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Friday, 19 June 2009

Joust - Atari ST

Without a doubt one of the most genuinely insane games ever, this game (I remember getting it as a public domain release, not sure if it was ever commercial?) has you on a giant bird jousting other knights on giant birds; you have to jump on them from above to knock them out of the game. Various other bits and bobs help or hinder you.

Certainly Joust wasn't an amazing technical accomplishment, and it didn't begin to make use of the 16-bit machine's graphical or audio capabilities. (Despite that much-maligned Yamaha sound chip, in the right hands it could actually produce some good stuff). However the game was fun - and still is. And let's face it - who hasn't at one time wanted to grab a lance and fly around on a giant bird?

Daley Thompson's Decathlon - ZX Spectrum

Remember the old multi-event joystick-mashing sports games? Daley Thompson's Decathlon is one of those, not a particularly good one perhaps but it had good controls and, for the Speccy, relatively decent graphics. Not one to search out really, but a good bit of nostalgia all the same.

The screenshots portray the long jump, while flying through the air (yes I know he looks like he's sitting down but believe me, he's flying through the air), and after landing.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Altered Beast - Atari ST

Or, to put it another way... when arcade conversions go wrong.

I remember the original coin-op fondly, and indeed the Sega Megadrive version was pretty good too - at least if my memory can be relied upon to any extent. This sort of game was where the consoles really won against the home computers (though the most famous example has to be the SNES port of Street Fighter 2) - the ST was just never designed to through huge sprites around the screen and have smooth horizontal scrolling. The ST version of Altered Beast looked chunky, the scrolling was terribly jerky, the game played in slow motion and it sounded terrible.

If this game had been remade for the STE and made full use of the BLITTer, hardware scrolling and DMA sound, it could have been great. As it is... this is one retro game to avoid - or at least, avoid the Atari ST version!

Formula 1 Simulator - Commodore 16

I remember playing this one for hours when I was very young, but it's a game that really hasn't aged well at all. An extremely simple racing game, the impression of speed is created solely by a series of white posts passing you as you progress through the course.

The background graphics on the horizon aren't bad and the controls are okay, but this is definitely a case of playing something to see just how far games have progressed rather than for real enjoyment. Even the nostalgia factor didn't really kick in when I played Formula 1 Simulator.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Blockbusters - Commodore 16

I used to love the TV game show "Blockbusters" when I was young, and I had the board game version as well as the C16 rendition. Playing it again yesterday, I was showed at just how good a quiz game it was.

Sure, it looks primitive and the sound is... well, let's just not mention the sound. However, the basic game plays very well - the control and shift keys serve as your "buzzers", when you buss you have to type in your answer and - get this - if you're close but spelled it wrongly, it will actually tell you that you're close. I know, that's not really amazing, but I don't remember having that level of sophistication in games back then.

Anyway, get it right and you choose the next letter, Bob. Sharp observers will have noticed that instead of the blue team having 6 hexagons across there are only four, the same as for the white team playing top to bottom - naturally this evens things up when you're playing one against one. Which is what you'll be doing at least 99% of the time, I expect.

Seriously, I don't remember good quiz games back on the 8-bit computers... clearly my memory needs refreshing.

Poke $144F, 255...

Enduro Racer - ZX Spectrum

Enduro Racer is a game that I remember from the arcades and the Atari ST, but not so much on the Spectrum. Playing it again on the ZX Spin emulator, I was surprised at just how well it plays.

As you can see from the screenshot, the designers went for a minimalistic colour palette that results in a clash-free display that looks reasonably good (pretty similar to the graphics for the Speccy version of Outrun if I remember rightly). The game itself is challenging but very playable, with quite detailed animation and good controls.

It occurred to me while playing some of these emulated games that we tend to associate slower processors with slower games, but of course this isn't the case at all. In fact the older games were often faster because they didn't rely on flashy graphics as much as modern games do.

Anyone else get the feeling that progress doesn't always take us in the right direction?!?

Monday, 15 June 2009

Timeslip - Commodore 16

Timeslip was really quite a complicated game for its time, with three separate time zones for you to play in, swapping between them to complete an overall mission. Controlling aircraft, man with jetpack or submarine, you had to clear the area, collect fuel and time capsules to earn more mission time (which you lost when you died), it was an incredibly ambitious game. It was also one of the most mind-numbingly difficult games I've ever played on any system - try as I might, I never did complete it!

Monkey Magic - Commodore 16

Wow, this takes me back... I can't remember either the TV series or the game very much, but way back when I was a big fan. Monkey Magic is basically a sideways-scrolling Galaxian - fly your magic carpet and zap giant insects (I think?!) as you go.

Very simple and rather unforgiving, but still surprisingly playable after all these years - and the mountains in the backdrop don't look bad for such an old game!

Yes, I have discovered a Commodore 16 emulator - "Yape", now linked to in the "Emulators I Use" list on the left of the blog. It emulates a range of 8-bit Commodore computers, but as I remember the C16, that's what I'll mostly be using if for.
(NB I used YAPE 0.72 for the screenshot, but have discovered more recent versions, including one written especially for Vista 64-bit. Will let you know later how well it works.)

