Desktop Repton Plus reviewBy Chris Williams. Published: 10th Feb 2005, 13:33:51 | Permalink | Printable
It hurt my brainLaunched in November last year and released over the Christmas 2004 period, Alligata Media have brought Beeb classic Repton back to RISC OS in the form of Desktop Repton Plus. Now we review the game that ought to provoke a few nostalgic tears.
Repton is a bit of an institution. It's been around since the 1980s and it's to Acorn what Sonic is to Sega. It's the game where you must guide your reptilian friend around complicated labyrinths whilst solving puzzles, avoiding creatures and collecting jewels: it's like Boulder Dash for really clever people. And really patient people.
Repton started life as a game developed for Superior Interactive by Tim Tyler for the Acorn BBC Micro and Electron computers. Repton had 12 levels, each with a password so you could jump back to where you last left the game, and proved to be a hit. Then along came Repton 2, again developed by Tyler for Superior, which was a lot more fiendish and difficult. This version had no passwords, and as such had to be completed in one go - not for the faint hearted or anyone with important appointments scheduled in the near future. For Repton 3, Tim decided to leave the programming to Matthew Atkinson, although he stuck around to do some level design. Fifteen years after the release of Repton Infinity in 1988, Tim released a free Java game called Rockz, which looks surprisingly familiar.
And so now we have Desktop Repton Plus, developed by Darren Salt and published by Alligata under licence from Superior. Superior have, incidentally, moved into making PC games out of their 1980s back catalogue. Desktop Repton Plus is supplied on CD and includes a 16 page colour booklet that's neat in design and gently eases you into the world of Repton. Installation was a painless exercise: you simply drag an icon to where you want to install the game on a hard disc and it copies across accordingly.
The game includes Repton 1, 2 and 3, and three expansion packs for Repton 3: 'Around the world in 40 screens', 'Life of Repton' and 'Repton through time'. Around the World sees Repton roaming Artic landscapes to underwater mazes, whilst dressed in various different Village People-esque costumes. In Life of Repton, you play your reptile hero through various stages of his life: from a baby lizard to an OAP, in a sort of Back To The Future like way. The gameplay remains the same through out, but with new levels, graphics and puzzles.
The first thing that hits you is the graphics. Let's get this out in the open right now: the graphics are 'classic', proper vintage 1983. I tried to buy into the whole retro-ness of it, but I just can't. You're attacked by the 16 colour palette and the raw tile designs. There's no anti-aliasing, not even any subtle special effects to jazz up the experience. It's like you're running a BBC emulator on your desktop and the pirated Repton tape image has somehow become wedged in memory and refuses to come out. The graphics don't go as far as hindering the gameplay, remember that this was a big game to begin with, but damn, it's a shame that in 2005 we can't have something that just looks neat. Something that just makes me smile, like believable textures, animated characters and backgrounds, and swirls and effects when I collect a gem. As a beginner, finding those jewels is like trying to complete a marathon with bowling balls attached to your feet. It's an achievement when I find and actually collect one and I'd like something to visually celebrate the fact, rather than a little ping sound effect. The same when I kill an enemy or complete the level: a little reward, a graphic nod of recognition would be great encouragement. A similar, simple game called Rocks and Gems, written 7 years ago for the Playstation Net Yaroze (where amateurs can use GCC and C to craft home grown games), is what I'd expect. Don't moan that this is a Playstation game, you can see that the game is straight forward in terms of graphics, but the after effects (the sparkles, the puffs of smoke, etc.) all polish off the experience. I'm not asking for a lot, I hope, as I know the relative graphics capabilities of RISC OS hardware.
You can ignore my opinion if you'd prefer the game to be impeccably preserved, and if so, you're in for a treat and it would appear Alligata agrees with you. It's all painfully exactly the same as the original games and if that's your cup of tea, then you'll think I'm being a sissy who has grown up on 3D acceleration and wouldn't know real challenging gameplay even if it formatted my hard disc and left a business card. And maybe that's true.
Superior, though, have cut crybabies like me some slack and designed new, anti-aliased level sprites for Repton 1 for their Windows package and these are included in the RISC OS distribution. However, they are lacking in imagination (the black background is such a waste) so it's as if neither publisher wants to fiddle too much with the game: a case of don't fix what isn't broken, and going by the rave reviews that the PC versions of Repton are receiving, it certainly isn't broken.
