The first question that's usually asked about More Tea, Vicar? is where the name comes from; it's about a man of the cloth in the distant future who spends his spare time trading highly illegal untaxed tea on the intergalactic black market. Since the United Planets have outlawed the tea trade because they can't effectively collect tax on it, that means that in order to deliver his cargo and probably a sermon or two in the process the reverend's spaceship has to be armed to the teeth and his particular branch of the church presumably considers "thou shalt not kill" to be optional.
The battles themselves take place in the fixed speed horizontally scrolling landscapes of four worlds, each with its own architectural style and some tight tunnels that an approaching vessel needs to manoeuvre through. And, because they've heard a tea-laden ship is arriving, there's also wave upon wave of United Planets patrol ships as well, including larger ones that take quite a few hits before being destroyed and a guardian at the end of each stage which must be defeated before the precious cargo can be dropped off. Blasting an entire wave of enemies will release power-up pods which beef up the front cannons, add rear firing and missiles, bring an outrider into play or engage the temporary shielding.
More Tea, Vicar? took quite a while to actually arrive and Spectrum fans were originally teased over nine years before the final game was released. The developers knew that it'd have to be special to live up to the expectations that people waiting had built up and fortunately that's exactly what they deilvered, offering some excellent and colourful in-game graphics by Javier Alcaniz and, on this 128K version, a great Yerzmyey soundtrack, all of which serve to complement some impressive Jonathan Cauldwell code.
In fact the only niggle I had with More Tea, Vicar? was with its overall size; there's only four levels to blast through so, although the difficulty has been set high and the craft frequently has to be navigated through very tight scrapes whilst simultaneously blasting away at everything that moves, more experienced fans of the genre won't need much practise before they're romping through the entire game. Both versions of the game are a single load so memory might have been an issue for the 48K, but this is targeted for 128K machines so a extra level or two could have been added along with some pyrotechnics when the game is completed.
That said, More Tea, Vicar? is without doubt one of the best Spectrum shoot 'em ups going and is certainly up there with classics like Zynaps and probably even the revered R-Type as well, so it's absolutely worth sitting down with for anyone with a love of the genre. But bring along a decent joystick for this one, because the fire button is going to take a serious hammering!
Editor's note: the version reviewed and available for download is the free 128K version. The price quoted is for the 48K Cronosoft release which has a different fourth level.