This is among the earliest games I ever played. It was part of the Amsoft 12 pack, under the name of Roland On The Ropes, that came free with every Amstrad CPC464. A computer I got only a year after the ZX Spectrum. While the Amstrad version does make very good use of that computers superior colour palette, the two versions are as nigh on identical as two versions of the same game can be.
Back in the the late 80’s for some unfathomable reason I never really ‘got’ the maze nature of this game. Replaying properly some 30-odd years later and the riff on earlier maze games from the 70’s makes perfect sense. This is a quintessential random computer maze experience. It’s all about the presentation.
Presentation wise it has a very Indiana Jones feel and very reminiscent of Core Design’s Rick Dangerous that’ll appear on the scene some 5 years later. I do wonder, given the nature of some of the nasties, the ropes, and main character design, if Atari 2600’s Pitfall provided some inspiration for this game.
Fred, in the Spectrum version, is a very big chunky well detailed sprite. Something that immediately sets it apart from the more common smaller sprites in most spectrum games of around the time. Again the large character detail reminding me of a game like Saboteur that’d come out around a year later.
As you move around the maze you need to avoid nasties which will drain your energy. Ghosts are most common which can be shot at to encourage them to change direction. Little caterpillars crawl along floors need careful timing to jump over. And in later levels bouncing Mummies are a real treat to watch move around the maze.
On the way there’s a few collectibles to be had to boost your score but ultimately it is all about finding the rope leading to the exit somewhere at the very top of the maze.
Alas there are a couple of issues that just keeps this game from being an ideal 5-star outing. And I do think they are all things that were fixable with a bit more playtesting when the game was being written. Timing avoiding some nasties can be a little tricky and being hit stops movement while the player is red for a few seconds. Ropes can be difficult to mount and dismount and needs some unnecessary pixel perfect positioning.
The worst problem is how badly the game flickers and how slow movement is. Is the game written in BASIC? Too many sprites on screen? The Z80 not liking 2-way scrolling? Whatever the reason the slow flickering movement is almost a deal breaker.