|From their bench on high, our regular panel of jurors - Ross Holman, Dave Nicholls and Roger Willis - pass judgement on the latest games software!|
You're probably getting used to our
joystick jockeys by now but, for the
record, there's gamester supremo Ross
Holman; the hairiest of hackers, Dave
Nicholls; and the fastest reviewer on
two wheels, Roger Willis.|
Just in case you find our scoring system too confusing, here's what it's all about. The score out of five at the end of each person's review is based on their own experience of the game. But that's pretty subjective ... so they also use the HIT and MISS system to indicate its potential as a commercial success.
Microsphere / £5.95
Ross: In Skool Daze you get a chance to re-live
your youth or, as in my own case,
do all those things you didn't dare do!|
You play Eric, and if you want to be able to sit down for the next week, you must retrieve your school report from the safe before your parents get to see it. The first thing to do is to hit all the shields hanging on the walls. This in itself is not so easy and may require using one of the other boys as a spring-board, or even deflecting one of your catapult pellets off a teacher! Once all the shields have been hit the masters can be persuaded to reveal their letter to the safe's four-part combination.
Eric and the other children can go to any room but must obey the bell which signals the start of lessons.
The graphics are very clear and well animated, and the independence of all the other
characters makes the game fun
to watch. However I didn't really find
that I wanted to play it for very long. It is,
nevertheless, a very
clever piece of software. 3/5
Dave: This is a very original game with good graphics. The playing area isn't very big, and it does seem rather unfair that if you go to a lesson where there aren't enough seats you get lines every time you get pushed out of your seat. I want my Mummy! 3/5
Roger: Buy now - before Sir Keith Joseph has it banned! This is as near to the real thing as I'm prepared to get. If you're still at school, learn and inwardly digest ... 4/5
Artic Software / £6.95
Ross: If you were going to write a piece of software but couldn't think of an original idea
then you might end up doing what
everybody else seems to have done ...
and that's to borrow a bit of inspiration
from Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy.|
The game itself has 40 screens, each of which has a name and a number of pieces of gold to collect. Monty (a similar character to Miner Willy) moves left, right, up and down, and has to career around the screen dodging the horizontally or vertically moving graphics. The lack of jumping ability means that this is not a true platform game.
Despite its many familiar features, Mutant Monty does have a few things going for it. Firstly, Monty accelerates when moving left and right if you keep the key held down and will continue to move until you press another key. This means that avoiding the nasties is a little more tricky than your average game.
Secondly, the sprites move and animate
The screens are all very colourful and lively, but unless you're a real fan of this kind of game it offers nothing new. 2½/5
Dave: Reasonable graphics, but the controls seemed rather slow to react. After wandering around so many games like this and collecting gold, I should be a rich man - where am I going wrong? 2/5
Roger: Forty-seven cans of Special Brew and a blindfold might prepare you for staggering through Monty's many rooms in an imprecise and frustrating quest for gold. But I suppose any ol' anaesthetic will do! 2/5
A'n'F Software / £5.75
Roger: Having always thought that 'Cylon'
was something they made cheap shirts
out of, I was disagreeably surprised to
find it cropping up as yet another alien
life form. Here we go again, striving to
protect the wholesomeness of one's
Launch and landing sequences, and on- screen instrumentation (including radar and cockpit sights) complement protective screens and lasers that gradually expire from over-exposure to malevolent cheap shirts. As one would expect, these garments are cleverly disguised as spacecraft, getting bigger as they get nearer.
That, more or less, explains the pretension towards 3D graphics, in which case I can only wish there were more - dimensions, that is.
Such a facility would
at least allow me to exploit the space/time continuum and slip off for a swift
half whilst Spectrum and Cylons play
'shootie-bangs'. Computers have no
have shirts. 1/5
Ross: This didn't quite live up to my hopes that it would be a good 'blast everything that moves' game, but it wasn't that bad. 2/5
Dave: Nice, big, smooth graphics are the main feature of this game I didn't find it very addictive, but 'shoot 'em up' fans might think it's fun. The back- ground graphics are great. 3/5
STRONTIUM DOG - THE KILLING
Quicksilva / £6.95
Roger: Johnny Alpha is a "Search And
Destroy" agent (a mutant bounty hunter
of the future) who first appeared in yer
actual 2000AD comic and he may well
have been the star of many ripping yarns
in those smudged and inky pages. His
debut, however, as Sinclair superheroette
is somewhat more than underwhelming.
It's desperate! It's a dog's life!!|
You can poodle the Strontium woofer through a generally doggy selection of extraterrestrial kennels, seeking 'vicious murderers' who need to be put permanently to sleep, along with the 'Evil Dictators' who apparently control this contest of yapping yawns. Watch out for the 'Steel Kriegs' too!
