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!

Super Mario Pac

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Super Mario Pac

Here is a free cool game that mixes the classic ZX Spectrum game Jetpack, Mario Sunshine and Super Mario World. In Super Mario Pac, Mario is trapped and being attacked by evil creatures, he must use his plumbing skills and the FLUDD backpack he acquired on a recent holiday to escape.

super mario pac

Control Mario, moving him left, right and water-thrusting him into the air, in order to collect and assemble his pipe escape route and poison any plants in his way. Use the FLUDD water cannon to drench the attacking enemies. Don’t forget to refill your FLUDD backpack regularly or you’ll really be in trouble!

super mario pac

So as you can see in the video you just fly around and shoot water at the turtles as you try to kill the Piranha plant, it’s that simple, but in that simplicity it’s actually fun and it’s free so why not and you get the music and graphics of Super Mario (with a bit of haze in some spots) so why not.

super mario pac

You can check out the main site and get the game here.

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

Renegade

Renegade (1986)
By: Technos / Taito Genre: Fighting Players: Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 29,800
Also Available For: Master System, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

Poor old RKS has a tough life as a gamer. Despite being relatively normal in most ways, I only have few friends who share my interest in this particular subject and only one who also likes retro games, and he lives far enough away that I don’t see him often. When we do meet up, one type of game we nearly always play is scrolling fighting games, but it only occurred to me recently that we always play the same few: Double Dragon, Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, etc. Upon realization of this, I decided to give a few other examples a try to vary our rare gaming sessions a little. One of the first games I thought of was Renegade – one of the first such examples of the genre and supposedly also one of the best which, alarmingly, is yet another title I’ve never gotten around to trying. Playing it for the first time for this feature, however, revealed that it’s not strictly speaking a scrolling fighting game at all. Hmmm.

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

As most of you probably already know, each of Renegade’s meager four stages are quite small. They do scroll, but are only about four screens wide – a space which is populated by different ‘hoodlums’ on successive stages as well as a boss character who becomes active once only three of his henchmen remain. Your job as the unnamed (in the arcade version, at least) vigilante is merely to beat the crap out of them. You can move in eight directions and there are three buttons – one attacks in the direction you’re facing, another attacks behind, and the last performs a jump. A double-tap of either direction allows you to run and you can attack while doing this or jumping. Even the most basic enemies require numerous hits to defeat but you can knock them to the ground fairly easily at which point you can straddle them (oo-er!) and continue smacking them up. It’s also possible to grab an enemy and perform a throw but they can grab you as well. All of these moves can also be performed on the boss characters, but since they’re stronger the attacks are often less effective.

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

The four stages take place on a subway platform, a harbor  an alley, and the gang’s hideout, and each is home to unique enemies. The amount of energy their attacks cost you is dependent on what they attack you with. Some have only their fists but others are armed or even riding motorbikes. Thugs wielding knives or guns can even kill you outright with one hit, and this makes an already rock-hard game harder then ten adamantium-coated diamonds! You only get one life, you see, and unusually for an arcade game you don’t even have the option of adding coins to continue. I’m not an especially gifted gamer, admittedly, but I was having so much trouble I even had to resort to fiddling around with the DIP switch settings. However, despite changing the difficulty to easy upping the lives to the maximum of two (!), I was still making little headway. The extra life wasn’t much use as it makes you start the stage again anyway, so I decided to try a more strategic approach of running around and picking off thugs only when an opportunity presented itself. And then I ran out of time instead!

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

Even some sneaky tactics such as knocking enemies off the end of the railway platform on the first stage usually backfired as I was knocked off instead. Boo hoo. It’s quite a nice-looking game though. Stage graphics are good and the sprites, whilst not too numerous, are varied, distinctive, and animated fairly well too. The sound isn’t bad either, with average music but pretty good effects and even the odd snippet of speech (“Get lost, punk!”), and it’s an exciting, action-packed, and enjoyable game to play, but that difficulty means that any enjoyment is usually short-lived. Even having not previously played it, I knew that Renegade was a landmark title that brought with it several innovations, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so unforgiving! Arcade games are usually tough but would a continue feature have been too much to ask? Renegade is actually a Western ‘localisation’ – the original Japanese game is part of the ‘Kunio-kun’ series, so I’ll have to give that a try to see if it’s as tough. For now though, I’m either a wussy who needs a lot of practice, or by jove, Renagade is a toughie – too tough for me!

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co6e7cg7DSQ[/youtube]

RKS Score: 6/10

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

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

Torben Larsen: Cope-Com

cope-com-logo

Name: Torben Larsen

Company: Cope-Com

Profession: Creative Director

Favorite Classic Game: Ping Pong

Quote: It was the first game I played sometime late 1970’ties on a TV console. The simplicity and fun factor still holds today and reminds me of how far the games have developed since that time 🙂

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

Bio/Current Event:

Cope-Com was founded in 1987 by Martin Pedersen and Torben Larsen with the aim of making great Amiga computer games. With the award-winning game titles Hybris and Battle Squadron they successfully proved the capabilities of the Amiga home computer.

Martin Pedersen started out with a ZX81 (actually an upgraded ZX80) in 1982 and later switched over to the ZX Spectrum, which was eventually exchanged with an Amstrad. In 1985 he did the game “The Vikings” for the Amstrad. At the same time Torben Larsen was doing the graphics for the same game on the Commodore 64. This was how the two met.

Feeling limited with the Amstrad and its technical abilities, Martin and Torben decided to take a closer look at the Amiga in 1985-86. The technical aspects of the Amiga in terms of more advanced processors, better screen resolution, more colors, and 8 bit sound sampling, was very impressive to both of them.

Being excited about the great possibilities of the Amiga, they decided to develop games for this machine. They started out with their first Amiga title, a shoot’em up called Hybris. For this game they teamed up with the American publisher Discovery Software International Inc. Hybris was published worldwide in 1987 and was an instant success on the Amiga. The game received several Amiga awards and was praised for its high technical standard, great game play, and sharp graphics.

