VIDEO GAMES: Planet Leyland: Buzz Aldrin lands an Austin Allegro in deepest Sub-Terrania? Rupert Goodwins makes sense of the new releases

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The Independent Culture

(Sega Megadrive)

Bored with battles to the death in deep space? Interstellar genocide just too tedious for words? adds a twist to the time-honoured genre of the shoot-em-up: this time, it's underground.

There's a skeleton plot. Aliens have invaded an asteroid mine and are busy doing whatever it is that alien miners do. Pitted against incredible odds, in a small but agile spaceship, your job is to shaft the bug-eyed monsters before they shaft you. Pick up stranded miners and spare parts along the way, and you too can be the toast of the cosmic colliery. Simple.

Steering the spaceship is rather like driving a souped-up Allegro with bald tyres across an ice-rink while simultaneously firing an industrial laser out of the sunroof. I guess we've all been there. Sensibly, there's a training mode where you can get the hang of your vehicle and shields that absorb impact damage before you burst into flames.

Lasers come in various flavours that do differing amounts of damage to the strutting war machines. As with missiles and fuel, laser upgrades are scattered in pods around the mine; to pick them up, execute a delicate moon landing on the sites. Find out what happens when Buzz Aldrin meets British Leyland.

The monsters, even uglier than a Montego, are mean and well armed. One, resembling a chrome-plated kangaroo, launches enormous bolts of fire that fair singe your eyebrows from across the room. Then there are the spiders, seas of acid, giant armour-plated centipedes and the occasional floating head. More metal mayhem than you can shake a gearstick at, and you can't just go at it with the fire button down. You have to plan how to progress from fuel dump to missile site.

A ripping soundtrack and a rather too inconsequentially flash intro disguise the limitations of this fly-and-fry game. Once you've worked through all nine levels, there'll be nothing to make you play it again. Yet, with different strategies needed for each level and no small amount of skill required, it'll be fun getting there. A brand new experience for Allegro owners.

Plok (Super Nintendo)

Losing both your legs makes life difficult, claims this game. Scoff if you will, but Plok is a graphic illustration of the truth behind such familiar folklore. Our eponymous hero, king of the Poly- Esta archipelago, is an exceptionally loose-limbed fellow whose main line of defence is to fire body parts at oncoming foes as he traverses his four islands in search of a stolen flag.

The basics are the same as a thousand other games, but what rescues this from being just another platform game are the relentless bursts of inspired silliness. Plok can commandeer swarms of friendly hornets to attack and kill fleas that live within football-sized eggs.

There's a big-headed spider called Womack; a spitting monster called Hattersly; Penkinos, a tribe of inflatable magicians, and a wide selection of Power Up Suits that give Plok special vehicles ranging from a unicycle with a water pistol to a helicopter with air-to-air missiles. If all else falls, then Plok can chuck his extremities - too much too quickly, though, and he ends up as a torso bouncing unthreateningly, across the landscape.

It's too much like a sugary Sonic, not as maniacal as Toejam & Earl, and the wackiness is a little too superficial for experienced platform pounders. Clean graphics and optional easy mode give it a good chance of enthralling the younger set, although some of the heavy artillery sits uneasily amid the candyfloss. Unlike Plok's legs, this game doesn't quite come off.