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Llamasoft’s The Minotaur Project #5 – Caverns of Minos

Llamasoft's The Minotaur Project has been bringing classic-based games to the iOS platform, and has in turn provided some incredibly solid gameplay and immense amounts of fun. Mr. Minter has been cranking them out pretty quickly, and with one exception, they have all been solid gaming experiences. Unfortunately, Caverns of Minos seems to be that exception.

At first glance, Caverns of Minos is yet another solid and polished gaming experience. Based heavily on the classic Atari 8-bit game Caverns of Mars, and even including obvious nods to it from the standard 8-bit text font and obvious graphics lifts, Caverns of Minos is essentially an evolution of (and obvious homage to) it. Your goal for each level is to pilot your ship down to the bottom of the cavern, blowing up enemies and the ever-present fuel tanks along the way, while rescuing the also ever-present minotaurs scattered througout. At the bottom of each cavern sits your goal, which is inevitably to pick up whatever object the "mothersheep" (yes, quite literally) sent you to fetch, and then to return with it. This definitely seems more fun than what I've so far insinuated.

The problem here is that this sounds much more simple (and less aggravating) than it actually is. The run of Llamasoft games with excellent controls has seemed to hit a bump in the road. Your ship is controlled by a similar control scheme to the previous game, GoatUp, and even gives you the same flexibility in configuring them. However, controlling a goat up platforms is a bit more simple than piloting a continuously falling spaceship that is constantly having to fight the pull of gravity. The control scheme itself is fine, but the actual performance of the controls seems a bit slippery and uneven. This gets especially more aggravating on later levels where there is very little wiggle room in regards to avoiding running into enemies or the cavern walls. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a control scheme that I liked. The game does benefit from the smaller screen of an iPhone or iPod Touch, as opposed to being a frustrating experience on the iPad, but even on these smaller screens the controls just don't feel quite right.

Adding to the aggravation are the sound effects. The sound effects on the whole are fine, using nice, crisp samples, but combined with the flow of the gameplay, I found myself more than once having to mute my iPad. Your ship makes a loud, jarring, grating noise when you run into the cavern walls or another obstacle. While the obvious way to avoid this is to not run into shit, this is much easier said than done. The later levels feature plenty of tight fits where it's nearly impossible to avoid running into something. Also, many of the platforms that you land on in order to rescue minotaurs have largely uneven surfaces. While turning the sound off would be a solution, this also prevents you from important audio cues that are essential to the gamplay...namely, the sounds indicating that you're bumping into something. Using a much less annoying sound effect would have helped immensely. This may all sound like nit-picking, but unfortunately these quibbles with the game all seem to add up into making it feel more tedious than fun.

With all of the above having been said, the core gameplay is solid, even if a bit repetitive. There is a large variety of enemies and obstacles that you will encounter, and the game actually feels like you accomplish something other than just blowing things up in each level. The graphics are also pretty standard fare for any Llamasoft title (as in unique and well-done), including a satisfying end-of-level trip-a-thon with your mothersheep.

It pains me to be so negative with a Llamasoft release, but at least it's not very often that this happens. In my own view, while the game doesn't quite seem to live up to the previous Minotaur Project titles, I still have a hard time not recommending it, given it's cheap price of $1.99 in the App Store. At this price, you can do far worse than giving it a go, and may even find it more fun than I did. And by doing that, you're helping to ensure more quality titles for the iOS platform.


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