01/12/2017

LORNA (ZX SPECTRUM)

I’m not doing it on purpose, I swear, but it seems that VGJunk is turning into a repository of articles about old Spanish ZX Spectrum games. It just keeps happening! Maybe it’s coincidence, maybe it’s because Spain is just far enough away that these games are exotic enough to pique my interest. I am from the north of England, after all. As much as I like to think of myself as being somewhat learned, it’s part of my cultural DNA to consider anything that originates south of Watford a bit exotic. So, here’s another Spanish ZX Spectrum game: it’s Topo Soft’s 1990 sultry-em-up Lorna!


Say hello to Lorna, everyone. Hello, Lorna. It’s a good job I already knew this game was called Lorna because it took me several attempts to read the word “Lorna” on this screen. Haphazardly-piled letters carved from blue cheese don’t make for the most legible title screen.
Okay, so the focal point here is Lorna herself, a scantily-clad adventurer for whom the term “space vixen” could have been invented. Lorna’s the star of this game, but she wasn’t created for the game. No, this is a licensed tie-in, based on the Lorna comic by Spanish artist Alfonso Azpiri. Azpiri’s artwork appeared in places like Heavy Metal, as well as on the covers of (appropriately enough) many home computer games of the time, including the wonderfully-titled Abu Simbel Profanation. Azpiri also drew a limited edition cover for Dark Souls II, of all things. As for Lorna, she’s a star-hopping adventuress who travels the galaxy with her robot friends, getting into all manner of wacky situations. Are those situations erotic? Of course they are, it’s a European comic about a lady in a bikini.


Getting straight into it – well, once I’d redefined the keys, always welcome in a ZX Spectrum game – and we can see that Lorna is a side-scrolling, single-plane beat-em-up with some platforming thrown in there. Okay, fine, you can’t see the platforming in the above screenshot but trust me, it’s in there. Lorna must fight through this lemon-and-lime flavoured backdrop. For now, her goal is merely to reach the end of the stage without dying and also to look sensual and comely as she lounges across the game’s status bar. I’d say he looks more uncomfortable than seductive. She’s giving me a sympathetic twinge in my hip.


Prepare for thrilling action as Lorna is attacked by some kind of aardvark warrior carrying a sword and shield! Bored by the lack of excitement to be had hunting ants, the aardvark has moved on to larger prey, but Lorna’s more than ready to fight back. For close range encounters like these, she can clobber her enemies with the stock of the rifle she’s carrying, which is what’s happening above. This has the benefit of conserving Lorna’s extremely precious ammunition supply, and it also kept making me think of Harvey Keitel saying “take the butt of your gun and smash their nose in” from Reservoir Dogs. For an anteater, this is not a threat to be taken lightly.


Unfortunately Lorna’s melee attack isn’t the greatest technique to use in a fight. It’s very fiddly, that’s the problem, and not always in a consistent or predictable way – the distance you need to be standing from your opponent isn’t set in stone, and some attacks will result in nothing more than Lorna standing there and using a gun incorrectly, while on other occasions the exact same positioning will result in the bad guy taking damage. I think part of the problem is that the sprite doesn’t line up with the hitbox correctly, and you have to be a lot closer to the monster than you’d think.
Not a great start to the action, then, and when coupled with Lorna’ sluggish movement speed and the fact she turns around slower than a lorry full of granite slabs, it looks like we could be in for a quite a slog. On the “plus” side, every time Lorna jumps or attacks you get to see just how much care and attention was put into drawing her buttocks.


On the subject of lovingly-rendered rears, I can’t really fault Lorna on the graphics front. Not when there’s a small green demon that flies across the screen carrying a health-restoring chicken for our heroine to eat. It’s got to be more hygienic than finding your health-restoring chicken under a bin.
The graphics are the reason I’m playing the Spectrum version of Lorna, actually. The game was released on several different platforms, including DOS and the Amiga, and the Amiga version in particular has rather nice graphics – but then we all know the Amiga is capable of putting out really nice graphics. I was more interested in how those graphics would fare on the Spectrum, a system which (and I say this with fondness) was down at the bottom end of home computer graphics capability. The result is… surprisingly good! The colour clashing isn’t bad, the sprites are chunky, well defined and nicely if slowly animated. There’s even some parallax scrolling going on the background, and it’s amazing how far that goes to providing a feeling of quality.


