Rana Remake (CEZ Studios) Review | RGCD - Everygamegoing


Rana Remake
By Cez Studios
PC (Windows)

Published in RGCD #5

Probably one of the hardest 8-Bit games to attempt to remake and still retain the feel and balance of the original, CEZ Studios' tribute to the classic Rana Rama has the RGCD office divided in opinion...

Rana Remake

Ahh... the hours I used to waste playing Ranarama on the C64 all those years ago. How I fondly remember being shouted at for wanting to leave my Commie turned on while I was at school, just because I'd fought for nearly a whole waking hour to get to the last level and had no way to save... yes indeed, I've had good times with the original. Now, finally, someone has tackled the pretty big challenge of remaking it. Rana Remake (I see what they did there) has been a long time in the coming - it was first announced as being "finished" in the April of 2007, and whether other projects slowed the dev team down or they were just extremely careful in bugtesting, it finally saw the cold light of day in November 2008. The question is: can this remake from Pagantipaco bring back the magic of Graftgold's classic?

Through a series of unfortunate events, our protagonist Mervin has been turned into a frog and his magic school has been overrun by a terrible sect of black warlocks and their minions. This obviously just isn't cricket, so he sets off on a quest to rid all the evil from the castle and avenge the death and destruction they've caused. Not that he really has a lot of choice - hey, I wouldn't want to spend the rest of *my* days living in a bog...

The castle is made up of eight floors, each with its own sprawling and maze-like architecture. Somewhere on each floor are scattered five warlocks who you must kill to acquire new spell runes. It is also wise to destroy the minion generators as you explore (Gauntlet, anyone?) to slow down the appearance of lesser foes (magically animated knives, false teeth, wandering vortices of fire, etc. - all the usual warlocky stuff, really). There are no hard limits on where you can travel to, but surviving on the deeper floors is virtually impossible unless you've got some seriously potent sorcery to back you up.

To get anywhere, Mervin must use the runes he finds after defeating the warlocks to cast attack, defence, effect and power spells. Attack and defence are fairly self explanatory, while effect spells can have one of several useful... er... effects, like revealing hidden doors or showing the location of warlocks when examining a level's map. Most important of all, though, are power spells. Since Mervin is weakened in his frog-form, this particular magic is what keeps him alive. Any power spell of level 2 or greater is enough to grant him a second life should he be killed by an enemy. However, you continue with only a level 1 power spell - "Mortal" - and should you die again before having a chance to cast a replacement, it's game over. This spell also determines how fast you lose energy over time, so having a low-level power spell with high-level attack, defence and effect spells won't necessarily help your life expectancy at all. Part of the game's challenge is to balance what spells you pick so that you can fight enemies effectively while at the same time keeping hold of your life force.

So, how magical is Rana Remake to play? If you were looking for a totally faithful remake, you may be disappointed; there are some quite fundamental things that are changed, but largely for the better. One of the first things you'll notice is that the rooms you have yet to explore are not completely invisible, just very dark. This makes hunting down the warlocks and evading their cronies considerably easier and faster. There is also a much more believable continuity between rooms - enemies will chase you around from place to place, going through doors and other rooms to reach you. The last of the major additions is a direly needed save function, which gets my whole-hearted endorsement. There are smaller differences too, such as the four spell runes from warlocks not disappearing almost instantly, and the ability to find single runes in destroyable chests scattered around the castle. This reduces the "win and pray" syndrome of beating warlocks on the original game, where you may be unlucky and manage to reach only one rune - or even none at all - before they all vanish into thin air.

Rana Remake is a delight on the eyes - the graphics are top-notch and have an almost Deadly Rooms of Death feel to them. Should you dislike the gore that enemies leave behind, there's an option to turn it off. Audio is less inspiring; although there is plenty of music and sound effects to accompany you as you fight, some could start to grate after a while.

Things aren't all rosy, though. Where on earth has diagonal movement gone? Did space aliens go and steal it sometime in the last 21 years?! There's no logical reason why it shouldn't be available, and yet you're stuck to the standard four cardinal directions at all times. At best this is a minor limitation, but at worst you'll find it extremely vexing and an unnecessary obstacle to the gameplay. Another irksome oversight is when browsing the magic screen to cast new spells, you only get to see what runes you have available on the summary tab of the screen; they are hidden from you when actually browsing the spells, the time when it's most useful to see your stock of runes. Lastly, as it's coded in Java, although you can play Rana Remake on PC, Mac and Linux, it also means you will probably need a meatier system than most remakes in order to play it smoothly. My venerable three-year-old laptop didn't struggle with it, though, so I could just be perpetuating an urban myth.

It would be harsh to dislike the game for the one major flaw it currently has, so I still recommend giving it a try. Ranarama was a pretty epic project to undertake and credit where credit is due, Pagantipaco did an admirable job. It's quirkier than it should be... but perhaps that's just all part of the magic.

Second Opinion

I'm really sorry for expressing my honest opinion guys, but I was really disappointed by this remake. Maybe it's the choice to use native resolution graphics over authentic retro pixel art? Perhaps it's the fact that the player and enemies all have ugly hit-point bars magically floating above their heads? Or indeed, as pointed out by Chris, maybe it was the fact that diagonal movement has bizarrely been removed? Thinking about it, my dislike of the game is probably down to all these factors (and more).

I admit I'm hard to please, but when I play a remake I want it to be an experience equal or more-than-equal to playing the game via emulation or on real hardware. I want it to impress me with enhanced graphics and sound, but still stay true to the look-and-feel of the original. With Rana-Remake we have neither. And I don't like it.

This second opinion may seem overly harsh, but I was so excited when I first heard about this release. I used to spend hours playing the game on my Atari ST when I was a lad (and still load it up every now and then today), but this remake was a real chore to play in comparison. If I ruled RGCD with an iron fist then I'd order Chris to drop his score by 10% at least, but as I fear a mutiny within the ranks I'll politely let him off...

James Monkman

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