European Amiga Cover
Japanese PC Engine CD Cover
The first title to be released in the series was Jim Power In Mutant Planet. The story and origin of Power changes with seemingly every version of the game, but here in the original the story goes something like this: You are Jim Power who is described in the manual as "A man of all dangers". Power is the chief of the Special Warfare Unit for the Security of President Halley (S.W.U.S.P.H). He is an unrivaled sharpshooter and the best detective in S.W.U.S.P.H. When the evil mutant devil Vulkhor kidnaps President Halley's daughter Samantha, he sends the president a multi sensorial telepathic message; Give him the Ultimate Weapon within 24 hours or else he'll turn her into a mutant. The only hope to save her is Jim Power. Vulkhor has taken her to the Mutant Planet, a world of evil located 538 million light-years away from Earth. With the help of an astromagnetic teleportation device Jim travels that distance in mere seconds, and here your adventure begins.
It might be a stretch to critique the storyline of a game released during the early 90's, but oh my goodness gracious. The story reads like something out a elementary school writing class project where kids just let their vibrant yet underdeveloped imagination run wild. The story is only told through the 700 word long tale found in the manual and even though every character is named and "fully developed" there, the actual game only makes mention of Samantha, making it probably the most redundant backstory ever written. But what about Jim Power? Who is this mysterious hero and how worthy is he of the last name Power? Well take a look:
Man, would you look at that. Awesome shades, matching green cap and shorts, sweet utility belt, ripped to the bone and a mean laser gun. He looks like Keanu Reeves if he was cast in Kindergarten Cop 2: Boy Scout Bout. I say we give the designer Guillaume Dubail a medal cause there is no way anyone will ever surpass this character design. He is quite possibly the definition of a real man. I'm guessing since this game was the only one Loriciel actively pushed in the American market that this is the European take on an American hero. I'm not an American but if I was, I'd be damn proud of that.
The game's selling points when released was its technical achievements. For its time it actually does boost some very impressive technical aspects, the backgrounds are quite colorful and detailed, the music as mentioned earlier is absolutely amazing and most of all according to the box, the game has 12 layers of parallax scrolling. But sadly for Loriciel the main selling point is probably its biggest problem. You see each layer scrolls in different ways and directions as Power runs across screen. The foreground will remain stationary, while the background will go in the opposite direction as the way you are running at different speed and pace, leading to some amazingly confusing parts. A lot of the game takes place on bouncing platforms at high speed, so imagine concentrating on Power who goes up and down at a certain tempo while the background goes in the opposite rhythm and direction. It's like if I decide to go out today and set fire to 12 houses in 2 hours without leaving any trace or getting caught and actually accomplish doing so. It's technically impressive that I managed to do that, but it can be argued that I didn't do society much good doing so. That same way, the parallax scrolling doesn't help the game, it actually damages it by guaranteeing you a headache within the first few minutes of playing.
Besides the scrolling killing you mentally, the game itself will kill Power at every turn. The game is unacceptably hard and there are many reasons to this. First of is enemy placement, they pop up out of nowhere at 300mph running towards you and while they often take 5-6 hits with your gun, Power dies at the slightest touch of any enemy or their projectiles. It works much the same as Ghosts 'n Goblins where our hero is running through a field killing baddies from all angles out of nowhere and upgrading his weapon. Power can pick up upgrades for his laser gun and bombs which to its credit does actually give you quite an increase in strength and speed, but like Arthur in Ghosts 'n Goblins you can only shoot straight ahead even though enemies will most often be above or below you. Rarely do they come straight ahead. You also have to beat the clock and look for time extensions and keys to open gates but for the most part you'll be so focused on just staying alive that you'll overlook the keys which more than often blend into the scenery because of similar colors. When you die however, Power is invincible for a good 30 seconds and that can be useful to just run over the spikes and enemies. You can also pick up an invincibility item but this only lasts 5 seconds and will get you killed.
But the biggest problem Power faces is his own jump. Jumping in this game is one of the most frustrating tasks in video game history and when you are playing a platformer with bad jumping, you know you got some trouble ahead. The physics of his jump are so messed up that you'll rarely make the smallest of jumps. His rise to the sky is so slow and low while the downfall comes so fast and sudden that every time you jump it's the most heart pounding and intense moment of your life. Even when you make these jumps it's by so little and you'll often wonder how you even made it landing on the very edge of the platform.
The game is 5 stages long and separated by 2 styles of gameplay. Side scrolling platformer and horizontal shooter. At the end of each level you will fight a big boss which most likely will kill you before you even realize what you're supposed to be hitting. Despite only being 5 levels the side scrolling stages are so long and difficult with more than one miniboss scattered throughout. The first level alone takes up towards 10 minutes to beat if you are running through it. The shooter stages however are around a minute in length and will suddenly just go black and transport you to a boss battle, and are fairly easy to beat.
There is something to be said about the art direction and originality of this game. There is non. First off the enemies have no consistency and are all a random mess of Roman centurions, Egyptian cats, flying mushrooms and pelvis pushing bald men. It also steals from a lot of other games, most notably Ghosts 'n Goblins as mentioned. The scenery is similar, the basic storyline is the same and the final boss is pretty much identical to that found in Ghosts 'n Goblins. The only all original and inspired part of this game, is the music which is incredible in every way. High energy rock with glorious Amiga guitar samples with Stage 3 having an exceptionally good sound with a strange but suitable emotional melody. Hülsbeck really went to town with this score, combining his by now trademark heroic motifs with Japanese game music inspirations which was highly unusual at the time and even today, is only found in a few composers like Jake Kaufman of WayForward. Some songs have very strong similarities to that of Ys, but whether this is intentional or a coincidence is hard to say. As amazing as the classic Turrican soundtrack is, I find Jim Power to be the best of Hülsbeck's incredible catalog. Apart from the music, there's little new and original to be found in this game, hell even when I look at the box art I see something very familiar...
Jim Power in Mutant Planet was ported to many systems eventually. The Amstrad CPC version has very choppy scrolling, virtually no music which alone renders the game completely unplayable, even more unresponsive control and worst of all, when you die you go all the way back to the beginning. The Atari ST version is strangely the best out of the Mutant Planet series. Because of the system limitation, the game has been simplified and therefore is manageable. The jumping is much more reliable this time and the music is awesome with 8bit rendition of the already amazing score. For some strange unknown reason, the game was released on the PC Engine CD in Japan. This version is more or less identical to the Amiga version down to the awful controls, but adds a new 6 minute intro detailing the story. They brought Hülsbeck back to arrange the soundtrack making this the highest quality version of the soundtrack, and well worth tracking down simply for the redbook audio which again has some very similar sounds to Ys Book 1 and 2 on the same system.