Product: Weenies
Publisher: Cronosoft
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #65

Weenies is the debut title from Cronosoft for the BBC and Electron and is the first brand new tape game to be released for both machines for over a decade. Fortunately this is not its only claim to fame. Being programmed by master programmer Chris Dewhurst (who must surely by now be achieving cult status) and over a year in the making, Weenies owes more than a passing nod to Amiga classic Lemmings and is a Mode 5 graphical extravaganza. The differences we'll get to in a moment. But for now, know that for just £3.99 all inclusive (Mail-order only), you get a game very unlike anything else you will have in your Acorn games collection. What's more, it comes in a smart slimline cassette case with a colourful inlay featuring instructions and screenshots.

To make one thing perfectly clear before we continue, I should at this point make it clear that Weenies is not a Lemmings rip-off. The similarities are quite obviously there, from the point and click style of the menu system right through to the platform nature of the game itself, but as a whole Weenies handles very very differently. In fact I would go so far as to say Lemmings' players are at something of a disadvantage when they commence play as Lemmings is infinitely more forgiving of its player than is Cronosoft's Weenies.

So what do you have to do? Well, the game's namesake are small plodding characters in a strange platform world, viewed from the side on. They begin each level trapped in a cavern somewhere off screen; the cavern's existence signified by a large trap-door. This duly opens and, one by one with a second's pause in-between, the weenies fall to earth and, provided they don't fall so far as to die on impact, they wander aimlessly about. The objective of each level is to get the weenies from their trap-door to the exit portal. You do this by constructing a safe route for the weenies to follow. For example, if a weenie is wandering towards the edge of a high platform then an obstruction must be laid in his path. The weenie then does an about face when he 'bumps into' the obstruction and plods off in the opposite direction.

The whole experience is more easily appreciated when seen rather than described but, as there are very few gamers who haven't at least heard of Lemmings, the nature of the game should now be reasonably clear. You control a cursor which, by deft use of the arrow keys, can be moved over the terrain of each particular level and you lay ladders, ropes and blocks in positions appropriate to guide the hapless little characters to eventual safety. There's a time limit too to keep you on your toes!

Now of course the biggest difference between Lemmings and Weenies lies in the description of play just given. In Lemmings, you point your cursor and click on a function (e.g. 'Blocker') then on an individual lemming to, for example, block the route to a dangerous precipice. That lemming then stands on the spot, directing his brethren back the way they came. A lemming approaching a gap between two platforms you might make a 'Builder', whereupon he builds a bridge over the hole and his following friends then cross in safety. By applying a host of functions in this way, you inevitably sacrifice some of the lemmings, particularly so with 'Blockers' who can never revert and whose obstructive presence can only be removed by blowing them up! This isn't a problem regarding completing a level in Lemmings though because you are normally only required to save 95% of them to progress to the next one.

In Weenies though, you operate not on the individual weenies but the platforms they traverse. If a weenie is heading for a gap between two platforms then you need to place a block between those two platforms to ensure its safe passage. Also, with Weenies, and this is One Of The Easier Levels - A Mad Keyboard Scramble At The Beginning Is Usually Requirednot immediately apparent from the instructions Cronosoft give, you are always required to guide every single weenie home. If just one of them bites the dust then it's all over for you and you might as well attempt the level again.

This variety is actually not a good thing for Lemmings players, especially because all Weenies' levels, except the first one, are incredibly difficult. The completely new handling of what superficially is a very similar game environment inevitably leads to a lot of mistakes. One large assumption Lemmings players are bound to make is that the greeny character walking right who falls a short way will then continue walking right on the platform below. Not always so in Weenies!

The game itself runs in four-colour Mode 5, different levels switching the palette to add variety, and fills the bottom 4/5ths of the screen. On startup, large multi-coloured sprites welcome you to Weenies and boxes displaying 'Play', 'Pass', 'Load' and 'Sound' then appear. All control and selection of them is done by the arrow keys. These are bad choices because they are very close to the dreaded BREAK key. Whenever you commence a game, either by 'Play'ing from the beginning or entering a 'Pass'word to begin at a subsequent level, you are treated to a sprightly little tune and the message 'Let's Go Weenies'. (Something of an acknowledgement to the sampled 'Let's Go!' cried by the lemmings of the game's inspiration.)

Yet this remains on screen for far too long - even with the 'Sound' turned off! - and when it is finally wiped to reveal the game level, the Weenies at once begin to fall into the game area. By the time you have appreciated the numbers of blocks, ropes and ladders you have and how they can be aptly employed to solve the puzzle set for you by the individual level - let alone found where your cursor is positioned! - the weenies are dying and it's all over.

Of course you can persevere and save as many of them as you can. But doing so in Weenies, unlike in Lemmings, is a mission undertaken without hope. Also, you might expect that when the screen was clear of all weenies, because those you hadn't saved had fallen into those fiery pits at the bottom of the screen, that you would be commiserated. But you actually have to press ESCAPE to exit the scene as if you were quitting. Doing this brings up another large sprite, the message 'Game Over' and another sprightly little tune which regrettably also can't be skipped.

The levels are very cleverly programmed and the correct solution, even to levels as early as level two, is not the most obvious one. There is some sense of achievement when you do eventually discover how to complete each stage without killing any of those little critters but the actual means of doing so invariably involves a frantic dash around the game area for the first ten seconds after the level begins! Afterwards, you then get a congratulatory sprite, another sprightly tune and a password.

Weenies has two zones (Selecting 'Load' from the menu loads in the tougher, second set of zones) and the graphics and sound simply cannot be bettered. There are dozens of different sprites, the animation is second to none and the sound quality, even on the four-channel-challenged Electron, is excellent. Earlier I mentioned that each level was 'wiped' on screen from left to right. That is only the half of it; there are fades and colour-switching techniques galore in this game. There is also even the feature (as seen in Lemmings) to speed up the release rate of the weenies so that, once your ropes, ladders and blocks are positioned correctly, they can traverse the landscape at 'manic' speed!

The trouble is that all the jingles and sprites serve to delay and almost ruin the addictivity of the game proper. Even on the easiest levels, the falling weenies and ticking timer demand action before the player has time to think. The pause facility, which could have been used to alleviate this problem, aggravates it because the cursor disappears when it is operational. You can no longer judge where you need to move it to!

For reasons of sheer frustration therefore, I find it difficult to recommend Weenies. It can claim fame in that it is a terrific graphical achievement on the memory-challenged BBC and Electron, it is a game of scarcity hence instant collectability and it is an absolute bargain at £3.99. The tragedy is that its polished performance makes it look good, but does not make it play well.