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Written by  :  Ashley Pomeroy (233)
Written on  :  Jan 01, 2007
Platform  :  Atari ST
Rating  :  3.8 Stars3.8 Stars3.8 Stars3.8 Stars3.8 Stars

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Do not trust the pusher robot

The Good

Tower of Babel is an interesting old puzzle game. It belongs to a venerable genre whereby you have multiple actors who each have a certain skill, and you must these skills in concert to negotiate a challenging environment. In this case you have a robot that can blow things up, a robot with a magical pushing beam, and a third robot that can manipulate objects. You could also push and zap your own robots. Your job was to collect a bunch of crystals called klondikes. I do not know why they were called klondikes.

Most games of this type were simple 2D top-down affairs, but Tower of Babel was in 3D and had simple, attractive filled polygons, with an abstract look. There was no music and the few sound effects were mostly white noise and tinkles, which made the whole thing seem very mysterious and atmospheric. In this respect it was reminiscent of a contemporary 3D game called Archipelagos, although Tower of Babel had multi-storey environments.

Like a lot of people I bought the game because of the polygonal look, and then gave up after a few levels because it was tricky. After a while I picked it up again, and became addicted. It's a fiendishly clever game that rewards logical thinking. You could program your three robots to perform actions in parallel, and in theory you could solve each level by programming everything in advance and just clicking "play". I remember messing things up a lot, and having my robots walk blithely into certain doom. It was a meaty game.

There was a level editor, which was a nice touch, but I never used it. Back when the game came out there was no easy way to distribute levels to the very few people who had bought the game.

The Bad

Taken on its own merits Tower of Babel cannot easily be faulted. But it was a very stark and austere game. It often felt like an exercise in applied logic rather than an entertainment; each level had only one solution and, as I have said, you could theoretically program everything in advance and go off to make tea. There was no replay value. Some of the puzzles were frustratingly tight.

The gameplay reached a plateau of difficulty after a few levels, after which it became slightly easier. The later levels were generally larger and more complex than the earlier levels, but not much harder, because there were only so many permutations of the various game elements. After a while it seemed as if the designer had run out of inspiration.

I did eventually reach the very end, without cheating. I remember being stuck on the final level, and concluding that it was impossible to complete; there were only a finite amount of moves you could make with the given robots, and none of them solved the puzzle. The game did not seem to have an end.

The Bottom Line

Tower of Babel received glowing reviews from the British computing press, although it was clearly a minority-appeal title and it sold in tiny quantities. I believe there is an unofficial remake in the works, although not by Pete Cooke, the original author.

Pete Cooke was a legend of the British 8-bit home computer scene during the 1980s. He wrote a series of classic games that pushed the technical envelope, such as Tau Ceti and Micronaut One, both of which had advanced 3D graphics. He also had a sideline in simple puzzle games, and Tower of Babel was basically a combination of his two obsessions. As far as I know it was his last ever solo games project, although he still works in the industry.

Tower of Babel itself feels alien and a bit old-fashioned nowadays. The game was a co-production between Microprose and Rainbird, neither of which exist today, and I have no idea how you would go about obtaining or playing this game on a modern PC.