Game Review: Undermine (Vic 20, Mastertronic)

Undermine, Vic 20, Mastertronic - IV0029
  • 6/10
    Score - 6/10


Even though Undermine only offers a single screen of gameplay, it’s a surprisingly fun Breakout clone for the Vic 20. It’s a novel twist on the original in the days before powerups were introduced, and there are plenty of options that can be tweaked to provide plenty of longevity.

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Mastertronic weren’t afraid of releasing games that were blatant clones of popular arcade games in their early days. It made things easier for developers to come up with game ideas and it was much easier for titles to slip past arcade manufacturers and avoid challenges of copyright infringement. One such game was Undermine for the Vic 20, which was clearly “influenced” by the classic Breakout

Undermine – A Twist In The Tale

While many arcade clones made slight changes to the visuals and hoped to get away with it, it has to be said that at least Undermine tried to make an effort with the gameplay. Instead of using your bat to deflect the ball and destroying rows of blocks, clearing the screen then moving on to the next, there was a clear objective to the game here.

Story wise the set the player in front of a giant storm wall protecting you from the sea behind you. The wall ahead was blocking a path towards a new land you wanted to reach. Quite simply you needed to destroy the wall ahead while stopping the ball from taking out the one behind you. Clear the top of the wall in front allows you to escape and you complete the game. But if a gaps is created in the wall behind, water floods through and it’s game over.


Despite the limited premise behind the game, and the fact that everything runs on a single screen, it’s surprisingly good fun. It’s written completely in BASIC so it’s not the fastest of games on the Vic 20, but it’s still responsive enough to be playable. The ball physics seem reasonably realistic so you have a fairly good chance of predicting which way it will go both when you hit it and when it bounces off the walls – the most important factor in any Breakout clone – so your success or failure is all a matter of skill rather than luck.

Options Galore

What really makes Undermine stand out are the array of options on offer to the player. Even though it’s played on a single screen, most of the game elements can be customised giving you hundreds of different ways to tweak the game’s difficulty and how it plays. This extends its shelf-life no end as well as allows you to customise it to suit your own playing ability.


Controls for Undermine are extremely simple. It’s keyboard only with the cursor keys controlling the left and right movement of the bat. The ball is in permanent movement until it’s game over one way or another so the only other interaction with the game is choosing from the options prior to each game and deciding whether you want to play again after each game.

Graphics and Sound

When it comes to this type of game, there isn’t really a lot that can be done with the visuals – but some genuine effort has been put into Undermine. The ball, bat and bricks are well defined and the screen as a whole is vibrant and colourful, where a lot of similar games feel quite bland in their design.

There’s no sequence when you complete the game – just a text message overlayed on top, giving you the option to play again. But when the sea wall is broken the centre area slowly fills with water. While many make take this effect for granted, it’s quite impressive for something developed in BASIC. Sound is sparse with the usual blips you expect from the genre and a white noise explosion if the sea wall breaks, but the work well enough.


Once again, this is another pleasant surprise from Mastertronic. Undermine runs happily on any unexpanded Vic 20 and has enough variety to provide enough of a long term challenge so you’ll keep you coming for more long after you’ve first completed it. A hidden gem.

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