Men in funny pyjamas, it's...

Harlequin logo Amiga Computing Gamer Gold

GREMLIN * £25.99 * 1/2 meg * Joystick * Out now

Gremlin are ultimately famous for brilliant driving games, so it is indeed very strange that a platform game going by the name of Harlequin has appeared on the Amiga. Harlequin has been billed as probably the strangest game ever. Hmmm, we shall see.

Does everyone know what harlequins are? They are the chaps who dress up masks and fynny chequered pyjamas. They look like a cross between Dick Turpin and a court jester. Bugger knows what they do.
Apparently, in a far-off forgotten corner of the imagination is a smart world called Chimerica. This world contains all of our dreams and distant memories. For years and years it has thrived due to everyone's hopes, dreams and memories.

The sole inhabitant is a young boy with the name of Harlequin. Fancy being stuck with a name like Harlequin! A John or Dave would have been far more acceptable. Anyway, Harlequin spent his early years exploring the bizarre world of Chimerica.
But all children grow older and Harley is no exception. Sure enough, the world of Chimerica began to lose its appeal - it was a case of 'been there, seen it, done it' for poor old Harley. He had become accustomed to the bizarre and unexpected. He had finally turned into an adult. Gone were the days spent playing with Lego. So a bored Harley decided to bugger off and get a new life.

In his absence, Chimerica slowly fell into a state of disrepair and the land entered an age of cold reality (how a land falls into an age of cold reality is beyond me). So with the prospect of no salvation in sight, Chermica's sadness deepened until one day its heart broke and everything was silent.
The years rolled by and then out of the blue, Harley appeared (hoorah). What he saw he didn't like and he knew it was all his fault, so he set off with one all-consuming purpose - to mend Chimerica's broken heart.

You play the part of Harley and you must find the four broken aprts of Chmerica's heart before finding the exit which has now become a heart itself.
There are many lands in Chimerica for you to explore. There is a definite puzzle element to the game - a lot of the time it involves pulling levers and such like. A lot of the puzzles are quite puzzling - I suppose that's why they call them puzzles - but after a while you get to know how things work and the rest of them become a little easier to work out.

To help Harlequin out there are several objects dotted around that are essential in his quest. My favourite object is the Space Hopper which allows Harley to reach higher platforms, and he can even crush his enemies who plague the land of Chimerica.

Hearts are Harley's only kind of fire-power, but thankfully there are two sorts - pink ones and red ones. The red hearts are the most powerful of the two, but they don't last long.

Overall Harlequin is a damn fine platform game- it's a perfect example of how far the genre has advanced. The graphics in are stunning to say the least and it's backed up with some top-notch animation.
Harley prances, skids (tut, tut), jumps and swings about the screen like a demented monkey. On the sound front there are a whole plethora of tunes for you to enjoy, but you have an important choice to make between the tunes and the sound effects, because unfortunately you can't heart them both at the same time.

Harlequin has an easy control system, so you won't be frustrated when the going gets tough. It's got to be said that this is a stonker and a half. I don't really think strange is the word to explain Harlequin - perhaps "completely bonkers" is more appropriate.

Harlequin logo

Gremlin * £25.99

These days, finding an organ donor is harder than ever, so much so it seems, that people are willing to do anything to get one. And in Harlequin you have to battle through 23 levels of surrealist platform mayhem in the search of a vital organ. This is the latest release from a new division of Gremlin called, The Warp Factory.

You take control of a smoothly animated chappy, who is dressed in the most outrageous suit ever to grace the Amiga, and struts across the landscape spewing small heart-shaped bullets at anyone who gets in his way. Strange you may think? Well perhaps not as strange as some of the things he meets on his quest: such as Mr Punch-headed large-footed creatures, and intelligent stormclouds that track your passage across the higher stages of the game.

The graphics are attractive, with some nice touches, like a trail of stars that are left in the sprite's wake. The sound effects and music are good, and there is a wide variety of puzzles to be solved before each level is completed, so you'll keep coming back for more.

Not quite up to the standard of Robocod, but great fun nonetheless.

