They're a funny old lot at System 3. There's one type of game they do very well indeed (a sort of semi-actiony, semi-puzzley, flip screen adventure thing) but as soon as they try anything else they tend to go a little bit wonky.
Take this summer for instance. Out they came with Dominator, an attempt at a classic progressive shoot-'em-up, which, despite promising graphics, got roundly panned. And quite right too, because it really wasn't all that good. More recently there was Tusker (reviewed last issue), much more traditional System 3 territory and a bit of a return to form, though, like Dominator, it had a rather rushed feel to it.
Happily though, everything has come together for them on Myth. Quite simply, it's brilliant - a massive flip screen arcade adventure, absolutely jam-packed with neat graphical touches, nicely timed gameplay and suitably tricky puzzle bits. If there's been a better original Spectrum product this year I haven't seen it.
Totally loopy, of course, but it does make bizarre sort of sense. You play a normal human chappie who's been whisked into the past by some greater power to sort out various minor gods and mythical beings, all of whom have gone a bit doolally. A bit of a steep task for an ordinary joe, you might say, but, in fact, if you've ever read any Greek myths, the gods are always mucking about with the destiny of men and getting them to do their dirty work. The idea works so well because the programmers have been pretty faithful to the spirit of the originals, and there's such a ready supply of brilliant monsters to be filched from ancient legend.
Don't be put off because some of the sprites look a little small, oh dear me no. The graphics in Myth are absolutely brilliant.
A lot of it has to do with the animation. Our little hero has a whole host of different moves (walk, hack, fire, raise shield, big jump, little jump, punch, kick, crouch) and they all work very smoothly (once you've sussed out how to do them. It often takes a combination of keys). Then again, some of it has to do with the design. Take the big end-of-level monsters. There are some truly spectacular set piece beasties here which really lake your breath away, especially as the way the game is structured you'll suddenly flip a screen and see them all at once, broad as daylight and twice as ugly.
The smaller set piece baddies are equally lovely (nicely animated and often attacking in unusual ways), as are many of the foot soldiers. Take the Jason And The Argonauts style skeletons, for instance. They drop down on screen (or climb up out of the ground), look around a bit, suss out where you are and then come for you. Brilliant! Kill them, and you collect their heads (you'll need to use them later on). Then, when you actually get round to lobbing one, you find it does a lively little bounce along the ground. Brilliant!
Finally, there are the effects. The flame sequences are smart throughout, the explosions are really bright, colourful and full of bits flying about all over the place, and the death graphic is simple but lovely. In fact, this is my favourite - your body turns into a stream of twinkly bits which fly around and then recorporate rather like someone being down in Star Trek. It's just one neat little touch in a game fill of neat little touches.
Anyone familiar with Last Ninja II will know the sort of thing - collect Weapon A from behind the wall on Screen B to open the door in Room H, or whatever. It's the same sort of thing here, but, if anything, they've done it even better.
You see, these gods might be all powerful and everything, but they've got their weak points if only you can suss out what they are. Things have been made easier for you here by the careful placement of suitable weapons (hidden in chests or urns, deposited by dead nasties and so on), all ready to be collected before you actually come across any of the big monsters. Now, if you've done things right, it's just a case of rummaging through your inventory, finding the best tool and working out how to use it. A bit of trial and error should see you right.
So there it is. All in all, it's brilliant. There are enough levels and puzzles in here to keep you going for absolutely yonks, but even after you've completed it I suspect you'd still keep loading the thing up just to remind yourself how nice Spectrum graphics can look, how neat the puzzles are and just what damn fun it all is to play.
In a year when a lot of full price stuff has looked suspiciously monochrome and budgety, this is about as full price as you can get. There are touches in here that aren't strictly necessary, but have been worked on and put in there because someone actually cares about producing a really good product. A deserved Megagame.
Here's you energy bar.
Hack this pot for extra energy or a nifty new weapon.This icon strip shows what you've got in your inventory (or pockets, to you and me), what you're using at the moment, and (above) how many of each there are. You've got (very useful) fireballs, knives hearts (which provide a temporary shield against energy loss), funny lightning things (I've not worked out what they do yet) and loads of other ones.This is where the teleport balls that you collect are stored. Get five and they transform into a cluster of five jewels. PIck those up, rush back to the teleport area and you can progress to the next load.This is you. You may be small, but you're perfectly formed, and can perform all sorts of moves. Hurrah!Here are you three lives, though it's possible to collect more. Try catching the dove that flies off at one point for an extra batch (blooming impossible, but I did manage it once).
Aha! It's the giant Hydra monster from the end of the second level. His three heads all move and shoot fireball things at you, but while you can approach him from various platforms and angles, you don't really stand much of a chance unless you've picked up the special anti-Hydra weapon from a secret room earlier in the level.
I just had to show you this bit. IT's the thunderstorm from the start of the Viking (Norse) Level. Though you won't be able to see it here, the whole screen flashes while rain and forked lightning splashes down. It's the biz! Who says Speccy games have to be monochrome?