Today’s challenge is to see how long I can actually keep writing about what is, in essence, a maze game; thankfully, I’ve chosen a maze game with a twist.
Released in 1983 by Incentive Software, ‘Splat!’ was ‘a totally original game’ in which the player must explore a seven level maze, looking for edible stuff while avoiding death by drowning or treading on a spike, and most importantly, not being splatted against a wall. For this review I was playing on my rubber-keyed 48K Spectrum.
You play the part of Zippy – presumably so named because his lot in life is to zip around a maze, not because of any resemblance to the gobby one from off of Rainbow; although, like the puppet from Rainbow, Zippy from Splat! is a little cross…
The aforementioned twist is that rather than freely roam around the maze chomping on grass in your own time, the maze scrolls around you in a random (or at least pseudo-random) manner, making this (a) an original twist on the maze game, and (b) the maze from Hell: Get within a Zippy length of the border when the maze suddenly changes direction, and… Splat! Venture up that dead end to reach a juicy looking plum and end up stuck in a dead end… Splat!
Sound & Vision.
The graphics are basic but effective: you can tell what’s edible and what’s pointy at a glance, which is useful as the maze staggers around you erratically. Sound effects similarly so – at least until the end of a level, when your Spectrum unexpectedly shouts ‘YIPPEE!’ in what must be a very early instance of speech on the unexpanded Speccy.
Technically impressive of course, but after a few frantic efforts anywhere above the first level I couldn’t help thinking Zippy would be more likely to be muttering a relieved ‘thank Bungle for that’.
Play the Game.
Thankfully the game starts off reasonably slowly, and after a few rookie errors it’s possible to remember at least the general layout of the map and have some idea which direction you’ll need to jump in next. Stay somewhere near the middle of the screen and have an escape route planned in each direction, and you’re likely to stay alive – if not necessarily rack up a massive score.
(It’s worth pointing out that Incentive Software were so named in part because of their ridiculous habit of giving away cash prizes for high scores – Splat! was the first of these, and carried a £500 prize – enough to buy a decent haul of Spectrum peripherals in 1983 I should think.)
Not that the cash incentive was remotely relevant to average gamers like myself; as the game progresses the safe passages get narrower, and the impending border of doom comes at you with increasing speed and randomness, making the experience increasingly frenzied and prone to go Splat!
Level two introduces plums for extra points, but also water hazards for extra ways to die; level three introduces some rather nasty looking spikes littering the previously safe paths – some fine movement is required at points which is (slightly) easier using the keyboard than joystick, especially as keys can be defined to suit the player.
To comment on anything beyond level three would be hearsay at this point because I got to about 90% of level 3 and made a schoolboy error that sent me all the way back to the start. Yes, the programmers taunt you with a nice progress meter so you can see just how close you got – we should be grateful that the writers used their powers for gaming and not evil.
Splat! is a simple idea given an interesting twist and frantic gameplay. The learning curve is ridiculously steep (either that or I just don’t have the reflexes for it in my old age…), but simple-and-frantic still sums up the best of Spectrum gaming back in its early days.
Oh, and the cover is shiny!
This review is composed of 99% recycled Indie Retro News content.