• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatSinclair Spectrum
DeveloperJonathan Cauldwell
PublisherSpectrum Games Compo
ReviewJason and Gordon

Main review

Why did the frog cross the road? Because it was a slightly contrived video game scenario. Yes, it’s time for a spot of design recycling as Jonanthan Cauldwell takes us for a stroll (or perhaps that should be hop) down memory lane. For the one Mongolian goat herder who has never seen or played Frogger, the idea is very simple in that all you’re required to do is guide the frog from the bottom of the screen to the top. This involves first hopping between the various motor vehicles on a busy motorway, then traversing a river jumping from log to turtle and eventually to lilly pad and home. Then rinse and repeat!

Graphically, whist this is very pretty primitive stuff with the majority of the elements reduced to single characters, what is there is fairly well defined and it’s easy enough to distinguish which bits of the graphics are safe or otherwise to hop onto. The sound is almost a homage to the early 1980s games that probably inspired Phibian, since it’s been boiled down to a series of pops and beeps during play and short but reasonably arranged covers of assorted tunes acting as jingles for various events.


After very little playing, Phibian comes across as an attempt by Cauldwell (who, as regular Oldschool Gaming visitors and fans of new Spectrum games will probably be aware, is a very competent and prolific machine code programmer) to prove that the Spectrum’s BASIC can be used to produce action games and, whilst it does demonstrate that to at least a certain degree, it also appears to be over-stretching things to the point where even Sinclair BASIC, one of the more powerful 8-bit flavours, is struggling to keep all of the balls in the air. The movement of the various objects may only be in eight pixel jumps but there’s still an obvious “wave” effect down the screen as things are re-drawn.

And all that juggling of resources leads to more serious problems, because the sheer amount of time the game’s redraw takes means that the controls are rather variable in their response; occasionally they won’t react quickly enough because there are moments where it’s busily updating the screen and the keyboard is pretty much ignored and this can leave the poor frog stood staring into the headlights of the eighteen wheeler bearing down on it and proving that whilst it’s not easy being green he’s certainly better off that way than being red! Oddly, this doesn’t make Phibian a truly bad game, just one that can be rather frustrating and it’s stil worth giving an hour or two to once in a while just to remember what it was like back in the olde days when “100% Machine Code” was only on a finite number of cassette inlays.

Second opinion

Now this is what I call retro-gaming! Playing this BASIC-programmed Frogger clone for the first time brings you back to the days when adverts proudly proclaimed that their games had “Pure 100% Machine Code” and loading screens had flashing “PLEASE WAIT” banners. Unfortunately, Phibian also brings you back to the days of primitive sprites and ultra-jerky scrolling.

On the plus side, Phibian has lots of colour – the famed attribute limitations of the Spectrum don’t seem to pose any restriction and, while the movement of the traffic and logs is crude, the screen looks impressively busy for a BASIC program. There’s a decent monophonic rendition of the arcade theme upon the start of the game, and it’s nice to see the alligator make his appearance on level two. What lets the game down though is the sluggish control of your frog; sometimes he moves, sometimes he doesn’t and it irritates like hell when you are trying to avoid the cars and the frog doesn’t do what you expect him to at a crucial moment, causing you to lose a life. And it’s this flaw that really damages Phibian‘s long-term appeal, not the simple graphics and sound.

But maybe Phibian is less a game than a technical exercise (Jonathan Cauldwell suggests as much in the instructions). After all, nobody has released a game like this in BASIC for years. In fact the last time I played a game as primitive as this on the Spectrum, Michael Foot was leader of the Labour party. He lacked responsiveness too…