Anspruchvolles Kasperltheater

Harlequin logo

Das Kostüm ist schon ziemlich gut getroffen, eigentlich fehlt bloß noch die Mütze mit den Schellen dran - dann könnte Gremlins Plattform-Clown ohne weiteres als Doppelgänger unseres Jokers auftreten! Aber nach solchen Scherzen ist dem armen Harlequin momentan sicher nicht zumute... sucht nämlich gerade die vier Einzelteile eines gebrochenes Herzens! Dabei handelt es sich nicht um irgendein 08/15-Herz, sondern um das von Chimerica, seiner Kindheitsfreundin. Nach langer Abwesenheit war er wieder auf die Stätte seiner Jugend zurückgekehrt, aber statt Chimerica's vertrautem Herzklopfen empfing ihn nur Totenstille. Auch die sonst immer offenstehende Pforte war fest verrammelt, daneben baumelte ein verrostetes Schild: "Außer Betrieb wegen gebrochenen Herzens".

Wenn das mal keine wahrhaft herzzerreißende Vorgeschichte ist! Also erst einmal schneuzen, tief durchatmen, dann können wir uns dem Spiel selbst zuwenden: Es besteht aus 23 verschiedenen Plattform-Leveln, in denen die kleinen Herzteile verstreut herumliegen. Es bleibt daher nichts anderes übrig, als jeden einzelnen Winkel von Harlequins Schloß danach abzusuchen. Das ist die Hauptaufgabe, dazu kommt 23 mal die Unteraufgabe, den Ausgang aus dem jeweiligen Level zu finden. Manchmal ist das kinderleicht, in einigen Abschnitten muß man aber erst mal die richtigen Schalter ausfindig machen und umlegen, damit der Ausgang sichtbar wird. Gelegentlich dienen solche Schalter auch dazu, die teilweise beweglichen Plattformen anzuhalten oder in Gang zu bringen.

Außerdem gibt's hier Rampen, hin- und herschwingende Lianen, sowie natürlich all die genretypischen Boni (Zusatzenergie in Form von Futter, Fallschirme, Schutzschilde...) und Extrawaffen.

Obwohl, ganz so typisch sind die Extrawaffen auch wieder nicht: Es sind nämlich... na, was wohl? Rote Herzen! Normalerweise ballert der Held nämlich mit der blaßrosa Variante dieses Organs auf all die bösen Wecker, bissigen Schlangen und was ihm sonst noch so an phantasievoll gezeichneten Gegner in die Quere kommt. Punkte kriegt er keine dafür, man erfährt lediglich, wieviel Prozent des Spiels schon geschafft sind, wenn eins der drei Leben über dem Jordan ist.

Harlequin ist ein umfang- und abwechslungsreiches Plattformspielchen, das zwar ein paar recht würzige Stellen enthält, aber nach einer gewissen Eingewöhnungszeit für geübte Gambler durchaus zu schaffen ist. Die Joysticksteuerung funktioniert problemlos, auch Grafik und Sound (Musik & FX) können sich sehen, beziehungsweise hören lassen - sieht man davon ab, daß das Scrolling ganz leicht ruckelt. Punkte und die entsprechende Highscoreliste wären halt noch wünschenswert gewesen, aber man kann nun mal nicht alles haben. Trotz der traurigen Hintergrundstory ist die Geschichte aber insgesamt recht witzig und macht dank der vielen Level auch lange Spaß. Kurz, ein echter Herzensbrecher... (C. Borgmeier)

Harlequin logo

The race is on to produce the perfect Sonic The Hedgehog style scrolling platform game. Can Gremlin's new candy-coated hero outdo Millennium's mean metallic fish?

Last year might not have been a vintage one for the Amiga games industry as a whole, but one genre certainly did pretty well out of it. The platform game was raised to new heights (no pun intended) in 1991 by the likes of Chuck Rock (genuine cartoon graphics and design with imagination), Switchblade II (big, bold, brash and brilliant), Toki (a perfect coin-op conversion), Rodland (a better-than-perfect coin-op conversion!), The Blues Brothers (playability taken to the extreme), Scooby Doo And Scrappy Doo (gorgeous console-esque cartoon action for a giveaway price) and First Samurai (technical supremacy for once accompanied by magnificent gameplay).

Two things suggest to me, though, that platform-wise, 1992 could make 1991 look like 1977. One of them is Titus The Fox (the follow-up to The Blues Brothers), previewed in this issue's True Stories), and the other one is Harlequin.

