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Spellbound Dizzy (Classic Game)

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1 Review

Genre: Adventures & Role-playing / Developer: Optimus.

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      23.08.2007 12:37
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      Produced by Codemasters (1990).

      As the fifth game in the popular ‘Dizzy’ series, it could be expected that the repetitive format of the games would start to impede enjoyment, but the excellent ‘Spellbound Dizzy’ expands the scope of the platform adventure series and requires even more patience and ingenuity than its predecessors.

      The Dizzy games were originally designed by the Oliver Twins for the Commodore, Amiga, Spectrum and other home computer systems of the late 1980s, but by this point in the series their involvement was minimal. Far from causing a downturn in the quality of the games for moving away from their original style, the fresh ideas of the Codemasters team kept each Dizzy sequel distinctive and far more enjoyable than another basic left-to-right game set in a tiny horizontal world would prove, demonstrated by the less successful follow-up ‘Prince of the Yolkfolk’ which attempted such a back-to-basics approach. The size and shape of the game map is the most noticeable difference in Spellbound Dizzy, as the majority of the game takes place underground at various depths, either accessed through the central ‘Windy Shaft’ (I didn’t realise the comic potential as a child) or through undersea travels. Like all Dizzy games, progress also requires that Dizzy take to the skies to access key areas and find items, achieved by bouncing from spinning mushroom springs and between clouds.

      Although targeted as an adventure game, the Dizzy series is essentially a platform game that is easy to control and understand, but full of logic puzzles in the form of obstacles, items and characters that need to interact with each other through the liaison of the main character. Dizzy is an egg with a face, boxing glove-clad arms and red boots, and his friends and family have, as usual, been teleported into various sticky situations from which they can’t extract themselves. This time however, it was Dizzy’s unseen spell book meddling that caused them to be trapped in the vast underground cavern, and the wizard Theo can only send them home one by one if Dizzy gives him one of their personal belongings (acquired by finding and talking to each character) along with five of the gold stars scattered liberally (but finitely) throughout the game world.

      The rescue of the Yolkfolk may be the main objective, but the game is a continuous battle of puzzle solving, most of which involves Dizzy having to re-trace his steps repeatedly to return with the appropriate item that will solve the dilemma. Action is not entirely linear, and each player will progress differently both at the beginning and even once they learn the game, but many actions need to be set in motion before further ones can be unlocked. The most obvious example is the Windy Shaft, which can only be entered (yes, yes) by carrying a rock to make Dizzy heavier. The more rocks he carries in his maximum capacity of four (two before finding a handy bag), the further he can travel, and the more items and characters he will encounter.

      Like all good adventure games, whether point-n-click, text-based or a two-dimensional platform game such as this, the game’s lifespan is extensive, and it takes a very long time to complete even if you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. The downside is that the game has no save option (unless you’re using an emulator with a built-in save facility, of course), meaning that my seven-year-old self would have to pause the game whenever I was forced to go anywhere, and switch off the Amiga monitor (so it looks like the computer’s off; I was crafty). This makes the dangerous obstacles posed by the enemies (fish, fire and various flying creatures), as well as the possibility of drowning, a severe risk, as Dizzy only has three lives. Food in the form of fruit and cakes can be eaten if found lying around on the floor, which replenishes Dizzy’s energy bar.

      Dizzy’s movements are controlled with a joystick, or the keyboard if you don’t have one, with ‘up’ causing Dizzy to jump vertically, and left and right moving in the respective directions. Diagonal jumping is achieved by pushing in the relevant direction, and the fire button brings up the small inventory, or interacts with any object or character that Dizzy is standing in front of. The fairly low budget game was shipped in a small box on a single floppy disc, and available in two different versions depending on the power of the personal computer, the main difference being in the coloured graphics and sound quality. The music is another drawback of the game, however nostalgic it makes me feel, as like all early Dizzy games the single tune is repeated endlessly throughout the game, which features no sound effects at all to break it up. The only release from the jolly synthesised flute and 80s bassline is the brief death melody when Dizzy loses a life.

      By contrast, the graphics (on the superior version at least) are very nice, if a little primitive. The predominant colours of orange rocks and black background become a little repetitive in the underground areas, but there’s enough variety in the form of foliage above ground and underwater areas to keep things from being too samey. Dizzy and the enemies are very clearly defined, and the only area that really suffers is the small images representing the items, as some are difficult to define until picked up, when they receive a brief text description. Character animation is limited, Dizzy’s default pose being a happy face with constantly waving arms, but it all serves to keep the costs down by avoiding unnecessary detail.

      Although dated as a video game, Spellbound Dizzy is as playable and enjoyable today as it was in 1990, although much harder to come by. It remains my favourite of all the Dizzy games for its different approach and distinctive look and feel, but essentially plays the same as the rest, even recycling one or two obstacle/solution ideas from its predecessors. It doesn’t look too impressive, and sounds tediously awful, but underneath the surface it’s a timeless game, and children will likely learn a thing or two from its imaginative and practical solutions to problems (examples include using the pepper pot on Willy Whale to make him sneeze a helpful jet of water from his blowhole, and fixing the minecart ride with a hammer and by adding a brakeshoe, to avoid going off the rails). Embedded advertisements for then-new Codemasters releases and references to Jeff Capes keep this firmly embedded in its time, and grant an endearing air of non-professionalism that is completely absent from the perfect programming.

      There are a few annoying aspects to gameplay in the form of jumps that can only be made from a very specific point, vital items that can be mistaken for scenery or accidental landings right in front of a deadly crab with no time to escape, but it’s a game I would return to repeatedly to enjoy playing again, despite knowing all the answers and knowing how much of my day it would consume. Some of the classic Dizzy games were made available to download at the Theo’s Grotto website at www.yolkfolk.com, but it looks like they’ve been taken down now due to copyright issues, though the lower quality fan games should still be available. Just find somewhere else to download them illegally instead, or failing that buy an old Amiga from eBay. What a machine!

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