Beyond the Ice Palace didn’t have the most auspicious start in life. Paradise Software’s fantasy arcade platformer was initially commissioned by Lichfield based developer/publisher, Elite, as an official multi-format licensed ThunderCats game, though when it became apparent it wouldn’t be ready in time for the critical 1987 festive frenzy deadline, it was sidelined in favour of a game that would, Gargoyle Game’s Samurai Dawn (or possibly ‘Wolf’ according to GtW64’s latest insight). Hey ho, a samurai warrior called Hatchiman features in half a dozen episodes of ThunderCats so every cloud has a silver lining.
The game is formerly known as ‘ThunderCats: The Lost Eye of Thundera’ struggled to cope with the rejection and soon developed a serious case of dissociative disorder. Undeterred, the child Lord, Lion-O, ceased roaring and much like the immortal Mumm-Ra shapeshifted into an entirely different beast. Assuming the role of a Sir Arthur wannabe he approached Capcom with a pitch to become the sequel to Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins. Elite had previously been responsible for Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins coin-op conversion so it wasn’t the shot in the dark you might at first imagine.
Paradise tentatively renamed it ‘Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins: Beyond the Ice Palace’, a reference to the chilly second level found in its predecessor. Well, it was a nice idea while it lasted. Unfortunately, kick in the teeth no. 2 was swiftly delivered when Capcom quashed the notion as they were already working on their own follow-up, Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts.
Nine months after the release of Elite’s on-time ThunderCats game, Paradise’s original offering was finally finished. As too much time and effort had already been invested in its development to let it go to waste, it was let loose as simply ‘Beyond the Ice Palace’, minus the prefix. On the move, they were still feeling the magic, although you can guarantee old nursemaid Snarf would have disapproved of the new direction. Snarf, Snarf, Snarf.
Elite’s own in-house Christmas backup plan became the 8-bit game, Bomb Jack 2. Incredulous as it seems, it features a recognisable rendition of the iconic ThunderCats theme tune and a distinctly Lion-O-esque central protagonist.
You can learn all about that and the other links in the saga by watching Larry Bundy Junior’s fascinating ‘The Lost ThunderCats Video Games‘ mini-documentary. That’s the source of much of my introductory waffle after all. Bear in mind though that if you trace the steps back to the original Games that Weren’t source, you can clearly see that some of the material in the video is supposition. The people who could clear up the mystery once and for all (e.g. the founders of Gargoyle Games, Roy Carter and Greg Follis), appear to have washed their hands of the games industry and would rather not talk about it, hence certain claims should be taken with a pinch of salt.
A tweak here, a morph there, and Beyond the Ice Palace is an entirely different prospect. The plot that initially revolved around wrestling the stolen Eye of Thundera (the red orb that resides in the hilt of the Sword of Omens and functions much like the Bat-Signal) back from the crusty grasp of Mumm-Ra was dropped, as were the trademarked ThunderCats character sprites.
Paying homage to its roots, however, the ST and Amiga versions still contain various ThunderCats character references in the maps and tilesets, as noted by Codetapper. Also, it appears that what may once have been Molemen have since been re-coloured and moulded into bipedal rats.
The game opens to a parchment scroll relaying the sorry tale of a distressed coterie of woodcutters who are in danger of losing the source of their livelihood, the forest, thanks to the evil mystical forces who have a penchant for arson.
You can’t expect to upset the precarious balance of power between good and nastiness without facing retribution from the ancient, sapient spirits of the woods. Thus, the elders have hatched a cunning plan to recruit a saviour to restore peace to the land.
A sacred arrow is blessed and shot into the air; it being of the magic variety it confers upon the claimant special abilities to take on the tree botherers. Go on, I dare you to guess who stumbles across it out hunting one day. Bingo! Whether you like it or not your fate is sealed. Judging by the cover of the box, the ‘you’ in question is a pointy-eared pixie of some kind. If you squint a bit and use your imagination you can still see a can of Whiskas poking out of his sleeve.
Ian Upton, Elite’s supervisor/producer designed the 16-bit game. Coding was courtesy of Timothy Moore, kinetic arcadey music by David Whittaker, and graphics supplied by Nigel Brownjohn. As was typically the case in the ’80s, the Amiga version was ported over from the more prevalent Atari ST.
