'm going to kill myself with this parsnip. (Using Method Seven, to be specific.)