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Postman Pat

Part 1 of the Alternative Comedy series.

Alternative Software have a poor reputation. Ask anyone old enough to remember, and they’ll probably tell you that Alternative spent most of the late 8-bit era selling tatty home computer games based on popular children’s televisions shows.

The truth is more complex, occasional gems amongst the tat suggesting an indiference to quality. For now though, here's a trio that fell somewhere between complete rip-offs and bargains at £2.99, or about £7 today.

Here's Postman Pat, acceptably rendered on a lightly customised loader. However, this also foreshadows the movie where he was replaced by an army of robotic clones. Scalding hot tea, held by the base of the mug, is processed with a fixed grin. Jess looks suitably terrified.

The title screen feature a fair attempt at the television theme, though with increased tempo and incessant pulsing that make it a bit Giorgio Moroder. Miss Hubbard is unrecognisable as she cycles to the Coneheads convention, but it's mostly a good balance of colour and detail. The game is more garish, packed with tiny details that disappear against busy backgrounds.

Postman Pat is a step above tat simply for letting you drive his van around. This can be driven in four directions, and it's easy to tweak lane position with a brief tap. Hard mode introduces puddles and an occasional cyclist, both simple to avoid, but also makes the van ridiculously fragile. Stick with Easy, unless you enjoy repeatedly failing three point turns.

So, driving around takes minutes to master, which is fine. The show was about Pat delivering mail and dealing with minor rural incidents, rather than learning clutch control. However, contrary to his theme song, Pat does not pick up all the postbags just as day is dawning. Instead, he is initially directed from delivery to delivery by an unseen narrator, and some eerily omniscient residents. When he is eventually trusted with several letters, their destinations are hidden, so there's never any scope for planning.

This lack of logistics can't be a deliberate decision to keep the game simple, because it also requires players to map Greendale by themselves. The only way to find each destination is by driving slowly around until you reach them by chance. There are a few landmarks, but not enough to navigate the maze of roads from memory alone.

It would have been far more fun with a mini-map and whole sack of mail, so that the challenge was to plan an efficient route rather than cartography. Players with enough patience and persistence to find the hidden destinations could easily handle route planning.

Your visual reward for successful deliveries is locations designed with little regard for colour clash. Miss Hubbard appears to be held prisoner by a realm of conflicting perspective. The graphics reek of hasty conversion from the Amstrad. Even a plain black road would have provided some welcome contrast in the busy mess.

Delivering letters is sedate Paperboy minus vandalism. The player must drive around a few screens of cottages, until chancing upon flashing doorways, then hurl letters from the van in their general direction. A miss means that Pat must emerge to collect them on foot, then return to the van for another attempt. This is needless hassle, as it would clearly be quicker to stop and deliver them by hand, but does look amusingly like the original Grand Theft Auto.

There are also escaped sheep, who teleport about coloured noise that is meant to signify flower beds. The ideas are there, with semi-recognisable characters from the show dumping an adequate variety of errands on Pat, but the execution is lacking.

So, the conclusion would appear to be that this was a borderline acceptable way to keep kids quiet in the days when CBBC didn't have it's own channel, and even video recorders were a luxury. It could have been any old guff for viewers too young to read reviews, but at least feels vaguely like the show.

Except, if you attempt to play Postman Pat to completion, something more sinister emerges. Greendale is essentially deserted, with only one stray cyclist to suggest that other people go about their daily business. Much of the convoluted road network serves no purpose, except to delay you from the horrifying realisation.

There is no escape from Greendale. Completing your round only leads to more work, without pause for celebration. Pat is a prisoner, serving demands which can never be satisfied. Despite the lack of overt psychological horror hallmarks, you may begin to wonder about the past which brought him here.

Part 2 of the series.

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Published 23-04-2018.