Shuggy is Werewolf Software's second Acorn game release, the first having been Tanks. Their first release had the sad distinction of being the only new game released at last year's Acorn World show, and Shuggy is also one of the very few new games released this year. So should we be grateful to Werewolf for doing something to water the drought with Shuggy, a new arcade adventure game?
Initial impressions of Shuggy are good. The title page features a pleasant pseudo-3D rotation of options, and the graphics are competent if unimaginative. Starting the game does little to break this perception. The graphics are reasonably well drawn, and make fair use of colour, but show very little originality or flair. They are, however, considerably better than the sad state of affairs present in far too many original Acorn games! The game also uses a pleasantly detailed 640x480 display, as opposed to the standard 320x256 that many games choose, resulting in a clear, crisp display. You can force it into 640x256 if your monitor can't cope with the higher resolution.
Collage of screenshots showing part of the game map
But when you first move your character, doubts suddenly appear. You walk on large blocks, but obviously no-one thought to tell the graphic artist about this, who has happily drawn large circular rocks - because the game treats them as large squares you have the rather dubious ability of being able to walk on air at many points! And when you move the whole thing harks back to very early 8-bit titles - you have no control over your character in the air. Push jump and you start spinning up and across, and for several seconds you sit there watching, unable to intervene. And should you happen to land in such a way that you roll then this lack of interactivity can persist for as much as twenty seconds. Which isn't good enough in a modern game - unless you enjoy watching paint dry, that is.
The animation is passable, but not very smooth - but at least it is present at all, I suppose. In general the whole game can be desribed in this way - passable but very unimaginative and without a single spark of originality, and lumbered with a control mechanism very much like a reincarnation of an early 8-bit game.
The game has some unforgivable design faults. One puzzle relies on you finding an object completely 'hidden' behind some scenery in an obscure place. Although there is some tenuous logic to this placement, the repetitive graphics hide this clue from the player, and as a result the game becomes completely unfair and infuriating.
A very major and fatal design flaw is that it is easy to get into a position where the game cannot be finished, and yet you can still save in such a position. You could easily spend ages playing and then accidentally overwrite your previous positions without realising you had made the game impossible. I don't think I have ever seen such terrible design in any other game - it is a fundamental covenant of any game that the player should not be able to play the game having made it impossible without realising. Shuggy breaks this bond of trust with the player.
You'll see a lot of these freak rock formations
In general, the puzzles all exhibit a logic which is completely contradicted by other parts of the puzzle. In one instance you must use a magnifying glass to light a fire from the moon's rays - incredibly enough the moon has the power to light a thick log, but for some bizarre reason you need three thick logs to start the fire, and you are unable to light a simple stick! The stick must be lit from the three logs. But why!? There is no logic to this. Incredibly - almost unbelievably - this entire puzzle is 100% flawed by the blatantly obvious presence of lots of flaming torches nearby - why can't the stick be lit from one of these!? And why is that the rain makes the logs so wet that they cannot be lit but has absolutely no effect on the happily flickering torches? This whole thing is so stupid and terribly badly thought-out - and happens early on in the game - that you really don't feel like bothering to finish it. This and other examples combine to make the game unfulfilling in the extreme. The puzzles are all either stupidly obvious or just plain vanilla stupid.
There are several examples of puzzles with obvious solutions that turn out to be wrong, and it also features "pointless puzzles" - for example, you have to give a chef three eggs all at once; you can't give them one at a time. Why? You can't put eggs down on the floor because they smash. Why? Why not put them down gently?
The game features 'special effects' that, frankly, aren't. The rain is barely sufficient, with no variation in speed, direction or appearance of each drop, and amazingly it falls on some screens at an angle onto the next, but enter the next one and it isn't there, even though when you go back it is still present. And things which are blatantly under shelter still make objects get wet. It has no concept of what is actually present on each screen - it falls very well through solid rock. Pathetic. The 'lightning' is even worse - the entire screen flashes solid white briefly, and it happens frequently enough to ensure that it drives you insane with its mad flashing. Special effect? More like special defect.
There is a pleasant-enough torch-light effect when you go below ground, but it's hardly earth-shattering stuff, although the smoke that billows from the chimneys of some houses is pleasantly implemented - strange that all the houses should smoke in perfect synchronisation and harmony, however. At least some effort has been made here, I suppose.
