New Zealand Story Revolution
Watch the birdie.
Yes, it's got the same music. Yes, it's got the same gameplay. Yes, you still have to jump in the big pink whale's mouth to complete the first boss level. To summarise - no, they haven't messed it up.
Which will no doubt come as good news to anyone who played and loved the original New Zealand Story, first released back in 1988. For those who don't recall, it was a bright, colourful, gloriously enjoyable and often impossibly hard platformer starring a little yellow bird called Tiki the Kiwi. Your job was to run and jump around rescuing his friends, who had been kidnapped by a rogue sea lion from the local zoo.
Now the game's being remade for the Nintendo DS and retitled New Zealand Story Revolution thanks to Rising Star Games. They've previously brought us DS versions of fellow Taito classics such as Rainbow Islands and Bubble Bobble, which, frankly, weren't much good. So it was with some trepidation that we sat down for our first play of NZS Revolution - but the good news is they appear to have pulled it off this time.
And that's basically because they've obeyed the first rule of gaming remakes, for once: don't muck about. True, you will need to use the touch-screen at various points in the game, but for the most part you'll spend your time using the plain old d-pad to run and jump, shoot enemies, collect pieces of fruit and float around on balloons. Hurrah!
Seems like old times
However, they couldn't resist making some changes to the game, of course. All the levels are laid out in exactly the same way as they were in the original, pleasingly, but Tiki himself has some smart new abilities, such as a double jump. He can also do a dash move, and even fly a bit if you hammer the jump button hard enough.
Tiki's also got a few more tricks up his sleeve when it comes to weapons. Once again, he comes equipped with a bow and arrow - but now you can use the shoulder buttons to aim. So, for example, if you need to jump down to a lower platform, you can line up a shot first and take out the enemy waiting below; bosses are a lot easier to take care of, too. In addition, you can charge up shots for a more powerful attack that will see off several enemies at once.
The laser beam is back, as is Tiki's ability to spurt water at enemies when floating on the surface, but new power-ups now enable him to set fire to enemies or freeze them in a block of ice. There's also one which equips him with a shield for blocking enemy attacks, and a sword for, well, poking them with.
As old timers will know, you'll need to use balloons to get around a lot of levels - and all your old favourites are here, from the zeppelin and the duck-shaped one to the wicked metal badboy. If you fall, you've got control over where you land, thanks to that new wing-flapping ability. And if you get bored of balloons, there's an ace little car to be found which you can use to run enemies over, Carmageddon-style. Sort of.
So far, so good - the new weapons, abilities and power-ups do add something to the game, and what they add appears to be fun. However, there are other new additions which aren't quite so appealing; namely the new sections which require you to use the touch-screen.
Yes, it seems they just couldn't resist making use of that particular DS feature once again. Most of the time, the bottom screen will simply display a basic map of the level you're on, but occasionally it'll switch to show the action taking place up top, with one small difference to the level design. And it's your job to spot this difference; it could be that there's a platform missing on the bottom screen, for example. Whilst still coping with all the usual enemies and the like, you'll need to glance between the two screens until you've found the difference, then touch its location on the bottom screen.
This, frankly, is not easy. Especially when you've got a vast amount of enemies coming at you, as happened to us on more than one occasion - everything tends to get a bit frantic and, ultimately, frustrating. But Rising Star assures us that they're still balancing the game and it'll all be fixed in time for release.
The touch-screen also comes into play with a range of mini-games. You might find yourself doing a bit of fishing, or trying to keep Tiki balanced as he walks across a tightrope, or flicking him up to the top screen at just the right time so he lands in a moving basket. If you've got a friend with a copy of the game, you can play against each other, competing to see who can complete whatever task you've been set first. That's all there is as far as multiplayer options go, so don't go expecting a co-op mode.
From what we've seen so far, the touch-screen parts of the game do seem a bit like they've been stuck in there for the sake of it. But they're reasonably good fun, for the most part. More importantly, you still spend the majority of your time enjoying classic New Zealand Story-style gameplay - and, in our case at least, joyfully exclaiming "I remember this bit!" and humming along to the theme tune. The visuals have been spruced up a bit, as you'd expect, and for the better; although backgrounds, enemy designs and the like are all very familiar, they're sharper and more detailed.
All in all, it looks like Rising Star is finally getting the point - that fans of old games want to have their memories restored, not trampled all over by the introduction of too much silly stylus-based nonsense. There's still a while to wait before we'll get to play a finished copy of the game, but by the looks of things, if you loved the original game, you could well be in for a treat with New Zealand Story Revolution.
New Zealand Story Revolution is due out exclusively on Nintendo DS in the autumn.