Sunday 24 April 2011

Jim Power in Mutant Planet

Say, do you value your eyes? According to 1992's Jim Power in Mutant Planet for the Commodore Amiga, it's a pair of organs you could do without. It's yet another game in the collection of early 90s titles which the world has tossed aside for the wrong reasons, so I think it's time to embrace it once again.

Jim Power started its life off as an Amiga game, an original creation by French development team, Loriciel. But rather than simply segregating the Amiga community for punishment, it was soon ported to a number of home platforms within the space of about two years, each with varying degrees of success.

Fans of Alan Sugar got a copy for the Amstrad CPC in all its blocky glory. Japanese consumers were blessed with high quality audio contained within a PC Engine CD port, and the Amiga's top competition, the Atari ST, also got a copy in fears that Jack Tramiel might set up his own studio and create vastly cheaper alternatives... or something.

The Amiga version which I'm reviewing today is the "purest" of the set. It's Jim Power as it was originally intended to be, donning his green cap and white shirt. Nintendo fans will note that an "enhanced" remake also made its way onto the SNES (and another for DOS), but the differences are fairly minimal bar the change in graphics and a gameplay tweak or two (and some special stages). No versions of Jim Power made the series popular with the masses, and they all mostly suffer from the same flaws because they're all essentially the same game with different names.

And I'm not sure where to put this but there was also a Sega Mega Drive version planned... and there's a prototype on the net. Hurray.

Jim Power is a typical 2D platform game in which you wield upgradable guns and blast enemies for undisclosed reasons. It's incredibly basic in design - you traverse from left to right making sure not to get hit or fall off platforms. Occasionally you'll be presented with doors which require keys to be opened, but other than that it's fairly standard stuff.

Taking nothing else into account, this makes Jim Power a fairly average and forgettable game. There are other, better platformers on the Amiga and significantly better ones on home consoles. However, it's a fairly solid experience so far.

Then come the enemies. Whereas I can't quite agree with other comments which state the enemies in this game are too fast for their own good, I will concede that many have been placed in stupid locations. Jim does not have health - he has a set of lives and suffers from one hit deaths. Though he does respawn close to the vicinity in which he died, a lack of continues and no saving mechanism means getting killed is not a bright idea.

This means it's also a game that requires thought. Backtracking is not always an option, and if you forget a key you're likely to be trapped, doomed to forever walk the earth until the time runs out or you commit suicide. You may even have to trigger a game over and replay the entire game. Level design is not one of Jim Power's strong points.

Though it may sound simple enough to keep your eyes open, Jim Power's choice of graphics will inspire the opposite. For reasons unknown to man, and in a great disservice to the Amiga as a system, most of the sprites and backgrounds in this game are made up of murky greens and browny-reds. It is often incredibly difficult to see where you're going and what is coming, and is probably the single deciding factor as to why the Amiga version of the game is disliked by so many.

And if you're not too fussed with these graphical options, you may be put off by the odd parallax scrolling mechanisms present in some copies of this game. Where the background moves faster than the foreground, often in the wrong direction. Just like real life!

At this point you may be wondering why Jim Power is worth your time. It's not the graphics or the gameplay that sell this game, it's the musical score, composed by Chris Hülesbeck of Turrican fame. It's one of those games were music is clearly a vital piece of the game design, as it's fair to say you don't get title screen tracks which last over four minutes in this day and age.

Though the Amiga is the logical choice for the true Jim Power experience, it's the Atari ST version that is often said to top the leaderboards. It can't handle the parallax backgrounds, surprisingly making it the most playable of the bunch. It takes a hit in the music department, but if looks are more important than sounds to you, that may be the version with your name on it.

However, even though the soundtrack has obtained a cult following over the years, there's no denying that Jim Power's crushing difficulty and repetitive gameplay hasn't helped it age well. If you have the patience, it can deliver you a solid platfom experience. If you don't, it's possibly one to skip. If you're not into emulation I would recommend purchasing a copy of the SNES version if you can find one for a decent price since then you can avoid disk swapping and awkward hardware, but it's certainly not a must-have.

Yet even though it had two and a half attempts at fixing the formula and still managed to fail, I can't help but think that Jim Power needs yet another remake, for a console that isn't hindered by restricted colour palettes. It seems it would fit in nicely with the XboxTurrican.


  1. Ouch! That such a relatively polished game scrolls the background the wrong way!

    Out of 20 fangames I only saw one with that issue =)

    Awesome name of the game btw.