Minskies Furballs logo

Hugh Poynton annoys the Feline Protection League and explodes cats for fun

There's a pub in Manchester called McNally's Sports Bar which my mates and I go to at the start of a night out on the town. It's brilliant: nice cheap beer, a pool table and hot nuts. Unfortunately, it also has an annoying arcade game called 'double bubble' or some other cheese.

The trouble with double-cheesy-bubble is that, despite the fact it has the simple, bouncy, colourful look of a Mothercare toy, it is in fact totally bloody addictive and pretty difficult. It's a nightmare: imagine it, you just kicking off your Saturday in Manchester and an arcade machine is the centre of attention.
Minskies Furballs is just this sort of colourful and simple game, the sort that turns normal people into antisocial joystick wagglers in pubs (if you get my meaning).

The idea behind Minskies Furballs is pretty simple. Different coloured cats drop in paris from the top of the screen. It's your job to steer and rotate the mangy pair so that four or more cats of the same colour are positioned next to each other. Do this and they explode leaving the screen free for more cats. The greater the catocide the higher the score. Once the screen is packed out with multi-coloured felines, the game is up.

Minskies Furballs, it has to be said, is stupidly addictive. It's one of those games that looks simple but is in fact pretty difficult. You continuously have that 'Just one more go and I'll win' sort of feeling. One word of advice though, play against the computer or a mate because the gameplay is at least doubled.

Playing against an opponent means you have to hinder their efforts at emptying their screen whilst trying to clear your own screen of the little critters. The computer opponents are pretty tough cookies - watch out for Boocakes, the blue octopus and Harvey the slightly nouty looking bear thing.

There are a variety of ways to gain the upper hand. Whenever a connection of four or more cats is triggered either a fish or a concrete block is dropped into the opponents screen, mucking up their own connections. The only way to get rid of an obstruction is to build a connection around it - the obstruction will be blown up along with the cats. By building connections next to the blocks, weapons are revealed which you can use to clear cats or obstructions from your screen.

Minskies Furballs is, without doubt, great fun to play but there is one basic flaw in the game - it just isn't that original. The basic premise of the game is very Tetris-like and there isn't a great deal about the game that makes it stand out. Despite the fact that it's playable and very addictive, chances are you have played dozens of games like it.

It's well put together, well designed and fun. The idea behind it couldn't really be much simpler and the graphics look colourful and cute. Minskies is basically quite an engaging and addictive game and although it doesn't really have the originality or depth of some it's pretty likeable anyway. As games go, it's a bimbo-simple, good fun, bright and gaudy. Worms it ain't, but you could do a lot worse than getting hold of a copy.

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Andy Smith coughs up the gen on another Tetris/Column clone. Then he licks his paws and sits on the radiator.

Someone could write a dissertation on the properties of Tetris and why it works so well as a game. Actually they probably have already, which is why I won't bother, except to state the obvious and say it's spawned a thousand clones. And they still keep coming.

This latest version requires the player to manipulate falling cartoon kittens (hope that makes the title a little clearer) that drop down the screen in pairs. The cats are coloured and the idea's to make columns, or groups of four or more cats, of the same colour. When that happens, not only does the group disappear, but as an added bonus, a grey block (or transparent fish) falls down on your opponent's side - obviously causing him problems with his stacking arrangements.

Columns of cats
The idea's just to keep going until either you run out of space to manipulate your cats in or your opponent does. Obviously you'd like this to happen to your opponent (who can be one of 11 computer controlled peeps) first because then you'd win the game. Look, I'm sure you know exactly what this is all about so I'll stop explaining the basics and get onto what's different.

Firstly, the cats only drop in pairs. The order of the cats can be changed by hitting the fire button as they descend - you can even get them to sit side by side if you so desire. Secondly, once they've reached the bottom, any two or more cats of the same colour strangely become siamese twins as they partly merge with their partner. This is not just aesthetic but helps make spotting groups a whole lot easier.

Thirdly, and most importantly, you can earn yourself bonus weapons. Every time you manage to get a group of five or more cats to disappear - or if you manage to create a chain reaction and a couple o more groups disappear one after the other - you're awarded a bonus weapon. Now then, you can use these immediately or you can save 'em up for something a little more effective. The first extra weapon you get is a bomb. You activate it (by pressing up on the joystick) and then you have five seconds to move a cross-hair around your pile of kitties and hit fire, whereby all surrounding cats get smoked. A special benefit is that it also takes out any immovable blocks in the immediate vicinity.

An important feature of the extra weapons is this saving 'em up facility. There are more powerful weapons - such as a shield which protects you from enemy blocks appearing on your screen for a while - which you can activate by accumulating several bonuses. Tactical use of the bonuses at the right time is the key to success in Minskies

It's fun. Play solo and you'll find the computer opponents a challenge - but not too taxing - play against a friend however and you'll find the fun's only just beginning. This is definitely a game that shines in two player mode.

