a Reeeview item by J Nash (Monday May 3rd, 2010)

JN says...JN saysFor AMIGA POWER. I liked Zombies Ate My Neighbours a lot (the SNES original, obv, not the rubbish Megadrive port), a peppingly inspired Gauntlet vs B-Movies knockabout so terrifically difficult that I beat it exactly once then got killed during the credits; liked it a lot so much that I stole the review prototype in a pockety legging conveniently justified by history when Nintendo brutally censored the production run. HEROIC LIBERATION CONFOUNDS OPPRESSIVE CART RETURN LABEL REMINDER. There was a brief trend at the time for tie-in fictional story-books taped to mag covers hastily written over single weekends by panicky staff members, but tragically ZAM Neighbours did not fit the genre (ie, nude ladies machine-pistolling jet fighters from powerful motorbikes) and the nearest I got to the imaginary job was twelve or thirty-eight bits in the J Nash-treasured audience-dispelling second volume of Game Zone, not least in an article about unsuitable film adaptations that made the Tetris the Movie joke in 1993.
Anyway, Legends was nearly lost, the finished game shelved for a year before final-ish standing Amiga publisher Guildhall nabbed the rights, possibly for 20p in an estate sale when the programmers died of poverty, so phew. (It’s just occurred to me that the Legends master copy was probably lying dusty in a bin for the entire time it took to make Speris Legacy. Makes you think. “Wow, that’s depressing,” mostly.)

For: A1200
Publisher: Guildhall
Authors: Krisalis

There’s a scene that plays itself across the picture palace of my mind that I hope Legends’s (ugly, but I like it) being left on a shelf for a year will prevent ever occurring. The scene shows me being introduced at some sort of post-Variety Performance affair to the people who wrote Legends. (I’ve just escaped from a smugglers’ hideout with the aid of Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat, and have been mistaken for the visiting prince of Moldavia, but that’s not important right now.) The theatre owner and I pass down the line with me smiling and nodding and occasionally crooking a finger in the corner of my mouth and looking around squirrelishly, and suddenly his voice, which has become background noise as I try to spot Graham or Moore, who are disguised as postmen, blinks into crystal-quality reception.

“And this, your highness,” he says, lettucing backhandedly to a beaming figure, “is the chap who vetoed the save routine.” He hands me a rowing oar. At that point the scene loses clarity, but I fear bludgeoning is involved. Because, dear readers, there is indeed no save routine in Legends. Instead you get a password, one per time zone, meaning if you begin to play, you must complete a level, start to finish, in a single go. (“There are continues,” shrieks the figure as I paddle him sturdily. I demonstrate the difference between complicated action RPGs and, for example, shoot-’em-ups by attacking him with a helicopter gunship.) Of the five levels, the sharpest I completed one was in an hour and a quarter (there’s a window showing time elapsed) which explains why I’m writing up my findings at four o’clock in the morning, although you should not be concerned for I am borne up by the disco spectacular Space Themes CD, which long-lived readers may recall was disqualified from the Super Stardust Invite Eternal Humiliation competition because Jonathan Davies and I found it curiously excellent. Fortunately, two people submitted copies.

It’s this stupefyingly cretinous error (a save routine. How hard? A SAVE ROUTINE. I don’t want to have to play the game for two hours at a time to make it worthwhile) that’s prevented Legends from scoring 90 percent. I’d just like to say that now, so that whoever insisted on passwords, should they be reading this, has plenty of time to sit and consider what they’ve done. Yes. It’s all very well to hang your head now, isn’t it? Hmmm?

Legends, like Speris Legacy, is an action RPG; Gauntlet with puzzles, if you must. There’s a meddling aliens/time travel plot which deliberately introduces anachronisms (microfilm in ancient Egypt, for instance) but which wisely keeps them as background jokes or boss items (a few are robots, and one bunch rides motorbikes) so saving you from kicking your monitor through a window trying to find the one thing the diamond-tipped drill will actually cut down, as happened in the wretched Speris. Each level has three or four bosses (which I was immensely impressed to discover could be killed using your lowliest weapon skilfully enough if you fancied wading in rather than searching for the better guns) and if you best one, there’s a sub-game such as squashing worms or massacring ducks to win extra (haarghh) continues. It’s even got the structure right — a big outside area to wander around in using things, and dungeons in which to fight a lot. (Although the dungeons, unlike the level proper, foolishly aren’t mapped.)

