Version tested: Retro
No-one had posed the question "what happens if you mix Alice in Wonderland, The Neverending Story, a Sisters of Mercy b-side and some Spectrum code?" but in 1986, Odin Computer Graphics answered it anyway. As it turns out, you get a surrealistic platform game with an unusual approach to level design. And an unusual approach to pretty much everything else really.
A somewhat metaphysical plot describes the player's absorption (metaphorical and perhaps literal) into a book of heroic adventures, found in Grandmother's attic. These noble deeds are performed by the top-hatted wizard Eldritch (Andrew, presumably) who travels around space and time in a giant bed and battles the evil warlock Midan for control of the Heartland. Alas, the final chapter of this tome is missing, so our unnamed reader must continue the work of Eldritch and locate the final pages - before Midan can close his grip around the land forever. All of which explains why the Sisters haven't released an album recently.
Rock 'n roll antics aside, Heartland deviously attempted to confound those hardworking Speccy map-makers, by using a system where the player could move "into" and "out" of the screen through a series of doors in the decorative landscape. Combined with the floating objects and roaming sorcerers of these curious plains, this gives the game a strange, otherworldly air.
At first, progress seems downright tricky. But as soon as the player comes to terms with regenerating zombies, how to recognise which "rooms" end in a fatal precipice and the benefits of lurking in hotspots of magical protection, things pick up considerably. Pages appear on the same handful of screens, so players with a decent memory can soon rattle off the early levels and tackle new challenges. Once this point is reached, Heartland becomes bizarre and idiosyncratic fun.
8 / 10