Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future

by Dave B. Chapman, Irwan Owen, Martin Wheeler, Neil Strudwick
Virgin Games Ltd
Crash Issue 32, Sep 1986   page(s) 16,17

Producer: Virgin
Retail Price: £9.95
Author: The Gang of Five

Dan Dare lives dangerously. Most of the time he has no choice - heroic deeds are forced upon him because he's the bravest guy around. This time the nasty Mekon has decided to hold the world to ransom. Dan's just about to receive the highest accolade of all - an appearance on 'This is Your Life' - when the TV waves are unceremoniously taken over by the ugly visage of the Mekon. Earth must either submit to him as commander of the universe or accept the dire consequences...

The Mekon has hollowed out an asteroid, the size of a small planet, and has set it on a collision course with Earth. If Earth agrees to the Mekon's demands, the nasty asteroid will be detonated and the Earth rendered safe again. The only snag is that a green slimy alien will rule the world. Is the Mekon going to get his wicked way? Not if Dan Dare can help it!

Accompanied by his faithful friend Digby, Dan Dare sets off in his speedy spaceship, the Anastasia, and heads for the approaching asteroid. When they arrive on the Mekon's space projectile, Dan leaves Digby to guard the ship and starts to explore the asteroid. He has a mere two hours at his disposal to save the world from alien domination.

Dan soon realises his task is going to be far more difficult than he first thought. For one thing the asteroid is inhabited by Treens, alien, troopers guarding the Mekon's blackmail vehicle. Should a Treen catch up with Dan, the hero loses energy and might well be taken prisoner. Treens can also knock him out which, like doing a bit of 'porridge', loses Dan valuable time. Laser bolts fired by the automatic defence systems (and the Treens) are also bad for Dan's health and well-being. Fortunately Dan is not defenceless, and is equipped with a nifty laser gun which makes short shrift of any Treens that get in the way of a laser blast.

Dan finds himself in a subterranean world in which there are five levels. He has to find his way through a network of floors, travelling up and down in lifts, until he finds the self-destruct mechanism which will obliterate the asteroid before it has chance to collide with the Earth. To do this, however, five vital pieces of the mechanism have to be found and assembled in the control room - one part of the contraption has been hidden on each level. The lifts work sporadically, and indicator arrows reveal the directions of travel available.

Dan is a superfit fellow, capable of moving left and right, up and down, and he can jump over chasms and duck to avoid Treen laser bolts. To help him in his quest, a variety of objects lying around can be collected by jumping onto them, including bullets to boost his arsenal and pills to increase his energy.

As the game loads, the faces of the two protagonists - Dan Dare and the dreaded Mekon -are displayed on screen, and the action starts with the Anastasia speeding towards the asteroid. The game follows the flick screen format, with the status area below the action zone. The total score and the amount of time Dan has left in hours, minutes and seconds is displayed and two bars indicate the strength of Dan's arsenal and his energy level.

During play, screen captions in the style of the original comic strips pop on screen from time to time to explain what has happened to Dan - when he's knocked unconscious, for example. If Dan manages to thwart the Mekon's plan, the Anastasia is shown speeding away from the asteroid just before it explodes and then the end sequence displays the explosion itself.


Control keys: Q up, A down, P right, B, N, M, SYM SHIFT, SPACE to fire
Joystick: Kempston, Cursor
Keyboard play: no problems
Use of colour: very cleverly done, bright and attractive
Graphics: excellent
Sound: not enough, really
Skill levels: one
Screens: 125/130 (ish)

I must confess to not being an avid reader of the old Dan Dare comic strip, but of course like everyone else I've heard all about his dealings with the Mekon. This game defies all adjectives - to my mind, it's one of the best on the Spectrum. If you thought Ultimate had hit new boundaries on the Spectrum, then take a look at this. The graphics are amazing: I wondered if it was really a Spectrum that was producing these amazingly colourful graphics. Dan is superbly animated and doesn't slow down one iota when lots of baddies appear on the screen. I found that Dan Dare was extremely playable and a pleasure to play. You have to buy it to believe it.

At first sight Dan Dare didn't really appeal to meas it didn't seem that original, but after playing for a while it did start to grow on me. The game is fairly easy to play; running around the place shooting green nasties and retracing your steps at high speed isn't exactly brain taxing, but it's jolly good fun all the same. The graphics are good: all the characters move around smoothly and the backgrounds are very pretty. The sound when compared to the graphics is a major disappointment - only a couple of spot effects in the whole game. A very slick piece of programming, but I wonder if I'll still be playing Dan Dare in a couple of weeks' time...

