I hate this game, not in a rational or critical way, but with an instinctive loathing that is hard to quantify. When writing reviews of 8-bit games I hated it. I'd escaped to the Amiga, but only to find them hunting me down here too. This exhibits some of the worst tendencies ever seen in computer gaming, it looks terrible, is over five years old and I'm not very good at it!
A common slight of reviewers is to liken 16-bit graphics to those of the Spectrum, but for once, this is truly justified. Head Over Heels is drawn in pixely patches of single colours, there's little shading and no subtlety. They can, at best, be described as self-mockingly jolly. On top of this, the action is displayed in an isometric 3D-perspective. If you've never played a game in this mode, then you don't know the frustrations that come from having all your joystick commands twisted through 45 degrees. It's unnatural and incredibly hard to map.
Head Over Heels sounds as bas as it looks, with jingle tunes that jangle the nerves and sound effects that hiss their way through the speaker. A silly soundtrack is fine for cute games, but they need to be above the Benny Hill standard set here. The reasons I hate the game is it simply feels too bad to be good. But much to my chagrin it is good, good in the extreme.
The tale consists of two strange symbiotic creatures: Head and Heels. When together they can link up and share their skills but when separated one has the edge in terms of horizontal speed, while the other can leap tall things in a single bound. These two cutesy types begin the game at opposite ends of a dungeon-like complex. The first aim is to get the two of them together, which requires much flipping between the characters, negotiating of traps and masses of mapping.
Most rooms in the maze contain a single, fatal puzzle. These problems test joystick agility, lateral thinking and your intuitive understanding of the isometric system. The most common of these tests involve deadly floors and a series of floating platforms which have to be leapt upon. If you're not totally familiar with the oddities of such a 3D system, then misjudgement can be a frequent killer.
Once Head and Heels are joined, then the game puts the hooks in. You wander around a bit feeling all hunky, with the abilities of both creatures combined. Then you're forced to break the partnership by yet more puzzles. It's frustrating as hell, all that work smashed to pieces by another series of mind and joystick twisters. But it does force you to get stuck in, so they can be reunited again.
Luckily Head Over Heels is littered with humorous touches, many of which disguise sly gameplay agents. The Reincarnation fish for instance, is effectively a system that allows you to restart the game where you last touched a fish. it neatly side-steps the need for a saves disk while encouraging continual play, because these points are only saved in RAM.
The playability has been banged to rights. There's even a chance to tweak the controls before you get started, tailoring the game towards your own particular style. This, combined with an excellently judged pace, are all that the 8-bit wonder from yesteryear has to offer the modern 16-bit gamester. It looks like a game from the Stone Age, but its split-character design remains as challenging as ever.
I still hate Head Over Heels. the garish graphics and tinny sound are soon submerged in the twisted world of isometric mazes, floating platforms and fatal traps. It's definitely not to everyone's taste (especially mine) but then £8 is not that big a gamble!