Your Sinclair1st April 1987
Published in Your Sinclair #16
Froggy Goes A-Courtin'... But Marcus Berkman is already spoken for, thank you very much!
Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit. It's a frog s life on the Spectrum sometimes, even if you are partial to flies. Pity poor Mervyn, then, a sorceror's apprentice who, while trying to concoct a potion to make him tall, dark and handsome, turns himself into something short, green and extremely slimy - a frog. Still, it helps him survive an invasion of evil warlocks - now he's just got to go round and destroy them, all 96 of 'em on eight labyrinthine levels. Or rather you've got to.
This is the scenario behind Rana Rama, a fast-hopping megazapper from the magic keyboard of Hewson's Steve Turner. Okay, so it does look a bit like Gauntlet - lots of games will from here on in - but it doesn't play like it, no sirree. You've got to think while playing this one - something that may not appeal to fans of the great glove.
You're stuck in a massive dungeon of eight interconnected levels and about four by four screens per level. You see only the rooms you've visited (50 to 100 per level), and meanies are only visible in the room you're in - a clever touch that peps up the game no end while no doubt saving lorryloads of memory. The network of rooms is deliberately complex, and you often have to go around the houses to reach one you've missed.
Throughout the game you carry with you four spells - Power, to keep you going, Offence (or firepower to you and me), Defence, and Effect, a sort of catch-all category that gives you certain useful (and occasioned, bizarre) powers against your enemies. Spells can be upgraded, though it's a complicated business. Every time you touch a warlock, you're launched into a subgame where you must rearrange the letters R-A-N-A-R-A-M-A (helpfully muddled by the computer) in the right order pretty darn swifly. Get past this, and Mervyn has the chance to pick up a maximum of four magical runes which flash onscreen.
Runes are vital if you're to get anywhere in Rana Rama. With them you can bump up your spells and make yourself more powerful. For this reason the most dangerous part of the game is the first bit, when you're at your most vulnerable. When you've got some runes to play with, you can afford to take more risks. But at the start, concentrate on damage limitation.
As you'll see from the table, some runes are rather better than others. The really whizzy ones you'll find on on the lower levels, but occasionally you'll get a good one on level 1 when you pick up all the four runes going. If possible try to tempt the warlock into a smaller room, 'cos it'll be easier to grab the full rune complement.
There's a random element in which runes you'll pick up, but generally they'll be more high-powered the more trigger-happy the warlock.
The spells you start with are mainly Base Magic spells which, honestly, aren't up to much. The one exception to this is the power spell, where you start as Psychic. When you're killed - and you will be - you revert to level 1, Mortal. Die again and the game's over, so go to Psychic as soon as possible after your first demise it you want a buffer between you and oblivion.
What sort of noshes must you cope with? The warlocks (and on lower levels the necromancers) are of course your main target, as they provide the valuable runes. Don't fire at them, walk into them - this is in effect a challenge to the warlock and leads to the subgame. Warlocks are normally surrounded by Magic Minions, which are usually recognisably animal in shape (if only just) and limited in number. They come in many forms, from Dwarf Warriors (relatively easy to kill) to Gargoyles (rotten meanies). Kill the lot of 'em.
The third type of meanie is the Magical Weapons. These come from small square or rectangular generators and are endlessly renewable, unless you destroy the generators. It's vital, then, to knock off any generators as soon as you enter the room - even before going after the warlocks.
While warlocks fire at you, their minions and weapons will walk into you to harm you. As you weaken, your frog will begin to flash and his croaking will grow louder and more desperate. To stay alive you'll need to find one of the many gyrating little energy capsules which, like rozzers, are never around when you want them. When you need a capsule, it'll fizz loudly as it whooshes into you - if there's no fizz, you've wasted it.
And there's more. Secret doors are scattered liberally across the dungeon, so don't be misled by what seems like a dead end. If minions appear through walls, that's where the door is. Alternatively, the map that's activated by the See Glyph (displayed as an eye) show's all the secret doors.
Rana Rama is one of the best games I've ever played on the Spectrum. Fans of that little charmer, Gauntlet, find Hewson's entry less than gripping - it's all a matter of personal taste, I s'pose. But I'm hooked - two and a half hours last night, battling my way down to level 6. There's just so much to do and think about, and it's a treat for the peepers. So my advice is, hop off and snap it up - it's toadally brilliant!