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Specifically Spectrum
By Artic Computing
Spectrum 16K/48K

Published in Personal Computer News #047

Specifically Spectrum

Mike Gerrard and his Sinclair go adventuring with a bagfull of games

Arcade games and adventures still dominate the Spectrum software market, and this round-up reflects that by looking at two arcade games, two adventures, and an adventure that includes arcade-style games.

I'm In Shock

This simple but addictive zapping game fills the screen with a 31 x 23 grid, and you patrol the bottom firing at the vicious creatures that are buzzing above, bent on your destruction. This may sound like Gridrunner, but the difference is that some of the columns contain deflecting plates that turn your shot through 90 degrees, and if you can't fire directly at the aliens, you can use these plates to bounce your shots round a few angles, like an intergalactic Alex Higgins. This is no mean feat as the creatures move quickly. Control is by the keyboard and the most important feature is the high-score record, because that's what you'll always be aiming to beat. The graphics don't need to be anything special as the action is fast and the sound relentless.


Mad Martha 2

When you tire of killing aliens, move on to Mummies from ancient Egypt which, along with skulls, spiders, snakes and indefinable monsters, are the hazards out to get you in five mazes. Using Kempston or AGF joysticks, or the sensible keyboard layout, you manoeuvre along the underground tunnels, and collecting goodies and shooting baddies along the way, you search for the key that will open the door to the next level. The screen scrolls automatically, and a scanner shows the whole of that particular maze at the top of the screen. The machine code movement is fast, and while it obviously owes a lot to several other berserk-style games that are around, it is well done and extremely difficult to master.

Castle Colditz

To escape from Castle Colditz you must make your way from the prisoners' room to the castle's main gate, and this could be described as the archetypal text-only adventure. You move using N, S, E, W, U or D; C lets you know what you're carrying (up to six items); L redescribes your location if the text has scrolled off the screen. The optional instructions advise you to make a map and warn that some exits are one-way only. There's a Save option. You're given a list of verbs you can use in the verb-noun commands and these include TAKE, LEAVE, USE, FIGHT and so on. You'll find objects such as a rope, torch, pencil, chisel, and finally there are Nazi treasures you can try to smuggle out.

Though in machine code and quick to respond, the adventure is traditional and reliable - even the surprises were unsurprising as I moved round the Gun Room, or the Blanket Store, trying to escape. I was just waiting to find myself in a room with no apparent means of escape, and eventually it turned up - the Wine Cellar, where all you can see is a barred window, which proves very difficult to break open.

Mad Martha 2

The game is perfectly well done and thorough, but lacks sparkle and imagination, as if it were the latest to fall off the adventure production line.

The Crown

The Crown was put out originally on the 16K ZX81 but it's hard to see where that extra memory has been used up since the whole adventure has rather an amateurish look.

It is set in the mists of time when everyone had funny names: "After the fall of the House of Rof and the theft of the ancient sceptre by the Orckind, Invi the Elder took the great Crown of Rof...

Mad Martha 2

Your task is to recover the crown and ensure that once again, good triumphs over evil.

The scene descriptions will hardly win any literary prizes: "Fork in road. Exits: N, W, E. You see: (followed by a blank space)." Unfortunately, "You see:" appears even when there's nothing there, which looks a bit odd on the screen, as do some of the responses. In one location I could see an axe. TAKE AXE, I said. "What?" it replied. TAKE AXE, I insisted, there being an axe staring us both in the face. "You carry the Axe", it finally agreed. In other places too, some perfectly acceptable commands were greeted by the uncomprehending "What?"

This adventure doesn't have a lot going for it, cheap though it is, and as far as I'm concerned evil can triumph over good if it means I don't have to play again.

Mad Martha 2

Mad Martha 2

The adventure/arcade bridge is provided by the follow-up to the very successful Mad Martha, which the cassette cover claims contains "three exciting arcade-type games". I would take that "exciting" with a generous pinch of salt.

The hen-pecked Henry, i.e. you, is on holiday in Spain with Martha and son Arbuthnot, who have both gone off on a coach trip leaving you sitting in the sunshine enjoying a cool drink. Waiter Manuel, who also happens to be Martha's cousin, brings you a letter doused in perfume, and off you set on your travels around the town to find out what's going on.

After all, you can't read the letter till you find your spectacles, and you can't get out of the dark alley without something to light the way - and what does the bullfight poster mean, and when will that phrasebook come in handy?

The graphics are rather limited, the speed of response is slow, and there was also the occasional unusual reaction from the program. On the beach I tried the command DIG, only to be confused by the reply "You must wear your spectacles". What can this mean?

There are three skill levels, and this is a race against the clock - once you've found your time-piece of course. The program allows for multiple command entries, and can be saved. Although I didn't feel it was testing my powers of deduction to the full, it still has a certain appeal and is definitely different, which is all to the good when there's so much mediocrity about.

Mike Gerrard

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