Taking on the challenge after Hybris, they decided to develop an even better vertical shoot’em up for the Amiga called Battle Squadron. This time they teamed up with Innerprise Inc. as publisher. The game was released worldwide in 1989 and again an Amiga classic was born. The game featured two simultaneous players and a novel gaming “predator” enemy effect. Battle Squadron received a 109% rating in Amiga Computing, and 90-100% in many other computer magazines of that time.

As of 2012 Cope-Com is now working on converting their great classic Amiga games to new formats, such as iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad and Android.

Have a look on the past and current projects from Cope-Com here on their website:

Guerrilla War

 

Guerrilla War - SNK - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

Ah yeh, Guerrilla War, released by SNK in 1987, was the first game I played with a rotary joystick. Unlike Ikari Warriors where you had the joystick to move side to side and shoot, Guerrilla War allowed you to move your fighter and at the same time, rotate the gun to shoot in 8 directions !  This rotary “gimmick” seemed to work, as it was used on other games, notably, Heavy Barrel and Midnight Resistance.

                        Guerrilla War - SNK - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

The game is a 1 or 2 player survival shooting game, in the mould of Ikari Warriors. Play can be simultaneous or either player can join in at any stage during the game. The players have machine guns to mow down baddies and grenades to lob at them. Along the way, the players can also get into tanks and cause maximum damage (and get further into the game). There are bonus weapons too, when certain enemies are killed.

                        Guerrilla War - SNK - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

The freedom fighter, and communist leader connection was due to the original Japanese version of Guerrilla War, titled, Guevara. The Japanese game was based on the exploits of the revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the Cuban commy leader, Fidel Castro. Fearing extreme anti-Communist sentiments in the West, SNK did a regionalisation of the game’s dialogue and instruction manual for its US and European releases.

Guerrilla War - SNK - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

The game’s description was changed to: The country is struggling against the cruel domination of the king. The guerrilla leader and his comrades attempt to secretly land on shore, but the king’s military is waiting for them. Fight your way inland and attack the fortress.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4JmBDVWV-0[/youtube]

If you want to play a superlative Ikari Warriors rip-off, then this is your game. The rotary joystick is a godsend, as it allows you to walk and shoot in all directions, causing absolute carnage. Go on, throw a coin in the slot, and play some Guerrilla War.

 Guerrilla War - SNK - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot - Cabinet

Manufacturer: SNK
Year: 1987
Genre: Vertical Scrolling Shooter
Number of Simultaneous Players: 2
Maximum number of Players: 2
Gameplay: Joint
Joystick: 8-way Rotary
Buttons: 2 [Fire and Grenade]
Sound: Amplified Mono (single channel)

 

 

The Interview: John Wilson – Zenobi Software

Zenobi Software, the Rochdale Balrog, the Cat and the Cockroach were responsible for over two hundred excellent -nay, classic- ZX Spectrum text-adventures. Oh, yes, and quite a few Atari ST ones too. What’s more, John Wilson -a.k.a. the Balrog- the man behind it all is here to enlighten you and me on how things happened and what the future holds. Read on, hop over to the lovely official Zenobi website, grab a DVD with its rich retro offerings, ask for a freebie and come back here to discuss retro 8-bit interactive fiction. After all Zenobi will feature heavily on this blog for quite some time.

Zenobi Software Visual Medley

Tell us a bit about yourself, oh Balrog. Some info on the cat might be nice too.

Fast approaching my 62nd birthday, I was born in Edinburgh (Scotland) in 1947 and moved to South Wales (Cwmbran) at the age of 12. Lived there for a few years and then moved to North Wales (Flint) before enlisting in the Royal Air Force in 1964. Served in various places… as far apart as Valley (Anglesey) and Seletar (Singapore) before settling down in Rochdale in 1970 where I still live to this day. As for the ‘cat’ that is simply one of my many ‘alter-egos’… now, that is a ‘first’ for you and your readers, as I have never admitted to that before. ‘Cat’ is a good one, unlike ‘Cockroach’ who is an evil, mischievous little sod.

Why -and more importantly, how- did you start Zenobi? Were you all alone in this, erm, adventure of sorts?

Had been unemployed for a number of years and during a ‘careers interview’ I blurted out ‘To run a software house’ in answer to one of their questions. Being me, I decided to stick with that choice and Zenobi Software was formed in 1984/85. Like everything in my life, since I met her, my Ann was with me in this enterprise. Without her help I would never have made the success of Zenobi Software that it was … if it ever was a ‘success’.

And the focus on text-adventures on the ZX Spectrum? How did you decide on that?

Because they were what I was ‘into’ at the time. I had been given a ZX81 by a mate and then ‘upgraded’ to a ZX Spectrum … the only things that seemed reasonable to play on these machines were ‘text adventures’ (the arcade games did not appeal) so those became my passion.
ZX Spectrum

Weren’t you afraid of actually competing against bigger software houses?

I am never afraid of a challenge and to be quite honest I never envisaged myself as being in ‘competition’ with anybody. The whole idea of the project was simply to get MY games out to the general public. Things just got out of hand a touch and grew far bigger than I ever imagined.

You’ve created a fair amount of admittedly brilliant, tough, inspired and generally hilarious adventures. Which ones are you favorites? Was there a certain way your games were designed? I mean, really, where did all this inspiration come from?

Of them all, the original ‘Behind Closed Doors’ has to be my favourite, if only for the fact that it was written, tested and finalised in less than 24 hours. However ALL of them are my ‘children’ and just as in real-life I never choose favourites.

How did you come up with those intricate puzzles?

Pinched all the ideas from ‘real-life’ incidents. All it takes is a little imagination and you can convert anything into an ‘adventure-situation’. Alas, I am very lucky to have the kind of mind that can come up with ‘ideas’ without too much thinking… I used to dream them up as I typed them sometimes.

What about them weird names, settings, loading screens and stories?

They are all part of the twisted mind that I have been blessed with… that and the ability to ‘bend’ things to suit. Give me a ‘topic’ and I can generally sit down and just type out a story (complete with characters, plot, descriptions etc) and do all this as I go along. Much in the same way that I am typing out this interview. No preparation, just ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ as my old Dad would say.

Now, as Zenobi published quite a few games from a variety of authors/designers, could you give us some insight as to how this bit actually worked?

