I've had quite a while now to think of the best way to describe Benefactor, thanks to all the time I've spent playing it, and I've decided that the best way to sum up this new game from Psygnosis is that it's like taking part in an episode of the Krypton Factor. An unlikely scenario at the best of times, I'll grant you that much. But bear with me.
Gordon Burns' neatly parted hairstyle could surely never be recreated with such precision on any computer yet known to man, and the chances of anyone wishing to mimic that awful theme music (by The Art of Noise I think) are slim, to say the least. Yet I can think of no better way in which to sum up this puzzle/platform/memory test of a game.
The brains behind Benefactor are Digital Illusions, those blonde-haired Scandinavian funsters who brought the world Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies. But if you're not really a fan of the silver ball then there is no need to worry, because this game is a definite departure from those that have gone before.
There is a sort of plot to set the scene, but it's mainly just waffle involving this bloke (Ben E. Factor or whatever), travelling around the place whilst rescuing a number of Lemming-like creatures from adversity. Don't ask me why these characters are in trouble because I can't remember, but suffice to say that they are currently incarcerated behind locked doors which can only be opened by the Benefactor using the appropriate key in the locks. It may sound very simple and a bit of a yawn, but there's so much more to it than that.
The first thing that sprung into my mind when I loaded the game was something along the lines of "ooh dear!". This was entirely due to the tiny graphics and the few seconds it took me to identify the character I was supposed to be controlling. However, once I had located the hero sprite (decked out in a sort of green boiler suit), and begun to move him around the screen using the joystick, things became a lot clearer.
I still wasn't won over as the Benefactor somersaulted over a Raiders of the Lost Ark-type rolling boulder and climbed his first ladder, but once I managed to pick up the key on the initial level, things began to take off for real. A Lemming character, who prior to this point had been standing placidly behind a locked door, suddenly came to life and began to leap up and down excitedly. My hero instincts were instantly aroused of course, and before very long I was busy freeing the little blighter with a flourish.
As I sat there in the brief afterglow of a job well done, I felt that I was more than entitled to a small gift from the little bloke I had just freed, or at the very least a congratulatory handshake. But no, no such thing. On the contrary, the ungrateful blighter just waltzed past the hero sprite without so much as a 'by your leave' and then stopped just underneath a ledge which I had previously been unable to reach because it was situated too far above the Benefactor's head.
A few seconds of thought and work later I managed to pick up the 'lemming' character and throw him up to the ledge above. Before I knew quite what was going on, the escapee proceeded to flick a switch, at which point a large pair of trainers fell at my feet from above. Picking up these highly charged Reeboks then allowed the hero sprite to make larger distances when jumping, and consequently reach parts of the level which had previously been inaccessible.
After a few more superhuman leaps had been performed, and another switch had been thrown, the newly freed prisoner was able to make his own way to the exit, and it was onto the next level. I was absolutely hooked.
It's fair to say that the graphics are absolutely minute, but the programmers have not let this get in the way of the animation. When the hero sprite climbs up to a ledge, he does so by first leaping up to get a hand hold, then lifting one leg onto the ledge to get a better purchase, before finally dragging the rest of his no doubt aching body up behind it. All this is executed so naturally you almost begin to feel the character is real. And as for the monkey swing technique which the hero uses to cross yawning chasms, well that just has to be seen to be believed.
The physical nature of the sprite animation is what first had me thinking of The Krypton Factor and then, when I came across the death slides on some of the later levels, my suspicions were confirmed. All that is really missing from this is the sergeant major screaming out encouragement, and the horrendous tracksuits which the competitors are made to wear.
Perhaps the most appealing factor of the game however is the inclusion of the red-coated prisoners. Once released, they will go about helping you complete the rest of the level. Be it flicking a switch, operating a winch, or even mending a broken ladder, they will perform their allotted task with the utmost efficiency until your rescuing job is completed.
An added dimension is provided by the inclusion of the grey-coated prisoners who, when you have released them, will just wander about aimlessly until you manage to paint their coats red with a handy pot of Dulux and a colouring machine. This is done by making sure one of these stray souls passes under such a machine and hey presto! they will magically be transformed into a member of the more intelligent red-coated fraternity.
I can't really describe the nature of the game adequately in such a short space, but if you can imagine a cross between the best elements of Flashback, Lemmings and The Krypton Factor, then you have some idea of what Benefactor is all about.
There are four separate worlds included in Benefactor: the Underworld, a Forest, an Ice world, and a Castle. Each world contains an adequate number of increasingly difficult levels (most of more than one screen), and there is more than enough variety to keep the gamesplayer interested long after most other games have been discarded.
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