Horace Goes Skiing

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Horace Goes Skiing

Format: Spectrum Genre: Arcade Released: 1982 Developer: Psion Software

Horace Goes Skiing is [drum roll please!!!] the first game I ever remember playing. I must have been about four or five, so I reckon it was 1984 when I took my first sip from the honeyed cup that is computer gaming. Or should that be poisoned chalice? What would life have been like if my Dad had never bought that Spectrum? Would I have become interested in sport rather than video games? Would I have grown up to be a famous athlete?

Probably not.

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

Anyway, looking back at Horace Goes Skiing now it’s amazing to think just how simple games used to be.  The game was basically in two parts: in the first part, Horace had to cross a busy road (a la Frogger) to get to the ski rental shop, and the second part featured Horace skiing down a mountain with his newly rented skis. And that’s it. When Horace gets to the bottom it all starts again, but this time with slightly more traffic and more gates to ski through.

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

It’s this simplicity that is part of the game’s charm, but it’s also its undoing. By today’s standards, it’s a wafer-thin idea for a game, and playing it recently (there’s an excellent emulator (in Spanish) here: http://computeremuzone.com/ficha.php?id=710&l=en) I was surprised how enormously dull it becomes after a very short while.

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

Back in the day though, my sister and I could play it for hours at a time – although, admittedly, most of those hours were spent waiting for the games to load. A lot of people look back fondly on the whole Spectrum loading thing, but even at the time I thought it was tediously rubbish. It generally amounted to staring at a screen of black and white fizz for around ten minutes, accompanied by a high-pitched sound somewhere along the lines of ‘WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE GRGRGRGRGRGRGRGR WHEEEEEEEEE NNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGG’, only for the game to crash as soon as you started playing. Some people tell me that they enjoyed the protracted loading times because it contributed to a heightened sense of anticipation. I say these people should get out more.

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

The major flaw with Horace Goes Skiing, in my opinion, was that the Frogger-style game was incredibly difficult (at least for a five-year-old with under-developed motor skills), so my lasting memory of the game is one of seemingly unending frustration (as I tried to reach the skiing bit), followed by a brief seconds of elation (reaching the skiing bit), immediately followed by crushing disappointment (skiing into a tree and dying). Oh Horace, you cheeky little life metaphor!

Journey’s End

Format: Spectrum Genre: Adventure Released: 1985 Developer: Games Workshop

Nothing lasts forever. Here we are then, at game number 101. The last in our (not really) definitive list of games that made our lives slightly better. What game do you pick to adequately round off this 3 year journey? How can you represent 100 entries, thousands of words and several podcasts?

We’ve been through a lot on 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better. Doing this blog has been fun, has brought friends together and has given Lew and myself a great sense of achievement. At times it’s also been frustrating, has caused arguments, has been distinctly annoying and seemingly never-ending, and there have been long periods where nothing has really happened. Our final game was all those things for me, plus its name is perfect for the last post (natch). We have reached our Journey’s End.

journeys-end-spectrum

My best friend for most of my childhood was a guy called Tony. Between the ages of 9 and 16 we saw each other pretty much every day. We lived on the same road, walked to school together and were in the same class at school. During the school holidays we would hang out together along with my younger brother. When you’re 10 years old, school holidays seem to last forever and we were often bored and struggled to think of things to do. Things got pretty desperate at times; one holiday I’m pretty sure we went to Woolworths every single day just to look at the videos and toys, never buying anything. Those were the days eh?

Tony had an old Spectrum (a hand me down from his older brother I think) and we used to dig that out and play on it, especially if it was pouring with rain outside. Even back then the Spectrum was pretty old fashioned, but we had no other options. I may be wrong but I think Tony didn’t own any two player games either. We were forced to play collectively, with one person controlling the game while the other two gave advice. This was surprisingly fun and kept us occupied for hours at a time. By far our favourite game to play this way was Journey’s End.

journeys-end-spectrum
To the castle comrades! Just to warn you it’s further away than it looks…

Journey’s End was a fantasy game, featuring the usual fantasy tropes – bands of warriors, spells, dragons, goblins (or was it orcs?) and so on. The game stood out by being split into four distinct parts which all played quite differently. It was also a long game. A very long game. So it was the perfect distraction to fill those long summer holidays.

