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Thursday, 11 December 2014

NGOTM: UWOL - Quest For Money (Ubhres Productions/The Mojon Twins, 2009)


Written by anjuel & na_th_an of The Mojon Twins. First released for the ZX Spectrum 128k. Credits more or less as they appear on the Mojon Twins website:

Story by David Pimperl Marco
Code by na_th_an with SPLIB2
In-game graphics and loading screen by anjuel
Additional graphics by na_th_an
Cover art by Ferrán Criado
Music by Augusto Ruiz
Music player by wyz
Apack Decomp. ad.: utopian
Developing tools by Augusto Ruiz
Levels and support: Augusto Ruiz, anjuel, na_th_an, kendroock, daivod, dadman, t.brazil, ivanZX, benway, sejuan, konamito, danthalas, metalbrain and zemman




Converted for the Commodore 64 by the Mojon Twins in 2010.
Credits compiled from Gamebase64 and the Mojon Twins website:
Code by Algarbi (Woodmaster) and Nathan Asshantti (na_th_an)
Graphics by Nathan Asshantti (na_th_an)
Music by Owen Crowley (Conrad)

Converted for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis by Shiru in 2010.

Converted for the Commodore 16 by Assassins in 2010:
Coding and graphics by KiCHY
Music by Csabo

Converted for the ZX81 by na_th_an of the Mojon Twins in 2012.

Converted for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 2012, based on the Sega version:
Coding and graphics by Alekmaul
Music by Kung-Fu-Furby

Converted for the Android platforms by G is for Game in 2013.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME REVIEW


One of the most prolific game developing teams that write games almost exclusively for retro machines is the Mojon Twins from Spain, and their most widely converted game - UWOL: Quest For Money - is up for the New Game Of The Month comparison today. It was originally developed for the MSX, DOS and ZX Spectrum, but for whatever reason, only the Spectrum version ever got finished and published. Afterwards, there have been numerous other versions in the works, most of them even released, and some are apparently still in development. As UWOL is still a relatively young game, who knows how many ports we have yet to see. From all the available versions, I am not able to review the Android version, since I don't have one.

As explained so elaborately by Karnevi at ComputerEmuZone, the game's title is an abbreviation from the words "Ultimate Way Of Life", which apparently for this game's main character is to collect as much money as he possibly can, even if his life was endangered by it. Sure enough it is. UWOL is essentially a single-screen platformer, where you need to collect all the coins from the rooms you choose to go through, while avoiding the guarding enemies. The game takes and modifies a couple of well-utilised elements from Bubble Bobble: for one, you have a time limit in which you must collect all the coins before a ghost enters the room and follows you around like a homing missile; and two, the rooms are made in a wrap-around fashion, as in you can walk from one side straight to the other by just walking over the edge of the screen. Come to think of it, the latter one sounds more like Ice Climber than Bubble Bobble, but nevermind. There is even one element taken and modified from Ghosts 'n' Goblins: after one hit, you lose your armor and die from the next hit, but here you are given the chance to pick it up again. Your character runs around in a nice and smooth manner, and he has been given a nice inertia, which gives the game a good modern touch.

The game takes place inside a pyramid of 55 rooms, which you will go from top to bottom by choosing your next room from left and right exits, where available, once you have collected all the coins from the room. The goal is to collect 255 coins, if I recall correctly, after which you must get to the bottom of the pyramid to exit and see the reason you did all this dangerous money collecting for. This mission is not really possible to complete in one run down the pyramid, so you might want to memorize a couple of safe routes, but then again, the whole fun of the game is to go randomly every time you play it.

Due to the good mixture of familiar gameplay elements, cute graphics and a great soundtrack, UWOL can easily withstand repeated plays. It can even be called addictive, but at least in my case, only up to the point where you have completed the game once, which I did about two years ago. That said, I would definitely say it's one of the modern retrogaming classics already, having been about 5 years out and still often talked of. If for some reason, you have managed to dodge this game, I dare you to try it out and see if you're not instantly taken back to circa 1988. This is one of the more recent retrogames not to be missed.

