Pneumatic weapon, eh? Just thank your lucky stars Gary isn't doing this review, that's all. P.P. Hammer And His Double Entendre is a puzzle-platform-arcade game type of thing, featuring the eponymous hero (and indeed his eponymous 'thing') in dozens of levels of treasure-gathering fun and larks. Anyone who remembers the 8-bit cult legend Lode Runner will find P.P. Hammer And His Palpitating Mechanism strangely familiar, but for everybody else, here's a quick rundown of the basic principle.
P.P. (Peter Purves, perhaps?) finds himself ina maze of platforms and ladders, which is also full of lovely treasure. Before P.P. (Prince Paul?) can leave the maze and move onto the next one, he has to collect every single piece of booty, a task which is made harder than it might seem by the fact that many of the desirable facts are found buried deep below several layers of seemingly-impenetrable rock.
Luckily, P.P. (Penelope Pitstop?) had the foresight to bring along with him his pneumatic weapon (or 'drill') with which he can dig through the rock and get to the treasure, but he is handicapped by the fact that he can only dig through rock which is below and to the side of him, and not that directly underneath.
Also (a bit of a departure from the laws of physics at this point), after a short while any rock which P.P. (Pretty Polly?) has blasted his way through will re-form itself in the space it originally occupied, so our hero can find himself trapped, or even worse, caught in the middle of the re-forming rock and turned into a human fossil.
Oh, and if things weren't tough enough, the levels are also infested with nasty little animals, pools of water (P.P. can't swim), fire pits (P.P. isn't made of asbestos), shaky bits of ceiling that will plummet to the ground at the slightest provocation (like P.P. being somewhere in their general vicinity), sticky ground that slows his movement, and icy floors that he skids across uncontrollably. P.P. i sn't the kind of chap to let such trifles dissuade him, but he's going to need some help to come out in one piece. And that's where you come in.
P.P. Hammer And His Quivering Implement is essentially a very simple game, so it's an easy one to just pick up and play. Once you grasp the basic concept of the drilling mechanism, it's all very straightforward. Complications set in very straightforward. Complications set in very quickly though, in the form of locked doors, apparent dead ends, unscaleable walls and more. These are dealt with by means of various keys and potions which P.P. can find lying around in the mazes and pick up, to be used at a late date. (Up to five can be carried at one tie).
This makes things just a little too involved for my personal taste and smacks of lazy design (the strength of Lode Runner was in the amazing flexibility the small number of gameplay elements allowed, but in P.P. Hammer And His Vibrating Tool the programmers have too much scope for faffing around with the basic principle, and it makes the game feel less and it makes the game feel less cohesive), but many people will probably disagree with me, and it's not too disastrous in any case.
What I can't forgive is the uncomfortably heavy reliance on that ancient cop-out, invisibiity. After the first few levels the game is plagued with invisible floor squares and invisible teleports, which is a ludicrous and unfair way of making a game difficult.
To my mind, progress through a game should be a product of skill and reactions, not the result of a series of stab-in-the-dark guesses. In a very similar vein, the appearance of no-warning spike traps (like the ones in Rick Dangerous 2 is indicative of an unpleasant smugness on the part of the programmer, and has no place in a puzzle game, which is what this is. It's all very well to say, 'Ah, but after you've seen them once you know where they are, so you can avoid them subsequently', but if that's the case, why bother putting them in there at all? Being killed by something you had absolutely no way of anticipating and no chance to react to is an annoying and pointless thing to have happen in a computer game, and it gets my back up in a very major way.
While I'm in a moaning kind of mood, another thing I don't like to see when playing a game is a message saying 'Disk Operation, Loading Level 2' (with a little picture of a disk just to emphasise the point). Call me romantic, but I don't wish to know that, I don't want to know what's going on in the mechanics of the game code. Playing a game should be like transporting yourself into another little world for a while, and something like this spoils the atmosphere and the continuity and brings everything crashing shabbily back down to Earth. It's something far too many games fall victim to, and the campaign to put a stop to it starts here.
And one more thing while I'm about it - is it strictly necessary for level codes in a game like this to be things like 'GQDJKITR'? Would it really kill the programmers to think of a few proper eight letter words? Dictionaries are full of them, it's not hard, and it's always better to be able to say to your chums, 'Hey, I found out the code to level 2, it's, erm, GFRU - no, DJT, erm, well, I've got it written down at home, anyway...'. I'm being really picky, I know, but I just can't see the point of being so willfully bereft of imagination.
Okay, gripping over, what are P.P. 's good points? Well, the little chap himself is full of character, especially when he ducks down and hides inside his hard hat in moments of danger. He really puts his heart into it when he's digging, too, and his wiggly dance after completing a level is cheeky and cute.
The graphics are generally good - just large enough to have character and just small enough that you can fit a decent number of puzzles on the screen at any one time. Playability scores highly too, as does addictiveness (with loads of differently-styled levels, secret rooms to discover and so on), and if the sound is bloody awful (okay, the actual sound is fine, but the music is just plain hideous), well, that just goes to show you can't have everything.
So the question is, 'Do the good points of P.P. Hammer And His Throbbing Instrument outweigh the bad ones?
And the conclusive answer is, 'Well, erm, maybe.
This game is extremely irritating in many ways, and distinctly mediocre in others, but its playability has kept me coming back to it quite a few times this month. There's a code after every level, so it's easy just tp pick it up for an hour, do a couple of screens, and then leave it again to come back to another day. In this way it's a game that could last you a pretty long time, and even if it never raises the kind of thrills of a Switchblade 2, it's a pleasant way to spend a few days of game playing. Whether 'pleasant' is a good enough reason for you to fork out 25 or not is up to you.