On the left, the new Repton 1 graphics. On the right, the original Repton 1 graphics
As the name implies, the game runs in the multitasking desktop, or in full screen, off the desktop. This StrongARM RiscPC can handle the classic graphics fine in full screen and desktop mode, and the new Repton 1 graphics in full screen, however the new graphics run the game at a noticeable slower pace in the desktop mode.
Another thing worth mentioning is the sound. The background music makes full use of the RISC OS built-in sound instruments: Stringlib-pluck and so on. At first it sounds relentlessly cute and helps immerse you into the retro atmosphere that Repton is fiercely wrapped up in. Minutes later, you'll be frantically hunting down the option to turn it off, as not only does it shatter any concentration that you may have (and this game needs a lot of it), but it'll probably drive everyone within earshot to build up a homicidal rage against you and your speakers. Having said that, music track 4 isn't so bad.
Ok, enough nitpicking: what does Repton offer? Compared to the others, Repton 1 is a calm introduction to the madness that comes in the later games. As pictured on the left is a map of the first level and there are 12 of these in total. As you move around the map to collect all the gems, every step must be calculated and considered because you need to make sure that falling boulders don't block passages to different parts of the map. Invariably, boulders will fall down and either kill you or block off walkways unless you know exactly where to tread or where to push them. If your way is blocked, you must restart the level. In some cases, it's easy to see what will happen but in most cases, you must use trial and error and memorise the movement patterns required to complete the level. Oh, and by the way, this is all against a time limit. You also have to collect keys to unlock gems from safes and there's monsters to avoid too: if you cause an egg to fall and break, it will hatch an evil lizard that will hunt you down.
In Repton 2, you have to complete a number of objectives that Hercules' 12 tasks pale in comparison to. For example, you must collect all 1936 diamonds and find all 42 jigsaw puzzle pieces, spread out over 16 levels. You also must trap roaming fuzz monsters in cages to convert them into diamonds and use a maze of 64 one way transporters. Although there is no time limit, many regard the game to be impossible because you have to play it all the way through in one go, although the manual assures us that it is possible.
Repton 3 is much like Repton 2, but with the previously mentioned themes that define the level graphics. For example, in the Egyptian zone, you must avoid snakes and collect scrolls, rather than dodge the usual evil reptiles and find gems. You also have growing killer moss to deal with too, that speads through a level unless you block it off. Repton 3 also includes a map editor for the creative and malevolent.
The thing about Repton that makes it stand out from the crowd of puzzle games as a timeless classic is its sheer, remorseless complexity. It does not compromise on anything, you are never given a break and it will throw everything it has at you - and I'm not saying this is a bad thing. This is not a game you can idly pick up to kill a few minutes with because you will get no where fast with it. It's a long haul game that takes mental dexterity and more patience than a saint who's having a really bad day. To become a Repton champion is a rare thing, and if you do succeed and later rush into the streets to rabidly declare your achievement, people will either stare ignorantly, or just simply won't believe you.
I'm a late comer to the RISC OS platform, compared to most others. My first Acorn computer was a shiney new A5000 in 1992. I grew up on Pod and Granny's Garden in school on the BBC Bs held together with sellotape, and I otherwise missed out on the whole Beeb scene of the 1980s. However I know that games like Repton will mean a lot to those who witnessed the growth of microcomputing in their homes, with the likes of View and Repton Infinity.
If you're after an arcade game to entertain and amuse yourself with after a long day at work, where your mind would rather not think anymore, then I'll save you some pain right now: avoid Repton. If, however, you're after something to take you back to 1988 and really test your problem solving abilities, and you're after a game that will last you literally years, regardless of the lacklustre graphics and sound, then you should try out Desktop Repton Plus. Just make sure you first cancel every meeting for the next 9 months.
Update at 11 Feb 2005.19:24:52
We should point out that Repton 3 does have an editor and graphics can be produced in your favourite bitmap editor.
Desktop Repton Plus announcement - Repton history and appreciation society
Desktop Repton Plus update site - A final thing worth noting is the patch made available freely by Alligata after some users found a few bugs
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