Mastertronic was started back in 1984 and created a then niche in the software market by selling new games at cheap prices. Their original £1.99 range was just that, games that sold at £1.99 here in the UK as opposed to £8.99 or £9.99. They also pioneered the colour coding for games by having a coloured triangle on the top right hand corner of the front and rectangles on the inlay spine with the catalogue number and format: Spectrum games were yellow, C64 were red and Amstrad were orange. This led many software houses to use variations on this theme but keep the colour coding so people could easily identify the format: but Mastertronic originally went one step further and had their cassette boxes coloured the same!

The early games
Classic early Mastetronic stuff included Vegas Jackpot, BMX Racers (written by David Darling, later to form Codemasters with his brother Richard), Hunter Patrol, Spooks, and of course Shaun Southern's classic Kikstart. Kikstart was a classic of its genre, based on the BBC TV series of the same name. The game had everything right; lots of stunt jumps, things to wheelie over, obstacles of all sorts and was a fun little game to play.

One Mastertronic game that was infamous was Chiller. This little collect-'em-up was not a bad little game, but Mastertronic withdrew the game rather hurriedly. The reason? The music in the game sounded a little similar to Michael Jackson's Thriller and as Mastertronic were still a small label at this time they didn't want to take the risk of being sued. Hence the game was reissued with some less offending music (albeit not as good).

Mastertronic's Added Dimension
In late 1985 Mastertronic launched their MAD label. This stood for Mastertronic's Added Dimension and meant that they could sell these games at a slightly more expensive price of £2.99. The first ever MAD game was The Last V8, written by David Darling, but this game was sadly bugged. The excellent Rob Hubbard music went out of synch after about a minute or so. Closer examination of the game revealed that only seven bytes of the music player code were wrong and a simple remaster would have sorted it out. Other games on this label included Master of Magic, Spellbound, Hero of the Golden Talisman (another Shaun Southern classic), Hole in One, Ballcrazy, Flash Gordon and 180.

Also, Mastertronic were one of the few software houses to make the occasional Commodore 128 (C128) version of their C64 games. The C128 version of The Last V8 had an extra mission and different speech from the C64 version, and Kikstart C128 also was slightly different in track layouts and so on. Although not that many C128 titles appeared, it was nice for someone like Mastertronic to be supportive.

Entertainment USA
Then in 1986 Mastertronic made another move and another label - Entertainment USA. A lot of US programming houses wanted an outlet to sell games, and so Mastertronic moved in, often using Messrs Hubbard or Whittaker to re-do the music (as unfortunately US SID composing wasn't up to European standards then). Games on this label included the fun volleyball game that was Bump Set Spike, the surreal Street Surfer where you'd be on a skateboard racing down the road collecting cola bottles, drinking them for health and throwing them in the bin, the Commando-inspired LA Swat, Video Poker, the easy peasy Ninja, and a few others.

And so in 1987 Mastertronic thought 'Well, if we've got a label releasing USA stuff, why not have one for 'the best of British'? and so another label Bulldog was born. Its claims to be the best of British were far from true though initially, with Feud and Destructo (often misnamed Island Of Dr Destructo) being not very good. However, this changed when Spore and then Rigel's Revenge were released - the latter being a superb C64 adventure for £1.99!

Mastertronic buys Melbourne House
Mastertronic also bought out Melbourne House in early 1988 when that label was struggling with financial problems (Melbourne House kept its label identity). This also meant that they had first refusal on re-releases of classic games such as Way of the Exploding Fist and so their re-release label Ricochet was born.  They pulled off a few major re-releases at £1.99, most notably Crazy Comets and the true classic that was Impossible Mission.

Arcade conversions
Their foray into arcade machines fared less well, with Rockford and then Roadwars being completely bugged with the main PCB failing frequently. I recall with memories that they had magazine reviewers in a challenge on each game and the challenges over-ran their time due to countless resetting of the PCB - and both the C64 conversions (the latter on Melbourne House at £9.99 - the cheek!) of these were awful too.

Virgin buys Mastertronic
Virgin then bought out Mastertronic in late 1988 and renamed the company Virgin Mastertronic although Mastertronic still kept their label identity in various guises (such as Mastertronic Plus for example, which replaced MAD) right to its demise in around 1992.

An old employee?
If anyone reading this ever worked for Mastertronic, or indeed produced any games for them, feel free to let us know your experiences of working there.

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