The ST GAMESHELF
17 Paul Dr.
San Rafael, CA 94903-2101
$34.95, color only
Reviewed by Andy Eddy
It's understandable that people remember the name of a program, rather than its author. Names like GFA BASIC and Dungeon Master are recognizable, but very few remember who wrote them (Frank Ostrowski wrote GFA BASIC, and Doug Bell handled the major coding chores for DM, by the way). As you can see, software development doesn't often bring celebrity status.
Those of you who are veteran personal computer gamers will remember a game called Choplifter. Programmed by Dan Gorlin, this was one of the best computer games of its time, requiring you to carefully pilot a helicopter and rescue hostages. It also has the distinction of being one of the only programs in recent memory to make its start on the PCs, then find itself translated to a coin-op game.
Well, Dan Gorlin's name has surfaced again, this time attached to a stunning, new creation from Broderbund called Typhoon Thompson in Search for the Sea Child. (We'll refer to it as TT from here on.) A team of creative artists, under the Dan Gorlin Productions umbrella, has put together a smoothly animated, arcade-action contest that will keep you on the edge of your chair.
The game revolves around Typhoon Thompson (controlled by you, of course) and his exploits to retrieve a sole survivor—a tiny baby—from the clutches of the sly Sea Sprites. Their home is the watery planet of Aguar, where Flight 396 crashed, and where three other rescue missions have perished before you.
The local Spirit Guardians help you out somewhat by telling you what artifact you'll need to retrieve from the Sprites. They also provide you with additional weapons that'll increase your chances for successful completion of the first four levels. Every weapon you receive offers you better capability with which to do your deeds, though each level is progressively more difficult. . . incredibly difficult! Your trusty vehicle in these pursuits is the Jet-Sled, a futuristic water skimmer that will take you from place to place rapidly, both over the surface and underwater.
The Sprites, looking like large frogs, live in small island villages. They persistently try to put a crimp in your plans by piloting various crafts called Flyers, each with a particular ability to hinder your quest. For example, a Whomper bounces on the water's surface like a pogo stick; but if the Whomper contacts your JetSled, you'll be left with a crumbled shell, and forced to swim back to the sanctuary of the Spirit Guardians.
Your sled comes equipped with Laser Cannons and Thrusters, basic battle gear that allows you to respectively hightail it out of danger or blast the enemy Flyers. Striking an island with your craft or with a shot from your cannons releases the Flyer(s) contained there, out onto the open sea.
Blasting the Flyer with the laser releases a Sprite (or Sprites, as you'll see in later levels) into the water. You must then cruise your sled over the creature(s) to pick it up and stow it away. But if you take too long to pick up a Sprite, it'll come back to its senses and start swimming for the haven of an island. You must either stun him again with your laser, or restart the process after he reaches the island. Again, later levels increase the number of Sprites at an island, doubling your workload.
Once each of these islands is cleared of Sprites, you will receive the artifact for that level, and then must proceed back to the Spirit Guardians for upgrading of your weaponry and details of what item to acquire next. In the final journey you attempt to snatch back the baby: a nearly impossible feat to accomplish.
Rarely do programmers take full advantage of the power of the computer. The detail of TT's animations—for instance, the opening sequence is randomly picked from three different animations, each impeccably done—is a treat for the eyes. Throughout the game, you are treated to little audible and visual nuances (they appear little in final analysis, but in fact are quite a bit of busywork for a programmer/artist).
Attention to details is what helped make Dungeon Master popular when it was released; unfortunately, these details are too often missing in other games. TT has got it all. For example, when Typhoon comes flying out of the sea on his Jet-Sled, he shakes the water out of his hair; if a bubble is shot from a Flyer and catches Typhoon, he wiggles and shakes in an effort to get free, but the bubble pops and he is gone; even the movement of the Sprites in the water is true to life. These are the images that stick in your mind after you play, and most of all add to the realism while you play.
Of course, the lure of a game isn't just in how it looks. In TT, the game control— which is handled from mouse and button combinations—is top-notch too. Also, the game concept is fresh, rather than being a rehash of other arcade-like battles already on the shelves.
The year 1988 appears to be the year of the high-quality game: Dungeon Master, Oids and now Typhoon Thompson have all demonstrated that when a programmer sets his mind to it, arcade quality can be achieved on a personal computer. I still recommend DM as the finest game on the ST, but TT comes close behind it.
Recommendation: Buy it.