Retro Rewind: Nixy The Glade Sprite is an all-new arcade game that Spectrum fans are sure to love!

Only a few days ago, we announced that Andy John’s new game, Nixy The Glade Sprite, had finally gone gold, and that we promised to deliver a full review once the game was complete. We’re extremely pleased to announce that Andy has now officially released the game, and we’re very proud to bring you one of the first reviews of this lovingly-crafted Spectrum title, so without further ado, let’s dive right in!

Released under Andy’s BubbleSoft Games label, Nixy The Glade Sprite is the next in an increasing number of new titles for the ZX Spectrum to be crafted using Jonathan Cauldwell’s Arcade Game Designer (AGD) development kit. Available in 128K and ULA+ editions, the core gameplay is very much a classic arcade platform game that requires the player to navigate various screens, execute perfectly-timed jumps and scour each of the game’s screens in search of items required to beat the game.

Nixy is a glade sprite, nature’s guardian and duty-bound to protect the Gaia stone, an artefact of power that brings life to the plants and animals that dwell within the glade. Although once a place of enchantment and natural wonder, the stone’s power has become tainted by some mysterious force, transforming the glade into a dark and treacherous place where the fair forest folk now fear to tarry too long. The only glimmer of hope lies with Nixy, protector of the glade, for she alone must seek out the source of the corruption and find a way to cleanse the Gaia stone.

The game’s structure has been divided into a series of objectives that require the player to navigate the forest and various subterranean caverns. Nixy must retrieve the Gaia stone from it’s current resting place and then seek out the Moon Pool, an enchanted spring secreted somewhere deep within the glade, who’s hallowed waters supposedly possess the power to cleanse the stone. Once complete, Nixy must gather a series of Moon Blooms and take them to the pool in order to perform the cleansing ritual, then take the stone back to it’s original resting place.

All of the game’s screens can be accessed from the outset, although certain objects cannot be interacted with until Nixy is on the relevant stage of the quest. This design forces the player to backtrack through certain locations within the game, significantly increasing the overall challenge, but also encouraging the need to visit further screens in previously unexplored caverns and other locations.

The task of restoring the glade to it’s former glory will not be an easy task, however. The corrupting influence of the Gaia stone has begun to infect the local flora and fauna, transforming the once-resplendent forest blooms into twisted, teeth-filled monstrosities that snap hungrily at anything (or anyone) foolhardy enough to stray too close. The local mushroom people have also succumbed to the corruption, now patrolling the paths and walkways of the glade with the singular purpose to prevent Nixy from succeeding in her mission to restore the Gaia stone’s power – come into contact with any of these foes and Nixy will perish in a cloud of fairy-dust, cursed for all eternity to haunt the glade as a ghostly apparition.

Other perils include poisonous slime that drips from cave ceilings, deep lakes and pools of water within which to drown, not to mention the ghosts of less fortunate forest souls who now float in the dingy gloom of the cavernous depths below the surface-world. Perhaps the most devious of all the foes that Nixy will encounter are the voracious cave vines that lurk on the cavern ceiling, lashing out with a fibrous, tentacle-like tongue as she attempts to pass underneath.

If it were not bad enough that the entire forest now seems hell-bent on thwarting Nixy at every turn, our poor heroine also has the force of gravity to contend with. Falling from too great a height will prove fatal for Nixy, so you’ll also need to plan your route through certain screens more carefully. I would recommend that players pay heed to the environment and platform layout before proceeding, as there are occasions where you’ll execute a jump to crest the top of a hill or reach platform, only to sail over the peak and down the other side, at which point the game registers that you’ve fallen beyond the maximum permissible value and lose a life upon coming into contact with the ground. While this never becomes a problem as such, it certainly reinforces the old adage about looking and leaping!

