Thursday, 12 July 2012

Phantomas en el Museo (ZX Spectrum)

We take our research extremely seriously here at RGCD. For example, in preparation for reviewing the latest Phantomas game by the prolific Mojon Twins, I have been in deep-cover for three years, 'working' at a well-known museum in the north of England. Oh, alright, we don't take research that seriously, but I do happen to work in a museum. If only real life were as exciting as the sci-fi supernatural crime caper, Phantamos en el Museo...

This Phantomas mini-game has, very commendably, been released to mark International Museum Day 2012. The project has been undertaken with the blessing of the IAACC in Zaragoza, a contemporary art museum celebrating the work of Pablo Serrano. The game is based around the unlikely scenario that a criminal gang of ghosts have taken over the museum and are basically trashing it with no regard for the artistic treasures held within. As this emergency is occurring in Spain, the only logical course of action appears to be sending out an intergalactic distress call to 'the most famous thief of the 80s' - our hero Phantomas. After consulting the telephone directory and cold-calling all the museums in town, Phantomas locates the source of trouble and descends upon the museum, determined to rescue (steal) the five Serrano sculptures that remain intact.

The plot, translated from the original Spanish, is written with the same touch of insanity and shaky grasp of the English language as with the previous Phantomas instalment Severin Sewers, but it nonetheless sets the scene for the game. Like the earlier game, this is a tidy platform game given an extra dimension by Phantomas' ability to perform a long jump or a high jump.

Phantomas must first get inside the museum. If you find the first key card, he can stroll through the front door. If you can locate and retrieve the five missing sculptures then you win the game. It's a lovely touch that each sculpture is individually drawn and clearly based on a real work of art. Your search will take you from the museum's cellars to its rooftop, with a key card required to unlock the door between each floor. Disappointingly, the size of the game is quite limited, weighing in at just over 30 screens.

Museo looks really good, with crisp and well-drawn graphics. The level design and background graphics may be slightly simpler than Severin Sewers, but visually, this is a positive as the game is as a result cleaner and less cluttered, with fewer multi-coloured backgrounds for sprites to get lost in. Your assailants, the ghosts, mummies and assorted animated statues and Jet Set Willy-esque paintbrushes and aerosol cans are clearly drawn and look superior to those in the last game. The status bar looks especially good, dominated as it is by Phantomas' big, cartoony, determined face. It terms of sound, this game is limited to a bloopy but jaunty 48k title tune, effective basic sound effects, and a celebratory riff when an item is collected. In contrast, the variety and quality of in-game music in 128k Severin Sewers was one of its strong points.

So, I hear you cry, how does Museo stack up against the thrills and spills of working in a real life museum? Well, I haven't come across any ghosts, in gangs, in pairs, or otherwise. My museum doesn't have any mummies (thankfully), or any ancient statues that might be re-animated. It does have some freaky-looking mannequins, but they are less sinister after schoolkids have nicked their clothes, or arms, or shifted them so they look like they're boffing each other...

My situation might not be as exotic, but Phantomas doesn't have to deal with half the things we do. Where are the gangs of scallies, the gypsies pulling lead off the roof, the local crackhead smashing up donation boxes? He doesn't even have to avoid being cornered by a trainspotter or engineering enthusiast, or cut down to size by a marauding curator. He certainly doesn't have to worry about stumbling across a small box containing the dessicated remains of John Dalton's eyes, left to medical science, and now held in a dusty corner somewhere. Even taking into account the ghosts and mummies, Phantomas has it easy if you ask me.

This Phantomas instalment plays really well, but as it's a mini-game, its main drawback it that it is rather short and can be completed in about 20 minutes. It's also rather easy, lacking some of the more vindictive traps and obstacles that Severin Sewers throws at the player - the gloomy, acid-filled sewer screens, with limited light, were particularly nasty. There are no conveyor belts, no spikes, and no blind leaps of faith. Museo lacks that sort of challenge, and although there are enemies that are tough to dodge that will drain your energy, you should have enough to see you through - particularly if you collect the energy boosters that are lying around.

Museo is an entertaining diversion, but has a lack of lasting appeal. I would recommend playing it as either an introduction to Severin Sewers, or if you really can't wait for the next fully-fledged game in the excellent Phantomas series.

Download the game here (from The Mojon Twins site).
Run it using Spectaculator (shareware) or Klive (freeware).
3 out of 5