According to Amiga Power, Top Secret is the “the best PD game ever”. They said so on the cover of AP17 published in September 1992 so it must be totally, utterly true. Unless of course they were bosom buddies with The Hidden who developed it and the PD title was included on the same issue’s cover disk that month. Then you might eyeball the audacious claim with just a hint of suspicion, and take everything they said in future with a pinch of salt.
Coded by William Bell, with graphics provided by Craig Howard/Simon Leggett and audio courtesy of Carl Jermy, Top Secret is an unashamed Rodland clone featuring single screen action and a ‘collect ’em all’ objective.
Playing as robo-thief, Toppy, you find yourself tasked with retrieving a slew of floppy disks. Attempting to return these to our scurrilous employer following an intrepid industrial espionage assignment, we enter a portal, which forthwith goes haywire, cloning our ill-gotten gains and spewing them across five worlds and fifty levels. It’s impossible to discern the originals from the duplicates so they must all be recovered and delivered to The Boss in order to retrieve the invaluable data.
As in Rodland, every last one of the items on a given level must be collected before being granted access to the next. If you don’t achieve this quick enough the ante is well and truly upped by an invincible mouse-elephant hybrid creature. Once unleashed, he runs amok making your life infinitely more difficult, much like the angry, faster versions of the baddies found in Rodland who shift up a gear whenever you’re caught dawdling.
Instead of a magic wand, Toppy is armed with ‘Billy the Bomb’, or rather an inexhaustible supply of facsimiles. Blow up the enemies with his help and they become bodyless heads lying on the ground like sitting ducks. If you fail to scoop these up soon after, they grow new bodies and spring back to life, narkier than ever and gnashing after your blood. Who are they, the data protection squad?
When not terrorising the critters with explosives, you’ll find yourself attempting to duck and dive out of harm’s way using ladders and slinking off the edges of platforms. That sounds distinctly familiar for some reason; I can’t quite put my finger on it. Don’t worry, it’ll come back to me.
A screen-filling, stationary Big Bad Boss puts in an appearance after every tenth level and can only be neutered upon delivery of a twentieth blow. You’ll know you’ve identified their Achilles’ heel when the vulnerable area flashes. Though that’s hardly rocket science – they’re conspicuously visible as grid patterns that can even be clambered across. It’s as if the hit boxes have accidentally been brought to the foreground. Is that some kind of programmer’s joke?
These sections are laughably easy all round actually. I couldn’t name off the top of my head another game in which the bosses do absolutely nothing to fend you off (all suggestions are very welcome).
They sit there like Piffy on a rock looking gormless, wearing their ‘kick me’ grid targets, probably lost in thought mulling over their bucket lists. Your only impediments to defeating them are the ordinary hostiles who circle the monstrosities, distracting you from the task at hand. With them out of the way, the catatonic lummoxes are sitting ducks. You could lean back against a lamppost, bake a souffle, and with your other hand, hold down the auto-fire button. Job done, next level.
This has got to be a joke, surely? They’re anti-bosses, turning the entire end of level boss trope on its head. Just for giggles? If so, that’s really funny, I love it. Top marks Hidden people! If they simply couldn’t be bothered animating them… where’s my raspberry sound effect button?
A number of very short-lived power-ups such as invulnerability and go-faster boots are on offer, while there are also plenty of power-downs to swerve. Easier said than done when you need to cross a platform and haven’t been blessed with the ability to jump! More deja vu bells are chiming in my head than ever now.
Looking on the Bright Side (walking in Brian’s shoes, ho-ho etc), thanks to William, Toppy handles pretty well, when he’s not getting stuck on ladders. Also, the graphics are amongst the most impressive I’ve seen in a PD game; they even rival many cutesy, cartoony commercial platformers. If all you had to go on were screenshots and you happened to be checking out new games to try, the visuals alone would certainly make the decision for you.
Carl’s soundtrack is jolly, upbeat and bop-along-to-able. It epitomises the whimsical mood engendered by Craig and Simon’s endearing graphics. Nevertheless, no matter how good a particular tune is, games need more than one if you intend to play them for more than a five-minute stretch. Top Secret’s musical accompaniment plays throughout on a constant loop, gradually driving you… erm, loopy.
Overall Top Secret is a commendable attempt at capturing the pure arcade action of pick up and play coin-ops such as Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros, though of course it remains a poor relation to Rodland; one of the best single-screen platformers of all time.
Other than out of fleeting curiosity, there’s little reason to sink much time into this clone if its muse is already in your collection. Amiga Power’s brazen hyperbole, declaring it the greatest thing since sliced bread, may have shifted more copies of the magazine, yet counter-productively did The Hidden a disservice by instigating unreal expectations. Fire it up prepared for a Jaleco quality arcade extravaganza and you’ll be sorely disappointed.