Player Manager - Atari ST

Ah, how I loved this game... Dino Dini was a genius, and Anco survived on the revenue from Kick off titles for years. Though this was painfully easy after a while (though playing it on the keyboard really adds to the challenge!!), Player Manager was an almost perfect blend of footie game and footie management game.

If you like me are a huge fan of the original game (whether that be a huge fan or a fan and huge through playing the game instead of exercising, either way works), some great news - the 3 times world Kick Off 2 champion and creator of the amazing Kick Off remake called Throw-In is working on a Player Manager remake!

Will keep you updated, news on this project has dried up in recent months but there are assurances that it is still alive...

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Supercars - Atari ST

Another driving game that plays better than it looks is Supercars, brought to us years ago by Gremlin Graphics. I remember years ago arguing with an Amiga-owning friend about the music, and I actually defended the ST's music. Oh well, wisdom makes one wiser, and at least I haven't commited the unforgivable sin that my wife did - she actually went so far as to defend Pierce Brosnan's singing in the film Mamma Mia! I ask you...

Er, anyway, back to this game. It looks average (that's being extremely kind) and the sound effects & music remind you just why the ST's Yamaha sound chip had so few fans... or at least, when it wasn't used properly... which accounted for most pre-nineties game developers. The gameplay was good though, if rather too easy... it was a lot of fun, and insulting the salesman was a nice stress reliever. Supercars 2 did improve the graphics significantly, can't remember if it sounded any better... will have to remind myself I guess!

Gran Turismo - Playstation 1

What do you say about the granddaddy of the modern career-based racing game and the highest-selling PS1 game of all time? (10.85 million units I think it was.)

Well... I say that it hasn't aged particularly well.

Fair enough, you still get a decent game in there and though the graphics look very old, the impression of speed as you whizz around the tracks is very good. I started out really enjoying it but quickly found it very repetitive. I think that my patience level with games is less than when I was younger, so that might be part of it, but the game soon lost its appeal.

One of the other games I got when I purchased a Playstation 1 plus controllers plus memory cards plus 9 games (all that for a fiver!) was Gran Tourismo 2... I wonder if that's aged any better? Will let you know soon...

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Jumping Jackson - Atari ST

One of my friends from Yorkshire has always said that this is her the all-time favourite game, and it's easy to see why she likes it so much. It's basically a puzzle game, where you have to jump on tiles to make them change colour, get all of them to be the same colour so that a record shows up, and then collect that record and put it on the appropriate record player. The level design, jump points, and musical instruments that beat you up (!) if you come into contact with them make it a challenging game after just a few levels. There are also challenge levels to gain passwords... if you can complete the challenge of course.

Jumping Jackson is one of those relatively rare games for the time that require quick reflexes, quick thinking and long-term strategy in fairly equal measure. Fair play to the ST designers, it sounds pretty good for a pre-STE game and though the soundtrack isn't as funky as the Amiga version, it holds its own. Overall this is a very good game for anyone who likes action games that require a bit of brain power (or strategy games that require some quick reflexes at times!).

Paperboy - ZX Spectrum

I really loved this game back in my childhood, and it still plays well. Oddly enough I've got Paperboy on my Atari ST emulator as well, but that is much, much harder,

In Paperboy you score points by delivering papers, and also by breaking windows of non-subscribers, defacing graves (you fiend!), taking the lid off bins... anything that you can throw your trusty papers at, basically. There seem to be a lot of graves around... not sure why that's the case, maybe that's not what they're meant to be?!?

Anyway, you have to try to keep your subscribers happy or you'll lose them. Lose all your subscirbers and it's the end of the game. You can get lost subscribers back if you make a perfect delivery though. You also need to avoid dogs, cars and other obstacles or you'll lose a life - lose all your lives and it is, naturally, game over.

At the end of a hard day's work delivering papers, what do paperboys like to do? Erm... take part in an obstacle course, apparently! That's what happens in this game, anyway.

Paperboy is a classic and fairly iconic game even though it was something of a one-off - it has rarely been remade and scarcely ever cloned. I would recommend the Speccy version over all others (even the original arcade version), though that's partly because it's the first version I ever played.

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, don't you think?!?

Speedball 2 - Atari ST

The first Speedball game was pretty good, but the sequel was pure genius. The Bitmap Brothers, as far as I remember, never actually released a bad game; in terms of futuristic sports games, there has never been anything to touch Speedball 2. It killed a good few Quickshot 2 joysticks in my house though...

Playing it under emulation is still superb, though I'm having to use the keyboard instead of a joystick. Super Nashwan and Fatal Justice still manage to beat me - back in the old days I'd beat every team without breaking sweat!

Feud - ZX Spectrum

The debut release of Mastertronic's "Bulldog" label, Feud has a huge fanbase because it's a timeless game. Basically you play a wizard who's battling his brother; you have to collect herbs, mix them in your cauldron, find your brother and blast him with your spells. Naturally your brother is not idle but aiming to do the same to you, and the computer AI isn't too shabby. It's a challenging game, and for a Speccy game it looks pretty good - large sprites and colourful backgrounds. Unfortunately I haven't found a way of getting the 2-plyer to work just yet - my sister and I used to love trying to kill each other.

Er... is that a good thing?!?!

See also Crash magazine's review of Feud.