Friday 26 March 2010

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

A possible candidate for one of the worst games I've ever played, it's Gremlins 2: The New Batch for DOS! The Elite version that is, since back in the late 80s, a movie could easily get itself a couple of completely different video game tie-ins. There was a NES exclusive and a DOS exculsive, but Elite's version is the most well known as it wasn't restricted to one piece of hardware.

Long story short, this (and a Windows 3.1 flight simulator) was bundled with my copy of Sink or Swim which is why I feel the need to write about it. As well as the DOS version which I'll be covering today, Gremlins 2 appeared on the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MSX and ZX Spectrum. They're all quite horrible, though the Amiga/Atari ST versions are slightly more bearable for having nicer graphics and music. The C64, MSX and Spectrum versions were always guaranteed to be worse, but since those platforms are littered with terrible games it doesn't stand out as being exceptionally bad in those libraries... just "below average". Rest assured that this is an exceptionally bad DOS game though.

Gremlins 2 was born in 1990, at a time before the IBM PC was able to trump the competition with 256 colour VGA graphics. It means this game is represented in 16 colour EGA, so it's already at a disadvantage to other games on the market at the time (though it still looks pretty good). All sounds are provided through the internal PC Speaker, which again puts it behind what Commodore was offering, even if the results aren't quite as bad as they could be. But though the graphics and sounds are acceptable for the era, they don't save Gremlins 2.

The entire Gremlins video game franchise is more suited to the Angry Video Game Nerd's style of reviews than mine, because despite the fact the game takes samples of urine most of the time, if you've got the patience to deal with this game it probably isn't quite as bad. If you haven't, you'll realise it's an unbalanced mess where deaths are frequent, and as continues are non-existent the game is exceedingly difficult. It takes place in the setting of the second film, but as I've not seen the second film in years, I'm not entirely sure what's going on other than there are Gremlins and they need to be stopped. My guesses are though that the protagonist didn't walk through numerous floors of Gremlins attacking each one with a torch in the film, but I could quite easily be wrong about that.

The problem is, the game itself isn't too broken (though the start up sequence is a bit glitchy in numerous copies of the game), it just throws out enemies all the time and you're unable to react before being killed. The player is killed by just about everything, from contact with the Gremlins themselves to projectiles and falling objects. I suppose the main issue with this game is that every screen is the same - you walk into the next screen and suddenly have to deal with three or four Gremlins all coming at you from various directions. There's no time to rest.

In order to stay alive you'll be forced to kill most of the Gremlins on screen, but you can't hang around for too long otherwise after a few seconds they'll be respawned. There are also Gremlins in the background who will chuck objects at you, and a Gremlin on a jetpack which will haunt you if you hang around for too long. In later levels, the Gremlins start using projectiles to make your life even more difficult, and in the DOS game's case, the 16 colour graphics often make these projectiles blend in with their surroundings. There really is no escape from these guys.

On the plus side, death doesn't mean the entire level is restarted (you just return to the left hand side of the screen), but with a limited number of lives, you've only got a small number of chances to beat the game before you need to start again from scratch. In some versions, the Gremlins aren't quite as fast or don't spawn as quickly, but this isn't the case in the DOS version. In the DOS version, everything is very quick and your short-range weapon barely spares you any time at all. What's more annoying is that the first Gremlin you see, the rolling-type, is one of the hardest Gremlins to kill, since half the time when it's rolling it doesn't seem to respond to your weapons.

As I may have suggested, there are other weapons throughout the game outside of your standard torch (or "flashlight" for you yanks), ranging from apples to... more torches, but most of these powerups are useless and you'll lose them when you're killed. The game is also timed, which can add yet another extra layer of difficulty for the inexperienced player. It would be interesting to know who this game was marketed at, because I very much doubt children would want to play this thing.

The game defaults to the classic QAOP setup for movement which was common for DOS computers at the time. You can redefine the controls, but the game doesn't recognise the arrow keys so you're more limited than usual. The reason for this is probably because the IBM PC range lacked these keys, but it is worth noting that they were first included in the IBM PS/2 range, and that debuted in 1987. Hardly cutting edge to not include support for keyboard keys that had existed for three years by that point, but I digress. It supports a joystick if you have one, and it's also a two player game so someone else can join in the fun (though you have to take turns and use the same controls).

Gremlins 2 demands patience if you're ever going to stand a chance of beating it. Even the rolling demo struggles, and since some of these Gremlins have random movements it's not a game where you can effectively plan ahead. I suppose the biggest crime is if the game halved the amount of enemies and didn't re-spawn them, it might not be so bad. A bit repetitive of course, but certainly more passable.

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