Oh, it's just so frustrating, so difficult, so... so... hideous. And in fact that's what Alternative's latest release is called! (Clever little joke that, eh?) Only the thing is, it's not really a joke. Before long, Hideous will have you tearing your hair out, gnashing your teeth and hanging from doorways, gibbering uncontrollably.
Hideous is a rather old-fashioned-looking arcade puzzle game. You guide a little tank around lots of different screens, collecting lead casing so that you can shut down a central nuclear reactor. You're going to need to draw a map, though, 'cos this level is five screens wide and six deep. That's an awful lot of space to get lost in.
If Hideous looks old-fashioned, it plays old-fashioned too. Forget fancy scrolling routines, this one just uses flick-screen scrolling. And your little tank moves along with all the vigour of an arthritic slug.
Nope, tanks aren't renowned for speed. They're not renowned for fuel economy, either. In fact, if you don't regularly top up your fuel supply (by shooting at the blue blocks marked with an 'F') you blow up. Really, you've got no excuse for running out though, because there's a dirty great bar running vertically down the right hand side of the screen showing you how much fuel you've got left.
Apart from fuel, you also need bullets. How else are you going to shoot the fuel blocks? You collect more ammo by driving into or shooting the red 'A' blocks.
You need the ammo for quite a few things, actually. For a start, you haven't got this place to yourself. It just happens to be infested with alien critters. On Level 1 they just bimble about, getting in the way, but later on they start shooting at you...
Don't drive into these aliens at any stage, though, because your tank's shield loses energy. And when it's all gone... you guessed... boom!
Other things to shoot at? Well, firing at the little green parcels gives you extra points. Special blue blocks you have to shoot into oblivion if you're to make any further progress (they, ahem, block the way). Finally, there are funny yellow cubes that have a habit of sitting in doorways and have to be pushed into clear areas of the screen.
Shooting things won't get you out of every fix though. There are special doorways that will only open when you're carrying something (bizarre!). These doorways are everywhere and can be an absolute pain in the... [Snip! - Ed] Objects you can carry include a skull (found on the first screen), lumps of rock and even bits of the lead shielding itself.
And there's more! To make life even harder there are escalator-type things which will only let you travel in one direction. Which makes it all the more important to map the level as you go along -y ou can go round and round in circles for hours. It's so, so easy to miss the one exit that will bring you out into a new area.
Any more problems? Well yes, there are actually. Like the laser beams that will fry your little tank to a crisp if you don't turn them off first. You turn them off by touching four special icons (which may not necessarily be on the same screen). Then you must dash through the gap - the lasers are only switched off temporarily.
And then, of course, there are the smart bombs. To activate them you just touch them - when they go off (after a short delay) they wipe out all the baddies on the screen. Trouble is, if you're on that screen at the time, your shield is weakened. The knack is to activate the smart bomb then hop it to the next screen and wait for it to go off. Sometimes this isn't possible. Then you have to try to get one of the aliens to activate it while you stay out of the way...
What a nightmare! To actually complete the level you have to find all eight pieces of lead shielding, place them around the reactor and then find the exit. What makes it all just about possible is the fact that, dotted here and there, you will find computer terminals. These display a little map showing the location of the remaining pieces of shielding. The exit is easy enough - it's at the bottom right-hand corner of the level. Needless to say, you start at the top left.
Hideous has four levels, each one harder than the last. On Level 1, you'll never come across more than two aliens on a screen, while on Level 2 you can get four. Don't forget, each brush with an alien weakens your shield. Still too easy? On Levels 3 and 4 the aliens shoot back...
For all the frustration, difficulty and sluggishness of this game, it is still a real corker. Hideous combines some brain-teasing puzzling (of quite a high standard), with some not-bad arcade action. Each level is huge and will take quite some exploring, while the difficulty, especially at the higher levels, is enough to keep you playing for weeks.
It's not all good, though. On Level 1, for example, there is only one route through from the left-hand side of the level to the right. And considering that the reactor is on the left and half of the lead pieces on the right, you end up going to and fro over the same old screens time and time and time again. It's a bit of an anticlimax, really, because the more you explore the level, the easier it becomes. The puzzles get tougher, sure, but the more progress you make, the more you understand the layout of the level and the more screens you clear. Pretty soon there's no more exploring to do and nothing left to shoot, just a lot of tiresome lead-ferrying.
Level 2 is much the same. It's more obviously maze-like, though, so the mapping is even more important here. Disappointingly, there are no smart bombs and no doors. Level 2 is actually quite a lot easier than Level 1 (except for having more aliens).
Level 3 is a different kettle of fish entirely. The doors and other objects are back, and the aliens shoot at you. We can't tell you what Level 4 is like because we, er, didn't get that far...
Hideous is pretty old-fashioned, colourful but rather slow-moving, and has no title tune and few in-game fx. Not a great recipe for success, then. What sets it apart though is its sheer size (four large levels), surprisingly tough puzzling element and not-bad-at-all arcade action. The only thing that stops this budget corker scoring a mastergame is the frustration element. There's just too much to-ing and fro-ing over the same old ground.
Otherwise, this would be one of the best games (especially on budget) we've seen for a while. As it is, ifs still well worth the £4 asking price.
Colourful and clear, but they don't move terribly fast.
No title tune, but the in-game fix do the business well enough.
Grab Factor 92%
You know straight away you're in for a good blast!
Staying Power 90%
It's not just that it's hard - it's the size of the levels that's the real challenge.