Product: Repton: The Lost Realms
Publisher: Retro Software
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #73

Well, the waiting is finally over and Repton The Lost Realms has finally made it, at least for the BBC Micro, to release. And I don't mean 'release' in any sort of general sense. No no no, its publisher, Retro Software, has not just finalised a disc image, made a Paypal button and stuck it up for download. No way hose - this is release in the grandest sense of the word; colour inlay, black and white inlay foldout, cassette tape and double-tape plastic case. It is, in every way, the release Superior would have given it, had not the franchise moved in the different direction of expansion packs and Repton Infinity back in the mid Eighties.

So what exactly is Repton The Lost Realms? First of all, it's a complete, wholly new, game. It is best compared to the series of Repton 3 packs (the packs that started with Repton 3 and ended with Repton Thru Time). It has four screensets (or four 'realms') to conquer (with six levels in each), similarly-styled menu and password systems and an editor package. What makes it a wholly new game however are the game mechanics - these are different to the Repton 3 ones. There are many additional sprites (with different behaviours) included. All the old favourites are included, but these new characters raise the complexity of each screen.

The first realm is that of "LARGO", which is loaded in by default and which is designed in tribute to the game Exile by Superior/Acornsoft. The first level of this also introduces some of the new game elements, which are in abundance by later levels. There are balloons, which are the opposite of rocks, floating upwards if unsupported. There are also timebombs, instead of a single timebomb, meaning that after all the diamonds are collected, all the timebombs must then be found too. There is a new combination of absorbaline pills and doors - the doors do not allow Repton to pass through them unless the pill has been collected first. There is a snowflake (referred to as an ice pill in the instructions?) which freezes monsters for a short time. And finally there are two types of spirit - yellow ones which follow walls to their right and others which follow walls to their left.

Seasoned Repton players will be all too aware of the old favourites which are all here too - rocks which fall if unsupported, eggs which fall if unsupported and hatch into monsters (which in turn must be crushed, either by a rock or a balloon), transporters which can be used to teleport around a level, the golden crown to be collected, fungus which grows, earth to be erased (or left well alone to avoid rockfalls or balloonrises), key-and-safe combinations, time-capsules to reset the ticking timebombs and the ubiquitous diamonds to be collected. To cross over to the Editor briefly at this point too, some of the little annoyances about the Repton 3 incarnations of the game have been tinkered with. For example, this new editor lets you set the rate at which the fungus grows; in the Repton 3 editor fungus grew at a random speed and this sometimes made being able to complete a level in Repton 3 a question of luck.

As the most popular set of BBC/Electron games, one would hope that there is an audience of at least several hundred waiting eagerly to devour this game, and the effort that has gone into rescuing it and giving it the release it clearly deserves cannot be understated. It was rescued from the one surviving development disc, and resusitated by Paras Sidapara and Tom Walker, and some 8+ Repton fans, by patching the code, rewriting whole sections of it and eventually producing something highly-polished and in no way 'buggy'. I doubt any Repton fans are going to be disappointed with the result. Playing it through reminded me of when Tactic and Uggie's Garden were unearthed; it just feels 'right', and that this game should always have existed alongside those that were in fact released. In no way does Repton The Lost Realms feel like it was created any differently to any other Repton games. It's just as if it's 1988 in 2010.

Now to the game itself. Firstly, remember that I am reviewing the BBC version of this game at the moment because this new Repton continues, as did its forefathers, to be significantly different on the Beeb than on the Electron. You get a full playing area of 256x256 pixels which scrolls in the appropriate direction using hardware scrolling. There are no indications of score, level, password or anything else on the BBC version. To see all of these you hit RETURN to see a 'status screen'. This is exactly the same procedure as the BBC versions of Repton so will come as no surprise to players on that format.

Secondly, you get a bouncy little tune on the BBC, different to that of the Repton 3 series. It's a nice aesthetic inclusion but you might find that you're quickly having to turn it off because of the third point about Repton The Lost Realms, as I will here explain.

Thirdly, only a small section of the full playing area is available on-screen at any one time. You can see a map of the whole playing area by pressing M on some levels - but not all, and the map is not available by default on the early screens of each 'realm' (as is the case with the Repton 3 series). You can wander into sections resplendent with precariously-balanced rocks and not really have any idea what carnage these rocks will cause once they fall into an area you cannot 'see'. The playing area therefore naturally divides into a selection of small puzzles which need to be 'solved' as part of a bigger strategy to traverse the whole of the playing area. The first screen of "LARGO" is about the only one which is relatively easy to complete. After that, it's time to start making notes and thinking long and hard about what should be the next move. The background tune usually has to go at this point.

This brings me back quite nicely to a point I touched upon earlier - that Repton fans are going to be in ecstasy about this release. They get more of everything - the balloons are a different style of rocks, the spirits are a different style of nasties, the pill-door is a different style of key-safe combination ... the list goes on. And yet, to those who may be new to Repton The Lost Realms, the new complexities these characters throw into the mix is probably too brainstraining for them to make a lot of progress. And what fan or newby alike will make of some of the later levels of the "ADAGIO" realm is anybody's guess! I do not know if killing the player off immediately by means of an adjacent spirit can ever really be justified - we're into levels here that are so unforgiving that you need to remember very complex move-combinations just to survive longer than a nanosecond!

The level design is subtly different depending on each realm and the sprite design, done by Kecske Bak, is not as wild and varied as the likes of Around The World In 40 Screens - rather the majority of differences are quite subtle. Diamonds are always diamonds in Repton The Lost Realms, rocks are always rocks, balloons are always balloons, etc. The changes are therefore in the colour palette used and the terrain - by far the most obvious differences are displayed in the wall types. There are also differences in the sprite design used on the very familiar characters - Repton looks as he always did, but the rocks have had a makeover that gives them a more gritty appearance.

To design levels for the game you also get a brand new editor. This is modelled on the familiar Repton 3 Graphical User Interface but has the notable difference of only six maps plus the variables screen. Although the editor itself handles very well I spotted an immediate bug when I loaded up "ADAGIO" and instictively reached for the cursor keys instead of the ZX*? combination required. Apparently *FX 4 0 has not been called so the cursor keys are still programmed to move and copy as per BBC BASIC - hence an ugly blinking 8x8 white block appeared (which I could control with the cursor keys), which served no purpose at all and which I could not get rid of - see pic.

Keep your fingers off the cursor keys however and you will be able to design your own screens without problem and save them to disc. I have no doubt that we will see some of the "hard core" Repton gamers producing levelsets for Repton The Lost Realms in the future - they are not going to be content with 24 levels only.

Just in case anyone was worried that, in their, ahem, rush to release Repton The Lost Realms, Retro Software had forgotten that the Repton character is copyrighted to Superior Software (now Superior Interative), Richard Hanson has given his blessing to the release, apparently asking for nothing more than that the copyright be acredited. It has been, so all is well.

To finish off then the obvious question - has it been worth the wait? (This question is addressed to BBC owners only, naturally; Electron users are still waiting!) The answer is a resounding yes. Repton The Lost Realms is not merely an addon package but a wholly new game, and the Herculean efforts made to release it, mean you simply have to buy it if you're a Repton fan. And I don't just mean that, without it, your collection isn't complete any more. You get everything you ever loved about the Repton series, and more, plus the ability to design games in a completely new format, to be enjoyed by a new generation of puzzlers. Alas, the initial run of copies quickly sold out. Another batch is now in production so head over to Retro Software now to see if you can order it in time for your Christmas holiday.