Commodore User1st July 1987
Published in Commodore User #47
You would have expected Wile E Coyote and the Road Runner to have made a speedier appearance, but it appears that even the quickest things in the Arizona desert slow down a bit when it comes to rendezvous time with the C64 gaming fraternity.
Is it worth the wait? A guarded yes has to be the answer with one huge reservation. The loading system. We are talking multi-loads of extraordinary tediousness.
Anyone who has played this popular coin-op will know about the incredibly generous gift of a short cut to Level II right smack bang at the beginning of the game. This effectively means that any gamer who can hold a joystick can always begin the game on level 2. So - there's me, ensconced in the computer room, yelling "Beep Beep" doing my best to annoy Scrivo the Ad man as the game loads. Up it comes and I dart straight through the short cut to be greeted by a buzz of monitor interference as Level II loads. That didn't exactly get the game off to a good start. Three seconds of gameplay after a three minute wait for the thing to load in the first place. Not exactly fun city.
The multi-load is messy and I am playing it from disk - it's worse on the cassette version. Here's what you'll have to do to get started if you buy the tape: load side one until you get the title screen up, flip the tape, press Fire on your joystick to clear the screen (the instructions forget to tell you to do this) rewind it, and then press play to load the first level. Each of the other levels takes a minute or so to load and you have to rewind and load again when you lose all your lives. Sure, you have this short-cut which allows you to load the screen where you left off but I found this little consolation - particularly as Road Runner is a game that challenges you to see how far you can get. I frequently found when I was playing the tape version (I tested this version separately) that several goes would end in exactly the same place - the bit I was stuck on - punctuated by the two loads it took to get me back to have another go. Slow, tedious progress.
I don't like having to kick off my review by dwelling on the short-comings of a load system - but it really does place a huge question mark over the viability of the tape version.
The game itself - when you finally get it up and running and get stuck into some of the tougher levels isn't at all bad. The quality of the original Atari coin-op shines through.
It's basically about dodging the Coyote, eating the seed, and seeing how far you can get. The piles of seed are energy giving - and you will faint if you miss five piles of seed in a row.
Wile E Coyote employs a variety of objects to attempt to catch your Road Runner. The most impressive of these is his chopper armed with bombs - pretty mean as he buzzes you from above. He is also quite deadly on his pogo stick - much more so than he was in the original. He's easy enough to dodge when he's on his skateboard or rocket.
As you avoid Wile E you also have to attempt to get to the end of the level which scrolls from right to left. Some of the levels have quite intricate mazes - often leading into a narrow dead end path where that Coyote can trap you.
When you progress further into the game, some of these narrow paths have the added danger of cannons firing at you.
Points are earned by eating the seed and destroying the Coyote - the bonuses being totalled at the end of each level.
The real skill in Road Runner is learning how to turn the various ACME Road Runner devices against Wile E himself in the true tradition of the cartoon strip.
It's fairly easy to do this at the beginning of the game. Almost by sheer luck or accident you can get the Coyote flattened by the trucks rolling down the desert highway towards you.
It's not quite so easy to turn the cannon fire on him, or have him crushed by the boulders on level two.
Other complications as you progress through the levels are the mines that have to be hopped over and glasses of lemonade that take a few precious seconds to drink but earn you extra points.
Manoeuvring your Road Runner is the key to success - particularly the art of tight cornering in some of the narrow pathways. This is not easy in the mazes as the Road Runner has a tendency to stick and move jerkily at certain points. This is a failure of the conversion as in the original the Road Runner responds precisely to the joystick.
Another department in which this conversion fails to deliver is with the graphics. Although the overall feel of the desert highway is convincing the ravines on level five lack any detail. I ran straight through one of them - only noticing that it was a ravine when my Road Runner started to fall though the screen!
Musically, I have no complaints. The Looney Tunes theme from Road Runner is authentic enough - in fact, I can't stop humming it. There are also some frantic pieces of music accompanying the various levels.
The main feel of the game comes across well enough in this conversion. What really lets the whole thing down is the messiness of the loading system. Because of these problems, I would hesitate to recommend the tape version to anyone rather than a hardcore fan of the coin-op. The disk version is only very slightly impaired by the multi-load problems.
I can't see this one setting the world alight the way Gauntlet did somehow. Still, the first person to write it and tell me what ACME stands for can have my review copy anyway.