Micro Mart27th October 2016
Published in Micro Mart #1437
You've never heard of Monument Microgames?! That's not surprising actually - they've been quiet for two years. But they're back, and Dave Edwards has got his hands on their latest, surprisingly good, Spectrum game
Monument Microgames publishes its games on original cassette and if you think of Cronosoft as a "budget" label then Monument is its more "upmarket" cousin. Its brand new release Future Looter comes with not just a tape containing the new game for the Spectrum 48K but also a badge, a data CD (with an emulator version of the game) and a snazzy fold-out instruction manual. Of course, this is only as amazing as it sounds if the actual game is worthy of all the hype. So is it...?
I had a peculiar feeling of deja vu on venturing into this game. It is set in some flick-screen caverns, you must navigate your spaceship through them and once a room is crossed, and there's no going back. Sounds familiar? Maybe because it's similar to new Spectrum cavern exploration game Vallation (Tardis Remakes, MM #1430) reviewed just three weeks ago? However, something told me that my sense of deja vu didn't spring from that alone. It was when I saw the game's authors (Timmy and Mister Beep) that it fell into place. These were the very guys who brought us Forest Raider Cherry (MM #1346), and I'd put money on both games having been built with the same game designing tools - because overhead information, sprite size, speed and just about everything else is practically identical.
As I've only just put down Vallation, it's impossible not to compare it with Future Looter. All things considered, Future Looter is more varied and thus better fun. That's because, whilst both games share a basic premise of "crossing the screen without being hit by anything", in Future Looter, this is really only half the story. In Vallation, you can just learn "what fires when" and, with a bit of practice, you'll be able to cross every room first-time every time.
That strategy won't work here as many of Future Looter's foes are much less predictable. There are guns, for example, which fire random shots, waiting a different number of seconds between each burst of gunfire. This forces you to take cover behind elements of scenery as you advance towards them. Additionally, there are obstructions best described as capital "X"s which need to be shot away. And there are puzzles which involve the "X"s, yet further obstructions and the very roaming nasties that you must avoid in the first place.
For example, on the second level you'll be confronted with a room in which a cheeky-looking emoticon begins "boxed" into a particular area. Shoot away one of the Xs and he will be released. And release him you must, because only he will be able to clear away the red/white balls blocking your exit. Just make sure he doesn't bump into you at the same time!
The mixture of the predictable and the unpredictable foes works surprisingly well. Every sporadic challenging screen where you must solve a puzzle (or be very lucky/reckless with your positioning/firepower) is followed by a few more relaxed ones which just need you to glide through without being touched. But if you're thinking that sounds like there's not too much action, then you'd be wrong. There are also the obligatory marauding nasties to just zap on sight.
All of this makes for a nice-looking and very playable game. Animation is excellent too, with all sprites moving at just the right speed to suit the action. You're bound to be impressed by the spectacular, colourful, erupting volcanoes scattered throughout. Their lava, which is almost impossible to avoid, doesn't kill you but depletes the bonus timer at the top right of the screen display if it makes contact with you - so try and get past them quickly.
The only real drawback is that, as you might be aware, the Spectrum suffers from only allowing two colours to share the same 8x8 area within its sprites. Some of Monument's more recent games (El Stompo, for example) had found a way past this limitation. Here however, it's back. There's no actual colour clash - but the sprites are essentially monochrome painted in whatever primary colour best suits the sprite. This is noticeable as a limitation, though it's not particularly bad.
Finally, don't be confused by the dark purple "doors" that litter the caverns - they don't open, they're just scenery. The one exit that is open is the one you must take to proceed.
Future Looter isn't - and doesn't claim to be - a futuristic game. Rather, it's a homage to the past; a rehash of a tried-and-tested formula with a few puzzle elements thrown in for good measure. I haven't played too many of these space-cavern-station-shooter-style games but on balance I liked it less that the seminal Plan B, a little more than Vallation and a heck of a lot more than Cray 5 (MM #1386).
You can pick up your own copy of it for £7.50 complete with all the goodies from https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=monument%20microgames