Old hat
Minskies Furballs does nothing new however, it simply follows the Tetris/Columns brief and continues it. There are no radical new features or twists to the gameplay, merely good interpretations of old ideas. That makes it fun to play but not exceptional.

LIke Columns you can find yourself doing rather better than you should be because you manage to create some lucky chain reacitons. Sure, you can play these but if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself worrying so much a bout what you're going to do with the piece that's falling down that you won't have time to get all clever and start planning ahead. Maybe that's what stops the game being truly special - the fact that you can do much better than you should be able to by pure luck.

So there you have it. Minskies Furballs is like Columns but slightly different. Though it's polished there's nothing going on that's radically different and it's unlikely to provide you with a massive challenge if you're only ever going to play the thing solo. That said, once you've booted the game up you'll find it's got buckets of 'just one more go' appeal.

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Price: £19.99   Publisher: Binary Emotions   01722 716074

I taut I saw puddy cat. I did, I did. Too right you did mate. You saw lots of different coloured ones in this excellent Tetris clone.

Tetris fans - all your birthdays have come at once. And even if you are not a Tetris fan you will be one after a few bouts on this game. Minskies Furballs is one excellent Tetris clone. Even the NMS boys )who we share an office with) seemed a little bit impressed by it and kept muttering something about Kirby's Avalanche on the SNES.

Choose your weapons
It is bright, it is colourful and it is easy to play. All you have got to do is manipulate the oncoming coloured blocks (little puddy cats called gerbils) into matching groups of four or more. Each time you do this you send a fish symbol or little grey blocks down on your opponent's side mucking up their arrangements so they have got to get rid of them.

As well as grouping your blocks together you have got a variety of weapons at your disposal. There are three offensive weapons and three defensive ones. A red bar at the bottom increases as you progress through the game and so does your weapon status. Weapons begin with the bomb and then go on to items such as phaser, avalanche and shield. To select one just push up and fire. Getting rid of the grey blocks is the main way to get any weapon and it will flash up on screen which one you have currently got. Bombs are handy for getting yourself out of trouble and freeing up some space. I am disappointed though, that there is not a way to send a bomb over to your opponent so you could mess up their game.

That gripe aside, control is easy enough, press down on the joystick to speed up the blocks, up to select weapons and left and right to move the blocks around. Likewise on the keyboard use left and cursor keys to move either way, right Amiga and right Alt to rotate the blocks.

Some of the weapon selection is also a bit hit and miss though. When you select a bomb it is quite straightforward - target appears and you get a countdown of five to select the part you want to obliterate. The phaser weapon which blitzes in straight lines, is harder to find. It seems to be slightly off screen so a bit of guesswork is needed here.

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A bit of a character
There are eleven tables in all to complete and each table has its own figurehead. This does not really affect the game much but adds a bit of variety to the levels. The one with the three bears is a bit strange and offputting as the little picture of the bears keeps zooming in and out for some unexplained reason. This is a bit hard on the eyes.

Minskies furballs The avalanche weapons that your opponent sends your way every now and then does not help your eyesight either as it shakes the screen around vigorously for a few minutes. In addition, on some levels, the background graphics blurs in a bit too much with the blocks. I found myself missing connections because it could not make out some of the coloured blocks.

In two-player mode, confusingly called multiplayer, however you only have one table to play on. There is a choice of three, five and nine bouts and you can also alter each player's skill level. The two-player game is a bit tricky as the skill level for player two seems stuck at ultra fast mode. However, Andrew Jollie from Binary Emotions said that this problem will be corrected by the time of press.

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Totally addictive
Minskies furballs Minskies is totally addictive and great fun to play. The ingame tune and the little shouts of "here we go" and "you're in trouble now" add to the overall enjoyment. The only problem I have with it was that, at times, there did not seem to be much difference between easy, medium and hard mode. Your computer opponent's logic also seems a bit warped occasionally and behaves strangely by either not making any connections at all or by sending down mountain loads of little grey blocks all at once totally wrecking any chance you had of getting any further in that level.

Despite this you can get through Minskies quite easily if you set your mind to it. But there is enough of a decent game in there to make you want to go back to it time and time again. I love it. At £19.99 it is a bargain especially when there is an ECS version included. This is almost identical to the AGA version and only suffers a slight loss of quality in the graphics department. Once the two-player mode is sorted it will be a worthy purchase indeed.

Minskies Furballs: Fruit Machine As a bonus, at the end of every level or so you get the chance to have a go on a mini fruit machine. As well as being a bit of a novelty you can also rack up some handy extra points here. If Lady Luck is with you, you can accrue some welcome goodies: three lemons gets you two continues, three grapes 4,000 points and three bananas 20 coins. Press fire on the joystick or right Amiga on the keyboard to play. You can skip it altogether if you wish by pressing Right alt. But why miss out on these lovely extra fruity points? Other ways to score extra points are the number of connections you have made in any one go and how many blocks you used up in each game.