Shizophrenia is a funny thing. (No it isn't. - Ed) Take Mr Nutz, for example. (Blimey, that's an uncharacteristically early plunge into relevance. - Concerned reader)). For one thing, he's not sure himself who he wants to be. At first he seems to want to be Sonic The Hedgehog, but then he chances his mind and reckons he'd be better off as Super Mario. But then he has another change of heart and goes for Zelda (eponymous star of several Nintendo RPGs) instead.
As if all this wasn't confusing enough, he has a strange effect on anyone playing his game, too - one minute you're going "Ooh, that's a really nice idea", the next it's "Gaah! What kind of psychopathic moron designed this anyway?" I'll try to explain.
Even as I'm typing this paragraph, I don't know what mark I'm going to give Mr Nutz: Hopping Mad. I've been playing it for five days now. I'm three-quarters of the way through, and I still don't know whether I like it or not. (To be honest, I'm kind of hoping it'll become clear to me as I'm writing).
It's a platform game, but with a definite Zelda-esque RPG angle, in that you have to do an awful lot of trekking around on a map in between platform sections, talking to other characters, collecting stuff and solving elementary puzzles. Indeed, the first time I reached the second world, it took me a good 10 minutes (well, there wasn't really anything good about them) just to Find a platform section.
The game is also structured a lot like Super Mario World (look, sorry about always bringing up this kind of thing, but it's so blatant and deliberate I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I didn't tell you about it, okay?), but the actual platform bits are (oh no, not again) the closest yet that the Amiga's come to cloning Sonic.
It's probably the best-programmed Amiga platformer I can recall (only First Samurai springs immediately to mind as a challenger), but the design is dangerously leaky in parts.
Some of it's had the most painstaking care and attention to detail possible, but some of it is so thoughtlessly infuriating it's hard to believe the same people are responsible for it.
The graphics, as you can see, are lovely - multiple layers of smooth, fast parallax scrolling a-go-go, even on an ordinary 1 meg A500. Next time someone (the authors of Cool Spot or Zool 2, say) tries to tell you that the old machine simply can't handle that kind of thing, wave Mr Nutz in their faces and watch 'em blush.
You also get some excellent SNES-Mode-7 Type stuff, with bosses and bonus sections whizzing in and out flawlessly and graphics are full of similar tricks.
He has a strange effect on anyone playing his game
But on the other hand, they're designed in such a way as to render lots of power-ups and baddies all but invisible unless you creep along a pixel at a time and scrutinize the screen with a magnifying glass as you go. Whether this is due to limitations on the number of colours or a deliberate design strategy I don't know. What I do know is that it's damn annoying to get repeatedly spiked by things you simply didn't see because they were the same colour as most of the background scenery.
Similarly, bits where you et whipped along uncontrollably by underwater currents, and then thrown out straight into a spiked wall will be hanging offence come the revolution.
The scenery itself is annoyingly inconsistent too, in terms of what you can and can't stand on. Frequently (especially in the later levels) you can stand on one piece of background, but not another completely identical one, and it makes navigating your way through the already-sprawling levels much harder and much less enjoyable than it ought to be.
Still, I don't want to find too much fault with the graphics, because you Do get used to them to a large extent, and even at their worst they're not a tenth as incomprehensible as, say, Oscar. The unfortunate thing is that they're one of a number of minor irritations that make playing the game less like having a good time and more like a chore, and the biggest bugbear among these is the amount of maze-mapping that you must do.
Mr Nutz's worlds take shape as lots of little islands on big spread-out maps, with little identikit bridges and ladders and pathways. Because everything looks the same it's astoundingly easy to get lost, and because it's all in little tiny sections scattered over such a big area it's very hard to get your bearings.
While the maps are full of little characters wandering around who you can talk to, practically none of them have anything interesting or relevant to say - most of the 'conversations' you can have only offer you one possible response at a time, or if you get more they often bring exactly the same result. Even if you make the wrong choice when there is a decision to be made, you can simply go back up to the character and start again.
Bearing all this in mind, it seems daft to spend so much game time trekking around the maps trying to work out where anything is. You can't get killed or lose anything important in the map bits, they're just a linking motif to connect the platform segments, so it's just tedious and maddening to have to wander the identical pathways for five or ten minutes at a time trying to find the next platform stage. (I think we can consider that point well and truly made now. - Ed) Anyway, let's get back to the game.
Dropped in as a tease and then simply not used
One of the cleverest (and, indeed, Sonic-est) ideas in Mr Nutz is the way your hit points work. You can actually carry your energy around as little sentient beings who look like the little brother of Stix out of Bubba 'n' Stix. When you get hit, the hit point sproings off and starts bouncing around of its own accord, and you can actually run after it and pick it back up again. More often, of course, you'll run after it only to lose another three hit points while you try to get it back, but forcing you to make that decision is a classic gameplay device, and it works very well here.
Oddly, quite a few other elements of the gameplay seem to be dropped in as a tease, and then simple not used for the rest of the game. In level one, for example, there are mushrooms dotted around which you use as springboards. After a bit, you notice that certain-coloured ones shuffle away from you when you're near them, and hence can be intimidated into moving quite a long way along the level into advantageous positions. After the first world, though, this neat feature seems to be completely abandoned, which is a bit of a shame.
Likewise, the bits on world two, where you have to cleverly manipulate a series of switches to raise and lower the water level in a partially-submerged stage in order to reach particular areas, seem to be a one-off puzzley interlude in the middle of otherwise uniformly-straightforward platforming.
Oh, and by halfway through the last world, I'd accumulated no less than 17 'energy balls', without the remotest suggestion from either the game or the manual what I might need or want them for.
Blimey, this is going on a bit, isn't it? And quite honestly, I'm still not sure how to mark the game. Like I said, I've been playing it for quite a while now, and while it's regularly driven me almost to the end of my tether, I do keep going back to it. I've almost finished it, and I can't imagine wanting to put myself through it again once it's done, but I can't quite seem to let it go just yet.
How am I going to find a score? I know, how about some hard and tangible facts? You only get 20 main levels, but after they first world they're absolutely huge (a bit too big for my taste, in fact), and while the game isn't generally all that hard until the ridiculously tricky last world (1UPs are everywhere, and you have have at least 25 lives by the time you reach world three, for example), it'll take you a fair time to get to the end, even with the help of the save.
The save facility is smart. What happens is that you can save your position either after defeating a boss, or in mid-level if you find a save point and have enough stars (although you might prefer to hold on to your stars for other reasons, like getting access to warp zones, secret areas and messages and so on. Decisions, decisions). You can save to one of four save slots, and when you're on the options screen you can fool around with the slots - copying, deleting or renaming them at will.
What this means in practice is that you can, for example, get to the end of the first world, save the game, quit and go to the options screen, copy the saved game into the other three save slots, then lay on from one of those. Then, if you get past another boss or save point, you've still got your original end-of-level-one game saved as well as the one at your current point.
This means that if you want to, say, go back over an earlier section to try to come out of it with more lives, stars or whatever, you don't have to start again from the beginning. Watch out, though - if you try to save with the game disk write-protected, it doesn't give you a chance to write-enable it and start again, which can mean a lot of effort getting wasted if you get killed before you can find and use a save point in the next world. I speak (natch) from experience.
Right. Time to cut to the chase. For technical achievement, but mostly for the fact that I've kept coming back to it even though it kept annoying me, I've decided that Mr Nutz deserves the benefit of the doubt. I haven't heard of The Neon Team before now, but this isn't a half-bad start for them. If they can come up with an idea to match their obvious talent next time, then Bullfrog, Sensible et al had better watch their backs.