Oldschool Gaming - reviewing new games on classic computers
Main review :: written by Shaun B. 

Like many reading this text, I was a child of Margaret Thatcher's 1980s, and my school was kitted out with BBC Micros, which were still in use until the early 90s when my High School had a new PC suite fitted. I think that they were all 386 machines, with a couple of Apples thrown in for good measure. But the endearing memory will always be the clunky-looking BBC micros; the machine the posh kids owned because their parents believed that it was a good idea for their children to have the same computer as the one in the classroom. As I was one of the few proud owners of a Commodore 64, one impression of the old Beeb that I had was that all of the software was basically rubbish and very uncool. Why? Because the sole purpose of the "games" on those floppy disks was to make me learn, something that I wasn't too keen on, as games should test your reactions and allow you to obliterate alien invaders and such like.

Now, if only games for that old BBC made you learn without realising it... like in Jonathan Cauldwell's Loco Bingo? You see, this game is more than just a simple 2D platform affair, as not only does it involve playing Bingo, something which would ordinarily get your grandmother excited, but quick mental arithmetic needs to be deployed whilst playing too. If that doesn't make much sense, and lets face it, this won't be the first time a Cauldwell game might confound its would-be player, let me explain further. Loco Bingo deals with a near future discovery of an unknown type of metal, called Sinclairium-256, found in a disused Venezuelan chocolate mine, of course. After much testing, this metallic substance is sought after by many train operating companies because it is strong, durable and cheap to produce. However, it's not long before problems are found with Sinclairium-256 - after a while it becomes tremendously and cataclysmicly unstable with a tendency to explode in left untouched. With this knowledge, the train companies auction their Sinclairium-based rolling stock off to the highest bidder - an online bingo company.

BLOW YOUR WHISTLE
In the auction was Chug Horncastle, an experimental self-aware Sinclairium-256 driverless locomotive, and his new owners put him to use on their satellite television channel. You play Chug in a new form of big-cash Bingo the company are trying to push onto the nation in order to compete with the big Lotto draw. With the other trucks numbered from one to ninety, the task in hand is to shunt them around each level to the specified point at the bottom of the screen. The corresponding numbers on the side of these trucks are then called in a giant interactive bingo game, and your card is shown on the top of the screen - put simply, you must get the numbers on the cart to match your card if you can. Matching an incorrect number will deduct 10 seconds from your time of five minutes, whilst clearing all of the numbers on the card will see you progress to the next level. Simple, isn't it?

Well, no it isn't. Whilst earlier levels may lull you into a false sense of security once you've learned the best way to shunt the rail trucks about, from "The Shunting Yard" onwards, things get a little difficult, then for a few levels a bit easier, and then difficult again. The further you progress, the more numbers you will need to match. Your winnings are shown on the top left-hand corner of the screen, and fast thinking needs to be deployed throughout. For instance, if two trucks are pushed together that total less than 90, they are added together to make a new, single cart. If they total more than 90, the two numbers are subtracted (naturally, the lowest number is taken away from the highest) except when the two numbers are equal to each other, in which case a random number is generated. This adds an element of luck to the proceedings, if you require 71 to progress to the next level and have little time left, dare you chance pushing together the two carts numbered 56? Or, will you wait in hope that number 71 will drop from the top of the screen?

Loco Bingo plays extremely well. The sound effects are simple and sparse, and there's sixteen whole levels to get through. Whilst there are some minor issues regarding the order in which the levels are set, this generally doesn't distract from what is a very good release. And it really did get my grey matter working enough to notice. Forgetting to carry the "one" is something that I did more times than I should admit, and it's certainly a whole lot more fun than sitting in a Bingo hall full of blue rinses and chattering dentures. So, Cauldwell has given Speccy fans the world's first "action Bingo" game that'll pass as an "Edutainment" software release that actually entertains too. Another world's first, methinks. A thoroughly recommended release.

Second opinion :: written by Jason 

Train spotters, eh... they're an unusual bunch, after all who in their right mind would sit around worrying about the numbers on the sides of trains? Well, if the predicted future in this offering from the prolific Mr. Cauldwell is to be believed, in the not so distant future those train numbers could possibly hold the key to a fortune - in fact, it could be yours because these future trains, constructed from incredibly volatile materials and in some cases semi-sentient, are going to become bingo callers. Yes, our story follows the star of this next generation of "reality" television, an artificially intelligent locomotive called Chug Horncastle (who, it must be said, sounds like he should be the lead in a movie imported from Amsterdam rather than a train) whose job it is to shunt trucks around and ultimately drop them out of the screen to choose numbers for the viewing public to be excited over. And lets face it, as daft as that idea sounds to us now we'd all have said something similar about Big Brother twenty years ago so it's not beyond the realms of possibility...

So what we have to look at is the hero of our story Chug, a rather cute little steam locomotive who bears more than a passing resemblance to a tank engine and even makes a sweet little whistling sound when he jumps (which is slightly odd behaviour for a train it has to be said, although this is a special case) and some equally nicely-defined trucks, each with their number clearly printed on their sides. These inhabit some reasonably simple but effective backgrounds on each level with some nice details such as the shadows below the platforms that Chug and the trucks perch on and so far everything sounds good. But there is a problem as well, the difficulty level in Loco Bingo starts off at "hard" and goes upwards like the proverbial ferret when confronted with a drainpipe.

Keeping the route to the exit open on the more complex levels is sometimes the most difficult challenge of the game, especially by the third level where it's very easy to block off not only the exit but another part of the screen that the player needs to traverse in order to shunt trucks into that exit; if that happens, the player is left idling, sometimes with trucks that could be dropped out and onto the card, waiting for a truck to spontaneously combust when it becomes unstable in order to continue but actually waiting for that detonation wastes quite a bit of precious time. Similarly, trucks drop into the play area randomly and it's not uncommon to find them landing near to walls or other places where, since there isn't enough room for Chug to get behind them, they can't be moved from. That dropping in itself can also be frustrating occasionally, especially when you spot a newly-arrived truck with one of the numbers you're waiting for either for your card or to combine with another onscreen, only to have a second truck drop onto it and change it to something useless before you can begin to marshall it around.

Frustration is quite a large part of the name of the game here and that's a shame because Loco Bingo is a great bit of very creative design on Jonathan Cauldwell's part and well up to his usual standards of execution (although the sparse spot sound and lack of in-game music are somewhat lamentable) its just that it can be sometimes incredibly hard to get anywhere and quite often it will be sheer luck rather than the player's judgement that makes completing a level possible. Despite this, Loco Bingo does come highly recommended but only to those who like their games closer to the challenging end of the scale and, preferably, don't mind using their brains more than would normally be the case with a platformer.

Information

LOCO BINGO

Format Sinclair Spectrum
Developer Jonathan Cauldwell
Publisher Cronosoft
Released 2005
Price £2.99 (excl. P&P)
Review Shaun B. and Jason
Screenshots
Loading Screen
Loading Screen
In-game Screen
In-game Screen
Scores
Graphics
Sound
Playability
Lastability
7
3
8
8
   Overall 8
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