Like a lot of ’80s games, Rasterscan (a game published in 1987 by budget house Mastertronic and written by Steve Pickford, John Pickford and Steve Huges) is probably best described as “quirky”. This deeply-odd little game has the player take control of a “droid” called MSB (I’m not sure what MSB stands for – Mega Silly Billy or summat – and I’m sure it doesn’t matter) who needs to repair a stricken spaceship called “Rasterscan” (hence the name o’ the game). That scenario sounds very straightforward, and it is, it’s the gameplay itself that’s just plain odd.
You see, for starters the “droid” in question is a ball which (on the Spectrum and Amstrad versions at least) has lines drawn from top to bottom which, when it moves, make it resemble “3D” balls in a lot of early computer animation. It also moves in a gravity-free environment with the only inertia being provided by the player’s controls; realistic considering it’s in a spaceship I suppose but it feels a bit strange for a videogame. In fact, if there were a great deal of nasties, spikes and the like to avoid then this method of control would be downright annoying but, luckily there’s none of that.
Instead, the player has to move MSB around the spaceship, bouncing off the walls (some of which are offscreen and only “visible” on the onscreen minimap, meaning that MSB sometimes bounces off what seems to be a perfectly-valid exit) and trying to manouver the hapless droid into upturned spanner heads (?) in order to activate them.
This is where things get a bit dodgy, and a bit odd. You see, according to the instructions MSB is broken and needs to be repaired before it has any idea how to fly a spaceship; I can only assume this is the reason that most of the spannerheads I encountered ended up killing MSB if I tried to activate them (really) because the instructions claim that they all “have a function” but presumably MSB isn’t capable of using them yet.
As to how to repair MSB, I’m not sure. Some of the spanner heads (you really have find which ones largely by trial and error) activate logic puzzles which open doors. I say “logic puzzles” but it seemed to be a case of swapping colours on some kind of colour wheel until the door opened. Or didn’t. In several cases I found logic puzzles I was unable to complete and the game won’t let MSB out of his spannerhead until the puzzle is completed meaning I had to reset the game and go and do something less confusing, like re-create the gordian knot.
Really, everything suggests there’s possibly an intriguing, even clever little arcade-adventure/puzzler hidden in there somewhere (there’s even an onscreen display for objects carried, presumably MSB picks them up at some point) but, in spite of that, I’ve never quite managed to get past all the weird doors so I can’t find it. Like Dark Sceptre, this game leaves me scratching my head.
It’s a shame, because technically this is quite nice. It looks like something that grew out of a tech demo – as I said the droid has a pleasantly “3D” look to it, there’s a nice use of colour in the various pipes which criss-cross the Rasterscan (and which doubtless mean something) and the use of digitised graphics for the spannerheads and the occasional oddity such as a giant cassette player (?!) give the game a suitably surreal feel. Oh and there’s also a rather-good tune on the title screen whose relentlessness suggests manically running down corridors – actual gameplay may vary. Rasterscan is a brave attempt at something different and I’m sure that for someone out there there’s a clever little puzzle game in here. But, for the moment at least, not me.
(The version I played (or at least tried to play) was the ZX Spectrum one because of my incurable Spectrum bias. It’s possible that the Amstrad, C64 and MSX versions might make more sense but I doubt it.)