Simple… I was unable to produce enough games (personally) to meet the demand, so decided to use the services of other authors to meet the quota. I spread the word I was on the lookout for new games and they just came flooding in.

In retrospect, which would you say were the finest moments in/of Zenobi?

Getting the first game-review published (‘The Boggit’ in PCW), being awarded ‘Mega-game’ status in Your Sinclair and being voted ‘Best Software House’ (the FIRST time).
Atari St

Why stop after the Atari ST games?

It was no longer a viable proposition to produce NEW games for either the ZX Spectrum or the Atari ST . ‘Sales’ were no longer high enough to warrant the financial outlay and I felt that it was stupid to keep squandering my OWN cash on a losing cause.

Any other platforms you developed for?

Not really, though we did produce ’emulations’ of ALL the original ZX Spectrum titles to suit the Commodore Amiga, Mac, PC, Sam Coupe and QL. Not to mention every form there was of the ZX Spectrum… i.e. Plus D, +3, Tape etc.

Oh, and do you still play games? Any thoughts on their current state?

Nope… my real passion has always been music and these days my spare time is spent listening to that. My CD collection numbers in the ‘tens’ of thousands… you can believe that or not!!

Considering there is a strong Spectrum retro scene, a very lively interactive fiction scene and an obvious revival of the adventure genre, well, what does the future hold? More games? A book per-chance?

None of the above. I still write the odd short-tale, but they are either just for my own amusement (and end up in the desk-drawer) or else they get put on the web-site where they bore everybody to death. Though I have promised myself that one day I will bring the ‘Korat’ tale to its eventual conclusion… if only for my own peace of mind

Finally, you do still feel the Zenobi love, don’t you? Mind you, feel free to add anything else you think would be vaguely appropriate and/or titillating.

The ‘Zenobi Love’ .. just what the f*ck is that? Zenobi Software was a part of my life, is still a part of my life and always will be a part of my life – it has nothing to do with ‘love’ it was (and still is) the ‘driving-force’ behind my existence.It was a dark rainy night and Balrog was slumped over a plate of mince & tatties when there was a gentle ‘tap’ on the kitchen door. “Bloody visitors .. and at this time of night as well!” growled Balrog as he flicked the errant pea(s) back on to his plate and shuffled off in the direction of the knock. “John Wilson ?” enquired the chubby-faced gent stood in the pouring rain. “Come in Tam ..” grinned the Balrog and ushered the gent, and his companion, into the warmth of the kitchen. “How do you know me?” asked the gent. “Saw your picture in PCW when you were awarded the prize for completing ‘The Ket Trilogy’ smiled Balrog, flicking on the switch for the kettle and reaching under the worktop for some cups. “Tea or coffee and how many sugars ??”

So it was that ‘Tartan Tam’ encountered the Balrog for the first time … a true story!!”


Lode Runner

Way back in time, when I was gaming the night away on my Apple II clone (a Circle II), all things Zork ruled my gaming existence.  But when I needed a respite from adventuring in the Great Underground Empire, Lode Runner was the game that took its place.

Lord Runner - Apple - Box

Lode Runner was an arcade hit published by Broderbund Software in 1983.  The game’s backstory was that a vast fortune in gold bullion was heisted by the Bungeling Empire, and it’s your job to recover it.  Some of the gold sat around waiting for you to pick it up, and some was carried by various agents of the Empire –  which required a slightly more creative approach.  Essentially the only way to get their gold was to bury them alive, and wait for the gold to pop out once they were crushed to death.  Your Lode Runner was able to blast the dirt to either side of him (and more than one square, if needed), which would eventually automatically refill.  The trick was to make certain that an Agent would fall into it, and be unable to get out in time before the hole refilled.  Blast too soon and the hole would refill long before the Agent arrived; blast too late and the Agent would either climb out of the hole and expunge your Lode Runner from virtual existence or the hole would not open at all.  Timing your blasts, and knowing when to kill your Agents off, was the point of the game.

Lode Runner - Gameplay Screenshot

Lode Runner for Apple II screen

Yes, it was simple. What 1980’s game wasn’t?  But it was fun.  And clearly many, many gamers thought so, too, as Lode Runner was released on multiple platforms, including: Apple II (1983), Atari 400/800/XL/XE (1983), Commodore 64 (1983), MSX (1983), PC Booter (1983), VIC-20 (1983), Macintosh (1984), Nintendo Famicom (1984), ZX Spectrum (1984), PC-88 (1986), Nintendo Entertainment System (1987), Amstrad CPC (1989), and the Atari ST (1989)…among others!  That’s a lot of systems, a large audience, and a reason why Lode Runner remains a classic gaming memory.

Lode Runner - Sierra - Box

Lode Runner: The Legend Returns cover.

Like any classic game, Lode Runner had its share of updates and sequels, again a sign of a game that has a classic appeal.  The list is impressive:

  • Load Runner’s Rescue (Commodore 64, 1985)
  • Hyper Lode Runner (GameBoy, 1990)
  • Battle Lode Runner (TurboGrafx, 1993)
  • Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (DOS/Macintosh/Windows, 1994)
  • Lode Runner Online: The Mad Monk Returns (Windows/Macintosh, 1995)
  • Lode Runner 2 (Windows/Macintosh, 1998)
  • Lode Runner 3-D (Nintendo 64, 1999)
  • Battle Lode Runner (Wii, 2007)
  • Lode Runner (Xbox 360, 2009)

Lode Runner has been considered a classic for some time. It made #80 on Computer Gaming World’s 150 Best Games of All Time list, and was mentioned in 2003 as one of the best games of all time by Gamespot in their The Greatest Games of All Time series.  The creator of Tetris, the classic puzzle game that all puzzle games are compared to, was quoted in a 2008 interview with Edge Magazine that he considered Lode Runner to his favorite puzzle game for many years.  There was even a 1986 Lode Runner board game created by Donal Carlston (the creator of the still-popular board game, Personal Preference)!

