Memories of Gaming: II

Hayling Island Beach 2
Soon after my encounter with OutRun in Devon had seen in the birth of my passion for arcade games, I had developed a keen interest in the previously ignored amusement arcades in which they dwelt. Coincidentally, it wasn’t much longer before some good fortune befell me. My good friend Stu and his family had started taking family trips to nearby Hayling Island every Sunday so his dad could practise his windsurfing (indeed, Hayling is supposedly where the sport was invented), and he had kindly invited me to join them.

Hayling Island itself is a fairly small, roughly ‘upside-down T’ shaped island located next to Portsea Island on which the city of Portsmouth is located. Whilst mostly a residential island, it’s also home to some nice beaches (including a nice sandy one, unlike Portsmouth!) as well as some other facilities mostly used in the summer months such as cafes, beach huts, sand dunes, and the Beachlands funfair and arcade as well as several more arcades.

Hayling Island Beach

Although we spent some time watching Stu’s dad impress us with his windsurfing skills as well as generally larking about on the beach, and some more testing the structural integrity of the sand dunes, it was in the various arcades that we spent most of our time. Here, Stu would mostly restrict his gaming to the plethora of fruit machines on which he was highly skilled, but my attention was directly firmly toward the games.

It was here that my gaming heritage really took off, what with the amazing variety of top-quality games available in the arcades of Hayling from all the major manufacturers, and it’s this age of gaming that I miss the most. Arcades today are a depressing place most of the time. I haven’t been to Hayling for a good while but the arcades here in Portsmouth now contain mostly fruit machines, coin-pusher machines, fluffy-toy-grabbing machines, etc. The only game of note here is After Burner Climax, which admittedly is a fantastic game worthy of the great name, but it seems lonely amidst all the crappy novelty machines. Anyway, from the sad present back to happy memories while I remember some of my favourite arcades games (aside from the already-covered-OutRun) from those awesome trips to Hayling with Stu and his family (and a belated thanks to you, mate!) …

Chase HQ - Gameplay Screenshot

Chase HQ (1988)

What do you get if you combine OutRun with a late 70’s / early 80’s style buddy cop film? That’s right – this classic cops ‘n’ robbers racing game from Taito! Taking a graphical cue from Sega’s classic and combining it such a popular movie genre was a masterstroke, and it runs them both close for pure enjoyment. Chase HQ is super-fast, exciting, and, perhaps most importantly, remains one of the few arcade games I can actually finish!

Operation Wolf - Gameplay Screenshot

Operation Wolf (1987)

Another one from the splendid Taito, Op Wolf drew in all who saw it with its cabinet-mounted Uzi machine gun! Whilst rendering it almost impossible to play properly in the subsequent home conversions (except the excellent Master System version), the gun was obviously the main draw of this machine, and it was worth it! Spraying soldiers, armoured cars, helicopters, gunboats, and Lord knows what else with bullets and grenades had never been this much fun before!

Shinobi - Gameplay Screenshot

Shinobi (1987)

I had already given the Master System version of this a good thrashing before I found the arcade version, and the skills I gained doing so were invaluable as this arcade original is a lot tougher! Run ‘n’ gunners are rarely as playable as this one, and with a near-perfect difficulty curve, it’s also worryingly addictive! Nice graphics, authentic-sounding music, and varied enemies only help matters too. Plus, let’s face
facts – ninja’s are just cool, full stop!

Splatterhouse - Gameplay Screenshot

Splatterhouse (1988)

This fantastically-named game from Namco was controversial in its day and it’s easy to see why. As Rick, a student under the influence of an evil mask, you must you battle your way through a mansion filled with unimaginable horrors to rescue your girlfriend! If you take away all the gruesome creatures here, all you’re left with is a pretty basic beat ’em up, but that didn’t matter to most teenagers – the opportunity to slice up zombies and demons with a meat-cleaver was not one to be passed up!

Stun Runner - Gameplay Screenshot

S.T.U.N. Runner (1989)

Probably the first polygon-based game I ever really got into, this was, and still is in my opinion (on the rare occasion a machine can be found), one of the most exciting arcade experiences to be found anywhere! Sitting astride a S.T.U.N. Bike racing down tunnels at hundreds of miles per hours shooting other craft… What more could you ask?!

Gauntlet - Gameplay Screenshot

Gauntlet (1985)

The immortal Gauntlet was already a couple of years old by the time I discovered it but time had not dulled its splendour! Yes, it’s primarily a multi-player game but I still loved ploughing through the endless dungeons, even if it was on my own. It was always exciting to see if I could break my records, and if I could get someone to join me – even better. As long as they weren’t Thyra the Valkyrie. This was superbly converted to almost every system imaginable but nothing beats playing it in an arcade.

Saint Dragon - Gameplay Screenshot

Saint Dragon (1989)

It is just me who likes this one? Perpetually an under-appreciated gem in my view, this horizontal-scroller from Jaleco is among my favourite on any system. I’m not sure about the story as I’ve never owned a home version, but you take control of some sort of metallic dragon creature and must blast the crap out of various other metallic creatures. The dragon’s tale can be positioned to protect its head from enemy fire too. Plus, he just looks awesome! Decent story or not, this is a top game full of non-stop blasting action, and is nicely rounded off with lovely graphics. It also reminds me of the mighty Thunder Force 3 somewhat too.

Golden Axe - Gameplay Screenshot

Golden Axe (1989)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played this through to the end, but it never gets boring! I still haven’t played a better hack ‘n’ slasher and I’ve been looking, believe me! Everyone know the best character is Gilius Thunderhead and rampaging through the game, slicing up all the stupid Buffalo’s and Grandad’s with his axe is immensely satisfying! I know it’s a bit of a love/hate game, but I’m definitely in the camp
of the former.

Metal Hawk - Gameplay Screenshot

Metal Hawk (1988)

Now this is a more curious one. I used to play it every time I went to Hayling but I’ve never seen it anywhere else, and no one I’ve spoken to has even heard of it! Subsequent research has revealed that it was apparently only released on Japan so quite how one managed to end up in a Hayling arcade remains a mystery! Nonetheless, for those who didn’t live near Hayling (or Japan), Metal Hawk is an overhead-viewed shmup by Namco. You control a pretty mean attack chopper, and it’s free-roaming so you can fly wherever you like shooting planes, other choppers, etc. But there’s something different about this one – the cab also features an altitude control enabling you to descend to near-ground level to shoot up enemy installations and ground-based weapons before returning to the clouds to take out more airborne targets. It’s a novel twist on the genre and features some nice Mode 7-esque graphical effects. Lost oddity or not, I loved playing the unique game!

Flying Shark - Gameplay Screenshot

Flying Shark (1987)

More than twenty years old and still the lord of the vertical scrollers to many! It may not have invented everything that it contains, but it popularised a lot of it – super-powered biplane, formation-flying squadrons of bad guys, ground-based enemies such as tanks, gun turrets, some of whom sneakily hide under the trees, etc. It’s such an iconic shooter and despite some cracking conversions, the arcade was, and still is the best place to play Flying Shark. You can always use the home versions for practise though, this is a pretty tough game! I still can’t finish it!

So… there are a few of the games I most enjoyed in the arcades during pretty much the only period I’ve had to regularly visit them. There were a lot more games there of course, including some of the all-time greats like Bubble Bobble, After Burner, Star Wars, etc, and I remember watching people play Time Traveller, the 3D hologram game by Sega (never really fancied playing it myself. though). Finding all these great games there, spending my paper round money on them, running out of money, waiting for the home conversions, getting some of the games for Christmas for my Speccy… It was a great time to be a gamer and I miss it.


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.