Product: Computer Gamer Collection
Publisher: Computer Gamer
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #69
Another Version Of The Electron User Menu System Takes Centre-Stage :-)

There are seventeen new programs available for the BBC courtesy of Dave E spending three days dividing his attention between the World of Spectrum's archive magazine section and BeebEm. A disc of companion programs to a magazine that many of you probably don't even know existed, has arrived - Computer Gamer Collection. As you might expect, every program is a game. And, coming from the same producers as Home Computing Weekly and A&B Computing, the quality level is going to be high.

The level is set by virgin title Kitchen Capers, a 100% machine code title the magazine at the time billed as "the best type in for the BBC ever published in a computer magazine". Now whilst that's certainly not the case, I am going to jump to this title first because it is certainly the one that looks the most impressive, with ladders, levels and multi-coloured sprites giving it something of the feel of a kitchen-based Chuckie Egg clone.

The game starts up with a promising intro screen complete with scrolly message (which actually reads 'Submitted to GAMES COMPUTING', another Argus Press publication). You are a chef and need to collect the ingredients for your stew - apples, eggs, trifles and carrots (?!) - sprinkled around the screen between mutant spoons and forks. Don't come into contact with anything that moves, and don't fall too far, and all should be well.

Don't come into contact with anything that moves, and don't fall too far, and all should be well. Alas, the game is let down badly by its extremely clumsy gameplay. Handling the chef when walking is easy but start trying to judge jumps from platforms and you encounter the game's quirks which leave you dead, and extremely frustrated. It isn't at all even clear how you can even complete the first screen! Add to this that the baddies just seem to mill about and the game is frankly crap.

Now you might be thinking "Hang on though, didn't you just say that this was the virgin title that set a high level, Mr. Editor?!" Well, yes, I did - but what I meant by this was that the games on this compilation are mostly machine code ones, and I think that publishing Kitchen Capers in Computer Gamer's very first issue probably encouraged the readers who later submitted programs to it to aim higher than those who read rival publications; whilst the game may not be wildly playable, this was the era when Firebird's The Hacker was flying off the shelves for £2.50 a throw, and it's better than that, so by that token it could easily have been sold as a professional release.

This is actually a good way of describing many of the individual games that appear on this compilation - they are a long-lost library of budget games. Some are blantant clones/rip-offs of commercially published titles; some are wholly new ideas. They come from a smallish selection of authors and clearly a lot of work has gone into most of them.

So, without further ado, the rest of the games:

Crunchback is, as you might expect, a Hunchback clone. You have to run along a wall from left to right and ring a bell at the far end. The game runs full-screen in Mode 2 with multi-coloured sprites and has ten screens to traverse in total. The difficulty level climbs steadily but much of the skill is through pixel-perfect positioning before you leap over holes rather than the frantic arcade dash of the original. It is a bit cumbersome to play, and feels a bit too basic. However, it has some nice features like being able to choose which section of wall to start at. Try 10 for a challenge!

Galex-Vaders is a machine code space invaders clone which puts up a heck of a fight as you scramble to hide behind one of your four bases and take out the hovering 'vaders' one by one. It suffers from some jerky movement, and the strange quirk that each time you lose a life you need to press 'A' to start playing again. The pack of 'vaders' also do not descend and even do not float backwards and forwards to cover the whole of the screen when you take out whole columns on their left or right. Despite these grumbles though, it is reasonably playable, largely due to its pace and colourful presentation.

DUNGEON QUEST is a real oddity, a 3D graphical maze, perhaps somewhat inspired by Alien-8 but completely different due to the lack of a playing character.

Dungeon Quest is a real oddity, a 3D graphical maze, perhaps somewhat inspired by Alien-8 but completely different due to the lack of a playing character. You don't traverse the rooms on foot; you move from one to another by clicking icons at the base of the map! Sort of like playing Exile by scrolling the map around if you will. Hmmm.

When you find an object you can move to an item to 'take' it, and then if you find a beastie that you want to kill with it, another icon will show a quick animation of you beating said beastie to death. The whole game also has a countdown of just 30 minutes in real time to keep you on your toes.

Certainly this game is unlike any other although I found it very difficult to understand. It also seems to poke memory usually used by the lower case character definitions so you really need to hard reset your micro after you've played it if you then want to try something else.

Snake Maze is a brilliant grid machine code chase where you play a slimy green snake and need to avoid a very intelligent red snake in the grid (and a red ghost that's not as intelligent). To win the game, you need to get behind the red snake and shoot it from behind. Each hit will lop off one of the snake's joins. However, it's all easier said than done - not only do you need to look out for the red ghost milling about, the red snake is also trying to take you out in exactly the same way - so you must ensure you do not wind up in his line of fire, whilst ensuring he does end up in yours. Oh, and if you're turning around then you need to stop firing else you'll hit yourself and die immediately!

The action zips along and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sound like a challenge? This game calls for a lot of forward-thinking and practice. The action zips along and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

On that note, let me also positively encourage you to play Rock Race, which may rank as the best Mode 7 only game you've ever seen. The idea is standard fare, think Boulderdash in monochrome Mode 7 blocks and you'd have half the premise. The complement is possibly the zippiest chase you could imagine; all the scrolling is done with a hardware scroll and practically every third move or so that you make has fifty or so rocks hurtling in your direction. Can you win it? Can anyone?! It's got the difficulty level of a Doctorate in Applied Sciences, but it's extremely visually pleasing and a real break from the norm. I'm sure it's not impossible, it just feels that way.

One game which is impossible however is The Miner. If you've ever played Kansas' Caveman well, this is like this - on acid! You are being plagued by a striking miner who sprints around the underground maze towards you so fast that the obstacles that you have to 'stop' him are about as much use as a chocolate teapot. There's some other objective in there too - something about getting coal from one place to another! - but really if you live longer than 20 seconds you've done well I think!

