Thursday 3 June 2010

Doctor Who: The First Adventure

I've never used a BBC Micro before... just hope I don't have to do it again.

This is Doctor Who: The First Adventure. Except it isn't... because the first adventure was aired in 1963... better not tell the developers that. 1983 was the year of the first video game outing though, and Doctor Who: The First Adventure is surprisingly not that bad for a BBC Micro title. Unfortunately "not bad for a BBC Micro title" doesn't equate to "a great game", because the BBC Micro was not a great system, but curiosity won in the end and I just had to give it a go.

Let me point out that BBC Micro isn't a terrible computer for the era, but it doesn't fare well when compared to the ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64. Eight colours, bleeps for sound and this constant feeling that there's just not enough memory to do anything makes the Micro seems like a completely pointless purchase unless you're a fan of what the BBC's software division had to offer.

But unlike the likes of other forgettable computers such as the Sord M5 and Dragon 32, the BBC Micro had several key advantages over other players. Many popular TV shows were made into video games and released as exclusives on the system. The big companies didn't back the Micro, so it was up to the users to make alternatives to the arcade hits of the era, and occasionally one would pop up that's better than the real deal. If the video game market was political, this would be UKIP's computer of choice as it was pretty much backed solely by the UK. So annoyingly, there's quite a few reasons to care about the system, but it'll never beat the works of Commodore, Amstrad or Sinclair.

But anyway back to today's story. In 1983 we were up to the fifth incarnation of the Doctor, Peter Davidson. He features on the box... which is pointless because he doesn't really feature in the game (later games just put the TARDIS on the front cover and leave it at that). Each regeneration counts as a life, so you actually get play as multiple Doctors, all rendered identically due to the Micro's lack of memory space. Interestingly no traditional Doctor Who enemies appear in the game either. The only thing that reminds you that it's related to the series is the TARDIS - with that gone, the introduction music replaced and a re-write to the story, you could disguise this game as anything you want.

The game is split into four different sections, and though it's meant to represent a continuing story you can select which section you want to play at the beginning. The overall goal is to create a time key (hmm...) and take it to the centre of the universe to create "THE SECOND AGE OF TIME". This all has to be done within the hour. The scientist part of my brain wants clarification on why an Earth hour is used in universal matters but I'll save that for another day.

The first section of the game is titled "The Labyrinth of Death". It's essentially a Pac Man clone, where you're a dot avoiding snakes. You need to collect parts of the time key (which are also dots), but unlike Pac Man you only need three pieces to progress. This chapter of the game is okay but as the Doctor is represented as four pixels and can float about, it doesn't make a vast amount of sense. More effort was put into the TARDIS graphic, and considering you never get to really use it it doesn't seem right. The snakes get faster as you progress, and unlike Pac Man become impossible to avoid. Getting four smart snakes to chase after you and navigate a maze is fairly impressive for the Micro mind you.

The second section is titled "The Prison". I can't see how it's related to a prison in the slightest, but you are certainly surrounded by things that should be kept away from society in this hideous Frogger clone. I would hope this screen was just being emulated poorly, but seeing as everything else works fine I have my doubts. Somebody thought this was a good idea, though that somebody needs a new set of eyes. You too will need a new set if you spend too long on this screen.

"The Terrordactyls" copies its idea from the Arcade hit Phoenix, in that you're in a space ship shooting at animals with wings. Destroying a wave brings brings you closer to the top of the screen, which of course means the next wave will be slightly more difficult as there's less space between you. Since this is about as basic as shooters can be, it's hard to rate it highly, but it doesn't do anything "wrong" as such.

Finally, "The Box of Tantalus" is a weird section that manages to make battleships more complicated than it needs to be. I don't really understand it, nor is it pretty enough to deserve a screenshot, so it leads me to believe it was tagged in at the end to make the game a better purchase. Not bad, but the modern computer user wouldn't bother with it.

In short, though it's a decent BBC Micro game, it's fairly obvious why it's been forgotten about. It hasn't aged well at all, doesn't bear much resemblance to the series and exists solely to plug this underpowered computer. But it does have some nice qualities and as I keep saying, there are far worse games for the system out there.

The First Adventure was followed by two other BBC Micro releases: "Doctor Who and the Warlord", (which is a text adventure I'm not going to cover) and "Doctor Who and the Mines of Terror", (which luckily also saw Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC releases). The Mines of Terror is sadly a bit difficult to review properly because it's very complicated, requires the programming of cats (no joke) and expects you to have a manual handy so that you have some idea of what to do. It also managed to cripple its developers financially. You can cast your own judgements on those.

1 comment:

  1. 9999 regenerations?! The Doctor's just breaking the rules there.