Hopping up from the back straight, a couple of months after the competition, comes what appears to be a Gauntlet variant from Hewson.
Ranarama looks for a good ten minutes like more swords and sorcery on a tile background with carnage on a grand scale. Except that your hero is a frog.
This impression is completely wrong. The frog is still there but Ranarama turns out to be a good deal more subtle and varied than Gauntlet and, personally, I prefer it.
Steve Turner is the man responsible. His last program was Quazatron and in an odd sort of way there are similarities with this game. Your frog does, you'll be pleased to know, get to kill a lot of assorted monsters but the key to Ranarama is the sub-plot - if you can kill a warlock and unscramble the word ranarama within a time limit you can then (also within a time limit) pick up runes.
Runes are the building blocks of spells. And spells determine your defensive and offensive powers - the more powerful the warlock the more useful the runes you can pick up but then the more difficult the warlock is to beat in the first place.
This is very similar to the way you could build up your droid in Quazatron and there is definitely a similar 'feel' to the game.
There are over a hundred screens of playing area in RanaRama, all broadly in the Gauntlet style. They're on different levels connected by lifts. The lower the level the more likely you are to die and the more powerful you'll need to be to stand a chance.
Some squares in the layout have special features. Stand on one sort and you get a map of the current level, another gives you a 'lucky dip' casting of a spell - often a 'smart bomb' which clears the current screen.
One difficulty is you play the game blind. You don't see a room until you actually enter it and often door locations are not revealed until you fire a 'show' spell. This is standard equipment when you start the game, more powerful spells include ones which will show the location on the map of warlocks.
Monster movement is intelligent - the warlocks in particular judge your strength relative to theirs and will either make straight for you or make a run for it. You'll have to be pretty sneaky.
Unlike Gauntlet where you have to kill everything there are often reasons not to get involved in attack in Ranarama. If you take on warlocks you'd better have the power to kill them because if you just wound them they get very, very angry indeed.
Graphics are smooth and speedy. Although monsters are all one colour it matters little and the overall impression, because of the various background features, is of a very colourful game. Even the character set has been redesigned beautifully and looks great.
The sub-game which involves rearranging the Ranarama by swapping letters in pairs seems utterly impossible within the time limit when you first try. Gradually though you learn to work methodically without panicking (too much) and collecting runes. A spell squirt the playing area allows you to scroll through the spells you currently have and choose from any new spells which your current rune stock allows you to create. More strategy in deciding what powers will help you most.
Ranarama is brilliantly crafted. It ought to appeal to those who like Gauntlet and its variants but really it has so much more to offer in game variety and inventiveness. Even the sound effects (standard 48K) are rather good.
Author: Steve Turner
Reviewer: Graham Taylor
Not another Gauntlet variant, although it looks like it. Instead a brilliant multi-faceted blast, cast and thinking game.