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Skid Row Adventure - Review

Review by Garry


Last edited:
TRS-80 CoCo

Skid Row Adventure was first published by T&D Subscription Software on 'Coco-Cassette' #25, July 1984.

It was later licensed by Microdeal and published as a type-in listing in 'The Cuthbert Chronicle', vol. 1, no. 4. The date of the Microdeal listing is unknown, but is estimated to be around May 1985. Microdeal gave no credit to the original publisher, but this appears to have been their normal practice.

You are a police detective in a country town. Your goal is to search the town to find 'The Boss' and apprehend him.

First impressions
You begin on a north/south road with a hotel to the west.

I don't know what a 'hotel' is.

Oh, oh. This doesn't look promising.

You have:
Gun (holstered)

As I am playing the role of a detective, a gun seems like an obvious accessory to be carrying around with me, especially as I'm on the lookout for 'The Boss'. He and his goons are more than likely going to be armed, so the gun is obviously going to have a use later on. But why is it holstered? This has to be relevant, so I decide to work out how to get it unholstered so that I'm ready when the time comes.

You see nothing special.
I don't know what a 'holster' is.
I don't know how to 'unholster'.
I don't know how to 'unclip'.
I don't know how to 'remove'.
You already have it.
I don't know how to 'fire'.
I don't know how to 'shoot'.

Hmmm. It doesn't know how to do much.

I tried a bunch of other things and couldn't work out how to remove my gun from its holster or how to use it. By this time, the description had well and truly scrolled off the screen, so I needed to refresh it.

I don't understand.
Please use a noun and a verb.
I don't know what a 'around' is.

Oh, dear. Again, I tried a bunch of other things, but I couldn't refresh the screen. I knew I'd need to unholster that damn gun and refresh the screen sooner or later, but I didn't have the patience to wade through a thesaurus looking for synonyms that the program probably wouldn't understand anyway, so I had to seek alternatives. I first looked at the original article on page 1 of the newsletter that accompanied 'Coco-Cassette' #25. This told me that, "The commands available are get, drop, examine, use, wear, buy, trade, draw, holster, and drink."

Is that all? That can't be right. It's probably just a sample. So I peeked at the BASIC listing. Believe it or not, that is the complete list of verbs! Plus the five abbreviations for movement and inventory mentioned in the first screen of instructions.

So, you must use N, S, E and W to move about. You cannot use NORTH, GO NORTH, ENTER HOTEL or similar phrases for movement. You must use I for inventory. You cannot use INV or INVENTORY. All other commands can be abbreviated to the first three letters.

Use DRAW GUN to remove your gun from its holster. However, you will only be able to do this in one room, otherwise:

Shouldn't draw your gun here!!!

Yep, that's the response. Here we have another adventure author who chooses to shorten sentences in order to add lots of exclamation marks!!!

Use HOLSTER GUN to replace the gun in its holster. You cannot FIRE GUN or SHOOT BADDIE. In fact, it turns out that you will never need to use your gun at all except to have it drawn at the right time.

You cannot refresh the screen using L, LOOK or similar, so I'd suggest keeping detailed notes. If you don't take notes and you need to refresh the screen, you'll need to move to a different room, then return. This means you'll need to draw a map to remember all the exits from each room, but, as a good adventurer, you're going to do this anyway, aren't you?

If you'd like to add LOOK functionality, you can do this fairly easily by modifying the BASIC listing. (That's one thing I love about BASIC adventures!) To add support for 'LOOK', modify line 73 as follows:


To add support for 'L' (the abbreviation for 'LOOK'), modify line 109 as follows:


You can now type 'LOOK' or 'L' to refresh the screen. As it happens, there is so little to do in this adventure that you probably won't need it.

Apart from the one-letter abbreviations, all commands must have a verb followed by a noun. Apart from one exception, the only nouns that you can use are those for the moveable objects in the game. When referring to objects, you must refer to them by their full description. For example, the empty bottle must be referred to as EMPTY BOTTLE, not BOTTLE. However, this can be abbreviated to the first three letters, so the empty bottle can be referred to as EMP. This is a bit weird and not what you'd normally expect, but you quickly get used to it.

There are 15 objects in the game. Only five of these serve any useful purpose, including the gun mentioned earlier. One of the challenges is working out which objects have any use. There is no limit to your inventory, so you can carry around as much as you like. At one point, I wondered what the locals must have thought when they saw their local detective carrying around a garbage can, a crow-bar, a lead pipe, some aluminum [sic] foil, a couple of bottles, some cigarettes and toilet paper. There's actually two lots of toilet paper, but you can only carry one at a time:

You already have it.

Now that we have a grasp of the vocabulary limitations and we can refresh the screen as needed, let's get down to business and solve the adventure.

The adventure is laid out on an 11 x 16 grid. You start out towards the southern end of a north-south road that runs vertically up the centre of the grid. All the interesting locations branch off to the east or west of the road, somewhat like the branches of a tree. A gigantic field covers the outer-most rooms of the grid and a few rooms just inside the outer-most limits of the grid. This acts like a huge maze. The exits from the outer-most rooms return you to the same room if they would take you off the grid. Other than that, the exits follow normal compass directions, so they are easy to map. There are no twists and turns. However, the fields in the outer area prove to be completely and utterly useless. There are no hidden rooms, no objects to be found there and no puzzles to be solved. If you are a purist, you will want to map the fields. But if you want to save yourself a lot of time, as soon as you hit a field, turn around and go back.

Other points
As mentioned above, a couple of locations require a Y/N response. This is simply bad programming and could have been avoided with a richer vocabulary and more thought to the puzzles.

Some room descriptions have temporary things as part of the permanent description, e.g. the wino in the arcade.

All non-playing characters are inanimate. They don't move, you can't talk to them or give them things. They might as well be statues. When they do anything, it is all automatic and you have no say in the matter.

When you do eventually nab 'The Boss', the game suddenly ends and returns to BASIC's OK prompt. I didn't realise the game had ended. I thought the OK prompt was the game's response and wondered why I got a ?SN (syntax) error when I typed my next command. It could at least have told me that I caught the boss and congratulated me or something.

The game has its fair share of spelling errors (e.g. 'waring' for 'warning'), logical inconsistencies in room descriptions (e.g. 'south end of corridor' is actually 'north end of corridor') and bugs (e.g. you can trade the bottle of wine with the wino, even if the bottle is empty).

Parser/Vocabulary (Rating: 5/10)

See above

Atmosphere (Rating: 4/10)

See above

Cruelty (Rating: Cruel)

Sudden-death syndrome are three words that every adventurer hates to see, especially in a game that doesn't have a SAVE GAME feature. 'Skid Row' has plenty of sudden deaths. For example:

- Enter the dusty back room of the arcade and one of the baddies clubs you over the head. No warning. No way out.

- Buy a drink in the bar (not an unreasonable thing to do, even though you don't need any money) and you automatically drink it and get poisoned. No warning. No way out.

- When you unlock the grate, you are asked whether you want to take the chute. If you say NO, you die. If you say YES, you die...unless you have thought to DRAW GUN beforehand. No warning. No way out.

Puzzles (Rating: 4/10)

See above

Overall (Rating: 4/10)

This is a simple game that is spoilt by bad programming. I can understand why the author wanted to stay anonymous. It is not a bad game. It just needs to compress the map, improve the descriptions, increase the vocabulary, improve the puzzles and get rid of the Y/N responses and the sudden-death syndrome.
I enjoyed it in a perverse sort of way, probably because I could see its potential, rather than what was presented to me. The puzzles aren't difficult and you should be able to complete it in one or two nights.