You know, Leland wasn't exactly the most popular of arcade game developers. Oh sure, Ironman Ivan Stewart's Off-Road was enjoyable enough and could be found in pretty much every arcade in the early 90's. And Ataxx was a pretty damn nifty take on Othello, minus the annoying timer. But... what else? Did they ever make anything else that was really worth playing?
Well, it seems that back in 1991, Leland attempted to make their own little clone of Gauntlet, called Asylum. But it never got an official release, it just sort of died a quiet death... and until a couple years ago, I never knew about its existence. Although I have no idea as to the specific reason for its cancellation, I think it's pretty safe to assume that... well... the game was just too fucking WEIRD for the average arcadegoer. But even though it was a canned prototype, it can't be ALL bad, right? Right?....
So what is the Asylum that the game's namesake is referring to? Well, it's a building created by an assuredly-evil guy named "Mr. G" who has imprisoned our heroes in it. "Our heroes" being... Rip, Rok, and Rol. (What the FUCK?) They must fight their way up to the top of the asylum to destroy Mr. G and escape. Whooptee shit. Being a Gauntlet clone, obviously the game is played from an overhead view in which you must traverse maze-like levels (well maybe not maze-like, some of them are pretty straightforward) to find the exit to the next level. Instead of having a Magic button though, a jump button is used in addition to the standard shoot button. Now aside from the character names, the game doesn't sound too bad yet... but a quick glance at some instruction scenes in attract mode is an early warning of just how bizarre things will get.
No, I didn't photoshop that pic in any way. You do indeed have to find magic toilets to "flush out the uncoolness". Translation - magic toilets restore your life bar. What. The. FUCK. And you'll need to take advantage of every last magic toilet you can find (I think this may be the weirdest sentence I've ever typed) since the life bar dwindles over time, just like in Gauntlet. Which is a part of Gauntlet I always despised, by the way. It shouldn't even be used here because lifebars that decrease over time are usually the ones that are measured in numerical format... yet these bars are "standard" life bars. Well... actually they're not life bars, but coolness meters. Yes. Take hits or just stand around and you're not losing life, but COOLNESS. From "Totally Cool" to "Uncool". I can't believe they thought this was a great idea. But anyways, I think the mere presence of the magic toilet sums up the game nicely... I could just end this review right here, really.
But oh, it gets worse. A lot worse. The first level is relatively tame though, as the main enemies in this stage are disembodied hands, snakes, a posessed furnace, and... customer service skeletons.... alrighty then. And it's in the first level that you'll also be subjected to cheap traps that can kill you instantly. If you don't run through one section of a narrow corridor as fast as possible, the wall caves in on you and causes an instant death. There is practically no warning that it's going to happen, either. And another room where you also get squished to death unless you tag the "Teleport" icon as fast as possible. Nice one, Leland.
Find the exit and you're treated to the next genius element of the game design - the elevator that takes you to the next level. As the elevator goes up, the rope ends up breaking and then you have to "steer" the elevator from side to side to keep it from running into explosives lined on each wall. Succeed in dodging them all and veer to the right when you reach the bottom, and a "trampoline" of sorts bounces you up to the next level. Hit an explosive... well, you go to the next level but lose a life. Now come on. When I watched the demo mode, it showed two players somehow staying in the elevator for quite a bit of time without the rope breaking. Is this even possible? I can't figure it out for the life of me. The idea of having to go into this unfair sudden death element just to get to the next level.... niiiice one, Leland!
Second level is more of the same, just... cheaper. Near the beginning of the level you're expected to try to find your way through a completely darkened part of the level. Unless you turn up the gamma correction on your monitor, you won't be able to see shit other than a dragon shooting fireballs at you... and I haven't figured the correct way to jump over the dragon, as most of the time when you approach it, you die instantly. That's great. Man this game is so awesome!!!
I did kinda like that part in the screenshot up there though, what with the people chopped up a bit and all the blood. Nice touch. But see that little barbecue grill or whatever that is on the left side? Guess what happens when you jump on it... yeah that's right, your life starts draining away. Yet another totally pointless way to get killed. And that "A" icon at the top right? After picking up weapon powerups from the "W"s in the previous level, you might be inclined to believe that touching that "A" would help you in some way. But instead, it fires an ARROW to drain most of the player's life. How diabolical! I can't imagine players being pissed off about cheap shit like that, no! Never!
Things change up a little on the 3rd stage, where instead of being cooped up in the building, the scene shifts to an outside forest-type place. The enemies become a little more unique too, with nerdy guys who transform into angry beasts after bumping into you, and dog statues that fire laser beams out of their eyes. Yeah, you heard me.
Hey great, I always thought Gauntlet would have been a better game if it had bullshit jumping sections! Especially if the control was so shitty that you had little over the movement of your character when they jumped... you know, just to make things more
Make it to the end of the third stage, and.... well, would it surprise you if I said that the last two levels are even weirder? No? Okay, just checking.