IF YOU are like me, it may take something more than an electric cattle prod to get you to a movie about little furry creatures, however lovable or terrifying they may be. That being the case, I approached Gremlins with trepidation, a large bucketful of salt and a lack of any knowledge of the story behind the title.
It came as a surprise to find that those wee beasties were every bit as fearsome as the meanest orc or ill-tempered dragon. They make East End football supporters look like choirboys.
The game comes from the Adventure International stables and is a text adventure with graphics. The plot probably makes more sense if you saw the film but in essence it is simple - which is more than can be said for the solution.
The all-American township of is bedevilled by a plague of gremlins, furballs gone bad. Led by Stripe, arch-apostle of ultra-violence, they threaten to overwhelm the town and destroy civilisation as Ronald McDonald knows it. All in all, the classic transatlantic fear of the 'other'.
You take the part of Billy, hero of the film, and must do your darnedest to save the town and neutralise the evil hordes. Gizmo the Mogwai - I presume he is a good form of gremlin - will assist you once you manage to find him.
The game operates on the standard verb/noun format and has a fast and friendly interpreter. You may even get free hints if you labour too long over a particular task - helpful if you are not over-familiar with aspects of day-to-day reality in the US.
Finding myself in a kitchen full of appliances I could not get any to work. After I had dithered for a while the computer suggested I 'press button'. Enlightenment came to me as I realised that the Peltzer remote control I had picked up ran the kitchen as well as TV. Have you heard of a Peltzer? I always thought they were dogs.
The pictures in Gremlins are not only pretty; they interact with the play and will show you the actions you have carried out if they affect your visible environment. Some are even partially animated. Once I had discovered the joys of the Peltzer I was soon watching a gremlin whizzing around in the blender.
Time is important to the play and you will have to flash around town to avoid roving gremlins. Leisurely exploration is not on - so, besides the need to solve problems you must always keep one eye open. That adds considerably to the excitement and urgency of your task and gives a feel of ever-present danger.
That combination makes for a classy and tense game, well made and full of action. Despite being repeatedly killed by Stripe's hooligans I enjoyed Gremlins a lot. My only criticism is that £9.95 is a high price to pay.
Heading south of Kingston Falls and slipping back several centuries in time you could find yourself sweltering in the tropical jungles of the Amazon basin. Being a bold conquistador with, I'm sorry to say, the rather juvenile name of Pisartis, you travel in search of the fabled gold of El Dorado.
Whilst you are slashing your way through the steaming veg you encounter the statue of the great Lord of the Sun, the god Inti. He orders you to find his golden helmet, hidden in a lost valley. Magnanimously he will let you keep any other gold you find.
El Dorado is a reasonably priced text adventure with added graphics - those are pleasant and fast though purely decorative. The interpreter bears remarkable resemblances to the Quill, though I am prepared to be corrected if I am wrong - no credit was given. Whatever the case, input is in standard Quill format.
The game is atmospheric, descriptions are full and produce strong images to relate to. The ruined city in the valley comes to life, giving a proper sense of place. The writer is clearly interested in the Inca period and has tried to keep within historical boundaries.
The game has about 75 locations and the action is linear - you overcome one problem at a time and then go on to the next - That is not to say the game is boring; I found the search compulsive when combined with the moody descriptions.
Add twisting jungle tracks which take you in circles and confuse your sense of direction, a few sticking points where you need to pay close attention to 'Help' information, claustrophobic tombs and subterranean passages where jaguars and pythons roam and you will find you are playing an entertaining, moderately difficult game which is real value for money.
In some ways I would rather have less locations in a game and more general detail - far too many games with 150 plus locations rely on one line descriptions and lose as a result. El Dorado costs less than the average night out at the pictures and will keep your brain working a lot longer. Not bad at all.
Then there is The Jewel of Power from Slogger Software. At £9.50 this is another expensive game but it's big and complex. The problems are extremely involved and I suspect it would keep even veteran players struggling.
The story line is not new and revolves around your search for the missing fragments of a magic staff which will lead you to the great jewel itself. The once happy land is full of sadness and desolation as a result of its disappearance. This is a standard plot in adventuring these days and most of you who have played such games regularly will not need to adjust too much to the game's environment and rules.
