THE WRIGGLER

Personal Computer News Star Game
STAR GAME

The Wriggler is the first game from Romantic Robot - now there's a name to conjure with. Programmed by Devonshire House, it's one of the best games for any machine I've seen for a long time.

You control a maggot hoping to win the Annual Maggot Marathon. An unlikely scenario, but don't let that put you off. These programmers really know their code, and even better, they know the Spectrum inside out. The first hint is the loading screen - the picture loads from the bottom up.

You can't define the keys, but there's a fairly wide range of choices, and joysticks are supported. At kick-off there are four white wrigglers, so it's a bit hard to know which one you are. But, move up and down a bit and it becomes obvious. The wriggler's movement is a treat; like inchworms they contract and expand as they move along. Come up against a wall and you have to tack your way left and right as you wriggle up or down.

Initial strategy is follow-the-leader. You're in The Garden - basically a maze of brick walls, fences, hedges, etc. Patrolling the corridors are black ants, lovingly portrayed with nodding heads and padding feet. Avoid these like the plague because they sap your energy. However, as they march back and forth on set paths, they don't pose too much of a problem.

The detail on the giant spiders is excellent. Their long white legs bend and stretch, but one touch is fatal.

There are more than a few types of garden pests: white ants and large-headed snakes (among others) appear in awkward places. Worse, some latch on to your trail and shaking them off is well nigh impossible.

Losing one of your three lives brings out yet another aspect of the program's excellence. Your wriggler loses flesh, leaving a skeleton which is mirrored in the display at the top of the screen. There's also a score there, but the system is a bit obscure and I haven't yet sussed it out.

Once out of the garden you find yourself in The Scrubland, where you can relax a little and restore your energy (shown at the top by a multicoloured bar meter) by passing over items and pressing what passes for 'fire' in this non-aggressive game.

You'll probably discover that some items don't replenish your strength - they're collected for future use.

Then it's out of The Scrubland into The Underground where you're surrounded by red earth in which white skulls are embedded. Fall down vertical shafts and you'll encounter stranger beasts.

Survive this and it's The Mansion, as yet beyond my powers. Apparently this is an intricate web of corridors around a bottomless shaft. You'll need to find the lift and the right keys to the doors, one of which leads to the surface of the planet.

The game is crazy; the graphics are a delight; and although the sound's limited, you won't notice because the game's so absorbing. The theme's original, unusual, and it's non-violent. But don't be fooled - The Wriggler is addictive.

Romantic Robot doesn't have the marketing clout of the big boys like Ultimate or Ocean, so you may not see The Wriggler in your local shop. But if you've any sense you'll order your copy now.