Review: Llamasoft Minotron: 2112
As game designers go, Jeff Minter is a living legend. He was internationally known for his computer games even before he programmed Tempest 2000, one of the only must-have titles for Atari's final game console Jaguar. Thereafter, he was famous enough to attract considerable attention to the psychedelic visualizers and retro-styled games he released -- most often under the Llamasoft name. This week, Llamasoft released Minotron: 2112 ($2, version 1.0), so we wanted to give it a brief review today. It's a universal app for iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads.
Minotron: 2112 is an updated version of Llamatron: 2112, itself an unlicensed Atari ST and Amiga computer clone of the classic 1982 Williams arcade game Robotron: 2084. All three games place you in control of a main character who can walk in eight directions inside a box, separately shooting in eight directions. The box is filled with enemies who shatter when you hit them, and you end a level by taking most of the targets out. Jeff Minter, a seemingly lifelong fan of furry beasts, transformed Robotron’s human lead character into an energy-blasting llama for Llamatron, and in Minotron, you instead control a minotaur. Minter tweaked the enemies and other on-screen obstacles from Robotron to Llamatron, notably adding a 16-ton weight to some levels as a crushing device for the unwary, and little odes to 1980’s culture and arcade games—enemy french fries and bananas look as if they could have come out of Atari’s classic Food Fight, while Berzerk and other seemingly familiar sprites pop up here and there, too.
In addition to including a variety of power-ups, notably a multi-directional gun and a way to increase the size of your minotaur for temporary crushing action, Llamasoft offers a handful of different difficulty levels. The normal game is just you against the hordes, with an easy mode that gives you a floating assistant, a super-easy mode that eliminates your need to shoot, and a hard mode with fewer powerups. Each mode lets you resume at your last level checkpoint—handy given that there are 100 levels—separately tracking how far you’ve progressed using assistance. There are no other options in the title besides a “game audio level” adjustment.
What will win Minotron some fans whilst losing others is Minter’s decision to go even more retro with the iOS version of the game than the original: Minotron is styled to resemble a primitive Intellivision game with slightly more advanced visual capabilities, plus Minter’s trademark glowing effects. If you’re a fan of classic Llamasoft visual themes or retro computers/consoles in general, you might appreciate the floating Mandelbrot fractal enemy, the rescuable llamas who follow you around, and occasional special effects that show how the primitive old Intellivision would have looked while under the influence of drugs; you’ll even notice that the screen is blurred to resemble an old TV. Voice samples appear to borrow Bill and Ted’s “excellent,” dragged out groans, and other snippets from a bygone area. There’s no real soundtrack, but for occasional chirps put out by a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon power-up, and a seemingly deliberate cacophony of sounds when each game ends. Sonically, the game will either strike you as an annoying mess or a classic Minter game minus music, depending on your prior frame of reference.
Though we were open-minded to enjoying Minotron: 2112 for what it is, the game lost us somewhat because of control problems. Rather than using obviously indicated dual joypads—now a time-tested virtual control scheme for games of this sort—Llamasoft provides only a vague sense that players should swipe on the left side of the screen for walking, and right for shooting, but we found that pulling one finger off the screen sometimes led the controls to glitch. Surrounded as you’ll be by clusters of enemies, all it takes is a second or two of errant movement to die, so the level checkpoint restarting system comes in a lot of handy… unnecessarily, though.
Some players will get what Llamasoft is doing here, and others really won’t. We’re somewhere in the middle, appreciating what the company is trying to do by evoking and limiting itself—somewhat—to the capabilities of classic game consoles, but at the same time wishing for something bigger and better. Minter might have lucked out to have such incredible musical assistance during his Tempest 2000 work, and he might well be making an artistic statement by filtering Minotron through the Intellivision as a lens, but the end result here feels like it’s falling backwards rather than forwards. Given the $2 asking price, this is a fine title for retro enthusiasts, but we’re hoping that the next game brings more of the mind-altering visuals and music that we know Minter’s capable of delivering.