Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (1982)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 23,297 (one credit)
Also Available For: Master System, SG-1000, PC, MSX, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20, ZX Spectrum, TI-99/4A, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari XE, ColecoVision, Coleco Adam, Intellivision
Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

It may have taken a few years but it still wasn’t long before the first few licensed video games started to appear. One of the first such games to grace an amusement arcade was this example, by my beloved Sega no less, and was based on the (mis)adventures of Captain Rogers. Well, I say ‘based’ but this is a game that, name aside, has pretty much nothing to do with the source material – something that would become a familiar story in the years to come – but as we all know, that doesn’t necessarily make it a sucky game, just an unfaithful one. Planet of Zoom, for example, takes the form of an into-the-screen shooter. Nothing unusual there for a 70’s sci-fi show, I’ll grant you – plenty of shooting done in most of those. However, as long as it might have been since I’ve immersed myself in the gallant exploits of Buck, Wilma, and Twiki, nothing else from the game seems familiar.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Actually, now that I think about it, I can’t even be sure that we’re playing the game as Buck! Oh well, whoever may be at the controls, it’s your job to guide their ship through a tonne of dangerous stuff, and the best means of doing this is by blasting the crap out of it all. To this end, the ship offers unlimited use of its cannon, and you can also move it around the screen freely and increase or decrease its speed as you see fit. Each round is divided into eight stages (or sectors) of which there are three types – trench (as seen in the screenshot to the right), open space (next shot down), and planet (bottom shot) – but the object of each is the same; namely, to either fulfill an enemy quota or to finish within the time limit. If you can take down the required number of enemies before the time expires, you’ll move on to the next stage with any remaining time awarded as bonus points. If the timer runs down before you do this, you’ll still progress but with no bonus.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Most of the stages merely pit you against various kinds of oncoming enemies which include many flying saucers, hopping ground-based buffoons, red/purple versions of your own ship (almost), fast winged vessels, and angry-looking grey/red craft. As well as being mighty dangerous by themselves, most of them can also fire missiles and stuff at you, and there are also a few other hazards too. One of the trench stages features a series of barriers with gaps on the left, right, or middle, one of the planetary stages has a load of weird slalom-style gates (which offer only your continued existence as a reward for passing though them), and there is also a stage featuring a much larger boss ship which, for some reason, attacks with its back to you allowing you to simply blast all four of its engines to see it off. Defeating this befuddled clot isn’t too hard and each time you do it’s on to the next round where the stages are in a different order.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

This process goes on forever as far as I can tell, which means things could potentially get more than a little repetitive. Fortunately, the action is fast and involving enough to keep this from setting in too much. The stages all look the same each time they’re repeated but they work well – the scrolling is pretty fast and the enemies move quickly via some superb scaling. The colouring is also impressive with lovely pixelly explosions, nice shaded skies, and even some occasional eye-melting psychedelic effects on some spacey stages. The sound is a little more basic, consisting only of a constant blooping sound (the ship’s engine?), as well as shooting and explosion effects. They’re loud though, and do contribute to the enjoyment of Buck’s adventure which is a pretty decent one. I think it’s clear Sega’s inspiration for Space Harrier lies here, and the later game is understandably the one that’s more fondly remembered, but I was pleasantly surprised by its spiritual predecessor which is more playable in some ways as well as being slightly easier. Buck and friends may have a pretty limited involvement but they can still be fairly proud of this.

RKS Score: 7/10

Gauntlet

Gauntlet_Atari

Gauntlet (1985)
By: Atari Genre: Maze / Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 20,332 (starting with 2000 health)
Also Available For: Master System, MegaDrive, NES, Lynx, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Atari 8-bits, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the ‘Maze Games’ feature here at Red Parsley arrived at the Gauntlet series for a review but the decision to return to it wasn’t a hard one. This is mainly because it’s one of my favourite games but I’ve actually spent surprisingly little time with the arcade original. The decent conversion for the Spectrum occupied much of my time in the late 80’s before the fantastic Gauntlet 4 arrived on the MegaDrive (basically a conversion of the first game but with tonnes of extras) and occupied much of my time in the 90’s as well! The series certainly has its detractors, though, who argue that it’s repetitive and frustrating. I definitely didn’t agree with them back then but perhaps time has dulled the appeal of Atari’s classic. Henceforth, I shall find out…
Gauntlet_Atari

