Chickin Chase (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , ,

I've played all the classic genres today... shoot 'em up, platform games, racing games, beat 'em ups, puzzle games. It's been a rich and varied diet. But the next game I played defies classification. It has no genre... it is what it is. And what it is, is Chickin Chase.

Letting the coop run out of eggs gets you a clip round the ear. Ouch!

In Chickin Chase, you play a cockerel/rooster/male chicken. The object of the game is to, ummm, service the female chicken of the coop. Having done so, she will go and lay eggs... the number of eggs depends on how good you were/how long you were at it.

No, I'm not kidding.

Once the eggs are laid, they must hatch. The thing is, eggs are tasty, and a variety of nature's critters will come creeping into the coop in an attempt to steal the eggs. Your job, as the virile hero, is to defend those eggs by pecking the thieving bastards into oblivion.

Well, that was obviously a job well done...

This can be tricky. Once you've finished sorting out the missus, you're a bit knackered. In fact, you're walking around like a snail rather than Foghorn Leghorn at his peak. Fortunately, there's an unlimited supply of feed, and pecking at this will restore your energy. It's just finding the time to do it that's the problem.

You see, not only do you have to fend off the egg-fanciers, you have to keep topping up the egg supply. Once those eggs hatch, the chicks come down from their nests and ring a bell to signify they're up and about. And if the number of eggs ever reaches zero, you get a whack around the chops from an irate mother hen.

Look mate, it;s more than my job's worth to let you have these eggs. Alright?

And so, Chickin Chase is a bit like spinning plates. You can't ever stop for a rest. You're always either pecking away intruders, replenishing energy or servicing madam. It's a frantic little game that's a bit bonkers and a lot of fun. It actually reminds me of the old Activision VCS games, with its big, chunky graphics and appealing little jingles and sound effects. It's definitely recommended if you're looking for something a bit different.

Spiky Harold (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

If there's one genre that was particularly prevalent in the 8-bit era, it was bastard-hard platform games. I can't tell you how many platform games I played back in the day where you had to collect umpteen objects and get through all the screens to win the game. Manic Miner probably started it, although it was probably its sequel, Jet Set Willy, that made the biggest mark on me on the Spectrum.

Many of these games were great fun as well as being rock hard. Monty on the Run, for instance, kept me playing for ages on my Commodore 64. That one was nails, but I played it and played it and even managed to complete it (twice!) without cheating. Granted, Rob Hubbard's amazing music probably drew me back to play more than I might otherwise have done, but it was still excellent.

Not sure I'm liking that smug look on Spiky Harold's face...

But for every great platformer there were dozens of mediocre or downright awful ones. Games that were ruined by a lack of playtesting, bugs or a number of other dealbreakers. So when I loaded up Spiky Harold and found it was a platformer, I wondered which category it would fall into.

I'll get to that in a bit.

Spiky Harold is a hedgehog. He's in a bit of a bind, though... winter is fast approaching, and he's nowhere near ready! What he needs to do is fatten up a bit for hibernation. Luckily, he lives in an area packed with food. He must visit each of 57 locations and eat the food item contained therein. Once he's stuffed himself, he must return to his chamber. Slight problem... he's only got twenty-four hours to do it.

No wonder this character never caught on. A jumping hedgehog? That's ridiculous.

He's a big, fat bugger, is Spiky Harold. Much bigger than all the other critters in the hedgerow, which makes getting about tricky. Because for all he's fat and covered in spines, the slightest touch from so much as a worm is deadly. That means that pixel-perfect jumping is essential.

And that's where the problem lies. Even with twenty lives at his disposal, it's very difficult to see more than half-a-dozen screens. Timing is everything, and if you're a split-second out, you've had it. Moving onto a new screen poses its own problems. There are times where you'll pause for a second to take in the screen, only to be killed by something coming on behind you. Grrrr.

Jesus Christ! Here comes a deadly snail! Stay out of the way!

Spiky Harold is a very traditional platform game, with very little in the way of innovation. For many, that would have been sufficient, especially at a budget price. If I'd bought it in nineteen-eighty-whenever, I'd probably have played it for ages and done quite well before I gave up. Now, though, it was too frustrating to be enjoyable and I don't want to play it any more. Spiky Harold is going to have to go and find an animal shelter, because he's getting no help from me.

