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Piranha
1986
Arcade: Adventure
£9.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
Multiple schemes (see individual downloads)

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89
Graham Taylor
Chris Bourne

The latest Piranha offering is based on a film starring Klaus Kinski, making it the only piece of software ever to have been licenced from a European art movie.

I bet Piranha didn't have to pay much for the deal.

The film was called Nosferatu, as is the game. If that's unfamiliar perhaps you will recognise it by another name - Dracula. Head honcho in the vampire department.

The game's been created for Piranha by Design Design who have been popping up a lot recently - mainly for Piranha.

Objectively, it's a big game. Three sections loaded in a couple of blocks each a full game in itself. Although the three sections are integrated quite closely it isn't possible to move from section to section without completing at least some parts of the task in the previous section.

A Dracula game could have been done so many ways: a run around dodging things game or an adventure. Perhaps the least expected approach is that it should be turned into a Knight lore/Batmanish 3D edge-on-big-sprite-epic - but that's just what this is. In the three sections you control one or more characters including, gasp, Lucy (a woman) - each a fully animated figure who can walk around, go down stairs and, well, actually that's about it really. Other activities like getting objects and using the occasional sword seem to happen invisibly. There isn't even a 'jump' option - there are places where you have to climb (notably some ladders in the library) and where you have to descend (various staircases) but it just happens automatically.

It struck me part way through the game that there was almost no reaction element to it at all - it's an arcade adventure where solving the puzzles dominates the play. True, you get attacked by bats on a regular basis but there isn't a lot you can do about it in terms of joystick technique, no matter how you waggle the stick you won't avoid 'em. (This is not to say there is nothing you can do, there definitely is, but it doesn't require hot reactions). There are a couple of areas where you have to time your way past a couple of roving wolves (although actually they look like the pet pooch) but it really isn't very difficult. I'm not sure whether this is a criticism exactly but certainly it's important to realise it is a game of puzzles.

The puzzles take various forms. Eating food you might find is wise and obvious. Finding boots to stomp on the spiders seems less so. Sometimes there are objects in cupboards and consequently whenever you find such a container it's worth walking up to it and pressing the 'pick up' key. Sometimes energy may be restored, sometimes you may find a gun, you may even find the deeds to the castle, and getting out with them is the point of Part 1 of the game.

There's quite a lot going on in Part 1 - a few secret rooms and secret passages (here's a clue - where would you expect to find the entrance to a secret passage?) and objects with mysterious uses.

The game looks superb, particularly the detailed backgrounds which are more than just good to look at - they are actually atmospheric. Check out the rats scurrying around the cellar, look out too for the furniture stacked up ominously.

In Part 2 - you play three characters and your task is more complex. The village outside the castle is being turned into vampireville as Dracula turns more and more people into mindless blood-sucking zombies (just like members of fundamentalist religions really). You have to kill them with a stake through the heart and use Lucy as bait to lure Dracula into her room where, maybe, he can be killed.

Although the town is just as beautifully realised at the castle (the rooms interiors in particular) the townspeople are all constructed from the same two sprites (because of memory limitations apparently), one male and one female. It looks fairly bizarre and means you only know which one is you by actually seeing which character moves under your control. Another strange touch is that the female character totally lacks legs and moves around as though being wheeled around on rollers (an old programmers trick to avoid having to animate legs).

Getting the stakes is neat. First you find an axe, then you look for any wood that might be lying around - like a chair for example.

In Part 3, more of an endgame really, you must, having lured Dracula to Lucy's room, keep him there. This involves some tricky action with stakes, garlic and the rest. If he doesn't manage to get away before dawn you've done it, because, as we all know, at dawn vampires dissolve into special effects unless safely tucked up in their graves.

My doubts stem from the fact that despite being so strong visually it lacks 'action'. There are no occasions really when your joystick will even get warm. These doubts make Nosferatu a few points less than a Classic.

Label: Piranha
Author: Design Design
Price: £9.95
Joystick: various
Memory: 48K/128K
Reviewer: Graham Taylor

*****

Visually excellent. It's inventive and ambitious. Definitely designed for puzzlers rather than battlers though.

5/5

Screenshot Text

A room in Part 1. One the drawer a lamp. At the moment, you will discover it is useless. In the bathroom some spiders. Now, what can you find to squidge them with. Anything in the cupboard?