Everything about the game took time. To begin with, of course, you had to load the game. It’s an obvious point to make but it did take aaaaages to play a Spectrum game. I remember we would sit there waiting 20 to 30 minutes for a game to load. Or should I say try to load? Often games would crash half-way through loading so you would have to start again. I’m sure Journey’s End often did that. It was quite possible to spend 45 minutes just trying to start a game. Looking back it absolutely amazes me that two 10 year olds and a 7 year old had that level of patience.

journeys-end-spectrum
Here you can see all the gems, pots of gold and potions. But you can’t see the stupid invisible traps.

The first part of Journey’s End was set in a maze. You would move around, exploring more of the maze until you found a key and a gate to escape. There were gold, gems and potions to find as well. Unfortunately there were also traps. Stupid, invisible, impossible-to-avoid traps. One of the most frustrating things about the maze was that you would only find the traps once you had set them off. The mazes were randomly generated and there was no logic behind where the traps were so it was sheer luck whether you ran into them. Not only that, occasionally you had strength points taken off because of a trap your character had fallen into during the bit between mazes, when you weren’t even controlling him. IT WAS INFURIATING. But we played it all the same.

journeys-end-spectrum
ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!

After a certain amount of mazes (again it seemed random the number you would have to tackle) you start the second part of Journey’s End: recruiting your band of warriors, wizards and warlocks (I know warlocks and wizards are kind of the same thing, I just wanted to use another ‘w’ word).

journeys-end-spectrum

Using the treasure you found in the mazes you recruit a group of men to come on the quest with you. Not enough gold? Well make some on the rat races!

journeys-end-spectrum
Just like my old Grandad used to say, always bet on the Green Rat.

Being 10 year old boys we particularly enjoyed renaming the mercenaries so they had stupid and/or rude names. As a 31 year old man I suspect I would still find that funny.

journeys-end-spectrum
After advertising this is all I got. Rubbish!

Once you’ve got your gang together it’s time to go to the enchanted castle where the ‘Elixir of Hagar’ is being guarded by a giant dragon. How exciting! Oh, first you’ve got to get there.

Yes the third part of the game was you making your way to the castle. It’s actually quite similar to walking around the map in Final Fantasy 7, with the same random annoying fights. It’s this stage of the game that I really remember. The image of Tony, my brother and I, sitting on a large cushion transfixed in front of the TV, using the cursor keys to sloooowly move our group up the map while being watched by Tony’s haughty cat Claude is burned onto my mind’s eye. That stage was hard and often we wouldn’t reach the castle. The battles would pick off your men one by one, it was easy to get lost, and of course there was always the danger that the game would crash.

journeys-end-spectrum
So here we go. Easy right. Nope.

Looking back, this stage of the game does successfully recreate the feel of the first Lord of the Rings book, which emphasises just how far the Fellowship of the Ring actually have to travel. The problem is, while a book can use that time to concentrate on character, and while a film can distract you with flashy CGI and battles, a 1985 Spectrum game can only recreate the feeling of travelling nowhere fast. Again, the patience we had was incredible.

journeys-end-spectrum
Thrilling action from the map screen.

If you did manage to survive the random battles, find the bridge to take you over the river and then find the castle itself, you could move on to the fourth and final part of the game – the Dragon’s Castle.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about this stage as we rarely reached the castle. Even if we had got through the previous three stages without dying, by the time we got to the castle it was usually dinner time and my brother and I had to go home.

The couple of times we did get there though it seemed impossibly hard. I think we reached the Dragon once, but by then our party’s strength had been massively depleted, and we had used all our spells so there was little we could do.