The basic gameplay of Gauntlet (and Dandy – see below) must surely be known by near enough all gamers by now but for the benefit of those who have somehow missed it, it works like this: between one and four players can play simultaneously but first each needs to choose a character from the four available – Thor the Warrior (who has good fighting strength), Thyra the Valkyrie (who has strong armour), Merlin the Wizard (who has strong magic), and Questor the Elf (who is the quickest). From then on, your party (or maybe just you) are faced with an unending series of overhead-viewed dungeons filled to the brim with malevolent beasties intent on shortening your adventure! Whether they do or not is entirely up to you though, as each coin you insert gives your character health points and you can insert coins, and therefore play, forever if you want.
Gauntlet_Atari

There are six types of enemy altogether – Grunts, Ghosts, Demons, Sorcerers, Lobbers, and Death. All of them except Death are created endlessly by generators placed all around the maze-like stages which have three strength levels with each monster they create being of the same level. The generators can be destroyed in the same way as the monsters they produce – either by shooting or fighting them one at a time or by collecting potions and using magic which clears some or most enemies on screen in one go. The strength of both of these attacks depends on the character chosen although special potions can also be found occasionally which boost an aspect of a character’s abilities – extra shot power or extra armour, for example. Watch out though – a pesky thief appears now and then and it’s these abilities that he’s most keen on stealing. Deaths appears in smaller numbers than the other enemies but they can only be killed by magic – otherwise they’ll drain 200 health points before disappearing. Grrrr!
Gauntlet_Atari

The stages themselves are each around two screens wide by two screens tall, although some loop instead, and they are usually designed in as maze-like a way as possible. Most include several paths, some of which are often dead-ends. There are usually many doors blocking off sections that must be opened by finding keys and some stages feature teleporters which move you to the nearest similar device. Treasure chests for bonus points are abundant but far rarer are special medallions that grant temporary invisibility (the enemies home in on you as far as possible otherwise) which are a welcome, albeit brief, reprieve when they are encountered. Each player character gradually loses health points as the game wears on anyway but contact from enemies does of course reduce them much faster so it’s a good idea to keep an eye open for revitalising food which comes in two forms – cider, which can be shot, and what looks like roast dinners, which cannot.
Gauntlet_Atari

As original and distinctive as it seemed at the time though, the concept of Gauntlet may not have been entirely born in the futuristic labs of Atari’s secret underground bunker. Ed Logg, credited as designer of Gauntlet, may or may not have had one eye on an Atari 8-bit game called Dandy, released two years previously, while putting his game together but the two titles certainly have some similarities. Whoever was responsible though, Gauntlet was the game which rose to prominence and it’s one that’s attracted and maintained a sizeable fan-base over the years. There could be many reasons for its enduring popularity but the simple fact is Atari’s game was available to a much wider audience, and arguably came at a much more convenient time as well.
Gauntlet_Atari

Another reason for Gauntlet’s success over that of Dandy could simply be that it was better. It has a huge number of stages for one thing – a hundred unique dungeons which appear in random order from the eighth one onwards, and after the hundredth stage they start repeating as well so it’s a game without end! The cast of characters, both heroes and villains are also very memorable too. The differing attributes of each – shot strength and speed, magic power, fighting ability, armour, etc – meant that everyone had their favourite even if the differences between them became purely cosmetic once a few of the special potions had been collected which each boost one that character’s attributes accordingly. The relentless onslaught of enemy creatures pouring from their respective generators meant that you rarely get a minute’s peace too!
Gauntlet_Atari

The enormous abundance of evil creatures to slay may make Gauntlet a tough slog for the most part but it’s rather impressive from a technical point of view. All sprites, objects and pieces of wall and floor take up one square on an unseen grid of 15 x 15 which makes up the visible play-field so everything is more-or-less the same size. This doesn’t take much processing power with regards to the inanimate parts of each stage of course, but the sprites are all animated, detailed, and there are absolutely masses of them nearly all the time. It’s still pretty impressive now so you can only imagine how mind-blowing it was at the time! Of course, this did present a challenge to the talented programmers charged with converting the fab game to home systems but even then the results were mostly spiffing!
Gauntlet_Atari

