Starcade's Savage Pond

reviewed by Les Ellingham


Issue 7

Jan/Feb 84

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1 PLAYER    


Savage Pond leaves the reviewer caught between two extremes. On the one hand the review should flow easily because the game is such a joy but on the other it is difficult because you cannot make comparisons with other games. Savage Pond is unique.

It is becoming increasingly rare to find a totally original game among the growing wealth of Atari software but Gwyll Jones of Starcade has come up with a real winner. This is as far removed as you can get from the world of aliens, guns and violence yet it maintains all of the excitement and edge of the seat involvement of the classic arcade games. The game is set in the real world, the world of Nature that you or I could see in the countryside every day if we were alert and sensitive enough. In every stream and pond across the country there is a battle for life as fierce and as demanding as any defence of the earth from alien invasion. Whilst we sit comfortably at home battling off imaginary monsters, tiny creatures fight real battles against real enemies in the most savage of environments Nature itself.

Savage Pond allows you to control the destiny of a tiny tadpole in a village pond and see him through his journey to adulthood to become a handsome frog. You must breed as many frogs as possible to build a healthy colony. This may not seem as exciting as battling off invading aliens but believe me, the suspense and excitement of achieving your goal is just as strong as in any other arcade style game.

The sense of excitement is first awakened by simply reading the instruction manual which you should do before commencing play. The playing instructions are given in narrative form and the booklet finishes off with detailed descriptions of all the characters you will encounter. These are serious and accurate descriptions of pond life, including Latin names, and are a novel and interesting touch. Savage Pond is after all about the real world.

In your pond are lots of amoeba waiting to be ingested whilst on the floor of the pond are deadly hydra with poisonous tentacles. Overhead a dragon fly flits lazily by and lays an egg which sinks slowly to the bottom. Juicy worms fall into the water from time to time and you must eat these to journey along the evolutionary trail. On the bed of the pond are three eggs of frog spawn from which hatch your tadpoles to commence their grim battle through life. As well as eating worms and amoeba, you must stop the dragonfly eggs from reaching the floor of the pond where they will hatch out into dragonfly nymphs. Nymphs eat tadpoles and there is very little chance of escape. Once you have managed to eat five of those juicy worms, a beetle larva appears and if you can eat it quickly, you progress along the evolutionary trail and further hazards will be introduced to the pond. These include deadly freshwater jellyfish, water fleas, a water spider and Mother Nature's deadliest enemy - Man - who uses the quiet pond to dump deadly radioactive waste.

The game ends when three tadpoles have died but if you manage to breed a frog, an extra egg will be laid when your last tadpole dies. A female frog will bounce onto the screen to mate with your proud frog on his little island and a new egg will be laid. Watch out for the cheeky wink of Mr Frog as he embraces his lady friend. At higher levels you can control the frog as well as the tadpoles to kill off the dragonfly and fight off vicious bees.

On screen there is plenty of colour and movement. Amoeba pulsate, jellyfish bob up and down and the dragonfly buzzes overhead. Worms wriggle to the bottom and your tadpole swishes his tail through the water without respite. The movement of the tadpole is quite amazing and unlike any player movement I have seen on any other game. It is a very accurate representation of darting and flitting underwater movement.

Savage Pond is a real joy. A totally unique concept, well thought out and superbly programmed. Whilst a far cry from the usual arcade action it retains all of the excitement. It is an ideal family game and children and adults alike will marvel at the graphics and storyline. Not much more I can say except that you will not find such an original and compelling game anywhere else. Buy it and sit back proudly knowing that one of the most original games ever written for the Atari was written here in Britain by a young programmer who must surely have a bright future.