Now what the Dickens is this? An adventure based, on A Christmas Carol, that's what, released with impeccable timing (ahem) by the ever-reliable Jack Lockerby. But is it a Christmas cracker? Well, it ain't bad, even though I don't quite relish playing the part of Scrooge, being, as it is, the exact opposite of my generous self. Who said "Bah, humbug"?!
I said it, that's who, and I said it in response to the miserly packaging that comes with this game. I mean, you don't expect glossy colour posters, but you should get a little more than a playing guide that's only 13 lines long. It gives only one useful command, TALK TO SHOPKEEPER, and doesn't even have loading instructions. Suppose you're a newcomer to computers and adventures? It's bad enough when games say "Accepts the usual adventure commands", but I'm always getting mail-bags of letters from players asking how they're supposed to know what these commands are when they've never played an adventure before. So come on, Indies, pull your fingers out - photocopied playing instructions and commands only cost a few pence.
Frustratingly, The Miser is probably best suited to novice adventurers, as many of the problems in it are relatively straightforward. It's not that the experts won't like it as well, as it's very enjoyable to play. The author's to be congratulated for producing an entertaining game from a book that it wouldn't have occurred to me to use for inspiration. Reading the book won't help you much, it's the characters and Christmas spirit that The Miser calls upon. You play Scrooge and have to complete 12 good deeds before the end of the game, and then go to your nephew's house and claim your reward. You're even told what the 12 deeds are, such as feeding some hungry orphans, finding coal for an old lady, getting a dog for Tiny Tim, a turkey for Bob Cratchit's wife, and so on. I thought the Cratchits were meant to be 'umble and poor, good folks and all that, but they've all the bustlety of a money-grabbing bunch of yuppies when you visit them! Tiny Tim wants this dog, Martha wants a book, Peter wants a job, Belinda wants a fiddle... good grief, a clip round the ear's what they want, though that wouldn't make for much of an adventure I suppose. You discover all this if you SLEEP at the start of the game, when skeletal hands grab you and take you out into the Christmas streets and force you to visit the greedy Cratehits.
Back in real life, there's a whole townful of places to explore, including taverns and tobacconists, butchers and churches. There's also a neat time-travel idea that allows you to go off 'exploring' with the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Future. At one end of the street there's an exit that takes you FORWARD in time, while at the other end you can go BACK to your childhood and see yourself growing up. The FUTURE option shows you the outside of Bob Cratchit's house, with a wreath nailed to the front door. Oh dear. Better get back to the present and sort out the probs.
Feeding the orphans isn't too hard, provided you can get past the headmaster (ex-Dotheboys Hall) who blocks the front door. Maybe his beery nose and bloodshot eyes are a clue. There's also a dog behind him. Just the thing for Tiny Tim, I thought, but as soon as I got in the dog got out, the wretched hound.
Further along I found a bump in the road or as Inspector Clouseau might say, a bermp. It doesn't do anything, just seems to sit there looking... well, bumpy. I found a few bugs as well as bumps, one being that when you unlock your front door you're given a message about junk, which in fact should only come up when you're in the junk yard. It also seemed a bit odd that when I examined the roses round a cottage door I was told that I'd pulled out a spade! What? Must have been a pretty big rose bush! Never mind, a spade comes in very handy for digging, and I remembered a place where that might be possible. I found me a bone. Easy, I thought, now let me get to that locked gate with the growling, slavering beast of a dog behind it and give it the bone and I'll get past it and... botheration, the dog won't take it. Drat and triple drat, the author saw me coming.
That makes two dogs in the game, which is appropriate as it's been written using PAWS (boom-boom). Jack Lockerby knows his way round this utility, apart from the few hiccups which are probably all now corrected. The screen layout's clean, with a location description at the top and scrolling messages and responses underneath. No graphics, no surprises, but a good solid adventure from our mutual friend, Jack Lockerby. If you're facing hard times in a bleak house then buy The Miser, and as long as you don't have great expectations you won't be disappointed.
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