3D Asteroids from Oregan Software Developments. Reviewed by Rob Gibson.
Note: This review was originally written for the Illusions disc magazine well before Acorn Arcade was born, so we make no guarantees that this game will work on more recent machines. Many thanks to Richard Goodwin, Phil Coleman and Rob Gibson for allowing us to reproduce this review on the site.
Magnetoids has been called a 3D version of Asteroids, but that is pretty misleading - Magnetoids is as much like Asteroids as Elite was to Space Invaders. You start off shooting at chunks of rock and have to keep chipping them down until they disappear, but Magnetoids offers so much more.
To start with you get a choice of two ships, one which rolls like the Elite ship and has two weak lasers, or one that yaws from side to side and has a more powerful single laser. You also get the choice of five different ways of controlling the ship (mouse, Acorn or RTFM joystick, and keys in the usual ZX/ ' way or the same as Elite), plus sensitivity and auto centring both in eight stages. To survive you need it pretty sensitive, because things get pretty hairy once the action starts.
Good graphics and a decent set of choices.
After pressing fire you find yourself deep in space, with lots of sprite-drawn stars all over the place, and a standard 'star field' effect used for space dust. One of the most impressive things is that all of the graphics are light sourced to a single large star, so as you move the ship around it changes from almost black in parts to become almost white - and this is done using dithering, giving what looks like a virtual 15bit palette. You view the ship from the back, and you can use the cursor keys to push it backwards and forwards, so no matter if you want to make it look like you're in the cockpit or if you want it right out in front so that you can see if anything's sneaking up behind you, you should be satisfied either way.
Not that you have much time to mess about however. As soon as the message telling you which level you're on the meanies start to come. On level one this means you have a huge, and I mean huge, asteroid coming straight at you. You can dodge out of the way and think you're safe, but after a few seconds your craft will explode for no apparent reason, until you realise that the asteroid has looped back on itself and smashed into the back of you. You soon realise why the game's called Magnet-oids - these things stay with you like mosquitoes round a tourist. I've found that the best way to deal with these is to let them come at you and when they come into range shoot at them - they'll split in to two halves, which will fly away from you. These halves then split into quarters, and then will be destroyed totally. However, these are not the only things to worry about - there are the alien ships as well. There's one at the end of level one, two at the start of level two, four at the start of level three and level four has two objects which split open to reveal a total of eight ships. And these babies have orders to shoot to kill - stay in one place for long and you'll be on the receiving end of a barrage of very accurate laser fire.
Luckily destroying some of the ships or the motherships reveal small colour-coded diamonds which give you extra powers such as missiles, super speed, rapid fire, shields and extra ships. The speed and rapid fire run out after a while, so it's best to use these as much as possible as soon as you get them, but the missiles are best kept to take out enemy fighters as they can get pretty tricky, especially on later levels - however, as you only get to keep six at a time, and you pick them up in batches of four, it would be robbing yourself to be too cautious about using them. My main moan about the game is that there's no pickup for recharging the energy of your regular shield, because you lose all your missiles and other powers when you die, and without missiles you're going to have great trouble taking out the ships that dodge out of your way when you try to get into firing range.
Destruction of one of the rocks only causes more trouble - here we have four ships, plus a power-up diamond hiding the middle. Picture at 50%, taken on an Arm2 machine (faster machines are more explosive).
While on the subject of moans, the instructions leave a lot to be desired, as they basically consist of a page of blurb, a page of installation instructions, and two pages showing the controls and explaining the options - it doesn't actually tell you anything about playing the game. It starts off hard, with the asteroids heading straight for you, and gets harder - I was stuck on level seven for ages, a sort of end of level meanie where a large space station shoots asteroids at you. There was no warning, and when I got to this part I had absolutely no idea what to do - did I shoot at it, dodge it for a certain amount of time, shoot so many asteroids down? Death usually came instantly, which meant starting again from level one to try a new tactic, and I'm still stuck on level 14, which is an even meaner space station with laser guns which refuses to blow up.
On the plus side though it has some really nice touches. The main scanner in the centre of the status bar is very similar to the one used in Elite and Black Angel, so fans of 3D space games should be at home with this, but to the left is a rack which shows exactly what is in the area, with a smallish sprite of every enemy ship or asteroid, even down to whether the asteroid is whole, half or quartered; the rack expands to accommodate extra information. To the right of the bar is the weapons status, which gives you lives, missiles, and any other powerups, which are greyed out when not collected. When you pick up a missile or extra life, they show up briefly on the powerup bar before being loaded into the right place, so you're never in any doubt as to what you've picked up - all of which is very helpful.
The game is technically very, very good, and flying around in it for the first time gave me the same thrill that Elite did in the past; if a company were to start from scratch on a similar game using the Magnetoids graphics engine they'd have a winner pretty much guaranteed. I'd certainly rate it as one of the top Archimedes-only games so far, even above Axis as this has in-game music and a high score table, even if it is only three names long it does have a 3D planet rotating and drifting in to the background as it waits for you to type your name in. Not that you'll get much chance, as this is not the sort of game that you can keep the kids quiet with, as they'll probably die within the first few minutes - it's very much a gamer's game, which was proved at the last show where it was previewed in a competition and no-one beat the programmer's score (it took me about three days, and even then I only just managed it). However, it's very fast (even on an Arm 2 machine), it's addictive, and it's very well polished. The choice of options is something which other software houses should look to as a new standard, and apart from a couple of quite minor niggles it's very hard to fault.