But oh, isn’t it a shame about the gameplay. Once these long-armed crocodile creatures show up things get even worse, as they repeatedly spawn over and over right in front of you as you’re trying to negotiate the instant-death arrow traps that fire when you step on the pressure plates. On their own the arrow traps are no threat at all – just duck under or jump over the projectile – but when the monsters are thrown into the mix Lorna’s extreme slowness means you don’t have the time to dodge the creatures and the arrows until the game randomly decides to give you a break and lets you jump through a previously solid foe.
This all means that Lorna’s going to be dying a lot. In fact, playing through this game with a cheat for infinite lives is the only way to even slightly temper the feeling of it being a Sisyphean punishment formed from pixellated cheesecake. If you are – what’s a more polite word for “stupid?” - reckless enough to try playing Lorna as it was intended to be played, then at least be comforted by the fact that green demons will occasionally bring you extra lives. It’s hard to make out, but the extra lives are shaped like miniature versions of the reclining Lorna from the status bar. Even when battling warrior aardvarks on a distant planet, being given a small replica of yourself in a sexy pose must stand out as being pretty damn weird. “Is that what I look like? Yikes, maybe I should dial down my raw eroticism a touch.”


At the end of the stage is a spaceman with a gun. I know he has a gun because he shot me with it. There wasn’t much I could do about it, what with the spaceman firing his gun as soon as he appeared on the screen and Lorna being far too slow to offer any response but dying and then slowly sinking through the floor. Not to worry, I can give the spaceman a taste of his own medicine, because Lorna has a gun of her own, remember? The stock is covered in the clotted gore of a hundred pulverised aardvarks, but it’s still a gun and you can fire it by pressing down and attack. There are two problems with this: it’s very slow (what a shocker, right?) and ammo is extremely limited. It took me a while to realise, but those three blue things on the status bar are ammo magazines, and you’ll need to make every bullet count to reach the end of Lorna.
You can’t just shoot the spaceman when you see him, either. Lorna reacts too slowly, so you have to fire before you reach the spaceman and kill him while he’s off-screen. I hope you’re taking notes about where each and every enemy is located, folks.


Stage two now, and while it plays out very similarly to the first stage, the setting is now a forest of extra-large bamboo and the main enemies are animal barbarians that run up to Lorna and try to deliver a jumping club attack to her head. Take a good look at those creatures and you’ll realise that they’re actually ALF. You remember ALF, right? Extraterrestrial star of the eponymous eighties sitcom, likes eating cats, has a nose shaped like the penis of an ancient wizard? To paraphrase The Simpsons, he’s back, in barbarian form.


I must say, it is rather satisfying when you manage to clobber an ALF in mid-jump. It’s an important skill to master, too. Outside of, you know, learning exactly where every single enemy, collapsing walkway and instadeath booby trap on each stage are located, the amount of enjoyment (and progress) you’ll get out of Lorna seems heavily tied to how quickly you get handle on our star’s physical attacks.


Less threatening but equally infuriating are these yellow things that look like Koopa Troopas without their shells. Yep, naked, horny Koopa Troopas, that’s what these things are. They’ve got the hots for Lorna, and they’ll run over to you with love-hearts streaming behind them, clinging on to our heroine and momentarily paralysing her unless you do the sensible thing and shoot them the second they appear. I mean, you can wait until they get close and then hit them, but do you really want to risk one of these thing dry-humping your leg?


There’s a bit more platforming in this stage, and it’s okay. It’s nothing particularly interesting, but when taken in isolation the jumping works fine and Lorna’s leaps are predictable enough to make things relatively painless. This means nothing, however, because the game loves putting enemies just offscreen after a series of jumps…


...like here, where this prick was waiting, unseen, for me to jump into his sword. “Well, that’s a stroke of luck,” says the guard, “she jumped right onto my sword!” And then he tells the lads down at the Space Monster Arms about the epic battle that he and Lorna were engaged in until she finally succumbed to his superior swordsmanship.
The solution, as is so often the case in this game, is to shoot the sword-monster from off-screen.


Here’s a weird quirk: Lorna asks you if you want to go to stage three. You can say no, and do the previous stage again. There’s nothing important that you can miss in stage two, so I have to assume that Lorna really goes downhill from here and the programmers were trying to give the player an out. Well, not me, chaps. I’m here for the long haul, give me more poor quality side-scrolling trash!


Or a Space Harrier clone, that’s fine too. Yep, Lorna is a completely different game now. You fly into the screen, avoiding the trees that come at you using a decent approximation of Sega’s Super Scaler technology and not really shooting anything because while Lorna’s flying hoverboard does have guns there aren’t many enemies around to shoot. You know what, it’s probably quicker just to show you.


Visually, it’s not bad. The trees have a strange stretching effect on them, but for an 8-bit home computer it’s a good effort and feels convincingly 3D-ish. It certainly feels quite fast, which makes a nice chance for Lorna. Sadly, the stage is hampered by a very high difficulty level, mostly thanks to the trees often looking like they’re further apart when they first appear than they are when the actually reach you, plus Lorna’s rather wobbly controls. It all gets rather frustrating, which is a shame because I feel like it’s quite close to being pretty decent.


