Sunday, 13 March 2011

Retro Review: Super Trolley - Sinclair Spectrum

Super Trolley must go down in history as being the only computer game to be set in a supermarket. The story of its conception is almost as exciting as the game itself. Which is, not very. But, here is the story anyway.

As we discovered in my last review of Captain Silver, gamers play games as a way of living out fantasies, dreams and ambitions. Aspiring racing drivers are able to rev car engines to their hearts' desires in the Gran Turismos, Forzas, Need for Speeds, Out Runs and Pole Positions that are available, or were. Wannabe thugs can act like chavvy gangster types in games such as Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row and whatever that crap game with 50 Cent in was. And those brave folk who want to be astronauts have a multitude of space-themed games to choose from, but seeing as I'm in a listing games mood today in the vague hope that it'll cause search engines to pick up this site, there is Space Invaders, Star Wars and, er, Starship Command for the Acorn Electron! Back in 1988, a young boy called Andrew living somewhere in the UK didn't have aspirations to be a racing driver, thug or astronaut. Instead, his ambition was to be a shelf-stacker. If I actually understood the politics of the 1980s, I'd blame it on Thatcher's Britain. But as I don't, I won't. Andrew faced two problems. Firstly, he wasn't old enough for employment at his local Fine Fare, Gateway or Kwik Save. Secondly, as no shelfstacking simulator existed for computers, he was unable to realise his dream even virtually. After a shopping trip on one 80s evening, he drew inspiration for what a supermarket-based computer game would feature. And he did what any child of the eighties did. He wrote a begging letter to Jim'll Fix It. And Jim'll, being the shellsuit-wearing, cigar-smoking fairy godmather that he is, granted Andrew's wish. His supermarket game would get made. Now then, now then. Sir Jimmy Savlon roped in Mastertronic to put it together, knowing that they had a reputation for putting any old crap onto a tape and calling it a game. Within what was presumably minutes, Super Trolley, the game based on Andrew's schoolboy fantasies, was complete and was on the shelves in shops. And what's more, I bought a copy, not even aware of its origins, until now.

Super Trolley's loading screen. Excitement ahoy!
So, a game based in a supermarket - what could it feature? Pricing up stock? Putting the stock on shelves? Cleaning up spillages? Taking cash to the checkouts? Sorting the trolleys? Putting up displays? Finding missing kids? Well, sarcasm aside, that is what Super Trolley featured. And it's just as thrilling as it all sounds.

Super Trolley's options. Thrilling.
Your first task. Exciting!
Excitement begins to build up as the loading screen displays an image of a supermarket worker seemingly rushed off his feet. Once the game loads, you are presented with a typical options screen and some funky supermarket background music, which I kind of liked in its day. On starting up the game, you are given your first task, which is usually to stock some shelves. However, before you are able to go wild in the aisles with your trolley, you have to price up the stock. This is done by hovering over each item of stock with your pricing gun and sticking a price sticker on it. I feel like I'm writing a supermarket worker's training manual here. Holding down space as you are pricing up speeds up this process ever so slightly. Once your stock is priced up, you are ready to be unleashed onto the supermarket floor.
Pricing up. Whoopee!
You've found the empty fridge. Now fill it!
Your character, armed with a trolley of stock, makes his way, slowly, through an isometric maze of a supermarket. You control him around it, quite likely getting the up key mixed with left and the down key mixed with right, until you find an empty shelf, or fridge or freezer. Below the game window will be a description of what stock should be held on the shelf or in the fridge or freezer. If you've reached the right one, you can then relieve your trolley of stock and replenish said shelf, fridge or freezer. This is a simple case of letting go of the trolley, picking up stock out of it, walking to the shelf, placing the stock on it, walking back to your trolley, picking up more stock, walking back to the shelf, placing more stock on it. And continue until the trolley is empty. You can't ask for more realism/tedium! Once you have restocked your shelf, you return back to the stock room (in the top right of the supermarket) for another task, which invariably involves you being asked to stock shelves with another item. Once again, you have to price it up, and then find its location in the supermarket.

Knock them over. I dare you!
To add variety, not that any more variety is required as pricing up and stacking shelves is already varied enough for me, you are sometimes given other tasks. One is to restack a pile of tins which somebody has knocked over. If you're bored, which is extremely unlikely, you can knock over the stack yourself in order to give yourself the task of putting it back up later on. You have to rearrange each tin one at a time as it appears that your shelfstacking guy can only use one hand at a time. Another task is to locate a baby which an absent-minding mother has lost. Once located, the baby gets taken back to the storeroom. I'm not sure whether it ever gets reunited with its mother who is probably trying to decide on whether to go for the 3 for £16 offer on Fosters or Strongbow while doing her shopping in between episodes of Jeremy Kyle and Loose Women. That's why mums go to Iceland...

Your search for the missing baby is over. Joy!
If restacking tins and finding babies in addition to stocking shelves still isn't enough, other tasks include taking cash to the till witches and mopping up spillages. I would include screenshots, but I can't face having to play the game again until being given one of those tasks to take them. 

As a youngster I quite enjoyed this game. Replaying it now, I haven't got a clue why. It really is the most mind-numbing game in existence. Not knowing an item's location in the store means walking up and down the aisles in the hope that you'll eventually find it. The game's controls will annoy the crap out of you, as will the idiot customers getting in your way. Repeating the process over and over again goes from tedious to frustrating. Not helping matters is the fact that the supermarket itself has got to be the most illogical shop in the world. Well, the second most. Netto shops are easily the most illogical. I suppose if you play the game long enough and often enough, you'll eventually remember where things should be, but by then you will probably have aged a few years and grown a big grey bushy beard. The game feels like it's running in real time and there's absolutely no sense of urgency to get tasks done. The game starts at 9am on Monday on week 1. I don't think I've ever got past that Monday, not due to getting sacked (if it's even possible), but because I've remembered that something more interesting needs doing, like putting my DVDs in reverse alphabetical order, or watching my tomato plant grow, or underlining each occurrence of the letter 'a' in today's Mail on Sunday. How the game ends is something I've never discovered, or never wanted to find out. From what I recall from reading about the game, you end up getting promoted to the point of being able to fire your boss. Hopefully, the boss is a young lad called Andrew who needs sacking for coming up with this turd of an idea for a game.

Graphically, things aren't too bad. The characters all look pretty well defined, and the supermarket at least looks like a supermarket. Your character pretty accurately appears fed up, and the other customers look evil, which is just like Asda on pension day. Apart from the title screen music, there isn't much else audio-wise in the game. You appear to trump when you pick up stock from your trolley and put in on shelves/in fridges. You make another noise when you bump into a customer, and your pricing gun clicks when pricing. And that's just about it.

So, that's Super Trolley, not one of the most well-known games of all time, and for very good reason. If stacking shelves turns you on, then Super Trolley may be just up your street. It is an extremely realistic portrayal of the thrills and spills that working in a supermarket has to offer. For the rest of us, it quickly goes from being mildly entertaining, even novel, to repetitive and frustrating.

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