Review: Drelbs (C64) by Kelly Jones, Miriam Nathan, William Mandel, published by Synapse Software

May 28, 2009

Today we’re reviewing Drelbs. Let me say this before we start: this game, among many others, proves that fun, atmosphere, and getting sucked into something does definitely not depend on the GHz of your CPU, the GBs in your RAM or the resolution of your display. Even today, this game manages to captivate me with its unique ambience and absolutely weird, but fun gameplay.

So. The way you play Drelbs is, you don’t understand the game. You just play it. You don’t need to understand what the ultimate goal is, but you can quickly figure out what you can do, and then you just start. The authors deserve a big plus for this, because this is good software usability too. Also here, even though in a different style than in our previously reviewed game, Montezuma’s Revenge, you can see that the authors were paying a lot of attention to details. Yes this is all still 160×200 C64 pixel graphics, but if you are a real artist, you will make use of it in such a way that it aids your expression, and does not hinder it. This is what has been done in Drelbs. The graphics are very simple too, partially, much simpler than the C64 system would require them to be, but they are just right, and some details really give you a kick. The atmosphere overall is very psychedelic, and would be almost Dali-like if the graphics were just, albeit unfortunately not, a little more rich.

The way the main figure, which I’ll call Eye henceforth, is animated while moving, shows a great care for detail for this particular sprite, and is quite funny to watch.

I was thinking back and forth about whether to go into details of the gameplay and not let your just discover it for yourself since I believe everyone will immediately understand how the game works; it basically has no learning curve at all, except for gaining skill in avoiding head-on collisions with your maze enemies. But, as I thought about it, I realized that the game is such fun and so easy to discover and is so captivating, that me describing the gameplay will make no difference to your fun later on. What I will, however, not do, is to post screenshots.

You are Eye, our walking eye-on-legs, and you are a drelb. You must free your fellow drelbs, but in order to be able to do so, you must first get through some effort. You are located in a maze that could be best described as a maze of swing doors or gates seen from above, that is, the maze constists of barriers which are rotateable in 90-degree-steps around a central pivot. They are arranged in a regular pattern, and in such a manner as that you can form enclosed spaces if you rotate a group of neighboring “swing doors” in 90 degree angles towards each other and in such a way that they, well, form a closed space. Once you do that, the box will become “closed” and is marked as “completed”. The first goal is to close all possible boxes, i.e. have an arrangement so no more closed boxes can be formed.

Once you achieve this, “gargoyles” will appear inside some of the boxes, and in one box, in what seems to have been programmed so that it’s always at the far side of where you currently are, a “drelb window”, which gets you into the so called “dark corridor”. There, you have to free imprisoned (?) drelbs. They are arranged, again, in a grid, so it’s rather uncomplex to free a whole row, or column of drelbs, by simply moving accross it. You free them by simply moving over them. (This screen has a fantastic atmosphere and sounds. It alone is worth the game.) There is, however, an enemy moving accross the screen, roughly following you but staying at some distance, usually, however, it shoots. If you get shot, you’re back in the gate/swing door maze. Once you succeed, you get into the next level. So, the aim here is not to get shot.

Well, that’s basically it, about the game. It sounds simple, and short, but it is very entertaining, and quickly to get into, but can suck you in for quite some time trying to open the drelb window and free all drelbs from the dark corridor.

Have fun!

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