You are small,Released in late 1993 by Virgo Software, SMALL was a 3D, texture-mapped maze exploration game. With 50 levels of increasing size, there where tens of hours of fun and frustration to be had, as you attempt to fight your way out of the hellhole that the Gods have sent you to as punishment for your arrogance.
This place is big,
Although some people have scorned it for childish graphics, sound effects, and gameplay, it was obviously good enough to provide weeks of entertainment to a 10 year-old me and my family. But is it any good now?
Welcome to the finite world of your imagination. Try to get out of here...Even by today's standards, I'd say the game has a very snazzy title screen. The game's title zooms into view, shedding particles as it does so, making a scary roaring sound. Once the title settles at the top of the screen, coloured lines of text appear to give some more information about the game - accompanied by more sound effects and particles. And an arachnid or two.
There are a few screens of information like this on offer, which the game loops through indefinitely until you pluck up the courage to play ... or take the easy way out. The only feature that detracts from this excellent title screen is the large status bar on the right - which is visible throughout the entire game.
Enough of the title screen, then. What about the game?
Location: LABYRINTHDespite boasting 3D, texture-mapped graphics, the game engine is infact far simpler than that of Wolfenstein 3D. You are only able to move forwards one whole map block at a time, or turn left or right 90 degrees. Furthermore the graphics you see aren't actually 3D models - they're just 2D renders of the models. Realistically, this is the only way the graphics could have been displayed on the hardware of the time, and it did simplify the game design greatly. Although SMALL could have easily been written using a Wolfenstein 3D style engine, it was perhaps a feat outside of the programmer's abilities - or maybe the lack of motion in SMALL was a sacrifice he was willing to make to get more attractive graphics.
Success rate: IRRELEVANT
Unfortunately, those attractive graphics don't respond too well to movement. When you walk forward the screen stretches in a rather unnatural manner, which can take a short while to get used to. Turning results in similar distortion, but it isn't quite as noticeable as it involves a lot of fast motion anyway.
One area where the motion is done right however is that of the maze-dwelling creatures. These creatures are mostly harmful, and some of them are downright nasty if met under the wrong circumstances. This is where the game's stereo sound comes in useful - a good pair of speakers or headphones makes all the difference in surviving the game, as you are able to hear on which side of you an approaching creature is. Although the sound effects are by no means perfect, they are of good enough quality for what was probably a one-man development team.
You won't be able to shoot it!The game isn't all about running around the maze and blasting whatever crosses your path. There's also a good deal of logic involved. The later levels have mazes large enough that you can easily get lost - although the mini-map helps somewhat in this regard. Many mazes also feature traps which close off passages, and secret walls that open up new ones, as well as one-shot teleporters and portcullises that are only unlocked when you collect the right key. And working out how to best ration your ammunition or how to defeat a certain arrangement of monsters is often a requirement. This is ultimately where the longevity of the game comes from - the last few levels were so hard that I'm not even sure if I've completed them yet.
Although the game doesn't contain any save system, it does provide you with a password every five levels. For a puzzle/action game like this, this is probably the better way of doing things, as being able to save whenever or wherever you want could possible make the game too easy. Alternatively, it could make the game too hard - if you save at a point where it's impossible to complete the current level then you might have to start all over from the beginning!
One feature of the design that does irk me a bit is the restriction on your weapon. Most of the time, you're only allowed to have one bullet (or 'star-shot') in the air at once - meaning that if you're trying to shoot something a long way away, it will take much longer to kill it. Although at first this may seem like a restriction of the game engine, in actuality the game is able to track more than one shot at a time - there's a powerup item that gives you rapid fire. This therefore must have been a constant design decision - one that does actually make the gameplay deeper. When you encounter the powerup you have to make a decision about whether now is the best time to use it.
You have taken the short way.Although simple in premise, the game is well thought-out and brought to life in an engaging and immersive manner. There are five different graphical styles of maze, and all look excellent when stood still - only faltering somewhat when movement is required. Some levels are certainly tricky, but the game doesn't seem as hard as I remember - so it may be not be the best choice for the seasoned gamer.
You have died.
A disc image of SMALL can be downloaded for free from the ex-commercial section of Wocki's Acorn-Site. The game runs fine on my StrongARM RiscPC, but your mileage may vary.