Hurtling through space, bouncy ball, hero of GREMLIN' s latest game, has to blaze a trail that others may follow.
The trouble is, the trail through space has rather strange properties. Instead of being a nice flat road old Mr Bouncy can just steam down, it's a bit full of holes. It's a bit like the 'Yellow Brick Road ' with the Shropshire District Council doing the one-way system, full of holes, bumps and all sorts of hideous hazards.
Before Bouncy's work is done, he's got fourteen different courses to blaze a trail down, so he's really got his work cut out. Each course has to be done in around forty seconds, so no slacking or back slid or trainee bouncies, there's a practice mode which allows the player to practice any three courses in an attempt to get the course time down. In practice mode, the time limit is 100 seconds, but, if you fancy your chances in the main game, it's got to be around 40 seconds, the controls are simple, forward to accelerate, back to brake, left and right to move from side to side on the belt.
The course is like an out of control flattened escalator like those ones that never work at Heathrow it's thundering down the screen towards you, and you are trying to leg it up the other way. But this is no ordinary escalator. For a start it's suspended in space, and there are bits missing. On some screens, there's more missing than there are bits! The belt is five segments wide and comes in a variety of shades. Shaded squares are easy to handle you just roll straight over them. Diagonally striped squares speed you up. Not much of a problem here, you are normally going flat out to make the time limit anyway. Next in awfulness comes the solid white squares. These jump you in to space. At full lick, this will catapult of bouncy forward just over three segments.
Then comes the real nasty ones. The horizontally lined segments have roughly the same effect as bouncy hitting a treacle-tilled lake, they kind of stick to you. Only a lot of heaving forward on the joystick will get you through these ones. Then there are the spotty squares. These totally freak poor little bouncy out by reversing the left and right controls. This unfortunate state of affairs is only corrected by steaming over another spotty bit.
Then of course there are the black segments, like there's no ground man, some cat's taken the ground away. Old bouncy ends up failing down quite a few of these.
After crashing, he gets thrown back on the belt, but without momentum, a situation leading to further disasters on the gaping bits. Once the rhythm's gone, old bouncy's in for a hard time, and the clock is still ticking away. On average, every crash costs about two seconds of precious trailblazing time.
To help on each course, the player gets four extra bounces (hit fire). This allows some of the really nasty bits to be avoided, or if the player forgets the course, and suddenly finds himself heading towards a yawning abyss, it comes in handy. The main use of the extra bounces is to get over the horizontally lined bits, or as a shortcut round a zig-zag. As these cost time, up to five seconds, it's almost preferable to crash! But the best method is to press fire just before hitting them and go sailing straight over.
Control keys: Q/W left/right; P/L increase/decrease speed; SPACE to jump
Joystick: Sinclair and Kempston
Keyboard play: responsive, and just as well!
Use of colour: rather garish
Graphics: simple looking but very fast
Skill levels: your own against the clock, with progressively difficult screens
'I must be the only person in the office not to have played this on either the Amstrad or the Commodore so It took me along while to really enjoy playing it. I'm a little surprised that there wasn't a really involved scenario on the inlay as the game really does lend itself to one. The graphics are very, very fast, and well defined too. Colour is a little suspect on some screens but you can always turn down the colour on your TV If things get too garish. The sound is a bit disappointing as the tune is primitive and the effects aren't really up to much. Once you become competent at Trail Blazer it's quite hard to leave it alone as it is extremely playable and addictive.'
'I was quite surprised at this game coming onto the Spectrum because I couldn't imagine it without all the colour, which plays an integral part in other versions. GREMLIN Seem to have come up with an effective compromise, using excellent shading, which makes up for the deficiency quite well. The tune on the title screen is pretty ancient stuff, but the game, as in the original, plays superbly, and that's the major point in its favour. I think Trailblazer is a very good conversion, and one that's well getting if it's playability you want and not graphics'
'This is obviously a game that doesn't rest easily on the Spectrum without the colour that played such an important part in the other versions. The shading works okay, but I think it affects the gameplay - it's far easier to see the colour of a square rapidly scrolling towards you than it is to see shading. Despite all that, it's a fast, addictive original game that'll soon have you hooked. The practice mode is a real plus and means you can seriously concentrate on the screens giving you trouble.'
|Use of Computer||85%|
|Value for Money||87%|
Bobby Bearing, Action Reflex, Ballblazer, Bounder and Bounces... if you ask me, this recent trend in games is a load of old spherical objects. And helped by the addition of Trailblazer. If the others drove you dotty, this one will really have you in a spin.
I made the mistake of bouncing into the office when Ed was handing this one out for review. Mistake, I say! That's an understatement. I've been playing it ever since. Trailblazer sort of sneaks up on you... and it doesn't let go.
The idea is simple. Just bounce a footie along a pavement - a pavement in outer space, that is. A pavement with cracks in it. A pavement with more cracks than pavement, at times. And though I'm sure you always try to keep on the straight and narrow, this particular path winds wildly round. You get the idea?
So there you are, guiding your sphere along Aerial Avenue, and it's then you discover that different types of pavement have different effects. You'll spend so much time with your ball bouncing over the edge that your sanity could quite easily follow it.
What to do then? Become a student of the 14 courses' layouts, as i have. Spend all day and all night learning which path to take and when to bounce. Luckily there's a very good practice option, which lets you practice against a time limit. But for real thrills try the gruelling arcade version, which only allows you four extra bounces.
