Monday, 26 August 2013

Retro Review - Super Morph (SNES)

Chemistry 101

Some games are instantly fun, others take time to build up a momentum, hooking the player along the way. On the other hand, some games are instantly recognisable as utter balls, but others can lull you into a false sense of security, dragging you in with charming, cartoony graphics, bouncy music, original game mechanics, and enjoyable gameplay before grinding you down over time until you can no longer bare to look it in the face ever again. As if you couldn't guess by this long-winded intro, Super Morph falls solidly into the latter category.

Initially things appear to be all rosy, with a brief intro explaining the premise - a young boy goes to a random old lunatic's house after school (as you do) and happily jumps into some bizarre contraption the old bastard has created in his basement. Needless to say, the thing explodes instantly and demolecularises poor little Timmy (or whatever his name is). In his new form Timmy starts, for some reason, as a bouncy red ball, but can turn into a solid black ball capable of smashing through walls, a watery blob that can drip through narrow gaps and put out flames, and a gas cloud that can float upwards and also get through narrow gaps. Using these forms, with a limited number of switches allowed per level, he must navigate 36 stages of mind bending puzzle platforming.

So far, so good. The game has some pleasant and extremely cartoon-like graphics as well as some catchy ditties that play along as you explore the stages. It's fun to experiment with the different forms and explore the 2d levels, and working out how you will navigate past extractor fans, pools of water, spikes, bricks walls, and high platforms is satisfying and rewarding when it all goes to plan. However, doubts begin to creep in when you find yourself unable to complete even the second stage of one of the set of 4 worlds available to choose at any time. This game is exceptionally difficult.. mind bendingly, teeth grindingly so. This is not down to me being an imbecile (well, maybe a little), but due to some glaring flaws in game design that suck the fun out of the experience and leave you questioning why you are bothering to play Super Morph at all.

The amount of form changes you can make is exceptionally limited - giving you no room for wasted metamorphasising, this is all well and good - Lemmings and other great puzzle games employ this mechanic all the time - but here you are constantly unsure of what to do. The main problem with Super Morph, and a real game-breaker at that, is the overly zoomed-in view. Good puzzle games allow you to see what you are doing and assess the situation before making an informed decision. Super Morph scraps that idea and instead shows you about 2 centimetres in any direction of your huge sprite. You can't see what is up ahead, nor what form changes you may need to use further on. All you can do is guess, and constantly repeat the level over and over again as you either die or run out of the allowed form switches. Couple this with the, already, brutal difficulty level and you have a title that very rapidly becomes a painful chore to play.

It's a shame as the game really had potential. The main mechanic is a great idea and the first couple of levels are fun as they are pretty small and don't yet reveal how poorly designed the game's viewpoint is. I really did want to like Super Morph, indeed I may even go back to it again later - such is its frustrating potential - but I foresee myself giving up on it again after a few minutes. While I would have loved to have been able to recommend this game to fans of platformers and puzzlers alike, I am afraid only masochists will be able to endure the insane difficulty level and the ridiculously close viewpoint. Save yourself the headache and avoid this one. If someone out there was able to remake this game with a sensible view, where you could see a large portion of the stage as you moved around, then that would really be something worth playing.

Title : Super Morph
Developer : Millenium Interactive
Year : 1993
System : SNES
Also on : Amiga (as Morph)