Everygamegoing


Ransack

Author: Dave E
Publisher: Audiogenic
Machine: BBC/Electron

 
Published in EGG #013: Acorn Electron

Ransack

The Electron isn't really known for having a vast variety of what might be termed "traditional" sideways-scrolling shoot-'em-ups. It's a struggle to name three, in fact. But Ransack is one of them and, as sideways-scrolling shooters go, it's got a lot going for it. Firstly, it introduces a brand new idea, a bouncing protagonist. Secondly, it dispenses with having scrolling backgrounds in favour of just a thin moving strip at the very bottom to give the illusion of movement. And thirdly, it feels like an arcade game. This doesn't move jerkily, it fires on all cylinders. And it knows it too, with an inlay that screams "a high-speed arcade extravaganza". This is truly one Electron game where you can actually believe the hype.

It's called Ransack for a reason. Apparently, in the universe of the game, an interplantary council maintains the good order of all of planets, doing all the usual bureaucratic administration and making sure aliens on minimum wage transport each planet's trash to a nearby black hole. Unfortunately, eight planets have decided not to pay their taxes this year and, when a representative of the council visited them for a friendly word, they turned him into fois gras! The council has therefore invoked the "Ransack clause", a little-used codicil that allows the complete decimation of any upstart planet. Good old "Al", a beaten-up tin of beans, has been hyperspaced to the planets in question and told two things: "Shoot everything to bits" and "Don't land on the spikes". Don't you just love to play the hero when they're on such believable and obviously totally justified missions?

The game takes place on approximately two-thirds of the full screen, with Al able to cross back and forth at will. Obviously, it's not wise to hang about at the very right of the screen, because that's where the majority of enemies scroll on from. But you can if you want to and, indeed, you need to put Al at risk in this sort of way because you're not only at risk from enemies. You're also tasked with keeping an eye to the ground to make sure that Al doesn't accidentally bounce on an electrified fence or a spike.

Ransack

The bouncing feature is excellent, with a graceful arc and a constant beat whenever Al makes contact with the planet surface. Ransack is one of the few games that really benefits from being heard as well as seen, because the ground-based dangers ofter repeat at intervals consistent with Al's upward-and-downward motion. If you have the sound turned on, the first contact with an energy-draining protrusion will make a familiar explosion-type noise and quickly alert you to the fact that Al's position on-screen needs to be quickly corrected. The responsiveness of the left and right controls is really something to behold too - with Al spinning out or peeling backwards with a rare smoothness.

The enemies in this game are cute. The inlay describes them as fascists disguised as "cuddly computer characters" who should be put out of their misery without a second thought and, truth to be told, their aesthetic charms quickly wear thin when they send a stream of bullets in your direction. But still, they not only look nice but it's noteable that they all move without flicker and, even when there are a lot of them of screen at the same time, Ransack never falters, or even slows. Not that I can tell, anyway. The game runs at a very impressive speed, and one that seems to be "just right" for the action. The length of the levels also seems "just right". And the amount of energy removed from Al's energy bar on collision with a cutesy/nasty isn't overly punitive either.

Another great inclusion is the range of weaponry on offer. There are gun which fire, in turn, double-bullets, bullets which destroy everything in their paths, bullets simultaneously in four directions, "machine-gun" style firepower and finally smart bombs. You start off with a puny, single-shot firing gun so any other weapon, when it floats on-screen, is well worth grabbing. From that point on, try to avoid bouncing on anything that's a weaker weapon and aim to bounce on anything that's stronger.

Ransack

It's even got a password system so that you don't have to play the same opening planets over and over again.

Finally, there's a bonus game between every level, which consists of nothing more than bouncing on an ever-moving podium and shooting enemies until the bonus time ticks down. It's yet another little detail the elevates Ransack into the kind of space reserved for games like Exile and Elite.

With that sort of praise, and with nothing else quite like it on the Electron either, it's no wonder that this game is so much fun to play. The only real irk I have is that, occasionally a bullet or an enemy also appears from the left of the playing area. This can feel a bit unsporting because, if six of them come on screen-right, it's only natural to bounce to extreme screen-left to deal with them. Of course, if you're one of those crazy people who can remember exactly when and where aliens will appear from on subsequent runs then that won't be any kind of problem for you.

Looking at the reviews that accompanied its release, it clearly didn't gain the attention it so obviously deserved. Electron User and The Micro User published the exact same review and, whilst the reviewer clearly loved it, he didn't seem to grasp what a feat of extraordinary programming it was. It also doesn't come up very regularly at all on the second-hand market, suggesting Audiogenic didn't sell very many copies of it back in the day. All things combined make for a truly great and rare game in a single load, and it's from Peter Scott, one of the masters of Electron programming. If you can find it for under £15 now therefore I'd be surprised. If you do, consider it a bargain because, when you consider the limited capabilities of the Electron, this is simply brilliant.

Dave E

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