Psygnosis must be going really soft in it's old age. To say that Rascal is a slight departure for the Liverpool-based coders is a huge understatement. Gone are the gut-ripping weapons and high speed chases in favour of a cutesy 3-D platform romp. For starters, it’s geared towards entertaining the youngest possible age group (8-12 year-olds to be precise), and because of this, it’s bound to alienate a lot of seasoned gamers who’d no doubt complete it within a couple of days. This is not to say that older gamers won’t enjoy the well defined graphics and intuitive control system. Rascal is, however, pretty easy to get through. Unless you’re wearing a bib, mastering the basics of running, jumping and dodging will ensure that each level should be negotiated without too much trouble and this is a shame because games these days need more challenge, not less.
You play the part of the titular Rascal, who must travel through time trying to rescue your father, Professor Casper Clockwise (scientific adviser to N.A.T.O) from the vile clutches of the Chronon, who has stolen his plans for a time travelling vessel. This has naturally given Psygnosis real artistic licence to create diverse and colourful worlds, and has you tramping around castle dungeons one minute and swimming around the depths of Atlantis the other. In true Crystal Maze fashion, there are six different zones in total to get through: Castle, Aztec, Western, Galleon, Atlantis and the Lab where you begin the adventure. By jumping through time gates Rascal can visit each of these locations in either the past, present or future (all of them different, thus creating 18 totally unique worlds in total). To complete each one you must collect the four special segments necessary to activate the warp to another level, only then can you get on with the ultimate goal of rescuing the professor and saving the fabric of time.
Rascal himself looks superb and the screen resolution is pretty high considering the game engine sprints along at 50 frames-per-second. You play from a third person perspective although the intelligent camera allows players to manipulate the view through 360°. This works well initially, but the camera often struggles to encompass a full view of things, especially when you’re in a corner or up against a wall. All of the inhabitants encountered throughout your travels lose none of their sharpness, even up close which is amazing.
Special mention should go to Jim Henson’s creature Workshop, which designed Rascal and many other of the characters – they’re beautifully animated and compliment the environments in which they roam perfectly. Not only this, but as characters move around, the lighting is altered in real time according to their environment; adding stunning levels of depth.
The creatures in Rascal’s world come in many shapes and sizes, from insignificant pests such as moths and parrots to enormous flame belching dragons and sea serpents.
No matter where you are, small creatures and human characters appear from nowhere and get under your feet; sapping that vital energy. In fact, it’s quite a good strategy to leg it as fast as you can avoiding any contact with them at all if you can, because when a level ends you have to confront all the creatures you’ve encapsulated with your bubble-gun.
Due to its simplistic nature, Rascal can become very samey after prolonged play. For the greater part of the game you just run around collecting ammo for your bubble-gun and colour-coded keys for special exits, with the odd lever to pull here and there. At certain points, the action changes completely, usually in the form of a rollercoaster- type section which has you hurtling down a huge incline. But other than this brief respite, there’s not an awful lot of gameplay variety.
From a technical point of view Rascal scores highly, and younger readers will enjoy its simplistic appeal, but if you’re a veteran platform gamer think long and hard before parting with the folding stuff. One thing is certain, if Psygnosis can utilise this engine for an older audience, it’ll be onto a sure fire winner.