Your Sinclair

Incredible Shrinking Sphere

Author: Ben Stone
Publisher: Electric Dreams
Machine: Spectrum 48K

Published in Your Sinclair #41

Incredible Shrinking Sphere

Pac-Man better watch out 'cos there's some cool competition around - and he's got a wicked pair of shades to prove it!

The competition comes in the form of a Sangfalmadorian Sphere Corps Incredibly Shrinking Fighter Sphere from the Twenty-Fifty Century (a YS house point goes to those of you who can repeat that twice without pause to unwind your tongue!) but why it's got a pair of designer specs only the keyboard prodders at Electric Dreams will know.

Anyway, your Fighter Sphere has at long last been called into action, but not to engage an unknown enemy force - everyone knows they've all been well and truly clobbered by now. In fact there hasn't been any action in so long that even the old Corps training areas have started getting rusty and malfunctions are commonplace.

Incredible Shrinking Sphere

It's one of these malfunctions that you've been sent to clear up. It seems that the old boy himself, that's Colonel-In-Chief Matt Ridley for those not acquainted with him, get a little bored with his pen pushing job back at Corps Elite HQ. Just to see whether he'd still 'got what it takes' he made an unauthorised trip into the Corp's most unforgiving battle trainer - The Death Run - unfortunately for him he 'hadn't'! Normally the automatic retrieval system would shut down the area and send in a drone to recover the Colonel-in-Chief and what was left of his Fighter, but something has gone very wrong. Soft's up to you to successfully navigate The Death Run, locate the Colonel and get him back.

ISS is set out in a similar way to Revolution an old **** from Vortex. The playing area is a multi-directional scrolling isometric maze with your Sphere more or less in the centre. The controls are simple enough, just the standard directions and a fire button. Moving around is quite a different kettle of fish though, your craft momentum is incredibly strong and fairly difficult to get to grips with.

The Death Run is split up into four levels and each level is, again, split up into four tiers of plates, one above the other - the exit from each level is located on the lowest plate and your quarry is obviously on the bottom plate of the last level. Each plate is constructed from Techtonic Tiles, of which there are about twenty different types. Each of these has a different effect on your Sphere - more often than not an unwanted one. Most of the tiles have a life span, but once your Sphere's moved over one, it'll slowly turn into a deadly Vapiouriser - thing's get pretty hectic when there's a lot of these around so don't hang around!

Incredible Shrinking Sphere

At the start of each level you're given the option of distributing four ammo dumps. These come in fairly handy as your Sphere can only carry about 25 rounds and assassin spheres are generated at quite a rate by the training area's generators. A large bonus is awarded at the end of a level if you don't lace many ammo dumps, extra lives are only awarded every 50,000 points so there's a good argument for reserving firepower on the earlier levels to gain a much needed extra life.

Some of the later levels are impossible to complete without the help of your Sphere's special mass and volume changing powers. Go over a tile marked 'H' and your fighter'll become heavier, go over a tile with arrows pointing outwards and the Sphere will grow larger, in this state you'll be able to smash through special walls, making large short-cuts. The price you'll pay for these short cuts is far less manoeuvrability and a larger chance of tiles breaking up underneath you.

Electric Dreams has got the strategy and action pitched just right to make ISS one of the most addictive games I've played in years. In the second, third and fourth levels you really have to work hard to get anywhere. The presentation is very good and the display works well although a little guesswork comes into play if you want to know how many lives you've got left and how heavy or large you are. The inertia of your Sphere adds a lot to the playability, - without it, trickling through cracked tiles and speeding to the nearest ammo dump would lose all its challenge.

Incredible Shrinking Sphere

The only thing that spoils ISS are the sound effects during the game which were about as simplistic as you can get, and even then they kind of 'flip-out' every now and then for no reason I can tell. The scrolling playing area leaves a little to be desired, it jerks badly once in a while to catch up with what's going on onscreen.

Still an enjoyable game that'll keep most people happy for a long while (there's another training area to overcome once you've rescued the Colonel from the Death Run), and for ten quid I wouldn't really expect anything less.

It's original, it's fun and it's got a pair of shades that even the ever so trendy woman from DEFII would kill for.

Ben Stone

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