Lode Runner - Online - Box

Lode Runner Online: The Mad Monk Returns cover

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jnRWMvxb7o[/youtube]

Back in 1983, a big bowl of salt ‘n’ vinegar potato chips, a jug of chocolate milk, and an afternoon of wiping out agents of the Bungeling Empire was a recipe for good times.  Now that I’m older (married with children, no less!), there’s no more chocolate milk nor salt ‘n’ vinegar potato chips, and my afternoon gaming has now been replaced with late evening gaming. But Lode Runner will always hold a special place in my gamer heart, and if you’ve never played it, find one of the updated versions and have great time!

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

The Spectrum Games Bible

Having already missed the apparently excellent ZX Spectrum Book – 1982-19xx book, I’m more than excited to have been timely informed about the incredibly ambitious Spectrum Games Bible 1982-2008 project, that’s already spanning two books and covering more than 500 games. What’s more, at least four more books will soon be released, hopefully reviewing every game ever released for the gloriously humble Speccy. Now, that’s what I call ambition. Possibly a worthy cause too. Well, almost. Anyway.

To grab the extremely well priced first books (or their rather pricey colour counterparts) do yourselves a favour and follow this handily underlined link. Mind you, you can even contribute to the forthcoming volumes -this is most obviously a group project, you see- and, yes, actually get paid. Oh, oh, and for some free, online, high-score comparing ZX Spectrum gaming you have to give MySpeccy a try.

Game Gallery: Arkanoid

Arkanoid - Game Screenshots

Arkanoid (1987)
ZX Spectrum Version

As with many games of its time, Arkanoid was born in the arcades, but the version I spent by far the most time playing is this fine conversion for the Speccy. It doesn’t look quite as nice, as you might expect, but it’s got it where it counts. All stages and features from its arcade parent have been squeezed into the 48k of memory and mercifully it’s even a little easier, awarding the player with four lives from the start rather than two. Having said that, I still doubt that I could’ve finished this game without the aid of the ‘PBRAIN’ cheat. So, thanks to that splendid bit of foresight by the programmers, I can present all 33 rounds of Arkanoid!

The ZX Spectrum Bible

Actually, more of the ZX Spectrum PDF emulation Bible, but this would be too long a post title… Still, oh wise and cheap-ass retroheads, just click here and you’ll get yourselves the brilliant 82 pages long PDF of the aptly (and rather eloquently) named The ZX Spectrum on your PC. Brilliant, educating, handy, quite free and sporting a nice cover, this is as retro as an ebook can get.

 

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

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

The 8-bit Book 1981 to 199X

 the 8-bit book cover

 

The aptly titled 8-bit Book 1981 to 199X (link) is the third and final book of the Golden Years trilogy by excellent indie publisher hiive books. It is thus complimentary to the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64books and, as expected, follows their template, though simultaneously changing and broadening their focus. The 8-bit Book, you see, covers over 200 games released for such diverse machines as the BBC Micro, the Amstrad CPC, the VIC-20, the MSX, the Dragon 32, the Oric-1, my personal favourite Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, the Atari 8-bits, Sinclair’s ZX81, the Apple II and even the Sam Coupe. Not that the Speccyand the C64 are ignored, mind; far from it. It’s just that only games that were missed from the previous books are dealt with. Oh, and don’t expect any consoles in the book. This is all about the glory of the 8-bit micros.

The book is divided into 10 chapters. The first nine each cover one year worth of games, while the last one all those late 90s releases. Interestingly, every chapter starts with a prologue that briefly describes each period, whereas the book begins with an excellent foreword by David Braben of Elite fame.

8 bit book repton page

 

As is the case with the rest of the books of the series, each page of The 8-bit Book covers one game and presents it complete with all the relevant info you might care for, a description of the game and an eclectic selection of pictures covering everything from screenshots, to game boxes, to cartridges and loading screens. As for the accompanying text itself, it’s very well written and higly informative, not only describing the game itself, but also (among other things) providing behind the scenes information, mentionig reviews of the era, sequels and even remakes. I guess that by having a look at the freely available ZX Spectrum Book you’ll have a not-so-rough idea of what to expect.The games covered range from well known classics like 3D Monster Maze, Elite and Miner 2049er, to platform specific hits such as Frak!, Get Dexter and TI Invaders, to less played versions of well known games such as Manic Miner for the Sam Coupe, to brilliant obscurities like Forty Miner and everything in between. What’s more, The 8-bit Book has quite a few articles on games from every conceivable genre, almost equally covering all included formats and even sporting a few oddities that showcase the creativity and imagination of 8-bit developers.

All in all, expect a truly varied read that effortlessly jumps from nostalgia to gaming history and even touches on design philosophy. You can order a copy, find out more and see a preview of The 8-bit Book 1981 to 199X here.

 

Maziacs: The Boardgame

maziacs - the board game

First, there was Mazogs on the Sinclair ZX81. It was a dungeon crawler and it was great. Then, there was Maziacs for the ZX Spectrum. It was a dungeon crawler and it was great. Now, there is Maziacs: The Boardgame. It is a dungeon crawler and it is great. It also is absolutely free, provided of course you have a printer and some dice, and can be played with purely analog means.

The question though is whether Maziacs: The Boardgame, a boardgame based on a rather ancient and definitely simple CRPG, is worth your time, effort and paper. Well, I’m pretty sure it is. The rules are incredibly simple, smart, fun and versatile, and the game can be played both in its standard single-player mode and cooperatively. I’m actually pretty sure it could be run with a Game Master too. As for its aesthetics, simple as they are, they remain true to the original source and evoke a certain retro feel. Definitely worth a try. Download your PDF copies here.

Exploring the Commodore 64: Part 1

Commodore 64

As retro gamers, we, by our very definition, have been playing games a long time. During this time, only the most privileged of us had the luxury of access to most or all of the systems available. Most of us had to make do with just one at a time, and often not even the system of our choice either. I didn’t really know much about home computers when my parents bought me a ZX Spectrum for Christmas but luckily it turned out they had made a good choice.

I soon discovered that some of my friends also owned Spectrums, including one of my best friends, Stu. A couple of my other friends owned Amstrad CPC’s, including my other best mate, Luke. I did not, however, know anyone who owned a Commodore 64 which, looking back, is pretty strange! Not long after becoming a Speccy owner I also somewhat predictably became a Speccy fanboy and began looking upon the C64 as an inferior rival machine, something which the lack of any C64-owning friends made worse. As a result of this, I have to this day not played any C64 games! As you might imagine, as a self-professed retro gamer, this is an entirely unacceptable state of affairs! To this end, I have decided that I must immerse myself in the world of all the computers and consoles I missed the first time around due to having a rival machine, or for some other reason, and I will start with the much-loved Commodore 64.

