Product: PCW Games Collection - Electron
Publisher: Personal Computer World
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #73

Over the past couple of years, almost all of the type-in games published back in the Eighties have been found, and released as companion discs to the book or magazine of the same name. However, a noteable omission is Personal Computer World - the magazines are almost impossible to find. There are none of them archived on World of Spectrum, and when they are listed on eBay, they go for extravagant sums of money.

Now this may not really be a big deal, because Personal Computer World, in a move for which my fingers will be externally thankful, was actually the only magazine that went so far as to publish its own collections of games. Back in the day these were in the form of companion tapes, not discs, but the programs were collected and distributed all the same. So instead of having to trawl through old copies of the magazine, it's a safe bet that the vast majority of the programs originally published are safe and sound, having been archived firstly in the books archive, and secondly in the professionals archive of this site.

The Games Collection is PCW's magnus opus in programming, a collection of twenty games for the Electron, all written in BASIC (or hybrid BASIC/machine code) and all originally published in the weekly magazine. Unlike some games compilations, I should also make the point that every single game comes with full instructions on-screen before the program itself begins. Top marks for this if nothing else - not everyone has the time to read the appropriate magazine to see how to play nowadays.

The Golden Fleece is a children's adventure Rather than plod sequentially through the catalogue of games, I'll start by getting the duds out of the way. City Smasher, for example, is a Bomber clone which is impossible to complete. You get a city, you get a bunch of skyscrapers and you get a little plane equipped with bombs. So far so good. Unfortunately, the plane in this version is evidently Concorde about to break the sound barrier. This game is so impossible that the programmer himself obviously realised whilst playing it and attempted to add features to it to address the fact that it is impossible. So you get a laser as well as bombs. Alas, whether dropping bombs or shooting lasers, the key detection is iffy and you'll be hurtling headlong into the side of a building within ten seconds or, if you're lucky, within twenty.

Continuing our decimation, the intriguingly-titled Hunger Alley is actually one of the worst 'games' I've ever experienced too (Not quite as bad as Kansas' Munchman but maybe written by a very similiar village idiot!). You get a maze filled with dots. You also get some ghosts to avoid - or eat after you've eaten the appropriate power pill. The ghosts however, don't move. You also begin with a maze that is completely empty. The ghosts sometimes do not start to appear until you've cleared three quarters of it! I played one game where I had ten dots left to complete and then five ghosts appeared, completely encirling them! I loathe games that do not give the player any chance to complete them.

I initially hesitated to label Martian Attack as a turd because it involves a wholly new idea - the control of two separate pieces - in order to save the world from an alien invasion. It also has good graphics. Unfortunately, into turd territory it goes.

This game starts off well enough with a Star Trek style introduction. You are given control of a helicopter and a plane and told that aliens will descend from the top of the screen. The helicopter can be moved around the playing area but cannot fire. You need to get the helicopter to a landing pad at the top of the screen to complete each level. (I don't know why getting a helicopter to a landing pad would stop an alien invasion but I digress!)

The plane can be moved too, and can also fire. However, its controls are slightly different. If you switch to plane, left and right controls do not work - instead the left key fires a missile and the right key changes the direction the plane is facing. In addition, moving up and down also propels the plane forward by the same amount of pixels.

All this makes for a very awkward controlling system, which you can by no means get the hang of before one of those pesky aliens has succeeded in reaching the town below.

Finally in this Hall of Shame we have Trank. This is a very odd game which, for the life of me, I simply cannot get the hang of. You control a triangle which spins, Thrust-style in the centre of the screen. There are controls to increase and decrease the thrusters on both its left and its right side. However, the only result I could obtain by nimbly flicking these keys was to watch the triangle pitifully roll over and then crash into the obstacles littering the screen. I got the distinct impression that the triangle was also not moving with any degree of logic - perhaps this game is bugged. As far as I can determine, it is unplayable.

The seventeen remaining games fare a little better. We have some memory tests, like Simon and Colour Codes, which are nothing spectacular but are passable versions of the old puzzles. We have one children's adventure game The Golden Fleece which is rather like a poor man's version of Where Is Father Christmas? (reviewed elsewhere in EUG #73) and an educational quiz (Map Quiz) which is rather like Micro Power's Where?.

The real noteworthy inclusions on Games Collection are the more curious ones. Flappa Catcher, for example, is one of the weirdest games you're likely to experience. "You are Sam," state the instructions, "You and your girlfriend Ethel have been captured by a witch. You have been put between two walls with a magic hat. The witch is throwing demon birds at you. Catch three of them in the hat and you'll be given a bag of gold. Get three bags of gold and you can trade them for you, and your girlfriend's, freedom. Oh, but watch out for the zombie which is tunneling through the earth to rip off your head." Now that makes the plot of King Kong sound positively mundane.

The game itself is a colourful Mode 2 affair, every bit as bizarre as this intro suggests. Inside your enclosed prison you can run left and right as what looks like a flying 'x' is thrown in an arc into your new habitat. The 'x' does not sail smoothly - it jumps about! - and getting your outstretched cup into line with it is difficult enough without the dodgy collision detection into the bargain. To the left you can see an 8x8 red man stamping up and down through the ground. Frankly this game is so odd (and frankly so rubbish) that you can't help but play it!

Next on my list of 'likes' is Pursuit Ship, a hybrid BASIC/machine code game which has interrupt-driven music, and is a poor relation to A & F's Cylon Attack. You wind your way through the galaxy, with some quite impressive scrolling star effects, shooting random spaceships and building up your score before you are inevitably shot down yourself. Apart from that, there's nothing much to it really.

Finally, we have Baby Monty - a game which was clearly written by someone fed up to his back teeth of hearing Amstrad owners waxing lyrical about how great the Amstrad game Monty The Mole was. This game is nothing like the Monty referenced. You are situated in a canoe on a water level which is slowly rising. You steer backwards and forwards to ensure that you are not turned into pate as you float up through the floors of an abandoned house. The graphics are good but the game itself is boring and tedious. And I know, I played it for a good thirty seconds!

Other games are included on this compilation too - Ace High, a game of patience, Black Holes, a puzzle game in which you attempt to place differently coloured aliens into a grid so that no two identical aliens are placed next to each other, Euler's Touring Knight, which creates the Knight's Tour in Chess, and Robotank, a wargame. I don't consider any of them worthy of much more description than this.

There are four further games which, even though they are not original ideas, are a little more interesting. Four In A Line plays a good game of Connect 4 and features a nice machine code scrolling counter-drop which is impressive; Hunchback is a tough, but not impossible, clone of the old favourite, and Missile Defender is a BASIC clone of the far superior Acorn User game Defencecom. As for Helicopter Rescue, well it's just Balloon (featured on PCW's other disc) under a different name, isn't it? Nice try.

Apart from the curiosity items, I was not particularly impressed with the standard of games on this collection. It's nice that the authors have added joystick routines and on-screen instructions to them, of course, but sadly this doesn't disguise what is mostly a collection of poor BASIC clones of ideas for the Electron done, much better, elsewhere.