I have to admit that I was looking forward to this game because the only other Heartland I’ve heard of is the 1986 8-bit game by Odin Computer Graphics and it’s great not least because you get to kill bad guys with a top hat. So, part of me was hoping that this was going to be some kind of remake of that and, even though most 8 to 16-bit remakes from the 1980s and ’90s were rubbish (I still recall the dreadful Amiga version of Atic Atac I bought from a PD library where the player was a big red ball with no animation: really) I was still looking forward to the prospect of throwing my top hat at villains and collecting pages of a book, even if the graphics maybe did look like they’d been drawn by a five year old.
It wasn’t to be, though. Heartland, an Atari ST indie game from 1996 doesn’t bear any resemblance to Odin’s classic but it does bear more than a passing resemblance to another famous 8-bit game; or rather series of games (see the screenshots in this article). There’s nothing wrong with having an anthropomorphic egg as a main character, of course (see the Egghead series) but they should, y’know, be reasonably distinct from what used to be the most famous sentient egg until Mark Lawson appeared on our TV screens, rather than looking almost exactly the same.
So what’s the plot? Well, Sassy (the one who looks almost the same as Dizzy) and Sissy (who looks the same but is a girl (I think)) were planning to play cards but all the cards in the hearts suite were missing. So it’s up to the player to guide one of them around a fairly-large map looking for the missing cards.
The game itself takes place over one very-large scrolling landscape. Around this landscape, the Heartland of the game’s title, the missing cards can be found either lying around waiting to be collected or behind doorways. Those cards behind doorways are only collected on entering the door which also causes the player-character to be deposited elsewhere on the map. There are also a large number of coins lying around which can be collected although these seem to have no function other than boosting the player’s score.
And that’s pretty-much it. Despite this being a platform game there don’t seem to be any enemies beyond spikes which occasionally pop out of the ground and sap Sassy’s energy (which can be replenished from potion bottles dotted around Heartland) and the challenge of the game is more about negotiating the platforms and exploring the whole word. In fact, more than anything else, it reminds me of those “exploratory” indie titles for the PC with minimalist graphics and which inexplicably need 25MB of harddisk space and a P1000 to run; and, like them, it’s diverting for a moment before it all becomes a bit boring. If you’re really into “explore-em-ups” then this might hold some kind of appeal but I prefer my platform games with a bit more to do and a lot more trying to stop me.
And with a throwable top-hat.