Product: Spectipede
Publisher: Mastertronic
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #55

The BBC/Electron owner is spoilt for choice when it comes to the Caterpillar-style game, and they appear in so many compilations that it's pretty much inconceivable that one of them isn't somewhere in your games collection. Spectipede is the bug blasting variant from the budget company Mastertronic; a fast-executing but clumsy conversion - and one that kills you off far more often than those of a similar vein!

The blaster at the bottom of the screen, the sparse mushroom field becoming more and more overcrowded as the game goes on and the long insectipede winding through them and splitting in two when hit by your bullets is one of the symbols of the true retro age. It's available in almost this standard form on all machines up from the humble Gameboy to the most powerful PC, and now you're unlikely to be asked to pay out anything like the £8.95 Alligata thought Bug Blaster justified, or even the £2.99 budget price this title went for. [At least, not just for it alone. - Ed] So the question is what this particular title has to recommend it from the rest?

Regretably, as indicated by the above intro, the answer is not very much. You CHAIN it from the prompt and, after a few seconds' loading, the micro makes an odd twittering sound as the Mastertronic 'logo', which is actually just the word, wriggles over your screen in an S-shape typical of budget 'loaders' and introduces you to "SPECTAPEDE"! Immediately being presented with spelling mistakes like this, a fault of which a few budget companies are guilty, is at best irritating and at worst merely symptomatic of what is to come.

After loading the next part, the screen blanks to Mode 6 and you are asked which button you wish to use to fire. This causes two problems.

First, absolutely no effort has gone in to making the said screen look attractive and even the cursor is still amateurishly blinking away.

Secondly, the message gives the impression that you only need one key to press in order to play the game. So, for instance, you might quite likely press RETURN. You must then tap whatever button you have chosen to continue (unnecessary!) and then you are informed of the existence of the other buttons: Z - Left, X - Right, + - Up and . - Down. With the RETURN key as fire, you're then left with a huge gap between your fingers (stretching over one button on the Electron and two on the BBC) unless you reload the game and choose * or SPACE as fire - the only two realistic choices, anyway! And what of the possibility of a player using one of the reserved keys as a fire button? Well, try this and your game will be a chaotic mess where the fire button not only fires but also sends your blaster in the specified direction at the same time! For goodness' sake, Mastertronic! Either have an option to redefine all the keys or choose sensible ones and be done with it!

More loading and a similarly sighworthy screen asks "KeyBoard or Joystick (K/J)?", "High/Low Resolution" and "Fast, Medium or Slow Game" in turn. Now there's no doubting the usefulness of these features. Far too few games have the joystick facility and the resolution factor means simply that you can play in either Mode 1 (High) or Mode 5 (Low) which is both easy on the eyes of respective players, helps vary the action of a style of game which can seem to go on (and on!) and also makes the game a little easier as the "pede" occasionally has a longer breadth of screen to cross in Mode 1. You can even look upon this option as giving you two conversions of the game; the only differences between some of those put out by other companies was the Mode. Speed of game, of course, also helps those whose arcade prowess is not up to that of the hardened arcade addict.

But unfortunately the author has blown it again! In practice, the game speed has little effect on how tough it actually is to play and the options must be chosen before any game is commenced. So the screen is forever flashing up and demanding input. Even this would be bearable were it not that, after inputing F, M or S, you were not forced to sit through a truly awful string of blips for fifteen seconds before the game started. The same is also true on death, except the tune lasts twice as long!

The game itself although it runs well on the Electron, goes far too fast on the BBC, even on the S(low) setting and, also as mentioned in the intro, death is a frequent occurence. Often you 'die' not as a result of a collision with any of the insects in the field (actually a garden in this clone) but simply after blasting the last portion of the pede. This is extremely frustrating and means you can probably not survive beyond level three...and it's not the only bug. On death, your previous blaster stays on screen and becomes an obstacle to be avoided, but can also be used to shelter behind from a pede on the bottom level of screen coming at you from the side. If it's a feature, then it's one not seen on other conversions, not one you'll like and looks like a bug!

After a while you'll be dead and invited to enter your name (by a left-justified message that simply appears obliterating the background) at a "?" prompt. As the keyboard buffer isn't cleared, you'll be staring at a row of Zs and Xs so, to make your mark, you must first delete them!

Having rather emphatically berated this product by now, it does find some saving grace in its graphics, which do all the right things and are animated quite smoothly. A wriggling worm, bouncing spider and mushroom-laying spider (!) invade the screen quite regularly and keep the player on his toes.

There's no getting away from the fact that this is a flop though, even though it was published at a time when budget titles were not expected to be of a very high standard. It was originally published quite early into the life of its respective machines (1984), and, as Alligata and Superior's versions were doing the rounds at almost a tenner, with a little thought could have provided serious competition at its reduced price. But it doesn't, it wasn't, it isn't...and it never will be. For any bug blasting, stick with the aptly-titled Bug Blaster!