My original idea was to ask my fellow Retro Gamer Forum members to vote for a single game that they felt best represented the old beige breadbin, and then do a detailed report on that, but I was soon besieged by many suggestions covering a great variety of genres. So, instead I will have a quick play of some of these titles and present my first impressions of both the games themselves, and the system generally, here in this series of features.

The first game I tried (and, historically for me, the first C64 game ever played) is:

Buggy Boy (1987)

Buggy Boy - Commodore 64 - Gameplay Screenshot

This is one I’ve heard about ever since it first came out but never got around to playing on any system. I’ve long heard, however, that the C64 version is the best. So… the best version of a previously unplayed but highly regarded game… Seems like as good a place to start as any! In my experience, into-the-screen racers are rarely enjoyable on older systems so to find that this is an instantly accessible and playable game is all the more pleasing. As most of you will no doubt know, the game involves racing around each of the five courses to a fairly strict time limit. Driving through gates and collecting flags earns you points, whilst hitting any of the many objects that litter each course (such as rock, walls, barriers, etc) costs you valuable time. I’ve really enjoyed playing this highly-regarded classic. The graphics are a bit blocky (one of the things I used to use in my anti-C64 arguments!) but there’s nice use of colours and it’s great fun and very addictive. I’ll definitely be returning to this one at some point. So, we’re off to a good start!

Uridium (1986)

Uridium- Commodore 64 - Gameplay Screenshot

I think I played this very briefly on my Speccy but this represents my first go on it proper. It’s a fairly unique game in that it’s both a horizontal and vertical scrolling shooter! In other words, it’s viewed from above but scrolls horizontally, and it’s a little disorientating to start with. To be honest I found it really tough going – in addition to the odd viewpoint, it seems to be something of a trial and error game with seemingly unassuming ground objects causing death but others not. After quite a bit of practise however, I made some progress, as you can see from the screenshot! Graphically I found it a bit drab and I don’t like the sprite for the ship you control (the ‘Manta’), but the music and sound effects are pretty good. It’s very addictive too – it’s one of those shmups that’s tough but one that you’re determined to do well at. Another good one then, and one I’ll be playing again. Having said that, I can’t imagine I’ll be seeing all fifteen levels any time soon!

Impossible Mission (1984)

Impossible Mission- Commodore 64 - Gameplay Screenshot

I actually had (and still have) this on my good old Master System, so this version is actually a slight step down for me. However, it and its sequel are most famous as C64 games so I thought I’d give this version a go too. Running and jumping around the multi-platformed complex of Professor Elvin Atombender remains as playable and addictive as it ever was and I can see why this version was so popular. Control over your athletic avatar is as precise as you would expect and, after some practise, some pretty lengthy sessions can be enjoyed. However, the problem that I experienced in the MS version is also a problem here – those bloody puzzles! I was never much cop at them and I’m still flummoxed! A timeless classic though, to be sure.

Rescue On Fractalus! (1985)

Rescue On Fractalus- Commodore 64 - Gameplay Screenshot

Whilst I had heard of this game, I really didn’t have a clue what to expect, so after loading it and flying aimlessly around the jagged landscape for a while, I figured I’d better try to find out how to play it. A brief period of research later and I actually made some progress! Apparently the goal is to fly around looking for downed pilots and rescue them. Of course, there’s more to it than that – you have to actually land your craft near the pilots, cut the power, wait until they run over, then let them in before they die in the poisonous atmosphere whilst lots of mountain-top guns try to stop you! I enjoyed getting the hang of this one and was particularly proud of myself when I rescued my first pilot, but I still found it to be a bit aimless – I was flying around for about 10 minutes without finding a pilot at one point. Still, perseverance will no doubt pay dividends and persevere I will.

Enforcer (1992)

Enforcer- Commodore 64 - Gameplay Screenshot
After having this one recommended I was surprised to see how late it was released. I was well into blasting away on my MegaDrive by this point so it’s little wonder I’ve never heard of it. If I had played it during that period though, I’m not sure it would’ve been a huge step down – this is impressive stuff! Clearly taking its inspiration from other classic shmups, notably R-Type, this game really shows what the C64 is capable of. Featuring fast, numerous sprites, both decent in-game music and sound effects (even the Amiga rarely had this!), silky smooth scrolling, and plenty of challenging, addictive shooting action. On first impressions at least, this is the best shmup I’ve played on any 8-bit computer.

So, after playing my first five C64 games, I’m now starting to get a good idea of what the system was like. First impressions are excellent but I’m not finished yet! I’ll play a few more yet before giving my final verdict on the classic micro, so look out for the next five!

Shinobi

Shinobi - Title Screen

Shinobi (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 74,610
Also Available For: Sega Master System, Nintendo NES, PC Engine, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console, Xbox 360 Live Arcade

Ninjas are cool. Everyone knows that, it’s just one of those facts everyone automatically accepts. These masters of stealth have many abilities beyond the use of martial arts and the awesome weapons they employ, not least their magical abilities which include invisibility, teleportation, shapeshifting, command over birds and beasts, and various others. How could they not rule? In the 80’s they became popular in the West thanks largely to their depiction as mysterious yet highly skilled warriors, either good or bad, in various low-budget films such as the classic American Ninja. Inevitably various videogames followed soon after, although on this occasion with good reason – ninjas characters are ideal to build a game around, and there were many superb offerings. One of the earliest and most popular was the intriguingly-named Shinobi.

Shinobi - Gameplay Screenshot 1

Like many of the ninja-based games that appeared, Shinobi (which, incidentally, is another word for ninja) is a platform- based combat/shooting game which takes its basic gameplay cues from Namco’s Rolling Thunder, released the previous year. Taking the starring role here (and indeed in subsequent games in the series) is Joe Musashi, master ninja, who must battle the ‘Zeed’ crime gang over five levels, or missions, to locate and rescue the children of the Oboro clan who were kidnapped by Zeed. Each level is split into several stages (usually three or four) and ends with a boss battle against a leader of the Zeed. Once the children have been saved and the ‘Ring of Five’ (the Zeed bosses) defeated, it’s time for Joe to celebrate!