Anyone out there, who didn't read the old Eagle comics? I loved the comic strips, and I like the game too. The graphics are very good, but the colour is simply astounding - surely the best on the Spectrum yet? Dan passes in front of and behind the scenery without the slightest sign of attribute clash. The game is playable, addictive, and generally well worth the time, effort, and money of any self respecting Spectrum owner or Dan Dare fan.

Use of Computer: 93%
Graphics: 95%
Playability: 93%
Getting started: 91%
Addictive Qualities: 91%
Value For Money: 90%
Overall: 92%

Summary: General rating: A game which lives up to the image of the cartoon character.

Award: Crash Smash

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Crash Issue 56, Sep 1988   page(s) 86


Practically every software shop now sports row upon row of irresistibly shiny, incredibly tempting re-releases. If this array of gorgeous goodies leaves you breathless and confused (even £1.99 is a waste if it's spent on something truly bad), never fear. With years of experience on their side, a metaphorical teacup soothingly poised and plenty of calming advice, MARK CASWELL and KATI HAMZA are about to cool your troubled brow. Pause before you squander all your silver pennies. Collapse into a comfortable chair and peruse our guide to a few of the better re-releases...

Dan Dare
Producer: Ricochet
Price: £1.99
Original Rating: 92%

Created by the legendary (and sadly late) Frank Hampson in 1950, Dan Dare thrilled many a small boy with his exploits in the Eagle comic and, more briefly, in 2000 AD. A live TV show, planned as a serial, was unfortunately scrapped at the last minute.

The adventure, originally released by Virgin Games, catches up with Dan as he is appearing on This is Your Life (Eamonn Andrews was still around in those days). Suddenly, the picture on every television in the land crackles for a moment - only to reveal the repellent features of Dan's oldest and most dangerous enemy, Michael Aspel, no, sorry I mean the Mekon. Created by Venusian scientists to rule the Treens, he has set out to conquer all other races. Unless the Earth's leaders proclaim him Commander of the Universe, he intends to steera large asteroid into the planet and destroy it.

Leaving the lovely Professor Peabody and faithful sidekick Digby aboard the good ship Anastasia, Dan goes insearch of the five pieces of a self destruct mechanism, which must be reassembled within a time limit. Dan only has two hours to save the Earth.

Though Dan Dare was released almost two years ago it still holds up well in comparison with recent software releases. The game really captures the spirit of the comic book escapades which are read with bated breath by fans each week. The puzzles are absorbing, the graphics are outstandingly colourful and the whole package is a pleasure to play. If you missed it first time, go out and buy it - NOW.

Overall: 92%

Award: Crash Smash

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 11, Nov 1986   page(s) 53

At last, the Pilot of the Future, Dan Dare and his trusty friend and batman, Digby (Bah Gum), fettle off into the frozen wastes of space looking for the Final Front Ear. Phil South found himself in hot pursuit.

Game: Dan Dare
Publisher: Virgin Games
Price: £9.95
Keys: Q-Up, A-Down, O-Left, P-Right, and M-Fire

"Tonight, Dan Dare, Pilot Of The Future, This is Your Life..." So begins this rip roaring episode in the life of Dan Dare, the Pavarotti of the Space Operas. Dan Dare has been nabbed by that Irish blighter with the big red book, and finds himself facing his grimmest foes yet... his own friends and relations! But, in the midst of the satellite pictures, carrying messages from well wishers around the globe, a fearful face fills the TV screens...


The Mekon has set a deadly trap. He's planted an atomic bomb in an asteroid and sent it speeding towards the Earth. He knows that Dan Dare will try to stop him, so he's built the bomb into a fortress inside the asteroid. Setting his jaw grimly, Dan Dare, and his faithful sidekick Digby (Bah Gum), speed off in the good Spaceship Anastasia to save the Earth...


I say, what a ripping yarn! Playing the part of Dan, you must forge through the corridors and grav-lifts of the Mekon's fortress and activate the self-destruct system, blowing up the asteroid. There are five SDS keys distributed throughout the complex, and you must collect them one by one and take them to the self destruct mechanism. Sounds like a familiar arcade adventure scenario? Well, yes it does, but the game itself is for from ordinary.


The graphics are a dazzling lightshow, with delightful elements of comicbook style, like the words 'Meanwhile...' in a box in the corner of the screen. The backdrops are highly detailed, and so three dimensional they practically leap off the screen at you. Dan himself is a little green sprite. The animation quality is v. good indeedy, especially the bit when you don't move Dan for a bit. He looks out of the screen at you expectantly, then looks around to check no-one's creeping up on him. The gameplay is fast, tricky and challenging, with the worst enemy being the clock.


