Advent Calendar - December 5th.

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

5th Gear (Commodore 64)

So, I'm guessing that most people have cottoned on to the theme by now, and are making guesses as to what the next game might be. Did anyone get this one? It's yet another ancient game... must get around to something a bit more modern at some point...

5th Gear sets itself up as a game where you're taking part in an illegal, no-holds barred car race. It sounds a bit like The Cannonball Run with weapons which, thinking about it, would be awesome. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite like work out like that.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Oh, don't be stupid...

The game is like some kind of crazy shuttle run. You have a set time where you must race against time up the screen to a pre-determined point, turn around, and make it back to the start line again. That doesn't seem as though it would be that difficult, but the path to success is littered with obstacles...

Ooh, a garage! That's handy. Wonder if they've got any Haribo?

It's bad enough that there's some tricky terrain to negotiate, but this being the kind of event that it is, there are other vehicles en route that will try their hardest to bring your run to a premature end. Some just drive around in circles in awkward places, getting in the way... others will shoot at you, which is somewhat bothersome. You can fight back, though... your car is equipped with a machine gun right from the off, and there are shops along the route that offer new equipment, repairs and upgrades.

Ahhh... this can't end well...

This all sounds like a huge amount of fun, but in practice it's not quite as good as you'd imagine. Chief fun-stopping culprit is the small screen size. I've measured it (sad, I know), and you only actually get to play on five-eights of the screen... in a vertically scrolling game on a TV screen, that's incredibly restrictive. Secondly, this is billed as a race... but you can't actually go fast. Well, you can, but games won't last very long if you do. There are so many obstacles, such as walls, bushes and bridges that you'll be dead in seconds. And as if that wasn't difficult enough, there are rivers with narrow bridges to cross, although if there's a jump or you have the right equipment you can sometimes take these out of the equation.

5th Gear has all the makings of an excellent game, but it's hamstrung by the game design and the difficulty. It's a shame, because a combat racer could have been a huge hit on he Commodore 64, and in fact I reckon this is one of those games that could still make an excellent game if it was remade on one of today's consoles or PC. Anyone out there fancy giving it a go?

FIGHT! Commodore 64 vs. ZX Spectrum. Number 2: Uridium

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

After yesterday's less than successful effort, I felt like I wanted to play Uridium properly. And then I realised it was the ideal candidate for the next episode of FIGHT! This is particularly true when you compare them on the main platform-specific websites... on Lemon64, the Commodore 64 version (which is the original) only averages a user rating of 7.79, and doesn't manage to crack the top 100, whereas on World of Spectrum, their version does hit the top 100 and averages a user rating of 8.49. Intriguing. So who's right?

I'm very familiar with the Commodore 64 version. Programmed by Andrew Braybrook, one of the 64's premier coders, at the height of his powers, it's a slick arcade shoot 'em up that requires quick reflexes and a fast trigger finger. It's incredibly polished and a lot of fun, and I spent hours and hours with it in my younger days.

Five-to-one problem... need fast trigger finger to deal with!

For the uninitiated, Uridium is a two-way horizontally scrolling arcade shooter, which sees you piloting a spacecraft against fifteen massive enemy Dreadnaughts. Each of these must be destroyed, but it's not as simple as just flying up there and blowing them out of space... they'll send waves of fighter ships at you. They also have proximity mines on board, which are released if you fly over or even near their ports. And finally, just getting from beginning to end can be very difficult... the Dreadnaughts are littered with structures, which prove deadly if crashed into. And you do have to get from beginning to end... you have to land on the runway before you can destroy the Dreadnaught.

Sneaky... I fly down this narrow track and they swoop in behind me. Clever...

Slipping back into the pilot's seat of the C64's Manta felt very comfortable. It's a pretty fly ride, nice and responsive, able to accelerate quickly although braking is sluggish, capable of flipping in a 180 degree manoeuvre, and also of flipping onto its side, which is handy as there are some tight gaps to squeeze through. It also pumps out a more-than-passable amount of bullets, and even though enemy attack waves number no more than five or six, they're accurate, so you need those bullets to take out as many as possible as quickly as possible.

Mine! Mine! Hey, if you want it that much, you can have it!

The 64 version is a glorious arcade blast. Always was, and probably always will be. It's not perfect... the gameplay is by its very nature repetitive, but the different dreadnaught layouts help to make up for that, as you're always on edge, wondering where the next tiny gap or obtrusive structure will be. It's a bit of a pain having to wait around by the runway for the Land Now signal (if you get there too early... there's a very real danger that you'll be blown to bits before then. There's a sequel, though... Uridium+. And that game rectifies the Land Now issue, moving it one step closer to perfection.

The red square is a mine port... they're really fast, so I'd get out of there!

What of the Spectrum version, then? Is it better than the Commodore game? Is it even as good? My honest opinion is... no, it's not as good. It is a fine game, though, and a great acheivement for the Spectrum. The Dreadnaught layouts are different, which I appreciated as it effectively makes it another game to learn. Attack patterns are similar though, although the game is even more unforgiving and difficult. The Manta controls well, but the game is let down slightly by the scrolling, which although not exactly jerky, tended to give me a headache after any reasonable length of time.

