Downtown and countryside environs of Electron land are weird and very deadly places in this brilliant arcade game from D. Woodhouse and T. Racine. The three sentence instructions on the back cover don't do it justice at all!
Its most impressive feature, although there are many, is its use of colour and graphics. Most of the action happens on just a small level; the width of the screen but only around 32 pixels in height. But above this, and covering the majority of your screen, are intrinsically detailed backdrops of buildings, shops, a zoo, forests and trees. Nicely presented red and white score-, screen- and lives- bars also give a very smart appearance to the whole display making the small playing area virtually unnoticeable.
The gameplay is deceptively simple. You must guide a little boy from left to right over ten hazardous screens and there are always a number of obstables, stationary and moving, to negotiate (in a pixel-perfect fashion) en route. On reaching the right hand edge, the background neatly scrolls onto the next screen.
Contact with anything and your man disintegrates with a suitable fizz and crackle and each time you jump you are treated to a bounce noise while a quick scale of notes denotes a successful passage from screen x to y. The opening screen plays a short rendition of 'Clemantine' and also introduces you to the little boy's other half who is patiently waiting for a smooch at the end of the tenth screen!
The characters on screen relate to the background in a very clever way. In town (the first few screens), brick walls, post boxes and trash cans (with raising and lowering lids) call for some deft finger or joystick action. As you progress into the forests, the baddies become more territorial bugs, worms and toadstools. There's a "Wonderland" feel to the game too in some respects; the 'Americanised' town has a shop selling two-bit micros, high rise traffic lights and arms borne by your cute hero but the countryside screens feel very 'English'. As if this wasn't enough, and necessitating the gun, you come under attack from overhead planes, an Australian kangaroo and a flying mutant crab!
There are just four keys: Z, X, SHIFT to jump and RETURN to fire and a First Byte Joystick Interface option can be enabled before loading. The playability is good and the interest level remains even when you manage to complete the screens only to be rewarded with having a chance to do it all over again...
This lastability factor, however, is probably related to a high level of randomness that operates in the game. As mentioned, from the third screen you are under threat from a bouncing kangaroo which comes from either the left or the right of the screen. He bounds over the territory and, surrounded by obstables (as you invariably are), he can sometimes be impossible to avoid. He and the crab occasionally appear from the right just as you touch the right yourself meaning you carefully execute your plan to pass the screen, make it...and the hero disintegrates as you expect to hear the zip of a successful passage! Very frustrating.
This aside though, and it's a feature, not a bug [Where have we heard that one before? - Ed], Kissin' Kousins is one of those games that does the Electron proud. Although loading is lengthy from tape, the speed of the game itself is superb and is improved still further with a Master RAM Board. An undocumented feature, or bug, is that the user can slow the speed down by holding down SPACE and playing as normal. SPACE is designated as both pause on and off and holding it bizarrely allows you to move your character pixel by pixel, making jumping those prickly bushes just a little bit easier!
Kissin' Kousins is tricky, fast, frustrating, colourful, amusing, entertaining, wonderfully presented and difficult to master - although not impossible. It's everything you could want from an arcade game and is probably still worth every penny of its cover price.