Fatal Rewind
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9  |  Killer (Fatal?) Puzzle/Shooter/Platformer
Darryl B. , 2/3/2010 8:11:30 PM
Fatal Rewind cartridge and instructions - fatmanfatalrewind.jpg

Probably the only way to sum up this game is by putting it very simply: it’s KILLER.

Fatal Rewind was created by the excellent game company Psygnosis and distributed by Electronic Arts (and what an “art” it is!).  As we’re told in the biography, it’s creator Martyn Chudley combined his two favorite genres of games in order to create this one: shoot-em-ups and platform games.

They forgot to mention puzzle as well.

Before I get into that, though, I should probably describe how the gameplay works: first off, your game character’s body has been modified with a tough outer skin complete with weapons…looking like a big, steel chicken, actually.  You hop around in mazes – well, not literally hop, but you can also climb walls – avoiding enemies called HALFs and a DOLL in order to make it out…and…

Wait a minute, this isn’t sounding even half as awesome as I’ve promised, its sounding stupid! Lets see if the instructions can do a better job of describing this:

Fatal Rewind takes place on a futuristic holographic game show called Fatal Rewind.  You are a contestant.

At the beginning of the game, you’re standing (slightly dazed) at the bottom of the first Pit Of Death.  Right, this is no day at the beach.  From the get-go you’re in trouble. Suddenly Hostile Artificial Life Forms (HALFs) are released to turn your confusion into a living nightmare.  And someone with a really twisted sense of humor starts pumping a lethal ooze called Deadly to Organic Life Liquid (DOLL) into the pit.

Not surprisingly, your objective is to escape from this nasty environment—with most of your body parts intact.

Your armored torso provides a bit of protection but you won’t have much time to learn how it works.

Camouflaged containers concealing weapons, tools or access keys are scattered throughout the pit.  Shoot them to reveal their contents and crouch over the object to collect it.  Jumping at a wall activates your climbing equipment.  If you fall, pressing the D-Pad in the direction of the nearest wall gives you a chance to save your butt.

If you don’t make it to the exit (this happens a lot) a video replay of your last attempt is shown so you can see where you went wrong.  You can take over at any point during the replay and continue your attempt to escape.

Ok, sound better now? (And I TOLD you a “doll” was after you!)

There is MUCH more to this game than that, though.  First I’ll get to the good news…

As you try to climb your way out of the maze, there’s canisters scattered around that you can blast open, some of which are just message hints on how to get out, although others are various weapons to help upgrade your chick – err, I mean your Thug (what your character is called) – to increase your firepower (like high-powered lasers and a module that enables you to shoot into a cone-shaped formation, which serves as a weapon and a shield of sorts), certain power-ups will refill your life energy, and more, you get an extra Thug every time you complete a level (and trust me, you’re going to need them) …and then there’s the Fatal Rewind.

The Fatal Rewind allows you to “rewind” and correct any fatal mistake you might have made, as, the moment after you die, the level starts over in a replay mode…so DON’T touch anything on your controller! This feature will replay everything you did – hold down the A button to speed it up – and right before you find yourself about to drop down into the acid (DOLL) by accident, jump on a wrong platform, triggering a trap that instantly killed you, or whatever, then move the controller to escape from whatever peril that caused your demise.  This is only fair that this was put into the game, since, once the game starts getting tough (which is pretty quick!), there’s dozens of places per level where you can make a fatal error.  You are also guaranteed never to die the same way twice, since, if you hold down the A button for too long and see yourself die again before you corrected your mistake…well, a life is not deducted from your reserve.  (However, since you corrected a mistake before you died, wouldn’t that make this Non-Fatal Rewind? Right, that would just sound weird…)

But then, there’s the bad news: some of the mazes are hard to figure out, the HALFs swarm you Galaga-style, which can do a lot of damage, once the mazes get complicated and involve keys to unlock them as you go, you can only carry one at a time, you can go through a maze over and over and OVER again before you can figure out how to get out of there, some of these Oracles, rather than give advice, only contain dumb messages (like “have a nice day!” Hey, if I wanted to hear that crap, I’d just go buy something at my local grocery store…) and time is not on your side, as the lake of acid is constantly on the rise…

All I can say is if the kind of games you usually play involves shooting aliens in 2-D and eating dots, I wouldn’t bother downloading this ROM or tracking down a copy of the cartridge; it’s pretty hard.  You have to have a good memory and be able to figure out pretty tough situations, and at times logic does not prevail: I just inserted a key and saw a wall crumble down to my left, but the jump is too far; how do I get there?  A lot of times going the opposite direction will do the trick, as the maze scrolls around as you go.  You’ll have to backtrack a lot to retrieve something important, and sometimes you’ll have to blindly fall down a platform to get a key that you saw below, as there’s no way to scroll down the screen to look before you leap, unlike in the Sonic the Hedgehog games (most of them; the version for the Sega CD doesn’t do that) or the Genesis port of Ms. Pac-Man…and the better to fall into the pit of acid and die, if you fall off the wrong end of a platform by mistake.