Now, the more alert amongst you may remember back as far as issue seven, when our erstwhile Dep Ed Colin Campbell reviewed Millennium's Robocod (heratically claiming it might even be 'better than Rainbow Islands', for which he was promptly sacked). Now, while Robocod is a fine game, it has to be said that for some of us here it was just a bit on the, er, empty side.

While undeniably beautiful-looking, for the most part it was largely lacking in all-important action - hardly surprising considering how horribly jerky it went when more than a few sprites came on screen.

Harlequin is, in many ways, very similar in look to Millennium's game (in some parts it's very, very similar indeed) but where it differs crucially is in the fact that there's never a dull moment. From the word go, you're assailed by all manner of surreal nasties in large numbers, and the flow doesn't let up until the moment your be-chequered hero breathes his last. But that's not to say that you're dealing with a brainless hack-'em-up in the style of, say, Gremlin's Switchblade II, Harlequin has much more in common with arcade adventures like First Samurai, with lots of thoughtful and tricky puzzle-solving to do if you want to see every single level of Chimerica, the dreamworld where the game is set.
For a quick example of what I'm talking about, let's take a look at the first stage.

The level is based around a giant clocktower, whose clock has actually stopped. You begin at the foot of the tower, beside a huge door which is locked and bolted. You have to negotiate your way to the top of the tower (strangely reminiscent of the classic Nebulus, this bit) by way of platform-leaping, finding switches as you go which move certain platforms, removing certain obstacles and so on.

Doing this well get you to the top of the tower, where you can flick the switch which opens the tower door. Get safely back down to the bottom and you can go through the door, entering the inner workings of the clock. Battle your way through this stage by the same method, and eventually you'll be able to fix the clock mechanism from within.

Now all you have to do is get safely back out and climb up to the top of the tower all over again, where you'll see the hands of the clock whizzing happily round once more. One well-timed jump will see Harlequin grab onto the end of the clock hand, from where he can leap off and catch hold of a kite positioned at the 11 o'clock position, which will carry him (via a bonus stage) to the next level. Phew. One level down, only twenty odd more to go...

It bounds instantly to the peak of platform games

Don't think there's little to Harlequin but sheer scale though. The highly believable Alice-in-Wonderland nightmare that is Chimerica is one of the most beautiful yet menacing game settings I've ever seen, and the use of colour as a tool of atmosphere is inspirational. From the bright and cheerful pinks of the 'inside-a-milk-shake' bonus game to the candy-striped dayglo hues of Heaven or the happy greens and yellows of the Captain Planet-like jigsaw world to the gloomy dark blues of the crypts and the fiery reds glowering demonically out of the blackness of Hell, every level of the game subtly creates a state of mind appropriate to the particular scenario at that point. (There are various route to the end, meaning you don't actually have to play every level to finish the game, so if you're prone to depressions you might be well advised to seteer clear of some sections altogether...)

The graphics themselves are gorgeous, with super-smooth movement and much use of arcs and curves (you get to do a lot of rope-swinigng in this game, which is an oft-neglected tension creating device) to counter the often-artificial blocks-and-ladders feel which many platformers seem to suffer from.

Of course, the nicest graphics in the world are worthless without playability, but Harlequin's got that in buckets too - your character is controllable to a high degree of precision, which means than when you plummet from a precarious ledge or platform to the bottom of a level you've just spent five minutes climbing to the top of, it's your own stupid fault. Certainly this can get frustrating, but the immensely rewarding nature of the gameplay draws you irresistibly back for another go all the same.

But of course, if you're a regular reader of AMIGA POWER, you'll realise that all of this stuff counts for nothing anyway. When it comes to reviewing a game, the mark we give something depends entirely on how many Nice Touches it's got. Luckily, Nice Touches are something which cascade from Harlequin loke 10p pieces out of a fruit machine on a particularly good day.

You want Nice Touches? How about the way our hero stands and pants, gasping for breath with his heart beating almost out of his chest when you stop after an especially strenuous bout of running and jumping? Or the little light-bulbs which appear above his head at strategic points through the game, whereupon if he stands still for a couple of seconds, you get a subtle clue as to what to do next? Or how, as you jump along the keys of a giant piano/organ in one level, each key makes the proper note as you land on it, sharps and faults and all? Or that when you're in one of the underwater sections (with Harlequin transformed into a cute fish, still retaining his unique costume design), the hearts he usually fires at baddies appear in little bubbles, and are affected by the water's currents?

