ROLL UP, ROLL UP! CIRCUS HAS COME TO TOWN
Quentin Heath investigates the secret of the Big Top
AS THE NUMBER of Spectrum adventures on the market increases, it is difficult to find one which is different in either concept or content. Adventures are usually graphics or text only and take place in underground locations, mysterious fantasy worlds, on battle fields, or in outer space.
That is not true of the Mysterious Adventure series from Digital Fantasia. One adventure from the company shows the differences from other adventures and the advances in both plot and quality the company has brought to the adventure market. The game is called Circus and it is for the 48K Spectrum.
Circus is slightly different in format from other adventures, as you can switch between high-resolution graphics and text with an extra push of the ENTER key. The plot is unusual, as it takes place in and around a shadowy circus ground.
Few hints are given as to what you should do in the circus or what you are seeking, but that is as it should be. The packaging gives some hints as to what to do when it indicates that you have become stranded near a circus when your car runs out of petrol.
The car is not the starting-point of the adventure and that could confuse you. It is a deliberate ruse to convince you that the car contains nothing of interest. First, you will find yourself in a field with only a few compass-point directional movements, such as south, east and west, from which to choose.
At the start it may seem as if you are limited in the moves you can make and to get anywhere into the game you need to discover an arcane secret of great difficulty. Nothing could be further from the truth. All you have to do is think of a different and more specific type of movement command, such as go, and then specify the direction in which you want to move. That makes the game very complex, as you will have to name the sites you want to visit in different sectors.
The main sectors in Circus are the field in which you start, the road and car which you can reach, using Go road followed by Go car, and the circus exterior and interior where much of the action will take place. Each of those sectors is discussed in the hints and tips panel.
One of the quests you will have to undertake is to find the petrol with which to fill your car to make your getaway. It could be in the generator which you will find near the circus or it could be in the dark depths of the tent. The generator is not working, so there is no power to go exploring in the tent. You will have to find your own, with a little help from hints and tips.
The secret of the petrol lies in the tent but you might like to explore the traps and pitfalls before you start to be involved with the quest. Learning from experience is usually the name of the game but there are some problems you can avoid with commonsense.
You may make a reasonable guess that most of the circus act equipment you find is in the tent and in the circus ring. The ladder you find hanging in mid-air. It seems to go up to the roof of the tent and is a temptation - if you ever wanted to swing on the trapeze you will find your wish granted if you can find the proper words to swing up to the top beams and canvas of the roof. If you jump from the trapeze you will land on the canvas of the roof and find nothing.
If you have a knife you could become a vandal, as the computer will accept the command to cut the canvas. Not much else seems to be possible from that vantage point and it is at that point, when you want to return to the ground, that you may have difficulty.
You may wish you had a map of the steps you took to get up to your precarious position. If you have not made a map you will become confused between ladders and swings. What you must not do is take out your rope, if you have it, and throw it. You might expect to find a quick way to the ground but the only thing you will get is a lost rope.
One other place to avoid is the human canon, unless you are trying to escape from the clown who keeps appearing. That character does little damage but he is difficult to follow.
One last strange, but useful, tip which can be given is that you should try and dig with your spade at every opportunity. No more said but you never know what you might discover.
Unfortunately not all software companies have the definition of an adventure game, in the computer sense, completely correct. Penguin Books calls its Korth Trilogy an adventure consisting of three separate cassette-and-book packages.
The packages contain only a series of arcade games based on all-too-familiar concepts. Many of them seem to have been written first, with the story-line slotted around them afterwards.
The saddest aspect is that the concept of this series of packages, based on traditional adventure lines, is fascinating and more software companies should try it.
The only advice I can give if you still intend to buy Korth Trilogy is to keep the science fiction story-book with the package and throw away the cassette. The relationship between the two is thin and you would be much less embarrassed if you did not look at the software. Penguin is, on the whole, better as a publisher of literature and might be advised to stay in that field.
