Everygamegoing26th August 2018
Published in EGG #013: Acorn Electron
Ever since mankind invented computers, we've been fretting about being replaced by them. And, the paranoid paymasters of the Togarian (Not quite sure what that word means!) Computer Complex have fretted so much that all their computers have been earmarked for destruction. Therefore, enter a cute-looking droid with but one mission - namely, to traverse the complex and drive a bullet into each of these plotting processors. His only problem: each room of the complex is awash with weird flying things that drain his energy on contact, and always seem to get in the way of his bullets.
Plan B is played from the side-on and has many elements of a flick-screen graphic adventure. However, it's actually a remorseless shoot-'em-up, pitting the droid against high, but not impossible, odds. The curious thing about the game is that every room starts off completely empty. Then, after a short period, aliens start to teleport in, one after another, and ramdonly glide around. You can, if you're so inclined, use the exits from each room as an effective "smart bomb" by simply exiting the room then entering it again. Alternatively, you can attempt to clear a path through them by releasing streams of bullets. This is often a less than effective strategy though because as soon as you take out an alien, another one is teleported in to replace him.
Two of the criticisms often levelled at the Electron is that it doesn't do speed or sound particularly well. In many cases they are both fair points but, quite frankly, Plan B is the fastest and noisiest game in the Electron's library. This is quite possible due to the decision to run the whole game in monochrome, thus freeing up lots of the machine's memory for swift screen updates. The pace of the game, particularly if you listen to someone else playing it is like a heartbeat alternating between silence and chaos.
Progress is measured by both your score, and energy bars denoting health, ammo and number of computers left to destroy. As you gain familiarity with the game mechanics and the complex map, you'll find you can make quite a fair bit of progress, decimating that computer whilst maintaining enough ammo and health that you don't break a sweat.
Until that is, you get to a certain sequence of rooms named The Long Run. The Long Run challenges you to cross, and re-cross several rooms absolutely teeming with hordes of the smallest and deadliest type of buzzing alien. Having played the game a lot, I can quite categorically state that, even if you enter the first room of The Long Run with maximum energy and maximum ammo, you have a less than 30% chance of success in clearing it. The issue is not one of skill and judgement, it's more pure luck. If you find the droid is lucky enough not to have a swathe of nasties teleport into each room then you'll live. More often than not though, you'll find yourself bitten to an early demise with the message "You appear to have snuffed it. Oh well, such is life."!
And what makes The Long Run doubly unfair is that there's no opportunity to retreat, it's do or die, and dying here tends to cause prolonged periods of indignation (and swearing).
What's nice about Plan B, however, is that it's very intricately designed. The monochrome graphics allow for your own imagination to fill in the blanks, and the rooms are cleverly arranged to demand a bit of brainpower as well as target practice. Whilst originally you are restricted to a small area, passcards can be collected to open up more and more of the complex. Oh, and those energy cans and bullet packs can be destroyed by your own bullets - so acting like Rambo around these is even less of a good idea.
If you succeed in destroying each machinating mainframe, you'll alo then have to exit the complex by following the 'Way Out' signs down a route that requires every spare passcard - so make sure you don't waste any of them elsewhere.
Whilst I believe Plan B to be one of the Electron's very best games, it had a surprisingly low key release as a budget game costing just £2.50. Thirty years later, it can still be generally picked up for less than a fiver and it stll retains all of its charm, pace an, particuarly when you much tackle The Long Run, its high level of frustration.