Sadly, the audio here is almost silent though. There are a few simple sound effects but no in-game music which is hard to get used to since the fantastic MegaDrive conversion that I’ve played so much has had an equally fantastic soundtrack added. Breaking the near-silence now and then though, is the famous voice of the unseen dungeon overseer who offers occasional advice and support. He may sound a little ropey today but back then he was a revelation and his many comments have proved to be almost as enduring as the game itself! Indeed, despite the inane wafflings of the many naysayers, Gauntlet is still great fun and a highly enjoyable challenge. Yes, it is repetitive, as most games in the early years were, but not many of them offered four players the chance to unite and fight evil monsters to the death! Even for the solo-player, the lure of seeing new mazes or achieving a new high-score is enough to keep you playing. A timeless classic that offers a near-unlimited helping of simple, addictive adventuring. Still hate those bloody Lobbers though. Grrrr!

RKS Score: 9/10

Alien Syndrome

Alien Syndrome (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 96,400
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Sharp X68000, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Like many game companies in the mid-to-late 80’s, it seems almost certain that Sega were also bitten by the ‘Alien’ bug, so to speak. That is to say, they drew inspiration from the Alien movies for one (or some) of their games. The fact that this release came the year after the super-successful sequel to the classic 1979 film would tend to back up that theory as it’s a game that may seem familiar to some fans. Rather than a gound-based colony, however, it takes place in a series of seven spacecraft. These were presumably craft operated by humans but they have become overrun by hideous alien creatures of various descriptions and their human crew taken prisoner. It therefore falls to Ricky and Mary, two suspiciously Space Marine-like soldiers, to liberate each ship in succession and eradicate the alien scum that now dwells within.

Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot
The interior of each craft is viewed from an angled overhead perspective and usually consists of a maze-like series of corridors, rooms, or open areas linked by walkways. The human captives, or ‘comrades’, are dotted around the scrolling stages and a set number of them must be rescued (by touching them) within a pretty strict time-limit before the exit is unlocked. This inevitably leads to a much larger and more dangerous alien boss who you must shoot the crap out of before moving onto the next ship. Each stage has unique enemies, usually two different kinds, and from the second stage onwards an infinite number of them are produced by Gauntlet-like generators. Destroying these will finally stem the flow of alien filth and allow you to cleanse the stage. If you want to, that is, as the only actual requirement is to rescue those pesky comrades.
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Blasting the idiotic aliens does take up valuable time of course, but it also makes the game a lot more fun! Each new alien encountered looks and acts differently to the last. Some can spontaneously reproduce, others chase you, but most of them are able to shoot at you. A single touch from any alien or one of their projectiles is enough to take a life from Ricky or Mary but surprisingly the aliens are just as fragile – from the first stage to the last, a single shot is all that’s required to take them out. Except for the bosses, obviously. Typically, you start the game with a pea-shooter gun which just about does the job, but its range and rate of fire is somewhat limited. There are four other weapons available, however – laser, flamethrower, napalm, and a rapid-fire cannon – which, impressively, not only have unlimited ammo but also last forever as long as you don’t lose a life.

Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshotIt’s also possible to collect up to two small guns that follow you around and shoot backwards every time you shoot your normal weapon which can be shot in eight directions but only forward. These, and all the other weapons, can be collected from panels on the walls where you can also find bonus points and maps that show the basic layout of the stage as well as the location of the remaining comrades. Points are awarded at the end of each stage for any remaining time and for any comrades rescued beyond the quota but, if you’re like me, you probably won’t see too many of them! I usually tend to play games in a very meticulous way, trying to do everything and see everything, so I found the time limits to be quite tight. Aside from that though, Alien Syndrome isn’t an overly tough game and is actually, dare I say it, even pretty fair.
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Part of the reason for this it that the aliens are defeated by a single shot from whichever gun you’re carrying at the time (even the one you start with) but it also helps that their movement doesn’t seem to conform to any repeating patterns. Their appearances are apparently random and their movement is seemingly dependent on your own, so your progress is pretty much just down to your own ability. Accompanying you on your refreshingly-unfrustrating mission are some tunes and sound effects which aren’t too bad, although not especially memorable, but about the only thing I don’t really like about Alien Syndrome is its graphics. It’s running on Sega’s System 16 board which I`m not hugely fond of at the best of times and this means that most of the colours used are rather pale and drab and there`s some quite unpleasant patterns used for the stage floors. That aside though, there’s little to complain about, and some of the aliens look great!
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

