The comp.sys.sinclair Crap Games Competition 2021 - 25th edition!



Author:  Kerl Model:  16K Spectrum Formats:    .TAP   .BAS
Submission date:  28 February 2021 Documentation:  brief text file with credits Tested on:  Spectaculator 8.0

Download it here

I must admit, I approached this game with some trepidation. Kerl submitted four games in the last two months of John Connolly's 2020 CSSCGC, which ranged from "a crazy idea that actually does work but is given less than 2K of BASIC in which to do so" (Masky, which I quite liked even if I view the situation that caused its creation with loathing and detestation), to "a crazy idea which might have worked well in Kerl's imagination but doesn't translate to a practical game" (Mental Rally, which swiped the "coveted" 75p and a packet of Rolos from under Tomás P.'s nose, right at the last minute). He is also responsible for Firesnake, which at the time of writing is rated by Spectrum Computing's users as the second worst (non-CSSCGC) Spectrum of all time, behind the notorious Sqij!.

Horace and the Vikings is probably somewhere between the two. There's a loading screen showing Horace - clearly nicked from the loading screens of the original games - and a red, star-shaped Viking. Once the game has loaded, hit any key to start and an Old Norse Saga / Lord Of The Rings mashup dated AD 982 (I like the choice of date!) will appear on screen, letter by letter, serenaded by a beeper-version of In The Hall Of The Mountain King that's far more accurate than that from Manic Miner. Chew on that, Miner Willy fans!

That's a good start, but what about the actual game? Kerl says it's based on Robber, one of Virgin Games' early attempts when they were as adept at publishing games as the Formula One team of 2010-11 that bore their name and logo were at racing. But because it was one of 90-odd games on the Argus Press-derived compilation that came with my +2 in 1987, and because I had very little concept of magazine reviews or even life outside my own world (which is a story for another day), I played it to death, despite its obvious shortcomings - just like most of the games on that compilation. The part of Robber that Kerl has borrowed is the opening stage, where our criminal anti-hero must pick up three items while avoiding a guard's 100-kilowatt searchlight - one of which is the invisible safe key that will only be revealed when the searchlight falls on it.

Kerl has turned this concept up to eleven. You are Horace (obviously), and you must move around a dark cave with Q/A/O/P, avoiding the gaze of the Vikings. You all have head torches - in AD 982, apparently - and the Vikings will fire off theirs at random intervals. You fire yours whenever you want with SPACE, but if you do, the Vikings will see you and aim their torches where you're standing - and you'll be chased by a red rugby ball. You will lose one of your 30 stamina points if you're "Busted!" by the Vikings' torchlight, and quite a bit more if the rugby ball hits you.

And here's where the game gets tricky to the point of near-impossible. In Robber, you had one invisible item to collect; in this game you have fifteen! These are the letters "opensesame", followed by the One Master Coin (which is a dollar sign), and finally the letters "EXIT", which are at least all gathered together. You must collect all these in order, and if you pick one up out of order, they'll all be scattered to where they came from in the dank depths of the cave. So you have to wander around in the dark, constantly firing your head torch which gives only the briefest possible flash of light in the direction you're facing, exposing your position to the Vikings, and you'll probably only see boulders blocking your way. No wonder Kerl recommends "pencil and paper" as part of the official controls, so you can note where the letters are! But the biggest killer is this: you must keep moving to stay away from the Vikings' torches and the rugby ball, but you must also come to a dead stop to fire the torch, and it might still be pointing the wrong way.

From the contact email, it seems Kerl is openly fishing for Goolu demerit points - but I can't justifiably give it any because it's not a broken, unplayable mess. (Neither was Mental Rally, all things considered.) I've been through the entire game recording an RZX with heavy use of Rollback, and it is possible to get through to the end. But even if this game is as rock-hard as the boulders which litter your path, and even if the controls are about as responsive as a C5 with a flat battery, I can't blame my own general ineptitude at games on Kerl. Equally, though, I can't give it more than two masks for attainment. But I can award extra Ricks for effort - for the loading screen, for the quite strange way the opening tune has been handled, for an unwitting entry into the Magenta Challenge (ABS here, PLOT and DRAW with extra colours there, and some colour-8s scattered around), and some extra scraps of discarded code from the game (including an unused end sequence that I think should have been left in) - so the game is increased from two Ricks (which it would otherwise be) to four, and at least gives Kerl a share of the lead in the "maximum effort, minimum attainment" stakes.

I wonder, given the actual target you have to acquire in this game: Kerl, are you a coin collector?