King's Quest is a text adventure modelled identically to the Scott Adams series, right down to the layout of the screens and the messages that appear when common actions are taken. In fact, if you didn't know this had been typed in from a book, you'd probably swear this was a missing 'Mysterious Adventure'! Practically every element that Scott Adams every used, right down to confusing instructions that give very little idea of your goal and the prompt '---WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?' has been used here. Why pay £7.95 for an official product, eh? This will keep you flummoxed for days if not weeks, and is at the Moderate level of difficulty.

KING'S QUEST is a text adventure modelled identically to the Scott Adams series. Also in text only format is F.A. Cup Trail, a football management game which offers the player quite a deal of customisation. You firstly, choose a team, but then you can pick the players for that team by typing the names in yourself. Whilst this might be a bit laborious to do each time you play, it clearly gives the game a great deal of longevity - you can type in Manchester United's current team if you're so inclined and play a 2009 football match on a 1982 games machine! I also like how you can mark players as both playing or as substitutes - and switch them as the match progresses. The game also offers you three levels of play, and keeps tabs on who are your leading players as the season progresses.

Minefield is a great little game, a bit of a twist on the popular "Minesweeper" program on modern PCs. You need to find your way from one side of a minefield to the other, and as you move you lay a trail. This trail then changes colour depending on your proximity to a mine. If there is a mine either in front of you or to your left or right, the trail turns red. If there is more than one mine, it turns blue. Of course, you can take the risk and plough on (i.e. if the trail is red you have a 1:3 chance of not getting blown up) or you can retrace your steps and try and find a path that doesn't warn you in this way.

This game really forces you to use your brain. However, it does suffer from an appalling bug in that when you first step onto the minefield you have no trail. I have lost count of the number of times that first step has cost me a life - the very first step is therefore pot luck and when it happens to you, as it surely will, not particularly encouraging.

Minefield was, incidentally, the only program that was originally quite heavily bugged when published and required some rewriting.

Alphabet Collector is a game that we've probably all seen before and is nothing special. You have to run around the screen getting A then B and C, etc, before your time runs out. What I hate about these types of games is that they actually get easier as they continue - i.e. it's a challenge to get the A, B and C because you have to avoid all the other letters. But inevitably as you continue there are less and less letters to accidentally run into so that winning just becomes a question of time by halfway in.

This version runs in Mode 7 and starts by sending you veering diagonally across the screen - two features which are less than helpful.

MECHANIC MIKE is a Pacman clone with the powerpills replaced by bolts. Mechanic Mike is a Pacman clone with the powerpills replaced by bolts. This is one of the few BASIC-only games on the disc and is about as exciting as leprosy. Also, it only works on the BBC B because of the way the countdown timer works; if you play it on a Master 128, the faster clock cycles mean there is never enough time to clear the maze. The other overhead maze game, Moon Buggy, also suffers from some of the same flaws.

Finally, there are three games which feature the same hero character - a hippopotamus. Hippo Quest is the first, a straightforward BASIC-looking and BASIC-feeling Hunchback clone, with turrets instead of grass. There are only two keys to press - forward and jump; you can't even run left or right!

This one left me sighing, but the situation is much improved in the hippo's second outing: Helpful Harry. This is quite a bizarre game which involves your hippo leaping over platforms, snatching keys out of the air and collaborating to produce hi-fis and television sets. Goodness knows what the author had been smoking when he wrote this! That said, the game is more than your average plod around, with genuine elements of strategy required to avoid plunging to your death. Unfortunately, though the lifts which carry your hippopotami up and down are very tempramental and being 'off' by a fraction of a second as you approach them leaves you 'deaded'.

Finally finally there is Hungry Henrietta, a sort of double-sized sprites maze game where you must move the hippo around to eat a load of hippo food and avoid a bulldog's head. This is frankly a piece of cake, and it is almost like the author has taken a step backwards from the complexity of Helpful Harry.

Please, just get it away from me! At the very bottom of the list is the dross that is (Computer) Gamer Quest Adventure, a multiple-choice text adventure whereby you have been ordered by aliens to bring them a copy of the Computer Gamer magazine. The whole 'Choose Your Own Adventure' thing is a bit of a copout for a computer program and unless you are blessed with the wry wit of Stephen Fry for your narrative, you're on a loser from the start. Toss in this quite ridiculous scenario, and the fact that success is based purely on luck, and you can probably guess that it deserves everyone to blow a raspberry at it. It's no coincidence I left it until last both to type-in and to review. Please, just get it away from me!

In all though, there's a fairly high quality collection of never-before-seen games here, and certainly I will be returning to some of them when time allows. The arcade games all have high-score tables (with many of them also including the option to save the current high score table to tape or disc if required), pause/restart, sound on/off and joystick options. Keys are constant throughout the titles at the common ZX:? combination, apart from, curiously Snake Maze, perhaps because this had a Spanish author.

Unlike with some other titles produced by Dave E, the games here are presented 'as they appeared', without any further work to enhance their presentation. The other addition has been to wrap then up with a menu system with a nice rendering of the Computer Gamer logo, and a list of each game's title and the individual issue it has been taken from.

This means that primarily this disc is marketted for a BBC audience. That said, Dungeon Quest, King's Quest, Snake Maze and Gamer Quest Adventure were all designed on an Electron - and many of the others will in fact work well on it if you can forgive Mode 7 loading screens that appear in Mode 6 with random characters scattered around.

I was genuinely impressed with these games, which are now over 25 years old. I consider this disc a real treasure trove for BBC Micro arcade fans!