Remember Redhawk? The game that other magazines thought was whizzo, but I thought was a load of rubbish? Well, now the sideways scrolling comic-strip format with text-entry is with us again in the guise of Kwah! Is it any better, or is it still nought but turkey?
It's definitely a lot better, thank goodness. I actually began to get quite involved in this program, in which hero Kevin tries to discover something of his past and bring an evil doctor to justice in the process.
The real improvements in the game are: first, quicker drawing of graphics and improved detail and quality of the pictures; second, a far better game-structure, with a well-designed map and more logical puzzles; third, clearer objectives in a plot unmuddled by petty thugs, arrests, and a rather silly reliance on super-powers. These were all things that I felt made the original Redhawk game a mess, and in this follow-up they're all much improved.
In fact, if only the programming team can clear up the one major flaw (see below) in this system, they might actually be on to something quite good. Just to remind you - or inform you, if you haven't seen Redhawk - the screen is divided into two, with the upper half boasting three panels which carry three pictures as in a strip cartoon.
The pictures show you the current location and characters - and as you enter commands in the text window below they flip along from right to left, bringing in new pictures from the right as if you were reading a comic book. Because of the constraints of a 6502 processor, the effect is still rather clumsy but it's now been sped up to the point where it does actually enhance the game rather than make it look simply amateurish.
Nice touches include the fact that if you type something like 'SAY KWAH' then the character Kevin (whom you control) sprouts a speech bubble, in true comic-strip form, in which the word appears. If your message can't fit in all at once, it scrolls through the bubble.
As far as the plot is concerned, Kevin - as in the previous game - can change into his super alter ego by simply saying 'KWAH'. Rather better use of this is made in this program than in the original. For example, there's one point where young Kev is bound and gagged and therefore can't say anything except MMMGGGGPHHH... or words to that effect. If the original game had had puzzles of that quality in it, I wouldn't have slated it so badly.
However there remains a bug in the lettuce. The parser is frankly awful. As always in these games, where you try to fit graphics, onscreen clocks and other innovations into the program all at once, something has to give. And in Kwah!, it's the part of the program that understands what you're typing in. You can only move in four directions, the vocabulary is very small, and the system is full of inconsistencies. For example, you type 'PULL LEVER' in a room where there isn't a lever. The program responds: 'Do what with the lever?'. If you persevere it will eventually, after wasting your time, admit that there 'isn't one here.'
Worse, apart from the small vocab, is the way the parser leads you into thinking it can understand more than it can. You find 'A small gap' in a door. You type 'LOOK THROUGH GAP' ... 'Look through what gap?' the program replies. 'LOOK THROUGH THE SMALL GAP' you enter. ''Small' confuses Kevin' replies the infuriating parser.
And so on. Perhaps the system is really stretching the C64 to its limits, or perhaps the programmers haven't got into their stride yet. Which of these two theories is true will decide whether this system has an interesting future or whether Kwah! will be remembered as the best it ever had to offer. As it is, I reckon it's only just worth the asking price, but if you get it for a present I think you'll find it worth having a crack at.