This is particularly true of the big and imaginative bosses and there’s quite a few different normal sprites too. The two playable characters don’t look much different and are even less different to play as but they’re not there to provide a bit of variety – they’re there to facilitate a two-player game, and they do that well. A few differences between wouldn’t have hurt anyway though, I suppose! Oh well, it’s still an enjoyable game, for one or two players, and proves to be a very addictive one as well. The stages themselves get bigger and more complicated but are never overly large or complex – this is a game that’s about fast and frantic shooting and nothing more, and with the ever-increasing hordes of aliens in the later stages, you’ll need to be precise as well as fast! It’s a shame it doesn’t look a bit nicer but if you can handle the offensive patterns, this is a game that’s aged well.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1jkQ-NM1UE[/youtube]

RKS Score: 7/10

3-D Bomberman

3-D Bomberman-gameplay screenshot

3-D Bomberman (1984)
By: Hudson Soft / Kawaguchi  Genre: Action  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: MSX  First Day Score: 000,000 (seriously!)
Also Available For: Sharp X-1

It’s been a while now since my last look at this great series but since returning to it I’ve discovered, apparently in my eagerness to progress through the series, that I missed one out! Now that I’ve realised this, however, I wish this particular offering had remained obscured from my sight until the end of time. For better or worse though, it does exist, and as you may have guessed from the title, it tries to do something a little different. In more recent years there have been a few attempts to turn our hero’s world into a three-dimensional one but I thought Bomberman 64, which itself got a rather lukewarm reception, was the first one. It now appears that this isn’t the case, for as far back as 1984, and immediately after the original game’s release, Hudson released 3-D Bomberman, and it was something of unbridled horror.

3-D Bomberman-gameplay screenshot

Usually when writing about a game I try to remain impartial and detail the various facts and figures of a game before praising or criticising it accordingly, but this game is different. It is, you see, quite literally the original Bomberman but from a first-person viewpoint. This would be a concerning prospect on a modern consoles but on an MSX? It is, quite frankly, terrifying. The first problem is that all the walls are red with nothing to differentiate ‘soft blocks’, or destroyable parts of the wall. This means there’s lots of identical-looking corridors that you’ll most likely end up walking around aimlessly. If you walk into a dead-end, it’s a good bet that it’s a soft block in your way, so you can try laying a bomb. The viewpoint also makes it difficult to judge distance accurately though, so you’ll have to run far away to be sure of avoiding the blast (which looks like a untuned TV). Once you’ve turned back round you’ll probably be unable to find where you were so you’ll have to wander aimlessly some more.

3-D Bomberman-gameplay screenshot

As you might expect, there are enemies in the mazes but you’ll rarely spot one and when you do it’s very difficult to kill one. Lest we forget, the most effective way of doing this in normal Bomberman games is to trap them in a dead-end but it’s no longer possible to watch them from afar and then move in when the timing’s right. There is a very basic scanner in the corner which shows enemies, but it doesn’t show walls so it’s not a great deal of help really! Technically the game is reasonable enough – the mazes (and they literally are mazes now) move pretty quickly and smoothly, more so than I would’ve expected, but that’s not the problem – this style of game just shouldn’t have been attempted in 3D, back then or now! It’s really, really not an entertaining game to play – it’s confusing and very easy to get lost, and there’s no variety whatsoever. There’s probably a few power-ups and maybe a few different enemies to be found if you persevered, but to be honest I couldn’t handle playing it long enough to find out. I feel like I need a shower…

