Merely Mangram

As the May Fair noisily bussles out of Ludlow my poor head still spins from the ‘rides’ onto which I was unwillingly dragged by the odious team — not really my thing — but I’m still expected to bring you a round up of games coming to a Spectrum near you soon.

To kick off then... Ocean has a veritable plethora of releases scheduled over the next few months, most notable, perhaps, being Tai-Pan — an arcade adventure on the high China seas taken from James Clavell’s novel of the same name. The action is set in the 1840s, with you playing the role of intrepid Dirk Struan, who starts his adventure as a penniless trader and hopes to make it all the way up the oriental ladder to be come the Tai-Pan, a merchant Prince with lots of loot (and a harem no doubt).

Tai-Pan offers some variety in its gameplay — there’s a trading game, a simple shoot ’em up and an arcade adventure — but to master it you’ll need to become proficient in all three. Its programming team, Sentient Software, has finally managed to squeeze the whole lot into one 48K load — well, most of it anyway. On the 128K or +2 there’s extra music by Peter Clarke, and lurking within the depths of the 128 version, there’s an additional gambling game.

Dirk begins his epic quest in Canton, desperately trying to scrape some cash together to buy a ship. Three types of vessel are available, a Lorcha, a Clipper and (most expensive) a Frigate. Once a ship is possessed, a crew must be found — pay them to sail with you, or pressgang them, it’s entirely up to you. You can then set off along the safe shipping routes, or risk the navigational tortures of the high seas. Either way, there’s plenty of money to be made — if your crew is loyal and doesn’t mutiny.

Tai-Pan boasts 32 ports, each with 32 locations, so it looks as though mapping is going to be pretty essential. As good as finished when we saw it, look out for the full review next month. In the meantime you may be interested to know that my local Chinese takeaway does a very nice Egg Fu Yung.

The hack I sent up to Manchester to see Ocean’s forthcoming output also came across Renegade, an arcade conversion. Apparently the graphics on the later levels are quite stunning, but sadly the said hack ran out of film! However there should be a shot of the first level on the page somewhere. Renegade is a horizontally scrolling beat ’em up with lots of opponents. It should be finished just in time for review next month; certainly one to watch out for.

After many, many months of waiting Mag Max is almost ready. It seems the delay was due to the first team of programmers messing up the attempt to reproduce it on the Spectrum. Ocean decided against publishing it, and started again from scratch. Mag Max is simply an out and out shoot ’em up played on a right-to-left scrolling grid. You start out with a fairly wimpy ship, but it can be built up by adding a head and legs to it (yes, I know it sounds incredibly silly), and then you hurtle through caverns killing off the usual bunch of ensuing aliens. Mag Max is yours for £7.95 very soon.

Ocean has also tied up the arcade games Gryzor from Konami and Athena, a brand new one; not to mention the licence to produce a game around the hit Vietnam warfilm Platoon; this one also designed and written by Sentient Software (as soon as they’ve finished Tai-Pan that is).

From sentience to sensibility — Sensible Software’s Commodore creation, Wizball is being converted to the Spectrum by Steve Watson (programming) and Mark Jones (graphics) to be released at the end of May by Ocean. Taking the role of a fun-loving Wizard, you’ve got the latest form of spherical transport called Wizball for your use. Loads of aliens simply beg to be zapped into the middle of the next aeon while you busily colour in your sadly dull world. Aided by numerous feline (pussy cat) allies, you must suppress Zark’s Dark Forces and make the whole world a better place to live in — cue Julie Andrews. As Sensible Software (have you seen those idiot hippies?) would say, ‘It’s action, action, action all the way, with 24 levels of fun-packed love and PANIC... and where’s the nearest pub please?’

Finally on the Ocean shore, there’s Mutants, an unusually entertaining original shoot ’em up. Interstellar war has raged across the centuries, weapons evolve until the ultimate in biological warfare is developed — Mutants. As the creator of such destructive monstrosities, the Survivor Zero Corporation becomes the target for pacifist attack. The Mutants are held in a 16-square space grid. 15 of these are electrically surrounded, mutant pens, the other is a control zone. As one of the pacifists you volunteer to fly a highly manoeuvrable fighter into each pen to collect its self-destruct mechanism. When all such devices are gathered and placed on an assembly unit in the control zone, the Mutants and their holding pens are destroyed. Outside the pens, Mutant strains of variable strength harass the fighter, debilitating its shields. The game’s being convened from the Commodore at the moment and should be out in early June. ZZAP! gave it 90 percent.

In addition to Micronaut One (see following pages), Nexus is due to release a manic shoot ’em up dubbed Hades Nebula on 21 May, which is a vertically scrolling shoot ’em up with some glorious graphics boasting Double Parallax Scrolling (whatever that may be).

Meanwhile the poor programming slaves under Richard Tidsall’s cruel whip over at US Gold aren’t going to find much time for summer hols this year, what with the load of product they’re preparing. First on the list is Road Runner, on licence from Atari’s arcade machine out of the famous cartoon series. I’ve only seen some bits from the Commodore version, but it looks like it’s going to be good fun. Screen shot for next issue, hopefully.