Oh, hang on. Space Themes has finished prematurely because I skipped the unspeakably dismal Star Trek Love Song. I’ll just put on some Emergency Broadcast Network, whom apparently I alone outside the US think are great.

Delightfully, I could fill perhaps half a page, probably as a vertical strip, with examples of splendid moments from the game. But this would obviously go some way to totally ruining it for you as surely as if I was employed by Empire to talk about any film not yet released. Suffice it to say the attention to detail in Legends is terrifically exact. Spreading out objects, which I rightly detest as a device to make the game seem bigger, is kept to a minimum (you’re generally meant to find four pieces of a broken artefact of the time, but you can just store the bits and drop them off all at once), the characters behave logically and don’t suddenly remember later on something they should have mentioned in the first place because the programmers couldn’t be bothered putting in a new character (stand up Speris), animals potter about for no other reason that it’s fun to trample on them, there are lovely effects (for example, day dawning when you fix the clock) and the incidental animations are first-class. (I was particularly taken with the pratfalling shopkeeper and the bald compere who buffs his head.) As a result, Legends hangs together in a way Speris never did. It may force you to play for hours at a time, but it doesn’t stop you having a good time doing it.

There are, of course, problems. But none so serious as otherwise to have jeopardised that 90% mark, Mr Increasingly Contrite Password Bloke. (Well, it might have ended up with 89%. But that’s beside the point.) I was shoutingly angry at the regenerating monsters — they return when you scroll back about a quarter of the screen, which obviously you do all the time because the idea is to walk around exploring. But that’s compounded by the inexcusable firing mechanism. When you fire, you stop. Until the firing animation’s played and you’ve flung your knife, or bouncing ball, or whatever, you’re completely immobile. If you’re attacked by two or more monsters, you get hit. (The alternative is to run away and put enough space between you to hit the monsters cleanly, but then, of course, you scroll back down and other monsters regenerate. Maddest of all, it’s possible to force a monster back with your shots until it vanishes from the screen, whereupon it races back as a new creature and your kill bonus is lost.) But just as I started to become incredibly furious, I found myself deliberately playing the scrolling to slaughter lots of low-level monsters and build up my strength. Grumble. (Staying with the monsters a moment more, I was disappointed to see that although imaginatively drawn, they all but one behaved in the same random movement/rushing forwards blindly way. Still.)

EBN’s album, Telecommunication Breakdown, has come to an end. I shall consume a bag of satsumas.

The text of Legends is surprisingly good, with a couple of priceless jokes, though spattered with spelling errors and overmuch concerned with bottoms. Bof — you Britishers. And it’s ALL IN CAPITALS, which was funny when we first did it, but has rapidly become tiresome. Surely they could have fitted in a lower-case alphabet. Hey — perhaps replacing that clumsy, bloated password routine with a neat, efficient save game one would have made the necessary room.

What else there is wrong is minor. It’s snowing in China, with snowflakes drifting all over the place, but the monsters fire, erk, snowballs. The darts sub-game drove me to distraction — you have to land all three in the blue to win, but if you lose, instead of playing on automatically, you have to walk a step back towards the compere and ask for another game, all the while the music flipping between the darts and castle tunes. (The music, as in Speris, is excellent, with dozens of atmospheric tunes. Luckily. Because you can’t turn it off.) There’s a blindingly obvious bug which means you have to reset if you get killed rescuing the lost woman at the start of level one because you reappear on the wrong side of the forest, and she can’t use the teleporter. Now and again your hard-worn kill bonus of an energy heart will stick in the scenery. In both the China and America levels, the last task involves wandering the whole map trying to find a well-hidden item. In England, a witch and a jester fire spells at you from off the screen (I mean, what) that turn you into a pitifully unfairly slow frog to be destroyed by the simplest of guards. (But it’s your fault for hanging around the quickly learned danger areas. Arguably.)