Or the advertising hoardings scattered through some stages which actually advertise the later stages, and change according to how close you are to reaching them? Of, or, or... well, we wouldn't want to spoil it for your completely. On Nice Touches alone, Harlequin bounds instantly to the very peak of the rather colossal mountain that is Amiga platform games, and when you chuck in all its other great points as well, only the very very best have a chance of touching it.

This is an addictive arcade game, an explorer's dream, a puzzling adventure and an emotional roller-coaster ride all in one. Quibbles? Forget quibbles. I'm fed up of having to pick holes in brilliant games just for the sake of an illusion of balance. If there was anything seriously wrong with this then I wouldn't love it, so I'm not going to whinge on about any flaws in might have so I look objective.

Reviewing is a subjective art, and as long as it's done by humans it always will be - I think Harlequin is fab and I don't care who knows it. Trust me on this one.

Our hero employs a fair old number of personal transportation methods in Harlequin, as you can see in these examples. Crazy shirt, crazy guy...
The bold boy calls on that classic cartoon device, the parachute umbrella, to slow his descent down a big drop.
My Life As A Fish - even underwater, Harlequin retains his distinctive look.
The jester ponders the wisdom of having that argument with Bub and Bob.
Hanging on grimly, Harlequin mounts his spacehopper and, like a rubber ball, comes on bouncing back to TV Wonderland.
Swing low, sweet idiot - he may be a fool, but he's not letting go...
One of the very greatest things about Harlequin is the way different senses of atmosphere are created by the design and look of the levels - to explain it properly, let's take a little trip through just of the game's different sectors, and examine how they illustrate the eternal conflict between the forces of good and evil, cutesy platform style.
Punch And Judy or what? Whites, pinks and light blues make the Learning Curve leel look like Andy Pandy come to life.
You might not have sympathy for the Devil, but if he has to live here you can at least see how he ended up the way he did.
In Heaven, everything is fine. Or at least,in Heaven everything is fluffy clouds and rainbow-coloured stripey bits.
'TV Wonderland'. I don't know about you lot, but there's nothing quite as eerie for me as a million broken TV sets...
What could possibly be nicer or more reassuring than a strawberry milk shake? (Well, one 300 feet tall, maybe...)
It's yet another game with sewers in it, but they've never been this dark and slimy before. You'll want a bath afterwards.
'Cutesy Bros' really says it all, doesn't it? You couldn't put the wind up a seriously disturbed seven-year-old with this...
The Crypt level is full of malicious-looking undertakers, oinous coffins and all sorts of deeply distressing stuff.

Harlequin logo CU Amiga Screenstar

My dictionary describes a Harlequin as a 'stock comic character, a masked clown in a diamond-patterned costume'. What's more, the word is also the title of a box of chocolates and that metaphor probably sums up Gremlin's new platform affair better than the clown one. Like the chocs, Harlequin is rich and varied in contents, from the Nut Cracknel delights of the Strideresque elements and the Caramel Whirl sensations of the Impossible Mission-like sections, the game contains elements drawn from practically every platform game that has existed - including Hunchback, no less! - and combines them into an excellent mixture.

In fact, the only horrible Orange creme bit of the game is the unfair nature of some of the more persistent nasties! Anyway, enough of this pretentious waffle, what we actually have here is another excellent platform game to add to the already considerable pile.

Set across twenty-three massive scrolling stages, Harlequin follows the adventures of the diamond-suited figure as he leaps, swings and runs across the platform-laden courses. The game's scenario is as odd as the prancing hero's dress sense, and tells of the Harlequin returning home to find his homeland of Chimerica desperately sick with a broken heart (personally, I didn't know those 'Twinned With' signs mean?). As a result, evil nasties have taken to patrolling the once-jolly streets and have sealed the area off.

The game's packaging contains an ode which asks: 'Who could have done such a thing? How can Harlequin mend a broken heart? Where would he start?'. Answering the question in order: that's what you have to find out; by scouring the levels for the four pieces; and at the bottom of the massive clock tower in the centre of the town.

Standing at the darkened base, there is a barred door immediately behind the Harlequin, and this is the puzzle that introduces the player to the game's many ideas.

