Mire Mare is a game that doesn’t exist beyond a piece of box art left over from the 1980s and a few mocked-up ideas. Despite claims (noisy and numerous 15 years ago, solitary and muted today) that Rare have a dusty cassette/disk/microdrive under lock and key somewhere with a working version of the game on it all the evidence (see, for example, Retro Gamer‘s reasonably thorough examination of the subject a few months ago) suggests that no such “treasure” exists. If Rare really had hung onto a finished game following US Gold’s purchase of the Ultimate brand (as has been claimed) then the time for the company to make the money they most certainly could from it has surely been and gone several times over. There is no Mire Mare, just like there’s no Loch Ness Monster.
And, to be honest, I’m amazed that it’s taken the huge and highly active ZX Spectrum community as long as it has to do the obvious thing – make their own Mire Mare to fill in the gap Ultimate have left.
If we’re being pedantic, this isn’t Mire Mare, it’s Land of Mire Mare. The decision to go with that name is a wise one on behalf of the designer. This isn’t quite making the claim to be a definitive next game in the Sabre Man series; by sticking “Land of” to the start of its title it’s effectively announcing to the world what it is – a tribute, a tip of the hat. Nothing more.
And, to be fair, that’s appropriate. Despite the familiar-looking title screen and even (for fuck’s sake) the QWERT layout of the control keys, this doesn’t feel much like an Ultimate game. It moves a bit slowly for a start, far from the pace we’re used to, and whilst the graphics are pretty good (Sabreman is instantly recognisable) they’re not quite up to Ultimate’s standards. The gameplay issues are partly explained by this being written using Jonathan Cauldwell’s AGD game-creation software (surely the ultimate example of a modern-day Spectrum utility that could have earned its programmer a pretty penny had it been released in 1987) and is therefore bound to the limits of that software. It also, on playing, has numerous gameplay issues not least the very strange way the weapons seem to “work”: collect, press fire, and Sabreman shuffles forward, animation unchanged, destroying any enemies he touches appropriate to the weapon. Come on, surely we can do better than this. It’s like the (excellent) weapon system from Sabre Wulf was chosen as the inspiration and then the work was left half done.
In fact, Land of Mire Mare is, based on my first couple of games, disappointingly average, without the hook of the classic Ultimate games it’s paying tribute to. There are plenty of nice ideas in there – named screens, “boss” monsters, simple object manipulation, but they’re dragged down by the slow pace, the poor weapon implementation and some notable bugs. It’s a good thing this isn’t the real Mire Mare because, if it was, the air from the disappointed sighs from a legion of Spectrum fans could probably power a small wind turbine. And that’s a shame.
Land of Mire Mare is available at all good forum post announcements (i.e. this one).