Mangrove: Commodore 64 (C64)

Mangrove: Commodore 64 (C64)
Mangrove: Commodore 64 (C64)

Insert Disk collects Mangrove for the Commodore 64 (C64).

Today’s retro game review is Mangrove for the Commodore 64 (C64). This retro gaming classic by Supersoft is a retro game that is rather overlooked. Few talk about it in the collecting community but I believe it’s worth a second look. Taking rule elements similar to Conway’s “Game of Life” you must maintain and grow a set of healthy cells. This is trickier than it sounds tough as you must also defend against the onslaught of cancerous cells. Mangrove for the Commodore 64 (C64) may not be a well known game but it’s certainly worth looking at if you have a love of retro games with a unique identity.

Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. For today’s game choice I thought I’d turn to a game that isn’t necessarily rare or valuable but a game that no-one seems to talk about. In fact when you search for information on this game, currently there is very little out there. Today I’m taking us back to 1983 to re-visit the rather unique game of Mangrove by Supersoft. As you might notice from the gameplay the games tend to be very short, at least when I’m playing. To the uninitiated Mangrove just looks like a mess of flashing dots. In fact there is some method to the madness of Mangrove. I’ll read you an extract from the game cover to best explain. Deep in the mangrove swamps a struggle for life is taking place between healthy and cancer cells. Your task is to shape evolution by protecting the healthy cells against their malignant adversaries.

The hostile conditions in the swamp mean that healthy cells can survive only in groups where each cells is touching at least 4 other cells; the cancerous cells survive by feeding on healthy cells.
As you move through the swamp a trail of cells is created – but whether or not they survive or die depends on you! You can destroy the malignant cells by intercepting them, preferably before they have torn through your defenceless mass that you are protecting. Your score increases every life cycle scoring to the number of surviving healthy cells. The game ends when there are less than 12 health cells on screen, the minimum needed to sustain life. Every 1500 points you will receive a dose of medicine to clear screen of malignant cells. You only start with 4 doses though so it is essential to use them wisely.

All in all Mangrove is a reasonably unique concept. I can certainly think of few games that are so rigid. As you can tell from the video I really haven’t mastered this game at all. The issue for me is the difficultly. This manifests itself in two ways. Firstly being quick enough to build a new extended area where a cell touches 4 other cells is very challenging. Secondly is the malignant cells, once they tear through your main cell structure there is an exponential natural decay as cells are lost. In essence the rule set is just a little too punishing. It would have been interesting to see what the game would have been like with an options menu to be able to control either the game speed or the number if adjacent cells needed to survive.

The cover notes do give some hints to help you progress. Begin the game by circling the starting pattern of cells to build up a larger mass, then concentrate on intercepting the malignant cells before they can do any damage. This is all good and well but the reality of achieving this is much more difficult. What’s interesting about mangrove is how much it reminded me of John Conway’s “Game of life”. The Game of Life was a mathematical rule set where a cell can live, die or multiply. Depending on the start conditions the game would generate different patterns. I’ll save John Conway’s “Game of life” for another episode as it’s an area all of its own to be discussed. It is a long standing application of mathematical rule sets that is still widely taught to those learning programming today. I mention it hear as I believe there was at least some inspiration from the Game of Life in Mangrove. Supersoft who created Mangrove were a British based software company founded in 1978. Although more synonymous with the Commodore-PET and Vic-20 the company did develop a small amount of software for the Commodore 64.

Before today Supersofts Busicalc for the BBC micro was the only other piece of software that I had personally used. Mangrove comes on a standard cassette for distribution. The artwork was used by permission of a company called Audiogenic Ltd. This company became a subsidiary of Supersoft and was later bought out by Codemasters. Putting a price on Mangrove for collectors is a little challenging. The game is scarce but not impossible to find. Recent online auction sites indicate that the value is around the £5 mark. Unless you are a keen Supersoft collector though £5 seems a little ambitious. Realistically if you were buying a set of Commodore 64 tapes as a job lot you might get lucky. If I sold my edition for £5 I’d consider myself to have had the better end of the deal financially. As it is though I collect rather obscure titles so I’m happy to have this in mint condition in my gaming vault.

Would I recommend Mangrove for your retro collection? If it was a straight yes or no affair I’d say no. The game concept is solid but the difficulty is just too high to enjoy as an activity of entertainment. I can see what the game designers were trying to do here though so this is certainly an interesting and somewhat unique game to play. If you’re a collector of early Supersoft software or interested in applications of John Conway’s “Game of life” then it is worth a purchase if you can find Mangrove for a nominal price.

There’s a reason why when you type “Commodore 64 Mangrove” in to the search engines or YouTube that you find very few meaningful results. It’s a game that feels to be built more out of academic origins than pure entertainment, now buried in the swampy history of early 80’s micro-computing.

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