The in-game music is inane to the point where you wonder if the musician actually had any ears, and the sound effects are so limited that you can't help but feel they were something of an afterthought. The final irony is that the game crashes when you complete it if you have the music turned on. But you probably won't unless you, too, have no ears.
The fundamental structure of the game is poor, too. An antiquated flip-screen system has been chosen, but unforgivably there is a significant delay as you move from one screen to the next - about one second on my Risc PC 700. This may not sound much, but when you consider how much you have to trudge back and for in this game it becomes very significant and intensely annoying! The new screen scrolls on, but the scrolling is so unbelievably badly programmed that it tears and jerks, even on an ARM710! Apparently it is smooth on a StrongARM, but even an ARM2 could do this without problems if the code had been written in any half-decent way. (It's okay if you turn the music off, however)
If the lightning doesn't kill your eyes then the flickering probably will. In an act of some skill considering the very simple nature of the game, the programmer has managed to contrive a system which makes solid parts of the game screen flicker madly on and off. Trees which sit there unmoving (despite the strong guttering of nearby, magically suspended torches) flicker between being there and not being there, revealing the background behind. Why? Why? Why!? What on Earth is going on that can make something that isn't even moving or anywhere near your character want to flash on and off in this bizarre manner? The only possible answer is that the game code is really very badly written. Apparently this doesn't happen on a StrongARM. But this is no excuse - the game could easily run on an ARM2 with just a little bit of competence.
There isn't a huge amount of text in the game, but even the small amount there is manages to be incredibly badly written, and with obvious mistakes. You can't help but feel that it was knocked up by next door's pet monkey during the designer's lunch break. Things are simplified somewhat by the fact that capital letters haven't been invented yet in Shuggy's land. Just about the very first speech you see exhibits some horrifically bad design. Shuggy says "i'm ok but your drawbridge down there isn't working" - when I, at least, hadn't even found a drawbridge yet! There are other similar examples of thoughtless design and what appears to be a complete lack of care.
The game includes a "negleted" chicken with a "protective glove on the chicken". The mind shudders to think - or perhaps there's a comma missing? And the game repeatedly reveals the inability of the author to understand the correct use of apostrophes. So the game isn't even any good for undemanding little children.
The dialogue is excruciatingly bad - even to the point of being unintentionally hilarious. This little extract gives some idea:
you lever the bell up enough to let the person out
thankyou for getting me out.
how long have you been under there
i don't know, i've completely lost track of time
well i must be going, bye
troll's have been know to like cakeScary, huh? (Two mistakes in seven words there, by the way)
Even something as fundamental as detecting key presses is bodged. When you bring up the list of objects - which lets you examine, use and drop the objects you are currently holding - there is a big delay before the game accepts any key presses, and the same occurs after pressing any key in the object list. This is for no grander reason than the programmer's incompetence - the sensible thing to do would have been to wait for a previous key to be released before detecting the next one, instead of forcing a compulsory pause to avoid duplicated key press problems.
And, finally, to add insult to injury the game is very small - there aren't a huge number of screens, and those there are exhibit very little variety. You get very little for your 26 pounds - it is just 946K in size, coming on two DD discs. Probably the most effort has been put into the front-end, which includes an attractive graphical representation of the keyboard. The packaging consists of a pleasant, paper-back book-sized, plastic box with a full-colour sleeve, and it comes with a nicely printed instruction manual.
This game is in so many ways a missed opportunity. Arm'd & Dangerous have released many excellent free games, so why have they chosen one of their worst to release as a commercial title? The answer to this will remain a mystery, I fear. Werewolf are to be congratulated for bringing another game to the Acorn market, but I just wish they had been a bit more selective in their choice. At least you now have the option of buying this game, which if they hadn't done so you wouldn't have had. I don't want to find so many faults in Shuggy, but unfortunately they're important and myriad.
So should you buy it? I'd recommend that you download the demo from Werewolf Software's web pages. If you enjoy the demo then you'll enjoy the game, and if you don't then you won't. I have spoken to people who really like Shuggy, and I've spoken to people who can't bear it. Personally I fall in between - I think it's passable, but nothing more. Shuggy would have made a reasonable cover-disc release. As a full-price game I think that it falls far, far short of the standard most people would hope for.
Review by Gareth Moore, ©1997
23, The Spinneys
Tel. (0181) 467 1138
Cost: £25.95 plus £1.50 P&P
Requires RISC OS 3.10+ and 2Mb of RAM.
This web space provided by DoggySoft Ltd.