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PLAYABILITY


Controlling UWOL, assuming that is your character's actual name, is fairly straightforward: most of the time, you go left and right, and of course jump. Because the game was developed for the ZX Spectrum, in order to avoid as much of colour clash, the level layouts are made of square-shaped blocks of the same size, with empty spaces of the same size in between. That means, also the player and the enemy sprites are all of similar size, that will just about fit into an empty block. So because of this, some vertical passages can be quite narrow, and to make some of the levels easier to complete, you are allowed to simply walk over a single block wide gap. If you need to go down such a gap, however, you can just pull the joystick down in the middle of the gap. Down will also exit the level you've completed, once you step on one of the exits. As I mentioned already, the screens are built to wrap up sideways, so you can walk left out of the screen and come back in from the right, and vice versa. If you drop down from a floor gap, though, you will lose a life.

All the regular enemies have their firmly set movement patterns - they will just go back and forth either in a horizontal or a vertical line. If you happen to touch them, your armour or life will be lost, and their movement is disturbed by it, and so they will turn back the other way. When the level timer runs out, a ghost will enter the room, who will be circling around with fairly large movements while simultaneously aiming at you.

I already spoke about the inertia bit, which makes the game feel more modern, so we don't need to go through that again. But from here, we can nicely get to the actual comparison bit, since the ZX81 version doesn't have the inertia element in it - nor does it have much of the other fine details either. There are only 28 rooms here, all of which are smaller, but give the impression of being taller, since the screen scrolls vertically. You'll see why from the screenshots later on. You need to collect only 128 coins instead of 255, which makes a lot of sense given the ZX81's capabilities. It is, what you would have called a basic blueprint version of the full game, but instead it's as full a conversion of the original as you could ever expect for the ZX81. All things considered, it's truly a remarkably well-made demake, if you will. As such, I don't really think this version should be even counted as part of the rest, but it deserves an honorary mention.

Getting finally to the proper versions of the game, let's start with the ZX SPECTRUM version, which wasn't perhaps the original, but it was the first one to be released. So I'm not sure how the game is actually supposed to play, since this is only as close to the original as it is possible for us to have. Some of the gameplay design-retaled decisions here are a bit curious, which are mostly directly related to platform placements. So the screenshot here is to help you visualize my problem: when there are two vertically placed blocks, between which you feel like you should jump, it's not particularly easy to do it, since your character will most of the time just slide next to it, trying to get between, but rarely succeeding in it. I still don't know how to overcome this problem, so I suggest you to figure out another route to your destination instead of waste your time by trying to get through these narrow passages. I'm pretty sure the problem is directly related to the fact that you can walk across such gaps, so if it came to choosing one of two small problems, I think they chose the right one to stick with.

The C64 version feels even more particular about your placement when trying to go through one-block spaces, and there seems to be some slight bugs still around: I found that if the lowest-placed platform block is one block higher at the other end of the screen than the one you're standing on at the opposite end, you will drop down in the screen-wrap section. However, it does play slightly quicker than the Spectrum version for the most part; only when the ghost appears on the screen, does the game slow down more noticably than when there's too much action on the Spectrum. I suppose it just hasn't been managed to optimise particularly well for the C64. Also, as a minor note, some of the enemy movement patterns have been adjusted, but have very little effect in the gameplay overall. In the end, it's not a bad port by any means, just not quite top notch.

On the SEGA, we get a bunch of fairly notable differences. Your jumps are made a bit shorter from the other versions, but the movement problem from the 8-bits has been fixed. Then again, you do drop down from one-block gaps here, so that's the downside of it. Other differences that make the game essentially a lot more difficult are, that the ghost has been made faster for this version, and turns a bit quicker as well; although you can jump a bit more "into" the blocks from below here, you fall down almost instantly after hitting a block, instead of keeping the jump on that level for a bit; and the enemy movement patterns have been made often completely different from the originals. None of this make the game impossible, just more difficult, so once again, it's a case of hard version on a 16-bit platform against normal versions on the 8-bits.

I was surprised at how well the C16 conversion was made, as it loses very little of the familiar gameplay from the other 8-bits. Only the jump mechanic is slightly iffy, feeling like UWOL is not completely sure if he really wants to jump or not. Again, the biggest problem is in the game screen's wrap-around section, which is something akin to the C64 version, but it's not something to be concerned about here. The memory restrictions of the C16 don't come across very much at all, at least where playability is concerned, but instead the intro section (title screen and credits) has been made to be a mid-loader bit, and the game itself is loaded after the title sequence. Considering the hardware, it's a fantastic conversion based on the Spectrum version.

