Right – Amstrad CPC, let’s do this motherfunker! The first thing I noticed on booting up the CPC Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future disk in my virtual Amstrad was that Dan has green skin in the loading screen. I don’t know either, maybe he’s trying to get in touch with his Treen side. Anyway, the game loaded up and politely requested that I press fire to play so I did.
Now, the Amstrad didn’t have the most fantastic graphics in the world (none of the 8-bit machines popular in Europe did, really) but they could sometimes look brilliant (see the CPC versions of Head over Heels, Gryzor and Combat School for details) however the Dan Dare graphics looks, frankly, awful. The CPC had a nice, bright palette but the artists here seem to have gone for a “dark and dingy” look and it means we end up with a blocky mixture of greens and greys with Dan’s orange skin being one of the few bright spots. Dan lands on an artificial asteroid controlled by the evil Mekon and, from what I can gather, needs to save Digby (unflatteringly rendered in-game as a bit plump, although to be honest so is Dan) who has been trapped on the other side of a chasm by finding things to bridge the chasm and take them to the room Digby is trapped in (and I mean “things”; that’s what Digby calls them “Find more things, Dan!” he says). Find a “thing” and add it to the makeshift bridge and previously-closed doors open (why this is, I’ve no idea) meaning Dan has access to more of the meteorite. Trying to stop Dare doing all this are Treens (all of whom float around, more on this later) and gun emplacements – some static and some moving.
Now, the graphics aren’t too hot but the CPC version of Dan Dare really falls down when it comes to gameplay. At the most basic level, this is actually quite a good game – Dan runs from room to room shooting things up and looking for “things” to use to make a bridge to Digby (who is a bit restless, maybe the Mekon won’t let him go to the toilet; that evil Mekon!) but the controls is all wrong. Everything is a bit too sensitive and Dan goes whizzing off like Linford Christie trying to catch a bus if the player nudges left or right. It doesn’t help that the designers filled the game with gaps for Dan to jump and it’s all to easy for the player to accidentally drop Dan down a gap in his haste.
It also doesn’t help that many of the moving gun emplacements are in the ceiling and, when shot, can end up immobile and hanging over a gap. The reason this is such a pain in the arse is that they are “solid”, so to speak, and if Dan hits his head off them he goes straight down. In a game with a lot of pits to drop where the player isn’t always going to take care and shoot the enemy when it’s not in an “inconventient” place, you can see the trouble this can cause.
And the Treens are all wrong. For starters, rather than running around and chasing Dare they all fly around the place like ghosts with goldfish bowls on their heads firing lasers here there and everywhere. If Dan touches a Treen then they take him to prison and he loses a life (this also happens if he falls down a hole). Infuriatingly, Treens often “materialise” behind a large pillar or other bit of scenery and have a bad habit of sometimes hanging around the top of the screen (where they’re also obscured) meaning the player can’t even see them a lot of time. So you need to be prepared for Dan running past a pillar and then being told he’s been captured and sent back to the prison (by the way the “prison” has an open door and isn’t guarded, someone needs to have a chat with the Treens about that) because it’s going to happen quite a lot.
Although, to be honest, not that much because I imagine most people are going to get sick of this flawed, ill-designed game quite quickly. A bit of tweaking the gameplay here and there and it might have been quite good. As it stands, it’s too flawed to be worth spending much time with.