Yet another new ZX Spectrum release for 2009, this time Rafal Miagza’s terrifically ’50s-sounding Skyscraper of Doom!
Apparently, this was a project originally started in 2005 and continued and finished in recent months. Set inside a skyscraper in the (presumably) fictional Midnight City in the near-future (2031) an introductory sequence (thoughtfully made optional from the main menu) details an incident from 1931 when some indestructable bloke in a mac (that’s the coat, not the computer) stormed his way into the lobby to cause aggro to some woman on the upper floors. Since then, the skyscraper has been plagued by mysterious happenings, none of which seems to have scared-off our interpid protagonist who lives in one of the skyscraper’s numerous appartments. The game begins as a fire breaks out in the building and our hero must escape, that’s all the task we’re given at the beginning.
Gameplay is in the style of an old-fashioned pick-up-the-object-and-use-it-there style that was common in 8-bit titles of the 1980s and has never really come back into fashion beyond a brief resurgence in the underrated Valhalla series on the Amiga in the 1990s. This game style tends to divide people: some (waves arm in the air) rather like their element of problem solving whilst others find them repetitive and boring. This game is likely to divide people on just those lines: it has some very simple action elements like having to jump gaps in a floor but in the main this is a problem-solving, object-based arcade-adventure.
So how does it fair, my dear Matty? Well, to be honest I’ve only played it a couple of times and I’m a little uncertain as to whether I like it or not. As with most arcade-adventures in this style there’s a certain amount of fun to be had wandering around, finding objects and thinking where they have to be used and techinically (in the main at least) this is pretty impressive with well-drawn graphics and smooth animation. I also quite liked the general “atmosphere” of near-future urban decay the game created which reminded me a little of the classic cyberpunk game Dreamweb. There are problems, though. The smoothness means that everything moves a touch slowly and I can’t help but think that sacrificing some frames-per-second to have blokey moving more quickly might have been a good idea. I also found the controls a bit poorly thought-out; I didn’t like the way objects are selected (I’d have preferred a menu-based system like the Magic Knight games) and the fire button is used to collected/drop objects, go through doors, climb stairs and examine things meaning positioning needs to be accurate (and, more to the point, why can’t the player just climb stairs by jumping/dropping as is normal in this type of game?). I also found a major bug on one screen (the floor 27 lift screen, I think) where pressing fire on selected objects makes them vanish; not good. There are also some “adult” ideas incorporated in this game which, whilst merely a reflection of what age demographic plays Spectrum games these days, still look oddly crowbarred-in in a game on this platform even though it’s appropriate to the game’s setting.
Now, it’s worth remembering that Skyscraper of Doom is a home-coded, freeware indie title and so any problems are much more foregivable than they would be in a commercially-produced game. If you’ve got an hour or so to spare and a Spectrum emulator then this is worth downloading and playing, especially if you like this type of game. Just don’t expect another Knight Tyme.