Fatal Rewind's cool title screen - fatmanfatalrewind.jpg

As far as complexity goes, here’s a brief summary of what you have to do during part of one of the final levels, for instance:

After you blast open a canister, there’s a square key inside it; grab it.  Insert the key into its keyhole.  There’s a teleporter that sends you to another part of the maze; use it and grab the octagon-shaped key (and by the way, I’m leaving out several tidbits in regards to shooting open the canisters and jumping from platform to platform), then teleport back.  Once that square key was placed into it’s keyhole, it activated a chain that lowered down, so climb up it and use the teleport at the top of that platform (this is a different teleport, unlike the one I mentioned earlier) and grab the round key, then teleport back again to use the key.  Teleport back to the octagon key, grab it (and just to remind you, remember, you can only carry one key at a time), teleport again, climb the new chain that appeared from using the previous key so you can shoot a switch to raise the chain back up so you can grab a triangle-shaped key, shoot the switch again to lower the chain back down (the chain was blocking your access to the key), climb up the chain, use the (new) teleport there, insert the key, then teleport back, grab the key that’s shaped like home base in baseball, teleport, use the key, teleport back, grab the octagon key, teleport back, and then you will FINALLY use the blasted thing.

Doesn’t sound too simple, eh Einstein?  And keep in mind, that doesn’t include all the HALFs that are attacking in the meantime, accidentally using the wrong teleport, which going back to use the right one will cost you time, the chains that allow you to climb higher in the maze can only be mounted from one side (so if you try to jump on the wrong side of one, you’ll fall), you have to make it to all of the keys before they’re covered in acid, you’re going to die several times before you figure out the moves outlined in the above paragraph AND this was only a small part of this level’s description…among other things.  Like I said earlier, logic doesn’t always prevail, as the octagon key was one of THE first keys you picked up in that sequence, but then it ended up being the last one you used (insert exploding head image here).

In the early stages of development, I can only imagine creator Chudley crafting this using a lot of scratch paper as far as planning out the levels, putting this key at point A in order to unlock the wall at point C…but at point B there’s another key to confuse the player with that he’ll/she’ll have to go back and get…I’ll bet the damn thing seemed easy on PAPER!  It’s not!  (To add to this effect, before you enter each and every maze, the words of “GET READY” appear on the screen, and in small letters beneath that it says “to die”…no pressure or anything there!)

Anyway, there’s a few slowdowns when a bunch of HALFs are onscreen at once, but that doesn’t really affect the gameplay, the sound effects are adequate (although hearing a chain dropping down is a very welcome sound indeed, since it means you did something right…you hope) and the graphics are pretty much what you’d expect from a 16 bit scroller/platform game: weird.  The backgrounds in the levels’ are based on certain themes, which include either machinery or electricity, a big stone garden (I guess), ancient Greece (my favorite!)…and a rather demonic-looking one filled with skeletons and giant skulls with horns on top, which bugs me a little: should that BE in a game?  Oh well.

The music is also very good, even though there’s only a few pieces of it – the intro, the main piece when you play, and the high score bit – although the main one is almost as strange as some of the backgrounds: it’s like there’s two different pieces strung together, as it kind of fades off after a while…then the drums come thundering back, and the next piece starts up.  All the compositions, though, are just great synthesizer music, really…but if that’s not your cup of tea, you can just turn it off at the main menu.

And on the flip side of all the raves, I really can’t say anything bad about this game, except for wanting to be able to skip some levels or start off later in the game, which you can’t do.

This is also one of the few games I’ve ever played – fellow Genesis game Sub-Terrania and the Atari 7800 Tower Toppler – that either does or doesn’t have any replay value, depending on how you look at it: since it’s pretty hard and it doesn’t have much of an ending at all, there’s no replay value there…however, if you don’t play this for months and then decide to go back to it one day, you’re going to forget how to get out of a lot of the levels, so, in effect, you’re going to be starting all over, pretty much. (Talk about a “fatal rewind”!)

Anyway, if you think you can handle some acid and a real brain-buster of a puzzle game, go ahead and give this unique game a try.  (And don’t worry about me constantly saying how hard it is; it doesn’t immediately start that way or anything, and it’s still a blast!)  

Although I still think your character looks like a big steel chicken. 9/10


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