The first game in today's Budget Day special is the Mastertronic shooter, Panther. It was programmed by a fella called Peter Adams, who only appears to have programmed four Commodore 64 games. If I tell you that two of his other three were Zaxxon and Blue Max, you might have an idea where we're going with Panther...
I was going to say something silly there, but no, I won't... you're right, Panther is an isometric 3D scrolling shoot 'em up. It does have a twist on those previously mentioned games, though. Here, your mission is to fly over a barren, alien attack-ravaged landscape, picking up any survivors you might find along the way.
This is an important addition to the gameplay, as it makes Panther something like a cross between Zaxxon and Choplifter. Without the added element of picking up survivors, it would have been too similar to the aforementioned games and a bit samey in its own right. Having to land whilst under attack from alien craft lends a much more dangerous air to the game and tests your skills, and morals, quite thoroughly.
Why or how are your morals tested, exactly? Well, here's the problem. Your sardine tin-shaped craft is great for accepting large numbers of stranded city inhabitants, but it can't fire at enemies while it's on the ground. That being the case, you're probably going to have to take off before you've picked everybody up. And because your ship is so unwieldy, you can't turn around to pick them up once you've left. So unless you can go back to get them once you've finished the game (which I've never managed), they're destined to a life underground, foraging for scraps from the blasted landscape and hoping to avoid detection and alien probing.
Such life-or-death-or-worse decisions needn't trouble you too much, though. Panther is a lot of fun, for my money better than Blue Max (although I know many would disagree) and it also has a rousing David Whittaker tune to drive you along. It's a challenging game that'll take a fair while to crack. As budget games go, this was a good one which I played quite a bit in the 80s. It was good to relive it again today.