Superior Software certainly shows no signs of superstition as it launches number thirteen of what is easily the longest running series of compilations for the Electron. Four more programs from the recent, and more distant, past - two of which were coded by the ubiquitous Peter Scott.
Hyperball is a game of the Breakout genre. You'll probably remember the Breakout revival of a couple of years ago when straightforward brick busting gave way to a more sophisticated game with feature bricks and bonus levels. Hyperball is one of these.
With a comprehensive set of feature bricks at your disposal you could be forgiven for thinking that the game was going to be a piece of cake - well, don't you believe it. This is one of the most formidable Breakout clones that I have encountered on any machine. Combine this degree of difficulty with the fact that there are 120 arenas to complete and you could be faced with hordes of Hyperballers.
Thankfully the programmer has anticipated this problem and split the 120 arenas into six groups of 20, allowing you to start on any one of the six. At least in this way you will get to play on a minimum of six different arenas.
Catching a dislodged feature brick activates one of the eight possible special effects, the majority of which work in your favour. Catching the Detonator brick allows you to split the ball into eight separate fragments with a press of RETURN. This is most effective if you have just manoeuvred your ball behind the wall. The Slowball brick is self-explanatory, as is the Stickball one. Infrared changes the colours on the screen, making otherwise invisible bricks appear again.
A little firepower is introduced with the inclusion of a Laser brick, and Indestruct increases the mass of your ball, giving it the ability to plough effortlessly through even the most robust of brick walls. Smart-block is a bit of a sneaky inclusion: If you are able to collect three of these special pieces of masonry without losing a life you can move straight on to the next arena.
This sounds hunkydory until you begin collecting these blocks. I am certain that the program drops them in such a way that you are tempted into lunging for that third elusive block, inevitably losing a life in the process. The final variety of brick is disguised as an alien and, if collected by accident, has unfortunate effects upon the wellbeing of your bat.
A touch of originality is injected between rounds. The successful completion of an arena is rewarded with a simple bonus routine. A flashing bat appears on the screen and all that you have to do is press the Spacebar when it is visible and you earn yourself bonus points. OK, so it's hardly an Earth shattering bonus round, but what is useful is what you can do with those points once you have won them.
If you aren't too concerned about achieving immortality in the high score table you can trade points for three types of laser cannon, a warp drive or an extra life.
Hyperball is one of the biggest and best versions of Breakout on the Electron, and a most worthy inclusion on this compilation.
Pandemonium, second in the compilation, is unmistakably from the keyboard of Peter Scott, the prolific author of countless platform games, most of which look just like this one.
On this occasion you are faced with the task of collecting all 12 parts of a core. The instructions are pretty vague so we must assume that some sort of nuclear reactor is involved. Armed with a laser, a healthy jump, the reflexes of a cat and the intellect of Einstein you set out into a hostile world that is literally teeming with alien beings and nasty stinging plant-like things.
To make things easier, anything you are supposed to collect is coloured blue. In addition to the core parts you will find food, laser energy and extra lives.
Pandemonium is a highly polished example of Mr Scott's work. As usual, lateral thinking should be used at all times. Identify the most logical route from A to B then ignore it completely, select what appears to be the most unlikely of directions and you won't be far wrong.
Apparently impossible jumps between platforms can often be negotiated by having at least one foot standing on thin air before you take off. Impressive vertical jumps can be achieved by standing on one of the many large springs.
Worthy of note are the phone box teleports, which can provide a speedy means of transport in an otherwise hostile environment. The only snag is that you must know the code number of your destination teleport before you can operate the device. In other words you have got to have reached the far teleport on foot before you can take a short cut.
This is not a program that pushes back the frontiers of platform gaming, but what it does, it does well.
Percy Penguin is a version of a game that was a moderate success in the arcades back in the mid-eighties. Unfortunately it isn't the best of the arcade conversions that reached the Electron.
