Messiah PC ****
Messiah PC ****
The Messiah - also known as Bob - has arrived. After much hype and breathy anticipation, Shiny's post-apocalyptic work of art is on the shelves. It looks fabulous and it plays smoothly. The particular graphics engine that Shiny has developed also means that the game will play as well on a low-spec PC as on a high-spec machine.
God has sent you, Bob, a chubby cherub in nappies, down from the heavens to a gloomy neo-technical world to prevent the emergence of some evil force; in short, you have to beat up the bad guys.
As a 3ft, not-yet-housetrained renaissance angel, you're going to have difficulty getting the better of thugs and gang-members with very big guns. The trick is to possess their bodies. This has to be done carefully, though, for if the denizens of this godless place suspect, they'll blow your host to pieces. Babe Bob must then find another unwitting vessel before he's graphically kicked or shot to smithereens. So it's not really for those of delicate sensibilities.
On a practical level, unless you've got 10 fingers on each hand, the mass of controls means that you'll be better off playing with a joypad. It's also frustratingly difficult from the very beginning: if you're not a seasoned game-player you're likely to get bored pretty quickly. But when a game looks this good, you're more likely to stick with it.
The Muppets Gameboy **
And now for something cutesy. Most of the Muppets have been accidentally transported into the depths of time in the bungling Dr Bunsen Honeydew's time-machine. It's up to Kermit and Animal to go back in time to rescue the pop-eyed puppets and save the show.
The extremely cute graphics initially distract from the gameplay, which is actually infernally fiddly. At first, I thought the game might get interesting once the controls were mastered. But once it was done, the dullness of the game emerged. There's nothing innovative here.
Obviously, it's targeted at kids, but I think it's rather sinister to foist poor games wrapped in the glamour and allure of a big brand - in this case The Muppets - on small children. Give them the book instead.
(Take 2 Interactive, £24.99)
Shadowman Dreamcast ****
Watch out, Bruce Willis. This time it's Shadowman's turn to prevent Armageddon and the game is substantially scarier than old Brucie in his sweat-stained vest. You assume the role of Michael Le Roi - normal chap by day, voodoo master by night, who has the ability to flip between the bleak and nasty world of the dead and the - equally bleak, actually - world of the living.
In essence, his task is to save the world from an army of re-incarations of particularly nasty and long-dead serial killers - including a mustachioed Jack the Ripper. Le Roi has to track each psychotic down between both worlds and absorb their soul before (don't laugh) the really evil master can create a superdemon with them all.
The conceit sounds complicated but the detail in the game, its impressive graphics and the cinematic video sequences make for rather dark and compelling entertainment. It has been given a 15 certificate and rightly so for some scenes are thoroughly gruesome and disturbing, like a film you have to watch between your fingers. So provided you can stand the gore and silly plot, the depth of each world and non-linearity of play and puzzle-solving make this an adventure you'll want to pursue to its grizzly resolution.
Rayman 2 Dreamcast *** Rayman is back, in glorious technicolour 3D. This time Rayman has to battle his way through his platform world, battling bosses, freeing friends and reclaim the world's energy to restore peace. No small task for a chap without arms or legs.
In typical Mario 64 style, the graphics are colourful and gameplay easy-peasy. Pelt through level after level collecting bits and bobs in order to progress and unlock the usual secret worlds and bonus levels. The joy lies in the simplicity of plot and the humour implicit in characters and graphics - tame a rocket, for example, and it will take you for a ride. At the same time, its drawback is its linearity and relative simplicity - so much so that if you get lost, arrows will redirect you back into play. However, if you come to it expecting a rum romp from start to finish, you won't be disappointed.