Dan Dare, comic super-hero from the Eagle is about to make an assault on The Mekon's latest death trap, only this time he's not alone. You're the mug with him.
With only two hours before a hollowed-out asteroid collides with Earth (just like that awful movie Meteor with Sean Connery end Karl Maiden), Dan Dare leaps into his trusty space craft and zooms into space.
The first sequence in the game is in fabulous comic books style, showing Dan and Digby (first mate) hurtling across the surface of the asteroid with a cartoon-style bubble caption setting the scene.The whole game turns out to be very cleverly arranged to look like a comic strip with lots of action interspersed with instructions from the computer and insults from The Mekon (a brilliantly drawn murky green creature of indeterminate origin).
Dan Dare is actually no more than a blast the baddies, pick up helpful objects and search around for five detonators which, when assembled in the control room, will blow the asteroid to smithereens. Much the same sort of stuff that's appeared in dozens of games before.
What lifts Dan Dare head and shoulders above the others is the obvious care and effort that's gone into every aspect of the program. The graphics, movement and the innovative comic strip look are all terrific. You start off on the surface on the planet but swiftly drop down to a maze of rooms, corridors and lifts patrolled by dozens of Treens, the Mekon's hench-aliens. They're not too happy to see you and if you get shot you are likely to lose energy or get shoved in the nick. It's easy to break out of prison but ten precious minutes are lost each time you end up behind bars and you also have to go back to the beginning of that level and start all over.
Lifts with arrows indicating their direction carry you up and down and doorways take you through to new areas. Later levels take you through to a weird hotch potch of levels intersected by lifts, corridors and yawning gaps to jump.
It seems a cinch at first. When you've taken the destruct mechanism to the control room, a door to the next level opens out there somewhere in the maze. It's easy to find and you'll notice that most of the Treens have disappeared to lurk on the next level. Getting back with the second destruct mechanism is harder as you have to remember the route and run the gauntlet of irate Treens at the same time. A map is beginning to be essential. Finding the entrance to the third level's not at all so easy. It's well hidden, and the route through the level is by now very tortuous.
All the while those 120 minutes are ticking way and you can't afford to run out of laser bolts or energy. Whenever you come across bullets or domes, jump on them and ammunition or energy will be increased. If your bullets run out, your best hope is to either find some more or get killed and go to jail. You're not totally powerless though, you can duck and dodge the Treens' firepower to a certain degree.
If you let go of the joystick in mid-run, Dan'll stand up straight and look pointedly at his watch as if to say Time's running out. What the heck's going on?'
The Mekon's appearances in the TV screen at the bottom of the screen get more frantic each time you pick up another section of the destruct mechanism. His message take on a desperate edge. 'No! Put that down', 'You will not succeed, Dare' or, 'The earth will be mine'. As he makes each appearance, the TV screen splutters to life with lots of wiggly lines. A bit like something out of Star Trek.
From a very basic up, down, left, right, fire combination Virgin has produced a stunning little game. It might not be tortuously difficult but it's fun, innovative and beautifully programmed.
Most important Dan Dare is instantly playable. I haven't enjoyed a game so much for ages.
Label: Virgin Author: Gang of Five Price: £9.95 Joystick: Kempston, Cursor Reviewer: Clare Edgeley
Keeps the spirit of the original Eagle comic strip very cleverly, immediately playable and brilliantly programmed.