Product: Mystery Of The Java Star
Publisher: Shards
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #52

With its title, accompanied by a box illustration of a model ship in water, one would assume the Java Star to be the vessel of the name. Not so. In fact, the adventure reveals that Java Star is a precious ruby the "size of a pheasant egg" that was lost en route from Cayenne, South America to Kingston on 16th September 1767. Its new home is a sunken wreck, the Sea Witch, beneath the Atlantic Sea. Intriguingly, you are invited to investigate all the elements of this last voyage then finance a one man mission to get your greasy hands on its secrets.

As in Shards' Pettigrew's Diary, you are presented with a self-described epic adventure written in BASIC which loads in a number of parts; in Mystery Of The Java Star, this is four. "Epic" connotates in both that locations in separate countries must be traversed to complete them and the Elk versions are all fully compatible with the rest of the 32K BBC series.

If you were around schools in the mid-Eighties, you'll remember a variety of BBC only Mode 7 'adventure' games constructed in such a way as to be educational (eg. Little Red Riding Hood, Magic Garden, Wagons West) which loaded from 5.25" disk(s) - which only one teacher knew how to SHIFT-BREAK up! All such games usually had factors in common: The BREAK and ESCAPE keys were well protected so hands unaccustomed to the keyboard didn't ruin a session tapping them, games were simple and had all instructions on screen, lots of use was made of colour and sound and it was not possible to 'die' but only to fail by not noting or remembering info from one part of the game in a subsequent part.

Generally, this meant these games were intended for a young audience equipped with official photocopied log-books, or at the least a paper and pen. The relevance of all this history is that Mystery Of The Java Star is somewhat of a game of this age but set in Modes 1 and 5 instead of 7. You must equip yourself with a notebook and biro and be prepared to complete a series of puzzles before progressing on the search.

Earlier, the word adventure was used to describe this but it has none of the traditional elements (Unlike Pettigrew's Diary where section two needed commands like NORTH, EAST, etc). You progress from location to location via reassembling graphical maps, answering questions correctly, buying an aeroplane ticket and choosing to cruise around the map's island. It all takes time; typically on tape over two hours. Half this with disc.

Put Together This Map To Begin The Adventure Although this all sounds complicated, it isn't because in all of the first three parts of Mystery Of The Java Star, the player is prevented from making any henious mistakes by the program itself. In Bristol, which is where you discover the map indicating where the Sea Witch floundered - although what it's doing there is anybody's guess - you must simply piece it together to move onto London (and you can see the solution by pressing H).

In London, the nicest part of the game, you can visit many places of historial interest and, as well as discovering a lot about the weather and course of the ill-fated craft to transscribe, visit places such as the Old Bailey, the Stock Exchange and Buckingham Palace. After a set number of excursions, you need to gain a high grade on a quiz and buy a ticket to Jamaica to proceed.

A map of South America begins part three, presenting one relevant and many irrelevant locations where you can begin to search. The correct co-ordinates are obvious if you've studied the earlier parts and "that seems like a good place" confirms them when entered. Unfortunately, trying elsewhere isn't accepted and the map remains until said grid coords are entered so, although the map detail is accurate and nicely drawn, it is otherwise a pointless scene.

Fortunately, the bulk of the scene involves selecting an island to investigate. The screen shows four at a time, tilted through 90 degrees to make comparison with the map more difficult. The instructions for this part are meagre and it is not nearly as hard as it at first seems. First, you need an isle with both a town and lake so discount any without. Then survey any island looking vaguely like the map by pressing F.

I spent ages surveying different islands and discrediting any that even had one discrepancy such as "The bays are not opposite" fearing landing there would waste funds. Eventually I decided enough was enough and replied Y to the "Land?" prompt only to find that as there were less than seven faults, I had probably chosen the correct one, and, when the island loaded, it was suddenly identical to the map!

However, just when you're thinking Mystery Of The Java Star must be ridiculously easy, you come to the search of the island which is simultaneously very difficult and mindnumbingly snoozeworthy. The movement routine from Pettigrew's Diary (that everyone hoped never to see again) is back! The area around the island is huge and moving the boat through it takes far, far too long pixel by pixel. Now with a confusing map and yrds scale to complicate the search further, selecting a location is pure guesswork and after a few unsuccessful dives, which again take too long, all your dosh will disappear. The tape version is bugged here too and locks up without displaying your score due to a combination of a CHAIN" " command and ON ERROR RUN statement.

Make the wreck and the added factor of a time limit and stupid controls worsen the affair still! Only with a lot of patience, and repeated dives is it possible to get the ruby and gold out. More players will tire of the slow movement long before they even find them.

Mystery Of The Java Star is a very early game, released in 1984, and is one on its own with an idea that is quite sound. Indeed, elementary mistakes like not clearing the keyboard buffer properly can be forgiven compared with its inventive and experimental content. It's also clever that a player's finances are limited, and shopping around in London can both deplete and increase them. But counter-balancing this are some irritating touches like the map which changes depending on the screen Mode - and senseless repetition of the "We Are Sailing" music in each part.

Were part four not so out of sync, slow, bugged and boring, this would be a viable educational title with which children (as it does protect the BREAK key) and adults could while away an hour or two. Its score breakdown on the disk version also makes for an interesting read. But, ruined by part four, it still falls into the same league as Pettigrew's Diary. Hence, it is not recommended and will probably very rarely be completed.