While C64 gaming enthusiasts have received a flood of platform games for the system over recent years, the number of quality shoot’em up games have been quite rare with perhaps Galancia and Aviator Arcade II being the only stand outs. Well we can now add another shooter to the list with Sarah Jane Avory’s release of Neutron.
Neutron is a fast paced vertical shoot-em up game that has been submitted as part of RGCD’s C64 16KB Cartridge GameDev Compo 2019. As you start up Neutron and start making your way through the first enemy wave, you are instantly hit with the sense that the game is really smooth and fluid. The game absolutely screams quality from the beginning and you immediately know that this is a game that it going to hook you in. Ship controls are highly responsive, enemy waves move about without a glitch and the game scrolls with no noticeable stutter at all.
The game features 9 stages containing over 18 different enemy types each with their own attack patterns. Memorising these will be a key to progressing through Neutron as it is imperative that some of the enemies are disposed of the moment they appear on screen in order to avoid them attacking you from behind.
While the game does get progressively more challenging, Neutron’s difficulty curve is well balanced and ensures that those of us with less advanced playing skills will be able to get through the first few levels within the first 30 minutes of game time.
Another element that makes the game more accessible is that when you lose a life, you commence at that spot rather than making you start the level all over again or at a predetermined checkpoint. It’s a nice touch in that it highlights Sarah’s confidence with her game design and avoiding the temptation to make it more difficult than it needs to be.
To help you with your mission, extra lives are obtained for every 50,000 points you accumulate and weapon power ups are available for you to collect.
When you reach the end of each stage you will do battle with a end level boss. Unfortunately, this is the first sign of the 16K limitation as the bosses look and behave pretty similar throughout the game and do not pose much of a challenge to defeat.
Neutron features mid-stage mini bosses, which are actually little more challenging than the end stage bosses, primarily due to the fact that you will need to deal with enemy waves at the same time. But once again, the mini bosses also look and behave in a similar fashion all throughout the game.
Neutron’s graphics are strong. Your ship and enemies are very well defined and features a very good use of multi-colours. The background environment is equally well defined and I like the nice touch of how some of the structure appear to shudder.
However, again due to the 16K limitations of the game design, there are only 3 different background styles throughout the game and at times you have to check what stage you are on as it feels like you have already experienced the same enemy wave and background environment combination previously.
Sound wise, there is little to fault with the game. Shooting sound effects are good and change when you pick up a weapon upgrade. The music soundtrack is strong and suits the game quite well. In particular I like how the tempo of the music shifts to a slower or quicker pace from time to time. It’s these little matters of attention that really make a great difference in a game.
When you complete all 9 levels, don’t expect a fancy end-game screen as there simply is not room left to add one in, again a limitation imposed that all games submitted to the RGCD competition fits onto a 16K cartridge image.
So what do we have with Neutron. Well despite the limitations covered off in this review, it is hard to deny that Neutron is a high quality shoot-em up with some addictive game play on offer. The fact that this fits all within 16K is a marvel and I look forward to the enhanced version of Neutron in the future that is sure to feature greater variation of game play and higher production values.
The video version of this review can be found below.
A digital copy of Neutron can be obtained from from Sarah’s Itch.Io page.
Great shootem’up game within the 16K RAM limit confines that it is developed in.
Retro gaming journalist promoting NEW C64, Amiga, Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum games. Runs the Retro Gamer Nation YouTube channel and is a contributor to RVG and Vintage is the New Old blog sites, Komoda & Amiga Plus magazine and various other publications.