Product: Pettigrew's Diary
Publisher: Shards
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #50

It's hard to know where to begin a review of Pettigrew's Diary because it's one of those games that doesn't really seem to know exactly what it is.

However, something it isn't is very good. Even the topical European dimensions it frolics with cannot excuse the fact it's rubbish. Apart from a nice loading screen of a small, wire-frame farmhouse and packaging lending it a certain mysterious air, this product goes wrong from the very start. With no background information, badly spelled and clumsily placed Mode 5 text informs you the farmhouse is on fire.

A well-meaning string of notes that doesn't quite pull off its disguise of melody irritates your senses for a good twenty seconds after you've finished reading it before a birds' eye view of said farmhouse is then presented.

You are placed bottom right in monochrome with a square head, outstretched zombie-arms and a lumbering motion that would outstage Mr Frankenstein's creation! The terrifying (not!) fire threatening your life globs about randomly upstage, bearing an uncanny resemblance to raspberry jam being smeared across your monitor.

As it obliterates green wire-frame squares and you push down the cursor keys to begin your investigatory quest for whatever it is you're supposed to be looking for, the 'heart sinks through the shoes'. For your little man hasn't even been endowed with an arcady "Oh no - the farmhouse is on fire! Better move fast!" attitude; if there were to be an award for slowest movement in a game, no piece of software would have anything on this pixel-by-pixel snooze...

After waiting a good few minutes for the man to reach the top left of the farmhouse, you discover a man dying (in time to the 'Jaws' theme music - the fire very obligingly stopping in its tracks while it plays!) who, in true B-movie style, manages to gasp out "My diary, it's in the che - urk!" before passing away to a much better game. The diary's location changes each time but if it's not in the downstairs chest then you've basically had it because it will take you so long to reach it on the first floor that the fire will block your way out again!

With a lot of luck, you will obtain the diary and be ordered to go to London. As it seems you are playing none other than yourself, the big question that remains is why you'd bother - especially when the London of Pettigrew's Diary seems only to be home to unhelpful hoteliers and huge lorries intent on mowing you down!

The input routine also leaves a lot to be desired with scrolling descriptions beginning centre-screen so the first words disappear in nanoseconds, a longish wait before the question mark appears and then an annoying buzz each time you tap a key! There's also a serious bug in the very first location where, should you not type GO EAST first time, you will be stuck there forever! Battle your way through or LIST the program and discover the codeword for part three and you're off to Paris, where your first task is to talk a suicidal Pierre Dupont down from the Eiffel Tower using the most verbose and vomit-inducing language you've ever had the misfortune to read.

Cheesy stereotypical French and German music chimes you into the first two locations but Italy and Israel's musical tastes were obviously beyond Shards' cultural recognition so these locations are silent. Just between the two sets, you are presented with a wonderful little puzzle asking you whether you intend to turn left or turn right and informed that a wrong decision "means certain death!" Very true.

Naturally, you make the wrong decision first time around, whereupon your little user defined man character (who now looks nothing like he did in part one) is struck by lightning and the message "Oh dear...!" informs you of your mistake.

As you float up to heaven, despite this applaudable touch of comedy (and god knows, you need some by this point!), the real isolation of this game kicks in. It wants you to believe you are frolicing in real world locations in the present day - whilst reserving the right to subject you to a very fantastical and whacky death! Most professional adventures know that you just can't mix the two but Shards has not only done so but gone on to add Mastermind-type puzzles, a anagram where the answer is their own name and even a maze so tacky that your man, who is now a dot, can pass through the walls! One gets the impression their team stuck each sub-section together and used the diary idea merely to link them...!

Adding the insane scrolling text, unbelievablely bad clashing colours (yellow text on a cyan background = eye-strain city!) and Mode 5 screens littered with text 'hanging over' from the right of one line to the left of the next, the whole thing looks little more than a chaotic mass of ten-liners glued up with a few password procedures!! It could even have saved some face by being presented well, by allowing you to skip its awful tunes and introductions or by just switching off the flashing cursor when not required! As it stands, it's all mess and no meaning. At the very end [Whoopee! - Ed] you are given a sword and the BASIC instruction 7160 GOTO 7160 means the game simply freezes until you press BREAK. This really does sum up the standard of coding employed!

It can't even claim to be educational as I doubt whether any child competent to bother with it would learn anything they didn't already know...

As noted, it starts badly and doesn't really improve. Released in 1983, it's no classic of its time and is really one of those games you want to keep hidden (or locked!) away for all eternity. At least on the disk version, you don't need to waste even more time waiting for each part to load in!