Aliens have studied martial arts

Prison logo

THE scene is set with some omninous yet funky music. A large domed city is in the distance. As the sun rises over it you can make out some rather large cracks. Clearly this is a city requiring serious repair work. What is worse is that you are stuck inside it with nothing but a pair of jeans, a T-shirt and your wits to help you. You are in Prison.

The display is halved between your various scores, lives, objects held, status windows and so on, and a graphical representation of your whereabouts. Your persona in the game is a well programmed male figure. He walks and jumps left and right using about 16 frames of animation, and very smooth it looks too.

The backgrounds are well drawn, colourful and detailed. Although the desolation can get very depressing, the occasional touch of humour cheers things up.

The only way to escape from Prison is to solve a series of puzzles using the various objects you will find. These are sometimes hard to distinguish from the backgrounds, so the little red light which flashes on the status screen is appreciated.

If nothing is immediately obvious, selecting the Search option will cause your figure to spin on the spot and have a good nose around. This can get a bit tedious at times, especially when someone has thoughtfully placed some boobytraps. The same mad bomber has placed mines in the footpaths, so not only do you have to watch out for objects and aliens, but you have to watch where you put your feet.

The puzzles start at the Sun reader level but progress quickly enough to make things interesting. The first problem is how to get the lift doors open so you can move to the next level. Sure enough, not a million miles away you find a plastic access card and a piece of wire. But now a dilemma: Do you try using the card, or do you bypass the lift door with the wire? The wrong decision means the end of the game. This is where the Save Game option is invaluable.

The arcade action comes in the form of some nasty aliens who seem to have studied too many Bruce Lee martial arts films. You can punch and kick them, but if they get too close they’ll take you in a stranglehold from which only a frantic waggling of the joystick will save you.

The sampled sound of some poor soul choking is thoughtfully played to remind you that you are dying.

Prison is a good blend of puzzles and occasional Kung-Fu fighting. Although not startlingly original, it is well done and fun to play.

Prison logo

Price: £19.99

Don’t hold your breath, as this is not the licence of ‘Cell Block H’. And sadly, you won’t be leading Bea and friends on a mass breakout. Prison, in fact, has very little to do with prisons at all. The scenario is that you’ve been stranded on a particularly unpleasant planet. It must’ve been a nasty experience with unleaded fuel, because you need to find some vital engine parts for your spacecraft to ensure your escape.

The hero of the piece is a psychotic Schwarzenegger type carrying an incongruous looking backpack. Unfortunately there are no Youth Hostels on the radioactive horizon and you will no doubt have realised by now, this is an arcade adventure.

The screens of the game are non-scrolling with exits at either side, or back and front, where appropriate. A large portion of the screen is dedicated to various controls. There are two boxes, which represent pockets. Pick up an object and a little piccy will appear indicating its presence on your person.

In between your pockets is a glowing triangle, subdivided into three. It represents the quantity of lifeforce you have left (of course, you have three lives). Just to the right of that is a small orange light. This, believe it or not, represents your intuition – when you come across a screen with something interesting in it, it lights up. This is rather fortunate, because to search for a location you first have to access an option from a joystick operated menu, and Prison is a game with a lot of locations to be searched.

There are some nice touches in the objects you can pick up to assist you, like the watch that, if you strap it onto your wrist, will tell you the time as the game clock turns from night to day, darkening and lightning the screens accordingly. For some reason, however, if you find an object with your pockets full, the game won’t allow you to pick it up. So you have to wander around with just a single object in case you come across something really useful (though it’s possible that this is a program flaw that will be sorted out by the time it reaches you).

There’s more to Prison than just this. Sooner or later you’ll come across some characters you can interact with, but some are just out for a rumble. When they do speak, the words scroll across a bar at the top of the screen and you can select an appropriate response from the options given.

Though there are some nice and imaginative backgrounds in Prision, the train and the nightclub to mention just two, the characters are more than a little cliched. A reasonably pleasant alien looks like Yoda, the nasty aliens, like Aliens and the droids look the spit of the droids from ‘The Black Hole’. Very dull.

Combat initially looks promising with your character able to execute a good number of Double Dragon style moves, but loses interest because everything is so easy to defeat. Aliens are very few and far between and, since there’s precious little else to do when they’re not around, the game is dangerously unbalanced.

Some of the better touches in this game are marred by the gameplay. A little more thought would have raised it about the average. If maze games appeal to you (and they certainly don’t to me) this is quite a good one. The puzzles are largely a matter of trial and error rather than brain power and the whole thing could have been made a lot simpler if you’d been given a ball of string.