Despite all of this we loved the game, and I think there was more to this adoration than just being able to call one of your warriors Arsebum. The very fact the pace of the game was so slow allowed Tony, my brother and myself to play it together. We gave our characters personalities, argued over the way to go, shouted at the TV in unified anger when we had tripped over an invisible bit of stone in the maze losing 5 strength points, laughed at each other’s jokes during the dull slog looking for the Bridge across the river and cheered when we found the castle. We may have never actually reached the End but the Journey was fun in itself.

journeys-end-spectrum
Saw this screen a lot.

Speaking of endings, we’re at the end of this post and this blog. Well, we do have two more podcasts to come about games that didn’t quite make the magic 101, but our list of games is now complete. For those who have read/listened to all 101 posts I hope you enjoyed them and Lew and I would like to think that the blog has made your lives (very, very, very slightly) better. Or at the very least not worse.

Every ending is a new beginning though and our new project will be launched sometime in the summer. Hope you can join us on that journey too.

One last thing before I go: fancy playing Journey’s End? Then go here for this excellent repository of old Spectrum games. Isn’t the internet marvellous?

Jetpac

Jetpac - Gameplay Screenshot

Jetpac (1983)
By: Ultimate Play the Game Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 6,220
Also Available For: BBC Micro, Commodore VIC-20

Most gamers who grew up in the UK around the same sort of time I did (you know, the 80’s ‘glory days’), probably had one of the 8-bit micros that were doing the rounds at that time and for me it was the ZX Spectrum. I got into gaming late though, and missed the Speccy’s early years which also meant I ended up missing most of the games released by the now legendary Ultimate and, to my eternal shame, I’ve never got around to playing them since either. This is once again where good old Red Parsley comes in handy for me as it provides a great excuse (not that one should be needed, admittedly) to rectify this glaring oversight! To that end, this series of features will look at all of the games released by Ultimate and I guess it makes most sense to start with the first game!

Jetpac - Gameplay Screenshot

Developed by Tim and Chris Stamper, the founders of Ultimate, Jetpac is a simple game as you might expect, and it stars Jetman. It’s your job to guide him around the single-screen stages to reassemble his rocket and then refuel it by collecting the fuel pods that fall onto the screen one by one. On most stages after this he’ll just need to refuel it but every now and then there will be a new rocket to reassemble and he’ll have to repeat the whole process from scratch. Jetman can fly using the titular device for indefinite periods and is also armed with a laser to take out the endless swarms of aliens that drift across the screen attempting to stop him from half-inching their resources (such as precious metals and gems), which also drop onto the screen periodically and can be collected for bonus points. The stages are also looped meaning if he flies off the left of the screen he’ll emerge on the right and vice-versa. This is useful for evading aliens but can also be risky as the aliens do the same!

Jetpac - Gameplay Screenshot

Each stage is home to a different kind of alien (until they eventually start repeating) and they are the source of the game’s difficulty. Each type of alien moves in a different way and your ability to deal with them will determine how far you can get. For example, I have most trouble with the ones that look like gonks but others may find them a breeze. I think most players would agree that this is still a pretty tricky game though, regardless of which types of alien cause you problems! The sound is predictably almost non-existent and the graphics are also fairly basic, and suffer from a bit of colour-clash for good measure, but at least they are colourful, and they’re nicely detailed too.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jT4gzLAryCs[/youtube]

Jetpac has never been a flashy, show-off game anyway though, even I know that – it’s famous for its gameplay and nothing else and after just my first few seconds playing it I could see why. It may be simple but it’s also extremely well-crafted. As is often the case, this combination makes it a very addictive game, and one that I’m pleased to have finally played!

RKS Score: 8/10

Exolon

Exolon (1987)
By: Hewson  Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 15,850
Also Available For: Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Enterprise 128

Exolon gameplay screenshot

Having recently revisited one game by the great Raffaele Cecco, and the one I knew best, I thought it might be time for a long overdue look at another, this time on the system where he made his name. I was always enticed by the attractive-looking screen shots of Exolon in the Speccy magazines I enthusiastically read in the mid-to-late 80’s too, which makes the fact that I never played it all the more odd. There’s no story here as such with the game merely plonking you on some alien-infested planet and advising you to proceed from left to right wiping them out! This involves guiding your battle-hardened space marine through 124 screens filled with everything the aliens can throw at you.

