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Asterix and the Great Escape
The French comic book star Asterix has questionable appeal across the globe (especially in the US and Japan), but has still been the topic of a literal smorgasbord of games.
This Mega Drive is far from the worst outing for the French ‘hero’ (although I will admit I have played only a few Asterix titles), but it still has some sizeable flaws that make it hard to truly enjoy.
The standard plot involves Getafix and Dogmatix getting kidnapped by the Romans, with Asterix and his rotund pal Obelix setting off to rescue them.
To do this they travel across Europe completing short stages.
You can choose between Asterix and Obelix before you enter each stage, although you can only select the other (if you want to) when you lose all your lives and use a continue.
The game starts as it means to go on however, giving you no guidance and beating you over the head with a misjudged difficulty level.
Opening with a simple stage set in a village that lasts around a minute, the game then truly throws you into the deep end with the second level.
It not only demands that you to know how to equip items, it also expects you to realise that you have to go backwards from where you start to grab an essential potion.
Even if you do somehow figure that out you’ll need to act fast – the clock is ticking.
The time-keeping aspect is one of the most notable elements of the game in fact, and helps and hinders the title in equal measure.
You are rarely given any time at all to complete levels, and you’ll often be reaching the ‘exit’ (a special potion) with milliseconds to spare.
Obviously this is massively unfair at times, but it does inject an added amount of tension and panic when you’re leaping and punching your way through stages.
Unfortunately constant design mis-steps threaten to make the game an entirely frustration filled affair.
One example is the underwater level that arrives early on. Even when you overlook the design inconsistency (in one of the previous stages touching water hurt you) it’s still got a sadistic streak a mile wide.
It not only has an irritating wibbly-wobbly filter in front of the screen, there are also foreground objects that actively hide dangers from you.
The main example is falling blocks, and the seaweed mostly conceals them from you – meaning you’ll have to tread very carefully.
But a conservative approach isn’t possible if you’re going to complete stages in time, as previously mentioned.
So here lies the game’s main problem, and if a correct balance between challenge and unfairness had been found this could have been a hidden gem.
As it stands the game only occasionally glimmers – some potion based abilities are genuinely interesting, such as ones that inflate you and help you build cloud platforms – but is ultimately dulled by repeatedly poor design choices.
It still looks good though, and it’s colourful cartoon graphics and comic book flourishes (see the ‘paf!’ bubble in the screenshot above) have clearly had a lot of work invested into them.
It’s just a shame you can’t say the same for the gameplay.