Wednesday 30 May 2012

Underwurlde - Sinclair Spectrum - 1984

First guardian, wrong weapon

Underwurlde was the second of three Sabreman games released by Ultimate Play The Game during 1984 and the only one I have not played before.  It is the follow up to Sabre Wulf and was released at the same time as Knight Lore.  After escaping the jungle, the unlucky Sabreman has been trapped in the ‘Underwurlde’ and must make his way through a castle and caverns to one of three exits (one for each of the planned sequels).  To reach the exits you have to defeat three guardians, requiring you to collect a particular weapon to pass each one.  Underwurlde boasts nearly 600 screens of side on, flip screen platforming set in the castle and the caverns beneath.

This time out Sabreman can athletically leap about the play area and cannot be killed by touching the enemy creatures.  He can however lose a life by falling too far into one of the deep caverns.  When the enemies touch Sabreman he is bounced around the screen.  Due to the abundance of enemies and the narrowness of the platforms and ledges this can make the game frustrating as it is all too easy to die. You are armed but can only shoot left or right and the enemies come at you from all around.  Aside from using platforms you can descend into the caverns by using ropes and ascend by standing on bubbles that rise from the floor.  Again, it is all too easy be touched by a creature and sent plummeting into the cavern floor.  Another annoying feature is that you jump automatically when reaching the edge of a platform; this and the touch of the enemy creatures give the game a slightly ‘out of control’ feel.

The graphics are up to the usual Ultimate standards with colourful, smooth and fast moving sprites. The sound effects are also decent enough for the Spectrum.  Underwurlde is both fun and infuriating at the same time.  I was in two minds about whether to include the game on the list due to the annoyances, but the quality of the game (just) won me over in the end.

Using a rope is the safest way to descend into the caverns.
Eagles can pick you up and try to drop you from a great height.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Tank Commander - Commodore VIC-20 - 1984

Tank Commander from 1984 is the fifth and final game on my list for the Commodore VIC-20.  I can’t quite remember why I bought it as I had a Spectrum by this time. I think I got it because the description reminded me of a board game I had called Tank Battle.  Again, there were vastly superior games around at this point for other computers but this is one of the better VIC titles.

The board game Tank Battle - well, it has a fuel dump, command centre, tanks and mines

Tank Commander is played out over a large semi-randomly generated play area.  The scrolling terrain consists of various elements such as mountains, rivers, trees and a road. In the game you control a tank and have to travel into enemy territory to destroy an oil depot, an (I think) communications station and a command bunker before moving to the next level.  The command bunker can only be destroyed from below.

Out to stop you are enemy tanks, mines and the occasional aircraft.  Enemy tanks are either black or white.  The black tanks will hunt you down while the white tanks are static and are normally placed next to bridges.  Mines are scattered around and are easy to avoid as are the bombs dropped by the aircraft.  Once past the tanks, the enemy installations are easily destroyed.

The graphics are pretty good for the VIC and the sound consists a constantly rumbling engine noise and some simple spot effects.  As I said this is neither the best game for the time nor indeed for the VIC-20 but I have a soft spot for it so it gets on the list.

Planes are quite easy to evade.

Sunday 20 May 2012

T.L.L. - Sinclair Spectrum - 1984

TLL or Tornado Low Level to give the full title is an arcade game for the Sinclair Spectrum released in 1984.  In the game you control a Tornado bomber and have to destroy targets laid out over a scrolling wraparound play area.  There are five targets which are shown on a map at the start of each mission.  You ‘hit’ targets be flying over them at (surprise, surprise) low level – you don’t need to press any key to hit the targets it is done automatically.

The landscape is displayed in a skewed top down view which gives a 3D effect.  As I said the play area is wraparound which makes it seem larger than it actually is.  This makes the targets easy to find on your radar, and some which appear far away on the map can actually be quite close.  As you have to fly at low level the difficulty comes with avoiding structures such as buildings, electricity pylons and bridges, though you can fly under the bridges and cables.   A neat touch is the shadow of the plane which helps gauge your altitude.

There is no doubt that TLL is a hard game.  The plane flies at two speeds – fast with the wings swept forward and faster with them swept back.  This makes hitting the small targets challenging and requiring several passes.  Later in the game the awkward position of the targets in difficult terrain doesn’t help. The time limit and finite amount of fuel just add to the pressure, although you can land to refuel.

It’s still a very good game though, with a graphical style that surprisingly was only used once again in the follow up, Cyclone.  The scrolling is fast and smooth for the time, though the sound is limited.  The game is colourful too with the dreaded Spectrum attribute clash being well contained.  Although TLL is a difficult game it is still addictive and takes a while to get frustrating.

The round object is one of your targets.

The mission map can be viewed when the aircraft is on the ground.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Space Taxi - Commodore 64 - 1984

Space Taxi does not exactly stretch the graphical capabilities of the C64 

Space Taxi is a very addictive arcade game for the Commodore 64.  The aim of the game is simple – ferry customers from platform to platform around the screen in the quickest time possible.  The joystick controls thrusters that fire in the four cardinal directions and the fire button lowers or raises the taxi undercarriage.  With the undercarriage lowered, the left and right thrusters are disabled. There is inertia and gravity which must be taken into account when controlling the vehicle.

