By Dave E Published In EGG #013: Acorn Electron
Unlike the BBC Micro, its brother the Acorn Electron hasn't had a new game in years. This may seem quite puzzling considering the two share the same Basic/Assembly language firmware but the two machines themselves are intrinsically different. The low-resolution, seven colour Mode 2 of the BBC, for example, runs about 190% faster than the same Mode on the Electron. This meant that, back in the day, you would often find new games released with a BBC version on one side of the cassette and an Electron version on the other. The BBC version was always superior.
A case in point is Palace Of Magic, which was written by Martyn Howard and released in November 1987. The BBC Micro received a glorious seven colour Mode 2 version. The Electron received a less-glorious four colour Mode 5 version, its author choosing to redesign all of the sprites of the palace rather than try to stick with Mode 2 on the Electron and try to reduce processing time.
Well, some thirty years later, Palace Of Magic 2016 manages to recreate the original BBC Micro Mode 2 palace on an Acorn Electron. In the game, which was a sequel to the genre-defining Citadel, you play Caldeti, reduced to the size of a midget and stranded in the palace of an offended God. Your task is to solve the mysteries of the Palace Of Magic by bounding about, shinning up the ropes, avoiding the patrolling nasties on the platforms and moving the items you find around the rooms allowing every route through the palace to be opened up. Once you've managed it, you will discover a transporter to quit the palace and will be restored to your normal height. In short, what became typical graphic adventure fare.
Great touches of the game include the "red screen save routine" which, if you plunge into a pit of spikes or spend too much time occupying the same sprite space as one of the baddies, automatically transports you back to the point at which you entered the room. There's also much more involved than "find key A and unlock door A with it". A pair of magical boots will allow you to jump three times as high when collected, for example. A sword will allow you to start wiping out certain nasties rather than just having to jump them. A candle will light up dark rooms. A coiled rope will automatically uncoil in the right place. And so on.
In assessing Palace Of Magic 2016, you really need to compare it not with just the original Acorn Electron version but with the BBC version it has been converted from. Differences in the hardware between the two machines, for example, mean that, on the BBC, a short piece of machine code will "shake" the screen. So if Caldeti falls a long way, the impact will not only drain his energy bar but will send the screen twanging up and down. The Electron has no hardware scrolling whatsoever, so the original version simply dropped this effect. This new version somehow manages to replicate it!
The lack of colours in the Acorn Electron version also led to the keys and doors being completely different to the BBC. Where the BBC could use many different colour combinations to represent the keys and doors, the Electron owner was reduced to letter codes. Instead of a yellow and blue key, they got a simple key labelled A. This new version dispenses with these shortcomings too.
Indeed, no programming stone seems to have been left unturned in the author's own quest to wring every last instruction out of every last machine code cycle on the little Elk. The game even automatically compensates for whether the Electron it is running on is equipped with the Master Ram/Turbo board. The only real difference I found was that, on some emulators, the sound made when Caldeti jumped seemed to be about a quarter of a second too late.
Overall though, this is a much improved version of the Electron Palace Of Magic and any Acorn Electron owners who have never seen this superior version should be advised to get it immediately.