|Chris Adamson Review - The Apprentice|
The ApprenticePhilips & The Vision Factory, for CD-i, digital-video card optional (adds sound effects and improves scrolling)
PROS: Smooth animation, good sound effects and backgrounds, varied game play, cute as the dickens
Even if you need another platform game like you need a second appendix, The Apprentice deserves a look. It's catchy and addictive game-play and utterly sumptious visuals may remind you why this genre lasted as long as it did.
It's getting hard to get excited about platform games -- after years of running, jumping, punching, and shooting "boss monsters", you had to figure players would move on to something else, and that something appears to be the "Mortal Kombat" style fighting game. Virtually the only hype you see for platform games on other systems nowadays is for licences like "The Lion King", which makes me wonder: when Disney puts out the obligatory Genesis game for "Pocahontas", will she and John Smith jump from tree to tree collecting nuts and berries, or will they beat the crap out of each other in a bloody martial arts competition?
But that's neither here nor there. What's here is "The Apprentice", and it's a hoot. The game follows Marvin, the lowly apprentice of wizard Gandorf S.Wandburner, as he gets sent on dangerous quests throughout the kingdom. Marvin, like all the characters in the game, is a frumpy, big-eyed cartoon character, who if he were owned by Sega or Nintendo would probably be available as a plush toy or lousy Saturday morning cartoon.
"The Apprentice" breaks with tradition somewhat by being an exclusively vertical scroller -- the action always moves up or down, defying the usual trend of left-to-right action. This gives the jumping somewhat more purpose -- you're usually trying to get further up, as you scale dizzyingly tall towers in the medieval castles. You also get a gun or other weapon to shoot back with, although it isn't always effective.
As you'd expect, there are all sorts of bouncing monsters, falling hazards and nasty traps to threaten you, along with coins to collect for points and keys to find so you can open locked doors, use teleporters, etc. What you wouldn't expect is just how large the characters are on-screen and how fluid the movement is. The game is utterly sumptious, and the design is so downright funny it's a joy to watch as well as to play. The sounds are also well-done, from the ragtime theme music you can't get out of your head to the "ow ow ow ow ow ow!" Marvin yells when he dies. (note: sound effects are only available if you have a digital-video card -- base-case players get music only).
The designers also made the game extremely playable by taking steps to reduce repetition. Each of the games six levels has three "stages", and your CD-i player automatically remembers the highest level-stage combination you've gotten to (Why couldn't Vision Factory's Dimo's Quest do this?). Furthermore, each stage has a series of checkpoints illustrated as flags where you restart each time you get killed. As a practical upshot you don't have to replay earlier levels over and over again, you just have to get good enough to finish a given stage with four lives once.
If that sounds generous, don't get too confident -- the stages are TOUGH. Aside from being long, they're also filled with tricks, traps, and plenty of timing problems. Some stages can be finished with one or two lives the first time through. Others will take multiple replays to beat. Starting with level three / stage two, some seem downright impossible. The third stage of every level is followed by a battle with a huge "boss monster", which are distinguished by their large size (they fill the screen), sharp animation, and the staggering difficulty of beating them.
Some levels completely change the game's mechanics. After recovering the wizard's book at the end of level one, an animated sequence shows Marvin accidentally knocking it into a well, and being turned into a frog by the wizard to find it. Throughout level two, you're a frog, swimming DOWN through the levels, bobbing up and down with the current. And in level four, all the platforms are covered with ice, causing you to slide to a stop... if you don't hit a bad guy first. In each case, it's a welcome change of pace.
Add to the mix some genuinely charming scenes between levels and a whole bunch of half-naked anime girls in the background art (for no discernable reason) and you've got a great game.
It's too bad "The Apprentice" didn't come out about a year ago, when platform games were still in vogue and the CD-i could really have used a family-friendly title to show off its stuff (Philips still might want to consider bundling this game with CD-i players, since the now-standard Burn:Cycle isn't exactly family fare). As it is, it's a great example of a dying breed... perhaps the last full bucket from an increasingly dry well.
This review was written by Chris Adamson, 1995.
Recompiled with permission and made pretty by Devin!
Copyright maintained by Chris Adamson.
Read more about the game on The Apprentice game page.
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