C16 Compilation, Commodore 16 and Plus/4, Mastertronic, 2C0255
C16 Compilation is a very good compilation of four games: three previously released games and one new one. If you already owned some of the games featured here, the value may lessen and be for completists, but nonetheless having three consistently good games and one average game for the price is a definite winner, and all coded by Shaun Southern to boot.
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One of the very last Mastertronic releases for the Commodore 16 and Plus/4, this is a rarity amongst Mastertronic – C16 Compilation contains four games for the price of one, and all at a budget price too. I suspect this may have been to do with the one game on this compilation which had not previously been released, but was also a good way to re-release some of the games without putting them on the Ricochet label. The cassette features all four games on each side which is sensible, as reliable as Novaload is, it is always good to have two chances to load each game. It is worth noting that all four were coded by Shaun Southern, and you know already that means there are going to be some playable games on here to enjoy.
So, we will look at all four games on the compilation, and how that stacks up as an overall release, and definitely one of the more obscure Commodore 16 and Plus/4 releases to find due to its late release date. It is worth noting though that the instructions are printed in very small text and is not that easy to read without some way of magnifying it (or zooming in with a phone and taking a couple of pictures.) This is particularly the case when reading the instructions for Laza, the one game where you really do need to read all of it to make some sense of the game. Without further ado, on to the games, featured here in order of as they loaded on my original cassette.
Pacmania (originally released by Mr Chip Software, 1985)
The Commodore 16 and Plus/4 did not get an official port of the arcade game Pac Man, which meant that a good clone version of the game is your best choice. From the moment the iconic jingle plays, and you start heading around the maze collecting the dots, you are in familiar territory with power pills located to turn the ghosts blue to be eaten – only to come back into the maze even quicker than they were before. This does mean that you do have to think tactically – sometimes leaving them blue and uneaten can often work better as you work your way around. Do you go for the score or to progress through the mazes?
There are also some slight differences here though – using the hyper-maze port (indicated by a square H) basically ports you to another part of the maze – handy if all the ghosts are close to you, but if not, you could be running into one. There is also the way you can go off the left or right side and appear on the other side of the screen too, like a tunnel. That would be fine if you can use it, but the ghosts can too, so do be careful. There are different mazes as well as several difficulty levels to keep you playing, and it is fast paced arcade action which can get difficult when the ghosts are much faster than you. Overall, though, it is an effective clone of Pac Man, and miles better than the awful Munch It from Tynesoft.
Dizasterblaster (originally released by Americana, 1987)
The Commodore 64 version of this game was released by Mr Chip themselves back in 1984, but took some time before the Commodore 16 and Plus/4 version was released. Unusually for Americana, both this and Robo Knight were original games for the system. Dizasterblaster does not mess around though, as there are 64 levels of solid single shooter action set in space. Each of the levels has a timer which counts down to zero, and once you reach that, it is the end of the level and on to the next one. There are various attack patterns to learn as the enemies head firstly down the screen, but then also diagonally and even horizontally across towards where your ship is, with later levels having enemies come from underneath you (which is why the ship is part way up the screen.)
The action gradually gets more frantic with a lovely little piece of in-game music which keeps you blasting – and some meaty sound effects to go with zapping the enemies too. Sometimes you can choose not to shoot and survive instead, but with a bonus life awarded at every 1,000 points as an incentive, you do not want to be without blasting for too long. The levels with the enemies swarming vertically and horizontally makes keeping track of them a really good challenge, and the controls are smooth and responsive, meaning if you have hit an enemy, it is nobody’s fault but your own. It is a highly fun and enjoyable little shoot ‘em up, no frills, just frenetic arcade action that makes good use of the hardware, especially the bright and colourful title page and the fade in and out of the grids at the start and end of each level.
Olympic Skier (originally released by Mr Chip Software, 1985)
With the theme tune to BBC TV’s Ski Sunday playing throughout, this game is one that gives you the Winter sports feel, with three stages to each level to complete. First, there is the downhill, head down the course as fast as you dare, whilst avoiding trees and jumping over rocks. Later levels give you other obstacles to jump such as abandoned skis, logs, sleds, and green rocks, all of which score you bonus points, and trees in the middle of the course to avoid too. There are also patches of ice to speed you up as you hurtle down the course. If you make it to the slalom, then you will be going through the gates to add some extra time as you steer through them at some speed and avoiding the trees on the side of the course. Get through that and it is the ski jump, waggle the joystick to get the right speed to take off and use up and down to ski jump, landing level as close to the centre of the target to score bonus points and crucial time for the next level.
If you crash, then be prepared for the iconic insults that appear as a scrolling message at the bottom of the screen, such as “You’ve hit more trees than a flying squirrel”, “Who you gonna call? First aid” and best of the lot “Don’t get too piste off” (ho ho.) It takes time to get back up to speed after crashing, so the key is to find a good speed you are comfortable with and steer as little as needed on the downhill, then rack up the time on the slalom and hit the target in the jump. The controls can be a little twitchier at high speed, but overall to have all three stages like the Commodore 64 version has and still have a fun playable game is a very good effort for an early release back then. It is still to this day a very enjoyable game.
Laza (new release, exclusive to the C16 Compilation)
Shaun Southern had released Lazer Wheel on Mastertronic’s MAD label in 1987, and Laza is effectively the same game as that (with the same music on the title screen too), but with some differences. Firstly, the action takes place in a square instead of a round circle, and that can take some getting used to, with slightly different mechanics. The game play remains just as confusing as it ever was though, with the ship in the middle rotating around. The key in this version is not to miss certain flashing coloured blocks, with purple, yellow and red being bombs that will cause damage. If the damage goes up to 100, this means instant game over. Blue, red, or yellow non-flashing blocks are mixers, and when they cross over shooting them (as mixed colours) scores points and speeds up the timer to survive the level that little bit quicker.
Cyan blocks take multiple hits, but they destroy the other blocks (including bombs) and repair damage, so they are handy to shoot. Purple blocks can be shot three times for a bonus, yellow blocks shoot back at you when hit, and green blocks fire randomly and take multiple hits. Also, if you miss shooting a block, it creates a grey block in the level, which means that when you shoot that block, the bullet rebounds straight towards you and if it hits, the loss of a shield. Yes, you have shields, but you will be keeping your eye on damage most of the time. Unfortunately, it is just too confusing for most people to work out, and the flashing blocks are not always that obvious to spot, meaning you will just go for the purple, yellow and red blocks in any case to see if you can last out the level and get a hefty bonus at the end of it. You may be able to persevere with it, but I can understand why this did not get a standalone Mastertronic release, particularly after the poor magazine reviews of Lazer Wheel.
Four games for the price of one sounds like a bargain: and it is, provided you did not own any or maybe one of the games previously. It is hard to choose a favourite here as three of them are consistently good with Laza being the weakest of the bunch due to the rather confusing gameplay elements, but there’s solid entertainment to be had here. Everyone will have their own favourite, but having played them all again recently for this review on my Plus/4, Olympic Skier just about wins out, but it was a very close thing. In any case, you have got a good mixed bag of arcade action, sport, and strategy on one cassette. And what isn’t there to like about that?