MASK III: VENOM Strikes Back

by Ben Daglish, Colin Dooley, Marco Duroe, Ian Naylor
Gremlin Graphics Software Ltd
Crash Issue 53, Jun 1988   page(s) 90,91

Producer: Gremlin Graphics
Retail Price: £8.99 cassette, £12.99 disk
Author: programmed by Mark Rogers and Colin Dooley, graphics by Steve and Marcos

Matt Tracker's third appearance on the Gremlin label is fraught with personal anxiety. Miles Mayhem has kidnapped his son Scott and is holding him to ransom on the moon. Unless MASK's entire forces are surrendered to VENOM, Scott is doomed. Matt's dilemma is a public as well as a private one: if he gives in, VENOM gains total control over the Peaceful Nations Alliance but if he holds out, his son may not survive. The only possible course of action is to orchestrate a clandestine rescue attempt; equipped only with his spacesuit, Matt resolves to undertake the dangerous mission on his own.

Teleporting onto the moon's surface he begins the perilous journey which is set against a horizontally scrolling lunar landscape of hills, depressions and vast stretches of deadly sea. Purple mountain ranges pucker the horizon while doors occasionally allow entry into inhabited (but mostly deserted) parts of the moon base.

VENOM's defence systems are on full alert: blockbusters, death-spheres, serpents and angels of death belch out ammunition while surplus projectiles hurtle through the air. Too much contact with enemy fire and Matt's energy level is radically decreased. Should his energy counter fall to zero his mission is prematurely aborted.

As he approaches the nerve centre of VENOM's base and attempts to gain control of an enemy craft, Matt encounters supplies of four different types of protective mask which are accessed via the keyboard. Selective use of each of their properties dramatically improves his chances of success. The Penetrator temporarily dematerialises the body, allowing it to pass through solid objects, while the buoyant qualities of the Jackrabbit mask are particularly useful when negotiating long stretches of sea. Masks are collected in boxes of 99 units which count down as they are used.

Status displays show score, energy meter and current status of masks, while a scrolling message provides extra information where necessary.

As each level is completed, Matt decodes the password to the next. Typing this in at the beginning of a game unlocks the teleport gate to the appropriate level and another desperate attempt to rescue Scott.


Joystick: Cursor, Kempston, Sinclair
Graphics: a superb range of colourful and detailed characters with a wide range of realistic and animated backgrounds
Sound: great title tune from Benn, with above average spot effects
Options: definable keys

Every game in the MASK series is an improvement over the last - and VENOM Strikes Back is definitely the best of the cartoon-based series. What's most impressive to me is the way that each game differs tremendously from every other - unlike, for example, the Renegade series - but each still ties in strongly with the base subject of the TV programme. The latest in the series is superbly presented but also contains a playable and addictive game. The graphics are, without a doubt, the most impressive part of the game. Apart from being amazingly colourful and intricately detailed they're also superbly animated - which, when you take a look at the amount that's moving, is pretty impressive. But there's more to it than that: it requires a great deal of thought, planning and strategy if you're to get anywhere with it. The MASK series must be a real collector's pack now - all three are well worth getting - but VENOM Strikes Back is simply the icing on the cake.
PAUL [91%]

Gremlin strike back with a vengeance! Graphically, MASK II was a definite improvement on MASK I; the sequel to the sequel goes one further in its excellent use of colour and detail. Matt Tracker is cutely animated, even down to the rhythmic turning of his head as he bounds along the moon's bright surface. Gameplay, very much in the style of Exolon and Yeti has the added bonus of freedom of movement; you can usually jump back into the screen you've just left, avoiding a VENOMous onslaught of enemy fire. The complexity of the unfamiliar lunar terrain and the properties of the different masks ensure plentiful variety. Learning when and where to use each mask is an addictive process of trial and error; there's nothing like a premature plunge into the sea or a sudden untimely re-materialisation to keep you going back for more. Scrolling is smooth, collision detection is accurate and control is surprisingly fast. It all contributes to a polished, sophisticated and extremely compelling arcade adventure. Ignore it at your peril!
KATI [90%]

VENOM is definitely striking back with this great new addictive game from Gremlin. It's basically just a horizontally scrolling shoot em up but it's just packed full of detailed graphics and challenging puzzles that will have you glued to your screen for hours. Right from the start of the game you're confronted a variety of nasties that all have their own way of destroying you. Once you've memorised the attack patterns then the game does get a bit easier and you can get further. I loved the way that once you enter a password you can go to that level through one of the four transporters. It saves a lot of time and stops the first few levels getting monotonous. Every screen is full of excellently designed objects and characters, all on an atmospheric background of moons and mountains. The animation on each screen adds a dimension of realism with rippling water and pretty detail! Brilliant colour, fantastic sound and there's even a good game in there somewhere. VENOM Strikes Back is another great game in the MASK series.

