THE SECRETS OF PANDORA'S BOX
Richard Price gets out his ruler and finds Adrian Mole is somewhat lacking.
FOR AGEING wrinklies who have not quite snuffed it yet, adolescence tends to be a lost dream of guilt and severe emotional torture punctuated by acne vulgaris.
As the years pass I had forgotten the torment of being an "almost 14 year old undiscovered intellectual" and have been trying to adjust to the idea of being almost 35 (surely some mistake? Ed.) and equally undiscovered.
Until recently, computer games helped to soothe those old pains, rather like Clearasil on a particularly noisome spot. The world they portrayed was a Boys Own fantasy of righteous violence, easily recognised and incorrigibly evil enemies, and damn few gels to spoil the fun.
A Mole Esq has put a stop to all that.
THE SECRET DIARY OF ADRIAN MOLE
In the latest spin-off of the original book, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole has been translated onto tape. Complete with naughty thoughts, squeezed spots, Big and Bouncy magazines and a few extra events for good measure, the daily doings of the existentialist with the breaking voice can now be loaded up on your Spectrum.
Although my admiration for Mole and all his works is pretty well unbounded I ought to say right now that I'm not sure how well the concept works as a computer game. The suite of four programs is published by Mosaic and programmed by Level 9.
The diary format has been retained and you should not expect to see a standard text adventure set in Mole's sweaty world. What happens is that the diary entries scroll up the screen day by day. At points of decision you are given three choices of possible actions. Events will be affected by those decisions and your status - how popular you are - is shown as a percentage. You can choose to work towards a high or low score depending on your psychological outlook at the time you play the game.
So, for instance, Mole is stuck in Scotland with his mother and her unspeakable insurance-salesman fancy man - 'Bimbo' Lucas. The day's entry runs thus...
"Went to see Rob Roy's grave. Saw it. Came back. What shall I do?
1) Phone Pandora, reversed charges.
2) Send a haggis postcard to Pan- dora.
3) Phone Pandora normally."
The style of the game then is very like the options fantasy books so popular in the last few years. In terms of computer gaming, however, the idea imposes quite severe limitations.
Because the diary follows the book very closely indeed, the odd random decision has little long term effect - except upon the score. At one point you get the chance to either hitch-hike to Sheffield, get the train with a ticket or travel without paying. Whichever you choose you will still end up in Sheffield with the same forthcoming choices.
The book's plot exercises a sort of tyranny over your freedom of action and, regrettably, even the chances to choose are few and far between. I suspect that the publishers didn't want Level 9 to interfere too much with the text and storyline. The result is that you read the diary on screen and occasionally press a key.
After I had played the four programs through a few times - each holds a quarter of the year - I felt I might just as well read the book and cut down on eye strain.
There are some good features. There is a command function which allows you to get some biographical details on the characters, print out the text and so on. The pictures can be switched in or out but are no more than motifs of bits of Mole's life. I used the 'picture off' function on two occasions and managed to slow the game down to a painful snail's pace. That must be a bug.
It's disappointing that Level 9 has not been allowed to produce a real adventure. What carries the game through is the book text itself, irreverent and rude. Without that the game not stand much of a chance. What the program does do is to open up computer games to the real world.