With the weight of tradition behind it, this game should be a chart topper anyway, but the main reason will be that it's a thumping good game. Tally-ho, Digby.

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Graphics: 10/10
Playability: 9/10
Value For Money: 8/10
Addictiveness: 9/10
Overall: 9/10

Award: Your Sinclair Megagame

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 78, Jun 1992   page(s) 55


Summertime, summertime, summer, summer, summertime! Hurrah - summer is here! And what better way to celebrate the advent of sunny, carefree days than by locking yourself in your bedroom and playing a load of Speccy games? With the seemingly unstoppable spread of budget software, we here at YS thought it would be quite a wheeze to sort out the brass from the dross. So take your seats and upset your neighbour's popcorn as JON PILLAR whisks you with shameless bias through a roundup of the best £3.99ers around.


4. Dan Dare
Virgin Mastertronic/Issue 11
Reviewer: Jon Pillar

Completely clashless graphics vie with suspenseful gameplay as you dash about trying to disarm the Mekon's flying bomb. The whole thing's played against the clock and there are lashings of snazzy comic strip effects. Mad action all the way.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Sinclair User Issue 55, Oct 1986   page(s) 40,41

Label: Virgin
Author: Gang of Five
Price: £9.95
Joystick: Kempston, Cursor
Reviewer: Clare Edgeley

Dan Dare, comic super-hero from the Eagle is about to make an assault on The Mekon's latest death trap, only this time he's not alone. You're the mug with him.

With only two hours before a hollowed-out asteroid collides with Earth (just like that awful movie Meteor with Sean Connery end Karl Maiden), Dan Dare leaps into his trusty space craft and zooms into space.

The first sequence in the game is in fabulous comic books style, showing Dan and Digby (first mate) hurtling across the surface of the asteroid with a cartoon-style bubble caption setting the scene.

The whole game turns out to be very cleverly arranged to look like a comic strip with lots of action interspersed with instructions from the computer and insults from The Mekon (a brilliantly drawn murky green creature of indeterminate origin).

Dan Dare is actually no more than a blast the baddies, pick up helpful objects and search around for five detonators which, when assembled in the control room, will blow the asteroid to smithereens. Much the same sort of stuff that's appeared in dozens of games before.

What lifts Dan Dare head and shoulders above the others is the obvious care and effort that's gone into every aspect of the program. The graphics, movement and the innovative comic strip look are all terrific. You start off on the surface on the planet but swiftly drop down to a maze of rooms, corridors and lifts patrolled by dozens of Treens, the Mekon's hench-aliens. They're not too happy to see you and if you get shot you are likely to lose energy or get shoved in the nick. It's easy to break out of prison but ten precious minutes are lost each time you end up behind bars and you also have to go back to the beginning of that level and start all over.

Lifts with arrows indicating their direction carry you up and down and doorways take you through to new areas. Later levels take you through to a weird hotch potch of levels intersected by lifts, corridors and yawning gaps to jump.

It seems a cinch at first. When you've taken the destruct mechanism to the control room, a door to the next level opens out there somewhere in the maze. It's easy to find and you'll notice that most of the Treens have disappeared to lurk on the next level. Getting back with the second destruct mechanism is harder as you have to remember the route and run the gauntlet of irate Treens at the same time. A map is beginning to be essential. Finding the entrance to the third level's not at all so easy. It's well hidden, and the route through the level is by now very tortuous.

All the while those 120 minutes are ticking way and you can't afford to run out of laser bolts or energy. Whenever you come across bullets or domes, jump on them and ammunition or energy will be increased. If your bullets run out, your best hope is to either find some more or get killed and go to jail. You're not totally powerless though, you can duck and dodge the Treens' firepower to a certain degree.

If you let go of the joystick in mid-run, Dan'll stand up straight and look pointedly at his watch as if to say Time's running out. What the heck's going on?'

The Mekon's appearances in the TV screen at the bottom of the screen get more frantic each time you pick up another section of the destruct mechanism. His message take on a desperate edge. 'No! Put that down', 'You will not succeed, Dare' or, 'The earth will be mine'. As he makes each appearance, the TV screen splutters to life with lots of wiggly lines. A bit like something out of Star Trek.

From a very basic up, down, left, right, fire combination Virgin has produced a stunning little game. It might not be tortuously difficult but it's fun, innovative and beautifully programmed.

Most important Dan Dare is instantly playable. I haven't enjoyed a game so much for ages.

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Overall: 5/5

Summary: Keeps the spirit of the original Eagle comic strip very cleverly, immediately playable and brilliantly programmed.

