The BBC Micro was touted as an educational tool, if you believe Fred Harris, and most of us growing up in the 80’s will have used one at school, either doing some rudimentary programming, or playing with maths tools such as “Turtle”.
It also happened to have a great specification for replicating arcade games due to the colourful high resolution screen and multi-channel sound. Various publishers in the early days of the BBC chose to go down this route, with faithful renditions of Mr Do! (Mr Ee), Frogger (Hopper), Space Panic (Space Monsters) and Donkey Kong which, you guessed it, was renamed Killer Gorilla.
For some reason, in the Program Power version, they felt the need to replace Mario with a stick man, quite how they felt this would fool Nintendo I don’t know, as in every other way this game was a carbon copy of the arcade game. The levels were recreated perfectly, and even had the “How high can you try?” message between stages.
I won’t dwell too long on the gameplay as we all know Donkey Kong, but this game had it all, as your not-Mario jumped and hammered his way across various levels to rescue his girlfriend. The gameplay was true to the arcade original, including the need to time your jumps to perfection to avoid the many different obstacles put between you and the big monkey. The sound was also pretty spot on, as well as the inter-stage screens showing your progress up the skyscraper.
I spent a lot of time on this as a teenager when I was supposedly “doing homework” on my BBC… at the time it was streets ahead of the competition in terms of its ability to replicate arcade games, and I was very jealous of my friend who had one if these when all I could manage was a Sinclair ZX81.
Mr Ee! came from a time when copyright law didn’t seem to apply to video games, otherwise this game would never have existed. Imagine taking the latest Super Mario game on the wii, copying it, calling it Super Dave and releasing it on the XBOX. That’s what Micro Power did with Mr Ee on the BBC Micro, a blatant copy of The Mr Do arcade game.
But there are plenty of blatant rip offs out there in video game history, and this is not the reason why Mr Ee needs to be celebrated. What it did, it did brilliantly, providing an almost arcade perfect copy of the original, recreated on a home computer whose primary purpose was teaching IT in schools.
On seeing Mr Ee playing on my friend’s BBC, a kind of cross between Pac Man and Dig Dug, I knew I had to have one. Everything from the full colour graphics to the manic (if repetitive) music, shouted quality, and to me it looked and played just like the game I had played in the arcades. It was the first time that I realised that commercial quality gaming was possible on a personal machine. It is no suprise to read interviews with Adrian Stephens (the programmer behind the game) had spent hours playing the game in the arcades and had wanted to recreate that feel.
Mr Ee goes back to a time when one programmer, part game fan / part self taught coder, could produce a commercial quality game at home and it become a huge hit, selling in thousands. Today this is just not possible, not even in the world of teenagers selling games through the app store. In this open market space a popular game will need programmers, artists, musicians, marketing teams and serious money in order to compete with the thousands of quality games available.
So hats off to the BBC and their indirect promotion of blatant plagiarism for the sake of the 80’s gaming public – it will never happen again.
Retro games reviewed, including 80's arcade machines, classic consoles and early home computers