Product: MICRO USER 12.03
Publisher: The Micro User
Compatibility: BBC B, B+ & Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #68

The BBC Micro and Electron lived a long time, throughout the birth and death of home coding. By the time of this disc, Micro User 12.03, they were both on borrowed time. Indeed, there don't seem to be many copies of it in existence, presumably because the market for new software by May 1994 was thimble-sized. Even Superior/Acornsoft had released its last ever Beeb release, Play It Again Sam 18, by this stage yet, credit where it's due, Beebs remained in schools - hence people were still home coding.

I can speak with some authority because I was one of them, typing up my history essays on the BBC Micro network at school and busily putting together Sunday in my hours outside of it. If I had known The Micro User was still going strong at that time, perhaps I would've even sent it in to give it an 'official' release. As it is though, Paul Hallam (author of Helichopper), David Bradforth (author of Shadow Text) and Michael Elson (author of Trio) were the contributors to this companion disc, which has recently been made available over in The Micro User section of 'PD World'.

I dived into this disc with some enthusiasm (despite the fiddly menu system), because Helichopper boots up with rather a promising loading screen featuring two extremely detailed helicopters and instructions that seem to promise an arcade blaster to be reckoned with. You control the helichopper of the title, and must stay alive for as long as possible, shooting down enemy aircraft. You also need to avoid the migrating birds, a mad balloonist and randomly fired missiles. Sadly, the game itself doesn't quite live up to its own hype. Firstly, the instructions appear a bit oddly on the Electron as they are meant to be in Mode 7. Secondly, the game itself is in BASIC and simply doesn't have the speed required for its zippy premise. It's a side on scrolling, DEFENDER-style theme, and your helichopper does animate quite smoothly over on the left-hand side.

However, the slow pace of the game (On an unexpanded Electron, it's so slow as to be virtually unplayable!) makes for very unchallenging fare. You are attacked by one aircraft at a time, with the intelligence quotient of a mouldy potato. The mad balloonist (a 16 x 8 CHR$ definition) mills about randomly, disappearing with one shot and never seeming to threaten you in any way. The geese which occasionally appear are simplicity itself to avoid. The missiles, whilst they do home in effectively are also easily taken care of with one well-placed zap. There's no bonuses, no replenishing of ammunition and really no goal in this monochromatic plod over a horizon that tries to give the illusion of movement with one bush (another 8 x 8 CHR$ definition) slowly scrolling from right to left.

To try and spice up the action, if you are playing under emulation, you can of course crank up the speed. At 250% acceleration (in ElectrEm) I did find myself at least getting some small amount of satisfaction when blasting a plane out of the sky. The sound is also good, with explosions and spinning rotor blades giving the action the feel of a pitched battle.

On then to Shadow Text, a simple demo which shows white Mode 1 text plotted on top of black Mode 1 text, all on a red background. By displacing the text by one pixel (or more), different effects can be achieved and the text can appear 'shadowed' (as if light is hitting it from an angle either left, right, up or down). The code can be freely listed and used in your own programs.

Finally, the disc contains another game, Trio, which describes itself on the menu as 'Colour Tetris'. This is an intriguing little two-player number, done in Mode 2 basic, which is a different spin on the famous Tetris code. [We have a feature on Tetris this issue - Ed] Instead of blocks of different sizes falling from the air, blocks fall in one shape only (an oblong) but one which contains a combination of three colours. You can rotate the combination as it falls, and move the piece so that it falls into a convenient spot. If you can get three colours in a row, those blocks disappear. The idea takes considerably more brain-straining than Tetris does, and I personally couldn't help but think you should also be able to rotate the piece.

The idea is to keep going for as long as you can, rotating the blocks so that sections of the wall disappear, leaving you with enough space above the wall to consider all of your options. As you might expect, a few misplaced blocks and you are having to think faster and faster to achieve this. The game scores high praise by having a two player option as well as a one player one. Although there is no sound, except for a blip when a piece falls into position, the game is, in fact, surprisingly addictive and I am surprised I have never seen it elsewherre before now.

As there are no instructions on screen, and as many of you reading this probably won't have the accompanying magazine to rifle through, the keys are:

Player 1:
Z - Left, X - Right, C - Drop, F - Rotate Combination
Player 2:
< - Left, > - Right, / - Drop, : - Rotate Combination

The menu lists a final demo, Ultimate Brot, although, try as I might, I could not get this machine code program to run on any of my machines (BBC B, Master 128 or Electron). The file certainly does not seem to be corrupted so I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong.

The word is therefore that Trio is the star of this compilation from The Micro User which is passable, but not brilliant. It has come to light after twelve years in 8-bit wilderness, and, although we know that David Bradforth went on to establish ProAction and to offer support to the BBC series in later years, one cannot help but wonder what became of the disc's other contributors. Hopefully, with the emergence of this disc, and other rare Public Domain games in our library, these home coders are going to at least be experienced by a few more people. All comments are, as usual, welcome.