Once upon a time, I thought that Virus was about the best, most-arcade quality piece of entertainment-based software that had or will ever happen on the Sinclair ZX81. Then Bob Smith released Boulder Logic which, as I suggested then, beat Virus by the thinnest of cigarette papers to the number one spot. And now, from the same developer, there is One Little Ghost. So, with such a pedigree of quite frankly pretty amazing, high-quality games for the monochrome monolith, will One Little Ghost live up to the almost impossibly high bar that Bob has set himself? Let's examine the game first.
You are a ghost who, for whatever reason, is trapped in a maze inhabited by nasty, rotund chompers which will deplete you spirit should they come into contact with you; it seems that the tables have turned in this twisted take on the classic arcade game Pacmania.
WHO YOU GONNA CALL?
What hope do you have of escaping? It seems there is none, as what looks like an exit will simply take you to the other size of the labyrinth. There are pills strewn along each path that you must collect, and in the four corners of the play area, there are "power pills" which will "scare" the chasing Pac-Man lookalikes, allowing you to temporarily take their physical matter, after which they will return to whence they started, to regenerate their form. Get all four chasers in one go and this will replenish some of your lost spirit, should any be lost (which acts as an energy level for this game, as Bob pointed out, Ghosts shouldn't have "lives").
The whole maze is in an isometric world, which scrolls in all directions quite effortlessly, meaning that you will only see a certain portion of the level and therefore you won't always know where all of the chasing Pacs are all of the time, unlike the original 2D Pac-Man arcade game. This means that using the power pills can be a bit more strategic, and you must remember which pills you still need to get. Unlike Pacmania, the chasers do not slow down in the warp between one side of the maze and the other, this only happens when you have just collected the power pill. And the time that they remain in their "scared" state is shortened for each level completed, so the better you play and further you progress, the less chance you have of getting four of them in one hit.
Unlike Pacmania, there is no way to jump over the roamers, a deliberate design decision by Bob as he felt it would make the game better; adding in that you do not restart the level at any point during play and you're forced to rethink your strategy, especially if you're familiar with the arcade original or 8- and 16-bit home conversions. This actually makes for a more fluid game in my opinion.
It seems pointless in making any grand claims to how good One Little Ghost is: and saying that it's simply superb does not in anyway diminish Bob's other games, nor does it trash those classic games such as J. K. Greye Software's 3D Monstermaze, Don Priestly's excellent Mazogs or Rocket-Man published by Software Farmhouse, to name but three. And a certain Jim Bagley is currently working on a Race n' Chase game for the ZX81, which is already looking rather splendid - expectations are currently quite high for "Zeddy" fans. I will say that this is certainly a golden era for the quirky and rather limited 8-bit personal computer, and it's thanks to the hard work of Bob and others in a small and dedicated community of '81 developers and fans. Simply play it for yourself: take away the hardware and you still have a damn good, fast, playable and most importantly fun game.