When people think of retro platforming games, they typically think of a few standouts, Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, etc.
All of those are featured on consoles that are well known and are great in their own right, but what about games on systems that don’t get a lot of acknowledgement? How about the Philips CD-i? I’ve already discussed Hotel Mario in a previous post and how it’s a pretty fun game with amazing cutscenes, but are there any fun platformers on the CD-i?
Oh yeah, that game definitely needs a moment in the spotlight… but it isn’t what I’m referring to. I’m specifically referring to The Apprentice.
The Apprentice is a vertical scrolling platformer… that is, you move up and down as opposed to side to side. It’s a unique take that I can’t recall many games that do this, aside from a few levels in Super Mario 3.
The Apprentice was developed by The Vision Factory and published by Philips in 1994. This title was another Philips exclusive title and it was The Vision Factory’s first game.
So how does The Apprentice hold up to other platformers? Is it a beginner’s take on platforming, or does it prove itself as a master of its genre? Let’s find out.
You play as young Apprentice Marvin during one week of his life in Gandorf’s castle.
Gandorf S Wandburner III is a master wizard and he doesn’t seem to be that easy to live with. Young Marvin sleeps under his sink for crying out loud.
In any case, during the week of Aug 8, a series of mishaps occur and Marvin is tasked with fixing things. One day you’re searching for Gandorf’s lost book, other days you’re looking for Gandorf’s pets, and one day you’re looking for Gandorf’s teddy bear.
So the story is bizarre to say the least. If anything, and it made me feel bad for Marvin. These tasks aren’t as simple as going to another room and locating the item.
He’s required to go through multiple floors of baddies running around and fighting bosses. What monsters are doing in the castle is beyond me. I’ll just go with, a wizard did it.
Marvin is able to defend himself in 1 of 2 ways. Pressing the II button will allow Marvin to attack bad guys with magic or a weapon and he can also jump on baddies. Marvin has to use everything in his arsenal in order to navigate the towers. Some enemies are in hard to reach places but it’s easy for them to attack Marvin.
In addition, some levels have enemies that can’t be destroyed. Most enemies take 2-3 hits in order to beat whereas Marvin dies after 1 hit. You have 10 minutes to get through each platforming section, but make sure you also take your time. Especially in the later levels.
There are other mechanics to the gameplay as well. There are many locked doors throughout the platforming stages. In order to unlock them, the player will need to find a key. There are multiple doors throughout the levels so there are a lot of keys to find. Of course, I say doors, but they’re not always doors. Sometimes the locked areas are behind different colored whales or statues. It really depends on the theme of the tower.
Each level contains three platforming stages, a boss stage, and a bonus level… with the exception on the final boss. There is no bonus level after that.
That’s The Apprentice in a nutshell. Three platforming levels, a boss, a bonus level, rinse, repeat. The cool thing that sets the Apprentice apart from other platformers is that Marvin gets different weapons depending in which tower he’s in. Marvin also gets transformed into a frog for one stage and has a helicopter hat in another. The developers really did try to shake things up with each stage design.
The standout level to me is the underwater well level. Marvin is turned into a frog and has to swim down in order to locate a lost item. The only issue I have with the frog is his attack. It’s a fist that extends just by a little bit. It isn’t enough to reach far away enemies and you have to wait for it to retract before punching again.
There’s a stage where Marvin gets a bow and arrow and is able to shoot straight in front of him and diagonally up. It’s the first place where the player is able to attack in different directions so that’s nice.
I forgot to mention before, but there are ways to protect Marvin throughout the tower. The player has a chance to find a flying bug throughout the platforming stages. Once collected, these bugs will take a hit for Marvin, protecting him from death.
There’s also a group of stars that Marvin can collect that grants him invincibility. This only lasts for a short amount of time, but it allows Marvin to plow through enemies without being killed. Think the invincibility stars that Sonic the Hedgehog can get in the older titles.
There is an ability to save your game, but for those of you that don’t like a challenge, you’re in luck. The game features a level select code that allows the player to pick any level in the game. It also allows the player to choose as many lives as they want and whether Marvin is permanently invincible. Be warned though, the permanent invincibility doesn’t work in the boss stages.
Cheat codes are honestly something I miss from video games. I think they can make the game more fun. Luckily for me, The Apprentice has its fair share of cheat codes.
For instance, let’s say the player gets bored with the main game. There is a code that allows the player to play a minigame call Space Marvinaders. It’s basically the Vision Factory’s take on Space invaders but it’s still cool to see.
There are also codes that the player can input at the game over screen that have various effects. The game actually features fatalities, beastalities, and even nudealities. You heard me right, there is a game that actually features a nude code and it’s on the CD-i. That’s something that was always talked about back in the day and it’s funny to see that a game actually added it in. Now, these codes are very hard to pull off and it does take a bit of trial and error.
So when the ESRB rated this game kids to adults, they weren’t kidding.
Back to the main game, The Apprentice has cutscenes between each tower. The scenes are mostly static images with text that pops on the screen to say who’s talking. I say mostly static because there are things that flicker on the screen or the characters blink. It’s the same as scenes from Moses the Exodus, except at least Moses has voiceovers
Lack of voice acting aside, the artwork throughout the Apprentice looks amazing. Each level has unique sprites and level design that makes each tower stand apart from one another. The sprites are colorful and animate incredibly well. The game runs smoothly and controls pretty well. The jumps do fall on the floaty side at times. There were multiple occasions where I just missed a floating platform and fell down a far way. This is especially true in the bonus levels.
There’s only one issue I have with the Apprentice and that’s the combat. When you hit an enemy, there’s really no indication that you hit them… and what I mean is that the enemies don’t react to your attack. They will keep moving on the path they’re programmed.
In addition, given Marvin’s 1 hit kill mechanic, if you jump to a platform above you and don’t see the enemy there, you’re probably going to lose a life. The hit box on Marvin is also enormous. This became super clear to me when I was fighting the second boss. You are stuck in a tight corner and you need to navigate around projectiles and the boss without getting too close.
I know it sounds like a petty complaint the way I’m describing it, but hopefully the video can accurately describe what I mean. That being said, the bosses are relatively easy to beat so there’s a fair tradeoff at least.
Speaking of bosses. Some of them don’t make sense to me, especially the final boss. I’m guessing this is a giant toy, which would go along with the motif of the final tower, but it looks like it belongs in Parodius and not The Apprentice. I guess same could be said for the random pinup gals the developers added throughout the game.
One cool thing the Apprentice has going for it is its great soundtrack. The disc I have allows the player to listen to the audio on the cdi through its audio playback function. What’s really cool is that you can listen to the game’s soundtrack on a CD Player and Computer as well.
So yeah, if you’re looking for a solid platformer, look no further than the Apprentice. The difficulty curve seems to be a bit fairer than games on the CD-i, like Hotel Mario. And, again, it even has cheat codes to make it easier for the player. It really does have something for everyone. I highly recommend this one.
All that being said, I give The Apprentice 4 random pinup girls out of 5.
Here’s The Apprentice on eBay.