The authors of Batman return with another hit
Once upon a time, Ultimate released a game called Knight Lore which had real 3D graphics, a cute hero and lots of traps and things. And lo, the sky parted and millions of games with real 3D graphics, cute heroes, etc, rained down upon the firmament until the firmament was crawling with the blasted things and the arrival of each new game was greeted with yawns and the cry "Oh, look, another Ultimate-style 3D game".
Most of these games had the look of Ultimate's games, but didn't match the 'feel', the combination of tricky problem solving and playability. Then Ocean released their Batman game, which had some character of its own and stood out among all the other Ultimate clones. Now, the Batman authors, John Ritman and Bernie Drummond, have produced Head Over Heels and have improved the format even further.
The plot of the game concerns the Blacktooth Empire, a group of four planets enslaved by the rules of the planet Blacktooth. Your task is to recapture the four crowns, one hidden away on each planet, in order to cause an uprising, and finally to get the citizens of Blacktooth itself to revolt against their masters. Boiled down, this means 'wander around and find the objects', but it's the execution not the plot that makes it so enjoyable.
You are put in control of two beings called Head and Heels, who have developed a symbiotic relationship allowing them to exist separately or to join together and combine their abilities. Head is a winged reptile with the ability to glide, but who is completely legless (in a literal sense), while Heels has developed powerful legs but seems to have misplaced his arms.
At the start of the game Head and Heels have been captured, separated, and imprisoned in different parts of Castle Blacktooth. Graphically, the game looks just as you'd expect - rooms with various moving objects, monsters and problems to solve - but it's with the two characters you control that the game departs from the usual format. Your first task is to get both Head and Heels out of the castle so that they can be reunited. To do this, the program allows you to switch control from one character to the other. This might not sound revolutionary but it's an original touch that adds a whole new element to the game. Each character has to find his way out of the castle by a different route, and has his own supply of extra lives, objects to collect, and so on. This makes it like playing two games at once, yet you also have to organise things so that Head and Heels can still get together for the later stages of the game. It's no good getting Head out of the castle with all his lives left (up to ten available) if Heels is left trapped somewhere with just one life left.
Sometimes their paths almost cross and you can find Head and Heels in the same place, but they can't quite touch each other because of some sort of barrier, so you have to send them off in different directions again.
In addition, it takes a while to figure out quite what each character is capable of. Head's gliding abilities can come in very useful, but it takes a bit of experimenting to discover how best to control him. There are some tasks, such as climbing ladders, that took me ages to get the hang of. Heels is easier to control as he just hops about a little bit, but being the strong one he carries most of the important objects.
Scattered around the various locations are such exotic items as the Reincarnation Fish (a sort of save game option which allows you to restore the game to the stage where you first found the fish), the deadly donuts, hush puppies, cuddly stuffed rabbits, teleports, and all the weird paraphernalia that you'd expect in this sort of game.
Once you've reunited the dynamic duo your problems still aren't over as you've got the four planets, comprising around 300 screens, to explore. The problems that lie in wait for you are all cleverly thought out - hard enough to take a bit of thought, but not so hard that they're discouraging. What makes solving all these traps and obstacles so intriguing is the fact that Head and Heels, once united, can still split up and function separately. This means that whenever you're faced with a problem you have to work out whether it can be solved by Head or Heels as individuals, or the two of them together.
I've played other game where control is divided between two or more characters, but these have always seemed rather fiddly and cumbersome to play, but here the game has been thought out so that the choice of which character(s) to control is actually part of the challenge and adds to the game.
I'd thought that this style of game had more or less been milked dry, but Head Over Heels proved an unexpected surprise, and one that will keep you occupied for hours.
A Monster Hit.