And tentatively stepping upon an icy patch in a castle, I was unsurprised to see my knight (you change character from level to level) spin away out of control, but was slightly staggered to see him ricochet, get attacked by the wrong monster, knocked off his plane and bounced left to right helplessly until he was dead and the game was over. Forty minutes in. (But, again, probably my fault. Pfft. And wasn’t I you just now? Blast.) The flying monsters, which describe irregular circles or sine waves, travel in pattern-baffling pairs and are appallingly hard to kill. (But serve up three energy hearts instead of one when slain.) And I consider it slightly churlish not to give you the chance to increase your life meter beyond the initial three hearts, even though the levels increase steeply in danger.

Oh, damn these satsumas and their benign influence.

In China one of your weapons is a hula-hoop. This made me laugh. In England you ride a mine-cart (no, it’s not one of those mine-cart levels, praise the saints) and can control it by switching the points. There are about six exits from the mine, so the track’s fantastically complicated, and there’s a bit where you speed towards a sudden rock, but instead of crashing you take off and Evel Knievel across a row of cars. This made me whoop. When you deliver a level’s artefact, you’re directed to the pick-up point (you’re actually a lab assistant possessing these people, or something) and the game switches off the monsters so you can admire the scenery and revel in your victory. This made me admire the scenery and revel in my victories. At the beginning of the game you can broadly choose a route — from America to China (and all points west) or from America to Egypt (and all points east). This made me do nothing, as obviously if I wanted to change my mind I’d have to play through the entire first level again to get a different password, so just plugged away at the one I was on. The final level, the alien base, has no map, squadrons of fast-firing soldiers, armoured tanks, watchtowers, an alien mastermind six times as tough as anything you’ve fought so far and a 30-second dash to the exit before the place explodes, but frankly I couldn’t be bothered as I loathe exactly this kind of last level. But at least the bosses I’d vanquished so far didn’t come back.

The best compliment that can be paid Legends is that, like the games it’s modelled upon, it has the courage to keep things unique. “Look,” it says. “Here’s an underwater section, with bubbles and sharks. We’ll only use it once, because then we’ve the impetus to do something even better for the next part. If you don’t know what’s coming next, it’ll stay fresh and fun.” And they’re right.

If only the chap who decided on passwords had worked in a bank instead, eh?

Big, together and beautifully detailed. Utterly fun. Like Speris, outrageously knocks off Zelda and Secret Of Mana (which is no bad thing) but includes bits I’ve not seen in either — the direction-giving travellers, for example, or the way when you hit a monster, the number that flies up shows his remaining strength, or the 32-slot message recall. Sensible puzzles. Excellent set-pieces. The best bosses yet seen in an Amiga game. Supports joypads. Hard drive-installable.

Vexing scrolling flaws, all to do with regenerating monsters. Occasionally erratic collision detection. And, instead of, for example, a save routine, those PASSWORDS. Which you can’t type in. Oh, and escape to quit without asking if you mean it, and it left the disk whirring all the time.

For a game that so comprehensively understands action RPGs, it’s bitterly stupid to spoil it with such an obvious error.

Apparently identical but for some extra music. But hey, your save memory’s probably still full of Simon the Sorcerer.

See how Legends is surprising.
1. You pause momentarily to catch your breath. A skeleton swings in the dungeon breeze.
2. Suddenly! the skeleton lurches forwards, sacrificing its arms to bite off your head. Agh! Agh! Agh!

(Pic of char at wishing well.)
If only this was about a year and a half ago, and the programming team was still working on the Amiga, and people hadn’t been lying about saving the Amiga, and Lucas Arts were still doing games for the Amiga, perhaps there would have been a conversion of the similarly-viewed Zombies Ate My Neighbours, which I like a lot.

See also: Speris Legacy.