Electron User1st July 1990
Published in Electron User 7.10
In these days of ever increasing sophistication it is most refreshing to play a game as simple yet addictive as Audiogenic's Helter Skelter.
The storyline goes like this: The world has been overrun by herds of comical looking monsters and your mission is to bounce the little blighters into oblivion. I choose the word bounce specifically, since you are a red rubber sphere of considerable size.
Ball control is achieved by means of three keys - left, right and bounce and your mastery of the bounce button will determine the outcome of the game. Oddly enough the world that you are defending is constructed in platform game fashion - single screens, with several platforms floating in mid-air. Each is inhabited by one or more randomly moving monsters just waiting to be bounced.
Being an ace tactician, my first inclination was to ricochet around the screen as fast as possible, obliterating everything that I touched. After I had doubled the indigenous monster population in five seconds I decided to adopt a more subtle approach - so I sat down and read the instructions.
The accompanying script indicated that the programmers had anticipated my sledgehammer approach by specifying the order in which the monsters must be despatched.
On all occasions, the next one to be blatted is highlighted by a large white arrow hovering above its head. Contact with any other beast induces instant binary fission, the result being two furry fiends scurrying around the screen instead of one.
Don't be put off by the fact that you can literally sprint through the first few screens, as this is a deliberate ploy to boost your confidence. Things soon begin to increase in both complexity and difficulty - don't forget that you have a total of 74 levels to complete before you reach the end!
Helter Skelter's monsters are not in any way harmful to the bouncing ball and the game's controlling factor is time. A digital clock counts down the seconds as you race to obliterate the monster masses. Tension is heightened by a rapid ticking sound that starts at the 10 seconds marker.
Scoring is relatively simple. You receive 500 points for every monster you zap, a further 1,000 bonus for every second that remains on the clock, and a final skill bonus which is halved every time you press the bounce button.
This final bonus encourages a player to adopt the most economical approach to completing a screen - this is also probably the quickest.
Variety is introduced by means of various tokens that appear at random throughout the game. Time limit permitting, you may be able to collect the letters E-X-T-R-A and be rewarded with an additional ball.
Alternatively there is a range of symbol tokens that can temporarily paralyse the monsters, interrupt the passage of time, or best of all, teleport you to the next level.
Sound is used sparingly: There is no title tune and the spot effects are simple, but this doesn't really detract from the game's appeal.
Considering the now ageing Electron's capabilities, Helter Skelter strikes a good balance between graphic detail and colour use. On the animation front, the characters exhibit flicker-free and fluid movement, with the realistic response of the ball to the apparent gravitational effects being worthy of note.
If you become bored with playing your way through the same old levels time after time and you're not good enough to get any further, try pressing E while you're on the title screen. Once the discrete message Edit mode has disappeared you will be faced with a blank screen - a canvas upon which you an express the more devious side of your personality.
This built-in level designer allows you to create an infinite number of new screens, provided that you save them to disc or tape in groups of 40.
You are given total control over the size and location of all platforms, the number of monsters present, the starting position of your ball, the time allocation and the size of the low bounce bonus.
The only failing of this otherwise powerful editor is that you cannot edit a screen one you have committed it to memory. If you've used game editors in the past you will realise the magnitude of this omission. There is no way that you will ever create a well balanced level at the first attempt - it will always be too easy, too difficult or just downright impossible!
I would rate Helter Skelter as one of the better platform games to have hit the market in recent years. Simplicity is the keyword throughout: Simple controls, simple gameplay, simply fun!