Oh No! (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

There is no way... no way, that you could would buy Oh No! just from looking at the cover art. There's a cow with a space helmet on its head, an odd-looking furry animal, a desert and, in the background, a spacecraft.

The spacecraft is the important part. Oh No! is a shoot 'em up, and although the storyline is odd, the game most certainly is not...

In Oh No!, the year is 1,000,000 AD, and you are a breeder of space oxen. These beasts are very highly coveted by other entities, who will stop at nothing to get their hands or other genetically-modified appendages on them. The rustling bastards. So you must mount up on your trusty space-steed and put a stop to their stealing shenanigans.

The first planet is the easiest, but you'll still have to be cautious...

It's much simpler than it sounds as a game... confined within one screen, you must blast anything that comes within range and stop them from taking the oxen off the screen. If all the oxen are lost, the game is over. Them's the rules, and they're easy to follow...

And indeed, the game is simple in theory. Once you start playing it, though, you'll see that it's much more difficult in practice.

Oh No!, to my mind, stands right up there among the finest of frantic shooters. What it essentially does is to cross Robotron: 2084 with Defender and Missile Command. Wait... let me explain.

That pink thing looks familiar... if it wasn't nicked from Defender, I'll eat my hat.

You have a playfield where you have to protect your oxen... they're like The Last Human Family, but in bovine form. But unlike in Robotron, they're not killed when enemies get to them. Instead, they're captured, and you have a limited amount of time to rescue them before they're taken off the playfield. See, that's like Defender.

The game is split up into different planets, and each planet has nine waves, with each being progressively more manic than the last. There's no break between waves. Once you destroy every enemy in a wave, the next one rushes in without a second thought. If you want any kind of a break for your trigger finger, you'll have to wait nine waves for it.

Leave her alone, you BITCH!

As your only objective is to save your oxen, it's important to keep them close together or, if it all gets too much, let them all go except for one and be sure to defend that one to the end. That's the Missile Command aspect... it's very similar to your endgame there, where you concentrate on keeping one city intact.

Oh No! was well-reviewed by ZZAP! 64, but I'm not sure how well it sold or was received in general. Comments on Lemon64 seem to be mixed, but I absolutely loved this game when I bought it and I still play it occasionally now. It's a really pure shoot 'em up high-score experience, guaranteed to get the adrenalin pumping. Lovely stuff.

Warhawk (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I absolutely love the arcade game Star Force. I've always loved it. I used to play the arcade machine whenever I got an opportunity, whether that was on trips to the seaside or when one of the local taxi offices got a machine in. It's a great, vertically-scrolling spacey shoot 'em up that still provides a massive challenge to this day.

I'd always wanted a conversion of it for my Commodore 64, but that was never likely. So when I saw a game called Warhawk on the shelves, and from the shots on the back of the box it looked like Star Force, I bought it instantly.

Mine! Mine! Mine!

I wasn't disappointed. It was obviously massively inspired by my beloved arcade machine. And although it lacked the polish of Star Force and obviously wasn't as good to play, it still scratched the itch more than satisfactorily. I had a really great time with it back then.

And so, I decided to play it today.

At first, this time, I was disappointed. It didn't feel that good to play at all. But after a few games I got back into it, and it all came flooding back. The Star Force-inspired enemy ships and attack patterns, the belting Rob Hubbard music, the difficulty...

I'm feeling a little blue. That pick-up will pick me up...

Yep, Warhawk is pretty difficult to start with. You only get one life, but you do get an energy supply. If you can see out the level intact, this is replenished. The problem is, every enemy fires bloody homing bullets. Every single projectile flies at you like your ship is some kind of intergalactic bullet magnet. So you have to be constantly on your toes, always moving around the screen, which means you're very likely to fly straight into a new attack wave.

Make it to the end and it all goes quiet. And then, rather than being attacked by a boss ship, lots of little ones kamikaze their way onto the screen, again homing right in on your ship. It's like the boss ship is off-screen, and he's just chucked a load of toys at you. If you've got enough energy left, you should be OK. If not, and luck isn't on your side, expect your game to come to an end.