Award: Sinclair User Classic

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Sinclair User Issue 74, May 1988   page(s) 46

Label: Ricochet
Author: Gang of Five
Price: £1.99
Memory: 48K/128K
Joystick: various
Reviewer: Tony Dillon

He of the oversized-pea for a head has a bit of a cheek, don't you think? You've just got your feet up in front of the telly, when all of a sudden the Mekon interrupts to tell you he's going to blow up the Earth with a whopping great asteroid. You. being the mucho macho kinda guy that you are, have set off to the asteroid in question to see if you can't find a way to blow it up. When you land on the ever-so-large lump of lethal rock, you discover that you have to find five parts of a Self-Destruct mechanism in order to destroy the thing.

The graphics for Dan Dare have been very well reproduced from the comic in this not-so-old Virgin game. A particularly nice touch ere the little captions that appear in the corners of the screen whenever anything of significance happens. The game is certainly hard, but not overiy so, just hard enough to meke you go, 'give us anovver go'. It is set over a large number of colourful platform screens, divided into 5 levels, all of which are populated by lots of green trees (the Mekon's henchmen), who chase you and drain your energy.

Dan Dare received a Classic first time around, and I would give it one now, if I were allowed. It's cheap, colourful, very playable and more importantly, fun.

Overall: 10/10

Summary: Atmospheric colourful arcade adventure that really brings the term 'Computer Comic' to its true meaning. A wise choice for re-releaseson the part of Ricochet.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

C&VG (Computer & Video Games) Issue 60, Oct 1986   page(s) 19

MACHINE: Spectrum (Version Reviewed)/Amstrad
SUPPLIER: Virgin Games
PRICE: £9.95 Cass/£14.95 Amstrad Disk

Remember Eagle, that "Boys Own" comic which featured the fantastic, wonderful and heroic hero Dan Dare. You do... Good!

Now he's in a game, which I have to say is one of the hottest new releases yet! A bold statement maybe, but I believe it's true, and it all starts with a message from the Mekon... over to you Dan...

I was just relaxing in my penthouse apartment when I heard a message on the vid-box.

Quickly I turned the volume up so that I could heard what he was saying. "Earthlings, listen and listen good (He's obviously been watching some of those old movies), I have an ultimatum. People of Earth will surrender to me, and I will spare your planet. Yes, Earthlings, I have set an asteroid on course for your Earth, and when worlds collide... (He definitely has been watching old movies.)

I quickly rushed off with Digby, my faithful sidekick and chief dishwasher. Grabbing my laser gun, I leapt into the intergalactic star cruising rocket ship which just happened to be parked outside, and we were off to find the asteroid and destroy it.

We landed on a small crater just beyond the mountains, and I instructed Digby to wait for me while I set about doing various heroic deeds. First of all I discovered a lift and on going in it, I went down to a rather mega-complex looking city.

I figured, as heroes do, that I must stop this asteroid by placing five pieces of a self-destruct mechanism into a small room where they would go BOOM! and stop the terrible threat on earth. Now to work...

As I reached the corner, a Treen spotted me and fired his laser at me, quickly dodging the blast with all the acrobatics I had learned at the Hero Training Academy, and I blasted him with pinpoint accuracy.

Now knowing full well that I had only got a certain time limit, I set upon my quest with great speed, which was not that much of a good thing to do. Because as I ran, I bumped into another Treen who knocked me out cold and placed me in a nasty looking cell. As luck would have it I found that the door was faulty and quickly started searching again.

I continued to search until I found what I was looking for - the first piece of the detonator. Picking it up caused the video screens around me to buzz and then the Mekon shouted "Put that down, Dare. You will not succeed" Taking no notice I ran to where I believed the reactor room to be and, of course, I was right. I placed the piece into its hole in the control panel and got the message that the door to sector two was now open, so off I dashed.

Hundreds of Treens appeared at the door so it was out with the old laser and fire away! Slam! Two down. Zap! Another two and then the final one started running and I mashed his hide just as he thought he had got away. I must move quickly, the second piece awaits...

Ok, I've stopped being Dan Dare, and am now taking on the role of the reviewer. Dan runs about very well, with his laser gun tucked up under his arm.

The rest of the graphics are really stunning, they move about just like sprites on the 64, and the backgrounds are very well coloured indeed.

The sound is just about average for the old Spectrum, with beeps and bips all around the game and maybe the occasional squark. There are also some very nice touches included in this game; for instance, as you fall you see Dan go into a Hero's fall position; legs slightly bent, arms up with his face contorted into an evil grin.

The title page was amazing for a Speccy - a picture of the Mekon and our hero in full cartoon style. This has to be the best Spectrum game I have ever seen. It's graphically wonderful, addictive and very, very playable. In fact, I would almost consider buying a Spectrum just to play it?

