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Retro Gaming News (Spectrum 48K/128K)

Sam Mallard has a new client and a new case - a missing wife and an intriguing mystery to solve in new Spectrum "cartoon game noir" The Case Of The Missing Swan. Dave Edwards goes adventuring...

Reviewed By Dave E In Micro Mart #1439

Sam Mallard: The Case Of The Missing Swan

Sam Mallard: The Case Of The Missing Swan

The Spectrum has its fair share of revered text adventures but the majority of them are precisely that - the laborious N, S, E, W, TAKE ROPE, THROW ROPE, DESCEND ROPE sort of affair that don't so much tax the old grey matter as send you straight back to something a bit more user-friendly. So it's nice that Sam Mallard: The Case Of The Missing Swan, the first release from ERSH Software, isn't yet another homebrew adventure written with The Quill. Instead, it's a murder mystery with its own unique, simplistic User Interface that may well delight the type of person who's not usually into the more old fashioned type of adventure game.

Sam Mallard, the unfortunate feathered love-child of Daffy Duck and Columbo, ekes out a life as a Private Eye in a dilapidated office somewhere in the US. He's just had a meeting with his latest client, a Mr. Swan, who has just paid him $1,000 to investigate the disappearance of his (Swan's) wife. It's all very urgent too - so urgent that Sam disregards the fact that it's midnight and he was about to knock off for the night. Instead, he vows to find the missing Swan or his name's not Mallard. And that's where you take over and the game starts.

The game is done in high resolution, two-colour monochrome black and white. It suits the general moodiness of the game snugly and, after wandering around your office for a while, you'll discover your car outside and realise that the game also significantly guides you in the direction of where to go and what to do. To a large extent it needs to, because certain actions advance the plot and require a few screenfuls of text explaining the information you have discovered as a result.

Taking its cue from both classic and parody film noir, the narrative is genuinely edgy, and the author also has some grasp of adventure "law", meaning that the game will certainly let you lose an object by using it in the wrong way, but will allow you to acquire that object again later so you can rethink your approach. There are no random deaths here too, which is always a bonus.

Something I especially liked is the minimal set of commands used - Look, Speak, Examine, Take, Use and Go can all be selected to bring up appropriate sub-menus. This means you won't waste time typing in commands like "GIVE PHOTO TO BOUNCER" only to be told "I don't understand". Of course, this doesn't make it as sophisticated to play as a point and click adventure, but it's welcome nevertheless.

Graphics are also good. There aren't a great deal of locations but the ones there are are illustrated well, and in comic book fashion. The boxart is pretty spiffy too. Sound is non-existent.

Paradoxically, I found my biggest problem with the game itself was through the very UI that initially seemed so attractive. Probably because I'm more used to the old school "EXAMINE PHOTO" input, I found it very clunky to have to instead select Take then Photo then Inven. then Photo again. In addition, I kept instinctively wanting to get into my car with "GO CAR" instead of Use then My Car. Locations can also be confusing, as some of them, particularly in Chinatown, are not separately illustrated meaning the narrative can be telling you you're inside the Spice Shop, whilst the picture shows the street outside. And, because you're limited to just three game controls (up, down and select) when using the telephone, you must enter an entire string of digits in a manner more befitting of old arcade high score table! If you get it wrong, there's no delete. It's very awkward indeed.

For obvious reasons I don't want to give away too much about the plot itself. There are a few good puzzles to solve - a very early one being working out the combination to a safe from the clues scattered around the room - and there are a few irksome ones too - for example, having to examine a painting no less than three times before it gives up the key hidden behind it.

Finally, although it is rewarding to deduce the game's puzzles, it's actually not a terribly big game. For me, it's just the right size - it kept me hooked for about two hours and in those two hours (and with a sneaky glance at YouTube) I managed to complete it. The trouble is I won't be back for more, because the playing experience would be identical and I would probably complete it in five minutes flat a second time.

In conclusion, it's refreshing to see something a bit different on the Speccy and Sam Mallard will certainly appeal to armchair sleuths twiddling their thumbs on a Saturday evening. If general reaction is positive, maybe this won't be Sam's only case, either.

The game is freely downloadable from tinyurl.com/zaxplrm

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