Stage four is more of the same, only with even more trees and a few other hoverboard users for you to shoot at. It can be hard to hit them, because Lorna’s sprite is so big that it obscures your view of your ship’s projectiles unless you’re firing from an extreme angle. At least you get chance to practise if you make it this far, because get this – Lorna has passwords! You don’t see that very often with Spectrum action games, and it’s going a long way towards redeeming Lorna in my eyes. It’s still not a good game, but at least you can try to learn how to overcome its bullshit without having to slog through every stage each time.


For the fifth and final stage, Lorna’s back on foot and hoofing it through an evil castle populated mostly by dragons that drift past at head-height. The dragons are invincible and will kill Lorna on contact, but they’re easily avoided by ducking so all the dragons accomplish is making a slow game even slower.


This stage has an objective besides simply reaching the exit, and it’s all about dismembered body parts. Okay, “body” parts is a bit much, you’re actually looking for the components needed to reassemble Lorna’s robot buddy Arnold. See that blue robot shape at the bottom-right of the status bar? That’s Arnold, and as you grab his bits (ahem) he’ll light up until he’s complete. I don’t know much about the Lorna comics, but looking around the internet has taught me that Arnold looks lawsuit-baitingly similar to C-3PO and he’s essentially a walking sex toy that Lorna keeps around for when she’s got some, erm, tension to work off. God knows what the ending of this game is going to involve, but I’m gonna make sure R2-D2 has his eyes covered when we get there.


Two things here, one great and one not great. The great thing is that hovering monk who floats across the screen. He’s a real pain to encounter because you can’t get rid of him and all he does is summon skeleton warriors for you to wade through, but just look at that sprite. It’s so wonderful, and I can’t help but imagine the floating wizard being summoned by his evil overlord and saying “c’mon man, it’s Saturday, it’s supposed to be my day off! Okay, fine, I’ll fight the space vixen but I’m not changing out of my dressing gown or standing up or anything.”
The not-great thing is the mechanical crane-looking apparatus above Lorna’s head. It’s a teleporter, and this final stage is not linear like the others. Arnold’s body parts are scattered across a variety of small areas and you have to use the teleporters to move between said areas with no indication where each teleporter is going to take you.


Man, I hate games with teleporter mazes. It always feels like a cop-out, a way to avoid having to design a level properly, and its especially egregious when all the teleporters are identical and aren’t labelled. Would it be too much effort to grab a marker and write “small platforms over roiling lava pits zone” or “floating wizard corridor” on them?


With only a couple of pieces of Arnold left to find – although Lorna’s already got his pelvis and it sounds like that’s all she really needs – I happened across an evil armadillo. No big story here, I just wanted to show you the armadillo warrior. What’s the point of even having a retro games blog if you can't show off armadillo warriors? Look, he’s got a little knife!



Lorna does have a final boss, of sorts. A graboid from Tremors, perhaps. Definitely a worm of some kind – the “perpetually trapped in the same spot” kind, even, and I hope you’ve saved up all your ammunition because really the only way to beat this thing is to stand outside its range and shoot your gun at it until it dies. That’s my pro tip for you, then. Hang on, that sounds awfully familiar…


Having reassembled Arnold, Lorna promptly slaps him on an altar and sacrifices him to the dark gods of hairspray and thongs. Or maybe not – the closest thing this game has to an ending is a screen telling you (in Spanish) that your mission is complete and you have rescued your robot. Right then, off you two go. I’ll give you some alone time.
After spending all that time writing about Mega Man 4, I’m going to try to give Lorna a much briefer conclusion. It’s bad. Some parts of it are okay, mostly the graphics, but it’s slow and awkward and relies far too heavily on memorising enemy locations and shooting them from off-screen. Could anything be done to make Lorna a better game? Give the gun unlimited ammo, for starters. It’s much more fun (and reliable) to use than your melee attacks, but it’s not so powerful that it would remove all the challenge from the game, mostly because Lorna is so slow. Speaking of, making Lorna turn around faster than a fully-laden ocean liner would be nice. Those things are never going to happen, though, so my advice is that you shouldn’t play Lorna – the Spectrum version, anyway – and if you‘re after lusty, busty adventures in space then I hear there was a Spanish guy who drew a bunch of comics about that kind of thing.

3 comments:

  1. These snouted ALF-like warriors kind of remind me of Cerebus the Aardvark, a fantasy comic book character that was popular around the same time the Lorna comics were published.

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  2. I for one am quite happy that you keep on writing about old spanish spectrum games. As far as scantly-clad-space-vixen-multi-genre-em-ups with an Azpiri cover go Phantis is the better game :P.

    And speaking about speccy games, given your tastes, you should check out "Castlevania: Spectral Interlude" if you haven't yet, I'm positive you'll love it.

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  3. As a 90s kid who grew up in America I really have no nostalgia from the Spectrum outside of the Jetpac minigame from Donkey Kong 64. But gosh, you sure make it fun to read about regardless.

    ReplyDelete

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