Mark Betteridge
1987
Arcade: Action
£8.99
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

52,53
Graham Taylor
Chris Bourne

Ultimate's return: Phase 2. I hated Bubbler when I first loaded it. It had a naff title screen which is often a sure sign of grottyness and it looks like a cross between Amaurote and Marble Madness.

It's also played on a small playing area which occupies less than half the screen - this presumably saves on screen memory but is damn irritating. Pretty soon games are going to have all the action going on in a tiny postage stamp-sized hole in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.

But when I started playing I changed my mind a bit.

Bubbler isn't particularly easy to describe. Imagine a vaguely Marble Madness-esque landscape where variously sized flat areas are interlinked by thin slopes and dips along which you - a bubble (surprisingly like a ball really) can carefully roll or indeed, fall off. Here and there are holes, linked by drainpipe chute arrangements to other sections of the landscape. There are a large number of things zipping at you and some particularly unpleasant bouncing crabs which land on top of you at crucial moments. And more - the air is filled with other bubbles which variously drop bombs, drop corks, offer bonus points or bonus time or extra lives and increase your ability to bounce higher.

The plot involves getting corks and using them to put stoppers in five poison bottles from which all the unpleasant objects are being released. In the unlikely event that you manage to put a stopper in all five bottles in a particular level you are allowed to exit to the next level for more of the same.

This game is difficult!

It's possibly the most difficult Ultimate game to play initially since Lunar Jetman. You'll die and die again and, as ever, there are no instructions of any use whatsoever to help you.

A large part of the difficulty of the game is figuring out how to steer your stupid bubble - it uses directional movement controls like Knight Lore eg Left and Right on the joystick turns you clockwise or anticlockwise. Up moves you forward and Down makes you bounce. This means, for example, that to bounce forward you have to pull the joystick backwards and then push it forwards. If your joystick is a smidgen dodgy you may find that during this process you also manage to head off in the wrong direction because of spurious left and right joystick messages.

Another bizarre aspect of this directional stuff is that, since the bubble doesn't have a discernible 'front', Ultimate has had to include a direction wheel icon which tells you what way you are facing. All in all I can't help thinking Ultimate could have saved everybody a lot of misery by using some other kind of movement system.

These complaints aside there is something very addictive about this game. Just as you're about to give up entirely you succeed in getting a cork on a bottle and well, you just have to have one more go...

You start to develop different techniques. Bouncing up and down on the spot where it's safe to get a cork. Staying away from sheer drops. Being accurate about direction controls. And learning how to leap on to the top of a bottle without falling down into the sheer drop on the other side.

I still haven't been able to get very far with it though... By that you can assume there's lots of playing time in this before you get anywhere near finishing it.

This isn't one of Ultimate's most original efforts. It doesn't even look that good (no better than a dozen other rolling ball games). But it is addictive and you will want to play it.

Pretty soon I'm sure people will be pleading for Pokes and tips from Jon Riglar.

And that's got to be a good sign.

Label: US Gold
Author: Ultimate
Price: £7.95
Joystick: various
Memory: 48K/128K
Reviewer: Graham Taylor

*****

Another from Ultimate. Not special visually and based partly on Marble Madness. Nevertheless it's fiendishly difficult.

5/5