The Thirty-Nine Steps

by Jack Lockerby


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Nintendo Hard Spectrum game (RR #16), July 18, 2015

The Thirty-Nine Steps by Jack Lockerby is a mystery/detective-like game based on the same-titled book by John Buchan. I'm not familiar with the source material, but games based on works of literature, movies, etc. are generally something I would like to see a lot more often.

This is a ZX Spectrum game, which will likely limit your save options to only one save state (ramsave), unless you're an expert with the system, I guess. The slowness of the parser is a huge problem, more often than not letters are swallowed because the software cannot keep up with an average typing speed. After doing some research I assume this to be a problem of the hardware itself.

The Thirty-Nine Steps has some interesting features. The room description is displayed in a separated partition on top of the screen and updated in real time. Likewise, the passage of time moves the game time forward. Time window puzzles combined with the abovementioned typing speed limitation lead to frenzied backspace manias.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is an extremely hard game. There is little time for exploration (literally), objects are barely manipulable and usually hidden (sometimes even in plain sight). The inventory management is sluggish and confusing, the size of items seems to matter when putting them in a container, but illogical situations still arise (e.g. placing a table in your coat pocket). Puzzles pretty much require you to know exactly what the author intended you to do. Even when you have stumbled on the solution to a problem, you will be forced to start this game again and again to optimize your path - wasting time will make you miss the time windows and leave you in limbo. In one situation you are required to carry no items in your inventory (except if they are in your container) - you better anticipated this and dropped all items you deemed unnecessary for your progress ON THE DAY BEFORE!

I managed to complete a fifth of the game, based on the score, but got stuck in an illogical situation where a cab driver rats you out to the police even though you have never met him before (or committed a crime, for that matter).

This game is not necessarily bad, but its crazy difficulty ensures that you will not get far without a walkthrough (to my knowledge, none exists) if you're not a text adventure god with a lot of time on your hands.

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