US Gold are having a bit of a noisy run-up to Christmas, aren't they, Spec-chums? What with UN Squadron. Line Of Fire, Strider II and E-SWAT storming into the shops you'd have thought Guy Fawkes Night was still in full swing (there are that many bangs and pops and explosions about)! That's not quite the full story though - you may not have realised it yet, but they've also thought of what to give us when we've had enough of the blasting and want a cure for our New Year hangovers. (I dunno - these software companies, eh? They're just so jolly thoughtful!)
It's called Chip's Challenge and it's a conversion. Nothing too spooky about that, no, until you realise what it's been converted from. That's right, Spec-chums, for once we've actually been given a game that began life on something even 'smaller' than the Speccy. You don't believe me? Then how big do you think an Atari Lynx hand-held console is? (Spook!! Reader's voice) I know, pretty tiny. And it's all made even more surprising when you realise what a humongous game this actually is.
It's a puzzler. The plot's a bit threadbare but then it only serves to bind all 150-ish levels together. (Told you it was big.) You play Chip and you've got a bit of a soft spot for Melinda the Mental Marvel who's the boss of a computer club called the Bit Busters (or something). We don't actually get to see a piccie of her but she must be some kind of tasty crumpet because you actually agree to take on all these puzzles just to get yourself a Bit Busters T-shirt and into her gang (not to mention her...) (Oh. do stop it. Ed) Ahem.
The setting for the puzzles is a sort of maze area, built up from loads of blocks. In which you usually have to locate a number of electronic chips. The most common obstacles in your way are doors, and the only way to open them is to use the right keys, which are often all too easy to see but pretty darned hard to get to (well, thick-git over here thought so anyway). Blocking your way to them are bombs, water traps, walls of fire, invisible partitions, bouncing balls, you name it. (In fact these screens are so tricky it's looking as though Mel would probably prefer a dead trout laying claim to her lips than a poncy little git like you.)
At the beginning you're presented with eight 'apprentice' levels - together these puzzles give you a good(ish) grounding in the sorts of trickiness lying in wait for you ahead. Take water for instance. It invariably crops up stopping you from getting to something, so you need to know how to cross it. Once you've learnt how to cope with that (and fire, and so on) it's time for the real McCoy - and it's a bad, bad world out there.
Some of the puzzles are of the pretty methodical type where it's a case of, say, moving a set of blocks around to see it you can find a chip underneath (the only trouble being that there's bound to be a bomb or something lurking around as well so you're sure to get chucked back to the beginning a couple of times). Other times it's the detective work of sussing out a maze or perhaps putting out some fire - and if you need to use blocks to do it then it's a case of finding out which order to move them in so you can use them all. (It's no use ending up with one you can't budge because it's backed into a corner or something.)
The main selling point of hand-held consoles is their portability, and Chip's Challenge smacks of the sort game you'd want to play in free seconds on the bus (or wherever) - lots (and lots) of self-contained little puzzles, each of which you can put down one minute and pick up the next. So how well does it go down on our beloved Spec (where you're more likely to be playing it for half an hour or more at a time)? Well, not too badly, I have to admit.
Of course, don't expect too much from the graphics - they're very simple (you might even say crap). The graphics window is pretty titchy as well - probably because the Speccy's memory is so preoccupied with the puzzles themselves. Still, presentation is generally quite good and anyway, we musn't grumble 'cos it's the gameplay that we're really after here.
And it's darned good gameplay. Each level has that kind of 'kick' quality that boots you into the next one once you've finished it, and stacked together they're bound to have you going for hours on end. In fact, it's just the sort of game you don't really need to play on an Amiga or anything posh because it's the puzzles that you're really buying, not the graphics. On a general level, it probably has more lasting appeal as a 'hand-held' simply because it's so 'bitty', but it'll certainly grab you for quite a while whatever machine you've got, that's for sure. Nothing amazingly new or anything, just really juicy and addictive.
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