Friday 23 November 2012

Maritrini, Freelance Monster Slayer (Prequel) (ZX Spectrum)

Anyone who grew up in the 80s will no doubt remember The Goonies as the best film ever. Okay, maybe it isn't the absolute best film ever, but back then, as an eight-year-old with a love of adventure stories, I just couldn't imagine anything better. Hell, it's full of pirate ships, sunken treasure, bank robbers and lots and lots of slapstick violence. And that's not even to mention One-Eyed Willy, Chunk's 'Truffle Shuffle,' Corey Feldman as 'Mouth,' and that massive ugly bloke with the waggly ears.

I have slipped into this reverie on times past as the Fratellis - the nasty criminal gang led by Anne Ramsay's Mama - play a significant role in the latest offering from the Mojon Twins. This is the second game to feature our heroine Maritrini after the exceedingly polished original came out early in 2012. You might recall that Maritrini was not, in fact, a monster slayer, but an actress who stars in the show... Maritrini, Monster Slayer. Ironically, she did indeed have to take up monster slaying - a huge amount of monster slaying - in the first game, as she attempted to rescue her former boss's daughter from a crazed geneticist.

This prequel winds back the clock to a time when Maritrini was just a simple actress. Apart from the Fratellis and George Clooney's evil pig (don't ask), this plot is rather more humdrum. You must get Maritrini - hungover, groggy, and having just dragged herself out of bed with her one-night-stand - through her questionable morning routine and away to her audition for a part in 'Vigorous Monsters with Shiny, Manly Chests.' A future classic, I'm sure...

This is a high paced flip-screen maze game with sumptuous graphics, where the object is to locate four key items and then get to Maritrini's car so she can zip off to her audition. So, how do the Fratellis fit in? Well, Maritrini and her male companion were watching a cable re-run of The Goonies and left the telly on while they slept. So, obviously, the Fratellis escape from the telly, become real, and start terrorising Maritrini's mansion, not to mention disrupting her morning rituals.

Maritrini's first challenge is to gain access to all areas of the mansion and its grounds. She'll need various keys, juicy bones to get past guard dogs, and somewhat bizarrely, matches to burn piles of dirty laundry that block her path. To sort herself out and get on her way, she needs to locate her fags and some coffee, as well as an iron (so she can look presentable) and a battery to open the main gates. Thankfully, there is no 'extreme ironing' sub-game!

It's seat-of-your-pants stuff as you only have a couple of seconds on each screen before an enemy makes an appearance. They are randomly placed and also move about randomly, so they are tricky to anticipate and avoid. Maritrini has a seemingly generous ten lives, but that's only just about enough to complete the game once you have a good idea where you are going. Thankfully, only two baddies appear on a screen at once, and if you do get cornered, you can use a limited supply of bombs to try to despatch them. Due to the randomness, it's difficult to get right, so it's really only worth using bombs if desperate. Most of the time, if one of the Fratellis or Clooney's evil pig block your path, it's easier to move off the edge of the screen and come back to run across the screen before new enemies materialise.

This game looks great, and up to a point, plays really well. The mansion is colourfully drawn and highly detailed. There's a lot of variety, too: each room and area of the grounds is different and full of detail, not just the same few scenery tiles repeated over and over. There are some nice graphical touches; for instance, Maritrini's bedroom with its swirly wallpaper, her bloke sound asleep in bed, and a table strewn with empty glasses and bottles after last night's binge. There's even a swimming pool and a crashed light aircraft in the garden!

The sprites for Maritrini, Mama Fratelli, and her two boys are excellently drawn, with the Fratellis actually recognisable as their film counterparts. They all move around very quickly, with basic but comically effective animation, and the game runs extremely smoothly. It's a challenge, in fact, to get a second to think about your next move, as you have to be constantly on your toes to keep Maritrini away from those dastardly Fratellis.

Despite the impressive presentation and slick, speedy movement, Maritrini is let down somewhat by the game mechanics. I think that any game where the most successful playing strategy is to move off the screen to remove enemies, then run back across before any more appear, must have a design flaw somewhere. It doesn't quite work. The randomness of where your enemies appear and how they move feels a little lazy and means there is no change in the difficulty or playing strategy from screen to screen throughout the game. The bomb, as your only weapon, is pretty ineffectual and feels like an afterthought. You have to collect a limited range of objects to progress past certain obstacles, but the opportunity to introduce a puzzle element to the game has been missed.

At about 50 screens, the game-world is not especially large, which gives the game limited longevity and a 'minigame' feel. I did find, however, that the difficulty level was pitched about right. It will likely take you a good few tries to complete the game, and even once you have, victory is not assured every time.

Maritrini is certainly worth investigating for the presentation and attractive game-world alone. It is fun to play with relentless, breathless action, although it does lack a certain variety in its gameplay, and can sometimes feel a little unfair. I can't help but think that more focus on the game design and movement of the enemy sprites would have made a big difference.

I don't know about you, but I don't fancy sharing my breakfast with the Fratellis; I'm turning the TV off at the socket tonight...

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

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