I first sat down to review Operation Alexandra, the winner of CPCRetroDev2018, several months ago and, extremely unusually, I played it, I liked it but when it came to actually writing about what made it good, I had a bit of a mental block.
Having returned to it this morning, I think I've worked out why. It may well be a worthy winner but there's nothing particularly spectacular about it. It's a platform flick-screen graphic adventure game, one of those where the art of puzzle solving is little more than finding object A and bringing it to position A to unlock a door to go further. It's the type of game you'd expect to have found on the shelves of a supermarket circa 1988, it would've been on tape, and it would've cost £2.99.
The backstory goes as follows. You are a Russian soldier near the Arctic circle and you've been dispatched to an abandoned Nazi base. Originally known of only by rumour, this underground bunker was dedicated to some undisclosed scientific research during the Second World War, but had to be evacuated when all those working there fell victim to a debilitating illness. There's an atmospheric little intro in which your soldier speaks to a compatriot by walkie-talkie as the game starts. He moans about the cold. The Arctic is very cold, apparently.
The base itself seems to have developed some bacterial and rudimentary life-forms (the familiar roaming nasties) so it's up to you to explore it without colliding with them. The first (easy) task involves finding an oil can to power up the base's generator and this tutorial limits you to a few screens and gives you a good idea of the difficulty curve. A boisterous piece of music accompanies the platform-hopping antics and the sprites and atmosphere is superb - the flickering lights (which stop flickering after you complete the mission) are a nice touch.
The game itself is actually quite hard. Thankfully, dealing with the roaming nasties doesn't require pixel-perfect positioning, but they do need a bit of study. And some of them are easier to defeat than others, whilst some are indestructible.
I have to be honest and admit I haven't ventured too far in this game because you only have a single life (and an energy meter which is depleted upon enemy contact). Death sends you all the way back to the beginning and it's quite a big game, meaning that if you play it without Emulator Save States, then it'll be one of these ones where you have to power up that generator several hundred times!
And, like I said, there's nothing really to fault about it. It's really polished, very responsive, and everything works as you would expect. It's just a bit, well, um, another flick-screen graphic adventure for the Amstrad...? Does it do anything new? Not really? Oh...