Drowning under a sea of Midget Gems may be the ultimate Childhood fantasy, but if it ever actually came true the shock could be too much for some.
Midget Gems are those fabulous sweets that have been variously described as "like wine gums but harder", "brilliant" and "those things broke my tooth you know". They come in assorted colours and flavours, from liquorice to strawberry, and are shaped something like a cup cake turned upside down, and shrunk a hundred times.
Now this begs an interesting question: how the hell do you know it is upside down? Is there some kind of microscopic message that reads "this way up" that we only become aware of on a subliminal level?
Or is it some kind of primitive instinct that has been handed down through the genes of generations of dedicated Midget Gem eaters that makes us all blissfully aware of exactly which way round the conical confectionery should go? Or some kind of plot by some crooked political faction to subvert the nation's sweet eaters?
Imagine the effect if all of a sudden the people were told that their favourite sweets had been the wrong way up all along - never will a milk carton be opened the same way, people will be forever juggling their bags of Monster Munch in an effort to suss out which end to open.
But what has all this wibble got to do with a game? Probably very little but the dangerous similarity between the antagonists in this game and the aforementioned Midget Gems is quite disturbing. It made me wonder. Why? Well you see it all started like this...
The Sorcerer's apprentice decided, in a very Mickey Mouse kind of way, that sweeping the floors and learning to cast "Banish Earwax" and "Remove Navel Fluff" spells was no longer enough. Yes, the impatience of youth was beginning to become impossible to bear.
It all came to a head when the Sorcerer had to go on some urgent errand (apparently Spells 'R' Us were having a bulk shift of bat's wings and the guy just couldn't afford to miss out) so he told the apprentice not to touch anything - especially not the big interesting-
Curiosity suitably aroused, the apprentice could hardly wait for the old codger - he was at Methusaleh's twenty first - to go so he could grab a shufti at the spell book and get the case open.
Minutes later, straining under the weight of the dust which the sorcerer paid someone to painstakingly apply to the spell book every day for that "authentic" feel, our apprentice carried the book to the lectern. Upon opening this copious tome the aura of magic around it was all-consuming, drawing in, seducing the apprentice. Soon he found the spell he needed - 'How to open a big, interesting-
He recited the spell: "He's 'ere, 'e's there, é's every flamin' where 'e's Brian McClair, 'e's Brian McClair", and soon there was a glowing ball hovering just in front of his nose. He gathered it in his shivering hands and flung the orb at the case. It disappeared into the keyhole.
The case began jumping around the table in that drawing-
Convinced he had failed in his first meanderings into grown-up magic he went over to the case and stared at it, only to be flung back in surprise as the case's lid flew open and out came millions upon millions (well, quite a few) of Midget Gems. Sorry. Fuzzballs.
"Drat" he thought. Or something. He had to think fast, he had to cast a spell that would put them all back in the case - then no-one would be any the wiser. Obvious really. "Always look on the bright side of life [whistley bit]". Disaster! The apprentice was a Fuzzball. "Damn," he said.
When the Sorcerer returned the apprentice/
The air was turned blue as the Sorcerer returned and made some swift mental calculations as to what exactly had gone on - he was clever like that.
The punishment was simple. Clear the 50 chambers of the castle of every single little furry thingy, then maybe the Sorcerer will see fit to return the apprentice to his human form, and let him keep his job.
Cue fifty level platform game. The objective is simple. As a Fuzzball, you must negotiate the intricate one screen levels and collect all the jewels - which are there for no reason that I can fathom out, but they do help the gameplay. Oh, and shoot all the rouge Fuzzballs.
Sounds easy, but there is a lot more to it. If you can do it then it is perfectly acceptable to just take the jewels and forget the Fuzzballs, but in practice this is usually impossible.
There are four different kinds of Fuzzball - green, purple, black and red. Green are the easiest to get rid off, red the worst. The principle of destroying them is quite simple - using the little balls that you can split you hit them enough times to turn them into mini versions of the next colour up.
This mini ball will bounce for four times giving you the chance to touch it and get rid of it completely. If you don't manage to touch it, then it transfers to the next and more dangerous colour, green to purple, purple to black and so on.
Each colour of Fuzzball has its own behaviour pattern. Green will just move back and forth in a confined space, purple will do the same until you jump onto the same platform when they will race towards you, black will race back and forth over several platforms, turning when you jump onto their route and red will do the same but an awful lot faster.
The Fuzzball you control must jump around, across, up and down the numerous platforms of the level. Often the route around the screen must be planned very carefully because it is impossible to get off certain platforms. Some of them you won't need to go near, but once per level you will find one with a jewel on that must be left until last, and it won't always be particularly obvious.
The later levels need a lot of thought before even moving as to exactly how they are going to be tackled. IT will often be a little less than clear as to exactly what you are going to have do. But that is all part of the challenge.
Graphically it can't be faulted - it possesses that coin-op feel that Parasol Stars has, but goes one better. It gradually progresses through four distinct graphical styles, that provide a variety in the backgrounds to keep the interest up. With the added bonus of a high class animated intro dramatising the above, it will beguile the player from the start.
The sound is initially a bit iffy as the intro tune sounds as though it would be more at home on the ST, but in game it improves to the point where you can almost fail to notice that there are only about three different sound effects. A game like this needs a lot of unnecessary sounds to liven it up and make it more enjoyable, and to give it a chance of standing up against other games in the genre.
The playability is superb - the levels are all challenging and there are no easy levels to give you a rest. The main Fuzzball is extremely manoeuvrable and provides lots of fun. This, though, also presents a problem - for less experienced gamers the high difficulty level right form the start will prove to be a turn off, but for hardened joystick bashers it will be a godsend.
The biggest thing in its favour is its price - £20 for this kind of game is very keen marketing, but it does mean that it is a very strong game at a very good price.