From the starting position, the screen scrolls in the customary eight directions, with the level's many platforms inhabited by manic clocks which drop from above and other larger baddies. These give way to an assortment of scorpions and the like on later stages, but contact with any of them saps the Harlequin's energy until one of his three lives is lost.

Dotted among the dark backdrops, and quite easily missed by a speeding clown, are a series of insignificant looking switches. These play a major part in the Clown's task, and flicking them will alter a section of the screen, rendering it accessible - for instance, a platform may appear to bridge a chasm or start to move. Thus, by flicking these and performing specific tasks, the Harlequin is taken further into the massive adventure.

As you get deeper into the game, the backdrops change to depict TV Wonderlands, buildings made of playing cards, and eventually lead into a land made up of sheet music where the final confrontation awaits. To protect himself from the aforementioned energy-sapping alien presence which adorns virtually every ledge and platform, our hero is armed with a rather nancy set of hearts which he can use to blast a path through their waves - the power of love, I suppose.

Initially, however, this weaponry proves to be rather ineffectual but help is at hand in the shape of a series of Jack-In-The-Boxes which, like the switches, make regular appearances across the levels. On touching these, they spring open in a flurry of goodies, and grant the Harlequin with one of six bonuses. As well as the usual extra weapons, and health, you are given an unlikely selection of space hoppers, umbrellas, and the ability to transform into an Angel Fish - complete with chequered gills, no less!

Harlequin is the first game form newcomers, The Warp Factory, and it's an impressive debut. Whilst the actual clown sprite is small, he is particularly well animated and is also easy and responsive to control. Throughout the game, there is a dark mood which offsets the colourful graphics nicely, and although the many backdrops could never be described as dull, the use of shadows gives them a doom-laden feel.

As mentioned, Harlequin draws ideas from dozens of games: he swings to and fro just like that coin-op veteran, Hunchback, he climbs angled walls better than Hru Strider, and some of the tortuous later stages would give Mario a run for his money.

In fact, the more I play Harlequin, the more I like it. It abounds with pleasant little touches (the screen fades out in the shape of a heart, for instance), and, more importantly, has got what it takes in the playability stakes. It's one of the biggest and most fun to play platformers I've seen for a while, and whilst that phrase has been overused in the last few months, Harlequin will outlive most of its kind. It's polished in every respect and, unlike most of the new platform genre entries, it also has a bash at originality. To return to my sweety metaphor at the start: it's choic-ful of goodies!

BOXING CLEVER Collecting the bonuses within the Jack-In-The-Boxes is the key to reaching the later stages. Each of the collected bonuses is only useful for a temporary period, though, so beware:
UMBRELLA - Slows your descent when falling from a distance.
SPACE HOPPER - Using this allows you to jump higher and crush any nasties you land on.
ANGEL FISH - Transforms you into a snazzy chequered fish for those underwater scenes.
FIREWORKS - These circle Harlequin and kill anything they touch. Up to four can be held at any one time.
HEART - Improves your firepower.
BURGER - Gives a boost to yhour energy level.

Harlequin logo Zero Hero

The only member of the ZERO crew stupid enough to think that Gremlin's new platform game was about five motorbikes born simultaneously, Toby 'Doctor' Finlay probably wasn't the most suitable choice when it came to reviewing Harlequin. But we made him do it anyway...

"Halequin / 'ha:likwin/ originally a stock character in Italian comedy, a witty servant, always in love, always in trouble, easily despairing, easily consoled... usually wearing a mask and parti-coloured tights". Hmmm... this dictionary definition makes him sound like Todd from Neighbours to me (apart from the "Italian comedy" and "witty" bits. I'm not sure about the tights, either, but it wouldn't surprise me...) (Get on with it, Finaly. Ed)

Still, thousands will be delighted to know that the rather crap Australian doesn't feature too heavily in Harlequin, Gremlin's stab at outright Weird Dreams-style, er... weirdness wrapped up in a familiar game format.

This 'familiar game format' happens to be (as you may have discerned from the intro) a platform-based arcade adventure. As for the weirdness, well... I think I'll just read you a snippet from the press release. Are you sitting comfortably? Right then: "In the far-off forgotten corner in the expanse of imagination, there is a fantastic world called Chimerica. A living, breathing amalgam of dreams and distant memories, conceived fro the sole purpose of exploration and discovery".

