Old square-jaw is back! Dan Dare III, comic book hero circa 354 BC, has been resurrected once again to shoot around the stars and save the universe from that vicious Venusian, Mekon. The green star Command Overalls are out of mothballs, the plasma rifle out of hock, that stiff upper lip out of starch, and he's ready to go for his third CPC adventure.
Dan finds himself stranded on the planet of the Treens, Mekon's slaves. He needs to find enough fuel to blast off and escape, but he's going to have to fight for it. Littered through out the place are various space nasties, goodies and transporters, all of which have to killed, collected and used respectively. Can the star of comic capers past make good again and survive this stern test? By jingo, Digby, we jolly well hope so!
The world is a platform complex that has to be reached by way of leaping around with the aid of a jet pack. In his hands, Dan carries a plasma cannon, and he has a few other toys in his rucksack. His first task is to find a way to the next level and a way to tool up.
Part one of this challenge is simplicity itself. All the boy has to do is fly over and blow a huge Mekon statue to bits. This gains him the Pod to the next level, which allows activation of the transporter. It also gives him access to a jolly decent little shop where one can buy everything from 'Nuke-'em smart bombs' to extra lives.
Then it's a case of clearing out the rest of the level of alien slime, topping up the jet pack fuel tank and venturing on to the next stage of the mission. All the fighting is done quickly and easily by selecting a weapon, pointing Dan and pulling the trigger. Shots can be fired in small repeated bursts or be built up R-Type-style. Dan either runs, flies or floats around, occasionally stopping to get kit or turn switches. All very simple, but a sound foundation for a game.
Transporting, however, is a totally different kettle of space fish, and introduces a frightening element of chance. Sending Dan between levels is strictly necessary. The only way he'll ever get enough ammunition to kill all the enemies is to continually visit the stores (start level) again and again.
You fly between levels, but the route is fraught with danger. Dan appears spread-eagle in front of you, with a tunnel of concentric squares rushing closer. Dan must be guided safely through the centre of every square or his life force bar suddenly takes a huge drop in power. The problem is the speed with which the squares zoom in, and the eye-numbing way they overlap, cunningly disguising the correct and safe route. Die and you go back to the transporter you've just left, succeed and you know the only way out is by returning the same way!
Probe software is responsible for this latest epic, and it shows in the graphics, which are both cute and humorous. Dan has a certain individual identity that's backed up with weird and wonderful aliens. They serve to embellish a game already crammed with subtle and intriguing features that are only revealed after intense experimentation. The style is simplistic but never basic, and the result is a bright and bold shoot-'em-up that stresses gameplay.
The transportation scenes are the speciality of Dan, though, being very tough to begin with and far from easy even after practice. They manage to make a simple idea work effectively, enhancing strong gameplay and turning a straightforward platform blast into something much more fiendish. The balance between strategy and violence is finely judged to maintain the widest possible appeal.
The licence itself may be more than dated, with fewer people than ever knowing (or caring) who Dan Dare is - but it doesn't matter. The result of the effort is an instantly entertaining puzzle-based shoot-'em-up, that looks good and plays fast. It becomes increasingly difficult and may not have the long-term interest promised in those first few games, but the travelling between levels repeatedly injects heart-stopping moments of panic, no matter how good you get.
Dan Dare may no longer be the pilot of the future, and may be nearing retirement age, but he still knows how to have a good time.
Bright, colourful and fast, Dan looks a little messy occasionally but still has instant appeal. Whether there's really a great deal of long-term gameplay is another matter.
Reach Level Three.
P. Clear and amusing sprites.
N. A touch blocky on the explosion front.
P. Thorough effects.
N. No music.
Grab Factor 84%
P. Instantly appealing.
N. Lots to do immediately.
Staying Power 67%
P. A long and hard mission to complete.
N. A touch limited in variety.
Cheerful comic capers.