Product: Space Ranger
Publisher: Audiogenic
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #74

There are many games for the Electron that are simple ideas - Hopper for example is one of its most revered titles. It may only be a few kilobytes of code, but anyone can play it and it's very playable. Alas, there are also games like Space Ranger - simple ideas that have been so oversimplified that their playability has been simply lost.

The instructions to Space Ranger inform you that you are in orbit around the moon and need to pick up five astronauts from its surface. To get to them you need to pass through a meteor storm and then safely land. If you land successfully - and it's hard to do anything else than land successfully, there is a short pause and then you can blast off again. You then have to avoid the meteors a second time and reach the top of the screen.

And that is, literally, all there is to this game. Those of you who have seen other BBC/Electron titles will recognise well the format of Lunar Rescue by Alligata and the recently unearthed Loona Rescue by Your Computer. But Space Ranger fares extremely poorly in comparison. First of all, it's rendered in Mode 2; this normally is no reason to criticise a game of course. But here it results in a blocky-looking game with badly-drawn sprites lacking any real definition. The playing area too feels extremely cramped.

Secondly, the surface of the moon is divided into two towers, upon which are two landing pads, and three lower landing pads. Each pad is marked with a bonus multiplier, with the most difficult 5X multiplier seated underneath a jutting piece of rock. As you come in to land on a pad you need to carefully thrust and navigate into position. In other games of this type, this takes some careful skill. But in this version you can practically drop from the very top of the screen to the very bottom without touching the thrust key. Alright, you do have to tap it once or twice to avoid the meteors - but these also move in fairly predictable patterns.

Thirdly, the allusions to five astronauts to rescue conjures up images of thankful astronauts running across the lunar surface and scrambling into your craft. But no, there are no spacemen and no animations. Just a short pause when you land before you start climbing again.

What finally does this game in completely though is the ascent being absolutely no different to the descent. There are no spaceships to shoot (a la Lunar Rescue); there's not even a mothership at the top of the screen for you to gingerly squeeze yourself into. So what are you left with? Well, I'll tell you. Long, boring, mind-meltingly monotonous journeys up and down the screen, over and over again forever and ever and ever.

Now in case there are still some of you who are minded to pick up Space Ranger and try it nevertheless, sadly, it does get even worse. The colour-switching animations on the logo and status bars are meant to be clever, but instead they are positively distracting. The 1X to 5X symbols flashing merrily away give the game more of the look and feel of a pinball table than anything else. That is, of course, the last thing you want in a game that is meant to be all about careful coordination.

Two of the landing pads are situated on the very left and right of the screen. A meteor can appear from either the extreme left or right (as applicable) just as you are descending into position. If the meteors moved in set patterns (a la Lunar Rescue) then you could accurately time when it was 'safe' to attempt to touchdown. But in Space Ranger the meteors are not predictable, and have a nasty habit of appearing at the exact moment necessary to unfairly pop you off.

There are some good things about Space Ranger. It's fast and its sound effects are excellent, for example. Plus everything is reasonably smooth-scrolling, the collision detection is excellent and the game runs full-screen, looking quite enticing. What irks is that these good things is that they tend not to counterbalance all the bad ones, but positively bring them to the fore. You see the inviting screen layout and you think Space Ranger is going to be a good game. When it is not, then it is like your brain won't accept it. You think there simply has to be more to it. Then after completing the first level, you just restart on level two and you realise that "that really is it".

A disappointment on every level, Space Ranger is one game that most Electron owners would do well to avoid.