Saturday, 10 October 2015

Talmit's Adventure for the MegaDrive/Genesis

Despite the sophistry grown up around them, Marx's dialectics are quite simple to grasp. The starting point is everything is interconnected, everything is in tension, and everything is undergoing change. Talmit's Adventure (inexplicably changed from Marvel Land, as it was known in the rest of the world) is a digital artifact summing up the 'interpenetration of opposites' aspect of dialectics. i.e. The fusion of contradictory but mutually interdependent and constitutive aspects of a given whole. How so?

Talmit's Adventure is a lovely game. You are Prince Talmit and you must defeat the evil King Mole. The fairground gaiety of Marvel Land groans under the weight of his insidious occupation. And to compound the problem, Princess Wondra has been half-inched along with the fairies who'd protected the kingdom up until now. Some protection they turned out to be. Okay, the usual cliched rubbish of boy rescuing girl (in this case, girls) from the clutches of a maniacal bad 'un. Forget this nonsense, the art style of this game is luscious. Being a cutesy Japanese platform, as you might expect it takes more than a few character tips from manga and anime. Talmit is a big haired big eyed cutie-boy ... with green ears and an emerald tail. Okay. At the beginning of each level/life he gives you a little wave, and also expires in two entertaining animations - cartwheeling in the air with arms and legs akimbo; and - when falling into the water - Talmit splashes around before he's pulled under. If anime did public information films ...

What these successfully do is endear you to the character as you make your way through theme park after theme park level of bright colours, imaginative baddies (a flowering Venus fly trap in a bikini?) and neat graphical tricks. For a 1990 MegaDrive game, one does not expect fancy rotation tricks but they're there. There's a good deal of variety as well. Who also expected to see chocolate eclairs double up as platforms? Speaking of which, platforming is broken up by roller coaster rides and the obligatory end-of-level confrontation with a big bad. Though on this occasion, Namco decided to forego tradition and replace battles with mini games. The first has you playing paper, rock, and scissors, the second a weird button-mashing game, the third a game of cards, and finally a spell of whack-a-mole: appropriate considering the species of the villain. There's also a nice bonus round where you catch falling stars against the backdrop of carnival floats themed around Namco classics. Pac-Man, Mappy, they're all there - a company quirk they still like playing with. The levels are designed well and there are some very interesting ideas in here. Talmit's main power up, for example, is a whip attack that shows up as a string of clones that follow him around. This can only be utilised a certain number of times, but handily the range gets shorter and the doppelgangers fewer in number before it goes away completely. The music also goes with proceedings. Apart from the castle levels leading up to the boss confrontation where the tone goes a touch sombre (a la Super Mario Bros), bouncy tunes are the order of the day. Bouncy and irritating. While they do suit the game, they loop only after 20 seconds or so. Tedium.

And then there's the opposite that makes the lovely possible: the gameplay. As platforming goes, it's not terribly original. What the cutesy visuals hide is a hard-as-nails game. I would perhaps go so far to say it can be quite cheap at times as well. The first problem is controlling Talmit when he jumps. Unlike Mario and Sonic, there's something off about making accurate jumps, particularly if you have to fall a long way. More times than I can remember have I seen our lovable prince slip beneath the waves because the momentum was out. Compounding this problem is the demand for pinpoint accuracy when you boff an enemy. This requires landing on top of them, but the hit box is very narrow - perhaps a couple of pixels wide. You have to be dead on, otherwise - as the one-hit rule applies - you'll be dead. The levels contain some simple puzzles but, occasionally, utterly fiendish platform and enemy placement. The aforementioned roller coaster levels can be quite tricky getting used to, especially if you dare to jump - mastering the momentum mechanics is tricky and will cost life after life. The end-of-level encounters can be quite irritating, especially as the paper, rock, and scissors of the first boss appears to be entirely random and has little in the way of player input. Lose here and you're sent back to the start of the level. And as the levels go by the frustration does ramp up. All the gameplay problems abound in the last two acts of the game. Whack-a-mole with King Mole is a piece of cake. The actual proper boss battle is definitely not. His lightning bolt throwing doesn't seem to have much of a pattern, and it's quite easy to lose loads of lives. Dispatch him and Talmit has to flee the mole hill hideout with Wondra in tow. It means running through a level of collapsing platforms and falling stalactites, before hopping on a final roller coaster ride. In a lovely gesture by the programmers, die here and it's game over - regardless of the number of lives you have remaining.

There we have it. A true contradiction, a fusion of polar opposites: a brutalising experience prettified by an anime sensibility. It's the video game equivalent of an iron fist in a velvet glove. You think you're about to be tickled with a feather - instead you're flattened by an anvil.

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