Unfortunately, the SNES version doesn't seem to be very finished, or something must be wrong with my version of ZSNES, because after I had finished one run of the pyramid from top to bottom, the graphics went all broken and weird. But basically, it's attempting to be similar to the SEGA version by Shiru, and mostly succeeds well enough in its purpose up to the point where the game decides to stop co-operating. The only actual problem with the gameplay that I encountered was that your character would bump into the text bits above the action screen, so you can't really jump everywhere as freely as you can in every other version. Again, it seems to me like the currently downloadable version could be an unfinished demo version of the full game.

I would have thought that this would have ended up being a similar story as Alter Ego, regarding the game's further development and all that. Instead, I ended up thinking the SPECTRUM version, which came first, still has the best gameplay balance and the least amount of bugs and other annoyances. Both the C64 and C16 versions came very close to it, but due to the C64 version having the jumping mechanics handled better, it wins the Commodore battle. That said, the 16-bit versions aren't that bad either, just more difficult, so I would only recommend them to UWOL veterans, unless you think you are hardcore enough.

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GRAPHICS


I managed to find a screenshot of the unfinished Amstrad version, which would have likely been the first one around, had it not been dropped from development, but since there was only one around, I decided not to include it here. Instead, I added a link to the Overall section, where you can find it. To start this section properly, we shall take a look at all the loading screens and intro sequences.

Loading screens, credits sequences and title screens. Top left: Commodore 16. Top middle: Commodore 64.
Top right: ZX Spectrum. Bottom left: Super Nintendo. Bottom middle: Sega Megadrive. Bottom right: ZX81.


That's a bit of a handful, isn't it? Of course, like every proper modern game, UWOL starts with the publisher's and development team's logos and team credits. For some reason, the Mojon Twins decided to drop the ghost and the player character graphics from their startup logo on the C64 version, but at least the UBHRES cow picture is in full colour. The 16-bit versions are even more stylized and graphic than the 8-bit counterparts, but for some reason, the UBHRES cow picture is missing from the SEGA version. Basically, all the graphics are low-res but more colourful on the C64, while the SPECTRUM and C16 versions have hi-res graphics with less colours, and the 16-bits even have the title screen background animated. Already at this point, we can see that the 16-bits can do every aspect of the graphics much better. The ZX81 version doesn't have anything but the title screen, which is a bit more basic than the others, but that's a given.

Map screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 16, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom row, left to right: ZX81, Sega Megadrive, Super Nintendo.


After you start the game, you are shown the map of the pyramid-shaped mansion, and it is shown between every level to show you where you are and where have you been. When I first played UWOL, I was a bit disappointed that you couldn't actually choose the room you're in, since the map screen looked like you could control the "current room" cursor, but the logic of the map screen became clearer as the game progressed. The map screens look similar enough in all the 8-bit versions, with the obvious colouring and shading differences, but the 16-bits have an arrow pointing at the room you're currently in, instead of having a particular colour for it. Naturally, the ZX81 version looks very different, with the bigger lives and coins indicators and all that, but wait until you see the actual game screens...

Screenshots from the ZX Spectrum version.

For the level screenshot comparisons, I have made each version into their own separate section, to show you the attributes of each version properly. The screenshots consist of two regular status screens (of the top room and some other random room), the second room (when taking the left exit from level 1) with your armour off, and the fourth picture shows the ghost.

The SPECTRUM version takes a familiar setup of coloured background with monochrome sprites, which works well enough, and is really the only good way to give some variety to the graphics in a game which has so many screens. Some of the screens look nice enough, when the background pattern is not too busy, but with a smaller pattern in the background, it's a bit more difficult to see everything properly. There are a few different types of platform and wall graphics, but all of them have the same colouring, regardless of the background colour in any room. Given the style of the game, I think they couldn't have done any better here. There isn't much of animation around - only your own character has any sort of animation and change of expression, but all the enemy sprites just slide around with no change to the sprites themselves.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.


Of course the C64 version follows the SPECTRUM as much as possible, but there are a few very notable differences. The platform and wall graphics are no longer hi-res, but they do have more colours and shades. Also, every sprite is now multi-coloured hi-res, so there is no longer any chance of getting lost in the backgrounds. Even the coins have a yellow colour now, instead of being monochrome against the backgrounds, but they are now surrounded with a black border to keep the colours interfering with each other.

