Publisher: Cronosoft
Compatibility: BBC B, B+, Master 128 & Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #66

If you regularly read the review pages of Retro Gamer, and believe Cronosoft's own publicity on its web site, then you might get the impression that it is churning out software on the old 8-bits, almost by the bucketload. The reality however, is somewhat different - from having six titles on offer in 2002, it now has only twelve. In EUG #65, we inspected Weenies (its first release for the BBC and Electron) and eagerly awaited its next title from the same programmer, Chris Dewhurst.

This was to be a BBC/Electron conversion of the Spectrum platformer, Egghead In Space, and we all know it was completed in July 2004 because the afore mentioned Retro Gamer proudly carried a full page review, complete with colourful screenshots. But what on earth happened to this game? First of all, the "What's New" page of Cronosoft's web site apologised for the delay in its release, citing 'technical problems'. Then, in a Orwellian-1984-style rewriting of the "What's New" page, all mention of it ever even being in production disappeared from the site! Over at Stairway to Hell, Dave M's news page noted that "the game is now available, but only as a disc image for use on emulators at the reduced price of £1.99" for which you needed to write to Cronosoft for more information. Quite apart from seeming to be going out of its way to deliver a kiss of death to this project, what then, in the interim, had happened to Cronosoft's claim to only release its games on the original tape format, resplendent with paper inlays and artwork? And why didn't Cronosoft have an on-line ordering system at least for its own disc image, on its own web site?

A year on, no-one appears any closer to discovering the truth behind this. Chris Dewhurst states, "Cronosoft claimed that the tape version did not execute the main game code after loading it into memory. They said that, on their BBC, the game continued 'Searching' for another file and so the game would not run. I can't see how this could be possible and I suspect they must have had some rogue ROMs installed in their machine to cause this. I do not think the fault is in the game itself." Rogue ROMs or not though, this seems little justification for removing all reference to it from the company's web site or Cronosoft's sudden lack of interest in promoting the game at all.

Fortunately, one year on in this saga, Dewhurst has decided enough is enough and released the game to EUG for inclusion on the next disc (just as he did in the good ole days). Which means, not only that it is less likely to become the Elk equivalent of the C64 'gem lost forever' Daffy Duck, but we can all get our hands on it for free. This is what we did here a few months ago and, as the game doesn't come with instructions, we thought we'd take you on a tour of what should have been Cronosoft's second outing on the Elk to set the scene.

The game begins with a neat loading screen heralding the arrival of Egghead In Space. The game was originally written by Jonathan Caudwell in 2002 for the Spectrum and Egghead, as displayed in a header of five lines above the playing area, is a cheeky little chappie peering out from the inside of a giant egg. The egg, naturally enough, also has two legs protruding from it to enable it to get from A to B. Stranded on a space station, as platform game heroes almost inevitably are, Egghead must wander around picking up various objects en route and use them in order to make good his escape. As an aside, the egg has feet but doesn't appear to have any arms - so how it manages to strap on the various items scattered around the complex is a mystery.

The main playing area is 32 x 18 CHR$, which is identical to that of the Spectrum version. Indeed, the whole layout of the program is extremely faithful to a Spectrum game. It runs in Mode 4, but with some clever palette switching allowing the header to be one colour whilst the playing area is another. To all intents and purposes though, the game is in monochrome with very much of the feel of a Plan B or Jet Set Willy clone. You have five lives and are free to roam anywhere you wish in the space station; the only obstacles to accessing certain rooms being the animated aliens and doors that bar the way.

Now this premise probably does not sound like anything extraordinary. Fortunately, Egghead In Space possesses just enough individuality to elevate it above some of the less worthy platformers (Tynesoft's Kastle and Superior's Baron spring to mind). Firstly, with this being Mode 4, the graphics are excellent. Egghead, whom you control with the Q (Left), W (Right) and SPACE (Jump), is animated flawlessly, with a shuffling walk where one foot precedes the other in a very realistic manner. The baddies, who switch between two frames and move in set patterns, are similarly imaginative and easy on the eye - a giant Hula Hoop, for example. Other touches include different types of platform, background illustrations and various pick-ups. Planets and stars above the surface of the space station hang translucently in the air and a large rocket towers over the home base. Transporters with animated warning scrolls take you instantly to less accessible parts of the station.

