Absolutely brilliant. That's the phrase that hopped, skipped and jumped into my brain after playing this game for a couple of hours at a stretch. Solomon's Key is a conversion, by Probe Software, of the fab and popular arcade coin-op machine by Tecno, a very addictive arcade strategy game. To be perfectly frank, coin pickers, it's as corking a rendition of an arcade as you'll find anywhere. And is it addictive? Well, I've had to stop writing this review at least twice for 'just one more go', so you can take it as read that it's more addictive than peanuts or digestive bikkies! (Yum!)
Although a sort of platform type, it's actually more strategic, as during play you can place the platforms and break them up as you go along. Choosing where you put the platforms, to allow you a leg up or let a baddie drop, is crucial and though this might sound like Slow City, it's actually a very fast process once you get the hang of it. You can pick up and drop platforms on either side, one up or one down any way you like. Except for the gold bricks, which are indestructible (tsk!), all of the bricks can be crunched or dropped anywhere on the screen.
Your objective is to get the tiny gold key, found in a hard to reach spot on the screen, and then go to the exit on that screen, whereupon you're whooshed off to the next level. (Yipe!) Now this seems easy when you explain it like that, but in actual fact it's very hard indeed. You'll need a lot of goes to learn the technique for each room, and it can get quite infuriating. But the amazing thing is you never lose your temper or get bored with doing it. No matter how close you were to the exit before the time ran out, you still press the start button for one more crack at it! Aaaagghhh!
The graphics are brilliantly done, if a little anaemic in colour, but really well animated. The gameplay is, I s'pose, similar to something like Boulder Dash/Rockford's Riot, where you're hopping around the screen collecting treasures and keys before heading for the exit. The main difference here is that if you walk off the end of a brick you'll fall, but at least you can fall all the way down the screen and not die.
Oh dear! I can see that for the next couple of weeks I'll be sneaking off for quick rounds of Solomon's Key and I confidently predict that you will, too. If any game we've reviewed recently deserves to be a smash hit, this one does. Buy it!
Cripes! You'd better look sharpish 'cos here comes...
THE COMPLETE YS GUIDE TO PUZZLE GAMES
Yep, readers, looks like it's time once again for another one of those Complete Guide thingies. This issue, for your delight and delectation, we thought we'd take a peek at the more puzzley sort of games. Y'know - puzzle games - those sort of weird ones where you have to use a bit of the ol' grey matter to solve, erm, puzzles and things. And who better to clasp you by the hand and drag you through the world of the mind-boggling than YS's resident 'heart-throb' RICH PELLEY. Hurrah!
BUT FIRST... THE RATINGS
As usual, the normal rating system seems a bit crap in these circumstances, so here's a different one instead.
How complex and difficult to finish are the puzzles? Are they a complete bummer to complete, or could you do it with your little finger stuck, er, wherever you want to stick it?
LACK OF SLEEP FACTOR
Will it have you coming back for more (and more) or will a few games be enough? (Who knows?)
PULL YOUR HAIR OUT FACTOR
Is the game easy to get into, or do you have to spend ages looking up various keys, and working out what's going on all the time? (The lower the mark the better the gameplay in this case.)
Are the puzzles varied, or are they all the same? (Er, obvious, really.)
Okay, so I admit it - I'm crap at puzzle games. Come to think of it, I'm crap at most games really. And I'm not in a particularly good mood today either 'cos I've got a sneaky suspicion that this guide thingy is going to take absolutely ages to write. Even though Matt has reassured me "It won't take long" and Jonathan has informed me (much to my surprise) that "Honest, it'll really be a lot of fun to do" I'm a little dubious. Still, let's get on with it and see what happens, shall we?
For a start, I can see one big problem staring me in the face almost immediately. I mean, what exactly makes a puzzle game a puzzle game, eh? One man's puzzle game may another one's arcade adventure be or, um, something really. We've had countless arguments here in the office over it already (and for some reason I always seem to lose). For instance, Matt thought Arkanoid, Batty and the like might almost count, while Jonathan firmly disagreed. (In fact, if Jonathan had had his way, Tetris would be 'the only true puzzler ever written' and this would be the shortest Complete Guide on record!) Seeing as this is my feature though, and I'm writing it, everybody's going to have to agree with me!
And what is my definition? Well, it's fairly loose really. It's anything where you have to try to work out some sort of (perhaps totally abstract) mental problem against a time limit. Most great puzzle games are based on one very simple initial idea, which is then perhaps spiced up by slicking in lots of different ways that you can earn bonuses, die, get extra weapons or abilities (if it's a weapons sort of game) and so on. It's the simple initial idea that really counts though - if you haven't got that, you ain't got much really.
So what sort of puzzle games have we got here, then? Well, lots of different ones really - there are games where you must arrange blocks, make pictures, blow up balls, collect keys, and do masses more equally weird and wonderful puzzley things.
One good thing though is the scope - unlike in most areas of Speccy programming, with puzzle games you sometimes actually get a degree of originality. The games I've covered here are all good ones, and all still fairly easily available and - would you believe it? - no two of them are the same! (Well, no three of them at least.) And, erm, cripes, looks like I've run out of things to say. So, um, I'll stop waffling and get on with it, shall I?
THE FIRST PUZZLE GAME IN SPECCY HISTORY
Um, er, um. Now you re asking. Turning to the very first issue of Your Spectrum (ie Your Sinclair in disguise), I find one lurking in the first few pages. Traxx from Quicksilver is its name, and what seems to happen is that you move around this little grid thing collecting squares. Fun, eh? (Alright, I admit it. Of course there's no way that could be the first commercially available puzzle game, but it's the first I could come up with. Sorry and all that.) Anyway, on with the show.
NB Erm, actually, before we start, I'd just like to clear something up. You may notice that all the marks for the following games are quite high - there don't seem to be any crap ones. Now this isn't 'cos I'm a great puzzles fan or anything (in truth I hate them all) - it's just that unfortunately all the ones I've picked have been quite original and good. And keeping up my reviewer's credibility, I have to be fair. Hence the high marks.
Reviewer: Rich Pelley
An extremely popular game back in '87 - and it still looks good today. At first glance it looks uncannily like your standard arcade adventure, but play it a bit and you may (just) be able to squeeze a bit of a puzzle out of it. Hopefully anyway, 'cos we are meant to be in The Complete Guide To Puzzle Games. (This is one of those wobbly, borderline, six-hours-of-argument-in-the-YS-office sort of games I was going on about at the beginning, I'm afraid.)
Right. The idea is to collect the key on each screen to allow you to get onto the next one. You do this by moving this little chap with a strange hat on around the screen he can create blocks in certain places, and also disintegrate the ones he doesn't want. Graphics are cute city, and yet again it's another one of those 'just one more go' type games. A good 'un.
There we have it! As I predicted (and Matt and Jonathan got totally wrong) it took me absolutely blooming ages. And most of that time was spent arguing about what a puzzle game actually is and what qualifies and what doesn't (which is one reason why we don't have a giant list of all the ones ever made - we just couldn't agree what they were!).
Next month - Flight Sims. (Something everyone can agree on.) Hurrah!
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