Another game straight from the arcades is Indiana Jones, featuring three levels of typical hero type action. Start off by rescuing some poor defenceless children, then leap across bridges over great ravines and finally travel down deep into the caverns for the real adventure. Until the full review, hopefully next month, feast your eyes on the screen shot, don the old safari jacket, grab your whip, and leap and bound around the garden rescuing any fair maidens you may come across.

Finally, US Gold has Last Mission from Data East and Rygar, a fighting-cum-platform game from Tecmo up the collective sleeve. And the best of luck to them.

After converting Uridium to the Spectrum, Zynaps is Dominic Robinson’s first original game. He teams up with John Cumming to produce Hewson’s latest offering, aimed at the shoot ’em up brigade. With graphics by Steve Crow (Wizard’s Lair, Starquake) and music from Steve Rana Rama Turner, the action moves across 450 scrolling screens of what Hewson calls ‘a uniquely styled comic book format’, with chapters and episodes. Reaching an alien stronghold for a bit of the old ‘final conflict’ is the name of the game. But to do that you’ve got to make like a Rentokil man and wipe out an alien-infested space station, battle through an asteroid storm without the aid of an umbrella and infiltrate unknown planets. Discarded weaponry and hyperspace units are on hand, but are they enough to sort out those alien hordes?

Wouldn’t you know it! Too late for review, and just as I’m wrapping this up, in comes Howard the Duck from Activision. Based on the mixed-reception George Lucas film, it’s sub-titled Adventure on Volcano Island, and features Howard rescuing his friends from the clutches of the Dark Overlord using his jet pack, amazing quack-fu skills and a laser. It’s £9.99, and we’ll get round to the full review next month.

Due for release in late May, Mastertronic’s Milk Race rides fast on the wheel tracks of the real thing. As one of the competitors in this round-Britain race you’ve got to pedal your way from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne to London in 13 stages. Hold your lead over these stages and you’re the winner. Things ain’t so easy as all that though. Against you are 83 other piston leggers, and hazards such as cars and potholes to win your chances of a victory pint of cow juice. Occasional time trials force you onto the road alone, racing against the clock — miss the time limit and it’s bye-bye biker. On the credit side, however, are the kind pedestrian souls who offer you the odd glass of milk to boost your flagging energy levels.

And talking of flagging energy — and bikes — it’s time to revitalise mine and start pedalling back up the hill to the cottage, home for tea.

This may look like the contents of the average office’s dustbin, but in fact it’s a series of clues which are necessary to solve the mystery in Murder on the Atlantic, Infogrames’ latest adventure.

The era is the late thirties, and you’re a police superintendent taking a well-earned break aboard the Atlantic liner Bourgogne. However, a foul murder is committed soon after the ship leaves New York, and it’s up to you to find the guilty party before the cruise ends in Europe. More foul play occurs throughout the trip, and the pace speeds up when you realise that the outcome of the second world war depends on your successful solution!

Murder on the Atlantic should be available by the time you read this, priced at £12.95.


Equal Rights for Scrim!


AN APPARENTLY lifeless asteroid floats listlessly in space; but it’s home to you, one of the greatest breakthroughs in technology — a living computer, half machine, half bio-organism. A network of interlinked tunnels running deep under the asteroid’s equator is integral to its power system, for lying in dead-ends are four power generators that ought to be kept at optimum levels of energy. As a member of the Guild Of Equalisers, your life is geared to maintain this system and to keep power levels in the four generators stable, which largely means collecting power from an over-running generator and taking it to one which is underpowered.

Micronaut One is a new game from Pete Cooke, author of Tau Ceti and Academy, and while it’s quite different from those two games, its front end is similar in being large, and offering plenty of flexibility within the game. You can fiddle with the screen colours, tunnel decorations, sound, take a look at the scores, play the demo, check out the map of the current tunnel network (four in all), scribble notes down on a pad or see what’s happening on the Energy Transfer Unit (ETU) — the mechanism which monitors the status of each power generator.

There are two games too. First there’s a simple tunnel-racing game against time for high-scoring heroes, but if you like something to race against, there’s a speed-selectable ‘pacer’ available. Then there’s the full game. As well as shuffling energy between generators and steering your craft through the twisting tunnel networks, a horde of creatures create bio-problems. These are the Scrim, and their entire life-cycle may be followed just by sitting quietly and watching one. They begin life as a egg quietly gestating and swelling on the tunnel floor. After a minute, with a rumble and a flash, they turn into slug-like larvae and scurry off into the distance. Follow closely, and shortly you will see the next stage; the larvae split in two, forming another egg and the adult Jellyfly.

Jellyflies, umbrella-shaped creatures, roam the tunnels building energy webs which block your way. The eggs are impervious to the electricity bolts you can hurl at them, but the other forms can be wiped out — if you catch up with them.

The speed and smoothness of the animated tunnels in Micronaut One is quite amazing and Pete Cooke has come remarkably close to producing a realistic 3D game that should please many a gamester. At the time of writing, Pete is still working on the gameplay; Nexus aims to release Micronaut One ‘when it’s ready’, which should be very soon. Watch out for our special in-depth interview with Pete in next month’s CRASH.