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Captain Blood (Amstrad CPC)

18 December 2020

Arr. Despite what it sounds like, this hasn't got anything to do with nautical adventures nor Errol Flynn. No, you're the captain of a spaceship travelling the galaxy.

I have this game on cassette as part of the Ocean: Special Action compilation box. Inside the box there is a huge leaflet containing instructions for each of the games within. Captain Blood is second only to Driller in terms of the amount of space used, and yet so many important details are omitted.

The game can be confusing, especially at first. Players are often told that they should read the manual before playing, and I understand why. There is a lot of lore involved. None of it is in the leaflet. What's the point of the game? Who knows; it doesn't say. It just tells you what the buttons on the interface do, how to fly the Oorxx and how to use the communicator. It's no wonder I couldn't work this game out as a kid.

Aim of the Game

Essentially, an incident causes many clones of Captain Blood to be created. These clones sap on Blood's life force, so he has to track them down and assimilate them. In some versions of the game, these are called "Duplicates". On the CPC, they are referred to as "Numbers". Duplicates makes more sense to me than numbers, so I'll be calling them duplicates. You win the game by finding them all.

Gameplay

When you start the game, you are already part way through the story. Blood has only got five duplicates left to find, and the spaceship is positioned at the next inhabited planet to investigate. If you leave the planet immediately to have a look around the galaxy, you'll almost definitely get lost. You can't guess your way around space - even in the CPC version there are thousands of uninhabited planets. This game requires a pen and paper.

On any planet, you can send down a probe (an Oorxx) to search for any lifeforms that are around. Talking to aliens is the meat of the game. It's a bit like being an inspector in your favourite murder drama. You interrogate them for clues as to either the locations of the duplicates, or perhaps for other planets that might. Some aliens will be coy at first. You can end up doing errands quid pro quo, or you might get shafted. You can destroy planets and anything living on them - this can have a dramatic effect on the attitudes of the survivors.

The communicator doesn't use words exactly, but icons as concepts. You can create rather elaborate sentences and get gibberish as a reply. Or no reply. When you realise the chat engine is not as clever as it appears, the game gets a bit easier. It just needs certain key words in the right order. If an alien says, "Me Want Know Identity," you don't need to reply with, "Howdy Identity Me Blood". All you need is "Blood". The engine reads from left to right, so amusingly if you know what the reply will be, often you can pre-empt it on the same line.

Communicating with Small Yoko. He says: Yoko Male Blood Male Sex Forbidden.

Forbidden? Aww...

The names the aliens use to call themselves can be unintuitive, but hey, they are aliens. An example is, "Me Great Fear". Does the alien fear me? Nope. That's his name, Great Fear.

Cheats

There are cheaty shortcuts available in the game. The quickest way to win is to ask the first alien which planet the Buggol species live on. Go straight there, use the exact phrase "Code Information Help" as soon as you are able to say anything (it might take a few tries). After that, you can just ask for the location of the duplicates (or any other alien species) and it'll tell you all the addresses.

A less cheaty shortcut involves finding duplicate number 1. If you leave him alone for 60 in-game minutes, he will willingly tell you where duplicates 2, 3 and 4 are. Bear in mind that although Blood can't be killed by aliens, you can run out of time, and the hand becomes increasingly difficult to control the longer it goes on.

Adult Themes

The ending screen is well known for being racy, well, for the 80s. The CPC isn't the best platform for rendering images. Also, some species will invite you for "reproduction". Others will tell you of planets with "great females" on them. You can't actually do anything raunchy in the game - it's all in the name of good fun.

Communicating with Duplicate. I say: You Want Great Time?

Playing with myself

My View

This game is a great concept and it's easy to see why it's well loved. You can really spend time getting to know the character of each alien and species. The game tells a story.

I don't like flying the Oorxx at all. Sure, the programming behind it is a marvel. However, as a gameplay mechanic... I hate it. It's boring, it takes ages, if you crash too often you have to repeat, and on some planets you can be destroyed by a missile if you're not careful enough. If this wasn't in the game, completing it would take less than half the time.

Ocean did very well in their effort to port this game from 16-bit platforms to the 8-bit CPC. Sure, the graphics are of a lower resolution. But we do get a rendition of Jean Michael Jarre's excellent Ethnicolor - the Commodore 64's port didn't even get music. And the heart of the game is definitely there.

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