In a Microsoft world where Latvian multimedia titles are few and far between, the CD-ROM Velniņi (The Little Devils) stands up to the test of time. Released in 2000, the disk was touted as Latvia’s first computer game. Enthusiasts, myself included, rushed to purchase a copy and check it out.
Surprisingly, the focus of the CD-ROM is not a game, but a 26-minute animated film based on a story by Latvian author Rūdolfs Blaumanis. The three games—Medus, Pāris and Labirints—use characters and objects to supplement the story, but don’t make for an interactive journey in and of themselves.
Velniņi revolves around two mischievous devils who make their way up from hell to a farmhouse in Latvia. The devils start pulling devilish pranks, such as putting the farmer to bed in the barn, and the bull to bed beside the farmer’s wife. When two thieves enter the scene, chaos ensues as they discover "the farmer" is a monster and "the bull" can talk.
When the devils transform themselves into purple and pink lambs, they end up being sold to a princess. Trapped in her castle, the devils’ final, unintentional prank saves them and the princess from destruction.
The film studio Rija has created other animated shorts, some of which can be previewed on the disk. Velniņi takes a fairly typical Latvian story and builds on its dark side. In fact, the entire first half of the film takes place in the black depths of hell and at night, and there are quite a few incidents of screaming, swearing and wild chases—but nothing worse than your kids see on TV.
The thieves, two punkish men from the 21st century, have the voices of Latvia’s popular radio personalities, Fredis and Ufo, morning disc jockeys for Radio SWH. The devils look like weird little infants with horns. That works well, given that at the end they turn into bratty kids. Other characters, like the princess, haven’t been given quite as much thought, but she’s the "nicest" of the characters and appeals most to kids.
As you watch the video, you’ll probably come up with all kinds of game scenarios. How about having players create their own pranks? Why not let users morph the devils into various characters? Even my 4-year-old had a suggestion: let the big, bad monster-devil chase the devils, and have players help them escape.
Instead, Rija chose to add three interactive board-like games playable by one or two players. All three are built around the characters and objects unique to the story, but don’t actually enhance it.
Medus (Honey) has players jumping spaces to fill the board with their icon. If you’re playing the computer, you can pick your opponents and label them weak or strong. Pāris (Pairs) is found in many PC games and involves matching cards. This one is fun to play against the computer, because the computer does have a better memory, and you won’t start winning unless you really work at it.
If you’re helplessly trying to access Labrints (Labyrinth), but just can’t get it going, you’re not alone. This game seems to have been programmed entirely differently: instead of clicking the mouse, you have to hit the "enter" key to activate on-screen commands. So much for kid’s play! For each game you get about two minutes to try to guide one of the little devils from one gate to another. If you pick up special items along the way, you gain extra points. But it’s not an easy game and I’m not sure how many hours it will take to beat the top scores.
The disc also contains a unique collection of 109 backdrops from the film, which can either be printed out or coloured on the computer. Colouring pages from a multimedia title in Latvian—now that’s definitely a first!
My biggest concern with Velniņi is that you end up spending way too much time navigating the screens to make it all work. That said, it’s a great start for Latvian gaming, and I can’t wait for the next title.
Vilnis Kalnaellis and others
Filmu studija “Rija”, 2000
Notes: Minimum requirements are Windows 95 running on a Pentium-based computer at 90 MHz, 16 MB of RAM and 2 MB video RAM.
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