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A Spot of Bother Reviews
Author: David Whyld
Date: 2005

Reviewed by Robert Street (Reviews Exchange 7)

A Spot of Bother is a comedy game written by David Whyld, but this time with lots of puzzles. The premise of a soldier sent in to disarm traps, is given a humorous turn as the traps are set by a paranoid old lady in her cottage. You need to rescue and wake up the lady who has fainted in the heat wave, as she is needed to stop a nuclear bomb from exploding. I thought that this was a very good setup for the puzzles of an IF game. The writing is well done, as expected from David Whyld, so the real question is how was the gameplay?

Unfortunately, as I find most of David Whyld's games, the game starts off more promising than it ends up. In this case, for a few of the puzzles, I can't see how I could have guessed the solution without looking at the walkthrough, and this becomes annoying when you do finally give up and read what the answer was. This notably included the spoken password, portrait and the NPC puzzles. There probably were better hints than what I found, as I did occasionally find very useful hints around the cottage. Absolutely everything needs to be examined closely in this game. The hint system also generally did well at nudging you towards the answer, but not always. I didn't figure out the spoken password despite the hints on the computer. The portrait puzzle could have used better phrasing, as it wasn't until I looked at the walkthrough that I figured out that I had to carry out a series of commands phrased within a single command rather than individually. Another difficult puzzle was that despite exhausting all conversation options, and trying to give him everything, I never did manage to get the only other character in the game to help me.

Although I have just listed a series of complaints, there are a lot of puzzles in this game, and it was only the occasional puzzle that annoyed me. Most of the puzzles were reasonably challenging, but were possible and rewarding to figure out. If I couldn't figure one out, I often could just use up one of my five lives to disarm the trap. This was an interesting feature, as it means that if you really couldn't solve how to disarm a trap, then you could trigger it, and then walk past the trap's remains later. You could only do this five times though, as the player character Stavros "The Bulldog" McGrogan can only take so much life-threatening damage before literally falling apart. This feature means that not all of the puzzles are required to be solved, although I had trouble abandoning a puzzle and admitting to myself that I could not solve it. I have to admit that I used "undo" and "restore" fairly frequently at times, so I did not lose any lives. 

Overall, this is an entertaining game that is worth giving a try.

SCORE - 7/10

Reviewed by Valentine Kopteltsev

In the former Soviet Union, a corny phrase was very popular -- "a city of contrasts". Journalists loved to use it in their feature articles about various towns of Western Europe and the USA, setting off the lustre of the city centres and villa districts against the misery of the slummy outskirts, letting the readers make their own conclusions about the reasons for such an inequality. 

Since then, this cliche has somewhat fallen into disuse, at least in Russia -- I suspect to a no small degree because our own towns developed pretty much in the same direction. However, as I played A Spot Of Bother, I couldn't help myself thinking of it again; if I had to describe the game using a single word, I'd choose "uneven". 

The undoubtedly most brilliant part of the game are its characters. The exaggeratedly tough PC, Stavros McGrogan aka The Bulldog, the eccentric Mrs. Moog he needs to rescue, her no less extravagant, albeit in a different manner, husband, and the mean Sergeant Twiddles, Bulldog's immediate superior, who isn't even a real character in the game, and only appears in cut-scenes -- all of them are depicted with great care and love, and made me smile more than once. I'm not getting in much more detail now, but it's not because the characters don't deserve it -- I just don't want to spoil the fun for other players. 

We fairly often talk about puzzle-oriented IF and plot-oriented IF; in my opinion, A Spot Of Bother doesn't fall in any of these categories. I'd rather call it a character-driven game, and I think it's quite unique in its way. 

Now, please don't start showering me with insufficient IF-literacy accusations (although they probably are condign). I know there are enough games built around characters out there (the most widely-known examples probably are Emily Short's Galatea, and Best Of Three), but they all (or, at least the ones I have encountered) are more or less experimental works exploring character interaction, without any real plot or setting. It's entirely different with ASoB: in respect to layout, it's a fairly traditional text adventure, but all the nominally present game elements seem to serve but one purpose -- grotesquely setting off the PC's and NPC's personalities. 

