Foggy's Quest

Author: Dave E
Publisher: Bum Fun
Machine: Spectrum 128K

Foggy's Quest

In this game, you play a sprite that bears more than a passing resemblance to Casper The Friendly Ghost. However, you're no ghost; you're an intergalactic tourist exploring the mysterious Dimension 52b. Tourists are reknowned for their search for adventure but, on this trip, you've got more adventure than you bargained for - immediately you landed, you were set upon by a bunch of homicidal "NARGs" who stole your ship, its Dimension Splicer and the vital power crystals it needs to run! You've retreated to some caves in order to formulate a plan to get all the component bits back and make good your escape.

So begins Foggy's Quest... Bum Fun Gaming seem to be snapping up a great many of the recent Public Domain releases for the Spectrum, giving them a snazzy inlay, recording them on physical tapes and then banging them out at £12 a pop. Which is actually a bit of a troublesome scenario for an unbiased reviewer. Often I haven't had chance to review the Public Domain release of the game before the Professional one comes along. That's not particularly problematic per se, but, if a game isn't particularly good, it does feel a bit sad to give it a mauling when a software house has clearly seen such potential in it.

Anyway, I digress. Whether you've downloaded the original free Rucksack Games release or bought a cassette version from Bun Fun, you'll get exactly the same game, which is a platform jaunt written by John Blythe with the Arcade Game Designer (AGD is a software utility by Jonathan Cauldwell that greatly simplifies the process of writing a graphic adventure. All you need is an idea and, importantly, the imagination and dedication to design the map and the puzzles to bring it to life!). If you play an AGD game, you don't really expect anything revolutionary as, by its nature, it's going to be confined to the limits of the utility used in its design. At the other end of the scale, AGD takes away any excuses the programmer might have regarding coding. AGD's range of configuration options for your homebrew project is near-perfect, so whether a game designed using it succeeds or fails depends 100% per cent on the idea, and the choices the author takes in the implementation of it.

Foggy's Quest

So, after that rather lengthy introduction, let's consider the decisions John Bythe took in putting Foggy's Quest together. Firstly, it's a nice-looking game - biggish sprites with a cutesy feel to them scroll swiftly and smoothly around. Secondly, it's a flick-screen affair which is designed with some skill, particularly in its opening stages. You are cleverly restricted to a small area in order to get to grips with the easy-to-use controls, and learn the basics of ascending and descending ladders, jumping and manipulating the inventory.

However, you get three lives rather than an energy bar. This is the game's first serious mistake, because serious mistake two follows hard with some of the dodgiest collision detection ever. Attempt to jump a patrolling nasty and, until you've got used to the game's quirks, you'll not only die but be left positively befuddled by the number of pixels away from said nasty that you can actually be. What makes Foggy's Quest unique in the befuddlement respect is that, whenever you are "deaded", it includes a short pause which presents the evidence of your unfair demise for all to see. There's no death "animation", the whole screen just stops in its tracks. I counted some ten pixels between me and the nasty that apparently "got me" on more than one occasion. They need seriously wide berths...!

Beware of jumping when you don't need to too. Foggy is propelled in the direction of travel if falling. Sometimes it's necessary to fall from one platform to another rather than jump.

Foggy's Quest

The next thing to annoy me was that some problem-solving within the game needs to be solved by "comparing the relative speed of jumping with the speed of ladder climbing". Imagine a nasty that patrols left to right over the midriff of a ladder. In many platforms, you simply wait for the nasty to reach a certain position before hitailing it up the ladder to safety. But in Foggy's Quest (thanks in large part to the collision detection alluded to), you won't make it. Instead you need to jump part of the way and then clamber the rest. This wouldn't be so bad in itself if the ladders weren't so finicky about the position Foggy must be in to operate them at all. Basically, if he isn't pixel-perfect square on the jump itself, the clamber up fails and leads to a spectacular loss of life.

Now we come to the Object Pads that litter the playing area. These nicely-animated blue bubbly areas indicate that an object can be used when you are positioned upon them. As you progress through the flick-screens, as you might expect, there are keys to find (to open up other areas) as well as the constituent parts of your ship. However, a few of these pads are positioned right underneath the same patrolling nasties that pervade the ladders and platforms. "So what?" you might say, "Just don't jump into them and you'll be ok!" That's true, but the trouble is that the key that "actions" your inventory is the same "jump" key control that sends Foggy in a nice spacebound leap. So linger just a fraction too long on the "use key to open door" action and control will return to Foggy and, well, you can guess the rest...

All of the above control quirks mean that I haven't got very far in Foggy's Quest. It's so frustrating as to border on the impossible, and the stupid "Foggy's Quest Is Over" ending screen, unceremoniously presented on the loss of your last life, seems designed in large measure to be the final push towards having you smash up your Spectrum in a fit of unrestrained petulance.

It looks very attractive, and if you persevere, it's a neat enough, bug-free little game. If you love all kinds of graphic adventure, then the imagination and platform design is well up there with the best.

And, to get my criticisms in perspective, if the game had an energy bar, or even an increased number of lives, I'd forgive it for its horrendous gameplay quirks. But, as it stands, I doubt I'll return to it any time soon. As for the physical version, I can't really recommend you invest your cash in it for the game alone. By all means do it to support the homebrew scene and bung John Bythe a few quid in royalties to work on its sequel. But bear in mind that it probably would've struggled to find any fans as a Mastertronic budget title back in the day.

Dave E

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