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Phipps Associates
Tony Barber
Adventure: Text
ZX Spectrum 48K

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Derek Brewster
Chris Bourne

Phipps made their name with The Knights Quest and have quickly followed it with many similarly presented pieces. This latest has you prisoner of the Germans in Colditz Castle. The game uses the same split-screen graphics and scrolling text window technique as its famous predecessor and is yet, curiously enough, written by a different author. Unfortunately, it also retains the curious hold up in loading. The first section gives you the information, some of which is far too trivial to be included in the program and would be better placed on the cassette insert. You then start the tape once more to get the loading screen and the main program itself.

Many early Spectrum games had reams of information displayed on the screen and you'll no doubt remember how difficult it was to read - especially with a white background on a colour TV. I think the general shift from screen instructions toward more sophisticated cassette presentation is a good move. After all, the illegal copying of a tape isn't quite as effective if you have to forfeit the complex playing instructions left behind with the packaging.

The game takes a long time to load but the loading screen is very colourful depicting the sombre outline of a prisoner of war camp. On pressing a key you are asked if you are starling a new game. Perhaps it's just me being pedantic but I really had to think before answering yes. It may have been better to have had something like 'DO YOU WISH TO LOAD A SAVED GAME' . Perhaps again I'm just being awkward but I seem to have done a lot of button pressing and waiting to have the first frame in front of me.

Your mission is to aid the escape of a prisoner locked away in a solitary cell of the castle. You begin in the courtyard which has different graphics to distinguish between the NW, NE, SE, SW sectors. The first graphic depicts the NW courtyard and you notice the high standard of the graphics, better than those in Knights Quest, but likewise tucked away in the top left corner. Although I have reservations regarding the artistic layout and impact of this arrangement (a darker background with light print may have, quite simply, lessened the gauche appearance) this method of display has one great advantage - it is fast. You can map out your tracks rapidly with the graphics, which are always displayed, acting as useful quick markers.

Compare this to moving through a text-only adventure, especially one with a long scrolling list of location descriptions. The beeps and squeaks the keyboard emits may seem a minor point but an experienced adventurer knows how important it is to enter without mistakes. Colditz has a good selection of distinguishable beeps. Each letter entry including the space key - a common source of error on the Spectrum- has a loud beep. When you are told of your inability to walk through doors or if the program needs you to be more specific a beep will draw your attention to the computers remark in the bottom half of the screen. The beep that tells you the program is ready for your next input is good but rather necessary as although the graphics are fast the program itself is a trifle slow.

'Machine coded to give fast responses to your commands' says the cover but not fast enough for my taste. On delving deeper into the adventure the game becomes eminently mappable but the early impressive graphics dry up a little. At a guess I'd say that the number of locations with graphics falls well below 50 percent. This is somewhat counteracted by detailed descriptions and one doesn't expect miracles with only 48K but if you are new to the way in which adventures are marketed it may be worth noting in the text vs. graphics debate. Just for the record my purist instincts favour detailed word descriptions but with a colour TV an attractive, fast graphic never goes amiss.

The language used is basically Verb Noun with two steps to open a door - unlock, then push open. The usual direction abbreviations are, thankfully, provided: N, S, E, W, U, D. The first four letters define the other nouns. Verbs include look, quit, get, drop use, open, inventory and examine. Elsewhere the language can appear a little atypical e.g. LOWER ROPE rather than the more usual TIE ROPE. THROW ROPE and then you can immediately climb up!

By the way, although I try my best to complete a reasonable amount of an adventure in order to give fair comment, I am indebted to Phipps and Trevor Toms for providing what is indeed a 'Supa Solution' sheet. Not only does this put the reviewer into a favourable frame of mind but also allows people like myself to impress with the easy wisdom the sheet imparts. Colditz has fine graphics with many interesting, logical problems and is well worth the asking price.