This is undoubtedly a classic. But don't touch it. It'll have you bouncing up and down in frustration.
Trailblazer is something special. Visually it reminds me of nothing so much as the 'Beyond the infinite' section of 2001 where Bowman hurtles through about ten minutes of very cosmic special effects.
As a game it's, well - addictive is too poor a word. How about dehabilitating, all consuming or brain blitzing?
There isn't too much to say about it though. The game idea is so very, very simple. It can be reduced to the following: control a ball rolling and bouncing over an abstract, geometric and flat landscape which hurtles towards you from the middle horizon. Don't fall down any holes, don't waste time. That's it.
OK, so that isn't quite it. The landscape is a patchwork of differently shaded squares and rectangles. Different kinds of shading indicate different properties. Over lines parallel to your direction of movement you'll speed up. Perpendicular lines slow you down. An unshaded area will make your ball bounce. This can be vital to cross giant chasms in the scrolling landscape. Utterly unwelcome is the dot/dash matrix that indicates that all the controls are reversed, ie left moves you right and vice versa.
The ball may move from a speed-up zone, to slow-down to reverse controls to bounce pad in seconds and you'd better be ready.
The playing area is divided into various zones. Early zones are comparatively easy, later zones just one infuriating step away from being impossible. The knowledge that it can be done, but you can't do it wrenches deep in the guts.
Different zones seem to concentrate on particular kinds of problem. Zone A is an easy mixture of the different elements. By the time you get to Zone D you start getting alternate strands of track where you must hit the bounce pad at the end to bounce over to the next track.
Part of the art of playing the game is familiarity - just knowing what's coming up where - but in the end it goes so fast that reactions and instinct take over. You think in your hands not your head.
If it all sounds a bit too daunting then take heart. Gremlin has introduced features which make the game accessible to the novice. There is a practice option which allows you to learn each section and get used to the effects of particular sequences of grids. There is no time limit, which takes the pressure off a bit, but you still keep hurtling into empty space time after time...
The graphics are extremely well done, although, inevitably there isn't really all that much to say about them. The ball seems cheekily reminiscent of the famous Amiga one and spins in a similar manner. The abstract patchwork of grids scrolls incredibly smoothly and at an astonishing speed - it's all two-colour of course but in a game which is not intended to look like anything from the real world it hardly matters.
It's a pity the game lacks a two-player options found on versions on other computers - processing time was the problem, apparently, but really, I haven't played a game so obsessively for ages.
Reviewer: Graham Taylor
SUPPLIER: Gremlin Graphics
PRICE: £7.95 (Spec, MSX), £9.95 (Ams/C64/C16)
Trailblazer is a deceptively simple game. Load it in and you think, "What's all this then?" But then you start playing. And from then on you won't want to know about anything else. It's fast and awesomely addictive.
The idea is simplicity itself. You are in control of a bouncing ball which you have to guide over a series of tracks packed with hazards for the unwary.
Fall off the track and you lose a life. Stay on and you're in for the ride of your life!
The tracks streak out at you from the centre of the screen - like a race track would in a regular race game. You have to use all your skill, judgement and fast reactions to keep the ball rolling.
There are chequerboard squares on some of the tracks which will either slow you down or speed you up or even make you jump automatically.
Learn to recognise them, they can help or hinder your progress.
There's a time limit for each level - complete a track with time in hand - shown in the clock at the top of the screen and you get more time for the next level.
There are 14 fun-filled courses to attempteach with their own unique challenges.
And you can play the game in two modes. The Three Course Trail gives you the opportunity to practice any three of the 14 tracks together with unlimited bounces. The Arcade option allows you to play all the courses in sequence with just four bounces and varying time limits.
Versions apart from the Spectrum have colour coded squares to watch out for and a two player option, plus a player versus computer options. You can attempt to knock each other off course in two player/robot modes.
Trailblazer on the Atari and 64 is just as addictive. But here you've got the extra added dimension of enhanced sound and glorious graphics. Do try playing the split screen two player version. It's great!
Gremlin's programmers have even managed to coax a decent tune out of the Spectrum! Sounds vary on other versions.
Trailblazer is a simply brilliant game. Original and extremely addictive. Everyone should have it in their collection!
If I had to name one game which I would have said was a definite number one which never even got close, it would be Bounder, one of the best games released by Gremlin. It employs the concept of a ball bouncing over a vertically-scrolling landscape, with various holes in the floor you must avoid. Trailblazer, the latest release from Gremlin, takes the idea a great deal further and in doing so it has produced one of the most playable games I have seen.
The idea is to race either another player, or the computer, and to hop, skip and jump your way through the various courses. That may sound easy but the ball you are controlling travels at such speed that it is all but impossible to avoid falling down holes left, right and centre.
As you play the game you will notice that each colour on which you land affects your ball in a different way. Blue squares force you to jump - not always a good thing - and white squares put you into an excellent hyperspace which, if used correctly, can increase your bonus fourfold.
Graphically, the game is exceptional, particularly on the Commodore, where it uses a split screen for the two-player mode. Instead of having a particular direction of scrolling, the screen races towards you and in some places it is so fast that even the most dexterous hands will be lost.
Considering the music was not created by a well-known name, it is catchy and enjoyable, as are the sound effects, which suit the game perfectly. When I first saw the game some months ago I was struck by its originality but thought that it lacked some finesse. That problem has been sorted and the game is one of the best of 1986.
|Value For Money||5/5|
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