Thursday, 11 July 2013

Mojon Twins: Cover Tape 2 (ZX Spectrum)

When I initially sat down to write this review I figured I would separate the individual titles on the colossal Cover Tape 2 and assess them on their own merit, however upon playing through them all I came to the realisation that even though they all unique games, many are not actually that different from each other (with a couple of exceptions). For this reason, this article will primarily cover the highlights, giving a passing mention to the rest.

The ever-prolific Mojon Twins have a history of releasing many stellar 8-Bit games, and this collection is no exception. Harking back to the 'good olde days' when you'd pick up a ZX Spectrum magazine from your newsagent with a cassette tape attached brimming with games, Cover Tape 2 is essentially an assemblage of mini-games and prototypes that never really made the transition to full release. Predominantly of the platform ilk with a few maze-types thrown in for good measure, most of the games revolve around collecting items and unlocking doors whilst solving the odd situation based puzzle... However despite their similarities no two are truly alike.

Imagine if Nintendo put each Mario release, from the very first arcade game, up to the current crop of current generation titles onto a single compilation. The Mario franchise is synonymous with tinkering with the mechanics of the world or main characters abilities (or both) to try new and often exciting things whilst maintaining enough familiarity to be comforting. Also like the Mario series, the Mojon Twins don't always hit the mark, but golf claps should be awarded for having the balls to try it.

Each title in this compilation is effectively a variation of two games. There, I've said it. However each one decides its going to keep 80% of the previous effort and throw in 20% of 'Oh why the fuck not'. I will use Sir Abadol as a comparison point so everyone has a touch stone to keep their brains in tune with 'radio Anton'.

A good place to start would be the 48K demo of the 128K forthcoming release, Sir Ababol 2. The game initially looks the same but with a lot more blue tiles, and the character moves in the trademark 'floaty-light' Mojon fashion. The core of the game is where it starts to differentiate itself. Gone is the percentage life meter; you now get a handful of hits and then you're done. I actually found this to increase my level of caution in tackling the screens immensely, in the original I would bumble around bouncing off spikes and bats but here I simply don't have the option of being a lazy bearded git. One thing I thoroughly liked was the sense of surprise and discovery. The only example I will divulge involves our hero being turned into an ice cube, yet retaining the ability to slide around... After a while I wondered what the hell to do so I started mashing the space bar (attack) and the cube jostled around until Sir Abadol smashed it with his sword! Also worth noting is the way the character controls on different surfaces... I have no idea how they got a rudimentary physics engine into the old ZX. I won't ruin the experience by rambling on further, if you liked the original do yourself a favor and give this a shot.

With the jewel of the compilation now covered, from here on in I am simply going to mention the 'gimmick' or differences of the remaining titles. The previously reviewed Ramiro El Vampiro is basically Sir Ababol with a hyper sensitivity to the sun and a wicked sense of humor. And then there is Monono, another 'Ababolesque' title, but with a monkey who gradually builds up his leaping ability by holding the jump button down. This is an odd mechanic and to begin with I was a little bit unimpressed - however as the game progresses it becomes imperative to plan your bounding in way that allows you to not only make it platform to platform but to also avoid the various minions hiding around each corner.

Julifrustris is (another) platformer, albeit one that seems to feature R2D2's cousin as the main protagonist. And Journey to the Center of the Nose is similar to the above but features gross backdrops and some kickass title screen music.

Jetpaco is one of my personal favorites, it mixes platforming with inertia based physics. You can hold down the jump key/button and propel yourself skyward - normally straight into something that wants you dead. The real difficulty comes later on as you dodge entire corridors of spikes, gently tapping the thrust button. Tense stuff!

Bootee, on the other hand, is an odd one... Similar to Monono and Sir Ababol but with your character constantly jumping. The challenge comes in a similar fashion to Monono where you must time your leaps just right. Moving on, Lala Lah and Dog Mole are also decent platformers, and certainly have charm by the bucket-load, although I didn't really notice anything that stood out from a design perspective despite them being two of the better looking games on offer.

And then we have the top down maze games which make up the remainder of the tape, again they are good little games of a similar nature, using the Mojons' favoured 'run around and dodge baddies whilst finding keys and new paths' formula. Truth be told though they all blurred into one single experience for me. I feel Mega Meghan stands out a little due to the fact you can actually shoot, however The Mojons' Maritrini, Freelance Monster Slayer arguably did this marginly better.

Less impressive is Balowwwn, which not only has a silly name, but it is bloody ugly. The graphics are hideous and the bouncing mechanic (of the ball you play as) has you jutting between screens awkwardly in a jarring, disorienting nature. It may well get better further in, but I'll certainly never find out. And then you have D'Veel'Ng, in which you find yourself playing a naked nubile woman running around a scary maze. The 12 year old in me was giggling whilst the 28 year old in me was smacking the aforementioned 12 year old me round the head.

I think that just about 'covers' it. There's a huge amount of content here and I genuinely stripped this write review to the bone to include as much as I could. The Mojon Twins should be applauded for such vast collection of titles, not everyone is golden but it succeeds as an example of showing how changing even the smallest feature can heavily alter a gamer's experience and create a varied selection of offerings without the developer each time starting from a blank canvas. I also want to praise the Mojons for there use of audio on this compilation - music is a rarity on the Spectrum (particularly on the 48KB machine), but the music and sound effects here are actually pretty awesome considering the limitations of the hardware, and it is mostly welcomed.

Download this all you can eat buffet of gaming and give it a shot, it wont cost you anything and you may find that ZX experience you've been looking for... Failing that, there's always the 8-Bit naked babe.

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