Wednesday 29 February 2012

Skyhawk - Commodore VIC-20 - 1983

Skyhawk is decent shoot ‘em up for the VIC-20.  If it looks familiar it was because it was written by Steve Lee who programmed Falcon Patrol for the Commodore 64.  The display is similar to Defender in that you view a portion of a long, scrolling wraparound play area and have a radar image showing the positions of the enemy and your bases.  You fly a vertical take off/landing aircraft and your aim is to shoot down as many enemy aircraft as you can before your bases are destroyed.  The enemy planes fly in two at a time and seemingly drop bombs at random. You only have a finite amount of fuel and missiles available but these can be replenished by landing at one of your bases. The enemies can be shot down from behind or head-on.  It is very satisfying destroying them head-on and flying through their explosion.

The game has colourful graphics, fast scrolling and decent sound effects.  It also features inertia so you can’t just stop quickly to turn around or land.  Not a bad game for the humble VIC.

You can land at these bases to replenish fuel and missiles...

...if they're not destroyed first.

Although fictional, the houses could easily have been plucked from the Falkland Islands.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Miner 2049er - Commodore 64 - 1983

An early platform game and apparently an inspiration for Manic Miner, Miner 2049er takes place over 10 levels set in Nuclear Ned’s abandoned uranium mine.  The plot involves your character, mounty Bounty Bob, searching the mine for a murderer called Yukon Yohan (they love these double initial names).  To progress through the game you need to ‘claim’ each platform on each screen by walking over it, thus making it a solid colour.  Once you have walked over all the platforms on the screen you progress to the next level.  There are creatures roaming around the platforms which kill on contact and various items to collect.  You can pick up the items for bonus points and once collected they cause the creatures on the screen to smile for a short time.  While they are smiling they can also be picked up for further points.  As well as losing a life by touching the creatures, lives can be lost by falling too far or running out of time – the time limit can be quite strict on some of the levels.

Definitely a playable, sometimes frustrating game that has stood the test of time although as with most games of this era you need to look behind the basic graphics and sound.

The final level.....or is it?

Just a quick word about something that really, really irritates me with games like this and with this game in particular. Well, not so much the game itself but the plot that was written for it.  In the instructions you are given a back story and a goal.  You get through the 10 levels to complete the goal and what happens?  Do you get a congratulations screen? A short animation? Bonus points?  No, you get unceremoniously dumped back at the first level again.  What happened to Yukon Yohan?   What’s the point of going to the trouble of writing a plot for a game and how to complete it if it’s never ending and can’t ever be finished?  I was seriously pissed off when I ran over the last piece of platform on the final level and expected something to happen.  Grrrrr.

The whole game......

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Mined-Out - Sinclair Spectrum - 1983

Mined-out is a neat puzzle game in which you have to cross various minefields on order to, according to the instructions, rescue Bill the Worm!?! 

You (whatever ‘you’ are) start at the bottom of the screen and have to work your way up to a break in the fence at the top.  The game is a little reminiscent of Minesweeper in that it tells you the number of mines that are above, below and either side of your character at any one point.  It doesn’t keep the number flagged up so making it slightly trickier. There is safe zone at the very top and bottom of the screen where there are no mines but these are the only guaranteed safe places there are.  You can also gain extra points for rescuing some weird looking ‘damsels’ on the way.

Although the graphics and sound are crude (it was written in BASIC after all) Mined-out is a good game and almost as addictive as Minesweeper itself.

Seriously, who really cares about a worm?

Oh dear, I muffed it

Sunday 19 February 2012

Manic Miner - Sinclair Spectrum - 1983

Manic Miner is an early, fun platform game notable for its ‘wacky’ humour.  The object of the game is to make your way though 20 caverns.  In each cavern you have to collect all the flashing ‘keys’ then make your way to the exit before the gradually diminishing air supply runs out.  You lose a life if you touch any of the ‘enemy’ sprites, fall too far or if your air supply becomes exhausted.  There are also collapsing platforms and moving ‘conveyer belt’ platforms to make your life difficult.  The ‘enemy’ sprites move along predetermined paths and feature among other things penguins, amoebas, burning barrels and toilets(!).

The game has simple controls, just left/right/jump, and starts off easy enough.  The learning curve gradually gets steeper culminating in the Solar Power Generator room which I found particularly tough being under pressure from both the time limit and the pixel perfect timing for the jumps to head towards the exit. 

The sound is quite good and with a tune playing throughout and decent sound effects.  The graphics are also pretty good with the platforms being placed so that attribute clash isn’t much of a problem. A very good game and one of the best platformers on the Spectrum.

There is also a 'Kong Beast' in later screens
This screen was surprisingly easy
The whole game

Thursday 16 February 2012

Jetpac - Commodore VIC-20 & Sinclair Spectrum - 1983

Lunar Jetman went on to star in a long running comic strip in Spectrum magazine, Crash!

Another one on the list from Ultimate Play The Game and their very first release. 

Jetpac is a single screen shoot ‘em up. It is a game I first had on the VIC-20 and by the time I got the Spectrum I had other games to play so didn't bother with it.

