Game Review: Kane (BBC Micro, Mastertronic)

Kane, BBC Micro, Mastertronic – IB0096
  • 3/10
    Score - 3/10


With only half the levels and none of the polished presentation, the BBC Micro version of Kane is a dull, lifeless experience that isn’t fit to lace the cowboy boots of the Commodore 64 original.

User Review
3/10 (1 vote)

Welcome to Kane

Wild West action game Kane will always hold strong nostalgic memories for me, as this was the first computer game I ever bought with my own money. BBC Micro budget games were always hard to come by, so when I saw this game on a Mastertronic display in my local supermarket back in 1986, I happily handed over my pocket money. I remember eagerly loading it up when I got home, but that excitement didn’t last long.

Kane originated on the Commodore 64, and is considered a minor classic from the early Mastertronic range on that computer. It may only consist of four levels, which are essentially minigames, and the main character sprite was clearly plagiarised from Impossible Mission, but the game’s presentation really stood out from the crowd in 1985 and it was well worth the £1.99 asking price. Unfortunately, the BBC Micro conversion is a pale shadow of the C64 original.

Same price, half the game

Despite the inlay suggesting that it retains the four stages of the original, the Beeb version only has two of them. Both horse-riding levels are omitted, leaving just the bird shoot and the showdown with the outlaws in an otherwise deserted town.

For the uninitiated, the first level sees you shooting down birds with a bow and arrow. Every three birds shot down can be traded with the Indians for a peace token, which act as lives in the following stage. You must line up your shots using a targeting reticule, taking into account the height and speed of the birds. Your quantity of arrows is limited, but every bird you shoot down gives you an arrow back. When you eventually run out, you move on to the next level.

The second stage in the BBC version sees you arrive in the town of Kane, only to be ambushed by outlaws. The enemies will appear in doorways and from behind buildings and you must once again move the target around and dispatch the required number to end the level. You must keep moving to avoid the shots from the bad guys, and also replenish your six-shooter by walking off the right-hand side of the screen. Eliminate all the outlaws and the game begins again from the start with the difficulty level increasing.

Both of these stages replicate the gameplay of the original version fairly well, though it’s harder to move around the aiming target using the keyboard instead of a joystick. The problem is that the two horse-riding levels were what added variety to the game and made it more difficult. Without them it is rather easy and soon becomes boring.

Look and feel

If the gameplay wasn’t disappointing enough, this version of the game is also lacking in the graphical department. The C64 was often maligned for its extensive use of brown, but in the case of Kane that allowed for some authentic looking natural landscapes. The Beeb wasn’t blessed with such a good range of colours, and as a result to two levels feature an abundance of red to represent the barren environment, with blue and yellow used as secondary colours. What makes it worse though is the lack of fine detail in the levels, with not a cactus or wagon wheel to be seen, making both seem lifeless.

It may have been ripped off from another game, but the animation and style of the main character sprite in the original version was what made it stand out. Sadly, that’s another thing that didn’t make it across to this conversion. Instead, the player sprite shuffles across the screen comically and doesn’t even have a proper cowboy hat. He actually looks more like kids TV character Mr Benn than a rugged Sheriff!

Sound-wise, it’s a mixed bag. The spot effects for firing guns and shooting arrows are quite well done, but the rendition of the William Tell Overture that plays in the background is an abominable dirge that is way too slow and occasionally seems out of tune. Mercifully, you can adjust the volume level of the music with the Escape key, though it cannot be completely silenced.

Decades of disappointment

Mastertronic didn’t support the Acorn machines strongly and this was one of the company’s biggest selling titles on the BBC, probably due to the attractive cover art and the game’s concept. The system was capable of much better than this and you have to wonder why those two levels were left out. It could have been because they featured scrolling, which the C64 handled far more easily than the Beeb, but more likely it was a lack of time or money for the programmer, who was probably tasked with shovelling something loosely representing the game out as quickly as possible.

It’s easy to be critical of the BBC Micro version of Kane in retrospect, having played the far superior Commodore 64 original in later years. However, this isn’t a new opinion for me, as back when I bought the game as ten-year-old, I was bitterly disappointed and probably only loaded it up a couple of times. It stands as a stark reminder for me that not all nostalgic memories are good ones and that some of the most noteworthy games from your childhood probably aren’t classics.

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