Owing to a blatant programming oversight, Strontium Dog fails to cross his back legs in
frustration and agony at the
complete absence of life-relieving lampposts unfolds screen by screen. Maybe
they were just hard to find in
two dimensions? 2/5
Ross: Here we have another complex maze of rooms within which you wander aimlessly! Occasionally, you come across a 'nasty' to blast, but otherwise there's very little to do. Tedious stuff. 1/5
Dave: 'The Killing' is an apt name for this game - while playing it, I nearly died of boredom! Games seem to be getting bigger and bigger, but with less and less content! 1/5
Real-Time Software / £5.95
Ross: About two years ago I first saw a game
called Star Wars in the arcades and
looked forward to the day when I'd be
able to play such a game in the comfort
of my own home. Well, that day's here as
it's now available on the Spectrum.
Starstrike has three stages; the first finds you out in space in control of a fighter under attack from various alien craft; the second stage involves you shooting the gun emplacements and towers on the alien moon; and third stage is in a trench (à la Deathstar) where you must avoid the bridges that cross it and shoot out more gun emplacements.
Your fighter is protected by a shield which decreases in strength each time it gets hit by the alien.
Like Dark Star this game pushes the Spectrum to the limits with some very fast line drawing routines. However, unlike Dark Star,
Starstrike manages to maintain
its playability. The speed sometimes
suffers if you shoot a lot of things at
once, but the 3D simulation and crisp
response to any adjustments in
your flight path is superb. 4/5
Dave: At last, Star Wars on the Spectrum - and a pretty good version at that! The graphics are great, especially the alien moon trench, but they do slow down quite a bit when there's a lot going on. 3½/5
Roger: Suddenly, it says here, there were the (gasp) Outsiders! Suddenly (yawn), I fell - completely and unsurprisingly - into a deep slumber for the duration of this game. 1/5
BRIDGE PLAYER 2
CP Software / £9.95
Ross: Bridge Player 2 is intended as an aid for those wishing to practise playing bridge, and
not as a guide on how to play
the game. The accompanying manual
describes all the features of the program,
but does tend to slip into 'Bridge jargon';
having said that, though, I'm far from a
hardened Bridge player and I could still
understand most of the finer points!|
The program works by dealing the pack to all four hands, but there is the restriction that no more than eight cards of one suit can appear in one hand; this is due to the graphical layout of the cards on-screen. Once dealt, the bidding begins and follows the Acol system, with commands such as '5C' being interpreted as a bid of five clubs; however, as the human player, you always play south and enter the card you wish to play with the suit first and then its value. Some nice refinements are the automatic play of cards if you have only one
and hitting the Enter key to play the
lowest card when following suit.
The graphical display is clear and easy to follow, and the computer plays very reasonably. This will not appeal to the masses, but it's worth trying if you want to become the Bridge equivalent of the Cincinnati Kid. 3/5
Dave: Hah! Hands up who thought this was a sophisticated platform game. I'm not that good at Bridge but, after playing this package for a while, I think I'm a bit better. 4/5
Roger: I'd have preferred something a little more racy ... maybe, Spectrum poker! Generally, though card games are a sunset industry. 1/5
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL
Mikro-Gen / £9.95
Dave: "Oh no! I've lost contact with that 737 heading for Heathrow, and the outward bound
DC10 has lost
pressurisation so I'll have to re-route all
the aircraft down W17 and put Concorde
in a holding pattern, then I can ..." This
is an example of the thoughts that go
through your head as you play (!!)
The program simulates the job of controlling the air traffic over a section of southern England, including the main London and south coast airports. All you have to do is make sure the planes don't get too close together and that aircraft leaving your section are at the correct height for the air channels they're entering. You take over for a fixed period of one hour and, at the end (or earlier if you quit), you're given a percentage rating relating to your performance. Different ability levels are catered for by varying the number of planes entering the area within the hour.
Communication with the planes is handled via
the keyboard and the main
screen display depicts your radar screen;
you can also have on-screen lists of
aircraft or all flights scheduled to come
through the area.|
ATC won't be everyone's cup of tea, but if you like simulations or turning your brain to jelly then it's worth a look. 4/5
Ross: Because this game's such an accurate simulation of air traffic control, it's rather slow and dull. No doubt some of you out there are dying to be master of the skyways, but it's certainly not my idea of fun! 1/5
Roger: Such a staggeringly boring and witless simulation that it'll probably go nova in Guildford and be even bigger in Woking ... 0/5
Firebird Software / £2.50
Dave: Booty is a platform game in which
you have to move around in the hold of
the Black Galleon collecting - not
surprisingly - booty. There are 20 holds
to empty and, when all have been
cleared, you have just 45 seconds to find
the key to the next section. Hazards in
the game include deadly parrots, ghost
pirates and exploding treasure.|
Each screen has a number of doors (some of which lead to alternate holds and others which simply get in the way) and there are various numbered keys lying around which can be used to open the corresponding door.
