Everygamegoing31st December 2019
Oh dear, another game has upset Dave E...
The Incredible Shrinking Professor
Peter Poldark is the latest in a line of unfortunate professors to be doused in a chemical concoction that reduces him to the size of a thimble in this graphic adventure from Rucksack Games. But I'm not sure what's so "incredible" about it. In fact, I don't know who in their right mind would enjoy this. It's just too damned hard to be any fun at all!
Let's get all the superficially good stuff out of the way first, shall we? It's colourful, yes. It's from the rather talented Mr. Blythe, author of Circuitry, yes. It's responsive, sure. And it's got some thumping AY music on the 128K Spectrum too. In addition, I always think what makes a good graphical adventure (be it platform-based or otherwise) is where the objective is, from the outset, extremely clear. Here you're charged with recovering three blue pills, two green ones and one white diamond-shaped one, in order to return Poldark to his normal height. Easy.
However, whilst collecting up the pills is certainly clear, what's less clear is what the other objects are that are scattered throughout Poldark's lab. The instructions are less than helpful, saying only that you should be on the lookout for flashing question marks that indicate an object should be "used" (ENTER key) when standing in front of them. These puzzles seem to be of the type where you bring a certain object to a certain place and then use it to remove an obstruction. This isn't wildly exciting and objects are small and indistinct, making using them correctly more guesswork than skill. Poldark is limited to carrying only a single object at any one time too meaning that, when you pick one up, you immediately whisper a silent prayer that you won't have to carry it through seventeen screens of "fun" before you can actually use it.
And what "fun" you can have here!! Sauntering around the first two screens I was killed off about twelve times in the first two minutes!! Which wouldn't be so bad if you had a significant number of lives to attempt the challenge. But no, you've got a grand total of three (!) and losing the third one sends you straight back to the title screen. There's no chance to save your progress, no high score, just a perfunctory "Game Over" and that's it, all progress is lost.
As for the game itself, well, as you might have gathered it's a platformer. Indeed, it shares quite a few elements with Circuitry (screen size and cramped feel, for example), but whilst that game is ingenious and quirky, this is simply frustrating with a capital F. Amongst the multitude of sins it commits are: presenting backgrounds that look like platforms, failing to respond to the jump key at critical moments, requiring pixel-perfect positioning (often in as many as three places per screen) and zipping along at far too high a velocity. The confusion about objects just adds to the general melee, making this, in a nutshell, one seriously hard and seriously bad game.
Ok, I suppose in today's world of emulator save states, you could persevere and, of course, make progress by saving and loading each time you collided with an enemy... but that's not really how most people want to play their games, is it? Personally, I look at this game as three lives, a humongous quest and overwhelming odds against you even progressing further than the fifth or sixth screen. That is, frankly, just a terrible combination. If Rucksack had substituted an energy meter for the three lives, or even given Poldark ten of them, I'd be more forgiving. But if I'd bought this for my Spectrum back in 1985, it would have been quickly relegated to the back of the drawer marked "unplayable".
Yes, the graphics and colours are nice and it might, on the back of Circuitry and its rather nice cover art, tempt a few Spectrum gamers to download it. As noted, it has music too. Alas, it's the exact same music as heard in Dreamwalker: Alter Ego 2. Ripping music is yet another of my personal hates so this also does little to assuage my ire. As far as I'm concerned, Poldark had better start learning to survive on breadcrumbs. Because, until there's an infinite lives cheat or a easier version of The Incredible Shrinking Professor, he definitely won't be tempting me to help him search for pills of any shape or size at any time soon!
- It looks nice!
- If you're an absolute masochist, you might get a kick out of it.
- If you haven't played Dreamwalker, then you may not have heard the music, Rainbow Days, and it's worth hearing!
- It's far, far too hard.
- It induces tantrums and expletives by ignoring the jump key at critical moments.
- It needs too much pixel-perfect positioning.