One to one problem, yes. Five to one problem, too much ask anybody.

You do get help, eventually. Once you get a couple of levels in then, much like Star Force, a pod moves down the screen. If you shoot it, a capsule is released which, if you manage to pick it up, gives you a fast autofire. You definitely breather a little more easily once you've got this, because hammering away on your fire button causes you a world of hurt after a while.

It has to be said that Warhawk is pretty repetitive, and nowhere near as good as the game that inspired it. But at the time, it did exactly what was required of it, and is a really good budget game. I've certainly enjoyed playing it again for the first time in years.

Budget Day 2012.

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Hello everyone, and welcome to Budget Day 2012! The house is in session, once again!

Yes, carrying on from last year and therefore possibly making this an annual event, I've taken the day off work to write about 8-bit budget games. And what are these things, you might ask, if you're less than thirty years old and weren't here last year? Well, back in the Eighties you had a couple of price tiers for games. Full-priced games generally sold for between £7.95 and £9.99. Budget games were aimed at taking your pocket money, and cost £1.99 or £2.99.

At first, the budget market relied solely on efforts from bedroom programmers, buying them up cheaply and hoping to make a killing. And this, they often did. But after a while, when the market was much larger, companies that specialised in budget releases would buy up older games and re-release them at budget prices.

It was a good strategy, giving older games a new lease of life as young gamers that hadn't been able to afford games first time around bolstered their collections. The bigger companies, such as Ocean and U.S. Gold, even set up their own budget companies to reissue their own oldies.

I must have owned tons of budget games in my time, both original games and re-releases. For this exercise, though, I intend to focus solely on originals if possible. There was a certain spirit and charm to many budget games that was often lacking in full-priced efforts, even if the games weren't all that good. I'm going to play some games that were favourites of mine in the past, and some that I've never played before. Hopefully it'll be fun, and will keep our minds distracted from that other Budget that's going on today.

Budget Day is looking good!

by PaulEMoz in , ,

You might think that it's easy to write a games blog. Just play a bit, take a few screenshots maybe, then chuck a few words down. Piece of piss.

It's not as simple as that. At least, I don't think it is. And when you're writing something that's themed, there's a hell of a lot of prep work to be done. That's why this blog has been a bit quiet lately... I've been doing prep work for Budget Day.

The news is that I've narrowed down my list to sixteen possible games for next Wednesday. I'd be surprised if I manage to play and write about them all, but it's a goal to aim for. And of course, they're all budget games from the 8-bit days.

So, get yourself ready for Wednesday. Ignore the Government's depressing waffle, forget about the fact you're going to be even worse off financially than ever... let me lighten the day a little with some proper blasts from the past. It should be fun.

March 21st - Budget Day 2012

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Last year, you might remember, I attempted to alleviate the misery of the Government squeezing our finances by taking the day off and spending it writing about 8-bit budget games. And it seemed to be quite popular... so much so that I'm doing it again this year! So on Wednesday 21st March 2012, there will be another A Gamer Forever Voyaging Budget Day!

On the last budget day, I managed to play and write about nine games in total. Not bad, but I'd like to beat that this time around... at least make it into double figures, anyway.

I've got a shortlist of potential games, although to be honest, the word "shortlist" seems a bit misplaced. The reason? The list currently has 108 games on it. Yeah... not much chance of getting through all them.

So between now and then, I'm cherry-picking titles for consideration. Ideally, I want that list down to about 20. And I want you to help. Yes, really! See that poll to the right? All you have to do is vote for the games on the list that you'd like me to write about on March 21st. The three that get the most votes will become part of my Budget Day... so get voting!

Intensity (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

Morpheus scraped its way to a ZZAP! Sizzler award... decent, but probably not what was hoped for. But depending on who had reviewed it, it might have not even garnered that... some would suggest a Sizzler was overly generous, and that maybe it was awarded out of a sense of duty, with the game having been subject of a Diary of a Game. I would counter that such a suggestion was harsh... Morpheus is an epic game that takes a long, long time to get into and appreciate, and ZZAP!'s review pointed out that it would not hold universal appeal.

