Oldschool Gaming - reviewing new games on classic computers
Main review :: written by Shaun B. 

Recently (yesterday at the time of writing), Jason asked me if I wouldn't mind reviewing games for this great site. Well, as it's something I used to do for Micro Mart anyway (that is occasionally review recent released for old formats), I thought, why the hell not? But the Fantastic Mister Fruity isn't recent - it's brand spanking new from the ZX genius that is Jonathan Cauldwell. By the way, this isn't me flicking two fingers up at Retro Gamer because they haven't reviewed it yet (hi Mart!).

So, what's the deal with Mister Fruity? Well, for a minute, imagine a good Bomberman clone (let's not get into that Speccy game that was released before Bomberman). Okay, so you'd pretty much know what to expect. And for the most part, you'd be right - You control Mister Fruity around maze-like levels that have rotten fruits that must be eliminated by blasting them to their death. Well, there's a twist, and it involves the weaponry and scoring systems. On each level is a three-reeled fruit machine, which is actually linked to a strange dimension. On spinning the reels, you place a marker and a portal is opened, and once the machine has stopped spinning, a blast is thrown out in four directions until it hits something solid.

Now is the interesting part - the blast is fatal to Fruity on all occasions, but will only take out the foe if a matching symbol is on the win-line. So, for instance, if you're on a level with roaming Cherries and the win-line shows Lemons, Melons and Jackpot then the baddies are immune from the blast! I bet you're thinking 'Clever stuff', eh? But there's more! Tied up in this quite unique and innovative, err... weapon is the ability to gamble. You can stake 10, 30 or 50 credits (even if you have a negative deficit), and the more you spin, the more the potential to score big points. And let's not forget that just by spinning the reels by itself can add to your score - three cherries on the win-line for instance adds 30, 60 or 100 credits to your score relative to your stake, and three jackpots gains you an extra life. Now, what twisted kind of person would think up something like that?

So, what have we got? A neat Bomberman-alike or a Fruit Machine game? I'm trying to work it out myself, as I'm not sure if I'm becoming a compulsive gambler or just someone who likes the Bomberman concept.

If I had a tick-list for games, then almost exclusively Cauldwell's many Speccy titles will be ticking all of the right boxes. Typically for his work, Fruity is a well presented, thoughtful, polished, playable and frankly tough production. I see little signs of attribute-clash, the sprites are well animated and fast and there's a hint of colour mixing (even if it doesn't quite work so well) on the bonus objects that are left behind on dispatching a roamer. Accompanying this production is a Matt Westcott score (for AY-equipped machines) which isn't to my personal tastes, but isn't painful either and suites the game nicely. My only complaint is that the controls are a little fiddly at first and this can cause frustration for new players.

Otherwise, this game is near flawless in execution, design and innovation. I have to take my hat off to Cauldwell for his brilliant work on the Speccy - it's just a shame that not enough people will ever get to experience it (someone bring the TARDIS and take him back to the 80s). And I fully recommend this purchase from Cronosoft. Now, if only there could be a C64 port...!

Second opinion :: written by Jason 

We've said some very nice things about Jonathan Cauldwell over here at OSG in the past and with good reason, apart from being obviously barking mad (read the story lines for his games, you'll see what I mean) he's got that fantastic gift of being able to visualise playability; I'm not sure if being able to sit down and think "what if I combined a fruit machine with Bomberman" is the kind of mental process to be in awe of or run away from screaming, but it's an impressive feat considering the results. Perhaps it's something to do with diet... fruit and tea?

The gameplay is simple but has really been thought out carefully; you and the assorted nasties roam around the maze, they get to kill you just by touch and you in turn leave bombs in order to turn them into to smoothies. Dropping a bomb isn't a matter of waiting for it's fuse to run down and kaboom though, instead it triggers the three reels of an onscreen fruit machine spin which, when they stop again, detonate the explosive. To make things a little more interesting, whilst the bomb blasts will take away a life from the player, the fruit can only be killed by an explosion if one of the machine's reels matches them, so getting two melons and a cherry will mean the bomb can't hurt the apple coming for you. So suddenly, what was "just" a Bomberman clone turns into something far more engrossing.

On the graphics front, Fruity himself, the assorted enemies and the pick ups are nicely drawn and animated and the reels of the fruit machine are smart looking whilst the walls of the maze are more simple but functional. Everything moves smoothly and, after a little colour clash which is to be expected and kept to a bare minimum, cleanly although the control system can be fiddly since Fruity can sometimes get stuck at corners; not what you want if you're running away from a rampaging hoarde of melons! Although it can be learnt over a couple of games, it's a little frustrating to start with and, combined with an already quite steep difficulty curve (which we at OSG applaud, I've certainly no complaints about making the game challenging) the programmer in me can't help thinking that it could have been done in a way that was easier to corner with.

I was particularly fond of the little details in there, for example the interlaced colours on the pick ups that decimated fruit leave behind, the highscore entry system or the way that the fruit machine reels shudder back to their stopping positions like they would on a real machine, subtle touches that some might not even notice but I've always appreciated that kind of attention to detail myself. And calling the lemon Kim was about as subtle as a rock, but got a good laugh out of me when I got the reference!

For sound, there's nothing coming out of the beeper at all apart from some white noise during the key selection screen, so for the full experience you'll need to beg, borrow or "extended loan" an AY-equipped machine. Matt Westcott's music fits the "cute but not puking" bill perfectly by being jolly but not overly so to the point of irritation (in fact, it's been playing for the last twenty minutes as I transfer the text for this review into the site). Granted, if there had been a suite of tunes rather than just the one constantly playing I'd have been even happier, but what's in there is more than enough to keep the ears busy during play and I suspect the want for more tunes is just greediness on my part.

To sum up, Fantastic Mister Fruity is a cute action game that needs more brainpower to play than most due to some very nice variations on the game mechanic, is very nicely put together and has had the playability heaped on with a bloody JCB. Well worth the three quid asking price if y'ask me.

Information

THE FANTASTIC MISTER FRUITY

Format Sinclair Spectrum
Developer Jonathan Cauldwell
Publisher Cronosoft
Released 2005
Price £2.99 (excl. P&P)
Review Shaun B. and Jason
Screenshots
Loading Screen
Loading Screen
In-game Screen
In-game Screen
Scores
Graphics
Sound
Playability
Lastability
8
7
8
8
   Overall 8
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