Overall Score 70%
I know I often say that the plot doesn't matter, but there are times I'd *really* like to know what the hell is going on. This week I'm reviewing a game with no documentation at all. It didn't even come with an installer, just all ZIPped up and ready to go. Still, the contents are very simple, so no-one will be suffering too much from a lack of handholding. Now, what do we have here?
Okay. I'm an eskimo (inuit? I knew it!). I have a five-shot revolver and I'm crossing a horizontally scrolling screen filled with ice blocks. Not nice blocks, though, as some of them are apparently boxes of explosives. There are also spike traps, bottomless chasms descending below my view of the world and some strange shell-like things that start bouncing about like lunatics when I go near them. I can shoot blocks with my revolver - ice blocks shatter, explosive blocks... well... explode, and those jumping things do likewise if I hit them (or they me), which is fatal. My task is to cross the screen and get to the other side.
Level two introduces me to what I think might be coins, and frequent attacks by what appear to be the ghosts of penguins. My life force is sapped by contact with these ethereal avians but I can take several hits before I expire. A pistol shot takes them out if I can get one lined up, but bullets are clearly not stopped by penguins and blocks behind them can still break on impact. Fortunately I seem to have infinite ammunition - I just need a brief pause to reload every five shots. I've also figured out that the capital G symbols I can collect are actually useful for something - they're shields! A few seconds of both invulnerability and massive destruction as everything my shielded self walks into falls apart like soggy newspaper. Including the blocks I'm standing on. Oops. Let's try that level again.
As I write this, I'm afraid I have no idea what level three has to offer. I have yet to beat the second level. This is not a forgiving game, and there is no recourse for saving or restoring your progress. Indeed, you have no level choice at all - on loading the game up, you must start at level one. On death, you start a new game from the start of your last reached level. There is apparently no life limit, or score (I have no idea what those coins are for). I also have no idea why this game is called "Gasman". After a reasonable amount of playtime, my list of questions is larger than my list of answers. Like, what are those giant, energy-shielded penguin things on the front screen? Why do we never see the front screen again after we start? Are there any options? Is there a plot, or is all this exploding ice penguin malarky simply the ravings of a surrealist trapped in the Antarctic?
The controls are, mercifully, quite simple (though I would like to be able to remap them). You move left/right with the arrow keys, jump with shift and fire your gun with X. If you pick up a shield (those G things), you can activate it with C. Note that you can't carry them over to the next level and only ever have at most one - use them wisely. I generally find them more trouble than they're worth. If you advance to the next level, press any key to continue. If you die, press any key to restart the level. If you want to quit, use the X in the top right corner, but bear in mind you'll have to beat all those levels again to get back to where you are if you do. I figured most of these out by myself before I noticed the guide on the initial map screen.
It's a charming looking game. My eskimo avatar seems remarkably cheerful about his never ending cycle of death and rebirth as he once again gets caught in an explosion, slips onto spikes, tumbles into the depths or takes one too many penguins to the face. This is clear evidence that he has gone mad. Indeed, I don't know for sure that he hasn't, and all this shooting of spectral birds could just be a hallucination brought on by the cold and isolation of his surroundings. But that would be a bit rubbish. I love a game with sprites - nicely retro, though this is perhaps being a little TOO retro with regards to the difficulty! The sound effects are delightfully 8-bit too, and the game is accompanied by an endlessly repeating piano piece that starts off pleasant but starts to irritate on the ninetieth loop.
It's cheap and it's a little different, but there's little long-term play in Gasman. It's simply too unforgiving. It also lacks a proper front end - is this a development version we've been given? If so, my harsher review shows it isn't ready yet. If not, a lot of potential customers are going to be put off. It could also use a smoother difficulty curve - struggling to beat level 2 is a sign your game is too hard, surely? But mostly it's just the endless repetition that marks this out as a kind of platformer purgatory, in which we are doomed to repeat our actions over and over, with penguin poltergeists, a peculiar plot and the ever grinning face of the mad eskimo. If Edgar Allen Poe wrote a computer game, this could be it.
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