Sentinel Returns

9_1Between innovative and baffling.

Sentinel Returns, the update of 1985’s The Sentinel, is a very strange game. Instead of dodging or dealing death in a two-dimensional, side-scrolling world, The Sentinel put you directly into the game with a first-person perspective of your surroundings. Looking out from your “robot husk,” you had to work your way up a series of plateaus by building boulders on which to place new robot husks, then “transfer” from the old robot to the new, higher robot.

Your ultimate goal was to reach a level as high as the Sentinel, who stood on the highest peak and slowly rotated in search of energy sources to “absorb” — in other words, the robot husks and boulders you were creating. If he absorbed a husk while you occupied it, you had to start all over again; if you reached the same height as the Sentinel, you could absorb him and move to the next level.

Complicating the process was the fact that you needed energy to build those boulders and ‘bots, and the only way to gain it was by absorbing boulders and robots you no longer needed, or by absorbing the trees the Sentinel built whenever he absorbed energy. The Sentinel could also use absorbed energy to deploy Sentries that performed precisely the same function as their creator.

Except for the addition of a new opponent known as Meanies that can warp your robot into less advantageous positions, the action in Sentinel Returns is identical to that of the original. The graphics have been brought up to date, and provided you’ve got a video card, the game looks nice. Unfortunately, there’s no support for Direct3D, and the software-only version is pretty ugly and blocky.

However, the play’s the thing, and a little innovation would have gone a long way toward breathing new life into the action. Yes, the maps change, and yes, there are more Sentries and Meanies deployed at the start of the level — but about the only thing you do differently as you progress is play at a faster pace. With more than 600 levels (although you can skip up to four levels at a time by absorbing enough energy), it’s understandable that the mere challenge of tougher maps and more enemies might not be enough to keep you around in Sentinel Returns.

System Requirements: Pentium 120 MHz; 16 MB RAM; 45 MB HDD, Win95

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