This isn’t the place to go into my full history with Star Wars, but suffice to say it is a very full history! I’ve seen every movie on release at the cinema, and I’ve probably seen that original trilogy as many times as any anything else, with the possible exception of Spinal Tap and The Plague of the Zombies! I still go through those three back-to-back at least twice a year, and the same for the new trilogy, which I’m a huge fan of despite everyone else apparently hating it! I am with everyone else on the prequels though, but if they’re on the TV… Then there’s the original figures and other toys, not to mention the relentless onslaught of new ones, and the books, the comics, the Lego, the video games… At the very least, we can say I’m a fan!
Then there’s the TV stuff, though for the sake of brevity we’ll skip over old cartoons about Ewoks or Christmas specials, and home in on the new Disney+ shows, the latest of which has just concluded as I write, so we’ll start there… I knew that Book of Boba Fett was going to be alright in the first seconds of the first episode when the camera swept by the wreckage of Jabba’s sail barge without any acknowledgement necessary! And while you could question if any of this is necessary, it’s a nice piece of fan fiction all the same, at least until a deeply annoying character from the show before it turned up to try and ruin it towards the end! As a character and a premise, I like The Mandalorian, to the extent that I even bought The Razor Crest Microfighter Lego set! However, I don’t like that stupid baby Yoda thing. It’s the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks all over again – they just can’t resist it! Anyway, pick this thing up and drop it off somewhere across the span of a single episode and I’m fine with that, but I don’t want it rammed down my throat across two whole series! Actually, I got so sick of seeing it that to this day, me, the Star Wars mega-nerd, still can’t face watching the last two episodes!
Rant over. Let’s be a bit more positive and expand on the idea that the nauseating little bugger could have been in and out and gone forever all in one hit! The story could have gone something like this… The Mandalorian, or Mando, or maybe even Mandarino, has been recruited by the Rebellion to embark on a mission of the highest risk – a suicide mission, no less! He needs to locate and rescue a dreadful little creature that’s been kidnapped by the empire of the evil Head Can. According to the latest Rebel intelligence, the creature is to be found in a remote Imperial base called the Dying Orange, which is littered with soldiers, assassin droids and other space junk. As irritating as it might be, the creature is of vital importance to the Rebel advance in their fight against the Empire (with a capital E this time), so he needs to be rescued and delivered into their protection pronto. And then you can head off into the sunset all by yourself and try one of indie developer Mananuk’s other fantastic homebrew games for the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum in peace!
That’s more or less (maybe slightly more!) the story of The Mandarin, released on Amstrad CPC in February 2022, and I think we can call it a port of El Mandarino on the ZX Spectrum, also by Mananuk in 2021, although I’m still to play that one. It’s a platform adventure, possibly influenced by a well-known science fiction franchise and its space Western spin-off, where your pixelised take on its newest bounty hunter is going to be leaping and shooting his way around the treacherous base, looking for the little creature and keeping an eye out for the energy cells required to activate the emergency walkway that’s going to allow you to both escape and head back to the Rebel (or rebel, for obvious reasons) scum!
It might have come in 2022, but this is old-school platforming from the outset! The first screen is pretty straightforward, and a chance to get used to the floaty but precise movement, as well as to quickly realise that your bullets are limited so you might want to try jumping over the first couple of enemies instead! Either way, you’ll breeze into the second screen, drop down, flip a switch, just about make it onto the moving platform over the pit of spikes, and if you’re lucky just about make it off again without taking a hit from another enemy droid. Get past that and there’s just one more floating mechanical spidery thing at the top of the screen between you and the exit, but there’s plenty of space above it so no need for wasting bullets, so you jump over, make a dash for it, and then the floor instantly disappears, and you’ve been booby-trapped straight down to the bottom of the screen and into the pit of spikes! That really brought a smile to my face – so cruel but I very much appreciated the warning for what was now surely to come for the rest of the game!
That also serves to immediately ramp up the tension, way beyond the façade of the almost cute sci-fi aesthetic – it’s kind of what I think Metroid would look like if it got a CPC port; a bit blocky but full of detail and colour everywhere you look! It doesn’t hurt that you’ll notice a few old friends about the place too, and not just for decoration, from the stormtrooper helmets that refill your ammo to R2 units that are often conveniently placed to soften your landing in some of the more frantic or challenging platform areas! Loads of recognisable character crammed into some very tight spaces, and some nice movement on the main sprite and some of the enemies too. Each screen is very much made up of individual graphical blocks that aren’t just laid out to test your dexterity though (which, but the way, is far easier on a keyboard than joystick), but also create this wonderful chaos of colour and texture that go way beyond functionality alone, and against all the odds actually come together to feel like elements of some sinister 8-bit evil empire’s (not Empire’s) design.
The next few screens can be tough, although with a bit of patience there’s not too much to worry about, but just as you’re starting to relax a bit you’ll be taking leaps of faith, being attacked mid-jump by a nasty appearing from out of nowhere, or being assaulted the second you enter a new screen, but the collision detection is reasonably generous, and you’ve got a health bar rather than insta-death, so it balances out to keep things fun most of the time – falling through a hole a decent way in to be dumped back near the start not so much though! It’s all fairly linear, moving from one side of a screen to the other to progress, but there’s a couple of branching paths you’re going to want to explore too. I didn’t think to count the number of screens but I’m sure it was 25+, possibly even more, so while not quite as sophisticated as something like Manic Miner, it’s at least of a similar scale.
Once you’ve rescued the creature and backtracked a bit into some new areas for your escape, things get properly rough – pixel perfect jumping now required, and your health isn’t going to allow for too many mistakes here as you get serious about collecting those energy cells. It’s also around this time that the constant drone of the very Imperial chip-tune that’s been playing in the background the whole time is really not going to be helping your increasingly stressed state of mind! I do like the sound design overall though, with some very clean spot effects going on for shooting, jumping and so on.
And I do like the game overall! It’s very challenging, but once you know the occasions when it’s going to be unfair then it’s never really unfair, and the platforming is solid enough to handle the going when the going gets tough later on. And, best of all, once you pick up the little creature you never need to lay eyes on it again! You can name your own price and download The Mandarin for Amstrad CPC right here, or just jump over to Mananuk’s creator page from there to find El Mandarino for the Spectrum if you prefer. Check out his other games too – some really cool stuff for both systems!