The game consists of three short levels, each culminating in a boss battle – two green snake monsters composed of isolated discs, and a decrepit hag, who I imagine would have been Mumm-Ra originally.
Straight from ‘Contingency Plans for Dummies’: if in doubt, run for your life!
Travelling from a to b takes as little as six and a half minutes if you know what you’re doing, and have learned from your previous 76,345 fatalities. When the inhabitants of your corrupted homeland (formerly Third Earth having fled Thundera as it disintegrates) are hell-bent on burying you six feet under and this manoeuvre can be executed with a single hit, you’ll soon be tearing out your flowing ginger (I mean blonde) locks.
Even your soul has better places to be!
Along the way you’ll encounter what would have been Mutants and Lunataks, yet are now goblin-zombies, flying aliens (accompanied by a tortuously nerve-grating siren sound effect), demons, gargoyles and giant insects.
A trio of medieval weaponry is at your disposal to aid you in your quest: daggers, chain maces and the Sword of Omens (I mean a nondescript sword of unknown origins). These aren’t just aesthetic twists, each weapon operates disparately and is more effective under certain circumstances, so you’re best advised to collect them strategically.
For those occasions when brute force won’t cut it, you can summon one of the forest spirits to quell the demons on your behalf. You’re allocated two of these wild cards per level, though can collect more by picking up face icons.
All the gems do is boost your score so don’t risk life and limb to acquire those. Given the game’s heritage, it should come as no surprise that you have nine lives, just like any other moggy.
The controls are reasonably responsive, though your feeble impersonation of a jump makes it feel like you’re wearing lead boots. Have you ever tried taking emergency evasive action wearing lead boots?
Beyond the Ice Palace put in an appearance on all 8-bit and 16-bit home micros, where it was met with a fair few apathetic shrugs, while the official ThunderCats games received a far warmer reception despite being vastly infurior. That said, Crash gave it a fair crack of the whip by way of front-page coverage, a double-page ad overleaf, and an 83% review.
Critics tended to note the former game’s similarity to a number of titles they considered superior; Rastan, Barbarian (the Psygnosis one) and Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and couldn’t fathom why you’d choose to play this rather than those.
Lion-O demonstrates what a tree-mendous shot he is in the C64 port. Onlookers noted the stumped target was rooted to the spot with fear!
The Amiga version scored 53% in Amiga Power, 6 out of 10 in CU Amiga, and 1 out of 5 in The One.
TGM assessed all but the C64 version simultaneously as that arrived at a later date, awarding them equally mediocre scores: Spectrum (75%), Amstrad (78%), Atari ST (76%), Amiga (78%).
The pace is really dragon in the Amstrad version.
ST Action arrived at a 58% bottom line, ACE reached a conclusion of 648 out of 1000 (yeah, isn’t it just) for the Amstrad version and 677 for the Atari ST edition.
C&VG deemed the equivocal Spectrum and Amstrad versions worthy of 69%, and splashed out an extra percentage point for the C64 port owing to its enhanced colour and audio (it’s the only 8-bit version to feature in-game music). Zzap! were slightly more enthusiastic about the latter, dishing up a 78% verdict.
Meanwhile, in Speccyville, 10,000 steps a day proves to be no sweat for Lion-O since he got his Fitbit for Christmas.
Wrapping up in Egypt – Mumm-Ra’s neck of the woods – you tango with his stooped witch-like stand-in. Shoot, duck down the ladder out of harm’s way and re-emerge to shoot again a few times and you’re home free.
“Well done. You have vanquished evil from the land.”
Aww shucks, it was nothing. A quick-fire conclusion to a quick-fire game.
£2.99 for the 8-bit versions isn’t such a bad deal, yet charging £25 for the Amiga or ST edition is a bit rich. Save your pennies and wait for the 1992 Pocket Power re-issue instead.
If any of this trauma has left you in need of moral guidance and you can’t get hold of Obi-Wan Jaga Kenobi, I believe psychological consultant, Dr Robert Kuisis Ph.D, now has a window, and will see you in his office.