We've come quickly to the last of Pres' disc compilations for the Acorn Electron feeling deflated after the fifth effort. But the magic words "Superior Software" [The most well respected company for the Elk - Ed] could offer hope to ADFS gamers with a disc chock full of their earliest releases...and one brand new release thrown in too!
First on Pres' by now standard menu system is Stryker's Run. You are John Stryker and, as the name suggests, you run. From left to right in fact. And across a war ravaged landscape patrolled by guards, planes and spacecrafts and your own forces.
Straight running across the screen doesn't take very long and you have a supply of bullets and hand grenades to help you deal with the various threats you encounter. Hand grenades are most useful when your way is barred by a landmine as the grenade will destroy it and aid your safe passage. As you near the right hand side of the screen, there is a short pause and you begin on the left hand side of the next screen. The background is a long screen and the landscape cleverly 'continues'.
This, and the colourful screen (Mode 2!), 'cartoony' characters and animation, make the game one of Superior's most famous. But although it's certainly visually pleasing, the means of implementing a playability factor doesn't really work as well as it should. One example is that your character will often find an abandoned helicopter/spaceship and you can choose to board it and fly across as many screens as its fuel will allow. But propulsion of both John on terra firma and the airborne hero are slow - and the planes flicker dreadfully!
Another, as if to lay home the point, is your bullets and those fired by your enemies, move at the same frame rate as the "run"ning man! As the bullet disappears a short distance from where it is fired, you can outrun it! This makes the game feel surreal. Not necessarily that this makes it easy though. It's not.
Next on the list is Zalaga, originally released by Aardvark; a brilliant Space Invaders clone with loads of sprites, intricate and very varied attacking patterns and levels of ever-increasing difficulty. It and Stryker's Run were both the most recent, and the pick, of all the games on this disc; released first in 1987 and compiled by professional machine code programmers.
The rest of them date from the 1983 days when Superior's software was on small blue inlayed cassettes. There's another two Space Invaders clones - Alien Dropout and the aptly-titled Invaders, a Fruit Machine simulator, maze with a birds eye view Percy Penguin and Centibug, the traditional caterpillar blaster. The eighth title is a quiz called World Geography, noteable today not for its map of the world but all its out of date information. Hazard a guess at the population of west Germany?
Whilst evident that not nearly as much time went into their preparation, all are fair and some of them are quite good. First, Alien Dropout is an interesting space variant requiring phenomenal speed on the keys: Non-firing bugs fall from the top of the screen into boxes one by one, and each of the ten boxes can hold five bugs. You must shoot as many peacefully-boxed bugs as you can as the sixth bug into a box will push out the first one and it comes out mean! Of course, while it distracts you (or kills you!) the 'box'ing goes on and you must try and blast away a set number of bugs (increasing in proportion to level) before there are so many free bugs that there's nowhere to hide! If you reach this target, you must destroy the bug's mothership, which rains down a constant stream of bullets throughout each game to keep you on your toes!
Percy Penguin is also a fast and nicely presented number - and this is the only place to get it on disc - where you control a pretty penguin in an expanse of ice-cubes. You must hurl said cubes at the Snobees before your time runs out and collect all the cherries on each screen. It's a game like Pengwyn and Rubble Trouble but it's a little different and all three are addictive and challenging!
But the remaining four aren't anything to get excited about: Fruit Machine is a very slow one armed bandit simulation which is about as exciting as cow dung - but the Master RAM Board helps a bit; Centibug is admitted to be vastly inferior to Alligata's Bug Blaster [Pres Games Disc 4, Reviewed in EUG #48 - Ed] and World Geography is bleak even if you are interested in world population and country identification.
Invaders, different to Electron Invaders on Pres Games Disc 1, is quite playable although nothing you won't have seen before. Many of these games ask 'Do you want sound?' before they begin and this gives a clue as to the level of programming involved. The majority of professional software allows you to alter sound during game play. Our Superior Software's beginnings were indeed humble.
It's not an overly impressive disc but there are no errors and the first two games and Percy Penguin really make the difference. The rest become drole after a short time especially when you know better versions are out there. Still, loading is very quick and Michael Hutchinson's Zalaga loading screen is quite impressive.
Of course, that Pres' non-cataloguable disc "feature" is there and you have to remember the instructions as they aren't supplied or printable from screen! Still, overall, the conclusion of the Pres series is adequate and salvages them from a "Their last releases were very poor" label.