Product: Castle Assault
Publisher: Blue Ribbon
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #70

Mode 2 is the biggest and most colourful on the Electron - but alas also the slowest. Most games steer well clear of it, preferring the speed of Mode 5. Castle Assault from Blue Ribbon (originally an MRM release) takes on the challenge of providing a full-blown arcade game in Mode 2 by writing it all in machine code to keep the speed up.

Courtesy of Acorn Electron World you now get a rather spiffing loading screen on this title and it complements the game well, giving the player something to look at until it is seemlessly replaced with the game. Both are wonderfully colourful and enticing. You are thrust straight into the first game and begin at the bottom of a full screen of platforms and moving conveyors that lead up to a bag of gold in the top right hand of the screen.

Alas, the game itself is pretty bog-standard fare which very little to recommend it - apart from its use of colour - over far superior platformers such as Bug Eyes and Condition Red. The man you control is spritely enough, running somewhat jerkily along each of the platforms and nimbly inching up the ladders en route. However, the gameplay is unchallenging. Or, that is, the challenge is in learning a very simple strategy - which then goes on to fail due to the quirks of game control.

It works like this. You are tasked to progress from the bottom left of the screen and you need to ascend through three levels of platforms. You run to the right of the screen, climb a ladder to the platform above then need to run to the left of the screen again to climb a ladder to the next platform. On some levels there are three holes with baddies inside of them. On others there are conveyor belts. Additionally, there are ledges on the left and right of the screen featuring bonus items which can be collected to increase your score.

Jumping over the baddies in the holes is easy enough - once you realise that you must not try to jump from the very edge of the hole. This can be quite difficult to will your brain to accept if it is used to playing games such as Jet Set Willy, for example, because if you go right up to the hole you invariably lose your footing when you try to leap over it. Instead you need to jump from one 'block' away from the hole. You then sail over it without any difficulty at all.

The nasties which inhabit the holes jump in fixed patterns with a cheery squiggle of notes. Rather obligingly, only the nasties on the current platform move at all - they stop when you reach the ladder or stand when you ascend to their level. The conveyor belts are more easily negotiated. Again, the only real trick to doing so is to remember that you need to run with the conveyor, it does not just carry you along!

Where the game really fails however is in the lack of variety of screen layout. Yes, it does introduce some further challenges as each bag of gold is collected. There is a flying bird which cannot be avoided unless you climb or descend a ladder. And there are falling boulders which can catch you off-guard. But negotiating the same wall of nasties and conveyors quickly becomes all too repetitive and tedious to be called fun.

The instructions reveal that you get an extra man when you complete two screens by collecting two bags of gold. It should be simple enough for a reviewer to confirm or deny but I have to confess that after plummeting to my death through unfairly placed boulders and wandering too close to those dreaded platform edges I hit the BREAK key in frustration having only gotten halfway through the second screen.

The instructions for Castle Assault proclaim, somewhat delusionally, that "fantastic animation and highly realistic sound constitute this truly stunning and imaginative game". I proclaim the animation jerky and the sound, such as it is, meagre and unrealistic. Its authors had bold aspirations taking on the Mode 2 challenge - and it would definitely have made a great type-in! - but one suspects the full use of the Mode 2 screen left no memory for working on the game's playability. It winds up looking inviting but with gameplay that simply cannot hold its own against its rival platform games.

As an example, graphically, Acornsoft's Monsters pales in comparison yet Monsters is much more addictive and held my attention twenty times longer than this! Even with the obviously compact machine code routines in Castle Assault working overtime, it remains cumbersome to play and certainly does not come up to expectation.