Product: GORPH
Publisher: Doctorsoft
Compatibility: BBC B, B+, Master 128 & Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #71

Gorph is a little shoot-'em-up that surprisingly few people have heard of. It was released by Doctorsoft, who are better known for their flight simulators and fruit machines than arcade smashes. And it's a real shame because, although Gorph is certainly not mould-shattering, if you like games like Arcadians and Positron Invaders, it offers you a lot more of the same, combined with some interesting twists and turns along the way.

You know the drill in machine code alien games of this type. The space invaders are on the rampage, heading down the screen towards your pilot intent on wiping you out. Now at least for the first mission, that's pretty standard. What makes Gorph a little bit different however is that it is fast. Very fast. It runs in Mode 5, and it's so fast it does suffer a tad from 'frustration-death-factor' - that instinctive reaction of hurling your Electron into your TV screen after being 'offed' so quickly that you don't have any time to react!

The aliens pace in formation down the screen dropping lightning bolts (well, alright, wiggly worms) towards you. You in turn fire bullets back up at them in the hope of decreasing their number. You need to take out all twenty of them before the first one descends so far as to make contact. And, of course, you need to avoid the bolts they are dropping the whole time.

What's immediately a bit different from many Space Invaders style clones, in addition to the breakneck speed, are (a) a curved forcefield surrounds the base of the screen, and (b) when you fire you do not have to wait for the bullet to sail all the way along its path if it's missed the invaders. If you press the fire button again, the previous bullet simply disappears; a new one shooting off immediately. This is particularly useful when the aliens are at close range and it is a feature that is certainly needed - because you have no time to waste.

The forcefield remains intact until pieces of it are hit with bolts. A bolt from either side removes a piece of the forcefield - bullets can then pass through it in either direction.

After a few attempts you will succeed in clearing these aliens - it is all a question of getting the timing of your shots right. You then move on to mission two, which removes the forcefield and invites you to do battle with swooping aliens, a la Swoop by Micro Power, albeit with aliens that swoop in a more jerky fashion. This level may be one of the most difficult challenges any Electroneer can ever face - your pilot occasionally seems to blow up for no reason at all and only a moment later do you realise it was actually hit by a bomb from above.

Sometimes three aliens swoop at once - all covering what seems to be the entire width of the screen. They literally seem to travel at the speed of light! However, after several frustrating minutes I did in fact cotton on to what may be a feature, or maybe a bug, that allows completion of this stage. When the aliens do swoop, they never swoop into the very last column of the screen on the right. Therefore, if you hug the right hand side of the screen, and try to only venture out to kill a single alien at a time, and have a lot of patience, mission two can be completed.

Mission three introduces a new type of foe - the 'space warp'. This is extremely difficult to describe. Graphically, it's very beautiful. A sort of spiral of shooting stars cascading from the centre of the screen, whilst a single alien whizzes around the circular area, dropping bombs and getting faster and faster. The stars are deadly to the touch, as is the alien and its cluster of bombs. You need to navigate around carefully, blast the alien and avoid everything else. Take out two aliens (Easier said than done) and you proceed to mission four.

Mission four is the final confrontation. A different idea again, you are now presented with a mothership descending Bomber-style from left to right. You shoot up at it from the ground, each successful hit corroding away a part of it. Bizarrely, if you shoot away all of its middle section (where you would assume its engines were), you end up with the nose and the tailfin continuing the descent alone!

Protecting the mothership are two strange cone shaped objects with eyes that travel in tandem with it and occasionally swoop down to try and flatten you. They can be taken out with a few carefully placed shots. You do not actually need to destroy the entire mothership - it can still land but be so crippled as to propel you to mission five. This is in fact mission one but with an increase in speed!!

Despite the inevitable frustration factor, Gorph is very playable and its graphics are very good, especially considering it was released in 1984. What the programmer has appreciated is that introducing variety increases the compulsion for one more go. Contemporaries such as Arcadians or Swoop just recycled the same enemy formations level after level - Positron introduced the idea of different styled formations, Galaforce took this to the nth degree; yet Gorph manages to do something all four of these do not, which is essentially to provide mini-games with a common theme but which require very different skills to master.

This is a good game - it's very difficult and it won't be to everyone's taste (or playing abilities) but it kept me entertained for many hours. Which, considering I have the attention span of a goldfish, is no mean feat. Curiously, all the instructions are presented on screen rather than in the cassette inlay and I think I'm right in saying that, thanks to the protection system being successfully hacked away by 'Bill Carr', this site currently has the only disc copy of the game in existence. My verdict is: Play it.