Dave E takes a look at the latest overhead maze game... and finds it all a bit too complicated considering how simple it all should be.
Rubicon, from John Blythe of Rucksack Games, had a very low-key release back in early 2018. It's a flick-screen overhead maze game of which we all know the type. Wander around, avoid the roaming nasties, collect the collectables and proceed to the exit. It was written with the Arcade Game Designer tool (AGD) and it looks radically different from John Blythe's other games.
The good news is that, as a game, it works. Nym, the protagonist, is super-responsive to the game controls, it's got nice background music throughout (on the 128K version) and the graphics, whilst not superlative, are passable. It's a pretty tough game because Nym has lives rather than an energy bar, and colliding with anything that moves will start wiping them out pretty quickly. Some screens you enter do not even have 'safe spots' to stand whilst you contemplate getting across them... meaning you have to weave around between two marauding baddies whilst plotting what to do next. An energy bar rather than lives would probably have been a better idea.
There's some pixel-perfect positioning needed as you move around, and it takes a bit of getting used to, although it won't murder your enjoyment. Most areas do have some leeway, but towards the end of Nym's journey the screens certainly get much more demanding. The diagonally floating bubbles are particularly difficult to avoid!
Some games of this type force you to shuffle the items you pick up. This game doesn't, which is a mark in its favour, because you simply pick up the collectables by walking into them. Nevertheless, the premise is a lot more confusing than, say, Star Drifter or Ewgeebez (which are the most similar games that spring to mind, even if they are BBC ones!). You don't just have to collect one type of object, you have to collect many (amongst them scrolls, rings, and a shield) and it's not clear which object affects which obstruction. As if this wasn't bad enough, the obstructions themselves don't readily identify themselves as such. You have some diamonds that block the way, for example, and some diamonds that are actually deadly to the touch.
The game controls tell you that key L will operate Nym's "shield", but the bad guys still take his lives even if you press it as they collide with you. There is a shield sprite in the maze itself, so my next deduction was that L must only work after I had collected the shield itself. After much trying, I did indeed collect it. I then realised that, much like the scrolls and rings, the shield was just another equivalent of a collectable, and bestowed no additional power on Nym at all. Essentially, all the collectables are essentially the same thing, every one is really just like collecting a "crystal", which makes you wonder why you don't just have to collect the crystals from a maze rather than this confusing array of different things...
Another thing I found a little bit problematic, although I appreciate this is a bit left-field, is that, when you pick up a scroll, you are given some "wisdom". One of the first scrolls you find states "Worship Sir Clive as a God forever". Sir Clive was involved with the ill-fated Vega Plus project, and his inaction led to Spectrum fans collectively losing over half a million pounds. The message seems a bit incendiary as a result, even though it's clearly not meant in that way. As a result I - again - just found myself thinking "This really doesn't really add anything. Why didn't the author just stick to collecting crystals from a maze?"
Overall then, it's an interesting game which plays well but has its fair share of problems. I'd rate it as the type of game that would have commanded £1.99 as a budget title in the Eighties. A full-price release it certainly is not, so it's a bit unfortunate that Bitmapsoft have just released it for the princely sum of £10.00 plus postage. I don't think it's worth anywhere near that much. Fortunately you can still download it from Rucksack Games' website completely free.
If you fancy seeing how far you can navigate Nym through the maze, you might also be interested to learn that it's also available for the Acorn Atom (also for free).