Somewhere in the backwaters of space lies a blue-green planet whose inhabitants are so utterly primitive that they still think the C5 is a pretty neat idea ... So starts a game whose humorous inspiration becomes quite clear when names such as Arfur Bent and Ford Escort roam around a Vulgar belching star cruiser with the aid of a Burble fish hearing device. Consider further the programming teams' name, a reworking of Denton Designs, and you have what looks like, and indeed is, a satire in the mould of Fergus McNeil (cited here as one Fungus McNaill). The point is that Fergus McNeil's satires deal with Tolkien and other 'straight' fantasy works, whereas Dented attempt to satirise an already deeply whimsical set of books IDouglas Adams' Hitchiker's Guides). You can't help wondering how much of this software's charm lies in its simply purloining the best parts of the Hitchiker's Series, and how much on the new extra dash of humour spread on top.
Arfur Bent's day starts much as you'd expect - nursing a hangover in bed, surrounded by countless empty bottles. The picture showing him snoozing in his bedroom is slowly drawn, but as with many in the three parts which make up this adventure, has a certain cartoon-like charm which in some way matches its overriding simplicity. You can collect up all the bottles and examine them (the bottles had previously held double- strength Scotch Whiskey), this ability to examine things being rather rare in the adventure as a whole. The bathroom is found to be in a bit of a mess, but the everuseful toilet roll is here. A randomly- inspired message pops up now and again which states, 'Contrary to popular belief, the Truck Driver's Guide to the Universe says that the toilet roll is the most precious and important item any person or being could possibly possess' and so it seems the right thing to pick the roll up forthwith. Other humorous asides refer to a certain Marillion fan (yes, that Fungus again), the planet with 'Nice Big Macs' (The Earth, stupid), and the fact that the Truck Driver's Guide makes no mention of the VIC 20 whatsoever.
Don't Panic is no mean attempt at bringing the travails of Ford Prefeet and Co to the microcomputer screen. It is a Quilled and Illustrated affair with slowly shaded drawings, the odd typing error, and the odd query against its structure as at the bridge where you are told of a north-south path but not the east exit which sees progress). What the game does possess is oodles of character, good use of colour to enliven the text, and lines that are so ridiculous they tickle the chuckletums ('If you want to succeed, then supercede your old seeds with our new Superseeds. Sow some soon' - seen in the garden centre). Certainly worth the few Acturan Mega-Credits for this long three-parter, Don't Panic is available mail order from Dented Designs, 11 The Hill, Portstewart, Co. Londonderry BT55 7AT.
Difficulty: tricky in places, tacky in others
Graphics: simple with a certain cartoon flavour
Presentation: good; readable sci-fi character set
Input facility: verb/noun
Longer than a toilet roll and just as soft.
Freeway through Space, and clearance schemes below...