It's a familiar story from our teenage years; you go out on a date and despite the occasionally stilted conversation and nervous laughs, everything's going to plan. Typically though, just as you are about to get serious, your girl gets kidnapped by megalomaniac zombie monsters intent on taking over the world. So now you're forced to trek through several levels of punishing platforms whilst being attacked by assorted Thriller rejects to get her back into your loving arms. The things we do for love... but don't be too down, because with your newly acquired power to throw laser bolts, you still have a chance. Who knows - with a bit of luck, you might even get her home just in time for the drive-in.
Invasion Of The Zombie Monsters plays like a Nintendo Gameboy platformer, with bits of Super Mario Land mixed in with all the (many) others that came out for the old mono machine. With its power ups, coins, and fixed enemy patterns topped off by the classic end of level bosses, it's as familiar as an old pair of slippers. It even has an impressive introductory sequence telling the story so far- so common on old GB titles. Admittedly after a couple of games you'll be pressing fire to skip through it, but it sets the scene nicely.
Zombie Monsters has been released for the MSX as well as the Spectrum, and Sir Clive's baby gives surprisingly little ground on the graphics front. Relevo Videogames achieved this by using character block movement on the scroll and sprites to enable them to mimic the technically superior MSX's colour capabilities. Unfortunately, it affects the gameplay as it results in a less fluid control of your character, plus everything moves a little slower than in the MSX version. Looking at the layout of the screen, the question I ask is why bother? The backgrounds are almost totally black save for a few stars, and the foreground isn't that busy to need this kind of separation. The colour for the most part is on peripheral stuff, like floors, platforms and walls, things that aren't passed through by bullets and sprites. With a few compromises, I'm sure this could have been done without character blocking it; Ghosts 'n' Goblins worked perfectly well this way with far more complex backdrops, and it played a hell of a lot better too.
OHH, FOR GOD'S SAKE! HE'S GOT AN ARM OFF!
That the design of IOTZM has been taken from the fag end of 2D gaming in the early 1990s is made undeniable upon facing the first end of level boss: the classic fireball throwing giant that has to be defeated by a combination of shooting and jumping over him (Question: how many 8-bit console games had a character like that? Answers on a postcard to the usual Oldschool Gaming address - the first answer correct to the nearest hundred wins). Of course, there's nothing wrong with taking ideas from old sources, but with Zombies, it's the implementation of them that I find disappointing. Aside from the aforementioned character block movement adding sluggishness to the controls, there are other moments of frustration. Whether it's because you are forced to start way back in a level when you get killed, the monotonous attack routines needed to dispatch end of level bosses or the unacceptably sudden appearance of enemies as you jump from one platform to another, Zombie Monsters may have you tearing your hair out so extensively that after a couple of sessions you could be making an appointment for the Belgravia Centre.
It would be unfair to focus on the negative aspects of IOTZM totally, because as a production it's top class, with excellent presentation, fine graphics and good AY tunes. Also, it is actually playable despite its irritations. No one's going to accuse these guys of being unable to write a game. The trouble is, the game in question has already been written many times before, and many times better. True, the Spectrum didn't see a lot of them, but that doesn't make it any less predictable. Whether it's Mario Land, Spiderman, the Batman games or a thousand others, I was bored by the reference points. I just find formulaic side scrolling platformers of this nature to be uninteresting, and due to the lack of random elements, little more than a convoluted memory test. Compare it to UWOL by The Mojon Twins, which combines excellent production values with something a little different - there really is no comparison.
In spite of all that, I insist on ending with a positive thought: while Invasion Of The Zombie Monsters may be more impressive on a technical level than an aesthetic one, enough skill is on display here to suggest that with an original idea and sufficient polish, Relevo Videogames could yet be capable of greatness.