He's back! And this time it's personal. Or a domestic issue to be more precise. Egghead is home again after his recent exploits in space, but he doesn't have time to rest. His girlfriend Shelley is coming over for dinner in three hours, and Mr. Head needs to cook a slap up meal pronto. A quick visit to his friendly oven shows him the ingredients he needs, but old Eggy doesn't keep his foodstuffs in the kitchen like everyone else. In fact, they're scattered all over the house and surrounding areas for him to find. Some of the items Egghead will come across are not for cooking, but will aid him in reaching the deeper recesses of his maison. He can carry up to three items, but the ingredients can only be cooked in the kitchen one by one. If only he had tidied up after that house warming party last week...
What Egghead IV (subtitled "Egghead Entertains") amounts to is a flick screen platformer in the style of Jet Set Willy that has the collect-and-drop gameplay of Knight Lore bolted on top. On first playing you are drawn to the unusual animation of the Egghead sprite. He waddles from side to side, just like a real cartoon character. His jumping ability is natural and smooth, with a neat facility to change direction mid-flight. He may have short legs and arms, but he moves through the air like Wayne Sleep. The other sprites in the game are also well animated, and the collision detection between them and Egghead is pixel perfect. The varied and detailed locations include mineshafts, an excellent Burgertime pastiche and a graveyard with dubious (C64?) headstone inscriptions. All have plenty of colour, but attribute clash with the Egghead sprite is minimal. Special note must go to the neat masking effects throughout the game that on one screen allow Egghead's yellow bonce to walk behind red and white roadworks banners without any bleed whatsoever. Many of the platforms in these locations require subtle movements and jumps that are hard but never unfair. The simple, logical puzzles are great fun too. The more you search for items to open new rooms, the more Egghead IV's addictiveness really kicks in. Before you know it, you'll find yourself hooked by one of the best 8-bit homebrew releases of the decade.
It's not quite perfect, though. First of all, Egghead IV won't win any awards for originality, as a few of the screens have the familiarity of a half-remembered pop hit. One example, the "Canal Lock Gates" screen, is also a ponderous and graphically weak affair - the only misstep in the game. There's no scoring system either, which makes it difficult to measure your progress against previous attempts. I would also question the suitability of the AY tune by Yerzmyey. It's good, but it's also a furious cacophony of noise that's too intense as a backdrop for the more thoughtful gameplay of Egghead IV. And apart from the music, there's no sound at all, forcing 48K purists into playing a silent movie.
For a program as intricate as Egghead IV however, these criticisms are small, especially when compared to the games it was inspired by. Take Wanted: Monty Mole, for example, where you can be permanently trapped behind a wall near the beginning of the game. Or the budget hit Booty, where creatures randomly appear to kill you without giving you a chance to escape. Egghead IV pulls off the rare feat of capturing much of the atmosphere and excitement of these classics whilst avoiding their pitfalls.
So where does Egghead IV fit in amongst its influences? Well, quite near the top, actually; technically I'd put it way above everything else in the Jet Set Willy era (1984-85), including Jet Set Willy itself. But is it a better game? Well, no, I don't think so. For all the polish of the sprites, Egghead IV's psychotic televisions and rotating stars don't have the same impact as the pirouetting rabbits and gargoyle heads of Matthew Smith's masterpiece. Jet Set Willy's sprites didn't just look good - they reflected the human condition. They reminded you of people you hated and feared. The way Miner Willy sidestepped them without intent on revenge seemed to be a lesson for us all - a crash course in life filtered through a strange, drug-filled haze. Egghead IV is good, but not that good.
Comparing Jonathan Cauldwell to one of the best sprite designers ever is a little harsh though. In short, Egghead IV is a brilliant platform game that stands shoulder to shoulder with anything in the history of the Spectrum. Quite frankly, it should not be available free of charge on the internet. It's far too good for that. Download it now before Cauldwell comes to his senses and removes it. Addictive, engrossing and near flawlessly executed, Egghead IV does what it says on the cover: it 'Entertains'... and then some.