It isn't enough for the Spanish to show everyone how to play football; apparently they need to demonstrate how to write highly professional-looking Spectrum games in a very short space of time as well. The mysterious collective known as "The Mojon Twins" have been very busy these last few months, and during one particularly hectic period, they were releasing on average one game a week! Many of these games adhere to the Spanish tradition in Spectrum programming of excellent presentation - a tradition that goes way back to the likes of Abu Simbel Profanation in 1985 - but more importantly, they are pretty damn playable too. UWOL: Quest For Money, is one such game: a collect 'em up platfomer written specifically for the 128K models that came out just before Christmas last year.
Reading the plotline to UWOL, you would be convinced this game emerged from a location closer to Surbiton than Madrid. Full of Matthew (and Bob) Smith-esque eccentricities, it involves the unlikely scenario of a young entrepreneur getting rich selling old videogames (now that is far fetched!) and deciding to go on a jaunt to a mysterious old manor to claim a bunch of stolen coins. Trouble is, they are buried deep inside the lower levels of the mansion. And it's dangerous: baddies are waiting that kill upon touching you twice (the first time, they only take your clothes, Ghosts 'n' Goblins style). Plus, if you hang around too long, good old Fanty the Phantom comes out of nowhere to hunt you down. Don't let his ridiculous name disarm you: he's the most dangerous character in the mansion, and a refusal to take him seriously will result in a loss of life. None of this should discourage Uwol though, because let's face it, if you can make money by selling retrogames, you can do anything!
WE'VE GOT TO GET OUT OF THIS PLACE
The manor's rooms are arranged in a pyramid structure, with Uwol starting at the top and working his way down to the lowest level by collecting all the coins in each room. Uwol must reach the bottom to leave, but can only exit if he has gathered at least 255 coins. In practice, this means that one straight journey to the ground floor will not be enough. Uwol will have to go down and back up again to reach the magic 255 figure which opens the exit door to freedom and yet more riches. This is where the tactical element comes into play; some rooms have more coins than others, and one or two rooms can prove extremely tricky. Therefore, success is not just about going through each screen, but planning the direction so that Uwol gets to the bottom with as little risk as possible.
What impresses the most upon starting up UWOL is the slickness of the loading screen, the title pages and the many neat AY tunes which fit the action perfectly. In game, the play area is monochrome embellished by coloured platforms, which is fine. However, if you're using the real hardware rather than an emulator, on some stages, the detailed backgrounds can sometimes cause the sprites and coins to blend in a little and be more difficult to see. It's a minor quibble though; UWOL: Quest For Money is graphically and sonically excellent.
Better still, it turns out that UWOL's quality goes a lot deeper than looks and sounds. The smooth-moving sprites and responsive controls are polished to Nintendo standards, making the game immediately playable. It's such a simple premise (collect 255 gold coins and get outta there!) and it looks deceptively easy, but as you descend and come across some of the trickier stages, you realise it isn't. Despite repeated failures though, there's always a feeling that it can be completed, because the bottom of the pyramid is always just a few screens away. My only slight disappointment is that you can't play against your best score so easily due to the "Game Over" title instantly wiping the previous page before you can check and see how many coins you obtained. The programmer has since acknowledged the mistake, and there's a chance it'll be modified in a future update.
With its simple pick-up-and-play appeal, jolly presentation and well balanced difficulty level, this is the kind of game that the fanatics among us are hoping to discover when we waste Sunday afternoons searching through acres of old Gameboy roms. The popularity of UWOL has already seen it converted (gasp!) to the Megadrive, but this game is best played on the simpler hardware of El Spectrum. After all, its virtues are central to so many classics that no doubt inspired the Mojon Twins into writing games for the machine in the first place. UWOL: Quest For Money is a triumph for the 128K Spectrum, so forget Xavi and Iniesta this Summer: The Mojon Twins are Spain's real world class double act!