In the past, the Readysoft series of laser-disk conversions have been criticised for their lack of true player participation. While this is admittedly a valid point, the argument behind the programmers' thinking is that for it to be a true conversion, the control method of the original coin-op - along with any other notable features - should be kept as close as possible.
A few years ago, a compromise of sorts was made with the release of Software Projects' two 8-bit Lair games, and whilst these were invariably more playable than the coin-op scenes they were based on, they were still criticised - this time for not being 'true' conversion!
However, by now, people know what to expect from these popular conversions - i.e. the aforementioned limited controls, and their customary, stunning graphics and sound.
This latest instalment picks up the story a few years after Dirk's climatic battle in Singe's Castle, with his hapless fiancée, the delectable Daphne, spirited through a hole in time by the evil wizard, Mordoc. Jealous of her beauty, Mordoc plans to make her his bride during a rather rushed wedding, sealing his control over her with the mysterious Death Ring.
Naturally, Dirk isn't too taken with this idea and, scooping up his trusty sword, prepares to track down his bride-to-be. The game opens with Dirk seated at the dinner table, next to his family of Dirklettes and Granny. On hearing the news of Daphne's abduction, the aging battleaxe blames Dirk for her daughter's constant strife at the hands of unnatural elements, and prepares to educate him with her rolling pin. From here, Dirk is chase into the now-empty Castle Singe, and through the many corridors and secret rooms that make up the ominous building.
In all, there are some fifty scenes for Dirk to make his way though, and each screen is full of unspeakable horrors that are just waiting to prematurely end his quest.
As Dirk battles his way further into the game's six disks, the story starts to unfold. Having avoided a number of reptilian antagonists, Dirk stumbles across a rickety old time machine. Realising that the ramshackle device could take him through the time wrinkle Mordoc used to capture Daphne, he then enters the machine and teleports to the wicked warlock's lair for the final confrontation.
Unlike the first game in the series, most of the scenes move directly into the next, ensuring that the gameplay flows (which is essential in a fast-moving game such as this), and each disk holds roughly eight scenes so that swapping is kept to a bare minimum. Likewise, owners of two or more drives will find that the disk swapping is barely noticeable. In fact, every care has been taken to make the game easy to get into (even though it can be frustrating to play), and there are absolutely no delays or annoying pauses between scenes.
And, in terms of presentation, Timewarp also abandons the 'helper' system used in the Singe's castle adventure, and drops the player straight in at the deep end.
As a rule, you're either a fan of the Readysoft games, or you can't stand them. Personally, I must admit to liking them. Granted, they aren't particularly playable, but there is still a lot of enjoyment to be gained from the trial and error methods required to clear a screen.
In addition, the save game option (which first appeared in Space Ace) steers clear of the repetition of playing the early levels too often, although on the downside it does reduce its playing time considerably. Apart from that, it's all familiar ground The graphics and sound are all up to their usual high standard, with superb cartoon-style animation and suitably loud sound effects and speech, and the speed with which the screens flow into each other makes for a fast-paced game.
I won't harp on about the lack of control over the action, but fans of the genre know what to expect, and this episode in the series delivers enough thrills and spills to keep even the most ardent Dirk fan busy. Others, though, along with people who object to paying nearly fifty quid for a barely interactive cartoon, would be better off leaving it alone.