The plot, for instance, is in itself a quite standard save-the-world business: the old lady who's the head of the British Nuclear Research Facility, Mrs. Moog, has fainted in her cottage, and you have to get her out, because a nuclear reactor is going to explode, and she's the only person competent enough to shut it down. However, this story is just ideally suited to comically emphasize the PC's toughness, and Mrs. Moogs nuttiness. The effect is supported by luminous writing; a few "glosses" could send a reader less phlegmathic than the author of this review down to the floor cringing with laughter. All this, as well as the understanding of the secondary role of the plot, helps not to pay any attention to a few stretching points. 

But now we get to the "slummy outskirts" or, to be more precise, the "poor relatives" of the game -- the puzzles. They also are here mostly in order to accentuate what an oddball Mrs. Moog is (according to the game story, she's paranoid about security, and has set up several quite fiendish traps against burglars in her house; the puzzles as such consist in overcoming these traps). However, making the puzzles weird enough to fit with Mrs. Moog's eccentric nature, yet fun to solve for a much less eccentric average player at the same time seemed to be a task the author wasn't entirely up to. Thus, the player has to do enough reading the author's (or Mrs. Moog's?) mind, be very pedantical about examining each and every item in each and every room in order not to miss something crucial, and formulate her/his commands very carefully. 

One example illustrating the remark about command wording (not adopted from the game): imagine you get to a room whose description goes like this: 

Here, the doleful monotonity of the planes gives way to rocky terrain. The latter is doubtlessly much more picturesque; unfortunately, it also makes your further progress to the south impossible -- at least if you don't employ the shaggy, stocky skewbald pony grazing nearby as a transport facility. 

You can't pass there afoot. 

You can't get on the pony. 

You can't climb the pony. 

You can't climb the pony. 

No, I don't understand that. Try something else. 

No, I don't understand that. Try something else. 

What a lucky guess!, you think to yourself, as you climb onto the pony, and make yourself ready to continue your way to the south. 

Of course, A Spot Of Bother features built-in hints, but they aren't completely thorough, and don't give away the final solution. Thus, although one can't deny they are a great help in overcoming the "read the author's mind" and "examine everything" issues, they're still pretty ineffective against the too strict phrasing requirements. Whatever, after a long but unsuccessful fight with the prototype of my pony example, I resorted to a walkthrough I dug up in the Internet for the rest of the game, and never regretted doing so afterwards. 

Finally, there are a few things that anything but adorn a game with such ambitions. I mean minor glitches -- room descriptions unaware of state changes they should be sensitive to, items mentioned in the descriptions yet inaccessible for manipulations, that kind of things. There are a bit too many of them, especially considering this is the fourth release of the game. For instance, there is an official cheat (!) for one of the puzzles, because the appropriate section of the game sometimes doesn't work as it should for uncertain reasons. To be fair, I think the problem lies not on the part of the game itself but on the part of the interpreter, although it doesn't really matter from the player's point of view. 

To put it short, I think you're going to have a great time in the company of The Bulldog, Mrs. Moog, and Sergeant Twiddles. Just don't fix on the puzzles too much. 

SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): 

PLOT: Grunt (meaning "ideal for setting off the characters' personalities") (1.1) 
ATMOSPHERE: Grunt (one of the game's main attractions) (1.7) 
WRITING: Grunt (cool) (1.7) 
GAMEPLAY: Grunt (well, uneven) (1.0) 
BONUSES: Grunt (the troupe) (1.1) 
TOTAL: 6.6 
CHARACTERS: Grunt (they're what this game exists for) (1.9) 
PUZZLES: Frown (I've seen better) (1.0) 
DIFFICULTY: Grunt (pretty easy -- once you use a walkthrough;) 
(7 out of 10) 

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