Those enemy ships on the runway are sitting docks... blast them while you can!

There are a couple of things missing from the Speccy version, too... neither of which is gamebreaking, but worth a mention. When you end a level, you play a brief bonus game on the Commodore 64 to determine your bonus. That's gone on the Spectrum. Also gone is the cool fly-by at the end of the level, where the dreadnaught boils away and you get the chance to blast some of the ground features youDmay have missed before you landed. Like I said, not gamebreakers, but just little touches that add to the overall experience.

One down, fourteen to go. Spectrum owners are unlikely to have seen this bit.

I'm not entirely sure why the Spectrum version is rated that much more highly on the internet than the 64 version. When you play them back-to-back, Braybrook's original is clearly superior. Maybe it's because there aren't many great arcade shoot 'em ups on the Spectrum, whereas the 64 did them really well? I'm not sure, I can't vouch for that having not played many Spectrum games. What's clear is that both platforms had a really good game in Uridium, so everybody wins in that respect. As for this comparison:

RESULT: Commodore wins!

Commodore 64 (iPhone/iPod Touch)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I've been a fan of the Commodore 64 for nearly twenty-five years now. The original machine is best, of course, but I welcome any new opportunity to play its games on new platforms. Emulation has seen old computers raise their heads all over the place... not just on the humble PC, but for years and years now they've been running on systems from handhelds up to the Nintendo Wii. Now, it's running on the iPhone... sort of.

The program is set out in a cute way, with a Commodore 64 in the middle, tape deck at the top left, cup of coffee and computer mags at the top right, joystick at the bottom right and games at the bottom left. This is purely cosmetic... after a little while, a power button pops up for you to start the program. Once you do, it displays your list of games, plus options at the bottom.

Watch you don't spill that...

Games... it appears that someone has managed to officially license some Commodore 64 games for sale on the App Store. They get around the usual restrictions by offering them through an in-emulator store. It works perfectly well, although there's not a lot of games available just yet. Most of the games are from Hewson (not a bad thing), with a few First Star, Task Set and Mastertronic games also available. Oh, and Wizball.

You don't need to head in that direction immediately, because they do throw some free games at you for starters. At first, I thought that the eight Commodore games they give you were your lot... not bad, as the classic International Soccer and Basketball are among them, as well as Jupiter Lander and Jack Attack. But then I noticed there were others in the store for free, and all I had to do was download them. And there are some bona fide classics in there... Bruce Lee for one, Samurai Warrior (Usagi Yojimbo) for another. There are a couple of Jeff Minter games (Hover Bovver and Attack of the Mutant Camels), which is good to see. There's also Laser Squad, which would seem to be an awesome addition... although I can't figure out the controls for that one at all.

That's what you get for trying to be sneaky!

The controls... that's where the whole package lives or dies, really. And although I don't want to say that this dies, it's certainly a bit peaky.

The level of control you get depends on the type of game you're playing. The first game I played was Bruce Lee, or B. Lee as it's actually called here... I guess your character could be Bernard Lee, or maybe Brett Lee, but that's a bit less glamorous in a kung-fu game. I didn't play this much at the time, and never really knew what I was supposed to do. My mate Reedy played it loads though, and loved it. Actually, I remember now that we had some good laughs with the two player game. He might not have been so keen on this one... it's pretty tricky to do what you want. The problem mainly comes from the "joystick"... the length of travel is too long, making movements imprecise. In B. Lee, that means The Green Yamo keeps kicking me to Kingdom Come. Not great.

Games can be played in Landscape mode, which is probably a bit easier.

Next up was Usagi Yojimbo. I loved this game back in the day. Loved it. In fact, I might do an Unsung Classic on it. For a samurai game, and therefore a beat 'em up, it's quite laid back. As a result, it actually works pretty well on this app. Everything came flooding back straight away, and I didn't have any control issues at all. This could eat up some time.

Finally, in order to test the shop and the joystick's true limits, I downloaded Uridium. Uridium was possibly the best arcade shooter on the 64. Fast and frantic, it requires quick reflexes and a quicker trigger finger. Which means that on the iPhone or iPod, you're dead in no time flat. You just don't have the level of control that you need over your ship. Shame... this would have been an awesome game for the bus.

And this is full screen mode. Now, where's the "accurate controls" mode?

At the end of the day, recommending this Commodore 64 app is difficult. After all, the C64 has been emulated on countless handhelds, to better effect. But this does have some nice features... one of which is the way it automatically saves your game when you exit and gives you the option of resuming where you left off next time you load the game. It's a nice idea, but the controls still need some tweaking. That said, it's free (not sure if that's permanent or not), and as Usagi Yojimbo is also free and is awesome and playable here, it's worth getting just for that. Anything else you happen to like is just a bonus.