Universal Hero - ZX Spectrum Retro Review by Steve Trower


Far back in the mists of ancient time, spirits were brave, the stakes were high; men were real men, women were real women, and Sinclair ZX Spectrums were real Sinclair ZX Spectrums. And thus was Ultimate's Jetpac forged. This, though, is not Jetpac's story; rather, this is the story of one of the games it inspired: Universal Hero, released by Mastertronic in 1986.


At some point a chap by the name of Stuart Middleton was sat in his bedroom playing Jetpac when he suddenly realised how the game could be made a lot better, but before he had a chance to tell anyone about it his Spectrum crashed and the idea was lost forever, so instead he created Universal Hero: 'a totally nail-biting, multi-dimensional, hi-resolutional Awesome Arcade Adventure'.


Like his more famous predecessor, Burt (the Universal Hero of the title) must reconstruct a spaceship with only his trusty jetpack for help. But (here's the twist) having fixed the space shuttle, Burt must then travel to a conveniently located planet and forage for spares to - you guessed it - fix a spaceship, this time an out of control freighter.


And (here's the other twist) rather than just having a bunch of flying nasties to fight off as he does so - although at times he does have to contend with the animated corpse of his mum's best green dress and some robots that may have escaped from Disney's 'The Black Hole' - young Burt has to solve a series of fiendishly difficult proto-Dizzyesque puzzles, often with barely identifiable objects and no helpful hints from the Yolkfolk.


The action takes place over three playing areas - the asteroid on which you start, the doomed space freighter, and the nearest planet, where things take a turn for the fantastical, all Talismans, Orbs and little fluffy clouds. It's a big playground, and worthy of the map drawing skills we all learnt with Jet Set Willy; luckily our hero has big hands and can haul nine useful objects around it while he figures out what to do with them (trial and error being my favoured technique here).


As far as gameplay is concerned it won't win any prizes for originality, but Universal Hero looks (and sounds, for what it's worth) like an archetypal Spectrum game, all wild colours and flashing blocks, which for retro feels is awesome. There's a nice sense of humour about the game too, with several Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy references (although as a long-time fan it did hurt to have to spell Slartibartfast's name wrongly) and a dead cockroach reference for the hardcore Spectrum owners.


I'm still baffled by the giant pineapples though.

Review by Steve Trower
@SPTrowerEsq
www.stevetrower.co.uk

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