Mag Max, Your Max, A’body’s Max

Here we see the robot fully-built in all its "glory". More Robbie the Robot than Transformers but still...

Fun with old games

To be honest, the way I rabbit on sometimes you’d think that ought to be the name of the blog (I do like lots of stuff published after 2000, trust me on that!). I’m afraid I’ve unearthed another oldie, an arcade machine this time, which I decided to try based on the unpromising premise that the Spectrum conversion got a bit of a rubbish review in CRASH magazine: Mag Max.

First things first: remember the way the ground scrolls in perspective in Street Fighter II and how that looked pretty awesome back then? Well, this game does that too with the entire play area and it came out in 1985. That’s not bad going is it? Something for the programmers to stick on the CV: did the SFII scrolling before first.

But you can’t judge a game on its fancy graphical flourishes so how does Mag Max play? At heart it’s a reasonably-tough side-scrolling shooter with a wee space ship that scoots along the ground, so far so half of the games from 1985. Where’s the unique selling point? Well, the Mag Max one is delightfully daft: the wee ship you control is not all it seems, it’s actually just one part of a big robot.

You see, whilst travelling through the level other bits of robot appear: things like a head and arms, a big chest-gun and, of course, a pair of legs. The head and legs don’t appear to have to be collected in any order and as well as providing extra fire power and making the player look a bit more impressive (or ridiculous if you’re slightly cynical in which case piss off and play CoD or something) they provide armour of sorts; if you get hit then you lose the various extra parts of the robot piece-by-piece until just the ship is left at which point another hit loses the player a life.

But that’s not all – dotted around the level are metal-ringed holes in the ground which open and close, fly the ship over them whilst open and the player is transported to a subterranean side-scroller this time with the ship/robot in the air rather than skimming over a fancy-perspective surface meaning play feels more in line with the likes of Nemesis. Whilst the overground bad guys tend to be bullet-disgorging gun emplacements here aliens in attack waves are more the norm along with red stalegtites which the player can crash into if not shot away (and, in an excellent touch, net 1000 points if they hit an enemy on their way down). Naturally, there are holes in the ceiling at intervals which can be flown-into to return to the above-ground view.


The subterranean scrolling level on the underrated Spectrum version.

Mag Max is fun, addictive and very very ’80s. The overground/underground (but no wombling free) aspect to each level as well as the “collect parts of the robot” feature provides variety and helps make what could be just another mid-80’s highscore game something a bit more special. And, to my surprise, the Spectrum conversion actually isn’t that bad at all and is an amiable and playable (if predictably colourless) attempt at recreating the arcade game on 1982-vintage British budget hardware. The game was also ported to the Commodore 64 and NES although I’ve not played those versions and so can’t comment. Given that both machines were pretty good when it came to scrolling shooters, though, I doubt they’re shite.

So, yes, overall Mag Max is a whole bundle of silly highscore fun with a massive robot in it. Just one thing: the ingame music in the arcade version is complete arse. The sort of jolly, plinky-plonky stuff that’s more at home accompanying big-eyed cartoon children bouncing through fields and collecting magic raspberrys or something. What woz they thinkin’?

(I was moved to discover more about Mag Max after reading this interview with Mark Jones at the Retro Bros. blog; only seems fair to mention and linky)

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