Music plays throughout the game but can be switched off when it gets too annoying. However, now we're onto the annoying features. The thing that really bugged me was
that when you die you
always return to the first hold.
For the price, Booty is very good value, but it does rather lack addictivity. 2½/5
Ross: This represents good value for money. It requires a slightly different approach to other 'ladder and levels' games - but I still didn't find it that compelling. 2/5
Roger: If only my daily life had 'doors' to escape into the next screen ... but cabin boy 'Jim' has to cope with parrots that bode terminal illness reminiscent of the Inland Revenue on heat ... 3/5
Atarisoft / £9.95
Roger: As the Greater London Council
and page seven of The Guardian never
cease to remind us, God was obviously a
woman. And so, we are now told, was the
"Original Atari Arcade Classic".
However, before your imaginations run riot, there's not a 'lady bump' in sight. Which is surprising really since she must be bursting out all over, considering her diet of interminable dots, intermittent fruit and interestingly aggressive energy pills. But never mind, because fat is, after all, an acceptably feminist issue.
What started out as a simple screen for simple minds can be viewed through playground perspectives by pageboys or sucked dry of innuendo cred by Page Three readers. After all, pills that can be consumed prior to the
blinking phantom breath have got to be
twinning the jolly old entendres, haven't
they? Ignore this intellectual flatulence.
Ms Pacperson is a seminal and shapely
(oops!) figure in micro software history.
Put her in the display case
next to your mainframe! 5/5
Ross: Surprisingly, this offering from Atarisoft is much better value and a superior program to its original Pacman! 3/5
Dave: I loved Pacman when it first came out, and I'm sure I'd have loved this one - if only Atarisoft had changed a little more than Pacman's sex! 2/5
Ocean / £7.95
Dave: International Soccer has been available on the Commodore 64 (Wash your mouth out
with soap! Ed.) for some
time and has proved popular ...
especially in Dixons' shop windows! Well
Match Day is basically the same game.|
For those who haven't seen it, this is a football game where you have a 'cameras eye' view of the pitch on which two teams - either both player controlled or where you get to pit your boots against the computer - battle it out. You only control one team member at a time, while the others in your team run about and try to get into the best positions under computer control. If one of your players has the ball, then you get to control the player in possession; if you've got the ball, the Spectrum puts you in control of the player best positioned to intercept.
If the opposing side shoots for goal then you get control of your goalie and you can make him jump up or dive left or right. Set pieces, like corners and throw- ins, are handled
automatically with your
players positioning themselves; if it's your
corner or throw-in, then you've nine
options for the direction/strength of the
I hate football - but I loved this game and I'm quietly confident that it will be a hit. 5/5
Ross: The large graphics animate nicely, especially the goalkeeper who kneels up briefly after a dive and looks around for the ball. A fun game with a good degree of skill needed if you want to win the cup. 4/5
Roger: Unrealistic, in that it lacks violent crowd invasions of the pitch and vicious, leg-breaking fouls whilst the ref ain't looking. Still good enough to make Jimmy Hill mix his metaphors ... 4/5
THE WITCH'S CAULDRON
Mikro-Gen / £6.95
Ross: Mikro-Gen are producing some very good pieces of software these days, and this text and
graphic adventure is no
exception. In the best of fairy-tale
traditions, the plot is based on a Prince
who having been turned into a toad, is
now trying to regain his regal form.|
The wicked witch, Hazel, cast the spell that transformed the Prince, and it's her abode that you have to hop around collecting all the ingredients necessary to make a potion in the witch's cauldron and then drink it. On your travels you may turn into many other forms, which can be useful but can also make you vulnerable to attack; for example, try turning from a toad into a bat and you'll be eaten by the cat.
I'm not a great fan of adventures but I liked this one very much. The illustrations of each room (which appear at the top of the screen) are detailed and drawn quickly, and the idea of the toad moving about the picture as you give
it instructions is quite novel. Above all, this
adventure is very user-friendly, it
understood most of what I typed in and
didn't expect that strange dialect I call
Overall, a humorous and well- designed game that I'd recommend highly. 3/5
Dave: Being able to see yourself moving around on-screen is a nice touch, but then there's lots of humour in this game. Red herrings abound and the puzzles are more than difficult. Addictive enough to keep you hopping back for more. 3½/5
Roger: One for the pot - in that any literate, difficult, but somewhat sluggardly, cerebral adventure game can earn its supernatural keep. 3/5
Activision / £7.99
Dave: Beamrider is a 'skim the surface of the
planet (or, in this case, Restrictor
Shield) shooting things that appear over
the horizon' game. There are few other
games of this type around and, I'm afraid
Beamrider is nothing really very special.
