THOSE IRREPRESSIBLE Aussies at Melbourne House seem full of arcade games this Christmas, and are just about to release another, in Gyroscope.
Somewhat less violent that the last two gladiatorial offerings, it casts you as a gyroscope, that small spinning toy which appears to defy the laws of gravity. You must guide the gyroscope down five four-screen courses of increasing difficulty, avoiding the cliff edges, walls, and various hazards which are set in your path.
Amusement arcade fanatics may recognise it as a version of the successful Atari game, Marble Madness, but Melbourne House says there's no connection between the two, and Gyroscope is not based on it. Weird - but never mind, it's a remarkably addictive game of great difficulty.
The graphics are really impressive - a 3D landscape of gridded ramps and cliffs along which the gyroscope teeters, speeding up as it goes down hill, running out of steam when climbing. The secret is to build up just the right speed and angle of movement across each part of the course, so as to move smoothly into the next screen without wasting time. But if you go too fast, you'll fall over the edges - and some of the corners must be negotiated with single-pixel precision to stay spinning.
As you progress, the paths become more treacherous. Directional magnets draw you unwillingly towards disasters, while certain sections of track are coated with glass to disrupt your movement. Then there are patches of what Melbourne House claims to be aliens - they chatter at you and bounce you around until, inevitably, it's over the edge again.
There's a time limit of 60 seconds on each spin, so even if you stay out of trouble you have to shift to make it in time. We managed the first run reasonably easily after a bit of practice, but the second is much nastier and the third - well, hair-raising isn't the word.
Luckily, if you lose a life, you remain on that screen, instead of going back to the beginning of the run, so it is possible to achieve some success even if you use up all your lives to do it.
Melbourne House should have another winner on its hands. It seems a pity that only 20 screens could be fitted into the game - but they're a pretty dazzling 20. Whether or not the game is as original as Melbourne House seems to think, we've never seen anything quite like it on the Spectrum. Buy it and go bananas.
Publisher: Melbourne House Price: £7.95 Memory: 48K Joystick: Kempston, Cursor