The Korth Trilogy is a set of three science fiction books from Puffin, each with a computer tape enclosed. On each tape three games are to be found, and each game relates to a part of the appropriate book.
The games are not Adventures, repeat NOT, adventure games. This rather upset me, as the packaging that comes with each implies the opposite. Instead, they are arcade/strategy games but are being reviewed here because the packaging suggests otherwise.
I felt that the books are aimed at the eight to twelve year age group. Thus, if like me, you are out of that category, the stories seem rather boring.
Each member of the trilogy is priced at £4.95 which is good value for money if you are in the appropriate age group and own either a 16k or 48k Spectrum. Of course, for the price, one cannot expect the games to give Ultimate any sleepless nights, but as a package they are superb. So here is a mini-review of each.
The first, Escape from Arkron is about three members of Interplanetary Patrol who go to Sirius and find the evil Korth Empire at work. The best game on this tape is Prisoner, where you lead four men on a mission to free Louis and escape, avoiding the deadly robot guards. I found this quite like a Berserk game, but with more robots.
Besieged has only one game really worth playing and that is called Alpha. The aim is to reach the control room of Alpha base and solve the problem of trinary maths to re-program the Korth computer.
Alpha is in many ways a graphical adventure, but as there is no proper vocabulary, and only graphical monster-bashing, it is not worth much more than to say it is great fun.
The last book is Into the Empire and the last game on the tape with it is, in my opinion, the best in the trilogy. The game is called Empire, and is one of the oldest games available for micros, being a simulation of the Empire's economy. You have to control the destiny of thirty planets, quell revolts and supply the empire's needs etc.
Overall, I feel that Puffin did really well with this trilogy. Although it is true that the games are not the best in the world for the Spectrum, they are value for money. You may find the books worth a read too - but do not expect Asimov!
TRILOGY SCORES ON STRATEGY AND LOGIC
MICRO: Spectrum 16K or 48K
PRICE: £4.95 each
SUPPLIER: Puffin Books, Penguin Books Ltd, Bath Rd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex
This trilogy is of the zap and strategy variety. The Korth Empire is invading; can you repel it?
The programs contain one or two nice touches, such as choice of your control keys on the zap games and choice of objective on the strategy game in Escape from Arkaron.
I must say that 'shoot 'em up' games leave me somewhat colder than Skegness on a wet Whit-Monday, but kids seem to like them.
But where the Korth Trilogy really scores is its strategy programs, with at least one on each tape. I'm a great fan of strategy games, and the logic required for kids has got to be educational.
The raid game in part one lets you enter your moves up to six turns in advance, not easy when you don't know what the enemy is doing to do.
I particularly enjoyed Empire, the final program of part three, which is easily the best version I have seen of the Hamurabi genre.
The idea is that the Empire computer has broken down and you have to control production of three essential commodities on 30 individual planets. Full information is available on all 30 planets and overall performance is updated in bar graph form.
I would say that Korth is aimed mainly at the eight to 14 years age group, although there are a couple of programs I shall do again.
The trilogy is presented as a series of program packs. It was released by Puffin Books for the Spectrum, which easily has the biggest market for young computer addicts.
I ought to add that these packages are not adventures. For £4.95 you get a 50 page paperback book which, as you would expect from Puffin, is of excellent quality. You also get a cassette (surprise, surprise), which contains three programs, and both these items come inside a nice plastic display wallet.
The idea is that you read the book and then play the three games which are related to it.
It is not essential to buy all three packages, or even to buy them in order, as they are self-contained. The second and third books give a brief resume of what has gone before. Neither is it essential to read the book before doing the game.
By no stretch of my vivid imagination could I class myself in the age group at which Korth is aimed so my views have to be based accordingly.
My conclusions are that you shouldn't buy Korth if you are expecting a true adventure and, that you shouldn't expect the earth for £4.95. However, at this price they do represent good value.
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