Lady Tut (Apple II) review
"“Na-na na-na na-na-na! Na-na-na! Na-na-na” "
“Na-na na-na na-na-na! Na-na-na! Na-na-na”
“Na-na na-na na-na-na NA-Na-na-na-na-Naaaaaaah!”
What? You're telling me you didn't recognise ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ from my brilliant text-only rendition of the tune?
Lady Tut plays this music three times across two octaves while you sit there enjoying its title screen, and does so using the Apple II's ‘Expressive but only one note at a time’ sound mode. And this all makes me very happy.
This game was the Apple’s relatively high-brow answer to the arcade classic Tutankham. Nine levels of hieroglyph-adorned maze wait to be explored from an overhead view. Nine levels filled with marauding beasties, magic ring treasures which double as ammunition and keys with which to escape through locked exits. What makes Lady Tut a real star is one very classy gameplay innovation: In each level there are sections of wall which the player can push against to make them revolve, thus altering the maze. You can pivot these double-panels between vertical and horizontal alignments, and it’s amazing how much control this gives you over the dynamics of every screen. It’s also just really entertaining, the kind of thing that makes you smirk at your own cleverness as you isolate a spick and span pathway to the exit or shepherd monsters into a corral then wall them off.
The bad guys come in four flavours of ascending perceived dangerousness - snakes, beetles, skulls and winged demons. They spawn at random from designated cul-de-sacs in the maze until a level quota is reached. The game would like you to think that the different flavours pose different kinds of threats, but the truth is they all move at the same speed and exhibit the same AI, which consists of eerily managing to choose the correct passages to track down your explorer hero if you’re nearby. Sure, skulls and demons don’t show up until later levels, so they just give the illusion of being more dangerous. But you know what? It works! Also, from level 7 onwards all monsters delight in turning invisible for short periods of time, so you must be extremely vigilant and observant to track their movements.
Graphics and animation in this game are dee-lish, especially considering that all parties involved are such tiny detailed critters and that gameplay barely slows down even when the screen is teeming with wildlife. Skulls chatter incessantly and the demons’ wings flap very smoothly. The footsteps of your finely wrought hero are so accurately placed that he’ll hit the same spots on the floor no matter where he treads in the maze. Sometimes I wiggle the joystick madly in a vertical corridor just to experience his uncanny ability to hit the mark Every Single Time! I’d kill to direct actors who could do that. And I really love the grid of tiny hieroglyphic stones which makes up the crypt walls. When someone teases a visual effect this intricate out of the curmudgeon that is the Apple II’s display, and manages to repeat the detail across three big level colours (GREEN! ORANGE! MAGENTA!), I take my hat off to them.
There’s great mileage to be had from each level and a good variety of maze styles. Initially you just need to collect one key then reach the exit. But soon enough the game starts pulling predictable but effective threat-enhancing stunts, like having you remove the first lock from the exit before it will beam in the key to open the second on the far side of the maze and amidst a hornet’s nest of monsters. Spinning a wall around and making a break from your hiding place can be quite unnerving at times, not to mention that just waiting for the right moment while nasties mill outside can start to press upon you like Chinese water torture. And when you reach level nine you’ll be dealing with four locks, not to mention great expanses of open space in which you can’t hide from the now oft-invisible monsters.
Luckily you can fight back with your mystical laser shooting power, uh, gun thing. Once you’ve collected enough rings (30 shots worth, which you can achieve on level 3 at the earliest), you are slammed by a lo-res screen which proclaims GUN in whopping great letters, all to the accompaniment of a cascading musical sting. I love this because it’s so joyously blatant and overkill. Can you see a game nowadays dropping everything to fill the screen with the word GUN whilst making a racket?
Once you’ve got the GUN, you can zap a laser down the corridor to your left by hitting the first joystick button and the one to your right by hitting the other one. Vaporising monsters brings you joy, points, peace of mind and a cool little musical scramble of a sound effect. You might think you’ve got it made now, but of course you can still be ambushed in vertical corridors, in open spaces or by monsters who have turned invisible on you. And you can really tear through your ammunition on the nakedly wide-open level nine, so choosing to hide and be crafty is still a worthy and exciting goal.
There are a couple of nice surprises waiting for you when you unlock the tombs on levels 5 and 9. And no, I won’t talk about them here or then they wouldn’t be surprises! But there’s potentially another surprise after level 9. In the version I have of Lady Tut, once you pass level 9 you will play on through the cycle of 9 levels again endlessly (level 10 is level 1, etc.) with the only difficulty increase being that monsters seem to spawn more rapidly from now on. Inspired by the writing of my friend ASchultz, I made my best efforts ever in this game just prior to writing this review - and I’ve had Lady Tut around for more than a decade. These best efforts took me to level 43, which meant I’d almost turned the game cycle over 5 times. And by this stage I’d played for so long that I knew I was becoming unconsciously reckless in an attempt to end the session via death and get a break!
But I believe that if you have the original unhacked version of Lady Tut, the game will end after level 9. Because surely if it was intended to play forever, they’d have programmed in the ability to earn extra lives through your score. In all my playing I never did gain another life on top of the two I started with.
Either way... I’m pleased to say that Lady Tut strikes me as terrific a maze game today as it did when a friend first showed it to a very impressed adolescent Me back in the 1980s. Graphics are tasty and evocative of the Egyptian themes, sounds and tunes are catchy (Na-na na-na na-na-na!..) and above all the gameplay is smart. Brains, reflexes, strategy and classic gamer intuition all figure in your ability to sneak around the tomb monsters and to tease the mazes into working for you.
Lady Tut makes me happy as an asp affixed to Cleopatra’s breast.
-- Lady Tut -- 8/10 --
Community review by bloomer (February 05, 2004)
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