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...!