The game has 'dynamic' graphics - that is, they show you the results of some of your actions and, as in Gremlins, are partially animated on occasions. They are strikingly primary in their colours and dominate the screen. Beneath them is the input and response area.
The game has a large vocabulary and the interpreter is sophisticated and advanced enough to notice words it does not understand as you are typing them in. That is a very friendly feature and one example of the level of skill and care put into the programming.
The 125 locations cover the range of magical and fairy tale settings. There are thick woods, troll-infested landscapes, deserts, castles, mazes and dungeons. Few of the many objects have obvious uses and I thought that the puzzles were of the quality you might expect from companies like Level 9. Even the objective of the game is hidden and must be searched for right at the beginning.
This is a high-powered, high quality expert's game and, given the amount of time it will take to solve, justifies the relatively high price. It is custom-built and other adventure programmers would do well to note some of its features. The theme is not my personal cup of tea but I'm sure it will appeal to many hardened players.
The Quill boom goes on and there are no less than four adventures written on it this month. The first, Malice in Wonderland, comes from Sentient Software who now market former Lumpsoft products including a Doctor Who adventure, The Key to Time, reviewed a while back.
The game sticks to TV and casts you loosely as Steed, from The Avengers. That series was renowned for its odd plots and Sentient has obliged by linking a detective-cum-spy story with bits of Alice.
Your aim is to uncover the murderer of a high ranking diplomat at the embassy of an unpronounceable Central European country. Since you do not speak the obscure tongue you are armed with a phrase book which can be used to interrogate the usual suspects - butler, chauffeur, mad chef and so on.
The embassy is curiously like the Queen of Heart's palace, with rose garden, maze, gardener and even a large rabbit burrow - which I still cannot get into, snarl, snarl. There are mirrors which seem to alter space and time and bizarre sporting objects - womballs - reminiscent of the queen's croquet balls.
The program uses the Quill's resources well and is friendly and responsive. There is a good dose of tongue-in-cheek humour too - type 'Wait' and you will be treated not only to a series of observations on the nature of time but also adverts for Lumpsoft.
That quirky approach lifts Malice in Wonderland well above run-of-the-mill Quilled games. You do not need to follow a single line of play either and can go off at chaotic tangents if you like. Good design, great quality, grand fun.
The other three Quilled games are part of a series from Sentient Software. Those are 'back to back' tapes and feature Spectrum and CBM64 versions on either side of the cassette. They are all pure text games.
Scoop, as you might expect, turns you into the intrepid newshound in search of the story of a lifetime. Getting to be a legend in your own lunchtime means a lot of effort and a fair dose of trouble to boot.
You start by being roused by the shrill tones of your alarm and have to work your way through the day as you might in real life. Stagger out of bed, hunt for clean clothes, get washed, get breakfast, try to ignore the kids. Problems, problems ... even your trusty old Anglia won't start.
Forget to wash and your better half will observe cuttingly that you smell rather high today. Get to the office and your boss is really unhelpful. Editors are like that, you know (I don't mean it Bill, honest ...)
The game has a good kitchen-sink feel with plenty of unglamourous real-life stress and pressure. The interpreter could have been friendlier and more responsive to 'Exam' queries and it would have been nice to see less of 'You can't do that' on screen. I felt that was the case with all three programs.
The other games are The Crystal Frog and The Amulet. The first is set in a familiar magical world and you must seek out the priceless carved gem of the title. Eerie castles, stalking murderers and enraged animals will dog your tracks and the atmosphere is enhanced by effective descriptions and an attention to detail.
The Amulet was disappointing - the plot was very similar to Level 9's Lords of Time with seven time zones to be journeyed through in the search for the fragments of the Time Lord's amulet. That invited comparison, though, to be fair, The Amulet is only a third of the price of the Level 9 program.
Travel across the zones is random so planning can be quite tough. I also found that I was getting bumped off too often and for precious little reason.
In the medieval section, already protected by a shield, I picked up a sword only to be immediately offed by an irate Norman. Although I was armed I was given no chance to fight or flee - that sort of event did not endear me to the game, especially as the same sort of thing kept happening elsewhere.
Two out of three is not bad though and once again the programs are budget-priced so they are easy on the pocket.