CPCRetroDev 2015 introduced a plethora of brand new Amstrad games into its public domain libraries and its Gold and Silver finalists, Space Moves and Frogalot, have been highly praised. Dave Edwards turns his monocle towards Top Top, which took the Bronze…
Amstrad owners/fans are probably as well catered for these days as Spectrum ones but, as far as I know, Spectrum games creators don’t have the chance to win 900 Euros for indulging their creativity. The now annual CPCRetroDev, however, gives Amstrad coders that very chance – and last year, no less than 36 new Amstrad games competed for the cash and the winner’s trophy.
Top Top by Rantan Games eventually charted third, which means the judges rated it better than 33 other games. For a Public Domain release, it comes with some slick production too – a nice anime-style cover showing its protagonists Eira and Elric battling up a castle wall.
As you can see, it looks trendy; indicating a kind of grown-up version of classic co-operative platformer Rodland. And, though the game itself lacks the cartoon-like quality of the cover art, the character design is not too shabby either. There’s a nice overhead score bar showing how many lives Eira and Elric each have, the level reached and some other information.
The game itself is in the Spanish language – there’s no English version of it available! – and it starts with an opening screen stating “1. Jugar” which seems to mean “Press 1 to play”. Now that isn’t a problem per se, but it leads me into a criticism I have made of the CPCRetroDev contest elsewhere and several times previously. Top Top is one of 36 (!) games that teams have sweated over to produce for Amstrad fans and, I assume, when it was submitted to the contest, it came with some playing instructions. CPCRetroDev judge the entries and then make the games free to download (Hoorah!) but the downloads consist of the emulator image with no playing instructions at all.
In the case of Top Top, pressing 1 indeed launches what appears to be a two player platform game, but with no instructions to refer to, I initially struggled to work out the game controls for each of them and, indeed, the premise of the game itself… In fact, even now I’m not convinced I appreciate every feature it includes. Even “1. Jugar” initially confused me as a non-Spanish speaker – I thought perhaps it meant “one-player game” and could be altered to a two-player one.
The lack of instructions really are a crying shame – Top Top has six controls per player and working them out not only took up my valuable time but also means that one almost begins the game with a sense of some frustration. There are move-combinations, for example, that are not immediately apparent; you’re not sure initially whether you can shoot in more than one direction, and so on. This is also why I was rather vague when describing the score bar earlier – I’m not exactly sure of what “other information” it contains! There seems to be a box including a blob which presumably indicates the current weapon. However, since I haven’t found any alternative weapons to pick up, I can’t say for certain that’s what it is. Like I said, the lack of instructions really are a crying shame. I don’t want to be banging on about this sort of stuff but I can’t help it… I’ve added the game controls I discovered to this page and all I can really hope is that someone from CPCRetroDev or Rantan Games reads my review and uploads some “official” instructions somewhere.
The game itself is set, as you might imagine, in a castle. Each room is divided equally in half, with Eira on the left, and Elric on the right – and each room is a co-operative puzzle. Also, as you might have reasonably deduced, the aim of the game is to get the two characters to the “top” of it. Doors litter the platforms you need to reach, and pushing the appropriate “Enter Door” control when standing in front of these performs a teleport from one door to another, “up” or “down” the room as appropriate.
All of the doors in all of the rooms start off closed. At first, that is. Either Eira or Elric will have access to a button which activates the other player’s doors. Hence, each player is dependent upon the other to progress – if either player dies, there’s no chance for the other to complete the room on his own. The game instead comes to a sudden end.
Despite the limited resolution of an Amstrad screen, the graphics are nice and quite colourful. Eira and Elric can run left and right, jump and crouch, and all movements are well-animated. The characters can also fire, and firing in combination with the other four game controls sends the bullet (for want of a better description!) in the expected direction. You need to shoot obstructions (invariably green round rock things) out of the way, in order to collect keys, magic potions and extra lives. However, some thought is required as to what rocks need to be blasted to oblivion, and which should remain in place so that you can walk on them to reach higher up the room. Spikes on the ground need to be avoided.
The game states that it is a co-operative two player game, and indeed, it can be played that way. However, when I grabbed a friend, we soon realised that it doesn’t quite work. The problem is that the co-operation extends only to sitting on a button in “your” part of the room. No player is under threat from, say, patrolling nasties, etc, necessitating the other to “rescue” him. Instead, player one (controlling Eira) walks to a red door that he can’t get through, and asks (verbally) player two (controlling Elric) to go and stand on the “red” button. Player two obliges, the red door unlocks, player one enters it, player two then walks to a blue door that he can’t get through, and asks (verbally) player one to go and stand on the “blue” button. And so on. It’s not really co-operative in the true sense that arcade players understand; indeed, you don’t need the second player at all – you can complete every room by simply switching from the set of keys used to control Eira to the set of keys used to control Elric (and vice versa) whenever you encounter a door that you cannot pass.
Sadly, this option is not too easy because the movement controls are laid out in a different combination for each player. Player one’s movement control keys ADSFG are all on the same row, whilst player two’s control keys are the cursor keys plus O and P on the top row. Fiddly stuff, frequently meaning you’ll inadvertently send either Eira or Elric straight to his doom when you press the wrong key and hence making this less viable an option as a direct result.
When you’ve worked out what to do, two players will have little difficulty in clearing the first few rooms. They get tougher as the game progresses, although they retain the same simplistic style. Even if I set aside the problems with the lack of instruction, Top Top didn’t exactly bowl me over. It has good graphics, a stringy little tune accompanying the odd bleep or two that signals a particular action (game start, door opening, key collected, etc) and it moves at a fair pace. Not exceptional, and certainly not nearly in the same league as something like Rodland, but enjoyable enough for a few hours play.
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