RKS Score: 2/10

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

Bubble Bobble

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 1

Bubble Bobble (1986)
By: Taito Genre: Platform Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 180,180
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Saturn, PlayStation, X68000, NES, GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, Nintendo DS, FM Towns Marty, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II, MSX, PC

What more can be said about this all-time great? Whilst perhaps not as well known as Mario or Sonic, the cute dinosaurs of Bubble Bobble are just as iconic to many gamers, myself included, and have now appeared in a lot of games on nearly every system ever created, in one guise or another. My first encounter with the bubble-blowing twins was in ‘Kwiki Meals’, the cafe near my college. It was here that I ventured every lunchtime to play Bubble Bobble (and eat a burger), and I was often late back to class! It was the game that first brought the great Taito to my attention and they’ve been one of my favourite companies since. Sadly, both Kwiki Meals and the arcade masterpiece it once housed are now long gone but I’ve had a regular fix of Bubble Bobble ever since.

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 2

Most of you will know the drill by now – Bub and Bob have been turned into dragons by the evil Super Drunk who has also kidnapped their girlfriends! In order to get them back and be restored to Human form, they must battle their way through a hundred rounds of multi-platformed, monster-infested caves until they can face, and hopefully defeat, Super Drunk. Bub and Bob, who start each round in the bottom left and bottom right corners of the screen respectively, must clear each single-screen round of baddies in order to proceed to the next. To do this you must trap them in bubbles which both Bub and Bob can blow at will. The bubbles fly forward quickly, before floating up the screen being carried by the air currents in the caverns. Freshly-blown bubbles are surrounded by a shiny orange aura until they are a certain distance away and it is only during this brief period that enemies can be trapped in them.

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 3

Once an enemy is trapped in a bubble, it must be popped quickly to kill it, either by touching it with the spines on Bub and Bob’s head and back, by jumping on it, or by pushing it into a wall. If you fail to pop it quickly enough, it will pop by itself, and the re-released enemy will be angry and much faster. It’s also possible to bounce off bubbles instead of popping them when you jump on one or fall on one from above. This is an essential skill to learn as sometimes it’s the only way to escape from part of a level or reach some high platforms. Bubbles also stick together if they touch each other, whether they contain enemies or not, so if you time it right you can cause a mega-pon chain reaction meaning mega-points! There are eight different types of standard enemy altogether and each has his own movement patern. Learning these are obviously the key to success here, but don’t take too long – if you stay on one stage too long, the undefeatable Baron Von Blubba will appear and stalk you until there’s nowhere left to hide!

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 4

One of this game’s many memorable points is that it jointly holds the record with its own sequel as one of the most fruit laden game ever (this is a good thing)! Items are spilled on a platform somewhere in the level every time an enemy is vanquished and other items appear seemingly out of nowhere now and then. There is an enormous amount of them to be found, some of which are very useful, particularly the umbrella which skips several levels, and there are power-ups and various kinds of screen-clearing smart bombs too. Some other items are even available in different colours, varying their effect. Also appearing liberally are lots of different fruits, gems and foods which can be seized for bonus points. Additional bubbles sometimes get ‘blown’ onto the screen by the air currents running through the caverns, and included amongst these are ‘special’ bubbles which, when popped, unleash special powers. These include fire bubbles, which spill fire which scorches enemy’s, lightning bubbles which sends a enemy-killing lightning bolt across the screen, and water bubbles, which send a torrent of water cascading down the platforms killing all enemies in its path. The last kind of bubbles to be found contain letters. Collecting them will gradually spell out E-X-T-E-N-D down the side of the screen. Complete the word to clear the round and get an extra life!

There are many more little intricacies and nuances to this game and to be honest, I could go on all day about them, but discovering them for yourself is one of the things that makes Bubble Bobble as great as it is. Despite initially seeming random, almost everything you do has some sort of affect on the game, from how quickly you finish a round right down to a particular digit of your score when you reach a certain point. Many games have been called classics over the years. Whether they truly are or not depends on your definition of the term I suppose, but few are as genuinely timeless as Bubble Bobble.

