Meet Malaika, a young woman living in the past (literally - we're talking prehistoric times here) who returns to her village after a night away only to find that pesky aliens have nabbed all the local inhabitants, turned them into diamonds and scattered them across the countryside. Typical alien behaviour there. Undeterred, Malaika does what any self-respecting prehistoric girl would do: she rolls up her sleeves, sticks a bone through her hair, and sets off to rescue her mates in this smooth scrolling MSX platformer from Karoshi Corporation (AKA John Cortazar and Eduardo Robsy).
Wait a minute... smooth scrolling? On the MSX? Surely I must mean the MSX2? No, oh doubting reader, using some nifty trickery (most likely involving animating between pre-shifted tiles for the background graphics), Karoshi Corporation have coaxed some lovely smooth scrolling out of the old MSX, and this, along with the cute and colourful graphics and appealingly chirpy tunes, helps to make a great first impression. But no matter how great, a first impression can only carry a game so far, and in Malaika's case it doesn't take long for the initial thrill to wear off as repetition sets in. The main problem here is that this is platforming at its most basic. You navigate platforms, jump on enemies (or avoid them if necessary), and collect diamonds, and that's really all there is to it. There are only a handful of different foes, and you'll meet most of them fairly early in the game. Even the boss at the end of every world is the same cute little alien in a UFO each time, albeit a little faster and meaner with every encounter.
The repetition extends to the graphics. Although the six worlds offer some variety, the backgrounds, while nicely done, are generally quite simple, with next to no variation across the different stages within each world. This is presumably a concession made in order to have smooth scrolling, as I'm guessing those animating tiles would gobble up a chunk of RAM, but I feel the game would have benefited from cutting back on the number of stages or even the number of worlds in order to aim for greater variety -- not only graphically, but also in regards to enemy types and gameplay elements in general.
THE SECRET IS TO BANG THE ROCKS TOGETHER
The lack of checkpoints within each stage only adds to the feeling of repetition. A fatal slip sees you returned to the start of the current stage, and unfortunately a fatal slip is very easy to make. I don't know if it's just me, but the point at which Malaika drops off the edge of a platform seems to be a pixel or two before where I would expect. At least it's consistent, so you can adapt to it, but it does make jumping from one platform to the next feel a little finnicky. What's more, while there are incentives to collect at least one-hundred diamonds per stage, the diamond collecting itself isn't particularly enjoyable, mainly because it isn't so much challenging as it is time consuming. The somewhat fussy collision detection between Malaika and the diamonds combined with the large numbers of them scattered about means that you'll probably find the game more fun if you just ignore them and only worry about grabbing the odd purple jewel for an extra life.
So the question I've been asking myself is this: "Who would be most likely to enjoy this game?" That's a tricky one to answer. Those who aren't big fans of platformers probably won't find enough here to interest them for long, while those with plenty of experience in the genre will most likely find Malaika to be too bare-bones for their tastes. And yet, just as some people prefer the minimalist approach of Space Invaders over later, more complex entries in the shooter genre, perhaps this game fills a niche for platforming ascetics -- those who like their platform games to stick to the bare essentials of running, jumping, and collecting. If that sounds like you, then there are hundreds of villagers just waiting to be rescued and a bunch of blobby little aliens that need to be jumped on. Better get to it!