Brat - it's not a vertically scrolling shoot 'em up. It's not a horizontally scrolling beat 'em up. It's not a viewed from above maze game. It is, in fact, something else - but the thing is, because there's nothing in the genre books to cover it, I'm going to have to furnish the definition myself.
Here goes: Brat: it's an inexorably scrolling, zig-zag down the screen 'em up. (Seriously pathetic, and not entirely accurate anyway. You could have said it's a bit like Lemmings. Ed.)
Here's the basic outline. After an infuriating title screen with digitised speech (the nappy-wearing brat trashing his toy mouse), you move onto the front-end where you can opt for a demo (set in Toyland) or a level-code entry. (Obviously you haven't been given any level codes yet, and you probably won't for some time, as this game's a bit of a bast - in fact, if you're crap you may never get one, so keep tuned to Crystal Tips.)
Anyway, the third option on the frond-end is the 'start game' option. So let's start the game... very soon you'll see a screen. A screen not too dissimilar to the one below, in fact...
Right, so what's going on, you may ask. Read on...
1 This is Brat. You've got to tell him where to go and what to do by placing icons (from the panel on the right) in his path. And when action is frenetic it's easy to miss, or to pick up the wrong icon.
2 This is the top of the screen. In 10 seconds it's going to start moving down towards Brat, and it's going to keep on moving. If it overtakes him, it's curtains for the nauseating child. (No bad thing, I say.)
3 This is void. It's blackness. It's a near-bottomless ravine. You don't want Brat to drop down there, do you? (Who said "Yes"?)
4 This is a milk bottle. Handy things, milk bottles, because if you possess one you can start from where you got killed (and don't get flung back to the start again - very annoying).
5 But unfortunately, this is a rock. Brat can't climb over it, so it has to be destroyed. But how?
6 With one of these, of course - a stick with a dynamite. Once Brat has walked over the dynamite icon it'll disappear from the main screen and appear in your inventory box (so you can use it by placing it on 'something'. The rock in this case).
7 The empty warning triangle is a 'stop scroll' icon. If you place it on Brat's path and he treads on it, the inexorable upward landscape scroll becomes slightly less, er, inexorable. (i.e. it stops. But only for 10 seconds).
8 This 'stop sign' icon stops Brat in his tracks, and he'll only move again once you've placed a direction arrow under him. The scrolling will continue however.
9 These are the direction arrows. Six of them, from '12 o'clock', through '6 o'clock', er, back to '12 o'clock' again. They tie in with your cash box at the top.
10 This is the cash box. Walk over gold coins, collect money and the number, obviously, will increase. The amount of money you possess is directly proportional to the amount of arrows you can use (i.e. no cash, no arrows - rendering Brat uncontrollable. End of game).
11 The inventory box. Here is where the 'usables' (dynamite and loads more besides on further levels) are stashed. In the centre you'll see a bridge. The number beneath it tells you how many you have left.
12 This box is empty for the mo, but if you're lucky you'll be able to fill it with an arrow that allows you to reverse the scrolling for a few seconds (if you find you need to backtrack)/
13 This is a 'cute thing'. There are loads of different types of 'cute thing', but basically they're score enhancers.
14 This shows how many milk bottles you have. If you were paying attention, you'll know what they do.
So there you have it. The first moments of a game of Brat. All the icons from the right hand panel can be picked from their respective boxes by positioning the mouse cursor over them and clicking the left button. Drag them to the ideal position on the mains screen, click again, and they'll be dropped.
A good idea would be to talk you through these initial moments of the game, because it carries on in much the same vein, only getting more exasperating minute by minute, with new challenges (in the shape of roads with moving cars, dive-bombing planes etc.) being thrown at you. Are you ready? Steady? (Have a calming sip of shandy)... Go!!!
Oh dear, the screen's going to scroll in a few seconds. Quick, drag a '2 o'clock' arrow next to the rock (aiming at the milk bottle). Bung another arrow (pointing back the way you came) on top of the milk bottle. Corks, the scroll's started, and Brat is on his way. Right.
Stick a 'stop icon' just above the first arrow you dropped and wait for Brat to pick up the dynamite for you. Okay, it's in your inventory box now, so grab it, place it on the rock and... kaboom! But the top of the screen is now very near our now stationary brattish 'chum'.
Bung a '5 o'clock' arrow underneath him to get him moving again and then, quick smart, stick down a 'stop scroll' icon in front of where he's going to go. He turns right, stomps on the thing and, phew, the screen is frozen. Then he trundles up to the milk bottle, collects it, senses the 'seven o'clock' arrow and heads back that way. But what's coming up next? Well, until the scrolling starts again, you won't know - so your reactions are going to have to be razor sharp. It's a long way to the end of stage one - and even when (or if) you reach it, there are three further stages before you can take a brief respite as level two loads in.
Yup, it's that sort of a game. An inexorable sort of game. The sort of game that inspires this sort of conversation with someone who's playing it:
Non Player: Hey, did you see the Grand Prix?
Player: Yeah, I - oof - get over there you bast! No, no, not that arrow... that one. Phew. Er, sorry?
Non Player: Did you see the Grand Prix yesterday?
Player: Yeah, I - aaaargh, no, no, no. Quick, milk bottle, milk bottle. No! Aaargh! Stop scroll, stop scroll! Phew. Er, sorry?
Non Player: Did you see the Grand Prix?
And so on. It's a bit like Lemmings.
Dunc: As well as the Lemmings comparison, what also hit me is that the feeling you get while playing Brat is akin to the feeling you get when playing Skweek. (Remember Loriciels' Skweek?) The control modes are totally different, it looks nothing like it, but there's that all-consuming sense of urgency, which, I suppose, is one of the main ingredients that goes into producing 'a seriously addictive game'.
These sorts of games make your body produce the kind of chemicals that, could you synthesize them, you'd be able to sell a fortune to athletes and weight-lifters.
There are twelve levels overall, each comprising three stages, and I reckon that if you sat down and finished the game in one sitting (if it were possible, which I doubt), you'd be reduced to a jibbering wreck. The graphics, as you can see, are very nice - everything moves well and the screen layout is great when it comes to the user-friendliness stakes (mind you, if your mouse is crap you may be of the same opinion).
Yup, Brat is original and compelling stuff, it has to be said. My only worry is whether the compelling side of it is quite 'compelling' enough, as at times it can (I found) turn into a bit of a memory test (and my memory is virtually non-existent). That aside, though, there's one thing I can say without a shadow of a doubt. This game is no duffer! In fact it's the dog's!