Having a ball
Superior Software is one of the few remaining software houses to support the BBC Micro with any great conviction. Month after month, the company releases a stream of high quality software catering for all tastes.
With such a prolific output I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later the stream would begin to dry up and the output would start to be supplemented by games of a lesser calibre.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that Ricochet is garbage, just that it's all been done before, better, and by Superior itself.
Ricochet is a story about Sprat the big red ball and its adventures in ladders and levels land. Fortunately, I received the pre-production version so I was spared the drivel that usually accompanies this type of game. You know, the bit about how Sprat was imprisoned by the deranged alien wizard and how he can never be free until he has located the five egg timers that control the space time continuum.
OK, so I made it up - but the bit about the egg timers is true.
The game is set in five different landscapes - the Fortress, Techlev, Derelict, the UFO and the Ancients, all of which contain functionally similar structures, such as ladders and ropes, but these objects assume different guises depending on which landscape you are in.
Unlike Superior's excellent game, Exile, the backgrounds are all drawn on a large and chunky scale. Initially I thought that this may have limited the extent of each landscape, but was pleased with the magnitude of the playing area as I delved deeper into the catacombs on level one.
Sprat moves in typical ball-like fashion, rolling left and right, and up and down ladders. It can also bounce. With your ball on a firm surface, depress the squish button and then release it to bounce, the height reached being determined by the duration of the squish.
Directional control is applied by similtaneously pressing left/squish or right/squish key combinations, thus profelling the rotund Sprat diagonally skywards.
Sprat responds instantly to any key press, in fact, if anything the controls are oversensitive. I frequently had trouble trying to move the ball one space at a time.
The animation is fast and smooth, with the falling, ricocheting, ball routines being particularly well done. Sound is used rather sparingly, there is no title tune and the spot effects are no more than OK.
One minor gripe concerns the occasional disappearance of enemy sprites. When more than a handful of characters move in a confined space they have a habit of overlapping and Exclusive OR-ing themselves into invisibility, a habit which can be quite disconcerting at times.
Although cosmetically different, each of the five levels is basically the same. The tunnel complex is divided into several sections, with the entrance to each new section being barred by an obstacle.
Doors are common to all levels and, not surprisingly, these are opened using keys. However, there are a number of doors and a number of keys, but they don't all match. To complicate matters further, you are informed that Sprat is incapable of carrying more than two objects at any one time.
Guess who's going to spend a great deal of time wandering backwards and forwards stuffing keys in locks and hoping for the best.
The method adopted to impede your progress is the large immovable object technique. In addition to the doors, each level contains several strategically placed objects - these can be robbers, slugs or even tax demands.
In these instances the keys are useless, what you need to find is the specific object that pairs up with the character blocking your progress.
As I mentioned earlier, the levels are huge and your search for the egg timer will be a long one. Thankfully, the programmers have provided a little routine that prevents you from having to re-play the earlier levels once you have completed them.
Successful completion of a level is rewarded with a password. Pressing P on the title screen causes the program to prompt you for this password, just type your entry and you are transported to the corresponding level.
One word of warning: Ensure that the CAPS LOCK light is on before you enter the password, as it would appear that the program doesn't check for lower case letters.
Ricochet is an extensive ladders and levels game that does nothing particularly badly and nothing particularly well. Innovation is kept to a minimum and tried and trusted features are used throughout. Ho hum... yawn!