NICK [91%]

Presentation: 93%
Graphics: 93%
Playability: 90%
Addictive Qualities: 91%
Overall: 91%

Summary: General Rating: The superb presentation enhances a very playable and addictive game. VENOM Strikes Back will appeal to adventure and shoot 'em up fans alike

Award: Crash Smash

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 31, Jul 1988   page(s) 48

Reviewer: Jonathan Davies (Which does most definitely NOT abbreviate to Jon-Boy Urgh!)

"I think they have us this time Alex. Onyl that evil genius MIles Mayhem could have kidnapped Scott from under our very noses. We'll have to think of something... and fast!"

If anyone is still reading, that tribute to great works of British literature, does in fact, form the basis of the plot behind the latest in Gremlin's Mask series. Reading on, we are informed that Scott (who?), the son of Matt Trakker (of course!), has been kidnapped by some suppressive mega-evil being (T'zer's got nothing on Miles Mayhem!)

Behaving as irrationally as heroes do in these situations, Matt decides to get in there and rescue Scott alone, rather than pay the extortionate ransom being demanded. Good for him, I say. Unfortunately, Mask appears to have forgotten to pay the final instalment on its new space-fleet, because it hasn't got one! Undeterred, Matt decides to "borrow" a rocket from the lads at Venom.

There's one word to sum up what happens next, and it's an angagram of Nex' loo. In other words, time to rush around, blow things up, shoot off peoples' extraneous bits and score loads of points.

Now Venom has been busy since we last met, and it's come up with a whole new bunch of fearsome weapons for us to 'Oooh' and 'Ahhh' at. Definitely one to be wary of is the DNA-seeking missile, although if Matt's picture is anything to go by, he's 99 percent silicon, so he should be okay.

It's a shame that the game-designers were on a tea-break while this one was being written, as it really IS unnervingly similar to Mr Cecco's monumental hunk of coding, extra weapons lying around to pick up and everything. Maybe that's no thing in some respects, especially as quite a few new bits 'n' pieces have been tacked on, but it's hardly going to make heads turn and tongues wibble.

Prejudices aside, I'll have to admit that Mask III is probably the best of the trio (please don't tell me there are going to be more, though) and its reasonably good fun to play. Like Exolon, it's one of those games where you get ever so sightly further each time you play so you won't get fed up with it too quickly.

It's nice to see that the graphics have been tidied up a bit since earlier instalments. No more lurid colours and eye-knackering scrolling, a la number two. Just well-defined sprites on a nice safe black background and a simple flip-screen method. Oh dear, we're back to That Game again...

Gremlin seems to have coughed up another of those "Hmm, um..." types of game which could be worth buying, (you certainly won't be bored to tears by it,) but, well, eerm...

Graphics: 7/10
Playability: 8/10
Value For Money: 7/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Overall: 7/10

Summary: Not a bad little blam 'em up, all things considered, but Exelon's four pee cheaper.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Sinclair User Issue 75, Jun 1988   page(s) 52

Label: Gremlin
Author: Mark Rogers & Colin Dooley
Price: £7.99
Memory: 48K/128K
Joystick: various
Reviewer: Chris Jenkins

Crikey. They're back. Just when you thought you'd I heard the last of those nasty terrorist-types from VENOM, they've kidnapped Scott Trakker, son of hero Matt, and it's time for MASK to leap into action again.

This is the third MASK game from Gremlin, and the series shows little sign of running out of ideas. Basically, you could take any action game format and stick the name MASK on it, and it's to Gremlin's credit that they haven't taken the opportunity to put out a load of old plop.

Like many recent releases including Exolon and Yeti, Venom Strikes Back takes place over multiple screens through which your beweaponed figure must fight from left to right. In this case the target is a VENOM base on the dark side of the moon, the weapons are various MASK goodies, and the enemies are the guardian monsters and machines of the evil Miles Mayhem.

The background details are nicely designed, while the black backdrop of space means that colour clashes can be kept to a minimum. The figure of Matt Tracker bounds energetically across the screen, leaping over cases, extending bridges and what appears to be water (on the Moon)? The nasty weapons include exploding globes, guided missiles, gun emplacements, giant serpents and little acutely armadillos. So what do you do to fight them off?

Scattered over the landscape you will find packages containing alternative MASK helmets. These give you special powers, and can be selected from an icon menu at the bottom of the screen using the number keys. The first mask fires bullets, but you only have 99 so don't waste them. The others wear out as you use them, so keep an eye on the meters or you'll find your weapon cut off unexpectedly (oo-er). The second mask gives you invulnerability for a short period, while the third allows you to fly and gives you a laser. The fourth is a bit of a mystery, 'cos I haven't found it yet, but expect it'll be something spiffy.

