Product: 40 Educational Games For The Electron
Publisher: Granada
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #68

No 'new' compilation discs for a good few years - and then two in as many months. Ahem, as usual, another sprawling bulky book has been typed up and made into this a new collection of games: Vince Apps' 40 Educational Games For The Electron. And it's got a lot to live up to as far as I'm concerned...! As we know from previous EUG reviews, the Granada Publishing series of books produced some absolute tosh.

Here too, I don't think the marketing people were going to win any prizes for their title. I'm not sure whether parents were queuing round the corner to type reams of text into their Beeb machines back in 1984 when the book was produced - and I find it very unlikely that the kids of yesteryear would have spent £5.95 on a load of 'educational' games, rather than £1.00 on the 'real' games carried by Electron User. The label 'games' is also rather a loose one. It would be more appropriate to say you get forty 'programs'.

When a disc like this does come along, it is often not unusual for some of the programs included to have already been seen on the Elk PD circuit lurking in the catalogues of old EUG issues. On this particular disc though (with the exception of Parachute) the various puzzles and quizzes are wholly new. With the Acorn Electron World discification process now becoming something of an art in itself, it's also nice to see the addition of a graphical screen heading up the !BOOT, which is identical to the book's front cover. After that you get a menu allowing you to choose the individual program you require.

Delving a little further into the contents, most of the programs seem to be aimed at ages 11-16. There are some tough mathematical posers (Add/Subtract, Area Estimation, Areas Of Triangles, Multiply/Divide, Parachute and Sum Difference). There are a few quizzes (Compass Points, Counties Quiz, Highway Code Quiz, History Quiz, Science Quiz, Spelling Test and Towns Quz). There is one demo, Constellations, which shows a slideshow of star formations. There are some utilities, such as Bar Chart, where you need to supply your own information for the program to even have a chance of working. And finally there are a few games which probably need no introduction: Anagram, Duck Shoot, Racer and Simon.

The programs are, at best, rather mediocre. Many of them are not long and some weigh in at less than three pages. Perhaps the saddest illustration of which is the version of Simon, which invites you to remember colours in a particular order. Certainly Mr. Apps had the facilities on his BBC/Electron to demonstrate this with colourful Mode 2/5 screens (or even by replicating the Simon interface as on the Public Domain Games #7 version by BBC PD) - yet his version runs in Mode 6 with the letters R, Y, B and G (Red, Yellow, Blue and Green) flashing up. Phphphphphp... Doesn't get much less inspiring than that. The promising-sounding Duck Shoot is another lame duck too, with a display that can be best summed-up as a sepia space invaders in freeze-frame, intersected with taps of the space bar after you get very easy sums correct.

With a compilation featuring so many things, different people are bound to have their own favourites. The trouble is that many of the games just seem, well, unfinished. Like, there is a wordsearch program - but all the words within the grid appear from left to right, one to a line. There is an English to French test, but no ability to add your own vocabulary to it. There is a 'Mastermind' (Master Brain) combination test, of the ilk we've seen thousands of times before, but this one has no colour and no graphics.

It's almost like, when Mr. Apps got something that worked - just! - that was enough for him and he moved onto his next project. The time hasn't been put in to make most of the programs look nice, hence they run in two colour Modes with no graphics whatsoever. An an aside to this, the games have quite obviously been converted from Spectrum equivalents, right down to Spectrum screenshots illustrating the programs themselves in the book. This may be connected to this observation - I don't know if Mr. Apps is a Spectrum or an Electron programmer, or whether the job of converting his possibly rich Spectrum programs fell to someone who could not do them justice...

Nevertheless, not all the programs are of this low standard. There are some graphical games in there - Parachute, Village and Vowel Chase - which, not only make good use of screen colour, but also call for fast reactions and make learning fun. Both the programs about area are similarly valuable and well laid-out. The quizzes on counties and towns also have a reasonably alluring graphical depiction of the United Kingdom, although I believe a few of the counties and towns have been renamed in the meantime. Another positive is that all the input routines in all of the programs are error-trapped.

All in all, the compilation has much the feel of an Acorn Programs disc - which is no compliment. A better example of practically every program on it is available elsewhere and, after thinking long and hard, if I was to grade it, I could comfortably only really award it 3/10. This being the second Granada title I have reviewed, and after the appalling 0/10 I would give to their Adventure Games For The Electron, it may at least be an improvement. However, it does not bode well for the other games that will surely be winging their way on-scene shortly.