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Ocean Software Ltd
Arcade: Adventure
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K
Multiple schemes (see individual downloads)

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Phil South
Chris Bourne

Confucious, being a canny sort of chap, once said "there's nothing new under the sun". S'funny, but my old mum is always saying exactly the same thing. And on the subject of computer games, this has never been more true than it is now. But what the oriental sage (and my mutti) didn't bargain for was Tai-Pan.

You begin life as a penniless Chinese chappie on the streets of some oriental city. But far from being the sort who'd prefer to sit down and beg for a living, you're a business kind of guy. You want ships to command, money in your pocket, chow mein on the table and a curvy Soo Ming with knitting needles in her hair to serve it for you (heavy on the soy sauce, doll). Yep. you've got high hopes, boy.

But first you've got to buy yourself a junk, a kind of Chinese boat, and to do that you've got to have a few yen to rub together. Having found a gullible (but suitably wealthy) patron, you can scuttle off to the junk shop and purchase a pile of junk... well, hopefully a pile of junk that floats. Having bought your boat and a take-away to chew on the long journey ahead, you must enlist the services of a crew. You can either buy them, or if you're feeling stingy, just bop them on the head with a blunt instrument and throw them on your boat. Then it's off on the high seas to trade and attempt to earn back the money you borrowed.

There are three phases to the game - in the town, on the sea, and a combat scene. In all three phases the actions you take are icon driven (the little pictures at the bottom of the screen) and communication with other characters in the game takes place in a little scrolling text window underneath. As you rake in the cash, your total loose change is shown under Cash, and what you've got invested in cargo and equipment is shown under Assets.

The battle phase is brill, being a hit like Dandy in its plan view map and rapid-fire shoot 'em up action. Having boarded a ship, you can choose to blast the defending crow with your pistol, or if you run out of balls, to run them through with your cutlass. As you can see, the scope for buckling your swash is enormous. (Oo-er).

The best bit about Tai-Pan is the fact that the path your career takes towards the rank of Tai-Pan (Chinese for the Big Cheese) is entirely your own. If you want to be a privateer and go round shouting 'avast there, me hearties!' and stuff like that, robbing everyone in your path, you can. If you just want to be a law abiding trader and work your way up slowly, ending up in a bijou semi-detached pagoda in suburban Wo-King, you can do that too! The fun to be had! The money to be made! The throats to be slit! The houses of ill repute to be visited! Truly, it is written that Tai-Pan is a game for all the family. The number of cities to be visited is huge, and it's entirely possible to exist on trading between them. But as the manual to the game quite rightly states, the way to enjoy the game to its fullest is to indulge in combat, plundering and trading legally.

Enjoyable on almost every level and one of the best original games to come out this year.

A splendid original strategy game with arcade phases. Brilliant fun. So clever, so complex, so buy it!


Banner Text

Here he is, our impecunious (a posh word for skint) hero, strolling around the streets of downtown Guangzhou, looking for a sucker... sorry, kind patron to borrow $300,000 from. Surely there's some kind of catch...

Entering buildings (you don't actually see inside them, incidentally!) you can meet interesting people, buy stores and equipment, have a drink and a chat with the locals - all in glorious text.

These guys in the street will try to sell you a box for 1000s of dollars. They could make good crewmen. If you can be bothered to hire crewmen for your first voyage, you can just take a club and pressgang them. But beware! Pressganged men mutiny and throw you overboard!

Because the game is so large, it's a good idea to save things as you go along, using the very handy SAVE/LOAD feature. As soon as you get your money, crew, supplies, ammo and boat, save the game, so you can always restart at that point.

The game is controlled by these icons. Pressing the space bar allows you to step through the options and pressing Fire selects. As you move on to different phases, the icons change to offer different options, like steering and firing cannons. (BOOM!)

The catch about borrowing money from the funny little owner of the Restaurant, is that he'll want paying back. You've got to do some fast trading if you want to be able to pay him back before his deadline. Or he'll lop your head off! Spoilsport!