Saturday, 28 September 2013

Blood Money - Atari ST - 1989

Blood Money is a shoot 'em up I have fond memories of from my Atari ST days.  It was developed by DMA Designs which would eventually become the slightly more famous Rockstar North.  I played the Atari ST version first and it was pretty much as I remembered - a slow but enjoyable shooter.  Next came the the Amiga which got me wondering why it came on two disks, rather than a single one like the ST.  The answer was soon revealed when some fantastic music came blasting from the speakers accompanying an impressive intro sequence of a spaceship flying through a digitised asteroid field. The game itself is a lot smoother and more polished than on the ST.  The graphics are more colourful and the music puts the Atari chip tune to shame.  The game runs quicker and your ship can fire faster and further.  It just has one glaring problem.....IT IS TOO BLOODY DIFFICULT!!

It seems the developers shared my thoughts during the conversion to the Atari.  After getting pissed off I went back to Blood Money on the ST and found I could get further with one life than I could on the Amiga using all the lives.  For a start the game runs much slower which makes it easier to manoeuvre around obstacles.  The gun emplacements also fire less frequently and, it may be my imagination, but the shield bar seems to take longer to run down. 

As an example, the two screens below were taken at the same spot in the game.  For the ST you have to shoot the two turning gates a few times to open them, or with careful flying you can squeeze past above or below.  You then come across a static walker which is easily dispatched for 25 credits. For the Amiga version there are five gates to get through which you have to open quicker whilst avoiding more bullets.  Like the ST you too get a walker, but behind it is a radio mast that suddenly reverses the joystick directions.  WTF?  It was here I died and switched off through sheer frustration. 

Anyway, to the plot.  Blood Money casts you in the role of Spondulix who longs to go on an Alien Safari.  It just so happens he has 200 credits burning a hole in his pocket.  The Safaris take place on the planets Gibba, Grone, Shreek and Snuff and cost between 100 and 400 credits.  This means only Gibba, in which you pilot a helicopter, and Grone, an underwater planet, are available at the start of the game. Each of the planets has its own unique enemies and landscape.

I'm loathe to call the game a scrolling shoot 'em up.  Yes it scrolls, but not in the conventional sense - it doesn't matter what way you are facing or what direction you are heading, the screen rolls on relentlessly at the same speed.  As you have the freedom to move anywhere in the play are it feels more like a single screen shooter with a scrolling background.

You start the game with a puny, short range gun and 3 lives.  There is a shield indicator at the bottom of the screen and you can get away with grazing the planet surface, aliens or bullets a couple of times before it is depleted.  Once the shield indcator is empty you lose a life.  A lot of the enemies drop coins when the are destroyed which can be picked up and spent in shops dotted thoughout the levels.  These shops provide useful weaponry and ship upgrades.

For $100 you have the choice of two extra guns - one that fires diagonally upwards and the other downwards.  For $150 you can buy a rear firing laser or a neuron bomb.  You can have up to four neuron bomb launchers - two short range and two long range.  They fire upwards first then drop so are useful for taking out enemies both above and below your ship.  For $200 you can speed up your ship or buy an upgrade for your guns which increase their range to the full width of the screen.  Finally, for $250 you can recharge your shield or purchase an extra life.  If you do lose a life during the game, any power ups are lost.

There maybe only four levels but each one is very long.  As you progress the more expensive planets are more difficult to navigate through.  I got to try Snuff which was difficult enough on the ST, so goodness knows what it's like on the Amiga.  As would be expected each stage ends in a boss fight.  You are then able to move onto the next planet.

The boss at the end of Grone, or rather one the thee or four that appeared.

So, though it boasts the best graphics and sound, the Amiga version loses out to the ST in the playability stakes.  By rights it could and should have won, but the Atari has the better balanced and fairer game.  Even though they're not as good as the Amiga, the sound and graphics can't be called bad.  While the game itself is quite slow it doesn't detract from what is a challenging and entertaining game.  There is also an option for a two player co-operative game.  I seem to remember I could get through at least two or three levels back in the day, but it would take a lot of practice to get that good again.

Shreek and Snuff

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