Product: Loony Loco
Publisher: Kansas City Systems
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #70

I remember an old sitcom, You Rang M'Lord, from the Eighties that featured a toff with something of a catchphrase of "Well, that's bally unsporting!" You could apply that wholescale to Loony Loco - it must be quite the most bally unsporting collection of games that there ever was!!

Whilst Loony Loco may not be the first beast to bang together four completely disconnected ideas and hope for the best, it is the first to give them all a railway theme. Hopefully, you're not into this game for the plot because, for all the sense that it makes, you'll wish you hadn't bothered. An evil Baron, called Bodneik, wants to destroy a locomotive (Why we're not told!) and he has somehow managed to sabotage its brakes so it's hurtling down the track at 100mph.

At the same time, the Baron's henchmen have decided to fly hydrogen balloons and planes over the loco, hurling bombs at it, and to ram railway vehicles head-first into it. You are at the controls of the loco and you need to stay alive for approximately ninety seconds in the first stage before you move on to the equally silly second bit.

The scene takes a long long time to appear on screen, running in Mode 5 with an overhead view of three parallel train tracks at the base of the screen and the rest of it taken up by a side-view of the train on the tracks. The idea is that the overhead view at the base functions as 'radar' warning you of, say, a kamikazi vehicle heading towards you straight down the tracks, or a plane approaching you from behind.

When the game action starts however, flicking your sight between two areas is an incredibly stressful experience. See a vehicle heading your way and you'll reach for the RETURN key which, when pressed, unleashes a stream of bullets (A train equipped with bullets? That's a new one on me!) ahead of your locomotive. However, if the vehicle isn't on screen in the main playing area yet, that doesn't make any difference. In the second it takes for said vehicle to arrive in the main playing area, you'll doubtless find a plane and a hydrogen balloon coming along to attack you too! These have to be dealt with by unleashing some steam from your loco's funnel by pressing the SHIFT key.

Holding SHIFT causes the steam to rise; releasing SHIFT floats it away to the left. This can be used to deal with the balloons and the planes (although both of them only stick around to drop a bomb and then disappear sharpish). Somewhat unrealistically, the steam also protects you from the bombs they drop. If you don't manage to hit a falling bomb with steam from the funnel with pixel-perfect accuracy, then it's curtains for you. It's also curtains for you if you hit that vehicle coming the other way.

The effect of all this is truly alarming. The average player will be lucky to survive more than ten seconds as he frantically tries and fails to hone his reactions to so many different enemies and playing areas. All areas animate with such huge 'jumps' that it never really gives him a sporting chance.

The second stage is equally as frustrating. Again, there's a long wait for the screen to appear. When it does, you have apparently run all the way down the length of the carriages to the very end of the train (Why? Don't ask me!) and decided to get back to the locomotive engine again by leaping over the roofs of the carriages. Here, you can leap only a few carriages before the game crashes with the message 'No such variable at line 430'. Before this, you have to fend off rolling barrels and some joker firing arrows at you. It's also jerky and downright impossible to complete.

Now fortunately (because you have an error message in scene 2), the player has the ability to start with any stage, else I would of course be saying Loony Loco has a rubbish first stage and crashes just after the second stage starts.

Unfortunately, the game now goes gaga yet again as you inexplicably abandon the pursuit of the evil Baron to waste your life trying to stop coffee cups falling off a table a la Trapper. Come on, it started badly - but now it's just getting ridiculous!

The last stage is a puzzle game in which you have eight levers all set to 'down'. Pulling one lever may unlock one or more other levers, with combinations of different levers in the up/down positions unlocking even more levers. You've got 300 moves to get all the levers into the up position - because now we're trying to stop the train again, you see? - then the brakes will come on and you'll get a congratulatory screen.

There's really little more to say about this duffer. Game control is with the usual ZX*? keys, and the game is compatible with the ADFS and DFS disc systems, but there's no incentive to play it other than to inflict it upon your little sister as punishment. (Sort of "Yes, I'll give you a lift to the nightclub if you are able to complete the first stage of Loony Loco!" sort of thing!). The very last stage is the only one which is enjoyable to play. There are some comments in the Acorn press that, shortly after its release, the Kansas City stand at one of the computer fairs was beseiged by customers who wanted to complain about it.

Small wonder. The whole package is nothing more than a collection of type-ins strung together in a very artificial way. The result is simply a mess. Add to this that stage one gives you stress, stage two gives you the opportunity to re-load the whole thing again and stage three gives you the red mist. And this cost a player £7.95, Kansas? That really is the definition of bally unsporting.