What? You feel sick already? Well, in that case, I suppose a paraphrase will have to do. Chimerica is a dream-world which had a population of one. Cast aside any initial resemblances to Telford, because this world is skill - there's no government, no Poll Tax, no crime and no Catchphrase. The sole inhabitant of Chimerica was named Harlequin, but he's long since moved out. He was just a kid, you see, so when he finally reached adolescence and discovered ways to induce much more entertaining dreams, he had no further need for his imaginary solace. Sadly, like most 'civilisations', with no population Chimerica started to wither and die.

Let's see how the press release put it... ah, yes. Erm... you'd better hold onto your stomachs, though: "With the prospect of no salvation in sight, Chimerica's sadness deepened until one day its heart broke and everything was silent". (Bleeuurghhh! Ed.)"

Okay, now we've got that out of the way, I can tell you about the actual game. Older and wiser, Harlequin has returned to Chimerica. He witnesses the damage and vows to restore the land to its former beauty. And this is where the game begins. Starting outside the clocktower, you control the pyjama-clad Harley - your initial objective is to open the tower door. This is done by locating a switch somewhere in the level. This wouldn't be too tricky, but while Harley's been away some nasty squatters have moved in and are doing their best to stop him restoring order. Here, the designers obviously had a problem:

Designer One: Harlequin's a nice family game, but we need to appeal to the mainstream gamer as well.
Designer Two: Yes, and they all like to shoot maim and kill things.
Designer Three: But we can't have a boy in a dream-world equipped with a Kalashnikov and a grenade-launcher.

Designer One: What about letting him throw pyjamas over his enemies and call them names?
Designer Three: Don't be a prat, we'll give him a weapon which is deadly, but still unbelievably nice.
Designer Two: What about an armoury of nuclear hearts?
Designers One and Three: What a smart idea! It's a wrap!

But the hearts aren't enough to exile the baddies, so you'll find boxes scattered around which contain special bonuses (check out the screenshots) which come in jolly useful. Oh, and if you're the type of person who gets tipsy on lemon tea, there's a built-in help feature at various stages. Gosh, I'm just itching to tell you how skill it all is. Why don't you come with me to... The Review Zone! (Dee-doo, dee-doo, dee-doo, dee-doo...).

Amiga reviewToby: "Oh dear," I thought when I'd read the instructions. After all, that old crap about "distant cloud kingdoms floating magically above the horizon" is enough to put anyone off their lunch. But they don't call me 'Foolish Finlay' for nothing. (We don't call you 'Foolish Finley' at all. Ed.)
And foolish I was. Once the game had loaded, the only time I muttered "Oh dear" was when I frequently died (except I didn't actually say "oh dear", I said... er, well... you can use your imagination).

The screenshots don't really do the game justice - sure, the graphics look nice, but when they start to move they're brilliant.
The animation's smooth and fast, and there are loads of neat touches. For example, if Harlequin stops after a bout of strenuous activity, he starts to pant and his chests heaves. Okay, so it's not much, but it's little things like this that make the game stand out from the rest. The hint system is another - sometimes a light-bulb appears, and if you wait a bit... a clue manifests. Admittedly, the clues are things like "If only I could get this door open" - as if you couldn't work that one out for yourself - but it's the thought that counts.

Tell you what - let's use a metaphor to see how each aspect of the game scores, and then convert it at the end. What about a sport, like, erm... bowls? (No. Ed.) Golf then. (Alright, but it'd better be good. Ed.).

Right, so it's a birdie for the graphics and parallax scrolling. The sound though, while excellent in places, isn't quite as good. The music's diabolical, but there are some superb spot-effects, such as Harley's "Wheeeee!" squeal of delight as he jumps from platform to platform (or, in my case, misses and plummets to his doom). However, the music puts a slight slice on the putt, turning this into a bogey, I'm afraid. (I'm beginning to dislike this metaphor. Ed.)

When it comes to playability, Harlequin gets a hole in one (Stop right there. Ed.) The joystick response is perfect - Harley whizzes around the screen without a hitch. The game demands some pretty sharp manoeuvres without being overly difficult, and levels have clearly been planned so as to guide you gently into the game before annihilating you.

I should really bring up the bad points now. Yes... bad points... (Sound of someone frantically trying to locate a bad point.)
Swipe me, I can't find any.Stop