Your task on the first level is to assemble and then fuel a rocket.  There are a couple of pieces of the rocket on the platforms.  You can move over these to pick them up and they automatically drop onto the base of the rocket.  Fuel then drops onto the screen to be picked up and also dropped onto the rocket. When the rocket is fuelled up you can enter it to blast off to the next screen where you only need to pick up the fuel. Every fifth level you have to assemble and fuel a new rocket. Various alien enemies appear from the side of the screen and be blasted with a nice Defender style laser.  Each type of alien has its own movement pattern that differs from level to level.  Bonus objects such as gems and gold fall from the top of the screen and can be picked up for extra points.

I doubt I would have selected Jetpac for my list if it wasn’t for the VIC-20 version. There are plenty of better games on the Spectrum but not so many on the VIC. But which version is best?  With Ultimate developing the game you would think the Spectrum version would be better, but I prefer Jetpac on the older machine. The speed has been turned up a notch on the VIC which along with a smaller play area (due to the lower resolution) makes for some frantic gameplay.  Additionally the sound effects blow the rather weedy Spectrum efforts out of the water. 

The Spectrum version has much better graphics...
...but I prefer the faster pace of the VIC version

Monday 13 February 2012

Atic Atac - Sinclair Spectrum - 1983

Atic Atac is the first game on my list from Ultimate Play The Game, one of the foremost developers for the Sinclair Spectrum.  They subsequently sold the name and are now known as Rare.

In Atic Atac you start as one of three characters who has been trapped inside a haunted castle.  You can only escape through the front door by finding three parts of the ACG key.  Pieces of the key are placed over the five level castle that is inhabited by ghostly beings which must be avoided or shot.  There are other enemies that appear which can only be destroyed or repelled by certain items scattered around the castle.  For example, Frankenstein’s monster can be killed if you are carrying a spanner.  Contact with enemies diminishes your ‘health’ which is represented by a roast chicken on the right hand side of the screen.  When you run out of ‘health’ you lose a life, but it can be replenished by picking up food.  If that wasn’t enough there is also a time limit.

The rooms on each level of the castle look very similar so a map is essential.  Most of the doors are unlocked and both these and the trap doors open and close on their own so you can get trapped in a room. There are also locked doors that come in four colours and can only be unlocked with the appropriate coloured key.  You only have three slots to carry objects and keys; additionally each part of the ACG key takes up a slot.  The view is a weird mix of side-on and top-down which doesn’t quite sit right with me.

I didn’t play Atic Atac much back in the day – I couldn’t really get into it then and did not have the patience to map it.  Mapping is vital to complete this game due to the similarity of the rooms making it almost impossible to memorise.  Once mapped the game is very easy and can be completed in minutes.  It’s still a good game though with fast, smooth animation and decent enough spot effects.

The graphics are fast and smooth but the view is a bit strange

Here are some maps I made that may come in useful

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Goodbye 1982. Hello 1983

Hello Commodore 64 – Released in the UK in early 1983.  And so ensued many a playground argument over whether the C64 or the Spectrum had the best games.  These arguments are still rumbling on today in some quarters.

Hello Nintendo Famicom – Released in Japan in July.  Would later take over the world as the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Hello MSX – Released this year and was ‘an attempt to create unified standards among hardware makers’. Zzzzz...

Games I have never played and am looking forward to are…

Forbidden Forest*

*[Later edit] Unfortunately I didn't really get into these games so they didn't make it on the list.

Sunday 5 February 2012

River Raid - Atari 2600 (1982) & Atari 5200 (1983)

Back in my early teens I used to spend a lot of time drooling over a certain section in my mum’s Littlewoods catalogue. Sometimes I would to flick through towards the back, scan through the games and dream of owning an Atari VCS, ColecoVison or Vectrex.  Of the games that were shown River Raid stood out and I have always wanted to play it.  It has taken 30 years but now I finally have due to the wonderful world of emulators.

I am a sucker for a good scrolling shoot ‘em up and this is definitely one of them.  As expected, it has a rather simple scoring system and there are no power-ups to collect.  The game play involves navigating a jet fighter down a never ending river canyon shooting enemy planes, helicopters, boats etc.  There is also the occasional bridge that must be destroyed.  The only tactical decision to make is whether to shoot fuel silos for bonus points or to fly over them to replenish your constantly diminishing fuel.

The best versions are for the Atari 2600/VCS (released 1982) and Atari 5200 (released 1983). Although the 2600 has weaker graphics, both play the same and have practically the same sound. Overall a very solid vertically scrolling shoot 'em up.

Just to add that I did play the Commodore 64 version but the controls didn’t feel as tight as the Atari duo.

The sound and gameplay on both systems is virtually identical.....
.....although the 5200 benefits from better graphics

Thursday 2 February 2012

Goodbye 1981. Hello 1982

Hello BBC Model A/B – an educational computer released in late 1981/early 1982. Bought by parents for their kids to do their homework on.  Yeah right.

Hello Sinclair ZX Spectrum – the little black box with the dead flesh keyboard was released in April in the UK. 

Hello Commodore 64 – the beige breadbin was released in August in the USA.

Hello Atari 5200 – supposed replacement for the Atari 2600.  Released in North America in November and came with the world’s most unergonomic controllers.

Hello hormones – I became a teenager in June.

I had hoped to use this page to name some of the 1982 releases I was looking forward to playing but there was only one….

And that’s coming up next….