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1988
Arcade: Adventure
£7.99
English
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K
None

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46
Marcus Berkmann
Chris Bourne

"The lads done great, Brian, the lads done great." It's odd, isn't it, the way managers speak an entirely different language to the rest of us. You and I would have said "the lads have done well" or "the lads did well" or "the lads were great" - and I know a couple of people who'd've said "the lads, they're well wicked, narmean?". But "the lads done great"? Leave it it out, Brian.

The obvious explanation is the immense pressure these poor saps live under. I mean, look at them. Five matches without a win and they're off to the job centre, with only a sheepskin coat and a silly hairstyle to show for it all. But one man has survived where all the other managers have failed - Roy Race.

Yup, Roy hasn't done badly, I reckon. 1000 years on, he's still player-manager of table-topping Melchester Rovers, and all without a change of hairstyle. First in Tiger, and latterly in his own comic, Roy of the Rovers has confronted every known managerial hazard, from crippling injuries to freak hailstorms, and he's still there. The man's a ruddy miracle.

And now, thanks to Gremlin, he's been honoured yet further by becoming the hero of a computer game. Actually on Gremlin's recent form that's not up to much, but Roy Of The Rovers is a good deal better than the Gary Lineker titles. In fact there's quite a neat little game lurking in this unlikely package.

The plot is as ludicrous as ever (has someone been reading Billy The Fish?). Melchester Rovers is to be taken over by city property developers, and Roy Race has organised a celebrity 5-a-side tournament to raise funds to stop them. But lo! his entire team has been kidnapped, and Roy must whiz around the streets of Melchester, find his team members and get back to the ground by 5 o'clock - or all is lost.

Daft, eh? What this all leads to is a two-game package in which Roy first finds his team (or in my case doesn't) and then plays the celeb match.

The first part is much the more interesting. The streets of Melchester are conveniently arranged into a giant square grid (there's a map in the game's packaging), so around you wander, looking for clues (ooowah) and talking to people as you meet them. By flipping the roads around 90' every time you turn a corner, the computer makes sure you're always travelling from left to right or vice versa. This can be confusing at first - but Gremlin tried this before with Deathwish III (less successfully, as the game needed faster reactions), and thanks to a useful compass you soon get used to it.

As well as moving around you can also activate certain windows. Yes, it's impersonate-a-Macintosh time again, as windows pull down from the horizontal menu at the top to reveal all manner of options, including "chat" to anyone you happen to bump into or, even more bizarrely, "smile". But then that's like real life - grin at the wrong person and you'll find yourself beaten up for your troubles.

The puzzles here are tricky and not easily solved, and the fact that you have a limited amount of time to do it means that when you get to play the football match, you do so initially with just one player - Roy Race. Galling though this is, it does in fact help you practise for future games, when with luck you'll finally get to rescue a player or two and have a little more help punting the pill past the celeb goalie.

If the game is let down by anything, in fact, it's in the football department. Yes, I know, we've seen millions of these games now and none of them is a patch on Match Day 2, but the way everyone comes up with ever more tatty and unplayable versions of that classic is deeply disheartening. There's got to be another way of representing footie on the Spectrum. But that said, this one's not that bad a game of Speccy boot - the whole shebang wouldn't be worth playing if it were - but I wouldn't suggest you buy the game for that part alone. Control is tricky, it's all but impossible to tell the two teams apart, and it's a matter of the greatest fortune if you manage to score a goal.

No, the attraction of the game is the way the two parts combine so neatly. In most of these multi-game packages, the various parts are entirely separate, but here how well you do in part two depends to a great extent on how well you did in part one. The programmers were System Applied Technology of Sheffield (crazy name, crazy guys) and they've done a good job.

Final trivia note: You may have thought this game came out yonks ago. Well, it didn't, although Piranha originally had the licence and went on and on about it, advertising it, putting it on its release schedule, the works. When the company went down the tubes, the licence became free again, and Gremlin snapped it up. An impressive performance, eh, Roy?

"The lads done great, Brian, the lads done great."

Sigh.

Neat variation on the football game which really captures the atmosphere of the comic strip. Only the actual football bit lets it down!

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