LICENSING deals from the amusement arcades are thinner on the ground than they used to be. Elite, however, has found an excellent title in Bombjack, and the game as seen on the Spectrum is virtually identical to the original arcade hit.
The scenario is about as inane as a scenario can be and completely irrelevant to the game. You guide a little man with a Batman cape around the screen collecting bombs and avoiding the monsters. It's about as simple as you can get without being utterly trivial, but nonetheless addictive for all that.
Jack - for it is he - moves left and right, and jumps from platform to platform using the up, down and fire keys. Fire is the basic jump, fire with the joystick pressed forward gives a rather higher jump - the full height of the screen - and down halts a jump. You can also swing left and right while jumping, although the amount of sideways motion is limited.
Graphics and speed are everything in games like this, and Elite has done a good job on both. There are six background scenes, done as hi-resolution screens. You start with a view of the Sphinx and pyramids, move on to a Grecian temple, then to a Gothic castle, skyscrapers, classical buildings and an open plain by night. On those screens are superimposed a few platforms to help Jack in his efforts to dodge the nasties, and also to hinder him from jumping the full height of the screen where the way is blocked by a platform.
The monsters come in various shapes and sizes. There is a creature which seems to be a giant flea and is very nasty, moving semi-purposefully, but slowly, all over the screen. Spacemen start on platforms at the top of the screen and slowly fall off them to the bottom where they turn into creepy crawlies with spiral shells. Don't ask me what they are - poisonous snails perhaps, or some sort of exotic chrysalis. As spacemen they are easy enough to avoid, but after a while the snails tend to pile up and make life difficult if you need to run round the bottom of the screen.
They also have a habit of turning into mines which roll along the bottom looking for trouble, and later on in the game, or if you spend too long on a single screen, you will come under the dreaded flying saucer attack. These horrors move unpredictably and sometimes at great speed, and should be avoided at all costs.
Fortunately, there are three types of spinning disc to come to your aid. The most frequent, and useful, is marked P and freezes all the monsters on the screen for a short period. They can then be destroyed, rather in the manner of a Pacman with a power pill, which enables you to get to clogged-up corners of the screen to collect isolated bombs. The B disc doubles the score for the screen, and the E disc gives you an extra life, although it doesn't appear frequently, and turns into a B disc if you don't catch it quickly enough.
All these sprites are in black, but that is an advantage given the very detailed backgrounds. It ensures you can swiftly see what is going on which is vital in a very fast game, and also means there are no colour clashes. I found the black a little boring at first, but rapidly realised how necessary it was to make Bombjack playable. Once you're in the thick of things you barely notice the colour.
My ideas on tactics will no doubt be improved on when you've all had a chance to put in some practice. I've managed about eight screens - there are 30 at least, with each background scene having five configurations of platforms imposed on it. One very useful tip - the spacemen always seem to appear first on the top left-hand platform. If you can get to that immediately at the beginning of each screen, wipe up the bombs and you won't have to worry about holding out for a P disc. It's usually very difficult to get to that platform once the spacemen have started materialising.
Bombs with lit fuses are worth much more than bombs without, and if you wait until they are lit and collect 20 or more on a single screen you amass enormous bonuses - 10,000 for 20 rising to 50,000 for 23. However, it's not worth hanging around for this opportunity unless you're very skilled, as the screen will soon be a crawling mass of monsters. Just clear them away as quickly as possible and leave the real task until you're familiar with the game.
Stay away from the giant fleas - they have an unnerving habit of altering course in your direction as you pass by them, and can also pass through platforms, so you are not safe behind your barrier.
The best general tactic is to take out the bombs at the top left-hand corner, then clear up the bottom of the screen before the spacemen get there and start filling it with mines and snails. When a P disc appears take out the monsters close to the bombs, but be careful about the time limit - don't get yourself trapped if they suddenly come back to life. And make sure you get the flying saucers, if there are any, and the fleas - they are your main enemy.
Bombjack is great fun, slickly executed and totally addictive within its limitations - a sort of unpredictable Chuckie Egg with shades of Pacman in free-fall. The rating reflects the simplicity of the game rather than its fun element - it is unlikely to be something you come back to week after week, and I suspect hardened zappers will find it a shade too easy to grip their attention.
For newcomers to the Spectrum, and anyone who doesn't remember or still glories in the grand old days of Arcadia or Penetrator, this arcade nonsense is excellent material for a wet afternoon, when you can work off your frustration on a plain old hi-score contest with a few friends.
Joystick: Kempston, Sinclair, cursor