Smart Egg Software have a reputation for producing top quality games. Rigel's Revenge, released as a budget game late last year and written without the aid of an adventure utility, surprised everyone with its complexity and style. The same team was behind CRL's Federation, a revamped version of Eighth Day's Quann Tulla, an excellently presented sci-fi adventure embellished by the odd touch of Smart Egg humour. And it's exactly that brand of characteristically cynical fun which distinguishes their latest adventure Quest For The Golden Egg Cup.
If there's anything to be learned in life, it's that you always get exactly what you expect. If you jump into the road straight into the path of a pink CS speeding down the highway at 90 miles an hour in the capable hands of an even pinker panther, it's guaranteed you'll be knocked down and killed. Next stop (of course) is heaven. Unfortunately, God isn't in the best state of mind to receive new angels - he's lost his golden egg cup and insists that you retrieve it. How could you possibly refuse?
Quite easily probably, except that God doesn't look like the son of chap you'd want to mess with. Puffing at his huge Havana-style cigar, lounging around in a turban and monogrammed (G.O.D.) silk robe, playing melancholy tunes on his baby grand, he behaves like an eccentric, philosophical millionaire - and you've always had a soft spot for richer men (well, perhaps you have, Samara - Ed). In any case, he threatens to turn you into an egg if you don't obey.
Heaven, a small place full of bizarre and seemingly useless objects, is situated at the top of a beanstalk. Some branchlets down this overgrown vegetable, you discover a land of subterranean passages, forest paths, sparkling rivers and dusty train stations. Illustrated by bold, bright pictures, these strange and mystical locations are populated by a host of eccentric individuals. As the program doesn't allow for speech, interaction with all of these is kept to a minimum. It's mostly a matter of giving Wongo the witch, a surly guard or a ferryman what they say (or you decide) they require.
Thoron, a dwarf with a soft spot for gold (no, he doesn't sing), and Dandalf, a wizard without a wand unable to look quite as mysterious as he would like, are mortal enemies and provide plenty of entertainment when they manage to get themselves into a fight.
These two illustrious people are typical of the cross-referencing that pervades the whole of this epic journey. The obligatory constituents of an adventure game are scrupulously identified as they appear (cor, where does she get this from? - Ed); there's the inevitable 'under the bed object', a dead sherlock and a maze of twisting passages which bears more than a passing resemblance to the mindbenders devised by Level 9. Not that the satire stops at adventure games; a few more familiar elements of modern culture get the treatment too.
In the midst of all this totally gratuitous frivolity (eh? - Ed) there lurks a very playable and exciting game. The puzzles are by no means straightforward and there's plenty of opportunity for getting yourself killed. (How you can die when you're dead already I've still to comprehend.) The environment is extensive and has plenty to keep you occupied; it should take quite some time to fathom its many secrets.
The parser isn't quite as advanced as the gameplay. It doesn't accept complex commands and won't register commas or speech marks. (Sounds like Nick Roberts's sort of adventure however, it has been very cleverly designed. In places where complex input is required, the flexibility of the parser has been extended to cover a wider range of possibilities. Consequently you have a functional rather than an elaborately intelligent system but one in which there's very little scrabbling for exactly the right word.
The mainstream software houses haven't exactly been swamping the market with their adventure releases over recent months. At a time when the publishers are concentrating more and more on licences and sequels, it's refreshing to be sent a game of such high calibre. As long as the budget houses keep releasing products as slick and innovative as Quest For The Golden Egg Cup, there's hope for adventurers yet.
Stop snooping around in the bedroom and get on with the quest.