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Gadzooks! Hugh Poynton takes a look at Mutation's new action puzzler.

Magic Castle Kingdoms is the third title from Mutation Software's Fun 'n' Value series. Although this is only release number three, you kind of know what to expect - cartoon characters, green baddies and a new take on an old idea.

Tin Toy Adventure looked and played like a classic old platformer, Tommy Gun resembled Terminator but with vegetables and this new addition harks back to the old wizards and warlocks, find the five gemstones type of games you'd have found on the Speccy or Vic 20.

Graphics apart, the game resembles something I had on the Vic when I was knee high to all action man. An evil sorcerer has split a magic amulet into five pieces and spread them about the land. Unless you retrieve the five pieces, the land will be plunged into darkness and will be ravaged by wizards for eternity, or something along those lines.

Your job is to retrieve the talisman and save the land. You shoot round maze-like castles, pick up keys, unlock doors and slay the little green bad guys.

So what's the game actually like? Well, I hate to say it, but slightly disappointing really. This magic stuff can get a little tedious sometimes, and this is one of those times. The storyline and plot are just too unoriginal. Tommy Gun was genuinely funny and quite amusing, but this just doesn't ring my bell.

Graphically, Magic Castle Kingdoms is something of a curate's egg. On the downside, the sprites are so small that playing the game gave me a ringing headache after a few minutes. Another criticism is that the monsters definitely look a little cack, the scariest ones look like they've escaped from a Doctor Who episode entitled Attack of the Unscary Monsters.

The castle layouts also look a little boring - if you look at the play area in The Chaos Engine for example, there are plenty of rooms to duck into and escape your opponents - not so in Magic Castle Kingdoms.

On the plus side, having to control five sprites simultaneously is quite a challenge. As each character's health runs out you must flip between them to enable those with less health to much up the health powerups.

Having said this, you'd probably find it less hassle to look after one character only - played like this your magical companions irritate the crap out of you. They follow the lead character around like some mentally handicapped clutch of chickens walking headlong into monsters and generally either getting in your way or getting themselves killed.

This game could well have benefited from being made a multiplayer game in the vein of the old Golden Axe. Instead of the characters getting each others way you could co-operate in complete the mission.

This game might well appeal to some - especially those with a predilection for retro gaming. It's a well made arcade puzzler, and for £14.99, not a bad game. Just not brilliant.

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Finding lost treasure and bravely fighting evil is just another day at the office for... oh hang on, it's Andy Smith...

After a very promising start with Tin Toy Adventure (AF89 79%). Mutation let us all down with the not very good Tommy Gun (AF94 50%). Castle Kingdoms, sees them going some way towards redeeming themselves.

It's an isometric 3D action adventure game, set in a (spook!) castle. Or several of them to be completely correct. You're controlling a party of five adventurers (Knight, Warrior, Wizard, Elf and Princess) who have to search each of the game's castles in an attempt to recover five hidden gem stones.

Moving your party through the game follows the familiar formula of one character being the leader (and therefore directly under your control) and the other members following the leader as he/she moves around. And of course, all of the castles are populated by baddies.

A large variety of these baddies there are too. Some come running out of doors, some hang around in windows and things, taking opportunistic pot-shots at you as you wander through the castle and others just seem to appear out of nowhere. Missing the pot-shot chaps is not too much bother because it's usually just a matter of timing your way past them - bearing in mind that your party move at different speeds. But tackling the other baddies involves shooting at them.

Other dangers exist but they're not too much trouble because you can usually walk round them (spikes out of the ground and things like that) but you do have to bear in mind the mindless way the other party members move, so there's always the danger they'll go wandering straight into the spkes that you've just skirted round.

Contact with any of the baddies will, naturally, harm your character and their state of health is indicated by a red heart under the character's name. Each time they take a hit, the heart reduces in size. This is a handy, at a glance way of knowing who;s closest to death an the character in most need can then be taken in hand and led around the level to pick up the bonuses that are lying around.

Bonuses include its of grub that restore health and amulets and potions that have various effects ranging form protecting the wearer for a short while. To increasing the shot power of weapons.

As well as bonuses there are other essentials that need to be collected - these are usually keys that are dropped when you kill a baddie but there are other things that need to be activated in order to progress. Switches on the walls activate teleports that take you to another part of the castle.

Unfortunately the rest of the party are too dumb to join in the firefights so you're constantly on your own when it comes to battles.

