Here's a novel variation on the old Lemmings theme. You play Kevin Codner, a man for whom integrity and bravery are so much a part of his make-up that they might as well be his middle names. As you read the intimate interview with the man whose very actions you'll soon be controlling, you realise the scale of your mission.
The SS Lucifer is, you see, sinking, and full of Dim Passengers, all with a marked dislike of rapidly rising waters. Your job is to guide them safely from where they enter each compartment to the exit. Sounds pretty similar to Lemmings still, doesn't it?
There are differences, though. For a start, Kevin is an actual character who has nothing to do with Dim Passengers. You can't make the passengers actually do anything like you can Lemmings - actions are controlled by a number of means apart from the passengers themselves, about which more later.
Also, the Dim Passengers might be lacking enough of the grey stuff to snatch the chair of MENSA from Sir Clive, but they have not got a pathological desire to end it all in the same way that our cliff-loving chums of old have.
Indeed, they'll do everything they can to run away from the rising waters when they come across them.
Oh, and control is not via a crosshair and a mouse, but by the more conventional joystick and Fire button approach, your button being used to set off bombs, pick things up and so on.
So, we've established that, although based on the Lemmings idea, Sink or Swim has enough going for it to warrant consideration in its own right, so consider it we will.
Let's take a wander through the average level, shall we? Kevin appears, followed very shortly by a number of Dim Passengers. They're big, chunky affairs, and there aren't that many of them to look after. At the bottom of the screen are a load of statistics which it certainly pays to keep your eye on - especially the one that tells you how much oxygen you've got left. There are windows for passengers to be saved, lives, and how much time is left on the fuses of any bombs you've planted.
JETPAC TO SAFETY
Various objects can be utilised as mentioned earlier. Jetpacs are very useful - when you pull them off the wall, they drop into any rising waters which have stranded passengers in it, allowing the passengers to jetpac to safety, or the top of the screen - whichever comes first!
There's cargo knocking around, which you use to make bridges and platforms to complete an escape route for your passengers, but conversely it can get in the way, hindering the essential route to the chute, in which case you can move it.
Burst pipes shoot out fatal steam of thousands of degrees, but you can crawl along them and seal them... all with your Fire button!
There are various hazards apart from the water-based ones, crushers do just that to anything that gets in their way, for instance. May other helps, hindrances and curious objects knock around the various levels - swinging chains, magnetic hoists, electric fields, crew lifts - all have their uses, and those that don't teach you to avoid them very quickly indeed. There's even an emergency life-raft for when things are all going horribly wrong.
Graphically the game is a couple of years behind its time, with clumsy, not particularly well animated sprites - although it must be said that the water effects are quite impressive, especially the wobbly reflection of the Lucifer in the title screens. But the movement of the characters does let it all down a little, as does their rather pedestrian speed.
Soundwise too it's OK, with some admittedly very nice water effects, but again it seems to be a couple of years behind its time - the theme tune reminds me of one of the better PD music demo disks.
As far as the gameplay goes, it's a nice idea and a credible attempt to deviate from the Lemmings idea, but like so many copied games, the more it deviates, the more it seems to lose some kind of simplistic magic. It feels rather cluttered with too much superfluous stuff going on.
This has the effect of making it hard deciding exactly what's happening, which in turn makes it hard to settle back into some serious, contemplative, Pause-on puzzle-
So, the presentation is OK, the idea - albeit borrowed - is an excellent one, and the sound and graphics are passable but nothing special.
It's the kind of game that, should you have a particular maritime bent, you'll enjoy, but for the average gamesplayer, I'd say that there's a lot of far slicker, smoother and more exciting stuff around. Sink or swim? This one's struggling to tread water, I'm afraid.