Retro Rated – Fire & Ice

Factfile
Developed by:Graftgold
Published by:Renegade Software
Released:1992
Format played:Amiga

Ruminations

For all its invention, legacy and sheer range of titles, the Amiga was arguably never blessed with a truly elite platformer. Sure, some came close. We took a look back at one of the best in our review of the Blues Brothers, whilst our friends at Amiga Power would no doubt point to former number one game of all time, Rainbow Islands. Plaudits may also be reserved for the likes of Zool, Putty or Superfrog.

But whilst these games are not without merit, they operated under the twin looming shadows on the console horizon. Both Sonic on the Megadrive and Mario on the SNES were, in their own very distinct ways, defining platform games for a generation. Sonic was the most obviously aped of the two. Its focus on speed and quick thrills made it an instant favourite for young gamers and developers were keen to grab a slice of the gaming pie. Titles like Titus the Fox or Tearaway Thomas seemingly took influence from the spiky blue mascot with their focus on speed. Mario clones, whilst also prevalent, were less eye catching. Never a slouch in his own right, the real joy of Mario was found in the complexity of the levels and the secrets contained therein. It is no surprise that it is the moustachioed plumber who has found more consistent long term success over his one time rival, the depth of the playing experience standing the test of time over his flashier, more shallow rival.

Which in a round about, rather belated way brings us to Fire & Ice. No, this isn’t a early Game of Thrones prototype, rather a platformer built around the adventures of one Cool Coyote. Designed by Andrew Braybrook under the Graftgold banner, developer of titles such as Paradroid and Uridium, Fire & Ice came with some serious pedigree.

Gameplay

As a central character, Cool Coyote draws parallels with Sonic and you may be forgiven for expecting a similarly fast paced adventure. However it soon becomes apparent that this is an altogether more sedate affair.

The goal of each level is to collect pieces of a key that unlock the exit. Key pieces are stashed away by the array of critters that litter the level and so each must be bested in order to proceed. Being Cool, Coyote’s method of attack is to lob snowballs at his enemies. This doesn’t kill them but rather freezes them in place, allowing Coyote to run through them and bash them to smithereens, releasing the fragment of key.

With the occasional exception, enemies take a single hit to freeze. Some come equipped with shields and so you have to manoeuvre your way round to their blind side to take them out, whilst various birds come flying at you through the sky. In the early levels you even get assaulted by some aggressive skiers and so have to time your attack to blat them in the face on their way down.

And this is the only method of dispatch. Jumping on enemies or otherwise touching them in any way other than their frozen form spells instant death. And don’t hang around either as your snowballs have a limited shelf life, thawed out enemies soon resuming their pattern of movement. You can upgrade your attack though, collectables dotted throughout each level allowing you to unleash a multi-pronged blizzard attack or single, focused ball of snowy doom.

Playing this again, I can’t help but feel disappointed. I remembered this as being one of the premier platformers on the Amiga hpwever what I found was a technically competent but somewhat lacklustre experience. It is not helped by the limitations of the hardware, but then it is incumbent upon the developers to work around these. With a single fire button joystick to play with, your attack is mapped to fire whilst it’s our old friend ‘Up’ to jump. It is an entirely unsatisfactory state of affairs and one that has plagued many a game on the humble beige box. Caveating that as an Amiga-centric problem, that doesn’t explain why jumping itself feels so spongy, making some of the jumps difficult to land. This isn’t helped by a number of platforms falling just off screen, requiring you to take something of a leap of faith, often to find yourself missing your marker and dropping to the bottom of the level. In the early going it is an annoyance, in later levels, with the introduction of lava, water and other hazards, it becomes infuriatingly deadly.

Levels themselves offer some variation. A map along is displayed permanently along the bottom of the screen to help you track your progress as Coyote marches from frozen wastelands, across the sea, under water and into forests. There are bonus points on offer for those prepared to go exploring but little in the way of tangible benefit to doing so, nor are there any interesting shortcuts or interludes that play such an important role in making Mario’s adventures so memorable.

And it’s hard too. Your 3 lives can be wiped out in the first level if you’re not paying attention and it’s not always your fault. As you jaunt merrily through the level those skiers we mentioned earlier come flying at you from off screen and unless you known they’re coming, you barely have time to react. Similarly falling icicles and the like drop without warning whilst those controls make it harder than it need be to dodge round enemies, especially those that like to fire back at you, or the little crusty ones who crawl along the floor and make themselves harder to hit. And don’t hang about in the level; if the timer runs down a great ball of flame starts chasing after you, adding to the frustration as you hunt down that one enemy you missed who is hopefully holding onto the elusive final piece of key.┬áStill you do sometimes draw the attention of a friendly little pup who starts following you round the level, lobbing extra snowballs at enemies.

Speaking of those enemies, Coyote feels like something of a bully. The inhabitants of the world hardly scream out viciousness and it seems overkill to go around giving them the frozen death treatment. What did they ever do to you? Ultimately this feels like a game cobbled together around the design of the character, rather than evolving organically as a coherent journey.

Conversion Capers

An enhanced version was released for the doomed-to-fail CD32. Essentially the same game, the additional grunt offered by the A1200-esque processor and the storage capacity of the CD format let the developers add some nice background detail and scenery, replacing the rather basic looking coloured bars of the A500 original.



A Megadrive version was also developed although never released, whilst somewhat cruder looking versions were developed for the 8-bit Master System and Game Gear.

Bottom Line

Technically competent, decent graphics and a catchy soundtrack but ultimately Fire & Ice is let down by frustrating gameplay elements and harsh difficulty.

6/10

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