Neutron is a vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up created by Sarah Jane Avory and first released for the Commodore 64 in 2019.
It was created for the 2019 RGCD C64 16KB cartridge game development competition, and is actually a re-coding of a game Sarah created in the 1980s but that went unreleased (because the publisher she was tied to at the time went out of business, before the game’s release), and was eventually lost (she regrettably threw away the disks with the source code after moving house years later).
So Neutron was re-born, and – with the benefit of years of extra coding experience – much improved over its original incarnation.
The game has nine different levels and follows a fairly rigid pattern of structure with waves that are relatively predicable and boss battles that tend to repeat themselves. There are weapon upgrades which you can pick up by shooting capsules with a ‘p’ on them and sweeping-up the resulting power-up.
One good thing about Neutron is that you can set the game to autofire for you (by holding down the joystick fire button to get a continuous stream of bullets), or you can switch that off and have it only fire for every press of the button. It’s a small but useful option that can save wear and tear on your joystick (and fingers).
The graphics and sound in Neutron are competent but not outstanding. Unfortunately the background starfield doesn’t scroll, which is a pity (and, yes, I know this might make it more realistic in terms of what you would see in real space, but this a C64 shoot ’em up – not a space simulation – and it would’ve benefited from a better sense of vertical movement in my opinion). The strange thing is: there’s a nice scrolling starfield on the intro screen, but not in the game itself. I think it was a mistake not to make the starfield move vertically in the game itself…
Gameplay-wise: Neutron is decent enough, if ridiculously hard in places. Arguably unfairly hard… Considering that it’s a game you can play for free (or pay for) if you want to, I can’t really complain too much about it. I would’ve liked a bit more variety in it, but it is what it is.
Neutron is nicely-programmed and professionally-produced. It also has a Christmas-themed variant, called Santron, which replaces the graphics with seasonal sprites and tunes.