Product: Microvalue 2
Publisher: Tynesoft
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #53

Another double-cassette [Single disk - Ed] pack from Tynesoft, the second "Micro Value" boasting that £3.99 bought you four 'great' games contains the instantly recognisable Gunsmoke bundled with The Great Wall, Mouse Trap and Mega Force. Only the last two games were originally released by Tynesoft but, as with the first compilation, these last three retailed (at least at one time) at almost double the price of the whole package! The exception, Gunsmoke - ironically as it's the best of the bunch - was given away by Dixons with their Electron starter packs.

Originally a Software Invasion release, you control the large sprite of a gentleman cowboy in the foreground bottom of a Mode 5 screen. The aim of the game is to take out as many cowboys in the higher-up backdrop as possible. This backdrop is a small colourful desert town comprising a store, saloon-cum-hotel, barn and sheriff's office. The idea is to shoot any other cowboy lurking in or around these locations.

It's a simple concept given a unique feel by the gun control method. Your gun can be aimed at either a rough 45 degree or 80 degree angle, so you may take out a bad guy on the far right by shooting from either the far left or just right of centre respectively. As the guy is likely to be shooting back though, it's wise to think in advance and above all do a lot of running around to avoid shots from his friend(s).

The game gets progressively tougher with the number of baddies unloading their five shooters (?!) in your general direction at the same time matched by the level number. Every time you've taken out sixteen altogether, both are incremented. It's apparently possible to have all sixteen locations filled with bad 'uns on the last level!

As this is all easy to grasp, the instructions given with the pack are pretty unfathomable wittering on, as they do, about the "Cartwright-controlled town of Tombstone" instead of noting the game keys as one would expect! The game itself though is spotless with a nice layout, signature tune and addictive gameplay. There's even a First Byte joystick option! Though the gunslingers are all in monochrome.

Evidently employing some of Tynesoft's vocabulary a few years before, Artic Computing attempt to sucker potential customers into a Hunchback clone by similarly describing their (familiar) wall as "great"! It ain't. You are a "runner" with the stomach-churning mission of crossing 512 (Yes, 512!) screens of fireballs, bouncing balls and cannon balls plus the obligatory small holes to leap and larger ones to cross on floating rafts. It's all very familiar and, far from the huge number of screens attracting the audience (which it's meant to), considering you frequently get deaded on the second or third one, it's actually very disheartening. Couple this with each screen after three mirroring one of the ones before and you're not even close to how dull this game is.

Playability is very poor. Everything in the game, including your 'running' man, moves slowly but with oddly fast cannon balls shooting over the screen so quickly you die before you mark them! If you clear a hole but land on the edge of the wall, you still meet your maker and, as fireballs travel from right to left, you can be frustratingly picked off by one at head/waist height just as you reach the end of the screen.

Each sprite is very small (8 x 8), dull and unalluring. Each section of wall takes a few seconds to appear. The text characters have been re-defined awkwardly and are less readable. Each time you play you must choose whether to have sound, whether to have music and then what piece of music! If you have a Plus 1 attached, the game then hangs up unless you answered N three times! And loading the game takes an eternity with instructions and loading screens!

It's also interesting that another Artic release, Woks, contains almost exactly the same flaws, not to mention the same sprites!

The sprites are very much improved in the next piece, Mouse Trap; the first 100% machine code game written by Chris Robson. This is a very colourful Mode 5 romp around 22 screens of mousedom. The animation and detail of sprites smacks of quality from the word go, with a bouncing and shimmering title, high score table and slideshow of screens.

Sadly, though this game may look good, its playability (while not in the same division as The Great Wall) also lets it down. Marvin the mouse jumps from platform - and over many deadly household appliances - to platform, and collects Christmas puddings. Unfortunately, the jump left/right key combinations refuse to work unless you are already holding down the appropriate movement key before tapping the jump one. As this is a game where near pixel-perfect negotiation of baddies is required, this flaw's effect renders the whole game near to useless! That said, a lot of perseverance may reward Marvin with the golden cheese he desires!

The last game, Mega Force, describes itself as "the ultimate shoot-'em-up for the Electron". As usual, this interprets as your craft is at the bottom shooting up at baddies at the top. Luckily, while it doesn't really introduce anything new, this is the genre done very well. Sprites for both your and enemy craft are big, chunky and blow up, when hit, quite fantastically! Your ship has a double-barrelled gun emplacement so it's possible to blast two vertically rows of invaders, the action set on top of very fast parallax stars, simultaneously. Nice touches such as different zones (with different aliens to blast) plus spherical pods that improve your firepower when shot add to the game's professional feel.

Here the graphics and gameplay are tiptop but there are two other (less serious) glitches. First, the loading screen takes a age to appear on the display, as it is not loaded directly but 'floods' on via machine code. Second, author Ian Collinson, for his own reasons, has not turned off the _ cursor. Thankfully, it doesn't flash around the screen but it can be very distracting, beating away relentlessly in the bottom right.

Should you like good displays and nice sprites, most of these games deliver in such respects. With playability, Gunsmoke comes first, then Mega Force, then Mouse Trap and at the bottom The Great Wall. Still, you will probably be left with the impression that, considering all were on their second release, ironing out the creases before they left the Tynesoft unit again could have been most worthwhile.