Steve Turner‘s classic Ranarama originated on the ZX Spectrum in 1987. The game is an overhead Gauntlet derivative where you play as a frog (actually a wizard’s apprentice, called Mervyn, whose botched spell has turned him into a frog), who must fight his way through various levels of a maze, defeating warlocks and taking their runes.
As you explore the maze new rooms are revealed, filling out the map. You can stand on various tiles to do things, like – for example – standing on the ‘eye’ tile (and pressing fire) will show a map of the entire level (at least: what you’ve discovered so far). Standing on the ‘triangle-inside-a-circle’ tile will allow you to change your active spells; the ‘diamond’ tile gives access to an elevator that goes up or down a level, and the ‘sun’ tile destroys all hostiles in a room and can be used only once.
Knowing how to use the spell system is an important part of the game. You can have four spells active at the same time: power, offence, defence, and effect, and the power spell fuels the other three and degrades over time. If the power spell drops to zero Mervyn will explode and become vulnerable to death, unless he quickly finds a tile and activates another power spell. Offensive spells allow Mervyn to use a variety of different projectile-based magic, which he of course uses to destroy monsters. Defensive spells reduce damage taken, and effect spells activate special abilities (such as showing all the Warlocks on a level, or adding area effect attacks).
Common enemies can be shot with magic bolts, but to defeat warlocks you must first touch them when you encounter them, then complete a sliding word puzzle using the word “RANARAMA“. To do this you move the active letters left and right and press fire to swap the letters, and eventually put them back into the correct order. When a warlock dies it then drops a number of magic runes which you must collect and can then use to select more powerful spells. When you’ve defeated all warlocks on a level the maze then goes dark blue to indicate that you’ve completed that level.
You can destroy ‘generators’ to stop monsters from re-spawning in some rooms, and as you descend lower into the dungeon the levels change colour to indicate your progress downward.
Ranarama is a classic Spectrum game that manages to pack quite a lot into a small amount of memory, similar in many ways to Steve Turner‘s classic Dragontorc. The graphics and sound are excellent, but it’s the refined gameplay makes Ranarama timeless.
More: Ranarama on Wikipedia