One thing that often attracts
hoarders collectors is the ability to show off and display their collection. And Mastertronic titles are great for that – with ranges that have standard packaging, colour-coded by system, yet with fantastic individual artwork, they look great along a shelf. One of the other things is knowing the full extent of what is out there so they can check items off on a list and gauge how close they are to completing the job.
So just how many Mastertronic titles are there to collect? The answer – of course! – is ‘it’s complicated’.
From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole I’ve been told where I must go and who I must be. I’ve been shrunk, stretched, scratched, and stuffed into a teapot. – Alice In Wonderland
The Classic Range
The classic Mastertronic range began in April 1984 with Duck Shoot (1C0001 on C64 & IV0001 on VIC-20). It ended just under six years later with Jonah Barrington’s Squash (IS0310 Spectrum, IA0310 Amstrad, IC0310 C64).
So we can see straight away the attraction of a numbering system which instantly tells you where you are in the range AND what format you are getting. Good for making sure that bulk trade orders end up with the right quantity of the correct format – but also perfect for us collectors to make a checklist!
From the off, Mastertronic seemed to have thought of everything: even the ‘1C0001’ above is not a typo – 1C denoted the Commodore 64, so that 2C could be used for releases on the Commodore 16/+4. But such careful cataloguing was not to last. On the next two releases (Vegas Jackpot and Squirm), the C64 versions were ‘IC0002’ and ‘IC0003’, whilst the C16 versions were ‘2C0002’ and ‘2C0003’. To make matters even worse, game four (The Election Game) only came out on Commodore 64, yet the catalogue number is ‘2C0004’!
Bane of a collector’s life, numbering inconsistencies!
Love Plus One
Briefly, the ‘Plus One’ range doubled up some of the very early titles, with one on each side of the tape. There were only four of these, and the numbering here is clever, but confusing: so the Spectrum’s Tank Trax/Bullseye is IS0508 – because Bullseye as an individual release was originally IS0005 and Tank Trax IS0008. For the C64, Bionic Granny/Jungle Story is IC1016, because Jungle Story was originally 1C0010 and Bionic Granny 1C0016.
Who Do You Love?
Are you just collecting for your preferred format? In which case from the classic range you might be looking at just two titles (if you are a Dragon 32 keeper) up to around 147 (if you are Spectrum-inclined).
But if you go full multi-format, you’re gonna need a bigger shelf! Some of the titles were converted for many systems: Vegas Jackpot appeared on seven (Spectrum, C64, Atari, VIC-20, C16/+4, BBC/Electron & Dragon 32). And that title never even made it on to Amstrad or MSX.
Later titles, though, settled into a typical pattern of release across just three systems: Spectrum, Amstrad and C64.
And then we come to another buggeration-factor: that ‘standard’ numbering actually includes a number of different labelles – sorry labels. From the first appearance of Entertainment USA with Bump Set Spike! (USA0110 for C64 in May 1986, USAS0110 for Spectrum in August that year, then – inconsistently – just IA0110 when it appeared for the Amstrad a year later), through to launch of Bulldog Software with the phenomenal Feud across five systems in 1987, it’s not all neat little grid lines and a Mastertronic logo bottom front-and-centre.
The M.A.D. and Mastertronic Plus labels were also folded into the main numbering scheme, having started out separate.
It’s Tuesday, Let’s Start Up Another Label!
For an outfit born from a desire to stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap, Mastertronic proved to be remarkably keen on inventing new imprints every five minutes. Keeping it interesting (or maybe frustrating) for collectors, I view this as just another sign of their relentless drive to keep innovating, trying out new things to find what worked best out in the market.
One of the first was Master Vision (aka Master Adventurer, or sometimes even Masterventurer). This short-lived label was initially used to re-publish some of the games rescued from the collapse of Carnell Software alongside some original adventures. It was used in 1985 for only six months and five releases, but its highlight (for me, at least) was the publication of the epic multi-part role-playing adventure, Journey’s End.
Mastertronic’s Added Dimension (or M.A.D. for short) came along with a blaze of publicity in October 1985, kicking off with The Last V8 on Commodore 64 and Spellbound on Spectrum and Amstrad. The packaging was different, and the numbering style was too. Here, each individual format release has a different number, so Spellbound is MAD2 on the Spectrum, MAD4 for Amstrad, MAD9 for C64 and MAD18 for Atari. Even this pattern was quickly broken, though, as Five-A-Side Soccer on Amstrad and C64 both use MAD9 in addition to C64 Spellbound.
Ricochet titles rolled off the press between July 1987 & April 1989, with a numbering scheme all their own. This range featured re-releases from software houses including Martech, Ultimate, Activision, Gremlin, Bubble Bus, Melbourne House and more. It also featured ten double-sided Amstrad/Spectrum Flippies.
A short-lived range in 1989/90 featured a series of releases from coding house PAL Developments. Packaging-wise, these looked like the latter stages of the classic range, but content wise it included original games as well as re-releases of Mirrorsoft’s Tetris and a couple of Activision titles. The numbering scheme followed the pattern (for first title Bomb Fusion) of PAL SA1 for Spectrum/Amstrad, PAL CM1 for C64 & PAL AT1 for Atari.
The Mastertronic Plus range featured 12 titles, eleven in recognisable pale yellow packaging, with the other (Gregory Loses His Clock) looking more like the later classic range/PAL Developments style inlay. Most of these were budget re-releases of titles that had appeared at full price on the Virgin label. And to the great frustration of the collecting fraternity, none of them had catalogue numbers!
Half of these games were then re-released in striking green packaging on the Tronix label, alongside a further seven former Virgin Mastertronic full-pricers.
Rebound was a label which made space for six individual titles formerly from Gargoyle Games, plus a compilation entitled Gargoyle Classics.
Rack-It played a similar role for former Hewson & FTL titles (as well as a number of games which seem to have been submitted to Hewson for consideration, but weren’t deemed quite up to scratch for full-price release).
And the Americana label had originally been the budget arm of CentreSoft/US Gold, but its distribution transferred to Mastertronic in 1987, where with a slight packaging re-design, a further dozen or so former US Gold hits were added to the roster.
There are a few other oddities to remember as well: some lightgun games with a Virgin Mastertronic imprint; some early office software under the banner Compact Office; some utility re-releases, including Procom’s Dynamic Graphics as The Graphics Creator and the Darling brothers’ Games Creator. There were even Mastertronic-branded blank cassettes for recording your own programs!
Several titles have more than one edition, and for a variety of reasons.
- Different artwork: Spectipede on the Spectrum (IS0021) has two editions with different art – one a direct lift from the original R&R full-price release; the other a much more scary and futuristic update.
- Different format combinations: Super Trolley was originally released just for the Spectrum (IS0248), but then also appeared in a Flippy version (ISA0248) for both Spectrum and Amstrad.
- Updated styling; Prowler (IS0238) was initially released with full-front artwork, but a second edition exists with the later ‘Mastertronic Plus’ styling in a white bar down the side. Star Farce (IS0275) also comes in two versions: the first a text-only rendering of the title, which was later replaced with a full-colour artwork.
- Different editions: Both the regular ’48K Only’ and the separate ‘Enhanced Spectrum 128K Version’ of Stormbringer sport the same catalogue number: IS0181.
- Hidden editions: Both Zub and Amaurote come in both 48K and 128K editions – but it is almost impossible to tell them apart visually, except for the size of the tape reel itself, which is noticeably wider in the 128K editions.
I Love To Count (Ah, Ah, Ah!)
Across all the 8-bit cassette releases (and depending on how/what you count), there are just under 900 tapes to collect: in my list it currently stands at 895… of which I have 894.