According to the in-game instructions for Groops!, this game "is a challenge. Not a challenge against time, not a challenge against an enemy, not a challenge against fate, only a challenge against yourself". Run all that through Alta Vista's online Babel Fish Translator, converting English to English and it will probably spew forth a single phrase - puzzle game. That's right, another puzzle game. Puzzle games seem to be a very popular genre on 8-bit formats at the moment. I guess there are only a few people left in the world who know how to do scrolling, blasting or driving games anymore? Oh hum. And this puzzle game is on the Amstrad CPC. Great, I can expect monochrome graphics, dodgy sound, crappy controls and yawn-inducing gameplay. In fact, no...
A huge round of applause is due to Binary Sciences for they have bothered to take the time to actually stretch the CPC a little; nowhere near it's full potential but just enough to banish the memory of those poorly converted Spectrum games of years past - what a breakthrough! Using a machine's hardware as it was intended, instead of adhering to the limitations of a less powerful machine to save some time. The graphics in Groops! are really attractive; the fantastic use of colour makes the game a pleasure to look at, while the simple animation is cute and effective. Dare I say it; the good-looking graphics on offer here give similar games on the Commodore 64 or Atari 8-bits a run for their money. This game also sounds good - a range of tunes are played from a juke box on the title screen, over which you have the control to pick and choose what you abuse your ears with. All this graphical and auditory sugary coating is wrapped around a delicious centre, which is the gameplay.
As mentioned, the gameplay is puzzle based and requires logical thought and patience. Anyone not possessing those qualities in abundance may leave the room now. The play area is filled with patterned tiles and the object of the game is to clear the area of all the tiles by "exploding" them. Tiles can only be exploded if they are adjacent to other tiles of the same pattern, the minimum number obviously being two. The greater the number of tiles in the exploding group, the higher the number of points added to your overall score. As lower tiles are removed from the play area, any gaps which appear are filled by the tiles from above, which fall to fill their place. Also, should any columns of tiles be completely cleared during play, then the remaining columns of tiles shift across from the left to fill the space left. At any point, if it is not possible to form groups (or "groops" as the game calls them, hence the title) of tiles from those remaining, then the game ends.
GROOP I IMPLORE THEE
All sounds very simple, n'est-ce pas? Well, there are a few different game modes to help speed your hair pulling. In normal mode, you are presented with a fully filled, randomly generated play area to clear. In fast mode, the play area is only half filled, severely crippling your chance of obtaining a high score. Challenge mode presents you with sixteen levels of brain busting puzzle action which increase in difficulty and only allow you to continue if you reach a minimum score. There is enough depth here to keep you playing for a while; the randomly generated levels ensure each game provides a fresh experience. The nature of the gameplay is addictive and the lack of time limits, enemies and lives means that you can take your time for change and make considered, planned moves just like in chess - remember that when clearing tiles, a lack of forward planning can make the play area impossible to clear.
I have to be honest, when I was asked to review yet another puzzle game, my shoulders and head sank a little. But I'm glad I was given the opportunity, because Groops! is actually a nifty little game. It has been coded with care, lavished with suitable visual and audio delights and overall, presents as a proficient, polished production - which kind of flies in the face of those who have recently claimed that "home brew" games are below-par and substandard. If you're a fan of puzzle 'em ups or are looking for a game to play in-between other tasks, try a little Groop action. You'll enjoy it or knacker your brain for good.