|It wasn't a looker but those red function keys stood out...|
Another glaring oversight to rectify with the help of Red Parsley then, but where to begin? Naturally, there are a few BBC titles I've heard of, or at least games I've heard of which are available on the BBC, so they were an obvious place to start, and I've also made a couple of random selections too. So, after all these years I guess the big question is: was the BBC able to hang with the big boys or should it have stuck to amusing snotty children in the classroom? Let's see!
Amiga version of this amusing and colourful platformer so it seemed like a great title to introduce me to the BBC's gaming abilities. This is actually the original (and far lesser known) version of the game before it was revived by Team 17 but it's easy to see how the one came from the other. Although the end-game is unclear, the object is to guide a cute green duck through twenty-odd single-screen stages. However, each contains several keys which must all be collected before the pesky exit door will be unlocked. This BBC original is noticeably harder than the Amiga version - most likely as it understandably contains far fewer stages - but, like the other versions, it's also an enjoyable and addictive game. The duck himself is a bit bland, lacking the appeal of his later incarnations, but he moves quickly and accurately around the stages which are impressively colourful and there are tonnes of things to collect for high-scores too. Good fun and a very positive introduction to the BBC!
Gravitar. That means there are various planetary surfaces and subterranean caverns to navigate with a small rocket ship which numerous gun turrets are trying to shoot down. Unlike Gravitar you don't have to shoot them (although you can) but instead collect a 'pod' of some sort and return it to the heavens, all the while combating the increasingly challenging passageways, as well as the gravity itself, whilst conserving fuel and/or collecting more. It's a mostly silent game to play and, again like Repton, the graphics are mostly monochrome and include irritating push-scrolling, but it's mighty enjoyable too. Better than Gravitar? Maybe...
Castle Quest (1985)
It's amazing (and terrifying) to think that it's been about 25 years since I used a BBC Micro, but even then my time with it had consisted of little more than trying to make databases and larking around with BASIC (10 PRINT "Boobies", 20 GOTO 10 - hee hee!). As far as I'm aware that's always been how most people around my age have regarded it too - as an educational tool bereft of anything remotely approaching fun or entertaining - but was the poor old BBC unfairly overlooked in this regard?
Well, let's not forget that Acorn already had their Atom available, and the Electron followed hot on the heels of the BBC, and both were seen more as gaming computers than anything else. Despite this, it was well known that there were some games available for the BBC, but it was never seen as being anywhere near as game-centric as most other systems around at that time. I suppose this was simply down to the stigma of anything remotely associated with that stinky school place because, as I've discovered, it was a machine more than capable of producing games to equal most of the other systems available. Its audio abilities don't appear to be much better than the poor old Speccy's bleepy-bloopyiness but I really like its graphics which consist of up to eight colours at once from a palette of sixteen. That put it on a par with its contemporaries but the colours seem to be particularly vivid to me too.
From a technical standpoint then, the BBC was more than capable of doubling as a gaming system, and clearly, as I've already seen, it had some great titles, but were there enough of them? Almost certainly not. All the games magazines I used to read obviously featured lots of adverts for games but these were rarely listed for anything other than the Speccy, CPC, and C64 (as far as the 8-bits were concerned at least). This was perhaps due in part to the BBC's price - the Model B would set you back £335 at launch, already more than its competition, but its price was then increased to a wallet-busting £399! With such cheaper alternatives available, why spend that much on something that had less games to choose from?
Oh well, capable or not, with a few exceptions the BBC remained an educational tool and would remain beyond the reach of most as far as its games were concerned. There are a surprising number of titles to be unearthed, though, which were either exclusives or at least in their prime on this format, so it's well worth looking into today if you missed out back then. I know I'll be spending more time with it...