Shinobi - Gameplay Screenshot 2

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, there are far more enemies to deal with than just the Ring of Five. The stages are set in such locales as city streets, dockyards, warehouses, etc, and each is predictably populated by many lesser-skilled goons too, initially consisting of gun-wielding thugs, baldy-musclemen who fling their scimitars at you, and even a few spider-men (although these are probably just ninjas in coincidentally-coloured outfits). Later on, different kinds of enemies appear such as mercenaries with bazookas and other ninjas wearing highly unstealthy-coloured outfits and they’re all just waiting to chop Joe into sushi! Indeed, contact with the enemies themselves bumps him around a bit and even the merest contact with any of their weapons causes his death and he must return to the beginning of that stage (although all children rescued up to that point will remain rescued).

Shinobi - Gameplay Screenshot 3

Joe has a variety of weapons at his disposal to dispatch these hoodlums. From afar he can fling shurikens, of which he has an unlimited supply, and in close-quarters combat he can punch and kick his foes. There is also a power-up available, obtained from one of the hostage children, which replaces the shurikens with explosive bullets of some sort and also grants Joe a katana blade to save his knuckles from any unnecessary wear and tear. He is also able to unleash ninja magic once per stage which basically acts like a smart bomb, clearing the screen of enemies and damaging bosses. Lastly, there is also a between-stage bonus round where hoardes of ninjas run along platforms and jump closer and closer to you. The object is to take them all out, for which you’ll receive an extra life, but if a ninja makes it close enough (as in the screenshot), you’ve failed.

Shinobi - Gameplay Screenshot 4

Many of the stages throughout the game feature more than one platform level – for example, you can jump from the street up to a rooftop or jump from one side of a tall fence to the other, that kind of thing. It’s a handy feature ‘borrowed’ from the aforementioned Rolling Thunder and improved upon, which not only enables you to gain access to the kidnapped children hidden there, but also allows a handy escape route when you find yourself in a hairy situation. It works well too and adds a lot to an already playable game. Shinobi is also a very nice looking game too. It doesn’t really break new ground or do anything fancy but it’s a nice looking game all the same. The stages are all instantly recognisable and the sprites, though not featuring a great deal on animation, are nicely drawn. Sound effects are pretty minimal but decent enough, although Joe makes a grunting sound every time he jumps which soon irritates. Also accompanying the action are several authentic, Eastern-flavoured tunes which get repeated every few stages. They’re okay but pretty quiet and to be honest I only really noticed them when I thought to listen out for them. Still, perhaps that was intentional, in keeping with Joe’s stealthy exploits.

Shinobi - Gameplay Screenshot 5

To be honest, as is often the case since starting Red Parsley, playing the arcade version of this great game represents my first real experience of it, certainly besides the first couple of stages. I had the Master System version and played it to death, but I didn’t discover the arcade version until later. It’s much tougher and I couldn’t get very far without the assistance that MAME offers! I’m sure I could get much further now I’ve had a chance to practise though, and the game is supremely playable throughout. The difficulty curve is spot-on and the multi-tiered gameplay gives it a nice, fresh feel. Shinobi is still regarded as one of the best ninja-based platform/combat games, and it’s easy to see why. A classic through and through.

RKS Score: 9/10

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

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

180 Darts

[youtube id=”8SRt1IZpwxc” width=”633″ height=”356″]

If you thought about a game based on the beery world of darts before playing one, you might think it’s a rather dull concept that couldn’t possibly make for a fun game. In many cases you may be right, but with 180 you’d be wrong. ~Simon Lethbridge

180 Darts

I suppose there’s only so many ways you can make a game about darts. That’s probably why I’ve not encountered too many of them so far, but one that I did encounter was 180. Written by Ste Pickford and David Whittaker and released by Mastertronic subsidiary, M.A.D, this was a game purchased by my dad as I recall which, given his interest in darts at the time, is hardly surprising! That didn’t stop me from ‘borrowing’ it indefinitely of course and hogging the family Speccy (which was my Speccy really, naturally). Logically, the game follows the standard rules of darts meaning you have to whittle your starting score of 501 down to zero before your opponent does the same over the course of a best-of-three match.

180 Darts - Screenshot 1

There are eight humorously-named computer players in all who you’ll face in a random order with the exception of the final opponent, Jammy Jim. Apart from him, none of them have set skill levels and the difficulty will gradually increase regardless of who you’re facing. It’s also possible to play against a human opponent or ‘tune up’ which is basically a ’round the clock’ training mode to get you used to the controls. It’s a good idea too as the disembodied hand you use to throw your darts is constantly moving and can only be moved in the four diagonal directions. The computer AI is pretty fair here too, I’m pleased to say. Your first opponent will frequently make mistakes and subsequent opponents will too, though gradually less so until Jammy Jim who doesn’t put a finger wrong of course!

180 Darts - Screenshot 2

If you thought about a game based on the beery world of darts before playing one, you might think it’s a rather dull concept that couldn’t possibly make for a fun game. In many cases you may be right, but with 180 you’d be wrong. True, the graphics are average at best and the sound pretty much non-existent but you wouldn’t really expect wonders from a budget game. Besides, it doesn’t really matter with a game like this. You might think you’d only play 180 against friends but you’ll be surprised at how enjoyable the single-player game is too. The controls are reliable once you get used to them and you’ll soon find yourself addicted! This is definitely a budget game, it’s too limited to be a full-price release. Having said that, it’s definitely a lot more fun to play than some full-price games, but regardless, it was and should’ve been a budget game but it’s a damn good one.

RKS Score: 8/10

Martyn Brown: Team 17 Software

Team 17 logo
Team 17 logo

Name: Martyn Brown

Company: Team17 Software Ltd.

Profession: Everything over the years, currently heading up business development at Team17.

Favorite Classic Game: Football Manager (ZX Spectrum, circa 1983)

Quote: “I openly admit hiding behind the sofa, not able to look, when I guided the mighty Lincoln City to Wembley.”

