Monday, 15 April 2013

Classic Game - Impossamole (C64 / Amiga)

Impossamole is a game I have always loved since first getting my hands on the Commodore 64 cassette way back in 1990 – the year of the games release. I recall seeing it advertised in Commodore Format magazine and immediately wanting to buy it, as well as being blown away by the graphics for the 16-bit Amiga version. However, as I was only 10 years old and had just been given my very first computer, a lovely C64, I was more than happy to stick to 8-bits (for now). 

I remember it clearly - I spotted the game on the shelf of our local computer store, and immediately asked my father if he would get it for me. Being a generous chap he obliged and on the journey home I sat reading the back of the cassette inlay and ogling the screen-shots, eager to start playing. I had already enjoyed the previous installments of Monty Mole's adventures, Monty On The Run and Auf Weidersehen Monty, so I was keen to see what new adventures awaited our short sighted rodent hero. Here, Monty was kitted out in a Superman style costume, with flowing cape and a flame thrower in his hands. How could this not be awesome?

The laughably bad loading screen

The first of the four selectable stages sees Monty exploring 
underground caves - well, he is a mole after all

In this new adventure, Monty dons his superhero cape and sets out across 5 lengthy stages in which he must avoid or destroy all manner of critters and obstacles as he makes his way to the level boss. The first 4 stages (Klondike Mines, The Orient, The Amazon and the generic sounding 'Ice Land', can be tackled in any order, but the fifth and final stage, Bermuda Triangle, can only be attempted once the first four have been beaten. The visuals for both the levels and the characters they contain are striking and extremely colourful, and have a comic book look to them. The Amiga version is leagues ahead of the C64 in this respect, naturally, but the C64 puts in a great effort, with some lovely, chunky sprites and rich backgrounds. The music is also excellent, with the title screen in particular being very memorable, what with it being a remixed version of the Monty On The Run music. The SID chip contained within the C64 does its usual sterling job of bringing fantastic chiptune music to life, while the Amiga throws in some crazy samples – included sounds of a DJ scratching a record. 

The background are extremely cartoony and full of charm

In his Impossamole guise, Monty is able to defend himself in many ways. First is his kick move – which you will be using a lot – as well as a limited supply of bombs that can be tossed at your foes. Often you can find a lazer bazooka that inflicts loads of damage to anything foolish enough to get in the way. Strangely, many enemies are completely invincible, even when they look identical to ones that can be destroyed. This is a weird design choice as you are never sure what you can or can't kill until you start kicking or bombing it, and it increases the, already high, difficulty level. Indeed, Impossamole is brutally difficult. The Klondike Mine (the level most will try first) is a nightmare to navigate due to the sheer number of enemies, mine carts, re-spawning skeletons and toxic sludge that hurts Monty. Once you have managed to get past all this, you then have to face a worm creature that burrows out of harms way while spitting projectiles at you. Some levels even contain enemies that home in on your position and just will not piss off until you kill them, or you fall down a hole, taking you to another section of the stage. Thankfully Monty has a life bar (rather than one-hit kills) that can be topped up by collecting cans of worms. Unfortunately, though,  he has only the one life, so you had better be on your toes. This is not a game for casual players as its difficulty will drive many to pull their hair out in frustration.

With only his trusty cape to keep him warm, 
Monty explores the Ice Land stage

The thing is, Impossamole has the 'one more go' factor that keeps you returning. The levels are interesting to explore and feel far more open ended than the usual 2D platformers, despite being fairly linear, due to being able to take different routes through the stages. It is also immensely enjoyable to play. Jumping over snakes, kicking bats, throwing bombs at monkeys, climbing ropes and collecting coins all add up to make an engaging and fun platform game. I was never able to complete it (as far as I can recall), but I certainly got to the final stage. It is one of the games on my 'to complete – once and for all' list.

The Amiga version's graphics are gorgeous

Many years later (two decades, in fact) I would sadly discover that not everyone shared my love for Monty's heroic adventures in Impossamole. Indeed, many people often called it such things as 'crap', and 'worst Monty game ever!'. Blasphemy.
This was quite a shock as I consider it one of my favourite 8-bit games, and one I still play now and then. Yes, it is bastard hard – making completing the first stage a heroic achievement in itself – but it is extremely fun to play, full of character and holds a strange sense of exploration, despite there only being a few different routes to choose from. I am sure there is an element of rose-tinted spectacles here, but I stand by my praise for this game and highly recommend you try it out for yourself.

The Amazon is full of mole-hating adversaries 
and environmental dangers

Other Versions

The Spectrum version is pretty reasonable, containing some large sprites and nice use of the Speccy's limited colour palate. Gameplay remains similar though the game is quite slow, and there is no smooth scrolling – the screen stops and quickly moves to the next. There is also no in-game music, but the sound effects aren't too bad.

The Speccy has some nice bold sprites, 
but lacks the colour of the other versions

The Amstrad CPC version has the usual chunky and colourful graphics you would expect – it actually looks quite nice. The game has the same non-smooth scrolling as the Spectrum version, but is nicer to look at. Gameplay speed is also decent, making this a good overall version of Impossamole, though clearly not in the same league as either the C64 or Amiga versions.

The Amstrad has some cute sprites and nice use of 
colour, but lacks the scrolling of the C64 version

The Atari ST version looks nigh-on identical to the Amiga version, retaining the cartoon visuals and the quick pace of the game. The only difference I noticed was that the ST's music and sound effects weren't as good, sounding exceptionally weedy in comparison to the Amiga, which is a surprise considering the ST's musical leanings.

The 16-bit Atari version looks just as good as the Amiga, 
but is let down by poor audio

The PC Engine version is a strange port that features a main sprite that resembles a grey pig more than a mole. It also has an amusing intro story told by static screens explaining the nonsensical premise of the game in which Monty is abducted from the beach and turned into a super hero – for no god-damn reason at all! The gameplay is substantially different to the home computer offerings, with Monty having to locate hidden scrolls in each of the completely redesigned stages, as well as a new offensive attack which allows Monty to capture the critters in a box that he can then hurl at other adversaries. Monty also takes to the water in new swimming sections – in which he dons a ludicrous underwater outfit. Overall, the PC Engine version is not a bad game, it just feels nothing like the Impossamole I know and love. 

PC Engine Impossamole is a completely different 
game and, while not as good as the home computer
 versions, is still worth checking out

For the Commodore 64 and Amiga versions