CSSCGC 2020!
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Corona Capers

Author: Jim Waterman Machine Type: Spectrum 128K
Submitted on: 8th of April, 2020 Download or play online

This is surely the most elaborate game submitted to any CSSCGC so far. Jim Waterman, author of Super Mario Fruit Machine and Advanced Horseshoe Magnet Simulator, sends us a 128k multi-load spectacle, bursting at the seams with content and fun to be had. It is entitled Corona Capers, and it was written not in the average crap game development time of five minutes, but over a period of eleven days! That means that there will have been time for playtesting, debugging, polishing and other processes which are anathema to our cause!

The game begins with a separate introductory program, introducing us to our character, Blazin' Bryce Di'Anninson, a geographer, arbalist, world famous musician, pilot, author and brewer, who has been enlisted by the semi-official Leader Of The Free World ™, God-Emperor Donald Trump, to embark upon a quest to rid the Earth of COVID-19. You are loaned the use of a Learjet 70/75 for transportation purposes, and soon after, you begin your mission by venturing to Hong Kong to receive your orders. An extended version of this backstory is printed on the tape’s inlay (well, stored in a text file) and makes for an amusing read.

Anyway, after a short wait for the game to load its various files into memory (each of which is numerically labelled, starting from “COVID-19” and working upwards from there), we finally get to the first interactive portion of Corona Capers. The game is made up of three stages, and each is preceded by a map reading exercise. A map of China is drawn to the display with row and column markers, and you are asked to locate a randomly selected city. These are marked in green and blue, but be careful, you only have ten thousand litres of fuel for your whole journey – if you run out, then it’s curtains for civilisation as we know it, so you’d best dust off your atlas before proceeding!

The first stage of the game is entitled “Bat Soup” (oh dear...), and it represents the action portion of the program. Here, you must use your archery skills to help a prestigious restaurant with a bat infestation. Kill ten bats before they land in the customers’ noodle soup, and you will be handsomely rewarded.

It was at this moment that I noticed a rift in the program. Just a few moments ago, I had been enjoying a very professionally written introduction sequence, complete with AY soundtrack – now, I was watching a bowl of noodles painstakingly drawing itself into existence with randomly scattered yellow lines. Once complete, the scene was well illustrated (although the scale seems out of whack, especially with the crossbow), but the wait time was jarring to say the least.

This part, while being the most enjoyable bit of the game, made the least sense to me. Why are we wasting time stopping bats landing in soup when COVID-19 is spreading at such an alarming rate as to warrant global panic? Heck, why is this restaurant still even open?

The next stage takes place at a genetics laboratory, where the scientists are busy sequencing the RNA of the coronavirus. You decide to join in and crack the code, by playing a well-programmed version of Mastermind, which represents the puzzle section of the program. Unlike the original, where there are four slots and six colours for the pegs, this incarnation has six slots and four different pegs (A, C, G, U), each meant to represent an RNA base. This section of the program is rather well-written, with full input validation, a jingle for each round (the Red Dwarf theme, which seems a bit incongruous to me), along with visual and auditory feedback for each turn. This part of the game is quite fun initially, but I think it overstays its welcome by the fourth round. After we sequence the RNA, our work is ruined by a clumsy colleague, and in a similar manner to Jim’s last game, D.N.A. Dilemma, we must restore it to its correct order. This time, however, we must reassemble them by rotating them in groups of four, which is certainly less tedious than the sliding puzzle game was.

After that affair comes the final stage, where we discover that Jim has been saving an ace up his sleeve. This level involves Bryce having to destroy the source of coronavirus – a Japanese-style cartoon figure named Corona-Chan – by replacing her Corona lager with Bryce’s own brew. You do this by manoeuvring through an invisible maze, picking up the five crates of stout whilst avoiding the lurking virus, and then depositing it into Corona-Chan’s drink, rendering her powerless. The only problem is that, like the rest of the game, your character runs as fast as treacle does down a gentle incline in the dead of winter. And you have to evade a virus that can move diagonally through the maze. And you only have limited oxygen. And the maze is invisible. At least Jim has been kind enough to provide us with the map to the maze, albeit in a very round-about way via a magazine reference.

Anyway, after that is done and dusted, God-Emperor Trump makes good on his promise and treats us to a YUGE reward. This victory sequence is no simple “CONGRATURATION”, but actually a very elaborate program of its own, weighing in at thirty kilobytes and featuring continuous AY music along with several full-screen digitized images. You’ll have to play the game yourself to enjoy it, but don’t think that you can just skip straight to it, as it is password-protected.

With regards to the game as a whole, the graphics and sound are excellent, with very neat visuals and boasting AY musical accompaniment to fit the action. It even features text formatting with enlarged characters, something which I haven’t seen too often in other BASIC games. The gameplay is less consistent however, with the quality tailing off sharply towards the end. There is no concept of lives or second chances either; if you mess up, it’s all the way back to the beginning, and to top it off, you have to rewind the tape and reload the blasted thing. It does have to be said though that the mini-game structure (which is reminiscent of Doctor Who: The First Adventure) makes this the most ambitious crap game I have seen so far, in terms of scope. It looks like this title will remain topical for some time too, and then become hopelessly dated by the middle of the decade (we hope).

Overall, Corona Capers is both the biggest and best game that I’ve seen so far in this competition, with a size and scope previously unseen. It has its flaws here and there (predominantly in the maze section), but apart from that, I would actually recommend playing it, especially for the end sequence. You can play it either by downloading it from the link in the info-box, or by clicking the “play online” link, though I would recommend the former, as you’ll probably want to take snapshots at key points – this isn’t the sort of game that you can enjoy on just bread and water.

Now, is anyone actually going to send us a rubbish game? We seem to be on a roll of good ones...

Scores

Graphics Sound Gameplay Innovation TOTAL
83% 76% 47% 62% 67%