There are three "big box" games by Superior, designed to take pride of place in your Electron gaming collection. The first is Exile. The second is Elite. Repton Infinity is their less successful contemporary. It was billed as the "ultimate" Repton game, featuring a game engine so sophisticated that you could do far more than just play the included screens and design your own. The only limit, it boasted, was your imagination.
However, there are quite a few other limits too, aren't there? There's the small matter of only having 32K of memory to cram a project of this mammoth scope into. And, when you see two cassettes in the box, both of them looking like C-120s, you do start to wonder whether Repton Infinity might be one of those packages where it's a lot more hassle than it's worth to design a masterpiece. And then there's the portfolio of "Repton"-variant games included to showcase what's actually possible if you plough through the 74 page manual - they're slow, have practically microscopic sprites, no sound and only four screens per set. Compare and contrast this "ultimate" game with the much loved original Repton (faster, bigger and twelve screens of fun!) and there's one clear winner. And, in 1988, it wasn't that impressive-looking big box game you'd just got for Christmas; it was that game you'd already had for four years.
Now, in case you've been reading so far with a bemused countenance, and an arched pair of eyebrows because you've never heard of Repton, he is the reptilian lizard star of the longest running and most successful series of games ever produced on the Electron. His adventures typically take place in an overhead maze in which he must collect diamonds and avoid being crushed by boulders. The simple idea was rehashed twice, with Repton 2 experimenting somewhat with the original Repton, before Repton 3 nailed it to such an extent that Reptons 4, 5 and 6 were all the exact same games, created with the self-same tools originally included for free with it. Repton Infinity was an attempt to do something different as Repton 7. Sadly, of all the Repton games released for the Electron, this is easily, and demonstrably, the worst.
The trouble with Repton Infinity is that, firstly, it messes with a winning formula and, secondly, that the Electron version is quite clearly a "de-make". If, for example, you happen to have a BBC (or even better, a BBC Master) and a disc drive, you'll find the BBC version of the game enjoys the respect of Repton fans the world over. But that's because the BBC's version has decent-sized sprites, hardware scrolling, music, near-instantaneous loading and, on the BBC Master, it even keeps all the screen designers in RAM, allowing instant testing of your new creation. That's very far from true on the Electron version and, even if you do transfer the cassettes to disc, you're faced with a daunting To Do list if you decide you want to do anything other than just play the included games.
These games are called Repton 3: Take Two, Repton 4, Robbo and Trakker and, perhaps sensing we might be rather disappointed with only four screens in each, Superior created eight screens and "split" the games into Part A and Part B. Repton 3 behaves in a very similar, although not completely identical, way to the game of the same name; Repton 4 plays with the format by introducing a very unexpected new complication - the photocopier (!); Robbo dispenses with the lizard as hero in favour of a "futuristic" robot; and Trakker puts you behind the wheel of a farmyard bulldozer and has you triggering detonators throughout the maze, ably assisted by your work colleagues who you must push next to the detonators and then blow up!
As noted, none of the four games are particularly aesthetically pleasing, although their speed is markedly improved if your Electron is fitted with a Master RAM Board (a hardware mod that was popular around the time of Repton Infinity's release) and Trakker is my personal favourite. As for the other three, well, playing a very inferior version of the original Repton 3 is as silly as it sounds. Repton 4, with its jewels that slink away from you, and the perplexing ability to inadvertently photocopy the monsters chasing you, is one of those games where it's difficult to understand, from the outset, what exactly it is that you have to do. Instead, you have to abandon many part-finished games when what you "should have done" dawns on you. Robbo is practically an assault on the eyes with an excess of the garish blue and cyan colours leaving the game difficult to concentrate on even before you've acquainted yourself with all of the complex "chaining" puzzles that lie within. Fans of Bonecruncher might love it because it's the same idea - that is, convert object A to object B to give to object C to obtain object D, and so on - and it has elements of Pipeline too, with teleportation around the maze possible by using a series of air-ducts. For me, it's little more than an over-complicated squintathon and really the only game worth playing is Trakker. This genuinely succeeds in doing something wholly different with the established format whilst also being decidedly psychedelic to play. Chucking roadsigns at large, staring eyes is one of its highlights.
I suppose Blueprint, Filmstrip, Landscape Generator and all the other utilities that are also included (and which allow you to create your own rules and scenarios in much the same way as those oddities included) could well be works of unparalleled programming genius. However, the big plus with the previous games was the simplicity of designing a screen - indeed, the original Repton 3's screen editor is so simple that you can actually work it out without reading a single page of instruction. I really wonder whether Superior actually bothered to ask Repton fans if they really wanted or needed a Repton game which demanded real study before you could even start to design your own screens. I'd guess that 99.9% of those who originally tried probably gave up back in the day although I suppose it's open to argument that, under emulation, the programming suite will now be much more user-friendly.
Naturally enough, Electron User didn't concern itself with any of the problems highlighted above when Repton Infinity was released. In one of its more laughable reviews, it found all four games thrilling enough "to blow your socks off" and awarded the slow, laboured playability 10/10 and sound a whopping 9/10... when it doesn't bloody have any! Despite these somewhat hysterical proclamations however, and despite being able to trade off the reputation of its predecessors, I don't think Repton Infinity sold a great many copies for the Electron. I personally also suspect its Electron incarnation is getting rarer by the second as there are both collectors of everything Repton-related and collectors who just have to have all three "big box" Superior releases now vying for every copy that finds its way to market. Recent eBay auctions for complete copies of the Electron game have thus been finishing around the £30 mark. And, whilst the Electron version may now be both rare and desirable, collectors might also be interested to know that there is also rumoured to be an extremely rare 'flippy' version of the Repton Infinity cassette version which includes Electron, BBC B and BBC Master releases of the game; apparently, this was only ever for sale in very limited quantities on the shelves of WHSmith in December 1988. If the rumours are true (There was such a flippy version of Exile available that Christmas!), one suspects the box would actually contain three C-120 cassettes and also fetch in excess of £30 second-hand.