Product: Aabatron
Publisher: Bevan Technology
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #67

Hands up if you'd ever heard of this game before now? It actually came to light some years ago, along with some other obscure titles, on a collection of cassettes donated to Stairway to Hell. Originally it was written by M. Clemoes back in 1983, who also wrote Games Of Deduction and One Last Game (and, being honest, possibly some others we don't know about). It is a machine code maze game, officially released by Bevan Technology. This publisher moved onto pastures new relatively quickly, hence there appears to have only been a six month window where any of its games were available. The tape originals can therefore quite rightly be considered "mega rare".

The good news however is that finally a copy of Aabatron has been cracked by Mr. Spock and so the game is now freely available. The instructions on how to play it, alas, have not made it - but my few jaunts on it have proved the old adage 'if it moves, shoot it' holds good.

If you've played One Last Game before, then the first thing you notice is that the introductory screens, and indeed the sprites, are virtually identical. This is so even right down to the motor control relay of your Electron pounding out a merciless drum beat in time with the tune that accompanies the opening screen. Not to say, however, that this is necessarily a bad thing. The opening screens are, like the rest of the game, rendered in full screen Mode 5 with the imposing logo in customised font looming top-screen. You can choose to play the game at one of five speeds, which is a sure-fire way of widening its appeal. When the game proper begins, you are presented with a maze of sprites - some of which look surprisingly similar to the Acorn Datacorder. Three of the same sprites are on patrol and move around the outside of the maze, shooting at anything that gets in their way.

The aim of each screen seems to be to clear it of everything. You are a small droid, the same size as all the other sprites. Using the appropriate keys you get in line with the baddies, patrolling or no, and blast them. On impact, they disappear. You always shoot in the direction you are facing and you can only face left, right, up or down.

It is unwise to expect too much from the very early Electron games but this concept hardly makes for electrifying gameplay. What makes the game even less challenging is that you can choose to 'pick off' all the sitting duck sprites that make up the walls of the maze you are in, without putting yourself in any real danger from the ones that are on the rampage! Or, alternatively, if you take out a 'living' sprite, one of its dead cousins comes to life to replace it. There seems very little incentive therefore to pit yourself against the AI of the baddies and, considering all baddies seem content to lumber around the outskirts of the playing area, it is only a few minutes before the game feels rather tedious.

Collision detection is also rather spurious. If you position your droid in line with any other sprite, then fire, the target is hit. However, if you are a few pixels to the right or left then, although you see the bullet travel into it, there is no reaction at all and you have to wiggle the droid appropriately to take the shot again.

Contact with any moving sprite or its firepower brings about an untimely demise during which you get a cycling background colour effect and an explosion sound. You also lose one of your three lives. Happily you do not have to start the screen over if you are unlucky enough to actually get hit. The droid does respond well and it is usually possible to manoeuvre out of the way of any parading peripheral.

Aabatron will not set your Elk or its games collection on fire and on balance I prefer Bevan Technology's other titles. Having said that, there are less overhead maze tank games on the Electron than you might think. Aabatron is certainly better than the truly diabolical Tank Attack by Database Publications. Nevertheless, the game might be packaged up well, and the graphics (for the time) may be good, but I suspect Bevan itself had little faith in its playability. Whilst it is great that it is now available, if it hadn't been rediscovered, it would sadly not have been a great loss.