Well, there I was a few weeks ago sifting through the latest releases on the C64 Scene Database, when all of a sudden, up pops Cavelon64, a brand new game by Brueggi of Byte Bandits. The name alone immediately conjured up memories from my C64 past and all those early Commodore games with the "64" in the title. Go on, admit your age! Adopters of Commodore's legendary machine in the early to mid 1980's must have at least a few games or the heavily "vaunted" office applications with a "64" in the title; I'll admit to Arcadia 64 and Sub Hunt 64 amongst a few other magazine BASIC listings and compilations.
Visiting the CSDb page for Cavelon64 in order to download said game didn't inspire confidence, if I'm to be honest; some of the user comments were less than enthusiastic and the preview screen dump wasn't exactly showing the C64 stretched to its limits graphically. But still, graphics do not a game make, so one download later and I was playing this new production. The aim of the game is quite simple - guide a balloon through a hazardous cave, full of mazes and obstacles. Why on Earth the balloon is in the cave in the first place is left to the imagination - there is no story or premise to this game and to be honest, none is really needed.
The first few goes of this game had me fiddling with my speaker volume control and checking the leads and wiring because of a lack of sound. Then it struck me - there is no sound! No famous SID track, not even a buzz, burp or bleep. Oh, foolish me! In game, I found the graphics, er... purely functional would be an extremely kind description on this occasion. The balloon does not animate at all, not even in "death"; the game just kind of freezes when it touches any of the on-screen objects and the game only continues when your press the fire button. The on-screen hazards continue this animationless (hmmm... new word there! © 2008 A. Vaisey) trend; the, what I assume to be electricity sparks, merely drift leisurely across the screen without any of the motion associated with actual, real life electricity and the, um, "bar type things" just blink in and out. The rest of the graphics are brown, yellow and kind of "bricky" in a maze sort of way.
But as I mentioned earlier, sound and graphics don't make games, regardless of what kids today think. It has been said often enough in these hallowed web pages that gameplay is key and believe it or not, there is a fun game in here crying to get out. Why only crying to get out? Well, as it stands, Cavelon64 feels unfinished. A good example of this, occasional erratic scrolling and lack of sound aside, is the control of the balloon. Now, don't get me wrong, when I push up on my joystick the balloon moves up and so on but, whereas in other games I actually feel a connection with and in control of my spaceship/car/creature/whatever, here the control feels kind of distanced; it's almost as if I can actually hear the underlying code saying, "Okay, he's pushed up, I'd better change the coordinates of the sprite then... and fast!!". I think what I'm saying here is that maybe I would have liked the balloon movement to be smoother and slower, perhaps with a little inertia. Many a time I crashed into the hazards because the balloon "slid" too many pixels too quickly, even though I literally tapped the joystick. Also worth mentioning is the fact that on a few occasions, Cavelon64 does commit the ultimate sin - you must choose a path through the maze and some lead to a dead end and unavoidable destruction. In addition, some of the twists and bends where you have to double back on yourself are bordering on the ludicrous. I'm sorry, that's just cheap in my book.
I must admit nevertheless, even though I may risk being laughed at by some, I found Cavelon64 an addictive little game for a few hours on the evening I downloaded it. I will say it is a monstrously difficult, unforgiving game (there is a way to cheat some of the more difficult hazards, but I won't spoil it for you...), but I think this really high difficulty level actually urged me on - I didn't want to be beaten by this simple piece of coding! A slight confession though, I was playing in "competition mode" where you get unlimited lives and the object is to navigate the maze to it's conclusion using as few as possible; in "normal mode" you get only three lives and if you can complete this game with just those then you're some kind of mega joystick Demi-god. If you're a hair puller, however, don't play this for too long unless you fancy going Kojak. And if you think I'm joking, give it a try. It may just give you twenty minutes of entertainment...maybe.