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Format reviewed: Atari 8-bit
Developer: Yoomp! Team
Submitted by: James Monkman
"Don't tell any Atari 8-bit users it's Trailblazer in a tube 'cos they'll go mental!" was the message relayed to me by T.M.R as he gave me a heads-up about the release of Yoomp!, but to be fair – and I'm a die-hard Atarian myself – that's pretty much a spot-on description of this new title from Poland. To be precise (and as confirmed by the authors of the game) Yoomp! is actually a cylindrical reinterpretation of another 8-Bit Atari game called 'Jump' by D. Johannsen, originally released back in 1986 – coincidentally the same year as the aforementioned Trailblazer. Bouncing a ball along a path full of obstacles was quite clearly all the rage back in the 1980's, and it's a theme that the Yoomp! team have done a fantastic job of updating in their 2007 ABBUC SW Compo-winning smash.
As soon as you load up the game you know you are in for something special – Yoomp!'s main menu is outstanding; with it's beautifully pixelled title graphics, rotating starfield, bouncing ball sprite and pulsing stero soundtrack you could easily be mistaken into thinking that you'd actually loaded up a well-coded cracktro instead of a game. Seriously, Yoomp! has set the benchmark by which future Atari XE/XL releases will be judged in RGCD when it comes to presentation. Player controls and the various tile types are identified and explained as a series of messages displayed at the bottom of the screen, and as well as the sound and background options you are also given the ability to continue from any of your previously beaten levels (until the Atari is turned off, of course). This is a really nice feature as it makes the game far more accessible to casual players – after all, there's a quite a lot of game to beat here; a perfect run takes in excess of 20 minutes from start to finish.
Regardless of whether or not Yoomp! is based on Trailblazer, the game itself played exactly as I'd expected from T.M.R's initial description and the psuedo-3D arcade/puzzle hybrid action is every bit as addictive as that of the Gremlin Graphics classic. The only obstacle I had to overcome was the fact that the left and right controls really need to be thought of as anti-clockwise and clockwise – for example, when you are upside down on the top of the tube, pressing right will actually result in your ball moving to the left. As soon as I'd got my head around that (which admittedly cost me a life or two), I found myself whizzing through the superbly designed levels with ease.
In the opening stages you are gently introduced to the different tile and bonus types, consisting of clearly identifiable patterns for jumps, holes, save points, directional shifters, teleports, tunnel stop and start, increase and decrease brightness, lightning, earthquake – and of course the occasional extra life and long jump pick-ups. A genuinely helpful and aesthetically pleasing aspect of the game-play is that your ball's bouncing rhythm is in time with the backing music, meaning that not only is it easier to judge where you ball will next touch down (which is also aided by it's shadow), but as each tile has a different sound effect your movements effectively add another layer of percussion over the electronica soundtrack – similar (in a very basic sense) to that witnessed in Rez. This, combined with the visual effects caused by the lightning and earthquake tiles, really makes Yoomp! stand-out from it's ball-bouncing peers; it's probably one of the few 8-Bit releases that's (almost) as enjoyable to experience as a spectator as it is to actually play.
In conclusion, even when compared to the other high-calibre Atari releases reviewed in this issue, it's clear why Yoomp! was awarded first place in this year's competition – the development team have taken a simple idea and moulded it into an original (at least in terms of perspective), highly polished, fast-paced, visually impressive and highly enjoyable homebrew classic.