It would be interesting to know how Andrew Braybrook felt about it when all was said and done. Perhaps it burnt him out on the space shooter genre, because his next (and ultimately his last) game on the Commodore 64 turned out to be nothing like that. It was, instead, a single-screen collect 'em up, and it was called Intensity.

Doesn't look all that intense...

There's still a spacey element to the game, as you might expect. Colonists are stranded on their, um, colonies, and with no course of action remaining other than evacuation, you're tasked with piloting the rescue mission. A drone ship is placed on the exterior of each space station. The colonists will emerge from doors and run towards this... hurray, safety beckons!

Once you have saved the requisite number, the exit portal will be activated. You must use your skimmer to guide the now-heaving-with-colonists drone to that exit. This task is simple enough... if you press the fire button, the drone will move to the point at which you summoned it. There's a bit of a problem, though. If the drone hits your skimmer, both will explode. So once you've pressed that button, you'd best leg it, sharpish.

The exit has been activated. Save them!

You don't have to go directly to the exit, and indeed, there are times when you can't, such is the layout of some of the colonies. Why they litter the exteriors of space stations with obstacles is beyond me. You'll also find yourself skimming backwards and forwards between points, picking up a colonist here then heading over to get one from there. It's reminiscent of Choplifter in a way, albeit from a different viewpoint.

Naturally there's a little more to it than that. The colonists are evacuating for a reason, and that reason manifests itself in the skies above each space station. Alien critters meander about, causing bother wherever they may roam. In a nod back to Gribbly's Day Out, the alien critters mutate into stronger, more dangerous forms, if left to their own devices. Luckily you can turn them into space roadkill by just flattening them with your skimmer.

Things are getting a little more complicated now...

That's the game, in a rather large nutshell. There are other bells and whistles... saving colonists releases resources which you can pick up and spend between levels, for instance. But after the sprawling epic that was Morpheus, it comes as a huge surprise to find such a small-scale, tight and focused game. There's no shooting (another surprise), and the single-screen action, whilst initially a little confusing, doesn't take long to click. Once it does, it's very enjoyable indeed, and it gets quite frantic just a few levels in. Considering I'd never played it before, I picked it up in no time, played it for ages and had loads of fun with it.

You're dying to fly a Manta over that and blast everything, aren't you?

Intensity proved to be the last game Andrew Braybrook would write on the Commodore 64. It's a bit of an underrated gem in my opinion, and as such it unfortunately provided something of a low-key swansong. He certainly deserved to leave the scene with a very large bang, having provided some of the greatest gaming moments of its history. Gribblets, Paradroids and Dreadnaughts will forever be remembered fondly by a public that bought in on gaming to a massive degree at the time, and Andrew Braybrook will be remembered as one of the brightest stars of the era.

That's not the end of my look back at Andrew Braybrook, though. I've got a few other things I want to get out there, and then I'm going to come back and round up his Special Editions, and there just might be a sneaky look at something on the Amiga...

I, Ball (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

"I, Ball! I-I-I-I, Ball! I, Ball!"

I just about shit myself the first time I loaded this game and it shouted that at me. They could have put some kind of warning in the instructions or on the loading screen, or something. I'm sure it just said "Music and FX by Rob Hubbard".

It's an odd game, this one. I, Ball's family has been captured by the evil Terry Ball (groan) and I, who managed to escape, is in a hurry to get them back. What follows is something of a race against time, with guns!

GIANT ENEMY CRAB! Well, sort of.

You have to whizz up the screen before time runs out on the level. Making this more difficult are the peculiar obstacles in your way... some are merely that, whereas others are radioactive and deadly to the touch. You just bounce off the ordinary obstacles, but this can cause enough of a problem... bouncing into a deadly obstacle or enemy is not nice!

There are loads of constantly respawning enemies, although it's a few seconds before they become active and therefore threatening. It's best to shoot them at this point, but you have to be careful because your lasers can overheat. To help you out, discs can be picked up along the way, and these can contain all manner of impressive weaponry.

Taste the rainbow of fruit flavours, y'bastards.

With sixteen levels, lots of blasting action and a great Rob Hubbard soundtrack, I,Ball was well worth the £1.99 at the time. I enjoyed playing it again now... there are some niggles, with the collision detection on the obstacles being a bit ropey and causing more problems than necessary. It's still an entertaining and challenging blast, though.

