Amphibian daring in the dungeon as Hewson unveil a sprawling magical epic
Ranarama follows the exploits of a rather luckless sorcerer's apprentice whose experiments with the potions have transformed him into a frog. The one advantage of his new-found form is that he avoids being destroyed by an invasion of evil warlocks. As Mervyn you must try to wreak revenge on the warlocks and steal their magic. One each of eight levels there are twelve wizards to confront in combat. Once you've located a warlock and hopped in his path you are transferred to a sub game where battle commences. Adding sub games as an extra to the main action has become something of a Hewson trademark in such games as Paradroid, Quazatron and Firelord and here we are faced with an anagram game where you must rearrange the scrambled letters of "Ranarama" back to the original word. This is a reflex test that calls for a keen eye and good co-ordination with the joystick. On each successive level, the time limit is lessened. The style of lettering can make it difficult to distinguish the letters at first but one quickly gets accustomed. If you are in any way dyslexic however this part of the game could present an unsoluble puzzle.
If you succeed in sorting out the letters in time, the action reverts to the main screen where the warlock has disappeared to be replaced by hovering runes which you must collect quickly before they vanish. Amassing these runes is essential as they can be converted into magic powers. Inserted in the floors of chambers are hieroglyphs with a variety of functions - head for the "Glyph of Sorcery" and once activated you can scroll through the spells which are available to you with the runes you have. Some spells offer powers that won't come into effect until a later level. As you only have two lives, it's best to concentrate on obtaining spells that will get you beyond your present level.
Each of the eight levels contains between 50 to 100 rooms and a very simple but effective system makes the usual meandering round a lot more enjoyable. At the start of each game you are placed randomly somewhere on a level - go through a door and the room you enter lights up. As you progress round, locate a "glyph of seeing" which will enable you to get a view of the entire level (but only those rooms you've been in will show up). On this map you may be able to locate hidden doors. In the dungeons themselves, hidden doors can be found by taking advantage of a neat visual touch - figures peek their heads through the walls for a fraction of a second revealing where a door is placed.
As you would expect, the dungeons are packed with various nasties like serpents, dwarf warriors and hideous insects which require different levels of firepower to be destroyed. These will all drain your energy but there is a floor glyph which can be activated to clear a room of creatures. This glyph is disposable so you can only use it once. Perhaps a greater problem, are the magical weapons like spinning swords and munching mouthes which make life especially difficult as they are impervious to attack. You can however destroy the generators that create them.
Even if you have managed to light up all the rooms on a level you may not have found all the wizards, defeating all twelve is essential to progress and as they pop up where they feel like it you will need to save some of your runes to purchase the spell that will reveal their location.
Ranarama is a highly accomplished example of games programming with just the right degree of zapping and strategy. There are obvious comparisons with Gauntlet and other arcade adventures but Ranarama has a character all its own as well as having all the necessities - it's fast and furious with a vast area and most importantly it's very playable and, once you've got your bearings, very addictive indeed.
A Monster Hit.