Screenshots from the Commodore 16 version.


Interestingly, the C16 conversion is a bit of a mixture of both C64 and SPECTRUM versions. All the sprites are monochrome and blend nastily with the backgrounds, apart from the coins and the armour icon. To prevent the game having too much graphical problems, the backgrounds have been made darker and less extreme in colouring style. The moving sprites are all the same colour as the brighter of two colours in the backgrounds, whereas on the SPECTRUM, it's always the darker one.

Screenshots from the Sega Megadrive version.


Having more capabilities, the SEGA version goes one-up in every aspect over the 8-bits. You get more colours, better resolution, better and more animations (the coins now do a little twisting movement), but still, nothing is overdone and everything works to its advantage. It could be argued, that UWOL himself looks less like he is supposed to, and more like a potato, but it's fine for me either way.

Screenshots from the Super Nintendo version.


With the SNES version having its basis on the SEGA version, it's not much of a wonder that it looks basically very much the same. The only things worth noting, perhaps, are the scores and lives indicators that now have their proper icons as they are shown elsewhere in the game, instead of a heart and a smaller coin icon; and then the green text bits on the SEGA version have now been changed to red.

Screenshots from the Sinclair ZX81 version.


Yes, this is the ZX81 version in all its glory. A bit of a difference to the others, isn't it? To be honest, although the graphics are as monochrome, large and ugly as they are, as a whole, the package works surprisingly well. If the ZX81 hardware is simply incapable of handling anywhere even near the amount of data in any way as the other machines are, then do something completely different with the idea. You do need to see it in action, or more precisely, experience it for yourself to see what I mean. Still, you can't deny that it looks rather simplistic compared to the others.

Comparison of the bottom room exits. Top row, left to right: Commodore 16, ZX Spectrum, Sega Megadrive.
Bottom row, left to right: Commodore 64, ZX81, Super Nintendo.


A minor point, I grant you, but it might be worth noting, that while all the official Mojon Twins versions of the game have distinctly different exit icons in the rooms at the bottom of the map from all the other room exits, the unofficial C16 conversion only shows similar arrow-type exits as all the other rooms.

Mid- and endgame screens. Top left: Commodore 64. Top right: Commodore 16. Middle left: ZX Spectrum.
Middle right: Sega Megadrive. Bottom left: ZX81. Bottom right: Super Nintendo (corrupt?)
Here we have a comparison of four different items. When you get to the bottom of the pyramid-shaped mansion for the first few times, you will get a picture with our money-grabbing hero in his familiar pose, and a message indicating that you need to start back from the top. This is the first item of four. All the capable machines show you a proper picture with moneybags at the background, as well as a proper quote from our hero. The C16 version only shows the same picture as is shown on the title screen along with the text, and the ZX81 version shows something completely different and less detailed. The picture with the moneybags is, however, shown on the ending screen of the ZX81 version, along with a small "Well done, bro" message. Again, all the capable machines have a proper message and a picture with four cartoonized versions of the enemy sprites at the back. The SPECTRUM, C64, SEGA and SNES versions have this, as well as a THE END message afterwards, although I couldn't complete the SNES version due to a severe graphical bug, as shown below. The similarly styled Game Over text naturally is shown when you die and your game is over. Only the ZX81 version shows the Game Over text over the current level screen.

This is how the SNES version looks like once you have completed a 10-room run for the first time.
An unfinished product, perhaps, or an intentional trick...?
There is no point in denying that the graphics look better on the 16-bits in every way - at least when they have the grace to actually work. Still, I do believe every version has been made to take as much out of each hardware as possible, and given the amount of graphical data on both C16 and ZX81 versions, I think they're remarkable achievements as they are. Comparing the lot against each other, particularly the 8-bit versions, is a difficult job, so I shall keep my conclusions at bay until the end results.

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SOUNDS


UWOL has a very rich sound environment, boasting of 9 different tunes and a nice variety of sound effects. In a rather Nintendoesque fashion, most of the music is fairly short pieces with an uptempo beat and a few chords, which loop endlessly. First, of course, is the title theme tune, which plays only in the title screen. Next, the map screen has its own short looping tune, which has a nice "get ready" quality to it. The in-game tunes have been separated to four sections: the first three floors, the next three floors, the next two floors and the bottom two floors. And then the three other tunes are played for when the ghost arrives on the screen, when you get to the bottom of the pyramid, and when you complete the game. All of this makes UWOL a very comfortable game for any arcade-style platformer fan.

