Game Review: Sidewinder (Amiga, Mastertronic)

Sidewinder, Amiga, Mastertronic - IM0252
  • 5/10
    Score - 5/10


Being a perfect arcade conversion, Sidewinder promised a great deal for Amiga owners. But despite offering some short-term fun, it lacks all the essential qualities you’d expect from typical shoot-em-ups you’d find in an arcade. It gives a sense that the game was missing something and it struggles to find its own identity. With average graphics and frustrating gameplay elements as well, it’s a disappointing release.

User Review
8/10 (1 vote)

Back in the 80s and 90s we were often envious of the great shoot-em-ups found in the arcades. While many were converted to home systems, many were pale imitations of the arcade originals. Mastertronic’s Sidewinder for the Amiga was different. Being developed originally to run on Mastertronic’s own Arcadia cabinets, it was created with the Amiga hardware in mind. So this home version was set to be a perfect home conversion…

My First Mastertronic Amiga Game!

Now I didn’t actually get my first Amiga until May 1990 as I’d been saving up to get the Amiga 2000, but that didn’t stop me from being prepared in advance. I’d been a regular reader of Commodore User and when they started running covermounted games, I couldn’t resist opting for the disk version of the February 1989 issue. As a shoot-em-up fan, the idea of a free arcade shooter – Sidewinder no less – appealed immensely. And little did I realise at the time that my first Amiga game was going to be a Mastertronic one!

Starting Sidewinder – A Bit Of Hassle!

When it came to arcade shooters – certainly in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras – it was fairly safe to assume that if it was joystick controlled, a single press of the fire button would start the game. Well, you would think so. For some strange reason, the developers decided to use the space bar to start the game, and then have this bring up a rather bland menu asking you to choose a difficulty level before starting the game.

The difficulty setting can be selected using the keyboard or joystick so it makes no sense that any keyboard input is needed to get to this point at all. Not only that but there’s no mention on the game’s title screen that you need to press the space bar to start. It could be argued that this is something that would be pointed out in the inlay, but for a game like this most would have just put the disk in without looking at that. Regardless, it doesn’t give off a particularly good first impression.

The Game

Onto the game itself and Sidewinder is a no-frills vertically scrolling arcade shoot-em-up. Spanning several stages, your craft flies over various different landscapes and comes under attack from numerous waves of air and ground-based craft. Your ship is equipped with a twin forward-firing gun and nothing else and it’s a case of destroy everything in your path – enemy craft, ground based gun turrets, and static targets that offer plenty of bonus points. Some targets need more than one shot to take them out – usually the ground based ones – making forward planning essential.

Powerups can be collected as you play but instead of getting these from destroying attack waves, they appear either at fixed points on each level or randomly, and they make very little difference to the game. Most make no noticeable difference to the game and just give you score bonuses, and the only one I noticed that did do anything was the rapid fire upgrade.

As with all old-school shooters, the only real objective in Sidewinder is to survive each stage, destroying as much as possible to rack up the best score you possibly can and get to the end of each stage so you can move on to the next.

Graphics And Sound

As Sidewinder loads up you’re presented with quite an impressive title screen that uses the Amiga’s HAM graphics mode using all 4096 colours from the original machines. At the same time, there’s a great title tune playing from David Whittaker – a reworking of his tune from Panther for the C64! Sound effects, on the other hand, let the game down.

While there are some great hefty sound effects to accompany the on-screen explosions (and there are plenty of them going on all the time), disappointingly there’s no in-game music and all of the background noise and other sound effects may seem remarkably familiar… Sound has been “borrowed” from TV shows such as The Twilight Zone, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers and many more. They’re all fairly easy to recognise and I’m surprised this didn’t cause any issues for Mastertronic at the time, especially considering the copyright problems they had with Chiller back in the 80s.

Back to the graphics and the in-game visuals are pleasant enough and while the enemy craft don’t really vary too much from one stage to the next, there’s plenty of variety in the level design itself. While the graphics aren’t stunning by Amiga standards, they’re above average and certainly do the job adequately. Highlight has to the explosions which fill the screen at every opportunity.


I have to be honest and say that the game itself is something of a mixed bag. While it’s mildly entertaining and fun in short bursts, it’s also just as frustrating. I found that the collision detection seemed to be hit and miss throughout and your shots seemed to go through enemy craft without hitting them at all at times leading to unnecessary loss of life when you were in particularly tight spots.

There seemed to be very little to distinguish the difficulty settings presented to the player as well. The first time I tried them, I actually found the easier settings to be more punishing to the player than the harder ones for some unknown reason. In fact, difficulty seemed to be an issue throughout. There were issues where many attack waves moved far too rapidly in places and if you couldn’t remember the attack patterns exactly then you had no chance of avoiding them.

My final real gripe came with the start of each level. The levels start with your ship being positioned in a tunnel. To begin, there’s no indication that the sides of this tunnel are physical barriers and coming into contact with this will lose one of your lives. This is the only time in the game where you can collide with the background so it’s bizzarre that it happens when there’s nothing else going on in the game. I can only imagine how frustrated players must have felt in the arcades paying to play and having that happen.

An Arcade Flop?

What playing Sidewinder at home highlighted was the core problems with the whole Arcadia project. Pretty much every arcade shoot-em-up I’ve ever played follows a couple of basic formats. They’re either designed around attack waves that the player has to defeat (Galaga, Space Invaders etc), or they’re level based and at the end of those there’s always a boss that you need to destroy to progress to the next. While Sidewinder is level based, there’s no end of level boss so there’s no real sense of achievement. And for a game that’s come straight out of an arcade, that just leads to disappointment.

There are bullet hell elements here – which is fine in games like this – as they can add an extra challenge for players (and loss of life can be a good way to create income using credits) but there’s no continue system in place in Sidewinder to encourage players to stick with the game. The start of the game, as I mentioned, just adds to the frustration and would lead players to walk away from the cabinet in frustration. But there’s just something lacking that stops it from feeling like an arcade game.


When I first played Sidewinder back in 1990 I think my excitement and enthusiasm was more down to the fact that it was one of my first Amiga games rather than its quality. The other games I had at the same time was a flight simulator and an RPG so this really was the best arcade game I had to showcase what the Amiga could do. Looking back now, it’s dated very badly. It may be fun for short bursts, but that is short-lived when its faults become apparent and frustration starts to set in.

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