A&B Computing

Spooky Manor
By Acornsoft
BBC B/B+/Master 128

Published in A&B Computing 2.04

For over 100 years the old manor house has been empty. People say they've seen mysterious green lights flitting around it and talk about it in whispers. Most folk laugh at these rumours, but they stay well away and call the house Spooky Manor. One day, you set out with some friends to explore the manor and, once inside, the door suddenly slams behind you! The sun is setting and night is rapidly approaching...

This is the start of Acornsoft's new adventure game for children, which should prove very popular because all children love being scared in safety! Once the program has loaded, the title page allows you the option of playing with or without sound, or selecting a microwriter option if the children are using Quinkey sets. One of the interesting aspects of this game is that up to four children can play simultaneously, and use of microwriters means that all four don't have to huddle round the keyboard.

Next, the screen divides into four sections. The players type in their names and are allotted a section in which information will appear, or their typed-in responses. Each player is started off in a different part of the manor, though at various points their paths will cross. Indeed, some of the tasks benefit from co-operation between the players, because the program has been designed to stimulate interaction, planning, logical discussion and problem solving. All very educationally sound!

Spooky Manor

Each player enters the house armed with an electric torch, but nothing else. The object of the game is to score as many points as you can, collect the treasures which are scattered around the manor, and then beat a hasty retreat... though this is pretty difficult unless you are carrying a particular treasure which will not only ward off the ghosts lurking round the corners but also allow you to get out of the front door safely!

It would spoil the game to give too much away, but you are given clues to the nature and whereabouts of this item, and it certainly helps to be carrying it because the ghosts keep making you drop things if you aren't. Naturally, before you are allowed to collect any of the treasures you have to work out how to reach them... which might entail climbing on chairs, putting out fires, or simply finding the right key for the particular door you're reached.

Spooky Manor is a gentle game as adventures go. You won't be crushed, maimed or sent to a sudden death. The ghosts are your only worry, and they are more of a nuisance value than a deadly threat until you have that certain piece of equipment. It makes a nice change, quite frankly, not to be eaten alive or torn apart!

Spooky Manor

The accompanying booklet gives lots of helpful hints, together with the set of words recognised by the program, and maps of the manor, though undoubtedly it would be advantageous for children to make their own maps as they discover the layout of the buildings for themselves. The game needs a few initial tries for general exploration and use of responses, especially if the players are new to adventure games, but the language has been carefully constructed and should be readily understood by children.

Although there are no graphics in the game (the split screen doesn't leave enough room anyway), good use is made of sound: when the ghosts appear, for example, or when water is thrown on the fire, the effects are most appropriate. The text itself is all in white, apart from the players' names, and it is up to the players to decide whether they should take turns, work together in groups, or have several "moves" before passing to the next person.

I tried this game with several age ranges at school, and found it best suited to the 9-11 group. Younger children preferred graphics with their adventure games and older children could well solve the game too quickly. My 13 year old daughter escaped from the manor in two hours, complete with most of the treasure and a hefty point score, though she thought the game was extremely good.

Definitely recommended, therefore. It should keep a group quiet in a corner of a classroom for hours!

Michael Kent