It's been quite a while since the last adventure based around the goings on at a Microfair, and this offering fills the gap quite nicely. It was written by Gareth Pitchford, programmed by The Spud, and this is a review of the 128K version...
Whilst waiting for the game to load you can gaze in awe at the game's central character (presumably) and a rather large green dragon who has his paws draped over a treasure chest. The game itself takes place at the marvellous Sir Clive Exhibition Hall and the occasion is a rather special one... it's the 100th Personal Computer Whirled Microfair! Only one small thing stops you enjoying the occasion, you've turned up without bringing your prized entrance ticket. The first three game locations will see that situation swiftly remedied, and you'll soon find yourself breezing past the hostile security guard who certainly wouldn't have let you in without one.
Inside the hall it's a veritable world of wonders. Feel free to wander around for a bit and take in the sights. Progress past the first 12 or so locations is made impossible by the presence of a locked door in one direction, a dragon in another and a rather peculiar crate with a door in it which resides near some of the main Microfair stalls. As usual, all the best stalls selling all the best goodies are concentrated in one small area. There's Delbert The Hamster's stall, a Zenobi lookalike counter stands nearby (complete with fearsome, money-grabbing, whip-brandishing Balrog), and then there's the rather splendid Your Sinclair Adventures stall, complete with a rather shady character with his suitcase packed, waiting to leave on a holiday. The sign above the stall reads: YS Adventures, Under New Management!
The early problems you encounter in Part One are, quite sensibly, simple to overcome. So it won't be too long before you're making steady progress. The only thing that had me reaching for the help-sheet, oh the shame of it, was that pesky dragon. The answer turned out to be simple, but I failed to make the connection between certain objects and the location of the dragon. I'd certainly advise you to try to take as much notice of locations, their contents, objects, character's fixtures and furnishings as you possibly can.
Beyond the dragon and the locked door, the game starts to open out. The problems may not come thick and fast, but there's certainly plenty to think about. The game scores high for originality and is also, on the whole, friendly enough to allow you to make a few attempts at finding the right words to do certain things without having to be spot on with your inputs. Likewise there's a rather noticeable lack of sudden deaths. Fortunately there's not too many places where you meet a sticky end, and the ones that are there are generally very well sign-posted. You know if you make a boo-boo you'll be paying for it!
Anyway, back in the main hall things are buzzing along quite nicely. You can make a few purchases (and pinch the odd object too) and use these newly acquired items to gain access to other areas of the Microfair. The main problems to solve tend to be of the 'Get Objects X and Y', 'Manipulate X and Y to create Z' and 'Use Z' to overcome a problem that X and Y couldn't deal with on their own variety! There are several mini-adventures within the game and this has allowed the author to cram in some different and amusing sub-games to keep you on your toes. One of these gamettes consists of buying a disk, (from the Balrog) and using it on a computer to play The Crazy Caravan Caper adventure! Be warned that these sub-games offer the toughest challenges throughout the game. Once again I found myself reaching for the old help-sheet in order to complete the first mini-adventure. It wasn't particularly hard, it just had a rather severe time limit, so I just used the help-sheet to find the best and quickest way of doing things. Honest.
What would a Microfair be without its full compliment of performing fools and wacky characters? Well they're all here, from the annoying 'Goons' who wander round being, er, annoying, to the 'Steel Band' who don't need to wander around to be annoying! Later in the game you'll see that this is certainly no ordinary venue, for cutting its way though one part of the building is a river. This really needs to be crossed, and can indeed be overcome if you use a somewhat musical solution in a traditional way. (The most inventive method of crossing a river I've seen in a while.) The trick is to combine one third lateral thinking, one third object manipulation/examination and one third common sense. Those proportions, when properly mixed, usually result in a good game. Microfair Madness is no exception to that rule. There's more than enough to see and do on your travels, plenty of unusual objects to work out how (and where) to use, and a nice line in understated humour that bubbles around the surface of the game without getting in the way. Despite being a 128K two-parter, it's not especially huge on the surface. However, the little extra touches that have been worked into it, and the way you have to back-track every now and then, make it seem rather larger. The 48K version is, I'm assured, pretty much similar to this one, and is only missing some problems, text and locations.
A password is needed to access Part Two of the game (gained at the end of Part One) and it features more of the same type of thing found in the first bit, though things are definitely a shade tougher all round. Keep your eyes open for plenty more trade stalls, and characters with familiar sounding names.
I liked Delbert The Hamster's first release, Desmond And Gertrude, and Microfair Madness is an altogether better adventure, more polished, more inventive and it even manages to be funny when it tries to be. (A rare thing indeed!) It's a challenging game for the inexperienced adventurer, and should even give the hardened pros a bit of a run for their money.
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