Although the game was more or less designed originally for machines with AY-chips, the SID version of the soundtrack adds an immense amount of expression and depth to all the tunes. The drums on the C64 sound more drum-like, and the melodic instruments have all sorts of filters and effects that aren't there on the SPECTRUM. Both versions do have a similar problem with the hardware limitations: in order to get both music and effects simultaneously, one of the channels needs to have a priority for the sound effects, so for every blip, bump and tingle effect you hear, a melodic line is taken away for the duration.

Naturally, both the 16-bit conversions overcome this problem, which already gives them an edge over the 8-bits. And of course, all the music has been kept in, although some of the tunes have a slightly rearranged feel to them. Nothing drastic, but it's noticable. Whether you happen to like the SNES version or the SEGA version more is entirely a matter of opinion, but both versions have their own particular qualities that fit the game equally well; the SEGA version just sounds more like an Atari arcade game, while the SNES version sounds more like an Amiga game with samples and all that. Frankly, I'm having a hard time deciding which one I prefer, because they are both so great.

At the other end of the rainbow, the ZX81 version has no sounds at all, basically because the ZX81 doesn't really have much of sound output in the first place. The C16 version does, however, but with the limited amount of memory already used for quite a lot of game code and graphics, all you will hear in the C16 UWOL is some basic sound effects - there is no music at all.

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OVERALL


Whatever your chosen platform, UWOL is a very entertaining game, and true to its numerous sources of inspiration. For the best gameplay, I'd recommend the Spectrum version, but for the best music and graphics, you'd have to go with either of the 16-bits or the C64 version, and in any case, each of them are fine as they are, and different enough to be interesting to see the differences for yourselves. If you happen to own a ZX81, I'm pretty sure that UWOL is a game you should add to its library, if possible.

To put a nice clean end to this New Game Of The Month entry, here are the more traditional scores...

The overall scores median is based around the most important factor in any game review: playability.


As you might already know, there are some other versions in the making - or at least there have been. A remake of sorts had been in the works for the 128k Amstrad CPC a few years ago, but I have no idea what happened to it. Here are two links for the author's blog: ONE and TWO. Of course, the Amstradists can exclusively enjoy the sequel, which you already know about. But to get back to the subject, a version for the Atari 8-bit computers has been in the works, but the last anyone's heard of it was a year and a half ago. And then, there's the Android version, which has been finished and released, but I have no equipment to test it on. Finally, after I had written all of the above, I came across something rather interesting about the SNES version: the SFC-file, that I have been testing it from, could be a demo version of the game, which was made for a commercial 4-in-1 cartridge. There could be even more of these lurking around, but this is all I have found so far.

Now, unfortunately, there don't seem to be all that many newer games that can be made into proper comparisons, because there aren't enough versions around for most of them. So I'm going to have to take a longer break until the next NGOTM, just so that there could be one of these further down the road. If you have suggestions for newer retrogames that would make for an interesting comparison, throw me a comment below.

That's it for now; thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!
Comments, suggestions and corrections are more than welcome!

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the in-depth reviews, we as developeres really appreciate when somebody puts the effort to actually play and review in detail something we have created. Cheers!

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    1. Thanks for the comment; I do aim to please whenever possible! =)

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  2. There's an Uwol MSX2 version released recently. In case you want to add it to the article. You can get it here:

    http://imanok.msxblue.com/files/uwol.zip

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    1. Yeah, thanks. I was aware of it already, but I just don't have much of time writing actual comparison articles as it is, so it'll take a while before I have the chance to update the rest of the articles I need to update, this being one of them. It's good to see one of the more recent games having so much attention, though. =)

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    2. Don't worry, there's no hurry at all... I just wanted to mention the new versions, in case you didn't know about them ;)

      BTW, I forgot to mention the even more recent PC/Mac versions!

      http://www.mojontwins.com/juegos_mojonos/uwol-quest-for-money-pc-mac/

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    3. Cool, those I didn't know about! Thanks!

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