Xerxes, king of Persia, once said on surveying his army, 'I am moved to pity, when I think of the brevity of human life, seeing that of all this host of men not one will be alive in a hundred years' time'. And after a couple of days of playing Sleepwalker, I am beginning to understand how he felt. Because I had an army of Ralph The Dogs instead of the single more or less indestructible one you get here, I would be cruising for an assassination myself in no time. Now I know what you are all thinking. 'Oh bloody hell, what is the useless prat on about now?' Well, it is simple. What I am on about is that this is a tricky, difficult and frustrating game to play, but I still cannot put it down. Controlling Ralph The Dog on his near-impossible mission to save Lee (The Stupid Kid) from certain Death By Somnambulism, I have had poor Ralph falling under speeding cars, swimming into electric eels, colliding with swinging demolition balls, crushed by industrial steam hammers, getting bitten by poisonous snakes, beaten up by nightclub doormen, turned into a bat by Dracula look-alikes and all manner of other unfortunate mishaps, but every time that he just picks himself up, dusts himself down and sets off bravely again on his appointed task, I cannot bring myself to leave him to manage on his own. 'Manage what?' I supernaturally hear you all cry. Well, it is like this. Lee, the Sleepwalker of the title, is a little boy with a problem. His problem is his predilection for falling out of his bedroom window and wandering in a trance through the streets of his hometown. This is, of course, a Bad Thing, because the streets are, of course, filled with all manner of hazards.
THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT
Bumping into one of the said hazards would almost certainly cause our, er, hero to awaken from his slumbers, and as we all know, waking up a sleepwalker is an Extremely Bad Thing. Looks like Lee is in trouble then.
Ah, well, not necessarily. You see, Lee has a guardian angel. Ralph The Dog, his devoted pet, takes it upon himself to shadow Lee on his nocturnal travels, taking out hazards in his path and gently guiding his sleeping charge in the direction of safety, while all the time taking the utmost care never to wake him up. Of course, this means that Ralph himself more often than not falls victim to the things which would otherwise get to little Lee, but hey - it is a dog's life, don't you know?
So there you go, that is the game plan. All this stuff takes place over five scrolling levels, filled with hazards both natural (like water which Ralph can swim through but Lee must not fall into) and not so natural (like weird monsters who will scare the little poppet to death). There are actually very few enemies as such, most of the game's difficulty coming in guiding Lee through the mazes of platforms. There is plenty of that, though - even in level one you will be cursing and swearing at the little bleeder as Ralph's increasingly-frantic efforts all come to nothing as Lee blindly walks straight into walls and sewers. You will need plenty of arcade talent as well as map-reading ability if you are going to make any progress at all in this game, but at least you do get a training level (in the style of Wizkid and Putty) which prints helpful hints on the screen to guide you through a sample stage and let you get the hang of the controls.
Mind you, you are not going to need much else. There is no depth in the game at all, which means you might well get a bit discouraged by the time you get past the first couple of levels. Sleepwalker does its best to keep you interested by means of bonus levels, little cartoon sequences which you only get to see if you complete enough of the previous level, and lots of funny new bits in each new level, but the basic gameplay does not change all the way through, and the difficulty level might just be enough to put you off before then.
Still, this is all a bit picky, and it does not detract from the enormous fun that you will get out of Sleepwalker. It has been excellently put together and it plays dreamily, and the tone is just right too - you really begin to feel for the poor put-upon pooch, and the dream sequences where he imagines what he would like to see happen to Lee if he was not there to stop it are really sweet.
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