So that's about your lot really. And sadly, the total isn't more than its sum parts. The game just doesn't work as well as it could. One of the most annoying parts of it all is the way baddies keep re-appearing. You see a green blob come out of a door (no, really, a blob) so you get your current character to the front of the pack and blast away the blob.

Finally it dies when it's a couple of pixels away and hey! Presto, another blob comes flying out. This tends to make progress very tedious, especially when combined with very weak shots at the beginning and the amount of damage the baddies can cause.

Eventually you end up playing the game by just taking the one character and getting them to run around the level as fast as possible. Obviously this doesn't work too well and you tend to lose all the other characters (through being killed by the baddies, not by being left behind) but it's worth it because there are other gameplay features that can be employed to give you a bit of an edge - finding a teleport for example then transports your whole party, no matter where they were to the start of the next part of castle.

This isn't a bug as such and it's easy to see why Mutation have done this but it's just a feature that screams out to be exploited.

It tried again and again to play the game with a bit of pre-planning, a bit of though. By moving cautiously, taking the baddies out as best as possible before any damage can be inflicted, getting the right characters to pick up the right bonuses and I was just left with a very empty feeling. It's not as if the game is dreadful, there's plenty of adventuring to be done because the levels are big enough and there's plenty of shooting action (and treasure to pick up, just for the hell of it really). It's just that it has so much more potential.

By simply addressing a few fundamentals, Mutation could have made this a whole lot more fun - it could so easily have been like a Valhalla game with shooting instead of puzzles. Sadly, it just doesn't get you fired up at all.

Even just making the characters different by noticeably changing the shots for example - especially when it comes to fighting at the start of the game - would have made the game a whole lot more involving.

As it stands Castle Kingdoms is an alright game that doesn't manage to come together as well as we'd all hoped and consequently just ends up filling the gap between Tin Toy and Tommy Gun.

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Price: £12.99 (incl P&p) Publisher: Mutation Software 01705 672616

Gauntlet twisted into an isometric perspective? The classic coin-op is updated with Mutation's latest offering.

Ohhhh... yes indeedy, we decrepit old gamers remember an arcade adventure called Gauntlet which was in its time the most fantastic multi player game since the invention of the microchip. Dungeons and Dragons from an overhead perspective, Gauntlet allowed up to four gamers at the same time to adopt the role of Dwarf, Warrior, Elf or Priest and charge around complex mazes fighting assorted nasties while collecting food and potions.

Amiga gamers were hoping that when the Amiga version of the game finally came out, it would be totally faithful to the original coin-op. Alas, our wait was never repaid. All these years on and a game appears which looks like Gauntlet's great grandson. Could it recapture that old excitement? Enough of my nostalgia, let's get on and discuss Castle Kingdoms.

The game world of Castle Kingdoms is divided into five distinct sections, or castles. In a throwback to the classic RPG plot lines of the past, the aim is to recover the five mystical gemstones, hidden within each castle kingdom, that form a powerful magic talisman.

Leading a party of five adventurers - Knight, Princess, Warrior, Elf and Wizard - you have to fight your way through the hordes of demented creatures that are let loose upon you. As you penetrate the castle's defences, you find potions and spells which you can pick up and use to your own advantage.

Lemming devils
The graphics are stylistically somewhere between the cute Japanese RPG style of Zelda and the distinctive race of little people that populate Sensible Software games. The isometric layout of the mazes works very nicely and is full of atmosphere, although the graphics aren't in the same league as the likes of Chaos Engine 2, and the over flattened perspective can be confusing.

Castle Kingdoms is easy to get into and flows well enough, but lacks weight. There is no multi-player option, which is a real oversight. It was in multi-player mode that the original Gauntlet really shone. Multi player modes can turn an otherwise ordinary game into a masterpiece, and a game like this just cries out for it.

The rather limited 'intelligence' of your foes means that they have a tendency to run around rather more like slightly miffed chickens than fiendish orcs. The level of challenge they provide is fairly constant. Progressing through the levels gives you little feeling that you are moving forwards so much as sideways, the castles differing a lot in colour but not much anywhere else.

Castle Kingdoms is an average game, but way too easy and far too repetitive for the seasoned Amiga games player. I managed to make my way to the end on my first game. That in itself is its biggest stumbling block. Even though it's quite cheap any game needs to present some kind of challenge. Even so, it could be worth a look if you specifically need a game that's not too taxing, maybe for very young kids.