Of course, there were a plentiful supply of awful budget games. Although gamers tended to be a touch more on the forgiving side due to the smaller outlay involved, there was still an inescapable feeling of wasted money when you played, or tried to play, the latest travesty from Mastertronic, Firebird, Atlantis et al.
I suppose given the price we shouldn’t have been that surprised that there were a few clunkers lurking around on the shelves, so here are my worst ten that I had the misfortune to waste twenty odd quid on...
10.Los Angeles SWAT (Entertainment USA).
I’m a big fan of vertical run and gunners, of which Commando, Ikari Warriors and Licence to Kill are my favourites. Mastertronic (under the guise of Entertainment USA) tried their hand at the genre with this lamentable effort which had poor graphics, slow controls and a pace so sluggish you could easily play it quadruple speed on an emulator and still think it was slower than a tortoise on dope. In the Spectrum's early days this would have been mediocre. In 1987? No, no, no, no!
9.Phileas Fogg’s Balloon Battles (Zeppelin).
PFBB was an isometric game with the player controlling the famous explorer as he ballooned across 19th Century America. Unfortunately the programmers followed the realistic (yet unplayable) premise that hot air balloons can only be controlled up and down and the rest is left to Mother Nature i.e. the wind direction. This renders an already poor game a total mess and not worth the time it takes to download for free, let alone £3.99 of hard-earned pocket money, which incidentally made it a borderline budget game anyway.
8.Action Biker (Mastertronic).
Action Biker was a tie-in with the clumsy Colin character who “amusingly” featured in KP Skips adverts in the Eighties. The game had Colin chugging around a top down city, trying to find items within the multitude of houses, before he woke up (!) in some ridiculously bizarre scenario. It was astonishingly boring and I would say a waste of a licence, but to be frank a game based around a character who appeared on crisp adverts didn’t really have a great deal of potential in the first place.
Bargain basement publisher Atlantis didn’t exactly have a reputation for producing classics, but even by their standards, Timezone was rubbish. The player controlled a time-travelling robotic dog – yes, just like Doctor Who’s K-9 - who had to collect an item from each zone he warped into (his time machine was, bizarrely, an oversized cassette). Each zone consisted of a series of bland empty rooms save an enemy, which was often the only clue as to which time zone you were in. Dull and duller.
6.Rapid Fire (Mastertronic).
As was often the case with Mastertronic, Rapid Fire sounded great when you read the cassette inlay, and the screenshots were okay but it played like a dog. Flickery, badly designed graphics and rubbish animation were the tip of the iceberg as the player realised there really is nothing else other than wandering around offing the occasional bad guy before repeating again, then onto the next level, and the next...
5.Alien Kill (Mastertronic).
Sometimes I wonder how Mastertronic ever survived as a publisher considering some of the tat they put out, especially in their early days; of course it was the price that counted in their favour, and Alien Kill was an early example of the dictum that you get what you pay for. A basic (literally) and cumbersome shoot 'em up, Alien Kill had nothing to recommend it save a nifty cassette inlay and the low price.
Now we’re getting nasty. Prowler was Mastertronic’s cheap attempt at the flight sim/shooter genre; they had previously re-released Microsphere’s far-superior Sky Ranger, and obviously fancied having a go themselves. I recall being so excited at the prospect of whizzing through a battle-torn landscape in my tooled-up helicopter, gunning down bad guys and dogfighting with enemy choppers. Of course, the reality was nothing like this as Prowler had nothing but mundane empty scenery with no sense whatsover of speed, clumsy controls and zero excitement. A major disappointment.
3.Don’t Buy This (Firebird).
So we finally come to the infamous compilation from Firebird: one cassette, five games, all trash. An embarrassing attempt at reverse psychology, Firebird stuffed five clangers onto one tape, which I’ll briefly run through for you:-
Race Ace – awful top down racer, with no playability and ridiculous pace.
Fido – side-on, flip-screen adventure, just about the best game but still rubbish.
Weasel Willy - a one-screen gameplay-free zone.
Fido 2: Puppy Power – they couldn’t even come up with another original game! Virtual re-tread of the first Fido but not as good.
Fruit Machine - *sighs*.
Five games for £2.50 may have appeared to be good value for money, but with all five barely better than magazine type-ins, it was best left to the title for you to make you mind up.
2.1985: The Day After (Mastertronic).
I was so excited when I bought this game. The screenshots on the cassette inlay looked ok and I hadn’t seen the Crash review (it received a lowly 21%). Like Thrust, 1985’s game mechanics were based on games such as Lunar Lander and Gravitar, and your mission was to escape an underground cavern and collect a vital power source. Or something. In reality, 1985 was impossibly frustrating and didn’t even offer a modicum of enjoyment thanks to your craft being unarmed. Irksome, unplayable nonsense and the worst budget game I ever played except for…
1.Voyage into the Unknown (Mastertronic).
Voyage into the Unknown had a great cover. A giant spaceship graced the inlay, the title emblazoned over the top, promising a grandiose experience of space exploration and addictive gaming. Heh.
Unlike 1985, I bought this game knowing how bad it was. I read the review in Crash magazine and simply could not believe that any game was worthy of such a low score. Is it the lowest scoring game in Crash’s history? I couldn’t tell you, but I’m sure there can’t have been many – if any - below Voyage’s shameful 9 (that’s nine) percent.
The major issue the Crash reviewers had was the ridiculously small playing era. Look at the screen shot. See that little rectangle on the right hand side? THAT is your play area, with the rest of the screen taken up with energy bars and other crap that could have quite easily been squeezed into a tenth of the space. Yes, it's supposed to be an interactive-type of space adventure, but with virtually no control over proceedings, no idea what to do and no enthusiasm to find out any more, Voyage was very soon discarded.
You know what? I think Crash overrated it.