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Sooty & Sweep

Part 2 of the Alternative Comedy series.

What's that, Sooty? Alternative Software have bought the rights to your television show, but don't know what to do with them? Tell them to make a platform game, starring you and your famous legs.

Sooty is tough source material. Capturing the look and feel of his show would challenge even Don Priestley, the daddy of colourful and challenging arcade adventures. So this generic approach is understandable, but dull.

The loader gives a slightly sloppy first impression. The colouring is safely unambitious, and would have worked better against a black background. Though the characters are clear enough, they can now grip objects with one hand. Sooty retains dead eyes but has grown a mouth, to the evident horror of Soo. Matthew no longer controls him, and will be punished.

A sparse title screen features a reasonable rendition of the theme music. There are also a handful of sound effects, which don't slow down the action too much, so about as much as can be expected from the 48K beeper.

Sweep has made a mess, which the puppet trio must clean up before Matthew returns. This requires collecting all the bones spread around the house, though not evicting intruders from the garden. Perhaps Sweep has killed again, and this is the latest cover-up.

You can choose either Sooty or Sweep, who move identically, while Soo sits motionless on every screen, awaiting evidence for disposal. Snails, bees, and spiders stun on contact, but can be stunned themselves with a shot from Sooty's magic wand or Sweep's water pistol. Though rather short and simple, this is pleasantly designed in many respects.

The graphics are characterful and clear. Cute snails and bees look bemused by the situation, while contrasting outlines ensure that the walking puppets stand out against any background. A variety of detailed furniture, economically combined, makes each room distinct. Haphazard scale is a minor trade-off for neat colouring.

This also moves at a consistent rate with no tearing, even on close inspection. The controls are reliably responsive, and the pace as fast as can be expected for a system with minimal graphics hardware. The coding shines in comparison to Postman Pat's flickery van-wobble.

There's a novel approach to receiving damage. Touching a garden beastie while standing still or walking will immediately stun Sooty or Sweep. However, should they be mid-jump, then the stun is buffered until they land. This solves the usual platforming frustration of losing both energy and position for the same mistake.

One problem for longevity, at least on Easy mode, is that there is no energy to worry about. With no puzzles worth mentioning, and only twenty screens, any child capable of controlling a computer game will probably have beaten the ten minute timer by their third go. Dizzy and similar arcade adventures offered far better value, even when abandoned early in frustration.

There is Hard mode, but it has a fatal bug. There are more bones to collect, one of which is unreachably embedded in a wall. Perhaps it belonged to a previous victim. Suspecting a faulty emulator, I checked on real hardware but the bug persisted. Shocking, because it should have taken an experienced tester less than ten minutes to spot the problem.

It's a shame, because aside from several more minor unfair annoyances, Hard mode is a acceptable challenge. Timing shots and picking safe routes becomes important, so getting through requires some thought and practice. Though still over too quickly, it's an appreciably different experience to Easy mode.

Unusually for the time, there is a simultaneous two player option. This runs a bit slower, and both players must leave each screen by the same exit, but the implementation is essentially fine. It seems a bit pointless on Easy, because each screen only has one bone, but there's a few tricky spots where having designated stunners and runners helps.

It is semi-competitive, with custard pies to stun your accomplice. Also, viciously educational: there are no winners in prolonged pie wars. An important lesson, but probably not what parents were expecting, peaceful afternoons shattered by escalating sibling rivalry.

Like Postman Pat, the premise progressively falls apart. Sweep can only refill his water pistol from one specific bottle, not sinks or the toilet. Sooty collects bones, but leaves insects to run rampant over raw chicken. He'll have a ringside view when Matthew gets the runs.

However, it's fun for the duration. Too short, but still sweet when Pat has become a chore. Regarding the Hard mode bug, the only review at the time missed it too. When critics can't be bothered, why should developers?

Part 3 of the series.

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Published 23-04-2018.