|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
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
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
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.
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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» Credits - the list of people who made all this possible.
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