The Legend Of Browne
Over the past couple of year, one Michael Browne has been uploading a series of BBC Micro compilation disks to the Stairway To Hell forums. All are double-sided DFS, with barely a byte to spare, and represent his entire games collection. Browne may, in some years be regarded as something of a Legend, for he has by now not only uploaded hundreds of games long thought lost, but has also 'fixed' a great many games to work regardless of loading machine (BBC B, B+ or Master 128). The Legend of Browne would read of a man who was obsessed with owning every single BBC Micro game ever released and, as software for the machine waned in the early Nineties, scoured classified ads and car boot sales, seizing every magazine and game he could find, and adding any of those missing to the compilation disks he has now uploaded.
There are very many beauties in amongst this collection but one title swelled the downloads of Compilation Disk #086 - a 1991 game called Paranoid by Andrew Virica and Daniel Pugh. Presumably submitted by its authors to the usual suspects (Superior/Acornsoft, The 4th Dimension, etc) but not picked up, Paranoid is a platform game with a difference. It follows the quest of Pozo, a spherical bouncing ball, who needs to traverse three worlds (Peru, New York and Home), collecting the magical item on each and then, as the instructions dictate, drop a sugar cube in the Emperor's cup of tea to win.
There are only two control keys (Left and Right) and the premise is so simple that anyone will be able to play. Pozo will bounce up and down on the spot unless propelled left or right. Bouncing cannot be paused and so timing is everything, as you navigate screen after screen, from left to right. You have to avoid holes in the ground, hazards such as cactii and roaming nasties which become evermore cunningly placed.
The game is beautifully rendered in Mode 5. Artwork and animation is sublime with Pozo realistically squashing and expanding when he hits the ground and seeing stars when he comes into contact with any obstruction. Another cartoon-like touch is the speech-bubble that appears above Bozo's head (FRAK-style) when this happens. Sound too is incredible, with the music coming from the talents of the same Daniel Pugh who brought us all of the musical megademos we've raved about previously in these pages.
On level one, Pozo is on the quest for a scroll; on level two, for a hamburger and on the final level, for a key. These objects are shown on the status bar at the top of the playing area, and are lying around somewhere; simply bouncing on them is enough to pick them up. You can literally whizz through the first few screens as the game runs at a practically supersonic pace. Think of a crossbreed between flick-screen Hobgoblin and the breakneck velocity of Ricochet for any sort of benchmark. You'll need bat-like reflexes to progress further than the twentieth or so screen, as almost any move ill-timed by just a fraction of a second will cause Pozo to expire.
So far, so absolutely-nothing-to-criticize at all. Paranoid is professional to its core; in the heyday of the Beeb I'm sure it would've shifted thousands of copies. It's got a password system, meaning you can jump to levels two and three (once you've reached them at least once) and, with the use of emulator save-states I reached the destined Emperor's cup of tea on level three (There's no way I would've got there without them!). There didn't seem to be any sugar lump to drop into it so I happily bounced over it, traversed a few more screens and reached the most difficult one yet which is, quite evidently, the final one to clear before the game presents the winning message.
A Lump Or A Headache
But... rather disconcertingly, Paranoid stubbornly refused to accept I'd won. Bouncing right off the final screen didn't congratulate me with the fanfare I expected. Instead it flipped me back around to the entrance again as if I'd never even cleared it. I tried again. Same result. Consulting the instructions again, I ticked off the shopping list of items: a) the scroll - check, b) the hamburger - check, c) the key - check. Then, "Pozo drops a sugar lump in the all-important cup of tea and saves his planet". Frantically, I tried to make sense of it. Where was the sugar lump? Perhaps I'd missed it. But, when I tried to retrace my steps, I found the rooms were not designed for a Pozo coming the opposite way and almost every step left met with sudden death.
How incredibly frustrating! To have laboured through hundreds and hundreds of screens, it was as if the game fell at the final hurdle. Like Wizzy's Mansion, it appeared you could not win it! As Michael Browne had clearly rescued the only copy available, I wondered if the authors had deliberately crippled the game before they sent it out to software publishers for review. Or perhaps it was never actually completely finished. Or perhaps it was completely finished, but the instructions didn't accurately convey what you have to do. Or perhaps they did convey this - i.e. that you have to find a sugar lump - but the sugar lump was so cunningly hidden that I simply could not find it.
So Now What?
So a conundrum indeed. I started writing this review unable to win Paranoid, and thought I'd be praising its graphics, animation, gameplay and addictiveness to high heaven but, tragically signing off stating I really didn't know what it was. i.e. a full game that I could recommend in those glowing terms or whether, if I did so, it would just irritate all of you reading this as much as it did me when I couldn't win it!
However, never one to give up without a fight, I returned to level three a second time, this time using the password (IMMINENT) to reach it rather than play through the previous two levels. I followed the same steps again, working my way across the screens and over the steaming cup of tea for which there seemed to be no obvious use. I crossed the next few screens to the final one and - bugger me! - this time it worked, displaying 'Well done, now do it from the start!'
Bad instructions therefore - no sugar lump exists, no interaction with the cup of tea is necessary at all. (If you get the same bug where the final screen wraps around, then you'll just have to reload that level by typing in the password I guess!).
So finally the verdict. Well, annoying bug aside, Paranoid is awesome and will present many hours of gaming pleasure. It's a platform game unlike any other on the Beeb and, whilst it may be a tad fast (and extremely difficult!), it doesn't take itself too seriously and is great fun to play. The Daniel Pugh Peruvian Jungle demos had teased us 'in the know' as to its existence for many years (They themselves were discovered on an old development disc!) but not many people expected the game itself ever to be uncovered. Now it has been, it really has been worth the wait. It's fun, engaging and a unique game concept on the Beeb.