A brilliant game.

Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 7/10
Value: 9/10
Playability: 9/10

Award: C+VG Game of the Month

Transcript by Chris Bourne

ZX Computing Issue 31, Nov 1986   page(s) 46,47


Virgin Games

It didn't take Virgin quite as long to get Dan Dare off the ground as it's taken Ocean with Knight Rider, and now that the game is here it seems that, just for once, the wait was worthwhile. In fact, Dan Dare bears some resemblance to another Ocean game in that it's like a simpler version of V. That's not necessarily a criticism since although 'V' was quite impressive I found that game a bit too fiddly to be addictive.

Dan Dare, on the other hand, does away with the complicated icons of 'V' and concentrates on shoot-'em-up action, with just a touch of platform hopping and object collecting thrown in as well.

The plot is explained by a small comic strip that comes packaged with the game: it all starts when a futuristic Eamonn Andrews jumps and tells Dan - "This is your life'. At which point none other than the Mekon himself makes a comeback and takes over the broadcast, warning all the television viewers in the Solar System of his latest fiendish plot. Heading towards the Earth under Mekon's control is a hollowed out asteroid large enough to destroy the entire plant upon collision. Inside the asteroid is a self-destruct mechanism that can be activated in order to prevent the collision, but the Mekon will only destroy it if he is declared absolute Ruler of The Universe.

Of course it goes without saying that having old green bonce as ruler of the universe is a prospect too horrifying to contemplate, so the Earth authorities have no choice but to refuse his demands. But how to save Earth?


Back in the television studio Dan's jaw sets firmly, his upper lip goes thrusting skywards and Digby (the ever faithful, but utterly useless sidekick) heads for the nearest McDonalds, prior to getting Dan's ship, The Anastasia, ready for take-off.

Within minutes Dan and Digby are on course for the asteroid, ready to take on the Mekon and his followers, the Treens, and save the Earth - just like the good old days.

Inside, the hollowed out asteroid contains five sectors full of armed Treens, corridors, ledges and grav shafts (lifts, connecting different floors). In each of the five sectors there is one control element for the self destruct mechanism, and only when you've collected the element in each sector can you gain entrance to the next sector (assuming that you've managed to find the relevant locked door).

The screen display shows two floors at a time, so you can often see the Treens descending from above or an object that you might want to collect, and this adds to the atmosphere of the game as it makes the action seem that much busier when you can see other things going on around Dan.

You've got just two hours to complete your mission, and although Dan can't be killed, the Treens can shoot at him and drain his energy which results in Dan being captured and carried off to the cell in that sector. Escape from the cells is no problem but it does result in the loss of ten minutes and much of the skill of the game lies in how good you can get at fighting the Treens as the loss of time is likely to be your major obstacle in completing the game.

The laser that Dan is armed with isn't 100% accurate, and your supply of ammunition is limited so you have to learn when to stand to fight and when to turn that jaw in the other direction and run away, hopefully to pick off the Treens on some other screen.

The action here is similar to that in the Commando type of game, with Dan and his laser faced with hordes of alien soldiers, but the animation is unusually good and the element of uncertainty in using your laser adds to the excitement of the game. And, since getting shot too many times cuts into your time rather than simply killing you, combat becomes a matter of judgment instead of just endless rounds of kill or be killed. As I mentioned earlier, there are times when running away is the wiser course.


The five sectors of the asteroid add up to quite a lot of corridors, and it's probably a good idea to make some sort of rough map as you go along in order to remember some of the important locations. Each time you find one of the control elements these have to be returned to the control room in sector 1. That's my only doubt about the game, since you have to go through the sectors in a fixed order and return to the control room each time you might eventually get a bit bored with retracing the same routes by the time you get into the final couple of sectors. Of course the system of corridors is sufficiently complex to allow you to vary your routes but I found it quicker to get around, and easier to remember my way, if I stuck to roughly the same routes each time.

Still, that doesn't make Dan Dare any less enjoyable especially as the main challenge is to improve your combat skill and speed in completing the mission, not simply finding the correct route through the corridors. And the game is very well presented, with one nice touch being the way that the screen is presented like a frame from a comic strip, with captions and messages from the Mekon flashing on screen every now and then in the same way that dialogue accompanies the illustrations in a comic.

Because of the delay in getting the game ready, and the speed at which software is improving these days, Dan Dare isn't quite as impressive as it might have been had it appeared last year when it was originally planned, but even so it's still a highly enjoyable and playable game and might even be the best game yet from Virgin.

Award: ZX Computing ZX Monster Hit

Transcript by Chris Bourne

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