That said, it's an above average 'Zap 'em'
with quite a lot going on ...|
In order to progress up through the screens, you have to shoot 15 of the flying saucers that come down the grid, but there are several other types of alien flying around which sometimes get in the way. Some of the aliens can be destroyed with your 'laser lariats', but others can only be blown up by a torpedo. As you only get three torpedoes and you need at least one to destroy the sentinel ship that appears at the end of each screen, I found myself dodging more often than shooting. Different meanies appear on the higher screens and, by
about sector seven, you'll
find yourself very busy indeed!
If you're looking for a fast shooting game, then Beamrider is probably worth a look - but it's not exactly state-of-the-art stuff. 2/5
Ross: This is a very 'old' game ... and it shows! The different behaviour displayed by the nasties and the hectic pace of the game on the higher levels make this a reasonable 'zap and blast' game. It does however, have rather a short-lived appeal. 2/5
Roger: Clearing the sinister Restrictor Shield that surrounds one's planet is about as vibrant as outgrowing the brace on one's teeth. 1/5
SON OF BLAGGER
Alligata Software / £5.95
Roger: When you've finally managed to
keep the Blagger loaded by persuading
this program that you have actually
entered the correct master anti-piracy
code deduced from straining peepers at a
minuscule key on the packaging,
disappointment soon follows ...|
Son of Blagger ain't just another platform game - it's a bad platform game. Less-than-witty graphics are notable only for their crudity, abetting annoyingly erratic control of the Blagger himself. As he hops, jumps and creeps around the two-dimensional scrolling screens of Spectrum Security HQ, our boy is expected to scarper out of each room with all the 'hidden' gold keys before exhaustion of limited air supply. Quite what he's supposed to do with a binful of such upmarket locksmith's
accoutrements, I don't know ... not
having hung around to find out.
Do yourself a favour and blagg
a better game than this! 1/5
Ross: It's nice to see a scrolling Manic Miner type game - after all, they're really popular on the CBM 64 and BBC Micro. Catching the occasional brief glimpse of an as yet unreached area can make the game that much more interesting! 2/5
Dave: I found movement on-screen a little sluggish, and play was a bit boring. However, the scrolling techniques used are clever 2/5
WORD GAMES WITH THE MR MEN
Mirrorsoft / £9.95
Dave: This is one of a series of educational programs. Included in the package are two
cassettes (one for each
game), an explanatory booklet, and a
plastic keyboard overlay which covers the
alphabet keys and masks off the
The package is aimed at five to eight year-olds; to be realistic though, it's more likely to appeal to children at the lower end of the scale.
On the first cassette is Mr Noisy's Word Game, which is designed to teach words like 'small', 'wide', 'smallest' and 'widest'. There are nine different games to play, each of which can be selected from the main menu.
Other games allow various combinations of reading and writing exercises ranging from matching up a picture with the correct word to choosing the opposite to a displayed word.
The second cassette contains Read with Mr Bounce, which teaches position words like 'above', 'inside', and 'on'. Again, there are several different options
to teach different uses of the words.|
The graphics are large and clear, and this is just about the best educational package I've seen on the Spectrum. 5/5
Ross: The colourful screen layout and large, well animated graphics make this series of educational games very appealing. The pupil is led through a number of increasingly difficult tasks, from single key answers to full sentences. A very good educational package. 3/5
Roger: A vital training aid for the illiterati scribbling in this rag. Your Spectrum rumours allege that it constitutes Troubleshootin' Pete's favourite screentime! 5/5
Ultimate / £9.95
Roger: Beginning life as some sort of gothic Noddy, the quest through Melkhior's castle is
by one's temporary transformation into a
werewulf, which is what, ultimately ...
(groan) ... this superior escapade is all
about. In a mere on-screen 40 days and
40 nights, your canine metamorphosis
will become tragically permanent and the
game will be up in all possible senses.
Better get moving, eh?|
Splendid isometrically-projected 3D cartoon participants and hazardous, but cleverly defined, rooms demonstrate how this program leaves most of the rest in a technical Dark Age. Despite my getting somewhat chunderesque about these programming chaps who even blow their noses in machine code remaining unimaginatively fascinated by Sword'n'Sorcery plots, this remains one slice of mysticism that isn't stale.
I'll personally front up with a bottle of fizzy
'falling-over' pop for the first
infinite lives POKE - so that I can
actually survive for more than my current
appalling 8% of the total
cataclysmic content. 5/5
Dave: Ultimate shows no sign of stagnating and producing duff games - in fact, the games get better and better. Knight Lore is original, playable and has superb graphics. Show it to your Atari/ Commodore-owning friends and turn 'em green! 5/5
Ross: What can you say about Ultimate when it comes up with software as good as this! The graphics are second to none and the other characters in the game seem to have a life of their own. 4/5