It was a little saddening to own an Electron in 1988. You couldn't find games for it in the shops any more and all the big movie studios only seemed to grant licences to the Spectrum, Amstrad and Commodore 64 software publishers. Electron User magazine was still going... just, but it was lucky if it had four or five new games to review each month.
Then, quite out of the blue, a brand new publisher appeared, not with just one game but three! Clogger, Orbital and Zenon were a badly-needed boost to the malaise of the Electron market and, whilst I'm sure we would have all much preferred Electron versions of Batman, The New Zealand Story and Robocop at the time, at least we had, in this trilogy, something. Something that looked a little bit different and, dare I say it, promising... and something that wasn't another Repton game from Superior Software.
Or was it...?
Clogger is my favourite of those three games from publisher Impact Software and is an overhead maze game that, at first glance, might be confused with Boulderdash. It's actually a much slower-paced sort of game, featuring sixteen screens in total.
It puts you in control of a very odd-looking hero indeed... a wheel with three equally-distributed feet! Your task in each maze is to eat all the pies, and assemble a picture. The pictures have a blocky, mosaic quality to them and, in order for you to determine how the constituent blocks fit together to complete them, you can tap the P key to view each picture in isolation if you wish.
The instructions inform us that the "ancient race of Cloggers" had a great love of logic and art, and liked to keep their lands tidy. Whilst that scenario was probably added as an afterthought, it suits the game well because each screen almost feels like a work of art in its own right. Like a crossword or sudoku puzzle, you have to stand well back from the smaller scrolling area that you can actually see, in order to effectively solve the puzzles it sets you.
That's because some of the objects can only be used once, and others can have such devastating effects if used wrongly that they instantly render the screen unwinnable. Don't push a drill into one of the picture blocks, for example. Don't push picture blocks into corners either; you won't be able to get them out again! And be careful around the one-way-only earth sections which unexpectedly repel you too.
Instead, press M, consider the map and make your moves wisely and carefully. There's only one way to complete each screen and, with no distracting boulders or monsters to avoid in the land of the Cloggers, you will get there by a process of pure logic alone.
Despite these obvious, very different, differences, it remains very hard not to compare Clogger with the long-running series of Repton games on the Electron because, visually, they look so similar. I have a lot of respect for both Repton and Clogger, but Clogger definitely has the edge. Although it does move a little bit too slowly for my liking, it has a much more immersive feel to it. All the status information - lives left, time remaining, password, level set - is not, as you might expect, shown constantly in a panel. Instead, you call it up (if need be!) with key S. That firstly leaves all of the screen's real estate available for the maze itself, and secondly removes any and all distractions from the task at hand.
Indeed, in my opinion, Clogger not only hangs together very well as a whole but is one of those games that truly hasn't aged. The big but is that almost all of the skill in playing it is the act of "tidying", clearing obstructions from an area so that you can then push the artwork into its alloted place. It's a task that takes patience and forethought rather than arcade prowess. Now, whilst I would rather be allowed to make progress at my own speed rather than, say, balance a boulder on Repton's head and execute a perfectly-timed drop so it crushes a rampaging monster, I must confess that it's clear that Clogger won't suit everyone. Some will probably find it tedious and boring.
Graphics are pretty good and, although sound is minimal, there are a few pleasing spot effects, such as when you push the lawnmover over the grass to clear it. In 1988, the game came on tape only and is a multi-loader, although each of the four level sets can be loaded independently so you just load the levels you are currently stuck on. There are disk versions of it available online which cut loading to a second or two.
Except for Acorn User, who didn't like it, Clogger received a near-universal thumbs up. Being a mail order only game, it's likely that it didn't sell a great many copies and, if you're a fan of puzzle games, it could well be one worth adding to your collection (along with its two Impact bedfellows). Expect to pay around £14.