This review was to be the great expose on Grange Hill, the television program everyone's heard about but never seen. Alas, several factors have conspired against this, the two major failings being my inability to find any bookshop that sells the book this program is apparently based upon, namely Grange Hill After Hours, and my missing, the television program on several occasions due to a propensity for scoffing things about the time it goes out. I thought I had it beat when I chanced upon as large a collection of Grange Hill memorabilia as could be thought plausible, covering every aspect of the cockney rascals' education (or lack of it), piled deep in the children's section of Boots (this after many embarrassing scenes in learned bookshops where whispering 'Grange Hill' could reduce even the most composed assistant to bouts of the giggles - or was I just imagining it?).
However there was no sign of After Hours among the varied Grange Hill antics. and indeed, the antics of that famous former pupil, Tucker. The book continued to elude me but I did manage to see the TV program in question this very day, although a certain amount of my tea got deposited on the cast list in the Radio Times so I might just misspell one or two of the names.
There's been a bit of a fuss recently about the TV program Tutti Frutti, not because it's as boring as sin (nothing unusual in that), but because of its thick Scottish accents (though I wouldn't know, having never seen more than 15 seconds at a time). But what about this here Grange Hill? Stuck in front of the television, there's me sitting on every lilt and intonation trying to decipher words mumbled into jumpers and caught in coffee cups leaving only the feeling that something cockney's been uttered. I caught an episode 23 where Mr Scott gets his revenge on Trevor, Mrs McClusky punishes some rebels for reasons lost to some previous programme, and more to the point, women and girls want to fight for the right to hurl lethal red balls at one another, all in the name of cricket.
The story behind the game is a piece of cake. Goncho, whose mush is plastered over the screen during the early part of loading, has pone and got his Walkman conhscated for having it on in a lesson; and this after his last one was confiscated and lost. His mum wasn't too pleased at that, and so warned him he'd be skinned alive it he ever came home without the replacement she bought him It's ten-to-four in the afternoon and Gonch is about to go home when he realises that returning home without the cassette player is going to lead to such a shouting match he probably wouldn't be able to hear a Walkman again. The only alternative seems to be to return to school after hours, break into the staffroom, and retrieve the machine. All this has to be done before midnight, and with the help of his trusty schoolpal, Hollo.
Grange Hill the computer game has tried its best not to be pigeonholed. It can't be said to be an adventure, as there are occasions where only deft control of a joystick or keyboard can guarantee progress - a very rare occurrence in adventure. This isn't the only arcade aspect either, as sudden deaths seem to lie around every corner. And herein lies one of the game's most serious drawbacks. The inability to save your position just before one of these untimely deaths results in much monotonous repetition of routes you've already mastered; a fundamental flaw this.
The upper half of the screen depicts the scene with your own character, Gonch, walking around outside the litter-strewn playing fields and perimeters of the school, as often as not accompanied by your sidekick, Hollo. Both you and he are animated, or more strictly, your legs are animated whilst the upper torso is rigid, with arms pinned down. The background graphics are rudimentary and, in my book, disappointing. Any characters you meet, like the celebrated drug pusher, also appear in this window, the text area below giving the opportunity to 'just say no' la phrase pinched from the training films for newly appointed bank managers). ' The speech aspect isn't altogether successful in Grange Hill, although you can get Hollo to state how he would prefer to remain put rather than follow you any further, at one stage in the game. I've forgotten to mention the time element, where the clock runs at (our times normal rate, which means you could he playing this game for (12 - 4) divided by four hours, which is a long time to play a game that never quite wins you over.
Difficulty: deft control of keyboard or joystick required
Graphics: cheap game standard
Input facility: menu and sentences for speech
Interesting theme and in some ways, interesting to play, but fundamentally flawed.