It is set in a maze-like arctic wilderness constructed of blocks of ice. The inhospitable landscape is inhabited by Percy Penguin and a swarm of Snobees, stinging creatures that have an insatiable appetite for penguins.
As luck would have it, Percy has left his mega-turbo laser pistol back in the igloo, so he must improvise if he is to survive. The aim is to rid the maze of Snobees, the numbers of which increase as you progress through the levels.
The penguin is an inventive little critter and Percy soon realises that an ice cube weighing several hundred kilos takes a heck of a lot of stopping once it gets moving. Using a combination of careful positioning and some pretty good timing you can help Percy puree the Snobee population.
As a game, Percy Penguin falls down in several areas. Response to the controls is poor, the fluidity of the action suffers in proportion to the degree of on-screen activity, and there is no indication as to where the new Snobees will appear.
In the original game the inactive Snobees were encased in blocks of ice, so you knew where to stand before killing your next one. In this version the newly hatched bees appear at random, but more often than not, random means right beside Percy and you're minus one life.
I suppose that if you haven't been spoilt with the original then you won't notice the discrepancies, but you'll still have to thump the push button until you get a response. For me this is the weakest of Sam's offerings, but one out of four isn't too bad.
[The italicised criticisms are not in fact correct - there was never a version of Percy Penguin with Snobees encased in blocks of ice. The author was probably confusing the game with Rubble Trouble, a very similar game. RUBBLE TROBULE and Percy Penguin were originally released the same year (1984) and Rubble Trouble featured Krackats encased in stone when they appeared.]
Sam's final tid-bit is Barbarian 2. In the first episode of this hack and slash extravaganza Mr Barbarian took on all comers in his valiant bid to free Princess Mariana, alias the curvaceous Ms Whittaker, from the clutches of the evil Drax. Drax escaped justice and fled to the deepest recesses of his lair. If the world is to sleep easy in its bed the Barbarian or Mariana must venture forth into this hostile land and seek out the coward. Yes, she is just as likely to kill the dinosaurs as he is!
Barbarian 2 employs a different format. The straightforward fight to the death has been replaced by an arcade adventure type scenario. The game is still packed full of hacking and slashing, but this time you also have to walk about and find objects.
Spread over four levels, with roughly 26 screens each, the Drax domain is quite extensive. An additional element of difficulty is introduced in the form of changes in direction as you step from one screen to the next.
It may appear that you have merely moved by one screen to the right, but don't you believe it. If you keep an eye on the compass arrow at the bottom of the display you will find that you have turned through 90 degrees. As the instructions state, a map is pretty useful if you are to collect all of the objects and then find your way back to the exit.
Keyboard controls are used throughout: These are extensive, complicated, and one of the biggest difficulties you will encounter in playing the game.
Our hero or heroine can perform six directional and four aggressive moves, the latter being initiated by pressing RETURN, plus any one of four direction keys. For a long time I found myself turning around or jumping into the air when what I actually wanted to do was decapitate my opponent with a flying neck chop. Most of the humanoid opponents have been replaced by horrible nasty creatures that snap and bite, plus an oversized yellow dinosaur with a taste for musclemen.
Various objects must be collected en route, many of which have magical properties, without which your quest is doomed to failure. The orb and shield guard against death from Drax's magic and the demon's fire, while other trinkets boost the usual parameters such as strength and resistance to damage.
Barbarian 2 gives you very little time to ponder your current predicament. If you stand around for more than a couple of seconds there is a puff of smoke and some slobbering beast starts lumbering in your direction.
How you are supposed to sit with pencil and paper and map each level I don't know. I spent most of my time trying to avoid the monsters, rivers and those infernal bottomless pits.
With patience, and a fair amount of effort, you will eventually master the complex control combinations that are the key to success in Barbarian 2 - from then on things really begin to get difficult.
It would appear that Superior has come up trumps again with yet another cracking compilation. Thirteen may be an unlucky number for some but certainly not for Sam.