Gosh, Elite certainly are a bunch of busy little beavers. What with Buggy Boy and Ikari Warriors arriving almost on top of one another, and Space Harrier and A Question Of Sport promised soon, you'd think that they wouldn't have the time for yet another release, but no. Beyond The Ice Palace has absolutely no coin-op or TV relatives at all, which at least gives an excuse for the presence of a feeble plot. Once upon a time, an evil spirit burned down the houses of all the woodcutters who lived in this big forest, and the only way to send this evil bloke back to where he came from would be to send a lone warrior into his lair to destroy him.
Corny as that may be, Elite have produced a rather good semi-revamp of their old 8-bit hit Ghosts 'N Goblins. It's a sideways-on arcade adventure. The hero (the one with the blonde barnet) gallivants through Evil's lair, bumping off the various nasties that attack him with a variety of weapons, including a feeble mace-like thing, daggers and swords. Nasties normally attack in waves, but some (and generally the most deadly) come at you on their own, for example, the shambling mutated henchmen who throw daggers at you, the wolfmen (on later levels) and the most annoying of all, a vicious little demon that appears from nowhere and kills you without giving much chance to escape.
To make your life easier, an original 'smart bomb' feature is provided: by pressing space (or whatever key you prefer to define it as) you can launch a large spectre with a smiling face that buzzes around destroying all the nasties on screen. A good idea in theory, but not so good in practice as you have to wait a couple of seconds for it to appear on screen, and by then you're normally dead anyway.
Toughness is a major problem with Ice Palace. Even though you get eight lives, the game is so tough to play they'll all be gone before you get very far. To make things worse, a lot of the game depends on luck rather than skill, and you'll often find yourself in situations where you can only hope to get out alive. This rather poor game design combines with the over-difficult gameplay to produce an overall effect that's less than pleasing.
That said, Elite have worked hard to produce graphics that are actually worthy of the Amiga and it shows. The main hero sprite has been superbly designed and animated, and as such runs very smoothly and realistically. The aliens are excellent, very reminiscent of the nasties from Psygnosis' Barbarian (but they're animated a hell of a lot better) and explode very pleasingly in a shower of multi-coloured pixels. Unfortunately, the sound doesn't live up to its potential and consists only of a weak soundtrack and shallow effects.
Overall, the excellent graphics just about make up for the mediocre gameplay, and the spirit's lair is sufficiently large to provide a challenge, both to hardened gamers and mappers, who should have a whale of a time trying to get all this down on paper. Not a bad game, but I get the feeling that an Amiga owner who splashes out 25 quid on this may feel just a teensy bit cheated.