If you were ever the lucky owner of an Acorn Electron, chances are you were also an owner of several Acornsoft games. Acornsoft, Acorn's official software arm, were masters of the art of cloning, publishing many amazing but legally dubious "remakes" of various top games of the time. Amongst them were Snapper (based on Pac-Man), Arcadians (based on Galaxian), Killer Gorilla (Donkey Kong), Meteors (Asteroids) and Planetoid (Defender). When Acornsoft weren't profiting from other peoples' ideas, they also came up with some of their own. Their greatest moment is undoubtedly Elite, which they published for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron in 1984. Twenty years later, readers of Retro Gamer magazine voted it the best retro game of all time. Acornsoft were also behind one of my favourite games of my childhood, the little known Magic Mushrooms, and I thought it would be nice to revisit this game to remind myself of how great it was, or find out that it wasn't great at all and should have been left as a childhood memory.
Magic Mushrooms is a platform game in its purest form. You guide Murphy, a beer-bellied man with a large nose, who appears to be on a mission to rid platforms of the various hallucinogenic fungi that populate them. Once he's got them all, he must make his way to the level's exit platform before time runs out. Making life difficult for him is the fact that the platforms that he must traverse come in a variety of, er, platforms. In addition to the standard green brick platforms that appeared on several similar games of the era which don't do anything exciting, there are also wobbly platforms which make Murphy less stable on his feet, conveyor belts which have the effect that walking on conveyor belts would do, ice platforms which make Murphy slide in one direction until he reaches the end of it, and what I presume is glass, which disintegrates under his feet. There is no up or down button to use, only left, right and jump, but Murphy is able to use escalators to climb to higher platforms on each level, or bounce on trampolines to jump up to them. To get down, Murphy can either choose to drop down to a lower platform or, if the drop is too big, he can make use of a slide or land on a trampoline. As well as death by dropping from a not-so-great height, Murphy also loses lives by coming into contact with mutant tomatoes that wander around some of the levels, or by running out of time.
Magic Mushrooms pretty much has all of the ingredients that make a proper retro platform game, and it seems to get the mix of them just about right. The game starts off challenging, and quickly gets impossibly difficult. I still don't think level 5 can be completed. Although the level layout is identical each time you play the game, the quantity and location of the mushrooms varies and this can drastically affect the difficulty of the level and the way you choose to play it. The game has a tight time limit, so you aren't able to dawdle too much while you plan your strategy and decide on the route that you are going to take to get around the level. In addition to approaching each level with some sort of strategy, your arcade skills come under the test too as you need to react quickly to situations and time your pixel perfect jumps to perfection. I would have liked another word for "perfection" there but none of the ones the online thesaurus suggested seemed right. Oh well.
Graphics in this game are good. They are big and bold and colourful, and it is clear what each item on the level is. There is next to no flickering as the sprites move, and it all feels very polished. The sounds all fit the game well. There's no music (which is good, as music on the Acorn Electron sounded terrible), but the sound effects are all fitting to what is happening and again, like the graphics, are polished and professional.
An extra feature is the game's level editor, and it is one of the best ones I've ever used. You can choose to edit any of the games built-in levels, which also makes the level editor a handy level select screen. You can also create your own levels from scratch, and thanks to the variety of different platforms and items available to use and the different gameplaying techniques that the game allows, you can quickly come up with some surprisingly entertaining self-made masterpieces. If only I could find my tape of levels I created years ago!
Magic Mushrooms is instantly playable, challenging but fair. Some of the levels are frustrating, but the good far outweighs the bad, and Murphy's trippy trip to get collect all of the mushrooms he can muster is just as enjoyable now as I remember it.
EXTRA - Magic Mushrooms on the BBC!>
Magic Mushrooms was also released on the BBC Micro. Although I never played it on this system originally, I gave it a go while replaying the Electron version. Graphically, it is identical although sprite movement is smoother and the screen has a "bounce" effect when Murphy plunges to his death from a height. The game is even more difficult due to the faster movement of the enemies. As you'd expect, the sounds take advantage of the BBC's better sound chip, resulting in a more pleasant experience for the ears. Despite its increased difficulty, playability is pretty much the same on both systems.ACORN ELECTRON GAMES GAMES RELEASED IN 1985