Bio: I co-founded Team17 in 1990 and have been here for 20yrs. Recent releases in 2010 for Team17 have been Worms Reloaded on Steam for PC,  Alien Breed: Impact on Steam and PlayStation Network for PS3, Alien Breed 2: Assault on XBLA and Steam, Worms 2: Armageddon on PlayStation Network for PS3 and also on iPhone and iPad. Forthcoming releases include Alien Breed 2: Assault on PSN, Alien Breed 3: Descent for XBLA, Steam and PSN and also Worms: Battle Islands for PSP from PlayStation Network as well.

Frank Campbell: First Planet Company

Planet First Company logo

Name: Frank Campbell

Company: First Planet Company

Profession: Marketing Director

Favorite Classic Game: Jetpac

Quote: I played Jetpac on my very first PC, the ZX Spectrum. Suddenly I wasn’t restricted by how long my pocket money would last in an arcade. I could assemble rockets and fight off aliens as much as I liked from the comfort of my own bedroom. The rubber keys, cassette loading and quaint 16k system requirements were all part of the charm, and every release from Ultimate Play The Game couldn’t come fast enough.

Planet Calypso Info

Planet Calypso logo
Planet Calypso logo

Planet Calypso is a sci-fi MMO.

Players hunt wild creatures, mine resources, craft and trade items as they expand their human colony on a distant alien world. Features include over 1600 square kilometers of land to explore, more than 200 avatar skills, PvP combat, missions, vehicles, a global auction and lots more.

Planet Calypso has no subscription fees. The PED currency used on Calypso has a fixed exchange rate of 10:1 with the US Dollar, allowing players to deposit and withdraw real money during their adventures on Calypso. Planet Calypso is a free download available at www.planetcalypso.com

Rick Dangerous & Rick Dangerous 2

Rickdangerousbox

No time for love, Dr. Jones…” Well, in here there’s always plenty time for passionate and long lasting love, classic video game love that is!

Rick Dangerous – Amiga title screen Rick Dangerous II – Amiga title screen

Anyway, when there’s no Dr. Jones somebody has to step in and take his place and be that smart heroic persona that saves the day, in style. This is exactly where Dr. Dangerous comes in… Well, I’m not sure he’s a doctor but with that kind of surname he bloody sure should be!

Rick Dangerous – Level 1 – Amstrad CPC – Running away from a falling boulder, Indy style…

I realized I cannot review Rick Dangerous without taking a look at Rick Dangerous II – as these games are like Star Wars – sure, you can watch one and have fun but until you’ve seen them all you know nothing of the dark side… Or until you’ll push some LSD with magic mushrooms and few nicely rolled fat spliffs, but that’s just sliding a bit to much of topic here… ^__^

Rick Dangerous – Level 3 – C64

Games of the dark side (I should trade mark that statement!) that Rick Dangerous 1 & 2 surely are, were developed by Core Design and Published by Microplay in 1989 & 1990 respectively, on most major systems of the time – Amiga, PC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum & Amstrad CPC. And even though these computers all had different capabilities and limitations the game plays equally awesome on all of them and only benefits from slightly higher resolution and bigger sprites in better colors on more advanced ones.

Rick Dangerous II – Level 3 – Atari ST

The adventures take place in undisclosed early years of the 20th Century where you’re in control of British chap going by the name of Bond, James Bond. I’m sorry, I must have been stuck on the game’s similarities to a certain movie series – of course you play as somebody else… Jones, Indiana Jones. Ehm… I mean… Dangerous, Rick Dangerous! That’s more like it! Anyway, the similarities of Rick and Indy are many and they’re more than obvious – both Rick & Indy are adventurers seeking forgotten treasures and fighting bad guys for a living, and also they both sport hats & brown leather jackets, so popular in the early 1900’s. Now, that’s enough to become an heroic icon in my books!

Rick Dangerous – Level 2 – ZX Spectrum

As Rick, in both games, you’re bound to go through hundreds of screens – most of time each being a separate part of a bigger level – of blood, sweat and tons of swearing. Rick Dangerous with its hellish unforgiving laugh-in-a-player’s-face difficulty makes other tough games look like a kindergarten toys. In fact there were times when I thought that the game was punishing me just for playing it! Not many games have that kind of, ehm… …incentive to them, but that said it actually works quite well as inspite of being hard as my auntie’s cookies are – Rick holds tons of “just one more screen and I’ll go to bed” gameplay to it.

Rick Dangerous II – Level 2 – PC DOS – PC outing of RDII could work in two different graphic modes – CGA and VGA, with pallettes of 16 and 256 colors respectively, even though the game never really used all 256 colors.

Each level consists of numerous places and ways that your character can part with his life, and for that matter – he will! Constantly, time after time, playthrough after playthrough! Rick Dangerous is one of those games that back in the days of its release caused joystick manufacturers to see huge increase in profits. Not that there were so many users playing it and wearing controllers out but if others reacted to the game similar to how I did – their joysticks also ended up in pieces thrown at the wall. All of them, one after another, in one sitting… Yeah, I know, that was pretty stupid & lame… But so was I.

Rick Dangerous – Level 4 – PC DOS – CGA mode…

You are not helpless however – you have your wits, charm, adventurers 6th sense and also if the earlier ones are not enough – a gun & some explosives to help you go through each area. Both, bullets and explosives are limited though, so you’ll find yourself often stuck between an easy way to complete a difficult task or an unknown that may end up fatal because of you not having any means of defense. The sooner you’ll learn how to properly utilise and save these tools of the adventurers trade the sooner the game will grow on you as you’ll be able to complete a stage without dying in same spot more times than you have fingers… And toes… Put together.

Rick Dangerous II – Level 4 – C64 – Commodore most definitely sported the best looking and most playable out of the all 8bit outings…

I realize that these two games are tough as a year-old doughnut and tend to bring tons of frustration where its not necessary, but maybe it’s because they hold a serious challenge? And challenge is what’s pushes me more and more until I beat the basta… I mean game, until I beat the game! I don’t know the exact reason, but even though Rick Dangerous is as difficult as passing a whale on a toliet – through tears of anger and pain – it will no doubt grow on anyone who’ll spend time learning it’s gameplay mechanics & all the quirks. It’s not a game for everyone as on times it feels as if the Developers took pleasure in laying out incredibly tough obstacles just to see the player fail numerous times but it is a game for everyone to try and see if they’re up to the challenge.

