There must be something in the water at French software house Cryo. My first encounter with the company was "Dune" way back in 1992, a strange mixture of free-form strategy and adventure game. More recently they have made a name for themselves producing sedate graphics-driven adventure games based on everything from ancient history to Wagner's operatic Ring Cycle, taking in mythology and science fiction along the way.

This year they have broken into new territory with the action-adventure game "The Time Machine", inspired by the HG Wells novel of the same name, and the third person zombie shooter "Devil Inside", in which you play a paranormal TV show presenter with an eerie habit of turning into a leather-clad female demon.

And now .. this.

Say Hello To Gift

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Gift is the product of the deranged minds of Cryo's Creative Director Philippe Ulrich and French cartoonist Régis Loisel, an anti-hero described by Cryo as a "sneaky overweight slob with a big mouth". Gift that is, not Monsieur Loisel.

Deep in Game Valley, a brand new game is being play tested, but the string of heroes sent in to rescue the amply imbued Lolita Globo have become exhausted. Enter Gift. Armed with some serious offensive weaponry (in the form of .. a stick), the diminutive red rogue has to succeed where all of the heroes have failed. Oh dear.

To make matters worse, Lolita apparently believes she is Snow White, so it's "hi ho, hi ho" as off to work you go, seeking out seven sinful dwarves (well, common or garden gnomes actually) and bring them back to the delusional but beautiful princess to effect your rescue. Each dwarf is based on one of the seven deadly sins - there's a lustful dwarf, (complete with porno mags), a glutton (armed with a baguette and French cheese), and an envious dwarf (blighted by undersized wedding tackle) - and the rest of the characters you will meet along the way are equally bizarre.

Are you still with me?

Seven

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Gift - in widescreen!

Each of the strange dwarves can be found in an appropriately odd world of his own, each lambasting well-known movies and computer games, from Indiana Jones style tomb raiding to the prison island of Alcatraz.

The seven worlds can be explored in any order, and if you get stuck you can always go back to the "World Selector" and start out on another part of your quest. Once you have completed all of the levels and assembled your not-so-magnificent seven, you travel on to the final level and Lolita herself. Of course, nothing is quite that simple in Gift, and depending on whether you found the right dwarves there are two possible endings.

As well as set pieces and familiar locations, you will also find traces of the ill-fated heroes and villains who preceeded you on your quest to save the chesty Miss Globo. Everything from Neo's mobile phone to the famous pipe and magnifying glass of Sherlock Holmes can be found if you look hard enough, along with Indy's whip and Superman's cape.

Conclusion

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Gift - in widescreen!

Gift's tongue is planted firmly in its ample cheek, setting out to parody the video game and movie industry with bizarre characters, surreal settings, and a decidely odd anti-hero.

French humour is rather hit-and-miss at times though, as anyone who has seen the latest Asterix and Obelisk movie will tell you, but luckily Cryo seem to be on to a good thing with Gift. The concept is suitably weird, the graphics are fairly impressive, and the gameplay sounds promising.

Hopefully we should know more soon, but judging from what we have seen so far it looks like Gift might just be a breath of fresh air for the platform game genre.

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