As with Andrew Foord's dashing little budget game Plan B, the look of the game is matched by its feel. Egghead handles very well, starting to run when you press a direction key and stopping as soon as you let go. Particularly nice, and useful, is that you can alter the direction of a jumping Egghead 'mid-flight'. Unlike in Jet Set Willy, for example, where leaping in a particular direction sends you in an arc, Egghead In Space has no such restriction. You can leap directly up in the air to avoid an approaching evil then use, say, the right key, to 'sail' over him and land in safety.

The screens are taxing, with the player needing to work out a particular route to traverse them. It appears that all of them can be completed without losing a life but, having said this, the game is by no means easy. One example is that, whilst some of the platforms are 'solid', others are 'transparent'. So, in some locations, you may have to judge how to leap one baddy on your 'level' taking care not to strike (with the top two pixels of Egghead) a baddy on the 'level' above. But, in others, such a jump can be taken in a more reckless manner, as the overhead platform type prevents you striking any baddy patrolling above you.

Something you quickly appreciate also is that, jumping fully from left to right, Egghead always covers the same distance. If you have to leap two vats of acid, one with a transparent platform above it and another with a solid one above it, there's no risk of banging your head on the second platform and performing an impromtu deathly splashdown. Your character will 'sail' at the highest level he can reach, without compromising how far he will travel.

Egghead moves swiftly, meaning the action never drags. Also, the screens are not cluttered, and a few seconds' contemplation beforehand, particularly when the player has gained the understanding of how far Egghead can jump and fall, will usually equip one with a 'plan' for tackling them. You are often teased by the sight of an object in an awkward location - for example, a water pistol (which annihilates some of the baddys obstructing a passage to the right) and an oxygen tank, which opens some of the higher doors of the space station - guarded by a fiendish set of obstacles. These objects, when collected, actually metamorphosise into Egghead's space suit. Now it would be enough that these just banished the fiddliness of having to pick up and drop objects in certain locations to achieve certain results. But Egghead In Space goes even further - the graphics actually change to suit! So, on picking up the oxygen tank, from this point on, you can see it right there on Egghead's back.

These features, along with some sound effects (such as "The Great Escape" jingle on the title screen and splats and thuds in the game proper), make this game a real winner. However, there are a few flaws. Firstly, as in Jet Set Willy, there are some places where it is inadvisable to 'bound' into a room, because you end up leaping into a baddy and dying. You then re-start the game leaping into the room again, and into the baddy again, and dying again. Fortunately the problem is not so acute in Egghead In Space as, as mentioned earlier, you can alter your direction 'mid-flight' to avoid said baddy. But this takes a bit of practice.

Secondly, the lives' system would be better replaced, in this game, by an energy bar. Five lives are just not enough to make it through the whole game, which is huge; a few ill-advised steps in one room can suddenly see you hurled back to the opening screen to begin from scratch all over again, screaming "Give me a chance! I was only getting started!" at it.

Thirdly, and this is just a small niggle, RETURN acts as a pause key. For a while, the player used to RETURN being a jump key may find it difficult to remember to use SPACE instead.

Finally, because there are no instructions, currently I have a few problems with a door. I seem to have collected a pass but the game gives me the prompt 'CODE ????' when I attempt to pass through it. Either I've collected the wrong pass or I'm missing something.

Overall though, Egghead In Space is graphically lavish and extremely addictive. As Retro Gamer said almost exactly the same thing, it beggars belief that, for whatever reason, Cronosoft decided not to release it. It is a big game, running only on DFS E00 disc on the BBC/Electron, but personally I have had no problems running it. Regrettably, it may the case that Cronosoft's preferance to believe its one dodgy Beeb over the word of its star Beeb programmer has dealt something of a blow to him doing any future games for them. If so, therefore, then it might be worth getting your orders flooding into Cronosoft for any verson of this game that you can get ahold of - as it may be that this is the last professional machine code game for the Electron ever released.