Many games seem put you in command of a musclebound warrior or perhaps a Hollywood hero with a deadly automated weapon. Not so with Ranarama, how about a novice magician called Mervyn who has accidentally turned himself into a frog. Yep, you're a frog!
Wizards have invaded and brought with them a horde of monster followers who killed everyone, although luckily they ignored the unassuming slimy frog. So its time for you to leg'it and deal these evil beings a hefty dose of revenge! Played through an overhead view, you crawl a dungeon battling the numerous minion slaves of the powerful wizards. First impressions are of another action packed Gauntlet clone and, although it looks aesthetically similar, its quite different. Beginning on the upper area of this 8-level dungeon you must kill the baddies and defeat the wizards. Interestingly, only the places you have explored are visible and the baddies themselves are only seen when you’re within the same room. This makes entering new rooms an anxious moment and who knows what surprises lurk!
Monsters come in various scary shapes and sizes, starting with the humble Dwarf (I love those) leading up to the mighty Gargoyles. All can be killed with increasing efforts and wizards need to be defeated in a Countdown style sub-game that has you rearranging letters to form the word "Ranarama". Once won, the Wizard dies and leaves behind his rune goodies for you to collect. This may seem easy but later wizards are very tricky fellas. Magic plays its part in Ranarama and can be a little confusing at first but good ‘ol Mervyn has four categories at his disposal: offensive, defensive, effect and other powers. Watch yourself, all monsters and even your own movements can reduce energy, but fear not because you can cast a spell or collect the energy cells which are frequently available. Also use the floor-based glyphs that activated special features like a maps, status and casting power spells. This game is far bigger than you first imagine!
The graphics are superb with attention to fine detail and great use of colour. The in-game Sound effects are very good and the music is by Dave J. Rogers, he of Exolon and Zynaps fame, so it absolutely superb. Ranarama was one of the first Atari ST games (I owned) to feature speech thus is always a happy moment each and every time I hear the fuzzy woman speak!
Overall, if you're expecting a typical Gauntlet clone then you might be disappointed. Ranarama is quite different and offers a longterm mix of arcade action with hints of role playing as you venture through the levels. It’s difficult (but very rewarding) so expect lots of late nights because this is a fantastic Atari ST game and one that nobody should miss.