I cannot say I was overly keen when I first saw the packaging for Tracers: neither the decidedly dull screenshots on the back nor the lengthy waffling scenario booklet inside - a total rip-off of the plot of that ace sci-fi flick of a few years back, 'Tron', incidentally - held out much hope of fun.
I was wrong. True, Tracers makes absolutely no use whatsoever of the Amiga's graphic capabilities, but behind this pathetically un-state-of-the-art exterior lies a fiendishly addictive game.
Though the attached booklet runs to a dozen pages, the actual gameplay is simple to grasp. Think of that old arcade game Snake (included on Firebird's budget Arcade Classics package). Or, better still, think of the amazing high-speed chase scene inside the computer circuitry landscape of the aforementioned 'Tron'.
You start each level as a flashing square. There will be at least one other flashing square on the playing area, which is simply a huge grid of squares.
As soon as play begins all the players, whether under human or computer control, start moving, fairly nippily I might add, leaving a trail behind them. Actually the trail left is really more of a wall: neither the player himself, nor any of the other 'tracers' can cross this trail - contact with it leads to destruction. There is no provision for lengthy planning either - your 'tracer' has not got any brakes, so all you can do is control the direction in which it moves.
The idea is to box all the other opponents in, forcing them eventually to crash into a trail, while preventing the same thing happening to yourself. And even when you have caused your last opponent to self-destruct, you must not take your mind off what you are doing - the level does not end until all the opposing tracers 'trails' have disappeared, which they do square by square backwards from where they met their sticky end.
Apart from your own and your opponents' trails, there are plenty of other things which kill you if you hit 'em: all the boundry walls (skilful turning when you reach the edge of the playing area is essential), plus various solid bricks which lie dotted about the playing area. But there are also fuel nodes (only take the ones in your own colour, your opponents' ones are lethal to you), extra life tokens and smart bomb squares which kill all the other tracers on the level.
There is also one extremely useful feature which allows you to escape from seemingly desperate situations: each tracer has a square pulsing up and down its trail at high speed. Occasionally this pulse square stops for a few moments on a particular trail square, and this forms a temporary "doorway" through the trail.
You get points for travelling more than twenty squares, for picking up fuel nodes and extra life tokens, for completing each level and for crossing your own trail via one of the temporary doorways. There are five different play modes, for one or two players, allowing you to play by yourself, with or against a mate and/or computer-controlled tracers.
Your tracer moves in whichever direction you last tweaked your joystick, and there is an acceleration button (useful when you are trying to reach a border before an opponent in order to box him in).
I have got a couple of quibbles with Tracers. The graphics are not that special, and, more seriously, some of the colours are very close which occasionally causes you to hit a deadly obstacle rather than a fuel node. And, frankly, twenty-five quid for a game this simple does seem a bit steep.
But, when all is said and done, the joy obtained boxing Mike P in five times a row was better than anything I have experienced on the Amiga for yonks.