Eric and The Floaters sounds a bit like a pop group of the mid- Sixties; it also suggests an aerial game of some sort. Both guesses would be wrong, for this new game from Japanese Hudson Soft is an underground maze game. So the story goes: Hidden beneath the rubble of the Brick Lane (wherever they are) are the remains of a lost civilisation. Eric hopes to find part of them by blasting the rubble away with his bombs. But danger lurks in the Lanes, deadly inhabitants of the old system called The Floaters, will kill Eric it they touch him. He must destroy them using his bombs.
The Floaters are normally purple, but occasionally, like any arcade Mayer, they lose their tempers and get red in the face. In this state they tend to actually hunt Eric down instead of placidly floating around. The screen display is of a large and reasonably complex maze form, each maze screen being separate. In stage one there is only one Floater, but these increase in number as the game proceeds. Walls may be blasted away by the placing of bombs, especially as sometimes there are totally closed parts to the maze. Objects revealed after the dust has settled may be collected for points by running over them. Once all the floaters have been killed in a stage, the bonus points remaining from the original allowance at the start of the stage are added to your score.
An element of strategy is required in the positioning of the bombs, which leave you about two and a half seconds before they explode. The game has 20 stages, during which the number of hidden items vary.
Control keys: A or J/D or L left/right, W or I/X or M up/down, SHIFT or SPACE to drop bomb
Joystick: ZX 2
Keyboard play: awkward key positions
Use of colour: average
Graphics: quite good, a bit jerky but your man 'folds' up well when killed
Sound: above average
Skill levels: 1 but progressive difficulty
Screens: 20 stages
Originality: maze games aren't new, but this one is a very different theme
'This is a fairly original game from Hudson Soft. I liked the general layout and game type. Control was reasonable using the keyboard, but unfortunately Sinclair Interface 2 was the only joystick option. I think this is a little selfish of them. Of course they want to sell their own interface, but not catering for other interface key mapping is just unfair. The graphics were pretty good and the game proved to be "almost" addictive - the joystick option may have tipped the scales against them.'
'I enjoyed this game rather more than I thought I was going to when I saw it was another maze game. The idea of leaving bombs behind you to explode when you're safely round a corner, and hopefully the floater isn't, is quite original, and makes for a different maze game. There is also a kind of Pacman ghost angle in this one too. When there are several floaters after you, it is easy to get trapped in dead ends or between two floaters, so careful escape route planning is needed. When the floaters get "angry" is often the best time because they track you down, so you can lure them to their deaths more easily. Unfortunately the game lacks playability in the end because the keyboard positions are terrible, with a left hand and right hand cross of keys. I've heard the argument that this configuration allows you to use your hand like a joystick, rocking over the keys, but it isn't that easy with the Spectrum keyboard. On a programmable joystick I also found that the control was unresponsive which led to many Eric deaths by being blown up with his own bombs. A pity.'
'The graphics are quite large but a bit jerky and the overall use of colour is rather drab. The game idea is novel for a maze game but it is spoiled by unresponsive key control. Had it not been for that fact then Eric and The Floaters may have been quite addictive.'
FEEBLE FOUR FROM SINCLAIR
SINCLAIR RESEARCH is continuing its policy of marketing games under licence with four new releases. Zipper Flipper by R.E-D Sunshine is a pinball program with a fruit machine feature included. You have to break down a wall of bricks with the ball to bring the fruit machine into play.
The other three games are all by Hudsonsoft. Driller Tanks, which sounds like a video nasty, is a simple game of underground warfare, as you use your tank to prevent marauding monsters tunneling to the surface.
Bubble Blaster is a slightly more interesting program in which you must burst bubbles with a ray gun before they land on you.
Those three games all suffer from a very simple concept which has not been developed to provide any real variety during the play. The graphics on Bubble Blaster, though they could be better yet, are of higher quality than in the other two programs but are also the least complex when seen on the screen, even though they may be well-programmed.
The fourth in the series, Eric and the Floaters, is clearly superior to the other three. Eric is attempting to explore a lost underground civilisation by planting bombs in a network of tunnels to clear blockages and reveal treasures.
He is pursued by balloon-like Floaters, which also have to be killed with the bombs. The concept is again simple but in this case there are a number of hidden surprises which increase the enjoyment for the player out of all proportion to the extra trouble taken to program the refinements.
To play the games with a joystick you will have to use Interface Two, or one of the programmable interfaces, as Sinclair is clearly not interested in supporting peripherals manufactured by other companies.
Joystick: Interface 2
MACHINE: Any Spectrum
This game from Hudson Soft is marketed under the official Sinclair label.
Unfortunately, this game doesn't reach the high standards set by most of Sinclairs games in the past. In fact, it's another maze game.
Like many other games before, you're lost in the ruins of human civilisation as we knew it. The inhabitants of the remains are called Floaters.
Where they acquired this name I don't know. Maybe this tells us something about life in those times.
In reality, the Floaters are small blobs of colour on the screen and they are deadly to our hero. His defence comes in the form of bombs. These can be primed at the press of a button (the space key, actually) and Eric then has about three seconds to get clear.
If all is well, the Floater will wander helplessly into the path of the bomb and you'll be on screen two, if not, well there's plenty more bombs where that one came from.
There are 20 screens to the game and the number of Floaters increases on each screen.
If you are lucky then your bomb will dislodge some of the maze and you'll find something to your advantage underneath. This will be either a treasure chest or an exit.
The treasure chest is worth extra points. Finding the exit, though, means that you can collect all the bonus points for the current screen but not progress on to the next screen. So you can pick up twice your points ration.
The points system is calculated at random. It says so in the inlay card. A treasure chest is worth between 160 and 1260 points, while bursting a Floater with your bomb will net you anything from ten to 200.
Movement in this game isn't ideal. Characters move only by a whole square at a time. The choice of keys for the keyboard option is badly thought out, although you can use a joystick if you wish. And if you have one.
The Floaters don't normally have any intelligence. They will wander round the screen with no idea of where they're going. But occasionally they turn from purple to red, which means that they know where they're going. You can put this period to good use, as planting a bomb behind you will usually force an unsuspecting Floater into its path.
A fairly average game, and maybe good for a few plays on a rainy day.
Eric and the Floaters is a very addictive game, involving moving round a maze, exploding sections of wall to collect treasure and finding the exit to another screen. Points can be gained slowly by collecting treasure, or quickly by bursting the deadly floating balloons as soon as possible and moving to the next more difficult level. Enjoyable though it is, the fact remains that it is a monsters-in-the-maze-type game. Sinclair software used to be state of the art, so why is the company now endorsing products which could have been produced early last year?
Produced for the 48K Spectrum by Sinclair Research Ltd, 23 Willis Road, Cambridge Price, £5.95.
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