We all knew that this was going to be good, right? But could it actually be - gasp! - the best Spectrum game ever written? Dave E seems convinced.
Crystal Kingdom Dizzy 2017
Some people in the Spectrum scene do brilliant things with the machine. Others are simply brilliant artists, musicians or coders. Some of them work alone and present something that just about works, and then others step in to smarten it up. Every now and then though, you get a magical collaboration where a bunch of leading lights set out to make the game of the year. If I say the names Oleg Origin, Evgeniy Barskiy, Dmitri Ponomarjov and Marco del Campo, what do you think? No, not "Russian"...! Instead it's the nearest thing the Spectrum has got to a dream team. Add to the mix six new pieces of music by maestro Sergey Kosov and you'll attract the interest of every Spectrum gamer going. And if that's not enough, let's just add the Spectrum's most famous Eggy hero - Dizzy - too. So began, in 2014, the story of the development of Crystal Kingdom Dizzy 2017... and, three long years later, it's here to thrill the Spectrum world.
You may well have already glanced at the screenshots illustrating this review. If so (and if this is the first you've heard of Dizzy's new outing) you may well have assumed this was an Amiga or an Atari ST game review. The specifications of the engine powering it are certainly impressive - fifty frames per second, big cartoony sprites, a loading screen and attract mode straight out of the arcades... and the list goes on and on. In fact, this is basically the Amiga version of Crystal Kingdom Dizzy in every sense apart from the lower resolution of the graphics - even the cutscenes of that superior version are preserved within it.
Personally, when I first heard about the Crystal Kingdom Dizzy remake all those years ago, I hoped it wouldn't all end in tears. Any game featuring Dizzy is actually a risky choice for a project - Never mind one on such an ambitious scale! - because The Oliver Twins still forbid the distribution of his previous adventures in any online form. You won't find him available to download on World Of Spectrum, for example; you'll only find him in the darker corners of the Internet. Which is a shame in itself, but an absolute bugbear for the Ruskies because, for some bizarre reason, they have embraced the Eggy hero in a way that the Europeans never did. At one point, World Of Spectrum hosted over thirty Russian Dizzy adventures alone. These days all of these games remain resolutely unavailable because Codemasters ordered them all to be taken down. Yes, even the Dizzy adventures that were the product of someone else's imagination had to go... One understands why, because clearly Dizzy is a franchise that still has plenty of life left in him, and the twins were probably alive to the possibility that, if they allowed unfettered distribution of his adventures on the 8-bits, they might one day face someone ripping him off on a modern format. But, yes, if I was being asked to pour three years of my life into a project, I'd be somewhat reluctant to go ahead with it given that history.
There's also the fact that the original Crystal Kingdom Dizzy wasn't particularly bad. Like all the others in the series, it's a colourful graphic adventure. You play the cute little bouncing egg of the title and find yourself in the town of the Yolkfolk, setting out to bring object A to eggy character C to acquire object B to get past obstruction D, and so on. The Spectrum version has about 130 locations; the Amiga one 136, and the overall objective is to find the sword, chalice and crown. These are, apparently, the "treasures" of the Crystal Kingdom which has recently been looted, casting a strange spell upon the village and causing them to lose their electricity supply. The original has amazing AY music and appeared towards the end of the Spectrum's shelf life (Christmas 1992), when the standards expected of any game were very high. Dizzy games were already very well respected and it garnered high praise from Your Sinclair (by then the only Speccy magazine still standing). Indeed, the only thing they found to criticise was the "high" price tag (£9.99). Unlike, say, the remake of R-Type on the Amstrad (where much more of the arcade could have been ported had shortcuts with the conversion not been taken), the original wasn't really an ideal candidate for a remake.
Still, enough of this pondering. You're probably anxious to know if the game is actually any good. Well, yes, it's brilliant. But then you expected that, right? I mean, with the names behind it and the long development time being a case of them all wanting absolute perfection in the release, it was bound to be a real rave from the grave. The very fact it's a Spectrum 128K only game also gives you a clue that this isn't going to be your average AGD/La Churrera-designed platformer. Had this version been released back in 1992 it would have quite likely blown the minds of all who experienced it.
All that said, when you've played the original (and most Spectrum owners will have done!), there's always a strange feeling when you get your hands on a different version for the same machine. And there are huge differences between the two. Things that you expect to find simply aren't there, whilst other things are there, but are positioned on different screens or in slightly different places. This makes reviewing a remake more of a battlefield; the reviewer must constantly ignore the voices in his head that say "Well, that's different!" and "Why can't I reach that on this version?" because, as this is a new version, they are quite obviously going to be placed differently. The differences are, frankly, an irrelevance.
So, with all that in mind, where does Crystal Kingdom Dizzy 2017 excel the most? In the graphics, which are more cartoony? In the dialogue, which is both longer and more witty? In the control system, which is more intuitive? In the music, which is more memorable and more varied? Or in the animation, which is smoother and with less colour clash? The answer is, of course, in all areas and yet in none. This is essentially a completely different game - a brilliant one, at that - and it delivers exactly what the genius coders behind it intended to. If you're a Dizzy fan, and you've never played the Amiga version, then by all means feel free to get wildly ectastic about this alone. However, to me it sort of begs the question "Why not just play the Amiga version?" That's because the two are practically identical... except the Amiga version has, naturally, better graphics. (I felt much the same about the superior BBC Micro version of Palace Of Magic when fans spent a whopping ten years converting it to the Electron. Brilliant conversion, but if Palace Of Magic is your thing, you've probably already played the BBC version anyway.)
Ultimately then, who is the target audience here? It can only be those who have never played a Dizzy game before, and want the very best one available for the Spectrum. That this is it is a moot point. If that's you, get it, play it, be amazed...! Because this absolutely could not be any better.
Note: Bearing in mind the history of Dizzy releases disappearing, if you do think this sounds interesting, you might want to download it sooner rather than later...!