The Acorn may have been a cut down version of the BBC Micro, but that didn’t mean it had no decent games available for it. We’ve gone through its extensive back catalogue to show off the ten titles that every Acorn owner should play.
In the tradition of Donkey Kong and Miner 2049er, Chuckie Egg was a simple, yet staggeringly addictive platformer featuring an everyman character in a very un-everyman situation. Nigel Alderton’s golden egg collect-athon boasted a simple and solid control system, a protagonist who had the good sense to bend his knees when he landed from a fall, and wielded brilliantly that ‘run and jump while collecting stuff’ template. While many of our readers will no doubt have had dealings with the Speccy port, this version plays quite a bit differently. While it’s a tad sluggish in comparison, the payoff is a game that feels slightly more solid, controls that feel less erratic, and, we think, on the whole just a fractionally better game.
At the other end of Chuckie Egg’s limber-hero-spectrum sits Frak!, a platformer starring a caveman called Trogg who’s suffering from acute osteogenesis imperfecta. While insanely maddening there’s something endearing about Frak!. The premise is simple: steer a fragile caveman through a level full of deathly statues and clean the screen of keys to advance. The game’s level arrangements meant that clearing each level required lots of skill and patience. Incidentally, ‘Frak’ is said to be a bowdlerised version of the word ‘F*ck’, which is why Trogg spouts the word each time he dies – fracking potty mouth.
Written by Peter Scott – one of the most talented Electron coders ever – Ransack! was a shoot-’em-up with a difference. Your ship, Al, must fend off wave after wave of enemy droids, flying saucers and odd phallic Flesh Gordon-style spaceships, while ensuring he didn’t fall through gaps, or get impaled on spikes, that appeared intermittently on the planet surface. Ransack! is solid, looks great and is very simple. And the neat bonus round that bookends its stages – which sees your character trying to blast a barrage of alien enemies while bouncing off a small and moving baking tray – offered a quirky break to the gameplay.
Cybertron Mission is a neat Berzerk clone but with an emphasis on searching as well as destroying. Plonked inside one of the most dangerous environments we’ve seen in a game – a claustrophobic electrified maze, teeming with regenerating psychotic robots – it was your job to venture into the maze, gather a bunch of objects and then return them to a safe. Okay, so the plot could have done with some work but the action came fast and ferocious. Armed with a gun, and eight-directional aiming, the action could get pretty manic – especially at Level 3 when you had to face those annoying Cyberdroid enemies that bounced off walls. Cybertron Mission won’t be to everyone’s taste but there’s nothing else quite like it on the Electron.
Despite the similarities between Boulder Dash, Tim Tyler – Repton’s creator – has always remained resolute that he’d never played Rising Stars’ game. Regardless of whether it’s a clone or not, Repton is a great game in its own right. Set across 12 stages, Repton finds you avoiding falling boulders and the deadly bites from spawning reptiles while trying to tidy the screen of diamonds cerebrally placed around the level. While it looked like Boulder Dash, if you boot both games up you’ll notice there are some glaring differences between how they play. Basically, Repton’s puzzle action feels less chaotic than BD’s manic-panic gameplay.
Bug Eyes is a novel take on the platform genre that finds your hero’s jumping ability vetoed, forcing him to negotiate each screen with only the power to walk left or right. Timing and precision is the order of the day here, and despite the lack of jumping power the game is still fiendishly challenging. The game is a neat take on analytical platformers like Chuckie Egg and Manic Miner by taking away the hassle of having to collect stuff. Your mission is to get from the top to the base of the screen without dying. Perhaps owing to its simplicity Bug Eyes is also annoyingly addictive, and an underappreciated Acorn classic.
The Last Ninja 2
Another Perfect 10 game by Peter Scott, The Last Ninja 2 really shows off Peter’s talent of milking the very best out of the Electron. Boasting fluid animation and effusive visuals, this is a tour de force for the machine that doesn’t shirk in any area. The game continues the series’ brilliant isometric puzzle action-adventure recipe with aplomb, but this time supplants the faux-3D viewpoint from the swamps and gardens to a lovingly detailed New York locale. How Peter crammed this 500K C64 game into 35K still remains one of gaming’s mysteries, but he did it, and along with his port of Will Wright’s Sim City, The Last Ninja 2 can stand tall as one of the best conversions on the machine.
You are Mike Finn, who, after finding himself stranded on a hostile alien planet, sets about venturing deep inside the cavernous heart of the sphere to find his team and confront a maniacal scientist. A favourite among Electron owners, Peter Irvin’s Exile is an atmospheric side-scrolling action/adventure game set on a colourful and sprawling world. It’s by far the most technically impressive and immersive Acorn game. Owing to its enormity, open-ended gameplay and impressive physics it struck a chord with many Electron owners, and its success on the machine would help it to find its way across a throng of formats.Arcadians
A tough choice this one, it was one we pondered for a while. The Acorn has three decent arcade conversions, and we only had room to put one of them in the top 10. It has a brilliant Breakout/Arkanoid clone called Crack-Up, a fair Donkey Kong clone – even if the controls are a wee bit fiddly – called Killer Gorilla, and this sublime Galaxian homage written by one of the machine’s most respected coders. Arcadians is pretty slick but also very tricky – those pesky kamikaze aliens are unrelenting, but it’s still great fun. It also looks spookily similar to the arcade game, down to the neat explosions that occur when the enemy insects get blasted to the way the front of your ship forms the weapon. It’s just a great, great conversion.
When David Braben and Ian Bell set about writing Elite on their Acorn Electrons, little did they know the impact their free-roaming space trading game would come to have, and continues to have, on the industry. You simply can’t talk about the Acorn, strategy or sandbox gaming without bringing Braben and Bell’s interstellar opus to the fold. What makes Elite so special is that in many ways it’s not just a game, it’s a living, breathing, wonderfully realised universe – a virtual escape pod for you to go anywhere, do anything and explore to your heart’s content. Elite’s virtual playground would capture the minds and imaginations of a generation, and is considered one of the most influential, innovative and immersive Electron games ever.