Product: Uggie's Garden
Publisher: Superior PD
Compatibility: BBC/Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #57

In a two-dimenstional maze-like orchard of apples, plants and trees, it's finally time to meet Uggie and Bill, the two stars of Uggie's Garden. It's been a long time coming for all - including author Ian Webster. Originally a Superior/Acornsoft release, the game's been passed to and from ProAction, appeared on the Stairway To Hell website under the "unreleased" category and spent nearly eight years in 8bit limbo! Surprising for a game which may claim it succeeds the Repton series.

Fans of the little green reptile may not be paying attention yet as numerous clones have claimed such succession (Clogger, Survivors and Miner being just three!) but imagine this: two players both with their own windows, each with their own "Repton" sprite but both situated in the same playing area!

The idea is certainly unique and intriguing. All sorts of possibilities occur. How much more difficult would clearing a map of diamonds be when, not only are many of them supporting rocks (rather precariously) but you must also reckon on the unpredictable keypresses of your friend? Imagine your friend turns nasty and clears earth from beneath a number of rocks above you, sending them hurtling down onto your head! And if you yourself are puzzling over how to navigate through a maze of them but know your friend is underneath you, do you risk killing him by taking the last diamond?

Uggie's Garden says, providing we can get hold of one Electron/BBC and one friend, we can stop dreaming and try it! In this two player only game, players control cute little creatures with big heads and eyes who must clear bizarre and, at times, extremely deadly, screens of apples (the substitute for the diamonds, natch!). The two sprites are each very different and distinguished quite easily: apart from the different design, Uggie is green and Bill is red.

The main game screen is divided horizontally into two windows, each showing a small percentage of the game maze-like area. As each player moves left, right, up or down, the window scrolls by a block in the chosen direction, keeping the wily character centre-screen. Each window scrolls completely independently of the other and not uncommonly, Uggie will see Bill moving around in his own (Uggie's) window while, at the same time, Uggie appears briefly in Bill's.

The idea of Uggie's Garden, as with the Repton series, is not to get crushed by falling rocks, not to collide with the monsters (or monster, there is only one in Uggie's Garden) and to free hidden treasures (more apples!) from safes. There are some stark differences between the game formats though. For example, the monster does not hatch from an egg but lives in the orchard with the two players, usually pretty quietly. That is, unless Uggie or Bill eat a pill of the opposite colour to themselves whereupon it dashes off after the player of that colour! He similarly is invincible and cannot be crushed with boulders.

The safes/key idea, where a key is collected and all safes then open, is implemented through trees/axe. But there are also keys lying around the maze that a player may use to open doors. One key vanishes for each door the player walks through; brainstraining is mandatory on many higher screens where numbers of doors outnumber the keys fitting them!

Yet another feature is the invisible exit. Or rather, the piece of wall that can actually be passed through horizontally to get out of a seemingly impossible situation. Green shaking plants (that disappear if the spray is collected) and deadly mushrooms also litter the map so tread carefully!

The literature with the ProAction Uggie's Garden release assumes the player will work all this out by either trial and error or by remembering it from the disk version's on-screen instructions, and both make a big play of warning "beware of your friend" re the kind of situations envisaged at the beginning of this review. Yet players will find quickly that many of the game's puzzle elements require two players, so getting rid of Uggie/Bill to "pinch all the apples" is not in the best interests of either! Ignore their advice and progress via teamwork.

The game does play reasonably well. The tape version is multi-load, loading in one screen at a time (probably because of the extra memory required for the two windows' machine code routines) and a password facility is incorporated so screens completed can be skipped. Although each screen only takes a few seconds to load in, an annoyance is that the present screen is not preserved in memory when you die. So if you are playing Screen 1, quit and then press SPACE to begin it again, you have to rewind the tape a bit and reload it.

Also the monster, mentioned earlier, is very unpredictable; sometimes remaining completely dormant (even after you've 'set it' on the other character) for hours and then, just as you've decided it's dead, going on a murderous rampage at the speed of light! When it impacts, and the character dies with a zzzziiipppp, it returns to its dormant state and frequently then sits unmoving again, barring the way to a vital passageway - even when live bait is paraded under its nose!

The game contains twenty screens of increasing difficulty but where it really delights is through its editor. Why, oh why, didn't ProAction see fit to document how to use this Editor package?! My request for the User Guide (which should've been sent as part of the package) was met with a PDF file containing gems like "our master instructions do not describe how to return to the menu from here. We'd be very interested to find out."

Fortunately, after a few weeks' fiddling and note-taking, we have figured out every last function and can supply a much-needed Guide of our own. With such, the editor becomes a sinch to use and allows almost every element of the game to be redefined. You can draw your own sprites and screens - and even your own editor screen icons! - and create whatever scenarios take your fancy! You can go even further, defining how many screens are contained within your new game (before the congrats message), their passwords and the default colours. All this is done from one utility called from the equally superb Loading Screen.

Despite the few faults highlighted, Uggie's Garden has much to recommend it, not least of which being Superior's seal of approval. It takes a very clever twist on the Repton theme and injects it with some new ideas and an incredible suite of editing facilities. And did I mention the cute characters who wave "Game Over"...?