During the 80’s and 90’s if movies and TV shows taught me anything, it was that science was a fantastical beast allowing in the right hands to enable time travel, creating super powers and even in some cases with the appropriate bra strapped to your head and the right 8bit technology, creating your perfect woman. School science seemed to be the closest many of us got to these lofty heights, showing us that lab coats created an aura of knowledge & authority and that with the right chemical mix you could make something fizzy, something smelly, or something explosive.. a subject tested both in the class room and in the toilets after. That and school aprons were near-indestructible!
So over to Revanox Bio-Chemical Research we go, more specifically the pharmaceutical and beauty division. To meet Professor Poldark, a labcoat who enjoys giving test rabbits facials and some great lipstick to wear (One for the RSPCA guys to get involved in..)
And then… disaster! As along comes the Military dropping along the way a boatload of Micro-bot Wasps, Lipstick missiles and genetically modified spiders (or are they ants?) invading your lab and generally being as welcome as the kid with nits at school. Having watched way too much of his namesake, Poldark grabs anything he can to take on the approaching enemy, accidently covering himself in more chemicals than your average commercial vegetable. Poldark immediately loses consciousness.
Upon waking up, you find yourself lying on the desktop measuring only an inch high!! With your only hope to resolve your predicament is by finding the aptly named Embiggan Totalis Elixir (which could just as easily be something Ron Weasley propositioned to Hermione on their honeymoon). Part of which is on the top shelf in your room, with the remaining ingredients scattered around the room to complete the potion!
Having focused my playthrough on the 48/128k version of the game, although the ULA version is also available for additional colours. The games visual big, bold and beautiful layout flows naturally over the whole game, especially during the transition from room to room. One thing that should be highlighted is John Blyth’s overall level design when mapped actually does form an impressive lab layout, logical in it’s route and when coupled with the devious positioning of enemy characters per screen does keep the frame and pulse rate flowing at a high level.
Sound wise, everything felt clean and crisp with a natural rhythm in line with the action on screen allowing for some careful precision jumping to be confidently performed using the audio cues for timing. The core music playing through out the game is gorgeous, harking back and inspired by some of the best synth tunes the machine had in it’s prime, and best of all? It doesn’t become remotely annoying as you play the game to it’s conclusion. Although the volume of the main track does overshadow the SFX at times which is a minor gripe but nothing that effects the core game.
Though ‘The Incredible Shrinking Professor’ is a fine game, it’s no walk in the park either, which is my main concern for newcomers to platforming on the ZX Spectrum, who will find losing lives within the first two screens to become quite a regular event until you slowly discover the optimum path and timing to escape each rooms deviously placed challenges. While most of us enjoy the challenge of a steep learning curve, the game could’ve done more to develop unskilled players to the hazards about to be encountered. Or by taken a leaf from similar adventures by randomising the start location. Instead it’s not until screen four that options for traversing the areas becomes available, forcing the players to pass seven well timed obstacles before exploration becomes an option. During this review I have caught myself swearing at more than one inappropriately placed bug on my journey to reverting my diminutive status, which I still feel could’ve been reduced somewhat by having a more defined difficulty curve. Encouraging and rewarding players for their skill by varying level design and enemy types the further you proceed.
It’s this key point which can effect the longevity of this game. As the dedicated players, on mastering their game will find little to return back to unless they aim to hone their skills for a record run time. While newcomers will no doubt play for a few minutes, become frustrated by the inability to progress and explore further on the initial static route, and reset for an arcade classic, or some egg based franchise for a more relaxed adventure. It’s this final drop of the ball that just stops ‘The Incredible Shrinking Professor’ reaching classic status. Falling short as an unexpected result.