Exolon gameplay screenshot

The marine is outfitted with the snazzy Exolon suit, a powerful exoskeleton equipped with a hand blaster and backpack grenade launcher, and it is these that will facilitate your progress. The screens, or ‘zones’, are occupied by a mixture of targets. Some feature aliens themselves who swarm from right to left across the screen indefinitely. These can be taken out easily with your hand blaster but there are also ground-based guns and missile-launchers which can only be taken out by grenades, and it’s the same for the non-hostile but still inconvenient obstacles which appear to consist of hardware such as satellite dishes as well as strange alien structures. You’ll also encounter land-mines which can’t be destroyed at all. Your brave space-marine is a little delicate though as contact with one of these, or indeed any enemy/bullet/missile, results in instant death!

Exolon gameplay screenshot

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this game is the quality of its graphics which really are superb. The colourful screens full of well-defined sprites and objects are enjoyable to battle through and still impress today. The sound is pretty minimal though with just a few basic effects to listen out for. Control over spacey is pretty good – he can jump and duck to avoid enemies and, although his blaster and grenades supplies are finite, he can pick up more along the way which also includes a power-up for the blaster. You’ll get a bonus at the end of the level (25 screens equal one ‘level’) if you forego the upgrade but I’d get it if I were you – this is a pretty tough game (much like all of Mr. Cecco’s games, in fact)! It’s not too unfair though with few screens proving notably harder than others and you should make gradual progress, and you’ll want to too as Exolon is a well-designed and thoroughly enjoyable run ‘n’ gunner and among the best on the Speccy.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGpQxt3vn3o[/youtube]

RKS Score: 8/10

Deviants

Deviants Gameplay Screenshot

Deviants (1987)
By: Players Software Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 57,360
Also Available For: Nothing

After recently playing Impossible Mission as part of my ‘Exploring the Commodore 64’ piece, I found myself remembering this little-known Spectrum budget title. Although it was a proper budget release, I originally received on a cover-tape provided by the ever-kind chaps at Sinclair User, which was nice as I probably wouldn’t have discovered it otherwise! So what has it got in common with the much more famous Impossible Mission? Well, besides both being flick-screen platform games, they both feature puzzles that I can’t work out how to solve! In the case of Deviants, the prologue explains that the titular race have been confirmed as the source of an attack on a colony world, ‘Krause’. A squad of ‘Star Warriors’ were sent to the asteroid from which the attacks originated to plant thirty bombs. However, their mission was only a partial success – they planted the bombs, but were killed before they could arm them. So, it’s your job to make your way through the asteroid complex and arm the bombs.

Deviants Gameplay Screenshot

In order to accomplish your mission, you must locate and arm each bomb whilst avoiding or shooting the green, zombie- like creatures (presumably the Deviants themselves) wandering around, going about their dastardly business. The rapid- fire assault rifle-type gun you’re equipped with takes them out within a few shots (which sees them crumble to the floor in a pile of dust) but it has a finite supply of ammo, so keep an eye out for the extra ammo icons dotted around here and there. Contact with the Deviants reduces your energy level but luckily there are regeneration booths here and there too, which will top up your reserves. It’s the arming the bombs that I have trouble with, however. When you touch one, the screen switches to display six ‘activator valves’. Some are open, some are not. To arm a bomb you must open all six valves, but rather than make things simple, each switch is connected to one or more valves, so you must try and work out which keys to press to open which valves, and all within thirty seconds!

