Now that Psygnosis have put back the release date of Lemmings 2 until after Christmas, Bill's Tomato Game is their big hope for a Christmas hit. And in essence, it is not too far removed from Lemmings in concept. (Oh no! More comparisons! - Ed).
It is pacifistic. It is a puzzle game disguised as a platform game, it is cute(ish). I expect Psygnosis believe anyone who bought Lemmings and is going to buy Lemmings 2 is likely to appreciate Bill's Tomato Game.
THE MORE THAN SLIGHTLY UNFEASIBLE PLOT
Bill's Tomato Game is one of those games that requires a considerable suspension of disbelief. In fact, put your suspension of disbelief on overtime and tell him he can have next weekend off if he just bears with this game for a little while.
It concerns the fortunes (or rather misfortunes) of Terry and Tracy Tomato. You see, they are in love, and they have been put on a truck to be taken to the market and suffer the inevitable fate of being eaten. Not wishing to suffer this dire fate, our Tel and Trace jump off the truck (it is never really explained how they manage this) and, er, run away.
A thoroughly engaging puzzler
All seems rosy, but then another disaster strikes. While they are wallowing in their new found happiness, Sam the squirrel jumps on Tracy and kidnaps her. It is now down to Terry to rescue the fruit in distress. It is funny that, I always considered squirrels a lot more cute and furry than tomatoes, but in this game our sympathies are forced to lie with the salad ingredients.
Now Sam (the squirrel, remember) has taken Tracy up a magic vine, and for Terry to get her back again he has to scale this mystical vegetation. And this is where the game starts. After the intro sequence has finished and you are fully clued up on what has to be done, you are given the task of controlling Terry on his perilous journey to rescue Tracy. (If by now you are wondering who Bill is, he is the guy who wrote the thing).
The game is made up of 100 levels in all, which Terry has to complete in order to save Tracy from the evil clutches of her furry abductor. The levels are organised into 10 sets of 10, so when you complete the 10 levels of one world, you are taken back to the magic vine where you have to move up the vine to the next world and complete the next 10 levels.
These inter-level sequences are the most frustrating parts of the game. Using the mouse (as you do throughout the game) you have to get Terry up to another branch of the magic vine, and basically it is tedious and frustrating,. I suppose it serves as a break after the 10 levels of puzzling you have been doing, but it is even more frustrating when you keep getting knocked off by a bee who is flying around the vine. I mean, since when could a bee knock a tomato off a vine? (I'm sorry, my suspension of disbelief just nipped out for a packet of biscuits and I lost it there for a minute).
You can't bear to turn it off
THE FLESHY SUBSTANCE OF THE GAME
But all this is by the by, because the main gameplay of Bill's Tomato Game concerns an intriguing and somewhat original game. You start with Terry on one side of the screen, and you have to get him to the other. Now the problem is that, being a tomato, Terry cannot actually move (we'll skip the question of how he managed to run away from the truck for now, just promise your suspension of disbelief two weeks off at Christmas).
He is placed on a spring and without any help he'd simply jump up and down on the spring, going absolutely nowhere. Much like Lemmings in concept, you have various objects at your disposal which aid Tel in his progress. The most fundamental of these are the fans, which blow our squishy friend across the screen after he has been launched from the spring. You can place trampolines, jack-in-the-boxes, blocks and more fans on the screen to propel him towards the conveyor belt at the other side of the screen. The game works to the actual laws of physics - placing the fans at higher levels creates different air movement, and bouncing on trampolines depends totally on how you land on them.
Yeah, it is a puzzler, and a thoroughly engaging one at that. Each world starts off fairly simply, but the difficulty goes up on the later levels. To add to the problems there is a time limit, which mostly results in him being splattered on an object on the screen, or falling squishily to the floor. Once your time is up you have to start the level again, so all your carefully placed objects have to be re-placed on the screen - incredibly frustrating when you have set up a complex chain of events that are so close to working but need some fine tuning. But it is not the kind of frustration that makes you throw down the mouse and load up bought Lemmings again. No, it really grabs you, this one, and everyone I have played it with has just been unable to turn it off.
The thing is, you get so far towards getting the solution (and there is often more than one solution to a level) that you cannot bear to turn it off until you have got it. And the sense of satisfaction at getting it right is much like the feeling you get when you relieve your bladder after a long coach journey (Oh dear. You just can't get the staff anymore. - Ed).
When you finish a level you get a password, which you must write down and keep in a safe place so you can skip straight to that level later on. The passwords are all randomly generated, so you have to ensure that your disk is not write protected when you are playing the game - if you entered the same password on a friend's version of the game it would take you to a totally different level.
It may seem that this game has only a certain amount to offer, after all 100 levels of puzzles must get tiresome after a while. Well happily this is not the cause with BTG. Each level has different obstacles, and often completely different methods required to get the tomato to its loved one. The game demands you change tactics and strategies constantly, and completing one level can be no guarantee of successfully negotiating another.
The graphics look like they have come straight out of a platform game - they are bright, bold and, yes cute and the backgrounds are superb, so there is always something to keep you interested visually. It manages to bring humour into the proceedings too, mainly through the graphics and the alarming squelch that accompanies Terry's splatty demise. A great new puzzle game with an original(ish) angle that really hits the mark.