Product: Tarzan
Publisher: Martech
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #74

The Jungle's A Damned Mess

Tarzan is one of those games that engenders a lot of promise. It has colourful artwork, and playing instructions written in superior prose. The trouble is that these instructions were written for a Commodore 64, or Amiga, version of the game. And the BBC and Electron versions have obviously compromised on so many of these inclusions that the result is a damned mess.

A Brief History Of Time

The background runs that you are Tarzan and you have three days to find and save your Jane. She is being held captive by an Indian chief who plans to divide her up between his pet Panther and pet Vulture at midnight on the third day. In order to save her, you need to collect seven gemstones. And, with some poetic licence, the instructions state "as time passes, the sun will slowly sink in the sky. The jungle will pass through sunset into shadowy night... If Tarzan falls into quicksand, a period of time will pass more quickly. If Tarzan is careless, therefore, three days will pass very quickly."

This is but one example of how the instructions lead to much head-scratching. Although the words as written make sense, there is actually no sun and no sky - for the BBC/Electron version, the sun has been replaced by a percentage meter which has the label "Energy". As you wander around, you encounter flying arrows, natives, boulders and tigers. Contact with any of these has a negative effect upon the "Energy" level. Now a straightforward Energy level is common to many games, but the instructions tell you this level represents the passing of Time. Why?

Can't See A Thing!

Another annoying thing about the layout, especially when compared with the instructions, is that only the playing window is graphical. The Score, Energy, Gemstones and Inventory sections are all done in CAPITALISED TEXT. A 'picture of the objects' Tarzan may find, according to the instructions, 'will appear on the bottom left corner of the screen' when picked up. Nope. If you find an object - which is shown in the playing window as just a simple square! - and pick it up, the word SHIELD, ROPE, TORCH, etc just appears in the Inventory section.

Mode 4 on the BBC/Electron allows only for monochrome graphics. That is not really a problem per se and some excellent graphic adventures have been written using Mode 4 - Plan B, Spellbinder, Joe Blade, etc. - but you have to be careful to not pack too much detail into your graphics. Tarzan has a playing area which is just less than half the size of the Mode 4 screen. Packed into that area is a view of the current section of jungle in which you are standing.

You can run left and right, jump and punch - and you can move up and down through gaps in the trees. As noted above, you have a great many foes to avoid including tigers, arrows, pools of quicksand to jump, and natives intent on beating you up. The combination of these, all plotted one in front of the other in monochrome leads to on-screen effects that confuse your brain. For example, in a small area of the playing area you can be confronted with quicksand to jump, two arrows to avoid, a tiger at your heels and all the time be standing in front of an 'exit' up.

The Invisible Archer

And another thing. Considering arrows are generally fired by an archer, it would be nice if arrows appeared from one side of the screen and sailed across it. They don't. They often appear a few pixels in front of the Tarzan sprite, leaving no time at all to react to their sudden appearance.

When you are hit by any of the marauders, you clutch your stomach, your energy starts falling and you stand routed to the spot (presumably in pain). Alas, this also means that you can't jump or get out of the way of other marauders until you recover. So if you get tagged by a native and a tiger is hot on his heels - whilst an arrow is also coming at you from the other direction! - then that's just tough; you'll stand routed to the spot until your Energy drains to zero.

When your Energy hits zero then you'll start the next day with a full Energy bar. As per the instructions three days is your lot, and when you inevitably hit 0% Energy after having traversed about ten jungle areas if you're lucky, Mode 4 text simply prints QUEST COMPLETED across the screen. Well, no actually, if you didn't rescue Jane then your quest failed!

Haphazard Controls

The controls for the game are Q (Left), W (Right), O (Up), K (Down) and P (Fire). O doubles up as a jump if you're not standing in front of an exit, K doubles up as a duck if you're not standing between two trees allowing you to exit down. Somewhat bizarrely however, the instructions then go on to tell you that O (that's the Up/Jump key) also enters "Object Mode" or picks up a gemstone if Tarzan is standing next to it.

Firstly, with all the other keys on the BBC/Electron keyboard sitting unused and undefined, why you should be forcing one direction key to also be a 'select' key seems odd. Secondly, picking up objects actually seems to be done by pressing O and P together. So again the instructions are wrong on every count. During an onslaught by the game's creatures, it's far too difficult to operate this system to choose an object too - with Tarzan either jumping and disappearing through an exit instead of being able to grab the shield you want.

Intricate Designs, Doomed Gameplay

Sadly, I struggled to get any enjoyment out of Tarzan at all. It was released as a full-price game at an extortionate £9.95 by Martech and then again on the React budget software label at a similarly outrageous £2.99. Clearly, a great deal of work has gone into it. The jungle backdrops are intricately designed and the animation of Tarzan plus his different expressions and body postures show great attention to detail. But this appreciation lasts for a maximum three seconds. Once that first native and bunch of arrows appears, and you struggle frantically with the controls then see your energy wiped out in a heartbeat, you'll quickly realise it is messy, dull and doomed.