ONCE AGAIN it's time to pull your Y-fronts over your jeans and join more Marvel superheroes in clobberin' the evil opposition into stupefied submission.
Where Spidey and the Hulk have gone before, the Thing and his incendiary chum, Human Torch, now follow in the third of the Questprobe games. Eat your heart our Beyond - how's Superman coming along?
For those whose normal reading matter is less lurid a brief explanation is necessary. These two lads are one half of the Fantastic Four (™ as the blurb repeats over and over). The four were changed into strange mutants by an overdose of radiation and now possess special powers - which, of course, they only use to do good. Reid Richards, their nominal leader, can stretch his body like a lump of Silly Putty whilst Torch can become pure fire and project gaseous streams of hot plasma - handy if you run out of matches to light the stove.
Poor old Thing has become immensely strong but suffers from some unfortunate lurgy which makes him look rather like a dinosaur with very bad skin tone. He is understandably touchy about this as girls find him a little too chunky. The fantastic fourth was a lady - as far as I can remember she was able to become invisible.
The adventure stars only Thing and Torch. Naturally, such superheroes would be rather wasted on ordinary felons and their enemies also possess superpowers - which, of course, they only use to do bad. In this game the obese Blob, the evil Doctor Doom in his nuclear powered armour and the entire Circus of Crime are led by the mind-bending Ringmaster. Your mission is to rescue the fair maiden Alicia Masters from the evil terror of Dr Doom.
The program is presented in the familiar Scott Adams/ Adventure International format - white screen, bright and speedy half-frame graphics and fairly minimal description: "I'm in the fairgrounds outside Latveria and I see here a circus tent. I can go north." You can become either of the superheroes during the game and will find it useful to switch from character to character throughout the action.
There are only about 12 immediately available locations at the beginning of the game and, because there is a time limit, very little exploration is initially possible.
What's the problem... ah well, Thing has become trapped in a giant tarpit near to Doom's castle and will drown unless you can find the means to rescue him. I strongly advise you to read the instruction booklet very carefully before you start. There is a considerable amount of detail about the powers our heroes possess and you'll be entirely in the dark about how to save Thing unless you've read up on them. Even afterwards you will probably find it extremely hard going.
The first Thing (sorry) to realise is that Thing can hold his breath for a long time. If you don't command him to do this he'll simply suffocate after about twenty inputs - at this point the game ends and you have to start all over again. If he's holding his breath he'll be able to survive until he reaches the bottom of the pit. While he's sinking it seems to be almost impossible to instruct him to do anything except wait this for about 17 moves. Finally, he'll be able to "feel ground" where there's some machinery to smash and a dark hole with air in it.
Meanwhile as Torch you can flit around getting handy objects like gunpowder, a candle and a purple worm. If you close your eyes you can enter the circus tent too and collect a cannon - you need to close your eyes to avoid the effects of Ringmaster's psi-powers. Even getting this far took me many, many attempts, all resulting in restarts to try different ways to get a working light-source to Thing before he slipped beneath the tar - nothing logical seemed to work, even weird ideas like firing the purple worm out of the cannon into the pit. It wasn't possible simply to fly above Thing and give him the worm, which may well be a glow worm. He'll take the candle but of course that goes out in the tar.
Part of the problem for me was the way the program responds. On every input there's an OK statement whether or not the action was successful. Sometimes the interpreter will tell you you can't do things but at others you'll find that you've entered a string of commands which get no adverse comment, all to no avail. Even an 'I can't' would have been more helpful.
The interpreter also behaved oddly at times - at one point I was flying above the pit with my candle and asked Torch to do something with it. He simply denied he had it though an inventory check told me 'OK I'm carrying a candle.'
With this and other minor irritants I ended up being downright frustrated rather than entertained. The lack of full descriptions adds to this feeling, as does the lack of any hint facility - you're told to buy a Scott Adams booklet if you need any help. All money in the bank, I suppose.
To be honest, compared with the super-friendly interpreters of Level 9 games or even the basic Quill responses, this well-worn Scott Adams style seems rather primitive and took my attention away from the game itself. The only thing I wanted to clobber was my Spectrum.
All told, a fairly inaccessible game opening with a linear set of problems in a closed set of locations. Unless you're smart enough to get through this in one or two goes you may well end up feeling cheated and disappointed.
Marvel Comic fans will probably ignore everything I've said but, if it was my pocket money, I'd get myself something friendlier like Worm in Paradise or Heavy on the Magick.
Publisher: Adventure Soft/US Gold