A stubborn cult following has kept Dan Dare, the Eagle comic-strip hero, alive and kicking for the last 40 years. Virgin Mastertronic have released two Dan Dare computer games - the first was a traditional adventure and the second a juicy money-spinning shoot-'em-up.
Dan Dare III, a celebration of the hero's 40th anniversary, is in the same mould as its immediate predecessor. It's a multi-directional scrolling platform shoot-'em-up in which you blast your way through level after level of mindnumbing action.
The game begins with Dan trapped by the evil Treens. After knocking them unconscious he escapes, finds a jet-pack and shoots off towards the hangar. He discovers a ship there, but it doesn't have any fuel. The objective is to search the Treen empire for enough fuel to fill the ships' tank and then blast into space.
Using the jet-pack you can fly around the Treen stores to collect additional weapons. As you fly, your energy resources deplete, giving you only limited time to stay in the air. All manner of weapons are on offer from homing missiles and bouncing bombs to energy shields and the occasional nuclear device.
Dan Dare is divided into a series of multi-directional scrolling stages and at the end of these you confront a large end-of-level guardian. These can be either large Treens or gun emplacements. When you successfully destroy them you pick up a pod. When you discover the large transporter, this gives you access to the next level.
In later levels the guardians can be found sat in front of the fuel cannisters. Since each cannister contains ten pounds of rocket fuel they're of vital importance to your mission. If you can kill the guardian and pick up 50 units of rocket fuel you can rush back to the stores and climb aboard your ship.
The playing sprites fail to capture much of the excitement of the comic strip. The movement isn't composed of enough frames of animation to appear realistic. It's hard to see any resemblance to Dan Dare once you get past the loading screen. Even the hero's famously implausible eyebrows don't get the attention they deserve.
In an industry floored with quality shoot-'em-ups it is careful attention to detail which makes the good ones noticeable, but Dan Dare's playing sprites are small and poorly animated and sound effects sporadic.
The worst problem, however, is the difficulty factor. Working your way through the levels can make you a victim of that painful gamester's complaint - joystick finger.
Within minutes of venturing into the game, you're maliciously killed off by some green fiends who look like they've climbed out of Better Dead Than Alien. In no time, your fingers are aching with cramp and you realise you're hardly progressed anywhere.
If you're a masochistic shoot-'em-up addict who zipped through Xenon II with one eye closed, Dan Dare III is going to be a challenge. But for the discerning player who wants quality effects and a slowly increasing difficulty level, there are many better games on the shelves.