Axel's Magic Hammer (Gremlin) Review | ST Format - Everygamegoing

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Axel's Magic Hammer
By Gremlin
Atari ST

Published in ST Format #6

Axel's Magic Hammer

There's something about cute, horizontally-scrolling adventures which makes them instantly playable and inexplicably addictive. Super Mario Brothers is one of the classic Nintendo versions, but there have been many others, including New Zealand Story and Skweek which have followed the same theme with considerable success.

Now comes Axel's Magic Hammer, one of Gremlin's most promising releases for '89. The scenario is the usual dross about Axel's ultimate ambition to rescue the princess at the end of level eight, blah blah.

In short, it's an action game in which you use a hammer to punch through special bricks located on each screen. Behind the majority of bricks is a bonus icon which can do anything from grant you extra lives to give you a helmet, enabling you to jump up and smash the bricks from underneath.

Along the way you encounter bats, pigeons and other ghouls which sap your energy. By collecting the right icon you can blast them to pieces and obtain special bonuses. To direct Axel around the screen, you need some nifty joystick movements: perfect them and Axel can leap very high.

There's a strategy element to getting as many blocks as you can. It's easy to accidentally knock out one that you should have left and used as a stepping stone to other blocks which are otherwise out of reach.

You lose one of your four lives when either the energy or time limit drops to zero. It's the energy limit you really need to keep your eye on. Every time you're hit by aliens or bolts of lightning, you lose valuable energy. This can be topped up if you find the correct icon, but there aren't many around for you to be too chivalrous.

There are other obstacles which are instantly fatal, including taking a tumble into water and leaping onto fatal spikes.


Instead of being horizontally-scrolling, Axel steps out of the end of one screen and into the beginning of the next. This is a shame because otherwise it would have been a serious competitor to other games treading the same territory. Vertical-scrolling is used very effectively in scenes when Axel is falling down deep wells.

It's also obvious that each screen is treated as a separate entity. This is apparent whenever you cross from one screen to another and then cross back again. The aliens on each screen have a point from where they first start moving, thus, you cannot hide in the previous scene untila nasty situation has resolved itself.

This is a minor grievance, admittedly, but it becomes more annoying in the vertically-scrolling sections when you need to master the fine art of hopping from one moving ladder at the top of the screen to the other on the next screen up - very frustrating when you can't depend on it to move at the expected time!

This isn't the game's only major problem in the graphics department. With the exception of a large, animated, end-of-level guardian, the sprites are all fairly small.

Sound can be music, sound effects or both. There are no sampled effects but what's on offer is a cuddly little ditty typical to cute game soundtracks.


Axel's no great shakes in the graphics department, but how does it stack up elsewhere? The nature of the game means that you can pick it up straightaway and start hammering your way through various stages.

There's a lot of thought gone into keeping this game alive for longer than the first few hours. The occasional secret room, often discovered by accident when you land in the right place, makes it possivle to find new things in each level to keep you entertained.

Axel has one thing in common with Skweek, and that is the enormous number of icons that are available to be collected on the route. Even if you can never remember what they all do, you collect them anyway and this is what entices you to keep hammering away at the bricks. It's precisely this element that makes Axel's Magic Hammer one of the best of the current crop of "cutesy" efforts.

Mark Higham

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