Commodore User

Through The Trap Door
By Piranha
Commodore 64

Published in Commodore User #52

Through The Trap Door

When the original Trap Door game came out exactly a year ago, we thought it was so good that we gave it a Screen Star. The cartoon itself has lasted the pace and still appears on Number 73 on Saturday mornings [Frank Sidebottom rules - Ed]. So Piranha have decided to cash in on continued Berkmania by producing another Trap Door game in much the same mould as its predecessor.

Through The Trap Door retains all those elements and continues with the same main characters - Berk, Drutt and Boni - but this time they start the game going down through the trap door itself. It's a pretty simple and straightforward storyline that's more an adventure than a set of separate tasks.

First of all you see Boni being kidnapped by a giant bat who snatches him up and deposits him somewhere down in the underworld below the trap door. That's where you start. You, as Berk and Drutt, must rescue Boni. This is done by completing the four sections of the game, each one representing a different region of the underworld.

Through The Trap Door

To progress through the regions, they must find and use a key to open the respective doors. To make things more difficult, both characters are hindered by a succession of monsters and nasties. So the emphasis lies very heavily on solving problems or finding ways to accomplish something.

An advance on the original game is that you control both Berk and Drutt, though not at the same time. You toggle control between the two. So this is more a teamwork effort. It becomes obvious as you play that both have their particular skills.

Drutt gets around much quicker. He can bounce up and down. He can't pick things up but he can knock down objects positioned out of Berk's reach and shove them towards Berk. On the other hand, only Berk has the dexterity to pick up and use things, like opening a door with a key.

Through The Trap Door

Berk is relatively easy to control and he moves in exactly the same plodding cumbersome way in both games, picking things up with that characteristic sweep of his enormous hands.

Drutt presents more of a problem in terms of control. He has a mind of his own and will go his own way, usually to eat the nearest worm, if you're not actually controlling him when he's under control - if you know what I mean. Since you need to position him very accurately to accomplish a particular task, controlling him becomes mightily frustrating and annoying. In fact, if the bat had kidnapped Drutt instead of Boni, me and Berk would be putting our feet up.

You've simply got to put up with Drutt. The game does try to make things a little easier by providing 'druttmarkers'. These are conveniently situated on the exact spot Drutt must be in order to accomplish something. Send Drutt to the left of a marker and he should jump onto it. Apart from some of the markers being invisible, they didn't seem to have much effect.

But Drutt is useful, because he usually goes first, followed by Berk when the coast is clear. So it's Drutt that gets all the keys, and generally protects Berk from dangers.

For example, he'll bounce up and knock down all the sharp icicles hanging from the roof so that Berk doesn't get speared as he walks beneath. Drutt also gets things like the magic sweet and magic mushroom which help Berk solve a problem. When Berk is down the pit in the first region, eating the magic sweet makes him sprout wings that lift him to the top. I won't tell you any more - solve it for yourselves.

Solving these problems is the biggest drawback in Through The Trap Door. If you thought the original was tough, this one is well nigh impossible - and that's compounded by Drutt being such a pain. It strikes me that Don Priestly (he wrote the original too) has made it so difficult because there's not really much to the game.

Take the first region, all you have to do is get the key, negotiate the pit that stands between you and the door, and then open the door into the next region. Compare this with the imagination used in the original and it really is lacklustre stuff.

Graphically, Through The Trap Door is not quite as good as its original. I've not seen all the monsters yet, but the ones that have appeared so far don't look anything like as bizarre as the first set. Similarly the background scenes are too black and sparse for my liking. I reckon a little more effort could have been used here.

Like the original, Through The Trap Door has levels of depth but this is not exploited to the same degree. You get only two levels, the foreground and background. This adds to your problems because some tasks, like picking up keys, can only be accomplished if Drutt is bouncing up and down in the background area. Position him up front and he'll bounce all day without accomplishing anything.

But there are areas in which Through The Trap Door is an improvement, and that's mostly in terms of 'cuteness'. Berk is particularly cute. When he falls down a hole, he ends up on his face looking puzzled and confused. It takes a few floundering movements before he can get up. Berk also seems remarkably concerned about Drutt and will always turn in Drutt's direction with his arms sticking out as though he were trying to give him a hand.

There are occasions when Berk must pick up Drutt (to go through doors, etc) and he seems to have as much difficulty controlling him as we do. Unlike me, Berk is pretty patient.

I'd hoped for big things from the new Trap Door and finished up being disappointed. There's no doubt this is still a very clever and accomplished piece of programming, but the aim of the game is too single-minded and much too difficult. You just can't carry on until you solve the problems in the order they arise. Too many people are going to give up on this in despair. That's a pity because the game deserves better.

Bohdan Buciak

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