Tuesday 26 January 2016

Leapster (Atari 8-bit review)

Developer: Steven Macilwee, Richard Skelhorn, Roy Lynch
Publisher: Alternative Software
Released: 1988

Leapster is an action game where you navigate four stages in an attempt to make it to school on time.

These stages consist of four screens and the objective in each is to collect three objects against the clock. First up is the Town and as objects appear in the house windows you must jump onto a car and then leap to collect them. To make things more difficult you also have to avoid balloons and arrows that kill you with one-hit. Unfortunately the action is tedious as there's large periods where no cars enter, yet they're your only method of reaching the objects! Also, on many occasions items either don't appear or flash for less than a second, giving you no time to obtain them. It's frustrating how little influence you have over the action and it seems like pot-luck is needed to succeed. There's also a few bugs including ones that kill you immediately upon starting the game, and another where gravity doesn't exist and you just keep floating! In the Missile Base your job is to collect three objects while climbing ladders and avoiding guards and projectiles. It plays slightly better than the first stage as it's more fast-paced and you're in complete control of the action rather than waiting around for things to happen. Climbing up ladders can be a bit problematic though (as they don't always respond to your buttons presses) and inexplicably some of the top ladders blend into the white background! Next up is the Graveyard stage where you avoid bats and zombies and try to collect small crosses by jumping between tombstones. Again, it works okay but the collision detection is off and sometimes you'll jump onto a platform and fall straight through. The final stage is inside the School and you need to avoid paper planes, arrows and springs; there's no items to collect and overall it's quite dull to play.

Leapster is an interesting concept with some unique stage settings but it's still a weak take on the action genre. The gameplay just isn't strong enough and the ill-advised first stage and careless technical bugs leave a bad taste that's hard to shake.
Random trivia: Steven Macilwee programmed several other Atari 8-bit games including Castle Top (1985), Monkey Magic (1987) and Winter Wally (1987).

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