As you can probably imagine, Nixy The Glade Sprite is one tough cookie of a game, following something of a time-honoured tradition for such retro-themed games. Starting out with only 3 lives and so many screens full of perilous traps ahead of you, this is certainly a game that’s going to take some practice before you come anywhere close to beating it. Fortunately, extra lives can be earned by collecting the large toadstools with red and black spotted caps, which can be found in some of the game’s screens. However, even these have been positioned in such a way that you’ll be taking a calculated risk in trying to claim them, often residing in chambers brimming with traps and other dangers.

I fear that successive generations of video games, ever eager to appease gamers with a plethora of safety-nets that include auto-saves and regular checkpoints, means that players have become complacent and unused to in-game deaths having any meaningful penalty. Such was the case with Nixy, where the most significant challenge proved to be dealing with my own impetuousness, losing lives unnecessarily because I’d try and rush through a screen too quickly. Without the pressure of any form of in-game timer, success in this particular game is far easier to achieve if you only take a moment to pause and assess the situation, rather than blundering on and hoping for the best.

As with so many of BubbleSoft’s games, the presentation is exemplary, starting with a particularly striking loader/intro screen that provides players with a very detailed and personal portrait of Nixy herself, courtesy of John Blythe from Rucksack Games – gentlemen should certainly avert their eyes!

With additional code provided by David Saphier, the game’s title screen not only provides players with various control options to suit their preferred style of play, it also looks beautiful too, boasting an impressive routine that alters the colour of the title and features a short introductory screen that explains the game’s plot.

The interface for the main window in-game is clean and well-considered, providing players with a concise breakdown of information that includes the current objective, total lives remaining and number of quest items outstanding. The screen border comprised of entwined vines with tiny flowers at key locations is a great touch and is perfectly in keeping with the game’s natural theme.

Equally impressive is the quality of the artwork and visual design in the main game itself, representing what I consider to be BubbleSoft’s strongest title to date. All of the sprites and level assets are beautifully drawn with crisp, clean outlines, and the pixelated stippling effect used to create the various environments results in a surprisingly textured and organic environment that’s exceedingly pleasing on the eye. Use of colour is well-considered, using combinations of deep purples and midnight blues to convey the impression of a forest enveloped in the shroud of night, lending a distinctly ethereal atmosphere to the proceedings.

Attribute clash, ever the enemy of many a Spectrum title of old, is barely present here thanks to a combination of appropriate dimensions for the various assets and use of a black background; you can see some minor colour-bleed when Nixy walks past certain objects in the foreground, but it’s never more than a fleeting glimpse.

Sprite animation is also particularly nuanced, boasting many fine details that you might not appreciate at first glance. From the way that the fabric of Nixy’s cap and cape flutter in the breeze as she runs, to the shower of stones and dust thrown up whenever she lands on the ground, it’s fair to say that this is one of the best-looking Spectrum games I’ve had the chance to play.

Completing the package is the truly amazing music, created by Mast/FTL and remixed by Bfox. The game’s title screen features an excellent tune that ‘s both jolly and upbeat, but it’s the music that plays throughout the main game itself that really steals the show. Starting out as haunting and melancholic, the tempo quickly escalates into something far more energising and dynamic, complimented by a  thumping beat. The whole thing is quite a contrast to the somewhat ethereal overtones of the game’s subject matter, but it certainly works, resulting in something that’s genuinely uplifting and great fun to hum along to whilst you play. The only problem with this level of musical energy is that I found I was getting swept along by music, frequently resulting in yet another untimely demise for poor Nixy!

The old-school difficulty of the game might seem somewhat daunting at first, but there lies a true gem of a game underneath it’s hardened  exterior, something that’s well worth persevering with. Provided you take your time and take things steadily, you’ll gradually get better and better at the game with each successive attempt, eventually reaching a point where you’ll know the perils and pitfalls of each and every screen, helping you to master the game in it’s entirety.

Ultimately, Nixy The Glade Sprite is a great title that Andy Johns should be justifiably proud of and is a game that any self-respecting Spectrum fan should be sure to check out: highly recommended!

The digital edition of the game has been released for free and is available from BubbleSoft Games.


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