£8.99 Cass/£12.99 Disk
Reviewer: David McCandless
There you were - a swivelling Polo-mint of a spaceship spinning in an endless flickering orbit when wham! Michael Jackson released another single and suddenly you were in Purgatory, doomed to gyrate and flicker in stasis for the rest of eternity (cue short burst of Vincent Price cackling).
But old Purgatory (or 'Netherworld' as the inhabitants know it) is a weird old place, populated by lost souls and theatre actors. Diamonds litter the place, just panting to be collected. And then there's the fact that you can buy your way through the ten levels, and then - wonders upon wonders - escape. Say no more.
The apparent idea to Netherworld is easy. A simple case of cavorting your disk around ten slyly designed and cunningly intricate scrolling levels, seeking out and collecting the correct amount of diamonds within the time limit; and then what could be easier than swanning to the nearest teleport and translating your atoms to the next zone? Except, it's not quite that easy.
For a start, there are various alien hazards out to put a permanent end to your convolutions. Demons squat malignly here and there, spurting a host of flickering globules which hurt. You can shoot them of course, and that's recommended when you consider they turn into bonus yum-yums when punctured by a laser bolt. The bonuses can either be delectable (extra lives, extra points, demon banes and wall breakers) or detrimental (energy drains, loss of steering etc).
Then you have to cope with the practically indestructible mines. These ballistic bunions have a tendency to hug the landscape, bounce up and down, or just follow you around like radioactive sheep (baaaaaaabooooom!)
On top of that, there's the fact that the diamonds aren't just located in 'obvious' corners and junctions. Instead they're deviously located in the seemingly-impervious-brick-box or the small-area-of-the-screen-covered-in-mines.
And if all that wasn't enough, you've also got an unbelievably tight time limit. Despite the possibility of collecting the odd hourglass to restore 30 seconds to the clock, or using the many teleports for swift transport around the level, the limit is tough with a capital, emboldened, italic, 72 point 'T'. I guarantee every level will end with you frantically searching for the last diamond while the final three seconds drain away.
Netherworld's graphic are a bit of a let down. They are simply 'okay' and adequately suit the plot of the game (with demons, devils and other 'after-life' images among them) but they are a little bland and superficial. Colour is put to good liberal use.
But aaaarghhhhh! The moving graphics flicker abominably. Terrible. Yuck. Ick. Bleueegh! Perhaps it's to suggest the flickering 'nether' part of the world, but it turned me right off. The four way scrolling is a slight consolation I suppose - it's fast, smooth and - heaven be blessed - flickerless.
However, the graphics don't matter when compared to the playability. If you strip away the blanket of sci-fi babble, the ethereal graphics and the confused setting, you've basically got a game not unlike the classic Boulderdash with the identical captured addictiveness. Each level is a puzzle which once solved is no longer a problem.
This is not a classic but not a turkey either. It's suspended somewhere high-up between and it unashamedly maintains Hewson's reputation.
It's not instantly likeable. Give it a chance, water it, keep it away from caterpillars, and it'll grow on you.
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