Deviants Gameplay Screenshot

The key to arming the bombs lies in deciphering the ‘logic puzzle’ of the valves. Unfortunately, I’m not a Vulcan and logic is sometimes an alien concept to me, so herein lies my only problem with the game. Even with having to stumble my way through the bomb sequences, however, this is still a highly enjoyable game. The graphics are really nice with several colours being used to good effect and it’s a big game too, with getting on for 200 screens of platforms to explore. It’s very addictive as well – I remember playing this game a lot on my Speccy, but avoiding the bombs and just exploring and shooting the Deviants, so imagine how much I’d have liked it if I could activate the bombs too! Since rediscovering the game for this review, I have worked out the puzzley bits (kind of) and gotten addicted to it all over again!

Deviants Gameplay Screenshot

Considering it was originally released for a paltry £1.99, I’m surprised Deviants wasn’t better known. I’ve certainly played a lot of full price games that weren’t as enjoyable as this and it hasn’t aged at all. I’ve really enjoyed rediscovering this budget classic. It’s not perfect by any means but it does what it sets out to very well and I recommend any Speccy fans reading this to give it a go.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RU41ulqX1iA

RKS Score: 7/10

Eric and the Floaters

Eric and the Floaters - Gameplay Screenshot 1

Eric and the Floaters (1983)
By: Hudson Soft Genre: Action Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 1,240
Also Available For: Nintendo NES, MSX, Sharp MZ-700, Fujitsu FM-7, NEC PC-6001, NEC PC-88

There can’t be many people that haven’t played a Bomberman game at some time or another. The series has gone through many iterations and changes over the years, some good, some bad, but if you asked the average gamer, you’d probably get nothing but praise for the series. Known primarily as crazy multi-player extravaganzas, the Bomberman games are a curious mixture of action and strategy and are among the most widespread of any game series, appearing on pretty much every system ever made, and most of them are fantastic fun too! The series now numbers over 60 games, but where did the it originate? Many gamers would probably count the first PC Engine game to be the origin of the series. However, while this release and its sequels may have popularised the series, they weren’t the first. More astute gamers may even name the NES version as being the first, but even this wouldn’t be correct. As hard as it is to believe, the genesis of the great Bomberman series was a Speccy game called Eric and the Floaters!

Eric and the Floaters - Gameplay Screenshot 2

I personally hadn’t even heard of it until recently and I’m a big fan of the series, but yes, this is the first ever Bomberman game! However, rather than taking control of White Bomber, or indeed a bomberman of any colour, you must take control of Eric, an explorer attempting to plunder treasures from ancient underground caverns. At least, that’s the story with regards to this version, the only one to find a release outside of Japan. Patrolling these caverns are the Floaters of the title. However, they are not the kind of floaters you may immediately think of – they appear to be balloons, although if later iterations of the game are anything to go by, they are actually balloon-like creatures of some sort. The quantity of Floaters increases as you progress through the levels, and contact with them is deadly. To progress to the next stage, you must blow them up!

Eric and the Floaters - Gameplay Screenshot 3

The stages consist of soft blocks, which can be destroyed by bomb blasts, and solid blocks which cannot. Hidden beneath one of the soft blocks is an exit, and under another some hidden treasure for bonus points. Eric can lay a bomb in any unoccupied space but he must be sure to escape the blast or he’ll kill himself too! Even later Bomberman games are hardly the most complicated games around, and this one is the simplest one of all, as you might expect. Obviously, given the evolution of the series over so many releases, it has aged somewhat – the graphics are basic, the sound restricted to a few simple effects, and there’s very little variety between stages – but the core gameplay remains intact and this remains an interesting and addictive title. It’s always at least intriguing to discover a long-running series’ roots, and this is no different. I’m sure 99.9% of gamers would opt to play a later Bomberman game if given the choice, myself included, but it’s still fascinating to see this.


