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Postman Pat Retro Review (ZX Spectrum)

Postman Pat, Postman Pat, Postman Pat and his black and white cat!

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There are always certain games from your childhood that trigger more nostalgia than any others. Sometimes they are not even particularly good games, they were either the only ones you had or titles that you associate with other special moments from your childhood. Postman Pat for the ZX Spectrum definitely falls into the latter. When I was still a nipper I shared a room with my younger brother and our ZX Spectrum +2a took pride of place at the front of our bedroom accompanied by a 14” black and white TV that you had to retune every time you wanted to change the channel (not to mention wiggling the built in aerial to get a half decent picture). Every Sunday night we would both have a bath and then relax in our dressing gowns with a few games so we could try and forget the dread of school the next day. This would mean that we would always pick something pretty sedate to play too, putting aside the more popular arcade-style games that we usually played. Postman Pat by Alternative Software was one such game. Based on the children’s TV series of the same name and costing just £1.99 (about $3 for the Americans!) these so called budget games often offered tremendous value for money. Often the only downside was waiting for the cassette tape to load successfully!

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Stop-motion animated series Postman Pat first appeared on TV in 1981. Written by John Cunliffe and animated by the legendary Ivor Wood (who was also responsible for stuff like The Magic Roundabout, The Wombles and Paddington Bear) it was an instant hit and quickly became one of the BBC’s most popular children’s programs. Each episode follows the adventures of Pat Clifton, a friendly country postman, and his black and white cat Jess, as he delivers the post through the valley of a fictional town called Greendale. Although his primary job was to deliver mail he always managed to get himself caught up in other people’s affairs and every episode turned into a different adventure. The popularity of the show meant that licensing opportunities were pretty much guaranteed and Alternative Software (who picked up the rights to numerous kids TV shows) managed to squeeze out no less than three different games based on the Royal Mail’s most famous employee. Despite my (and even more so my brother’s) affection for the original game we never bought either of the sequels.

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The game itself is a pretty simple top-down driving game where the idea is to deliver all the mail within a one hour time limit. Postman Pat has difficulty levels for both young kids and older ones, the latter featuring collisions which cost you a life when you hit something. Pat starts off at the local post office and must return here after each piece of mail is delivered. Yep, despite owning a big red van he can apparently only take one piece of mail at a time. The village of Greendale sprawls over a quite large number of screens with various farms around the outskirts and rather confusing road network that often leads to dead ends. The game doesn’t scroll, so flick screen progression is the order of the day here. The hardest part of the game is remembering where everyone lives, a status panel at the top will inform you where you are and how much time you have left. Postman Pat is a mapper’s dream, so get your graph paper at the ready for this one!

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When you reach your location Postman Pat will often jump out the van and deliver the mail in person. Sometimes he will also have a little chat with the resident before returning to his van. Other houses just allow you to throw the mail out the van window! When you do return to the post office you are rewarded with a much needed cup of tea, this is a particularly nice touch. Your little red van can move in all four directions and can also reverse, a much needed feature for all the times you will get stuck. Although you are supposed to stick to the roads, my brother and I soon discovered ways to get round this and drive into fields! Although this often caused the game to glitch all over the place and sometimes even crash. There are also some other road users who will get in your way from time to time for added annoyance.

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Graphically Postman Pat is pretty good in the most part. There’s splashes of color all over the place and I particularly liked the way the van is animated, seemingly shaking on the uneven roads. If you were lucky enough to own a 128k machine (like me) you also got treated to the famous theme song on the title screen but the standard in-game effects are pretty grating, especially the noise of the van. Postman Pat is hardly going to thrill you in the gameplay stakes, but then you do have to remember that this game was squarely aimed at younger children. That said there is still something strangely mesmerizing and cathartic about it. Is Postman Pat a reason to own a Spectrum? Certainly not but it’s still an enjoyable romp that’s quite unlike anything else out there. More tea Pat?

Final Verdict: 3/5

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Available on: Sinclair ZX Spectrum (reviewed), Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64 ; Publisher: Alternative Software ; Developer: Enigma Variations ; Players: 1 ; Released: 16/09/2016 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: N/A

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