Game Review: Rockman (Vic 20, Mastertronic)

Rockman - Vic 20
Rockman, Vic 20, Mastertronic - Number IV0068
  • 8/10
    Score - 8/10
8/10

Summary

Obvious comparisons are going to be made to Boulderdash from First Star, but considering the fact that this is running on an unexpanded Vic 20, this is an impressive achievement. It’s fun, challenging, and offers plenty of repeat gameplay.

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The early days of the 8-bit era were notorious for an endless flood of unofficial ports of arcade games. Every publisher was guilty of this – including Mastertronic. But it wasn’t long before companies started copying each other’s original game concepts. Rockman was one such title, paying “tribute” to the classic action puzzle game Boulderdash

Rockman – It’s Not All Rocks And Diamonds…

To give Mastertronic some credit, Rockman did have a story (albeit a loose one) behind the game. Instead of your character exploring underground caves hunting for diamonds and avoiding rockfalls to gather riches, Rockman had some purpose to your quest. After your father passed away, your evil uncle laid claim to the throne in your kingdom. To reclaim your rightful position, you need to assembly a magical amulet that belonged to your father.

Rockman title screen - Vic 20
Rockman title screen – Vic 20

Only problem is that this amulet has been broken into 160 pieces, scattered underground in a series of caves. You journey below to find them, avoiding dangerous rockfalls, creatures out to stop you, so you can save your kingdom. So at least Rockman has a more noble quest than seeking fame and fortune than Boulderdash…!

Going Underground

The pieces of the amulet are spread out over 20 levels, 8 on each. It’s a lot more complicated than just moving to them and collecting them all though. Rocks are positioned throughout each level and will fall into gaps into any of the tunnels underneath them. Rocks can be pushed into empty spaces but you need to have your wits about you as rocks will fall on top of you if you move down into a gap giving them a space they can drop down into. If that wasn’t hard enough, you’re being hunted. You can either avoid these creatures or trigger rockfalls to take them out.

Rockman (level 1) - Vic 20
Rockman (level 1) – Vic 20

Technical Wizardry

The developers, M and S Srebalius, have worked wonders with the Vic 20. While this game spans 20 screens full of puzzles, the entire game manages to run on an unexpanded Vic 20! It doesn’t match the speed of Boulderdash, either for your character, the rockfalls or anything else, but that doesn’t hinder the playability. And to have so much in movement on screen at once, especially when you trigger a major collapse, it’s an impressive sight.

The only downside is the sound. Rockman opens up with a pretty harsh white noise sound effect (which terrified our dogs to the point that they started barking at the screen!) and it doesn’t improve by much. In game effects aren’t too bad with suitable crashing effects for the rocks, but the gameplay is accompanied by an abysmal rendition of the 70s electronic pop hit Popcorn. It’s barely recognisable, but all throughout you’re begging for a toggle to turn it off.

Rockman (level 2) - Vic 20
Rockman (level 2) – Vic 20

Gameplay

Despite the simple concept, Rockman is incredibly addictive. It will take a little while to solve the puzzles on each of the screens allowing you to progress to the next, but the random nature of the positioning of the creatures ensures that no two games play the same. Occasionally it means that their positioning makes it difficult, if not impossible to complete a level but that doesn’t happen all the time.

With the pace of the game, you do need to think before you move as it’s not going to be as responsive as your typical arcade game. So bearing that in mind you have to approach it as a puzzle rather than an action game. In that respect, it does play a little differently to Boulderdash which can be played much faster.

Overall

I remember getting this when it was first released and was genuinely blown away by how good it was. The price was irrelevant – it held its own against any of the full price titles on offer by any of the big publishers. And it’s just as compelling today as it was back then.

Mastertronic - Rockman Vic 20

2 Comments

  1. Mark Srebalius got in touch with me in 2003. He was one of the programmers with whom I had lost contact whilst at Mastertronic (he had been ill and was not living at home) and had not realised how successful Rockman had been. His first contact had been with the Darling brothers in 1983 and he sold them Phantom Attack. Alas, I did not find out the first name of his brother

    • I had a few forum posts with Mark a few years back when I wrote a tribute game to Rockman for a game competition. It turned out he’d googled his game so he could show his grandkids that he had written games back in the eighties and had somehow stumbled across my remake. Not sure if he actually played it but he was gracious enough to create a forum account there to congratulate me on my game and thank me for crediting him in it. It meant a lot to me because I’d been such a fan of this game as a teenager and was hugely proud to have actually completed it without cheating back then. It was very hard, though.

      I did direct message him a couple of years back as I was thinking of writing a sequel and wanted to see if he fancied having any input but he seems to have faded away again. I did ask him if he ever fancied going back to games programming again one day but he wasn’t interested after all this time. Don’t think he ever wrote another game after R.I.P and the C16 version of Rockman.

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Mastertronic Collectors Archive Weekly Digest - 3rd September 2023 - Mastertronic Collectors Archive
  2. Vic 20 Mastertronic Checklist - Mastertronic Collectors Archive
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  4. Game Review: Rockman (Commodore 16 and Plus/4, Mastertronic) - Mastertronic Collectors Archive

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