RKS Score: 5/10

The Caves of Doom

Caves of Doom, The (1985)
By: Mr. Chip Software / Mastertronic Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 112
Also Available For: Nothing

Caves of Doom title

“Whilst exploring the planet Doom you were captured by the guards of the ruthless Lords of Darkness. You are now imprisoned in caves deep within the bowels of Doom but are determined to escape. To do so you must find five keys, one of which is in three pieces, which are scattered around the caves. However the odds are laid against you as the Lord of Darkness has laid traps in the caves and has sent many thousands of his bloodthirsty minions to thwart your mission. You are unarmed and, therefore, must use your wits to avoid certain death on Doom…” Well, that’s all according to the cassette inlay, anyway! You’d think with a name like ‘Planet Doom’, people would be a bit more cautious, but noo, some people just have to start poking their noses in, don’t they?!

Caves of Doom screenshot

So, having been given the unenviable task of guiding the foolish, unnamed spaceman to safety, it’s your job to make your way through 40-odd screens of the worst terrors the ‘Lords of Darkness’ can throw at you. Taking the form of a flick-screen platform game, Caves of Doom is a fairly generic game of its type. As mentioned in the inlay quote, you’re unarmed, so it’s merely a case of making your way through each screen, avoiding the dangers in each as you go. And there are dangers aplenty too (although perhaps not to the scale the instructions imply!). There are various autonomous sentries that move up and down or left to right in regular patterns, wall-mounted guns, and all manner of spikes and parts of platforms that will kill you. Your most formidable adversary, however, is a simple-looking stick man who automatically (and quickly) homes in on your location as soon as you enter any room that he’s in. In fact, nearly anything you can touch will kill you instantly! Luckily, however, you’ll just restart the screen you died on rather than go back to the beginning.

Caves of Doom screenshot

To make his way around the rooms, your spaceman can obviously walk around on the flat platforms but he can also fly too. Some sections are blocked off by coloured barriers which you must collect the corresponding keys to get past. Flying uses fuel however, which must be replenished by collecting the magenta triangles which, of course, are often located in the most inconvenient places possible, surrounded by spikes and the like! In fact, this game is very much from the Manic Miner school of precision movement, i.e. playing the same screen over and over again until you get it right! Suffice to say, it’s a real tough game and one which I’ve never managed to finish. As you might expect for a budget game, particularly an early one, Caves of Doom is fairly basic in appearance, but, besides a bit of colour clash, it’s certainly neat and colourful. Sound is almost non-existent with just a few sound effects, including an annoying ‘death noise’, although it might just be annoying purely because of how often you hear it when playing!

Caves of Doom screenshot

I have a lot of memories of trying to conquer this bloody game and in the intervening years but it has not gotten any easier! It’s addictive though, and remains enjoyable to play in short bursts. It even has a screen editor which lets you mess around with the screen layouts and then play them! Overall, it’s a simple game, but it is a budget game and was well worth a bash for its price back then. If you like hardcore platformers like the Miner Willy ones, give it a try.

RKS Score: 6/10

Chronos

Chronos (1987)
By: Mastertronic Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 36,950
Also Available For: Amstrad CPC

Chronos title

Back in gaming’s distant past, a phenomenon known as budget games was born. Budget games were something that, until Sony came along and introduced their ‘Platinum’ range of older titles, had never graced the console market – they were restricted to the now-classic home computers of the day. They were at their most successful during the days of the battle for 8-bit computer supremacy and, at this time, they usually cost £1.99 or £2.99. They included, either top-selling titles which had been on release at full price for a while already (much like the Platinum range), or they were original but often somewhat limited games whose developers felt wouldn’t shift many units at full price, and thus released them for a knock-down price. Some budget games were indeed substandard, or even mind-numbingly crap, but there were also many better than average, or even awesome titles available too. Chronos was among these.