When you enter a scene a customer materialises on one of the platforms and shouts “Hey Taxi!”.  You have to land on the pad to pick him up.  If you hit anything, land too hard or don’t land fully on the platform you lose a life.  If you hit the customer he disappears and you lose some money.  When a customer boards he tells you where he wants to go.  You earn a fee when dropping him off and a tip based on the time taken and the smoothness of the landing. If the customer says “Up please” you can move to the next level by flying through a gap in the top of the screen.  As you get further, levels get progressively harder with smaller gaps to get through, more things to avoid and objects such magnets and a black hole that interfere with the handling of the taxi.

Space Taxi is an excellent game.  The speech is rudimentary, the sound limited and the graphics extremely basic but the gameplay and controls are spot on.  Now I must go and try for that next level…

Things start getting tricky when moving objects appear - in this case the white ball.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Sabre Wulf - Sinclair Spectrum - 1984

Sabre Wulf on the Spectrum has some attribute issues but they were not very noticeable when playing.

Sabre Wulf marks the debut of our pith helmeted hero Sabreman. Sabreman starred in a series of four games and I believe the Spectrum was the only system that featured them all. The mythical Mire Mare was to be the fifth and final game in the series but was never released after a falling out between the Stamper brothers and US Gold (who purchased the Ultimate name and back catalogue). More information on the fate of Mire Mare can be found here.

As mentioned the Spectrum was the only system to feature all four Sabreman games and had the best version of Sabre Wulf.  The Commodore 64 version had drab, blocky graphics and some of the sprites were very flickery; it had good music though.  The Amstrad version, like Knight Lore, had a bizarre colour palette and was too slow.  The less said about the BBC version the better. On release Sabre Wulf was described by various reviewers as Atic Atac in the jungle but that’s no bad thing. I still have the game in its original box in pristine condition.

The less impressive Commodore 64 and horrible Amstrad CPC versions.

In this game Sabreman has somehow become stuck in a jungle and can only escape by finding the 4 pieces of the Golden Amulet of ACG.  The game is set over a 256 screen maze of jungle scenery.  Most of the screens are very similar so, like Atic Atac, a map is essential.  The jungle is inhabited by various creatures, most of which can be dispatched with your trusty sabre.  There are a few, such as the wolf (or ‘Wulf’), which are invincible and must be avoided, though some can be persuaded to run away with a deft prod of your weapon.  Scattered around the pathways are orchids which bloom in random colours.  Some colours are helpful (e.g. cyan = speed boost) while others are a hindrance (e.g. magenta = reversed joystick directions).  Treasure (for bonus points) and a generous scattering of extra lives can also be found.  As far as I can tell there is no time limit although an invincible fire appears if you linger too long on a screen.

This is another game I mapped and completed well over 25 years ago.  Playing again it seems a lot tougher than I remember or more likely my reflexes aren’t what they once were*. Being a Spectrum game you can’t expect too much from the sound effects but they are above average for the machine.  The graphics are very good – the jungle is full of vibrant colours and well animated creatures.  Another classic from Ultimate Play The Game.
*I’ve since rediscovered the tactic I must have used – wait by an orchid until it blooms in an appropriate colour then run like hell to the next one.

The titular 'Wulf'

That's the amulet complete. Now off to the exit.

The rather unimpressive end to the game.....

Friday 4 May 2012

Raid on Bungeling Bay - Commodore 64 - 1984

Bland graphics, great game.

Raid on Bungeling Bay is a multi-way scrolling shoot ‘em up released on the Commodore 64 in 1984, and for the MSX and NES in 1985.  The best version is on the Commodore 64.  It was the first commercial game designed by Will Wright who would go on to design SimCity and cash cow The Sims.

The game is set on a planetoid that has been occupied by the Bungeling Empire where they are constructing a war machine with which to attack Earth.  They have built 6 different coloured factories which produce their weaponry.  The factories are supplied by ships of the same colour.  The game takes place on a large 2D wraparound playfield viewed from above.

In Raid on Bungeling Bay you take control of a helicopter and start on an aircraft carrier which acts as your base.  The helicopter is armed with an unlimited supply of missiles and 9 bombs.  Your aim is to disrupt the Bungeling infrastructure and ultimately destroy the factories whilst protecting your carrier.

Most of the enemy installations and weapons can be destroyed by missiles but the factories need to be bombed. These factories are protected by AA batteries initially but as the game progresses the enemy develops a more advanced arsenal of weaponry including tanks, fighter and bomber aircraft.  Your helicopter can take a certain amount of damage before it is destroyed although this can be repaired and your bombs replenished when you land on the carrier.  A nice touch is that the screen border changes from green to yellow to red as you take more damage so you know when to land without looking at the damage counter.  You start with five lives but if the carrier is destroyed you are only left with the helicopter you are currently flying. 

At its heart Raid on Bungeling Bay is a simple shoot 'em up but there is some strategy involved in disrupting the Bungeling supply lines and destroying the factories to slow down their technological advancement.  Your helicopter is quite nippy but can initially be difficult to control accurately due it's inertia.  Graphics and sound are best described as adequate, the graphics mostly being a drab combination of black, blue and gray.  Overall, though, it’s a fun little game.