Rick Dangerous II – PC DOS – Rick’s first experiences with ACID… He never listend in school when kids were tought just to say “No”…

Quick Note: I don’t know of any places that the game could be purchased other than eBay but if you just wanna give it a quick whirl, see how it plays, you can always find it either on Abandonia for PC or Planet Emulation for all other platforms, as Rick Dangerous is now considered abandonware. Also below you’ll find intros for both titles – they’re not much but they’re there nonetheless.

Ghouls N Ghosts

Ghouls N Ghosts splash screen
Ghouls N Ghosts splash screen

Ah, the game that made me break one of my many Sega Genesis’s. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was released to the arcades in the spring of 1988. Maybe by Capcom, it was the popular sequel to the 1985 arcade smash Ghosts ‘n Goblins.

In Ghouls ‘n Ghosts the heroic knight Arthur must once again faceoff against the demonic hordes of Loki. After an attack on his kingdom Arthur’s lover, the lovely Princess Prin Prin, is killed along with many innocent civilians. To avenge the death of his love and restore her soul and the souls of the others Arthur will have to take down the big man Loki himself.

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts plays pretty much like Ghosts ‘n Goblins it is a platform run and gun type of gameplay meaning you have to always be on your toes firing away at the enemy and  avoiding traps and pitfalls. Luckily this time around Arthur can fire upwards and while jumping fire downwards which is a must in this game. In addition Arthur has an array of weapons at his disposal including a mega axe, a golden sword and even golden power armor.

Ghouls N Ghosts screenshot
Ghouls N Ghosts screenshot

When Arthur jumps in certain spots on the map a treasure chest will pop out of the ground. If Arthur destroys the chest he can find two things. First is an evil magician who turns him into a duck. As the duckyou are pretty much undead chow because you have no armor or weapons. The best thing to do is avoid any enemies until the effect wears off.

The second thing that can appear from the chest is Arthur’s golden armor. The golden armor allows any weapon Arthur currently has to gain a charged power up move that unleashes a special attack. Sadly, the golden armor works just like the normal silver armor where as if Arthur is hit it will break apart leaving him pretty much naked.

Once you work your way through five levels you discover you need a special weapon in order to defeat Loki. This restarts the game and you must fight your way through the same five levels and back to Loki’s chamber.

The game is extremely fun to play, but it can be very unforgiving at first, but once you learn your jumps, attacks and timing you can make it through the game without too much trouble. I can say this now, but when I first played it I had an awfully hard time and ended up punching my poor Genesis to death.

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts had some great music composed by Tamayo Kawamoto. The bosses were well designed along with the levels making sure your twitch level was high. In addition to great arcade success GnG was ported to several systems including the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, CP System, Commodore 64, X68000, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, SuperGrafx, Sega Master System, Mega Drive/Genesis, Virtual Console, ZX Spectrum.

Micro Men movie review

Micro Men movie
Micro Men movie

Micro Men movie review

Micro Men is a movie about two rival men and their companies, taking place between about 1978 to 1985 (in the course of the film). The two main characters are Clive Sinclair, played by Alexander Armstrong, and Chris Curry, played by Martin Freeman, which I recognized from the UK version of The Office and the latest movie version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The movie starts out with Sinclair running his electronics company, for which whom he lost a controlling interest in (the British Government bought into in). His company is researching and building different products which are having problems with design flaws and quality control and the government is tightening up the finances of the companies, making it harder for him to operate it according to his vision.

One of his top engineers is Chris Curry, which is like a close friend of his at the beginning. Curry convinces Sinclair that they should start manufacturing personal computer kits because it would encourage enthusiasts and hobbyists, as well as electronics buffs to start learning more electronics, the inner workings of computers, as well as learning to program computers. Basically, Curry tries to offer him some feedback, Sinclair gets very mad at him, and Curry quits to go make his own computer company, Acorn Computers with his Austrian friend (as shown in the movie). Sinclair’s company gets shut down, he sells some assets, and starts up a straight up computer company, Sinclair Research Ltd.

The movie chronicles the war that happens between the companies and other companies as well as the rivalry between the heads of Sinclair and Acorn, in England during the early days of what we now define as a personal computer.

The trailer for the movie is the following:

I recommend watching this movie if you are interested in retro computing, everything 8-bit, computer history, computer businesses, business rivalries, emerging and collapsing markets, business strategies as applied in the real world, business development, and so on. Chances are, if you are reading my site, you will enjoy this kind of film. It reminded me at parts of Pirates of Silicon Valley.

The movie shows what happens when two similar companies take different strategies as how to attack an emerging market. Initially, pretty much Sinclair was selling lower end, cheap computers, and Acorn selling a more high end, faster and more powerful but more expensive machine. We have seen these kind of approaches happen many times in the technology fields. The movie shows the battle of the BBC Micro (Acorn) vs ZX Spectrum (Sinclair), as well as their older and later systems. On that topic, you can even compare within the US the market of the Commodore Amiga vs the Apple Macintosh (during the 80s), two similar machines. Not saying that the Amiga was inferior (I prefer it in fact and was my first 16-bit computer) but it was certainly much more inexpensive.

You can view clips of the movie here.

You can view the first part of the movie here on youtube:

You can watch the whole movie on youtube actually if you follow this link and scroll down.

The movie has a very good 80s feel, especially with some of the music they picked for it.

The movie shows the rise of video games, the flooding of the computer market, the rise and fall of that market.

I don’t want to describe the entire movie in detail because I would rather have you watch it and interpret it for yourself. Parts of the movie have been exaggerated simply for entertainment value. The movie is done in good taste and even has a couple of comical parts.

Overall, Micro Men paints a great picture of those days and reminds me as well a lot of stories similar to the ones found in the book Hackers by Steven Levy (my favorite book about the early computing days).

Don’t waste a minute and go watch it! Leave your comments below, on the Obsolete Gamer forums, or on our social sites. Enjoy!