Sam Mallard – The Case of the Missing Swan is a ZX Spectrum title from “real-media” indie publisher Monument Micro Games. The game, originally written by World of Spectrum contributor Ersh in 2016, was destined for the Commodore 64 many moons ago, but then rescued, resuscitated and re-written from scratch for our faithful rubber keyed Spec-chum.
“The clock had turned midnight and I was just about to leave my office when there was a knock on my door. It was a Mr Swan, owner of the Swanline shipping company.”
Mallard is a graphic adventure game, heavily inspired by film noir, and has a classic and well trodden storyline – jobbing Private Detective is hired by man to find missing wife. The game starts in Mallard’s office (where else?) after our main protagonist has accepted the case, and follows him off on the hunt of the missing and mysterious Mrs Swan.
Dispensing with the traditional typed input of this type of game, Mallard presents its information on a well laid-out screen where verb-noun choices are made via a SCUMM-esque “Action” menu by using either the keyboard or Kempston joystick. Locations are described in an uncomplicated fashion, with the majority of locations having a functional, and nicey-drawn image in the top right-hand corner. The whole screen is rendered solely in black and white fuelling further the noir atmosphere.
The game engine however, doesn’t come without it’s quirks:
- The strange “inventory” system, where you can’t EXAMINE things from the “action” menu but you have to navigate to the inventory, select the item, then select examine.
- Using just an up and down combination to enter a sequence of numbers (required for a telephone and the obligatory safe) several times is tiresome.
- Many items are not identifiable from the location text, so you are constantly selecting verbs in each area to find them.
It’s very short, and will probably be completed in less than an hour – but don’t let that put you off. The writing is competent, makes a good stab at the genre and the author has shoehorned in a few basic teasers, a homage red herring, and a couple of thought-provoking puzzles. Fear not though, those of a The Secret of Monkey Island disposition should get the first, and the second puzzle concerning a safe is slightly harder, but very rewarding to (pun fully intended) crack.
In places the storyline does make huge hand-held leaps, and the end comes up a bit suddenly – feeling slightly rushed. Perhaps the author ran out of steam or reached the poor Speccy’s RAMTOP limit? Nevertheless, it’s a lovely example of the popular homebrew and indie scene that the Spectrum continues to enjoy and a testament to the passionate people behind the cottage-industry publishing labels such as Monument.
Grabbing the game was quite an aside for me. I rarely buy new releases for old machines (my only other purchase being C64anabalt by RGCD) but I was very pleasantly surprised when the game arrived. Credit must go to Monument who have done a stellar job with the game’s packaging and contents.
The inlay is superbly designed and professionally printed and contains a hoard of goodies:
1 x art card
1 x instructions
1 x badge
1 x CD-ROM
1 x game cassette
The CD-ROM is a nice addition and contains a WAV sound file that can be streamed directly into a Spectrum emulator such as Spectaculator, or played back into a real Spectrum by using a standard audio jack cable and LOAD””ed – if you don’t have a cassette recorder. Also on the CD is a handy TAP format file that is ready to run.
Even with the short playing time, the paltry £8.50 for Mallard is fantastic value for money considering what you receive and how well the whole thing is put together. From their website blog, it seems that the game has been a success for Monument, so that’s great to hear.
What are you waiting for? Smoke your last lucky (thanks Fergus), grab your fedora and mosey on over to the publisher website and grab your own copy, or hit them up on Twitter.