Way before they were a name practically associated almost exclusively with cashing in on ZX Spectrum nostalgia and crowd funding campaigns; Elite used to be a popular video games publisher in the UK's very own golden age of the microcomputer boom during the 80's. Elite's cassettes and diskettes sat proudly on the charts, often topping them alongside the likes of Codemasters, Hewson, et al. Good times, indeed. They were arguably most known for unleashing beloved arcade ports to the Speccy, along the lines of Bomb Jack, etc.
But, today's review isn't about one of them games. Hell, it isn't even focused on a Spectrum release. No, Olly023's an Amiga man so it's all Commodore related love up in here! So what's the review? Well, if you've got to this point you would have seen the description box above in the header, so d'uh; it's Beyond The Ice Palace! Released in the year of my birth, is this a title worth you seeking out? Is it good, bad and/or ugly? All shall be revealed…
Now BTIP (yeah, it's easier to shorten – sue me (actually don't sue, I have no monies)) has a kinda strange history prior to its release. For the Ghosts N Goblins aficionados amongst you retrobates out there, you may already be noting some obvious similarities found within screenshots accompanied then by the allusion to the title itself possibly referring to the Ice Palace from GnG. Well, you'd be right to make such noting. Before the license got pulled from under its feet, BTIP was being developed as a sequel to Ghost N Goblins, which of course was a big hit on the home computers here in the UK. Even crazier, development then switched from being a GnG sequel to being a licensed Thundercats game (possibly the reason as to why the protagonist appears the way he does). Again, that license was pulled, too. Didn't Elite just have all the luck!? Anyway...You can find more information on all of this elsewhere online and this aint no darn history article! So, to the review!!
The Amiga version of Beyond The Ice Palace (which is being reviewed right hurr) may not even be the 'best' port of the game. Clearly, that's up for debate but out of my pure lack of owning either an Amstrad CPC or ZX Spectrum, nor the patience to emulate them; my stubbornness brings you thus. As far as I can tell, the Amiga version is practically the same as the Atari ST, which is typical of this type of cross-platform release. Y'see, back in the day, if it was mainly a prior gen focused release, the next gen would hardly get a look in and thus barely have the same attention garnered by the devs/publishers. Sucks, I know. But, such is life! BTIP is certainly not breaking any new ground either then or now and fails to even remotely push the power of the systems limits, alas.
In BTIP you play as a luscious blonde haired dude who inexplicably goes on a rampage around an area that is assumed as some point further than the Ice Palace. Or maybe you are in the Ice Palace, looking to get beyond it. I always thought the protagonist was a woman, or at least I did as a kid; but worldly ways learned through the means of growing up have alerted me to the fact that yes, it is a man. Just with pristine haircare. Which I guess makes sense considering the back story, but the plotting of the game as dictated by the instructions and intro scroll actually doesn't read as the hero being either man, nor woman – they don't even have a name! This metrosexual sprite choice and nameless protagonist procedure that fits the Zelda mould in some form quite nicely, may well be purely coincidental or better still could well be a very progressive step on the minds of the makers. I do kinda doubt the latter, though. As nice a thought as that may well be.
The plotting itself instead describes of a legend that bigs up a “mystical land” of “goblins and ghosts”. Coy, Elite. Evil and its physical representation in the form of beastly incarnations have been messing with the local woodland much to the annoyance of the towns folk (or, “simple woodcutters”). A meeting held, some magic is dealt and you (the protagonist) are sent in with a sacred arrow and a spirit or something, yadda yadda – kill everything that moves! Keys are re-definable and handily you can use a joystick, which is my personal preference whenever available.
The gameplay itself is practically what you would come to expect. It's very much a cookie-cutter action/platform side-scrolling deal. Not to say that's bad, per se, as it really isn't in my eyes. Just decidedly average at best. It controls well, is responsive enough and the hit detection is far from the worst on the system. If I had to nitpick a negative from the pile, however - it's the jumping mechanic that stands out, as it's far from a useful tool in escaping certain doom when an enemy comes your way. That can lead to instant frustration, coz it works yet also doesn't all at once. Maddening. It is also within the gameplay where you can really feel the roots of Capcom's arcade classic that have been re-rooted for Beyond the Ice Palace. But if you're gonna clone something, at least make that something be of worth – which with this, it is. Like a Pac-Man clone, it gets the job done.
However, that presents its own issues for this as a review as it really doesn't leave a whole lot to be said. It is obviously shorter, almost painfully so to an extent; to the game it was an intended sequel to. The fact you can get a time down pat of under a 10-minute mark it doesn't leave much meat on that bone. Beating the game just gives you a virtual ruffle of the Barnet and sends you on your merry way. Not even a “screw you do it again”. It's precisely up to the player themselves as an individual wanting to beat their own time/score as to how the replay factor comes in.
Graphically, as already mentioned; it's far from being outstanding by any stretch of the imagination (or the systems limitations, if you will). It looks more of a C64 game running on an Amiga than anything. A total lack of neat features that you'd find in one of the more specifically Amiga targeted/developed titles available (which there are in abundance, see Apidya review). It's more on par with the likes of Rick Dangerous than a Ruff N Tumble. Hell, even Ghosts N Goblins (from Elite, too) looks better with more visual flare and instances of detail. The screenshots about sum it up for me on this one. They provide what they provide, but with no cherry or sprinkles. Like a plain vanilla cone. No Flake, either. But what do you expect for 99p in this economy!? Enemy design is at least more varied than the screens themselves and the protagonist has some cool waviness from his (or her) golden mane. So, that's nice...
Musically, however; the one main track that loops throughout is a wonderfully catchy piece of chiptune crafted by the master artist that is David Whittaker of Shadow of the Beast fame. It fits the atmosphere well and certainly brings the game up a notch, with some variation in the track itself helping the feel of you as a player not just throwing the same arching weapons in vein and that progress is happening. Even if its a bit less fruity in reality. Point is, the music is win and will have you humming long after the game ends. Shame the same can't be said for the rest of the sound design, which for the most part are just obnoxious tones representing the menagerie of enemies in front of your character waiting to be put out of their misery.
Overall, I'm unsure whether or not I can solidly recommend you actually actively go out in search for a copy of this game, unless like myself you are doing so for a purely nostalgic kick, which of course it can still provide in spades depending on your particular origins – at which point I would probably recommend you just get the system version of choice that best reflects it. For me, that's obviously Amiga. Hence the review. Yeah.
Verdict:- Beyond The Ice Palace remains a mostly forgotten title early on in to the 16-bit era, thus many of its shortcummings could be easily excused. Especially considering it's true 8-bit nature and troubled production. On the other hand though, you have to be somewhat mindful in hindsight that this predates Shadow of the Beast by only a year or so. Take from that what you will.
Time really hasn't been kind to this one, in absolute fairness and honesty. Then again, it was never exactly the most critically-acclaimed piece of software in its release window, either.
At the end of the day, it's just as standard and as average as you can possibly discover on an Amiga. Hopefully the scores reflect that. But still, the music kicks butt!
Second Opinion:- Transbot feels nostalgia is a strong and powerful source of power and stuff. But it doesn't work here!
Olly023 is merely human with his pursuit of rediscovering this relic of a forgotten past, yet by doing so has forced my metallic hand to reach for the joystick for what is a cheap knock-off that needed more development time or to be shelved.
He's right about the music though!
Transbot Scores:- 3 out of 10