Commodore User

Dan Dare

Author: Keith Campbell
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Machine: Commodore 64

Published in Commodore User #37

Dan Dare

Dan Dare, for those who don't know it, was the space-pilot hero of schoolboys in the 50s. He appeared weekly, in strip form in the Eagle, a high quality boys' comic, launched on 14th April 1950, by Hulton Press.

Eagle was masterminded by its founder and editor, a vicar named Marcus Morris, together with an outstanding artist, Frank Hampson. It was Frank who devised and drew most of the Dan Dare serials, as well as much of the rest of the contents, helped by his own studio team of artists, who worked round the clock to meet deadlines with the high quality of work he demanded.

Eagle died at the hands of Big Business mergers in the 60s. 'They' didn't think teenage boys wanted quality in either content or art in their comics. Although Dan Dare lived on in many people's memories, Frank, who, sadly, died last year, subsequently discovered that he was no longer permitted to draw the character that he had invented and come to love. IPC held the copyright, and guarded their dormant possession jealously!

Dan Dare: Pilot Of The Future

Little wonder, then, that the computer game has taken so long to reach the screen. But was the wait worth it?

Dan Dare: Pilot Of The Future is basically an arcade adventure, operated entirely by joystick. The earth has (once again) been threatened by the Mekon, specially bred leader of the Treens, an emotionless green-skinned race, native of the northern hemisphere of Venus. This time, the Mekon interrupts a broadcast of This Is Your Life (subject: Dan Dare) to warn that his asteroid, packed with atomic explosive, is aimed at Earth.

Dan has to leave the TV studio hurriedly, and together with his loyal batman, Spaceman Digby, Prof Jocelyn Peabody and Stripey, makes the journey to the asteroid. To get there, he uses the Anastasia, his own ship named after Digby's aunt, and designed for him by Sondar, the friendly Treen. The anastasia made its debut in the first instalment of 'The Red Moon Mystery' on 5th October 1951.

Dan Dare: Pilot Of The Future

Digby and the Prof are soon captured, and your job is to rescue them, and destroy the Mekon. This is where you start the game. The joystick moves you about the surface of the asteroid, and also through hatches in the ground, leading to a typical arcade adventure type network of slopes and ladders, and passages through caves.

There are a number of useful objects that can be collected, and when Dan is near one, a colour-coded comment strip appears on the screen. The colour indicates which mode the joystick fire button is in. If cyan, the object may be taken with a press of the button and flick of the stick. The objects may be used to overcome problems elsewhere, to make further progress to the Mekon's hiding place.

Encounters with Treens, commented in a red strip, may be met with hand-to-hand fighting, holding the fire button and moving the column of the joystick. A bar is displayed below the scene of a fight, indicating relative loss of strength.

Dan Dare: Pilot Of The Future

Alternatively, grenades may be thrown at treens above ground, and there is a definite knack to this. As you are equipped with only 24, perhaps it is best to save them for the Mekon himself, when you will need at least 10.

Lobbing grenades at the Mekon is fun but by far the best part of the game is using the lasers. Thse are set up by pointing the network of conductors in the direction of the alien laser so that when you fire the laser you see the yellow beam whizz around the screen - up, down, left and right until Whamm - it obliterates the giant Mekon laser.

Dan also gets to disguise himself as a Treen Commander. This is a hoot seeing those Treens stand to attention and salute Colonel Dan.

Dan Dare: Pilot Of The Future

Throughout the proceedings, Stripey bounces around after you, rolling and squeaking as he does so.

The game ends when Dan runs out of patience, whichever is the sooner, and rather abruptly it does so too.

Although the loading screen has a passable comic strip extract (but Dan Dare never did have a chin like Harris Tweed, his Eagle colleague, as shown here!) the graphics in the game itself nowhere near come up to the expected Dan Dare standard. In some views, Dan looks distinctly like Hitler in a green uniform (!). Treens, in my experience, wear yellow metallic one-piece suits, with a short-sleeved white shirt from the chest up. The Treens here come clad in a long-sleeved brown outfit. Treens are also 10% taller than humans (see Eagle No 19, August 18th 1950) but in this game, they seem to have shrunk to a height shorter than Dan.

I would also have liked a few more 'real' Dan Dare devices, like telesenders, paralysing pistols, and demagnetisers, were not featured.

Still - old Dan Date fans like me would be bound to nitpick about some of the detail. The game itself is brill. A nice 'n easy arcade adventure that is both fun to play and delightful to look at.

Keith Campbell

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