One of Jeff Minter‘s early successes was Gridrunner, a Centipede-inspired spot of blasting which was originally written for the unexpanded VIC 20 and later ported to a cluster of other systems. It was followed by a second game in the “Droid Wars” series called Matrix which again originated on the VIC but required extra RAM that was used for improved visuals and to graft in new gameplay elements. The third game in the series was Voidrunner which this time originated on the C16; publishing was handled by Ariolasoft – Jeff had worked with them previously for Batalyx on the C64 – and it shipped as a double pack along with the C16 port of Hellgate. That pairing might seem an odd choice but Voidrunner doesn’t merely continue where the previous games left off and, whilst it takes many cues from the previous titles, this third instalment also pulls in some inspiration from the game bundled with it.
The player is handed control of a shiny fighter which is accompanied by three support drones that fly in formation, either directly mimicking or mirroring it’s movement depending on the current stage. Enemies materialise within the playfield sometimes in waves or, with some of the trickier attackers, in small clusters and reacting to and indeed avoiding all of those moving objects as they patrol around the screen is where Voidrunner‘s challenge lies. Patrolling at the bottom of the screen whilst concentrating on enemies above the ship doesn’t work this time around since nasties can rez up pretty much anywhere and there’s also The Zapper to worry about, a beam that travels slowly down the screen and occasionally pulses to leave a bright and deadly version of itself behind for a moment which will destroy the formation’s lead craft if it comes into contact.
I remember feeling back in the day that this release was an unusual step since Jeff Minter had long been developing larger and more intricate games like Batalyx or Iridis Alpha by the time Voidrunner came out in 1987. But going for a simpler, single screen game does make sense since this was him acclimatising to the new platform and the gameplay offered up is still as frantic and enjoyable as either Gridrunner or Matrix. There’s also a C64 port of Voidrunner which was produced by Jeff himself – it doesn’t splash anywhere near as much colour around but plays about the same and the sound effects are a teensy bit meatier – which was published on Mastertronic’s MAD label and that in turn led to a couple of conversions for the Spectrum and MSX built by Icon Design, but the C16 original still stands as the best of the bunch.