Game Review: Space Scramble (Vic 20, Mastertronic)

Space Scramble, Vic 20, Mastertronic - IV0019
  • 5/10
    Score - 5/10


Space Scramble manages to cram plenty of variety into the Vic 20’s limited amount of memory and manages to deliver a faithful homage to the Konami original. Unfortunately it’s let down by frustrating controls so instead of being a classic shooter, it’s more a case of what might have been.

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One thing that was notable – specifically when it came to computer games in the early 80s – was the prevalence of arcade clones. While there were some officially licensed games around, most publishers opted to produce their own variants of the more popular arcade titles. Mastetronic were no exception including this Vic 20 release Space Scramble

Space Scramble – A game that needs no introduction

Anyone who grew up with gaming in the 80s will immediately know what this game is about just from the title alone. A clone of the Konami arcade hit Scramble, it’s a side scrolling shoot-em-up where you have to fly a ship over an ever changing landscape, avoiding oncoming craft, ground-based missiles, meteor showers all while keeping an eye on your ever-dwindling fuel supply.

You do have a little help on hand with missiles you can fire to help ward off anything heading towards you. Plus an unlimited supply of bombs that can be dropped on ground based enemies, missile outposts and all-important fuel dumps… although strangely these top up your fuel supply instead of taking out half the ground around them. I never did figure that out with the arcade original, let alone clones like Space Scramble!

Sound and vision

Sound is sparse but does the job with effects limited to explosions, bombs being dropped, and sounds when your ship crashes or is destroyed. There’s no music or even sounds when you fire missiles so Space Scramble has definitely kept the audio side of things to the bare essentials.

Visually the game is quite limited, with just a few redefined characters for the ship, enemies and ground based objects. The landscape itself appears to be constructed using some of the Vic 20’s in-built graphics characters, presumably to save memory for the game code itself and make sure that it fit into unexpanded systems.

Out Of Control

The big issue I had with Space Scramble was in its controls. Konami’s classic gave players not only four-way movement of their ship but two types of weapons – missiles and bombs. All of this has been retained for the Vic 20 but at a price. The game can be played with a joystick or keyboard… although strangely the manual tells players they must use the joystick in Port 2 even though the Vic only has a single joystick port!

For those opting to use joystick, flight is limited to up, down, left and right. Fire obviously shoots missiles and dropping bombs has been assigned to any diagonal movement. Considering the fact that a lot of players are likely to push in this direction to move, it’s a strange choice. But if you think this is odd, keyboard is worse…

Truthfully, I actually found Space Scramble easier to control with the keyboard but I found the layout to be the real issue. It uses six keys in total – four for movement and separate keys for fire and bomb. So far so good. But all six are on the same row on the keyboard! so up and down are positioned horizontally making things incredibly confusing. There was absolutely no reason why the keys couldn’t have been arranged differently and it just makes the game frustrating to play.


Considering the fact that Space Scramble – like so many of Mastertronic’s Vic 20 releases – runs on an unexpanded machine, there’s an astonishing amount packed in here. It starts off relatively easy but gets increasingly difficult the further you progress. More hazards are added to the game, new enemy types are introduced to the game and – just as in the arcade version – new gameplay elements are added such as the meteor attack.

The only downside to this is that all the time you’re playing, you’re fighting against the horrible control system. If you can manage to get to grips with that – whether you choose joystick or keyboard – you’ll find an engaging and challenging game. It’s just so frustrating that it’s so deeply hidden behind something that could have been so easily fixed.


I’m really torn over Space Scramble. There’s a fantastic little game in there but it’s being held back by what can only be classed as a schoolboy error. If you’ve got the patience to get past the controls you’ll find a great Vic 20 shooter, but as it stands it falls into the “if only…” category instead of being one Mastertronic’s greatest Vic releases.

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