As you'd expect, after moving through several doors, you'll come to the end of the level where there's an extra big, extra nastie waiting to take you out. At the end of level one, it's a cannon mounted on the top of a hill, and here you'll be forced to wade through its fire or waste your flying power in order to get at it.

At the end of each level you're given a code which allows you to start at that level in subsequent games. Quite right too; I loathe games where you have to fight your way all through the first levels over and over again. Apart from the odd silliness - water and clouds on the moon, for instance - Venom Strikes Back is jolly good fun. It's remarkably similar to aforementioned titles like Exolon and Yeti, though, so don't expect much in the way of originality.

Overall: 7/10

Summary: Exciting multi-screen action, ideal for the trigger-happy toy freak.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

ACE (Advanced Computer Entertainment) Issue 9, Jun 1988   page(s) 46

More vicious, nasty gameplay from Gremlin.

Poor Matt Trakker, it seems like only yesterday that he had to rescue the President from the clutches of VENOM, then the vicious, evil, nasty etc. bunch snatch his very own son. So off he goes, giving Gremlin the plot for this third part in their Mask series.

Alex (that's Tracker Jr.) is being kept on a Venom base on the dark side of the moon. New weapons have been employed by the baddies, and this time Matt is on his own He sets off along a sideways scrolling landscape (which differs slightly from version to version - see boxes) avoiding Venom's weapons and trying to get through the various levels until he can find and rescue his nipper.

While the game isn't terribly original, it's very well constructed; there's plenty to shoot, the difficulty level is about right and the sound effects add to the overall effect. Newcomers to the series will find it pleasant enough, while fans of Mask (the games) will definitely want to investigate. It may not be a long-term challenge, but the short-term fun will be considerable.

Reviewer: Pete Connor

Ams, £9.99cs, £14.99dk, Out Now
C64/128, £9.99cs, £14.99dk, Out Now
Spec, £7.99cs, £12.99dk, Out Now

Predicted Interest Curve

1 min: 60/100
1 hour: 65/100
1 day: 65/100
1 week: 60/100
1 month: 40/100
1 year: 10/100

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Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 6/10
IQ Factor: 4/10
Fun Factor: 7/10
Ace Rating: 660/1000

Summary: Lots of fun early on, but the excitement may not last over longer periods.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

The Games Machine Issue 7, Jun 1988   page(s) 44

Spectrum 48/128 Cassette: £7.99
Commodore 64/128 Cassette: £9.99, Diskette: £14.99
Amstrad CPC Cassette: £9.99, Diskette: £14.99
MAX II Cassette: £7.99


According to Gremlin Graphics, the MASK series, of which Venom Strikes Back is the third, has sold well. 'We have aimed the games at the 16 and under age-group - simply because this is the market who already have an interest in MASK from the TV series or comic books,' says Richard Barclay, Gremlin's Marketing Assistant. 'It has been a very worthwhile product license, but whether we do a fourth is dependent on how well this one sells.' Venom Strikes Back is written by Mark Rogers and Colin Dooley.

Matt Tracker stars once again in a heroic quest - this time with a personal interest. VENOM - the evil network run by Miles Mayhem - has captured Scott (Matt's son), and is holding him captive in the VENOM base on the moon's dark side.

The action takes Matt, equipped in spacesuit, across the moons surface and underground complex, both heavily guarded automatic defence systems. The background scrolls from left to right on the Commodore 64 version while the Spectrum and Amstrad use a flip-screen technique.

Matts armour is enhanced by collecting three types of icon: Penetrator - rendering him invincible: Backlash - a standard laser weapon; and Jack Rabbit - providing flying power and two-bolt laser fire. All three are limited but may be replenished by picking up further icons. The fourth item Matt can collect is a Healer, which replenishes energy - indicated by a bar - lost when Matt is struck by VENOM's defence systems.

There are three levels in Venom Strikes Back, the last two accessed via a password awarded when the previous level has been completed - a useful feature which avoids having to begin each new game from the beginning. In fact there is little depth to the game, but it wins out through its addictive qualities which should keep you battling Miles Mayhem for many hours.

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Overall: 80%

Summary: The platform/shoot-'em-up action comes across very well on the Spectrum - graphics are detailed and colourful enough to create a suitably pleasing effect while creating hardly any colour clash, The animation and action maintains a high level of speed even when there is plenty going on. With no gameplay difference between 48K and 128K versions, the latter does, however, feature an additional tune. Although the concept is simplistic, Gremlin's polished programming makes it a slick, compulsive game to play.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

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