|W E T S C R E A M S|
Into the jaws of death dives Mike Mepham in search of treasure. Plumb the depths of Durell's underwater nightmare and discover why Scuba Dive is Mike's fave Speccy challenge of the month.
|Even before starting the game proper, marvel at the coding that has gone into the animation of Scuba Dive as you are given a fish's eye view of the marine environment; it's rather like looking into a tropical fish tank. The object of the game is to manipulate your scuba diver around the inky black depths, collecting pearls and sunken treasure and taking them safely to your cabin cruiser on the surface. The trouble is, of course, there are many hazards for your minuscule marine explorer to avoid - like sharks, shoals of fish, squid and giant octopuses - all of which can kill! He's also likely to knock himself unconscious on the sea bed or run out of oxygen.|
In games like this, with all the risks to life and limb, one would expect the diver to be zapping and blasting sharks and squid all over the screen with a harpoon gun and an inexhaustible supply of ammunition. In Scuba the diver is
Click on the map for the BIG picture
|totally defenceless and always vulnerable to attack - anywhere, anytime. |
Your screen is split into two parts - the square playing section that takes up about two thirds of the viewing area, and a scoreboard panel on the right-hand side, indicating the amount of treasure your diver has retrieved, his depth, how much air he has left and the value of treasure he is holding.
Pearls are contained in oysters which are constantly opening and closing - giant pearls are in giant clams. Treasure lies in chests which sparkle when full, less so when empty.
The picture you see is constantly changing and as the diver approaches the edge of the screen, the scene is shifted, jumping sideways on the screen, but not moving the diver in relation to his surroundings. In this way, a seemingly continuous sea bed has been
Four skill levels are available, '1' being the easiest and '4' the most difficult. At level '4' the sea is thick with sharks, squid and all the rest. Three divers are available for play at the start, but a bonus diver joins the party on board the boat if one of the others manages to gain access to the caves containing treasure chests.
Play is started by touching the Space key. As the diver enters the water, the first problem is to get him safely away from the hull, because if there aren't lethal jellyfish floating on the surface, then he can always kill himself on the bottom of the boat.
Collecting oyster pearls is a matter of waiting until the oyster opens and then touching it with the diver; there's a maximum value of pearls and treasure he can carry, which varies according to the skill level of play. But whatever the value, it's not added to the score until the goodies are stashed safely back on the boat. This is probably the most frustrating part of the game. You could be holding the maximum value allowed and just by touching a rock you've knocked your diver unconscious and everything's gone.
Once you've mastered the rotate controls (à la Asteroids), the first real challenge is to negotiate the tentacles of the first octopus as it stands guard over an undersea cave system. The caves are home to dangerous sea creatures and giant clams containing yet more valuable pearls. But beware ... the clams can knock a diver unconscious if you' re not careful. And another giant octopus guards the entrance to yet another cave system - one where the diver can help himself to treasure from glowing chests.
There are three distinct levels to the game, each growing progressively more difficult The first involves gathering oyster pearls and returning them to the boat, and for the second, you must negotiate an octopus and gather up clam pearls (then re-negotiate the octopus and return to the boat); finally, having done all that, it's time to get into the lower cave complex. Anyone making it that far deserves that the surprise awaiting them stays as a surprise - sorry, but my lips are sealed!
Naturally while all these activities are going on, the diver's oxygen is
gradually running out, although every successful return to the boat will have
replenished his supply. That sounds easy
enough until you discover that the boat
has drifted from its original position,
and you may just have some difficulty in
finding it again on returning to the surface.|
And that's the game ... frustrating, exasperating and totally addictive.
Managing Director of Durell, Robert White, says that many hours of hard discussion went into the decision not to give the diver any form of weapon; that
decision was right ... it makes the game
more exciting to play.
It's a program which gets away from
the wham-bam, mainstream arcade
games while still providing an entertaining scenario with graphics which
will not pall. Perhaps it's not a game for
the seven- to ten-year olds, although it
does have periods of frenetic activity.
But on the other hand, nor does it need
great intellectual skill to understand and
operate; Scuba simply requires sharp
reactions and a high degree of manual
dexterity. Ultimate success in getting
your diver back on board the boat, totally
against the odds and loaded with treasure,
is immensely satisfying and it can easily
take an hour or so to accomplish.|
And more than anything, Mike Richardson and Durell Software have provided another important target for the software writers to aim for and improve on. For that reason alone it's worth buying it to see what all the fuss is about.
THE 'WE DON'T WANT TO GLOAT, BUT ...' DEPT. |
As Scuba Dive is also available for the Oric and Commodore 64 micros, we thought you might be interested to see how the versions compare. Both are a bit of a disappointment after the Spectrum original but, to be fair, the program for the Oric has been cut down substantially to run within 16K - and as such is a good conversion.
Both versions feature simpler displays utilising unexceptional graphics and animation. There also seems to be a lot less going on on-screen. The diver moves in just four directions (up, down, left and right) rather than the subtle turning and acceleration exhibited on the Spectrum version.
The caves on the Oric conversion are limited to a simple maze (harking back to the ZX8I graphical days), inhabited by comic-looking octopusses and one creature with the amazing ability to appear and disappear at random. But worst of the bunch is the Commodore 64 version, with even the giant octopus being replaced by a trapdoor.