Stranded is a 48K Spectrum title which was originally conceived as an idea around the early 80's and actually coded in the late 80's. For reasons unknown it has only recently been released in 2005 thanks to Cronosoft and Bob Smith digging the game off his wafer drive. Upon loading the game from tape (if you are lucky to own an original - for review purposes I'm looking at a tape image in ZX32), you are greeted by a good colourful little loading screen and, within a short space of time, the game is up and running. You are presented with a colourful title screen but unfortunately it comes with a general font face which is a little hard to read. It's a bit quiet too at first, as there is no tune playing, likely due to the fact that Stranded is a 48k Spectrum title and not 128k with extra musical arsenal at its disposal.
The game itself is very similar to a C64 title called Sensitive which was released by Commodore Format magazine on its Powerpack tape in the U.K. (although it wasn't a freely available public domain title as they'd thought, but that's another story). If you haven't played Sensitive, then Bombuzal might be a better distant cousin you can relate to Stranded although very slightly, and minus the bombs! With Stranded the aim of the game is to navigate a cute-eyed, blobby player called "Moosh" across a series of tiles that are destroyed as you walk over them and get to the exit spot in one piece with all tiles destroyed. These tiles are all part of a large bridge which must be demolished to separate your world from someone evil called "Tsych", who wants to obliterate it. You have thirty five levels to get through in order to complete your task.
HERE I AM, STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU
It all starts off simple enough with two fairly simple levels to contend with, but as you progress onto the third level and beyond, the tile patterns become devious with certain tiles dictating the path you will move automatically and others which swap around. Overall you must plot your path carefully to ensure you don't end up at a dead end and fall to your doom without destroying all of the bridge for that level. Oh, and there is a time limit too, so hang around and think by all means before you move - but don't spend too long doing so! One thing which I immediately noted was the difficulty curve suddenly increasing from level three, something which might put some players off a little although there is a good password system which dishes out a code for every five levels you complete. Although it might have been a little better to increase difficulty a little more gradually, it provides a good healthy challenge to the player and makes those thirty five levels seem like a hundred and in general the levels are nicely designed and thought out.
Movement and play within the game is very responsive and smooth, with some nice little presentational touches such as get ready and game over screens. Graphically the game is clean, colourful and functional, but overall is kept quite simple - it's clear what most of the tiles will do when you cross them, though level four's flashing tiles caught me out a bit; I expected them to do something different but in fact they're just standard tiles. Sadly another let down again is the font (a different one used in-game) being a little hard to read. As mentioned earlier, Stranded's sound is also limited with its 48K release, and this is evident more so in the actual game with only a few effects splashed around - what's there is good, but there isn't enough and its a shame that a 128K updated version wasn't made available to spruce things up a bit.
That's the bad bits out of the way - luckily these things can be overlooked and should not distract too much from what is a fun and addictive little game. With those thirty five very challenging levels, this is a game you're not going to complete in a hurry. It is fiendishly addictive, and the useful password system ensures that you will continue to progress through the levels in time, even if they are a bugger to complete at first! It is a shame this never got a full release back in the day, as this would have made a solid budget game and probably earnt Bob a bit of money compared to the niche sales today; however, the main thing is that it's been released and for that we are very grateful (with even C64 and Amstrad ports available now). If you like your puzzlers and want a bit of a challenge, then you cannot really go wrong with Stranded. A solid and fun little game at a very cheap budget price from Cronosoft!