The cute, colourful graphics which are full of character, that music by Zuntata which could just be the catchiest tune of all-time, the flawlessly structured gameplay, the fiendish stage design, the fantastic fun of jumping around the platforms trying to time an attack to perfection, playing the game with a friend, it goes on and on. It’s regularly sited as one of the greatest games of all-time, and it’s hard to argue. Bubble Bobble isn’t just a single screen platform game, for many it’s the single screen platform game! It’s certainly true that it’s among the most enduring platform games of all-time and that kind of lasting adulation can only be for one reason…

RKS Score: 10/10

Chase HQ review

Chase HQ Title screen

Chase HQ (1988)
By: Taito Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 4,723,860 (one credit)
Also Available For: PC Engine, X68000, Master System, Game Gear, NES, Game Boy, Amiga, Atari ST, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Before the days of polygons, it was pretty rare to find a decent driving game. Even in the arcades they were pretty rare. If you asked any gamers around my age to name their favourite, most would probably say OutRun, and with good reason – it was a revolutionary game that made a huge impact. There was a few other good examples from around that time as well though, and one was Chase HQ. This effort from the awesome Taito was clearly influenced by OutRun – what else wasn’t in the years after its release? – but it’s not just a shameless rip-off, no sir. Whilst the basic gameplay has shades of Sega’s classic, Taito also injected it with themes taken from some of the American buddy cop movies and TV shows which were so popular at the time. It sure sounds like a perfect combination but how does it stand up today?

Chase HQ screenshot

Taking on the role of police detective, Tony Gibson, it’s your job to pursue one dangerous criminal on each of the game’s five stages. They have all commandeered some sort of powerful sports car and are fleeing out of the unnamed city (which is probably LA), They have got a head-start too so you, along with your partner, Raymond Broady, need to move quickly to make up the lost ground. After a briefing from the lovely Nancy back at ‘Chase Headquarters’ you’ll get sixty seconds to catch up with each felon in your black Porsche 928 Turbo. Once you’ve reached him, you’ll get another sixty to smash his car up until they stop (they’re all men – women don’t commit crimes, remember)! Your ride is equipped with three helpful turbo boosts per stage/credit which can either be used to catch up with the ‘con’ quicker, or to smash into him more aggressively once you already have.

Chase HQ screenshot

You’re probably thinking that it sounds like a lot of fun, but you may also have thought that it sounds rather short. Well, you’d be right on both counts, but the latter point is pretty much the only bad thing about the game. Rather than attempting to craft a longer lasting, more subtle kind of driving game, Taito have instead gone for an intense ten minute blast of a game. It’s not particularly difficult either but some replay value is added by the accumulative bonus you receive for passing each of the many civilian cars the roads are filled with without hitting them. Technically the game is a noticeable step up from OutRun too. The sprites are probably a little better and more varied and the game plays a bit faster, but the biggest improvement is in the stages themselves.

Chase HQ screenshot

Rather than sticking to one backdrop each, the backgrounds and scenery here change numerous times per stage and are pretty varied too. The courses are also much less flat than OutRun’s and each features a fork mid-way through with one route being longer than the other. The audio is also pretty half-decent. The music, whilst perfectable fine, could never hope to best Hiroshi Miyauchi’s immortal tunes, and the effects are okay too, but Chase HQ’s most noticeable addition is the speech. Your partner is pretty vocal throughout the game, willing you to drive faster and getting excited once battle commences, and good old Nancy has a fair bit to say for herself, both during the briefings and over the police radio during the game too.

Chase HQ screenshot

Such is the glorification of crime and violence these days, I’m confident that if this game was released today you would play the role of the criminal, most likely with the object not only to escape from the pursuing police officers but to kill them too, and bonus points scored for killing civilians too, or some such nonsense. As it is though, this is very much a ‘good guys sim’ and remains one of the most memorable cop games released. The combination of OutRun and cop film was a superb idea for a game and makes this play very differently to the former. It also creates a fantastic atmosphere and makes it a different enough game to stand proudly next to OutRun instead of in its shadow. It won’t take you long to see all Chase HQ has to offer but it’s such a fast, exciting rush of a game, you’ll be back time and time again. A genuine classic.

RKS Score: 9/10