Your Sinclair1st August 1991
Published in Your Sinclair #68
Blimey! This French game Mystical's been getting its fair share of coverage in YS, hasn't it, Spec-chums? There was the Future Shock in May, then the demo the month after - and all because Linda saw that episode of The Darling Buds Of May when they all went off to France! No. It's true! First she stalled eating lots of croissants. And then she'd wander around the shed throwing her arms up and shouting "Sacre bleu!" for no reason at all. And finally she said if we didn't put more Froggy stuff in the mag then she'd blow garlic breath in our faces (which would have been really, really horrible because of all the crumbs that'd sort shoot out of her mouth at the same time. Eurgh!!).
So naturally we complied. And tried to find lots of French games to fill the mag up with, and failed abysmally, and only found one, so here it is (again).
You probably know the plot backwards by now. You play a sorcerer's apprentice who's ruined all his boss's spells and potions, and has to go out into the big wide world to try and replace them. It all measures up to a bird's-eye vertical-scrolling shoot-'em-up (a la Ikari Warriors) with you plodding along merrily, looking like Kojak dressed up in a habit, and picking up all the nasty litter and empty bottles that people have left behind on their picnics. And it's a jolly lucky thing they did, otherwise you'd never have any spells to shoot all the nasties with. They come at you from the top of the screen down (it's a bit like going the wrong way at rush hour), and you can use either the last spell you picked up (of which more in the box-off) or alternatively one from the stock that you've been saving up.
And that's it.
And It's All So Pwetty!
The novelty of Mystical isn't the gameplay - it's how the thing's presented. And coming from the French, it's no surprise that it's all pretty original (and funny). The baddies are colourful - like the little brattish schoolgirls, and nightgowns with funny faces (which are sort of pathetically trying lo be ghosts!) - and the spells and potions throw up some pretty natty ways of wasting your enemy, or just stopping them dead in their tracks. There are trees that spring up to block the path, ways of turning your adversaries into frogs(!) or charred skeletons (with a very surprised look on their faces!) and a few other little tricks besides. It's all a bit of a giggle.
Of course, none of this would work if the graphics were crap, and, er, they aren't. Although they're just in plain green, the sprites are clearly designed and jog up and down the screen very nicely, and the playing area scrolls by with the minimum of stop/start jumpiness.
The trouble is that glitzy graphics and a good line in humour are fine, but only if you've got the gameplay to back them up - and Mystical hasn't. This is the kind of game you'll get some fun out of for an hour or so, and then start to nod off. Not that shooting baddies is boring, far from it. It's just that, in order to make a good game, baddies have got to come at you at the right speed and regularity, and there need to be a few hidden things along the way to surprise you, and things like that. Here it's all too straightforward and mechanical. (The two-player option's got quite a nice twist - the second character isn't just a duplicate of you, but a big Hulk-like muscleman who jumps about - but, again, the novelty looks as though it'd soon wear off!)
One way they've obviously tried to give it a bit of depth is by including an option to save spells. But once you've mastered how to juggle between the joystick and keyboard to store and use them, you pretty soon wonder what the point is. The trouble is that the baddies simply aren't different enough to warrant so many dozens of ways of killing them. If they all walked at different speeds (or some of them flew, or threw lots of different firebolts at you or whatever) then I could understand it. But as it stands, any attempt at strategic thought just flies out of the window. Ho hum.
And that's not all. Because finally (no, honest - it really is my last point!) it's also one of those annoying games where you gradually die by losing your energy, which I really hate. I means you can bump into baddies all the time and you don't give a fig until suddenly you keel over and die. Grrr! (But that's not really a criticism of the game, so I'd better shut up, eh?)
So - quite a list of grumbles there, eh? It's certainly far from crap (we're talking a 70's game here, not a 50's one). It's just a shame it hasn't got enough meat, because it could have been a corker. Infogrames are like a sort of French version of Gremlin - solid, original, and enthusiastic about the full-price Speccy market in a way that is, bit by bit, fading out of fashion. Mystical might not be up there with the likes of Sim City but it's still got the kind of cockiness and quality to make it interesting enough to have a go at, if not perhaps to pick up and buy.
Scrumptious-looking shoot-'em-up, but with not enough gameplay.