The Shaw Brothers (David, Graham and Adrian) have created more than thirty games for the Spectrum over the years, Hop 'N' Chop is one of their later creations made between May and August 1992 and was originally due to be published commercially way-back-when on the Atlantis label but it was never released. In 2003 it appeared on the Cronosoft website and can be purchased for the measly sum of £2.99 plus postage and packaging.
The main character of this flip-screen platform game is a lumber jack called Jack Lumber [groan...], whose job it is to chop down trees and return them to his logging company by the end of each shift to make money. During play, Jack must chop trees, kill enemies such as bees, collect bonus stars to enter the bonus game and remember to sharpen his trusty axe. These tasks are completed while keeping an eye on the strict time limit, fail to collect the required amount of logs in the time given and Jack loses a life and restarts the level.
The graphics in Hop 'N' Chop are bright, bold, cute and colourful even if they do resemble the classic platformer Rainbow Islands slightly. I mean a lot. Jack Lumber looks like Bub and Bobs' long lost brother, the enemies seem to have flown in straight from the same game without pause for breath, while the background all seems very familiar. Never mind, it's all very pleasing to the eye and suits the action well, despite the occasional jerky animation. The slight delay when changing screens can become irksome at times, however.
The title screen plays a simple but boppy little tune, which is more complex and extends into the actual game when played on a 128K Spectrum. In game sound effects are satisfying, if not over-complicated.
The game is divided into four levels (Pleasant Valley, Winter Wonderland, Sunshine Safari and Dead Man's Gulch), or as the games instructions calls them, "branches of the log company", each with three stages, or "shifts". The sign on the side of the log cabin informs you of the number of logs needed to complete each shift. Completing the three shifts in a level takes you to the next level and so on until all four levels are completed. Then it's big pay day! Basic chop and collect gameplay is supplemented by modest strategic touches such as having to sharpen your axe after four chops at a tree by returning to the nearby axe-grinder, the state of your axe being shown in the status panel at the bottom of the game screen. This simple idea adds depth to the gameplay. By throwing apples, snowballs, Frisbees or fools' gold, you can kill the enemies. You cannot choose a weapon however, it is chosen for you depending on the level you are playing. Hop 'N' Chop does suffer from the common "enemies reappear after re-entering a screen even though you killed them previously" problem. This can be annoying, particularly when time is tight and the enemies are predominantly unforgiving.
I'M A LUMBERJACK AND I'M OKAY
Umbrellas appear on each level that, if collected, gives a period of invulnerability, indicated by a flickering Jack. Additionally, large gaps in the background appear that cannot be traversed by jumping. In such an instance, waiting for and jumping onto "Cloud 9" allows you to negotiate the gap. Collecting five of the now obligatory platform game stars, spells the word "EXTRA" (Hmm... where have I seen something like that before?) and enters you into a bonus game where you collect falling stars while jumping across a log flume. Bonus points, ammo and lives galore.
Hop 'N' Chop can be a fun but very difficult game; the time given to complete each level is fiendishly short and is one of the games downfalls. Although immensely playable, frustration sets in when the time runs out yet again. Much practise and patience is required. If you lack said patience, maybe this game isn't for you.
Overall, Hop 'N' Chop provides a fair few hours/days diversion and shows its polished, commercial roots. But I have a gripe. The cost of possession. When so many classic Spectrum games are available to download "free" (notice free in inverted commas Mr Lawyer dude), why pay for a game that, although new, delivers little over what has been done before? There must be hundreds of platform games out there that you've never played or have been meaning to for years. And they're just one click away. Sure, the costs to get your hands on Hop 'N' Chop are negligible, but why wasn't the game just released as freeware for the large, enthusiastic Spectrum community? After all, Rainbow Islands is still obtainable and a great game. And free.