Chronos screenshot

Even in its day, Chronos was one of the most basic shoot ’em ups seen for years. It’s a horizontally scrolling affair spread over six fairly long levels. It features no power-ups, very basic and repetitive enemies, and little else. It should be complete crap, but for reasons I find myself completely unable to explain, it’s not! The first level features two kinds of enemies. The first are flying aircraft things which fly in a straight line and explode, either when you shoot them or when they hit part of the scenery. The second kind is a simple sphere which does much the same thing, but doesn’t move as quickly. The level is over when you reach the ‘Chronos Zone End’ marker, at which point the next level begins and the monochrome graphics change colour. Each new level brings with it a new kind of enemy. Level two for instance, sees the introduction of the ‘tumbling’ squares. These erratic fiends are much harder to avoid or shoot due to their unpredictable flight path and they often seem to lie in wait, popping up at the most inconvenient moments! All the enemies seem to appear randomly too, and often in or from rather strange parts of the levels.

Chronos screenshotThe levels themselves are quite interesting. They feature an abundance of scenery – some of it along the top and bottom of the screen, as is standard, some of it simply floating in the middle of the screen, and much of it pretty sizeable and arranged in such a way that you’re rarely able to fly along in a straight line. At a few points it even offers two different routes, but one of them generally ends in a dead-end! Amusingly, many parts of the scenery also display various non-game-related messages, presumably as a result of the programmer larking around while writing it! This doesn’t represent the extent of the levels’ features either. The first of the obstacles you’ll encounter are segmented barriers, which can be destroyed a section at a time by shooting them. They are numerous and appear in all sorts of locations – sometimes they are only one or two sections high inside a tunnel or small gap in the scenery, other times they appear screen high (on the rare occasion that’s possible). They are replaced by honeycomb-like barriers in later levels too, which effectively do the same thing. There are also energy barriers which span the distance between the top and bottom of the scenery. These are taken out by shooting them at the top or bottom which disables the beam. A more aggressive feature, which can be found increasingly frequently as the game wears on, are the gun emplacements. They are usually found near the bottom of the screen and shoot directly upwards. Just about the only other feature of note is the bonus letters which appear every now and then. They gradually spell out B-O-N-U-S (what else) and give you extra points.

Chronos screenshot

There’s not a lot more to it that that. Chronos is a basic shooter to say the least, but it unquestionably has a certain something. But what is the hook? One of the most appealing things about it is its appearance. Each level is presented in a monochrome style – one colour for the space background, which is littered with stars moving at different speeds, and the other colour for everything else. The first level features a black background with yellow scenery and sprites for instance. While technically far from the pinnacle of Spectrum achievements, Chronos’ graphics are very neat and suit the game well. The only bad point here is the somewhat jerky scrolling. Like many Speccy games, the sound is far less impressive, however. The only tune in the game is present on the title screen and during play there are all of three sound effects – your ship’s shooting noise, explosions, and when you collect the bonus letters.

Chronos screenshotAs far as the gameplay is concerned Chronos should be a bit of a stinker, but for some reason it’s not. I’m not sure why this is but I’ve always enjoyed playing it, from right back in 1987 when I first got it up until this very day. I think at least part of this is down to the highly imaginitive scenery. Shooting the aliens almost takes a back-seat at times to navigating your way around the screen, down tunnels, and taking out or avoiding obstructions – the game always keeps you on your toes. The six levels won’t challenge you forever and I’ve finished this game several times, but it’s a good game to return to due to its high-score potential. There are a fair few enemies on the screen at any time and you can’t cover the entire screen the whole time. Therefore, if you can’t destroy all of them, the possibility to improve your score will always exist, as there are always points missed.

Chronos screenshot

When you see Chronos in action for the first time, you’d know it’s a budget game. It doesn’t have the ‘presence’ of a full-price title, but the truth is I’ve spent far more time playing this than I have almost all other Speccy shooters, full-price or otherwise. But at the same time, it would be slightly unjust to give this game a huge score, due mainly to the existence of far more polished Spectrum shooters such as R-Type, Side Arms, Salamander, and Flying Shark. The mere mention of those titanic games should see this game immediately fade into obscurity, but for some reason I can’t stop myself from liking this cheap and cheerful, but highly enjoyable little game.

RKS Score: 8/10

On a footnote, such is the love for Chronos, there’s a decent PC remake available. Download it from the excellent World of Spectrum remakes page, here.