Games don't come any newer - at least at time of writing this review anyway! - than Jungle Journey, a freeware, overhead maze game for the BBC and Electron by Retro Software. And what a gorgeous-looking and a gratifyingly-good game it is! Jungle Journey is one of the best games I've played - on any format - for ages. And I'm someone who plays a lot of games these days!
I'm not sure how many John Saul books the author David Boddie has read [Um, probably the answer is none! - Ed], but Boddie's dramatic and somewhat horrifying instructions do a good job in building up the tension. They are worth reading - rather like the Exile novella! - for this reason alone. This, despite the fact that game premises don't get more simple than Jungle Journey. You are in a maze, which is huge, and which you can only see a tiny section of at a time. You firstly need to find a key, and then you need to find the exit.
Now presumably this sounds pretty humdrum - "Another overhead maze game?!" I hear you cry. Well, before you all start decrying it for lack of variety, hear this: Jungle Journey is not your regular graphic adventure overhead maze. There are objects to collect - treasure chests, diamonds and different weapons - but you don't need to actively engage your brain and work out all the uses for them. The objects serve a number of useful purposes besides, but Jungle Journey just isn't that sort of game. If I can think of its nearest contemporary on the Electron, I'd go for Superior/Acornsoft's Predator. Jungle Journey is like a 2D version of that classic, but faster and more addictive.
Map It Out Or Follow Your Instincts
Basically, the game throws you deep into the jungle looking for that elusive key and door. If you like to puzzle out exactly where to go and how to reach them as quickly as possible, you might want to try mapping each level (of which there are many!) out. Or alternatively, the objects that you find, or rather don't find, will instinctively lead you to the final destination. How? Well, I will elaborate.
The huge jungle flicks from 'room' to 'room' as you move around it and you know whenever you're encountering a room you haven't previously visited because it will contain an object. Assuming you collect it, that room will now be empty whenever it is re-visited. This means it is easy, or easyish at least, to find your way around without the chore of mapping. If you wander into rooms empty of objects it's a sure-fire sign you've been there before.
Objects On Offer
The objects on offer range from energy boosters to boomerang-style weapons. You'll need both to take on the jungle creatures, including birds, large dragon-flies and (after level one) snakes. These appear randomly, disintegrating either if you hurl a boomerang at them, or on contact with your body. Needless to say, you should aim for the latter situation not to occur.
There are a number of different types of weapon and the differences only really become apparent on firing them. All boomerangs fly directly forwards at first, but some will then curl around corners. Some disintegrate on contact with creatures, others take them on and then continue their path.
The creatures are infinite in supply and disappear whenever you exit or enter a room. First one, then a second, then a third then appears. If you're quick enough you can stride through a room before more than one creature arrives on scene. What's particularly pleasing is that creatures incarnate close to your sprite - but never directly on top of him. So you always have half a second or so to aim and fire at them.
Now for the jungle mazes themselves, which are created out of vines, creepers and bushes. The decision has been taken to make very Jackson Pollack-style mazes - there's no long 'corridors' or anything that feels like a machine-generated lazy shortcut here. Picking your way through the mazes is difficult - there's no Reptonesque "Map" key - and so, at any time, you've no idea if the key, or the exit, is still many screens away or right under your nose. Entering the final room and viewing the exit is extremely satisfying stuff.
As indeed, is the whole game. It's done in Mode 5 (although the palette flicks around to make it seem very colourful), and is 100% machine code. All sprites are animated and move smoothly. Collision detection is fair, and you are supplied with a very healty energy level - certainly enough to see gamers with average gaming skills through the first maze in its entirety.
In fact, I can't think of a single negative thing to say about Jungle Journey at all. From the arcade style opening screen with the extremely posh logo and animated copyright message to the different, fun, fresh, exciting gameplay, it simply oozes quality. Had it been around in the Eighties, it would no doubt be a fondly remembered masterpiece. As it is, it's probably about 25 years too late for it to achieve anything like that sort of exposure - but it certainly, and immediately jumps onto the list of 'great games' for the Acorn machines. And I don't think anyone who downloads and plays it is likely to be disappointed. Oh, and it works with the official Acorn Plus 3 expansion and an analogue joystick too!