What is the point of producing a computerized version of an existing board game? Well, a computer-controlled opponent seems as good a reason as any - if it's any cop, that is. Otherwise, you might as well buy the real thing for around half the price.
However, here's a computerized version of a board game which doesn't exist, and couldn't in any other form without great difficulty. Spot is reminiscent of something, but I can't put my finger on what. Othello is what springs to most people's minds, and I'm no exception, even though the two have little in common other than a board and coloured counters.
Spot's board is seven squares square and supports up to four players. In Othello the colour of an opponent's pieces is changes by 'trapping' them between two points marked by the other player's pieces. In Spot the colour of the opponents' pieces is altered to that of the player's by placing a piece adjacent to them. A piece can either duplicate itself in an adjacent square of physically move two squares away by jumping (see AN OPENING STRATEGY for a slightly clearer idea of how this works).When the board's full the player with the most pieces on it is the winner. The only other vague similarity to Othello is that the state of the board can change quite significantly with a single move. And that's Spot pretty much in a nutshell really.
So why Spot? Well, the game actually started life as Infection way back in 1988. Infection (so-called because the pieces were cells, which perhaps makes the whole idea of spreading to adjacent squares and changing the colours of counters a little easier to understand) was intended to be the flagship for the launch of Mastertronic's16-Blitz budget label of £4.99 product.
But it was not to be. The journalists fortunate enough to play Infection weren't the only ones to be impressed - a big cheese at Virgin Games Software's American arm, Virgin Mastertronic Inc, saw it and realized its potential. The release was postponed while a new title was sought (in these days of AIDS it could have been deemed offensive, though it's interesting to note that one alternative put forward was 'Virus'- ouch).
The problem was solved when Virgin Mastertronic Inc acquired the licence to bring to this medium Spot, the poxy little character used by 7-Up to promote its 'un-cola' in the States (who needs the UK equivalent, Fido Dido, eh?). Spot first appeared on the Nintendo console. Despite the cosmetic changes, the basic concept shone through and it continued to impress (its fans include, apparently, mr Tetris - Alexei Pazhitnov -himself). Needless to say, Infection will never see the light of day on the home computer front - a shame - even though it was licensed to arcade machine producer Leland Trade West (from whom Storm licensed other titles for conversion) and released as Attaxx, retaining Infection's look, feel and the David Whittaker sound and music.
GAMEPLAY THAT'S FIT TO BURST
As is the case with any board game worth its salt, Spot caters for the development of all manner of strategies, which vary depending on the quantity of players. The most obvious approach is to tempt an opponent to attack and leave itself vulnerable, although when playing against more than one human there's a tendency for two players to simply gang up on someone in an attempt to remove them from play.
This isn't possible when playing with more than one (exclusively) computer-controlled opponent - in fact they can bugger up your strategy by playing a little more... 'objectively' shall we say.
That said, the nine skill levels of the computer do provide worthy opposition, and the time spent thinking isn't too lengthy. Spot represents a real treat for anyone remotely interested in the Othello ilk and comes thoroughly recommended. But before I call it a day, there are few annoying aspects to Spot which need to be highlighted.
- Apart from the time it takes Spot to load, the worst is that there's no congratulary sequence of any description. GAME OVER is displayed instead and this tends to have a negative effect, more so when you win. You have to look at the four scores to see who's won.
- The most irritating of the minor flaws is that if the machine is left alone for more than a few seconds before starting play, the game flips into the title sequence and before you know it the default options have been assumed. Aargh!
And as for Mr Ken so-called musician Hedgecock, his bloody sound and music drove me up the wall, across the ceiling and through the floor. It grates worse than teeth down a blackboard. Now the Infection music on the other hand - that was smart. All that breathing and slurping... Find an Attaxx arcade machine to see - hear rather - what I mean. (A note for trivia fans: apparently that piece was inspired by S'Express' 'Coma', even though they don't sound very similar).
These rough edges should simply not be present in full-price software (come to think of it, they weren't actually in the original Infection), especially from a company based in America, a country which prides itself on its slick software. Anyway, that's my beef over and done with. The last thing I want to do is put you off owning the game - it really is rather impressive.