The word classic is bandied around for virtually every new game that someone thinks is particularly good for its genre, and, as a result, has lost some of its meaning. Heimdall, on the other hand, has every right to claim the title, and represents a major move forward in the realms of game design. The gap between cartoon-quality graphics and involving game-play is diminishing all the time, but Heimdall is responsible for the greatest shrinkage yet. Imagine, if you will, the graphical and animation quality of the Sullivan-Bluth games coupled with playability to match the likes of such classic arcade/RPG games as The Immortal and the Ultimate series. This, in part, sums up
Core's massive arcade/adventure. It's been a while since a game has got me as excited as Heimdall -in fact, it hasn't been since Kick Off II and, before that, the original Impossible Mission - but, as far as I'm concerned, this is brilliant stuff.
Detailing the adventures of the titular hero, the game preludes the epic Battle Of Ragnarok - a battle which would go down in Norse legend as the final fight between good and evil. The devious evil God, Loki, has attempted to swing the odds in the favour of the dark forces by stealing three key weapons -Thor's hammer, Odin's sword, and Frey's spear -from the good side's arsenal. And, once in possession of the weapons, he secreted them on Earth, ensuring that the other Gods couldn't break their cardinal rule and mix with mortal man to search for them. Using their limited resources, though, the good forces impregnated a young virgin with a child who will eventually fulfil the prophecy of a mortal redressing the balance - the boychild Heimdall. Thus, it is several years after these events that we first encounter our young hero.
The main bulk of Heimdall is played over a series of isometric screens as our hero searches for the lost armaments. However, before our hero can accumulate the wisdom and stamina necessary for the journey, he must first undergo tests of his skill, agility and speed. Of all the scenes, the axe-throwing is perhaps the most (in)famous. An unfortunate girl has her head wedged through the hole in the centre of a round table, and her pigtails apparently secured to its perimeter. Whilst a horde of drunken Vikings leap around in the background, the player must position a moving cursor over each of the pigtails, and pressing fire sends an axe spinning in from its offscreen throwing point. In all, there are six pigtails to cut, and the original version's death scene has now been replaced by the girl pulling her head out in the nick of time - revealing the pigtails as fakes glued to her head! Following that, Heimdall must then attempt to wrestle a greased Boar to the ground, before leaping across the bow of a longboat and using his swordsmanship to KO the assailants on board.
Once all three sub-games have been completed (or skipped if you so wish), Heimdall can then recruit for the all-important mission. In all there are thirty villagers to choose from, ranging from worldly wizards to weathered warriors, and each has their own particular skills and weaknesses - for instance, whilst a warrior can handle himself in the heat of battle, their magical prowess is rather limited, and vice versa for the wizard. However, the number of villagers actually willing to join you will depend on your success during the sub-games, so it may be a case of taking what's available. Once your choices have been made, though, the real task begins with a quick recce of the surrounding islands on one of three rather crumpled maps - the only clue to the weapons' whereabouts. There are thirty-five islands to explore, split over three levels, each of which is inhabited by all manner of creatures and people and contains the many spells and goodies needed to prolong the mission.
Heimdall's party begins with enough provisions to last them six days, and before the more distant islands can be accessed they must stop off and explore for further stocks - either that or die trying. Thus, before they can reach the furthermost points of the map, the nearest islands should be scoured first. Each of the islands is represented as a series of incredibly-detailed isometric rooms, within which Heimdall can move freely. As in past 3D games, these rooms feature doorways to other areas and also play host to all manner of traps, goodies, and mysterious creatures and people. However, unlike the aforementioned Ultimate games, Heimdall's rooms are huge detailed affairs which occupy more than one screen and scroll in the customary eight directions with the Heimdall sprite kept central. When the party come up against an armed adversary, though, the screen swaps to a first-person perspective surrounded by a series of control icons.
Core have opted to play these scenes in real-time, so the player is thrown straight in at the deep end. On either side of the battle screen both your party's and the enemy's energy bar. By selecting the requisite icon, punches can be thrown, spells cast, and whatever weapon you have to hand used, until one of you eventually stays down. However, whilst this sounds unwieldy, the moves are easily accessible and the enemy fighters extremely intelligent.
As mentioned, along the way Heimdall and his party can add to their already swelling inventories by opening and emptying any chests they find. On collecting or receiving extra goodies, the screen switches to that of an inventory screen detailing what each character is presently holding. In addition, from here the characters can swap, use or drop any collected items and replenish any lost energy by eating any food they have. Each character can hold up to eight items, but care must be taken not to waste any collected spells as further supplies are scarce. And it is from these easy-to-use screens that the game's many object-related puzzles can be solved.
Everything about Heimdall is geared towards ease of use, and despite any reservations a novice to the RPG genre may have, Heimdall is the perfect entry point. The large map area of the game allows a free reign of the play area, yet the limited supplies ensure that it isn't a doddle to wander through. Additionally, the 3D sequences require as much skill as a conventional arcade game, and the incorporation of a series of switches and puzzles keep the player on their toes and expand the basic adventure greatly. The game's many colourful characters are well implemented, too, and everything seems to flow both logically and easily. As I have already said, there is no doubting that Heimdall is an instant classic. It has style, depth and some of the most astounding graphics you are ever likely to see - easily up to the standard of the likes of Dragon's Lair and Space
Ace. The attention to detail is nothing short of amazing, with a variety of worlds, ranging from a land of giants to a island of the dead, and these are inhabited by creatures worthy of a Don Bluth or Disney cartoon. Even the backdrops are stunning, with stone floors broken up by clumps of moss and shingle. In fact, coupled with its massive and varied game task. I'd go as far to say that Heimdall is probably the most ground-breaking game since Ultimate released Knight Lore and Epyx completed work on Impossible Mission and Pitstop II - and that's the highest commendation I can give.
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