This is my first new purchase for my faithful old SMS for a long time. Given that the last new game I played was the execrable “Batman Returns” (as reviewed and slated earlier on these pages), my expectations were distinctly guarded, though thankfully the experience was much pleasanter …
I should say at once that I have never, shock and horror, played the first “Chuck Rock game” on any system, so I shan’t be judging this game’s value as a sequel. I am coming at it solely on its worth as an SMS platform game.
This game dates from 1993, which was pretty much the final year of mainstream commercial game production for the SMS. Though it was not always the case, late SMS games tended to show a good deal of flair in the visual department, and this game in particular makes it hard to believe that we are looking at the same system that produced “Ghost House” and “F16 Fighter” (shudders). The detail, shading, and animation on the sprites approaches cartoon levels of quality, and there is an excellent variety of enemies and environments. But for the lack of parallax scrolling, this could easily be mistaken for a 16-bit game. The only other telling limitations are the techniques used to make up the guardians: as in many SMS games, they are mainly made up of background chars, with just a few moving sprites (and even those are subject to a small amount of flicker, though nothing that detracts seriously from the gameplay). This memory-saving tactic works just as well here as it did in “Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts”, allowing for some huge guardians with superior levels of graphical detail, including a dinosaur with a background body and a swaying, multi-sprite head and neck; and a H P Lovecraft-style sea demon with sprite hands and a static but superbly drawn body.
The environments are fairly standard fare: jungles, snowfields, water levels, lava levels etc, but all rendered with astonishing levels of detail and organic designs that really minimise the building-block look of many 8-bit platform games. There are also plenty of animated touches, such as waterfalls, birds, and random eyes peering out of holes.
The one letdown is the end sequence: an adequate presentation, but sadly lacking in animation for a game that has been so graphically lavish during gameplay. Since it is safe to assume the programmers were saving the graphics memory for the game, that is easily forgivable, though the lack of an impressive closure always feels like a missed opportunity.
A few tunes alternate throughout this game, and do eventually become somewhat repetitive, though given the large number of levels it would be asking a bit much to have a new composition for each stage. There is also a boss tune, which is pleasingly tense and atmospheric. The SFX, as in most Master System games, serve their purpose without being especially notable, and the tunes are at any rate well composed. Not a classic SMS soundtrack, but there are far worse.
This game will be instantly familiar to fans of “Castle of Illusion”, “Asterix”, “Psycho Fox” … Perhaps, if anything, rather too familiar. The mix of platform-jumping, club-swinging, and bonus-collecting is very easy to get into, but could never be accused of innovation. On the plus side, the level environments change frequently, and the action is varied at regular intervals with boss battles and a bonus “river race” stage, which works in a “Track and Field” button-mashing fashion.
Also, lest I seem too negative about the generic platform style, it is certainly a style that had been developed and refined over the years, and this late game shows the benefit of experience and play-testing. You have a choice between speeding through the levels and avoiding the more dangerous areas, or taking risks to collect bonuses (which you may well be grateful for in the boss stages). The attack waves are simple to begin with, but trickier enemies soon come along. There are small puzzles, generally related to getting past dangerous areas of the background by moving rocks, flicking switches, or offering bananas to monkeys (?). On the con side, there are no power-ups to speak of (apart from extra energy and lives), and in its easiest mode the game is almost ridiculously easy (although one must remember it was targeted at children rather than nerdy thirty-something reviewers …).
All in all, pleasantly varied and constructed, if not quite in the top grade of SMS platformers.
A visual, cartoon-esque feast of a game, with some excellent boss battles and beautifully detailed levels. They look somewhat better than they play, but they don’t play at all badly. This game is not dissimilar to “Rastan”, only a lot better-looking and with more of a feeling of control. Core Design certainly did not skimp on the programming of this title, and it’s only a pity they didn’t put a shade more imagination into the design. However, if your SMS collection can bear another rock-smashing, rope-swinging, arcade platformer (with occasional trampolining and competitive rowing), this is one well worth considering. I definitely recommend playing on the harder settings, though, or the replay value is seriously low …