HAVE they got it right this time? Is it third time lucky for the Don Bluth crew? Perhaps the two previous games, Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, were only practice runs. These were my fervent hopes as I unpacked the five Escape from Singe's Castle discs.
First impressions? Sigh. In common with the other Don Bluth creations, gameplay is yet again, how shall I put it, sparse. Second impressions were of embarrassment - the joystick was not plugged in.
Try again. Ah, the joystick certainly makes a difference. Admittedly, gameplay is the same type of "move left now, move right then" as before, but the presentation has been markedly improved.
Now we have three difficulty levels, choice of number of lives, random order of scenes, up to five saved game positions and stone me if it all does not multi-task as well! Plus the invaluable "helper" which will appear on-screen and drop subtle hitns, such as when to wiggle in a certain direction.
The helper means you can advance quite far through the game before things start getting difficult. Combined with the difficulty levels, it means that both inexperienced gamers and hardened addicts will be able to get the skill level just right.
Yup, looks like this sequel to Dragon's Lair might have pushed the gampelay to the dizzy heights of "quite enjoyable". For any normal game, a playability rating such as this would be so-so, but with the phenomenal graphics and sound of a Don Bluth production, this suddenly means that the Amiga versions are suspiciously starting to look like some of the best software ever written.
Of course, it would be nice to see more flexibility - the labyrinth sequence shows this is theoretically possible, because as Dirk the Drongo flails around a maze in search of an exit, you have total control of the direction to take.
This sequence can be played almost indefinitely until you either find the way out or poor Dirk takes a wrong turn and crashes into a wall. If the rest of the game allowed as much expression of free will it would be breathtaking.
This must be the most techie-friendly game I have yet to see, because it will run with floppy drives, hard drives (any make, unlike the prequel), and as much extra memory as possible. Plus, it will run on a bare minimum, one drive, 512k system.
Sound and certain animation sequences can be skipped to allow the game to be shoe-horned into your particularly setup, or to speed things up slightly by reducing the number of loads.
Basically, the more hardware you have connected to your Amiga, the better the game gets.
As an added bonus, you can incorporate your original Dragon's Lair's discs to form one staggeringly huge game. Now you can practice the levels in the original game which you never got past, and use the helper to provide vital clues.
If you sit down to play the entire combined epic, the random shuffling feature will produce one long, unique stunning performance. Deciding the ratings for software like this is always an interesting experience. Immediately it gets 15 for graphics because, quite simply, they are brilliant, astounding and generally good. Sound also gets a 15 because when Dirk walks up to a strange door he hums to himself and then gets attacled by a large monster; this sequence is one of the funniest things I have ever seen on the Amiga. It totally cracked me up.
Gameplay is the tricky one. It is not perfect by a long way, but the overall ease of use has been improved a great deal. I think I will be generous here, because at least it is getting better.
Value? Hmmm. That is where it all falls down. The price is steep and will only encourage Singe's Castle to become the next number one pirated game, especially with the unprotected discs and relatively simple password system.
Make sure you see this game, it uses the Amiga in the way it was intended - to amaze.