In the early Eighties, there was an arcade game called Pengi which had its fair share of fans. In it, you played a cute penguin stranded in a maze of ice-cubes with quite a few hungry monsters. You had to skate around wiping out the monsters by pushing ice cubes at them. The format was done to death on 8-bit micros at the time, but, with Pengo Quest, Gabriele Amore has produced yet another new variation on the theme.
I have to say that, after playing his appalling conversion of Popeye, my hopes weren't very high and they certainly didn't rise when I found that Pengo Quest had no instructions other than a YouTube link explaining how to play the game.
Now with such a tried-and-tested game format, you might be tempted to skip watching that video. Do so and prepare yourself for a very short game indeed - because Pengo Quest is a variant with a difference that I would never have even considered. Here, the aim isn't to kill the monsters at all. Instead, the aim is to crush a certain number of ice cubes before time runs out. Race around simply killing all the monsters and you'll lose!
The first thing you find, after the intro has played and you've chosen your game controls, is that movement in the game is very jerky. All the sprites seem to move in large "leaps" of eight pixels (reminiscent of Boulder Dash) rather than smoothly. This does mean, however, that both you and the monsters will cover large distances extremely quickly. You can also attempt to crush the monsters if you wish by propelling ice cubes in their general direction and these similarly move at something close to light speed when pushed.
I found flinging the cubes about a fairly hit and miss affair (and more miss than hit!). In most games of this type, the monsters move like the hero does, i.e. in straight lines down the corridors of the ice-cube maze, randomly turning left and right when they are able. In Pengo Quest however, they bounce around like a Breakout ball, and it's difficult to predict where they will end up. There's not a lot of time to think about that either, because the countdown timer is particularly vicious.
The sprites are generally good - colourful without any colour clash - and fairly responsive. A new maze appears as soon as you manage to wipe out the previous one, and they get steadily tougher as levels progress.
Unfortunately, the standard of coding is more competent than professional - there's no music and the sound effects are pitiful. The jerky movement makes the game too difficult to be a lot of fun. The pressure to clear ice-cubes rather than fling them means dealing with the monsters is little more than an afterthought and you can be so busy racing around the screen that you inadvertently run straight into one of them.
I think there's a good reason why we've never before had a version of Pengi where crushing the monsters was optional. It's like making a version of Pac-Man where you don't have to eat all the dots! I much prefer the bouncing blocks and crushing of killer krackats from the Electron's Rubble Trouble to this race against the clock variant on the Speccy. Still, it's better than Popeye...!