Booty (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Arrrr, Jim Lad (fer that be yer name)... yer on a ship that be occupied by naught but ghost pirates. But this ship is laden wi' booty... and it's yours fer the takin', if ye can outwit those scurvy knaves and scabbards, and empty the hold o' its goodies.

Arrrr... enough of that, Talk Like A Pirate Day is months away! Booty is a platform game where you play the put-upon cabin boy who, sick of his lot in life, decides to gather up as much of the pirates' loot as he can and, to use modern parlance for once, "do one".

Right, so... key 7 gets the gun, but lets that pirate out. OK...

Naturally, they're not about to give up their ill-gotten gains as easily as all that, and they walk the decks, cutlasses in hand, all ready to hand out a damn good thrashing to anyone wi' sticky fingers. Whoops, sorry.

It's a clever little game, is Booty. For all the pirates and their parrots deal instant death, the biggest obstacle is the layout of the ship. Some of the rooms are really tricky to negotiate, with keys having to be picked up in the right order to allow you access to certain rooms at the right times. Oh, and some of the treasure is booby-trapped...

OK, I've got my sea legs, but they never said I'd need my air legs too!

I first played Booty on a mate's Spectrum, and I liked it so much that it was one of the first games I bought when I got my Commodore 64. Pity, then, that the 64 version was wretched and a huge disappointment (and waste of pocket money!). There's no such problem with the Spectrum version... it was a cracking release from Firebird, and gave me a taxing but enjoyable hour or so when playing it again. Arrrr, that it did. Oh, bugger.

Thrust (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Although I'll be a mixture of the great and the good and the weird and the wonderful today, it seems only right that I begin with a game that is considered to be perhaps the Godfather of budget games... Thrust.

I'll be honest... I hated Thrust when I first played it. It was keyboard only, for a start. We 64 owners were used to using joysticks to play games. And who wanted that big brown thing perched on their lap? Nope... hated it.

For some reason, though, I kept going back to it. Maybe with it being so highly rated I figured it was me that was wrong about it, maybe I just felt drawn back to it to at least try and complete a couple of levels... but eventually I was drawn in.

This doesn't look like it'll end well...

The premise is pretty simple sci-fi stuff... our planet is running out of energy, but it's known there is a system of planets that was mined to death years ago, and the plan is to send in a ship to retrieve a power pod from each planet, blow up its main generator thus setting off a world-destroying cataclysmic explosion, and then get out of there with the power pod before you're caught in the blast.

Naturally, it's not as easy as it sounds. And the real beauty of Thrust lies in the perfectly balanced gameplay. The controls are absolutely spot on, the inertia is absolutely spot on... when you connect to the power pod and try to lift it clear, you really feel the extra weight. And then you go spinning out of control and implode on a cavern wall. Well, I do.

OK... sooo... now what?

Just when you start getting good at it, the game turns into an utter bastard and will throw in a new element to keep you on the hop and further test your skills. Get a few levels into the game and you'll have to deal with reverse gravity. Get further still and the walls of the caverns become invisible. Yes, that's ridiculous... you can only see the walls when you activate your shield.

Thrust, unbelievably, is twenty-five years old this year. Quite often, home computer games from that time have aged badly, and aren't what you remember them to be. Thrust, however, is still as fresh, playable, demanding and entertaining as it ever was. It seems incredible that it only cost £1.99 when it was released. It's an absolute stone-cold classic, and if you've never played, get it downloaded right now. Better still, get onto eBay and buy the setup you need to play it for real. It's an amazing game.

*Thrust did not originate on the Commodore 64... in fact, it was a full-price release on the BBC computer. Amazing that it wasn't full-price when released on other systems.

It's Budget Day!

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Morning all, and welcome to Budget Day, where I will spend my day wearing rose-tinted glasses and posting about cheapo games from bygone days.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer can only DREAM of owning a budget bag like that.

So, what exactly is or was a budget game? These days, if a console game is released with a price tag of £19.99, it's considered a budget game. £19.99! My kids don't get anywhere near that much a week in pocket money... whose budget exactly is that?

Games originally cost upwards of £5.95... not too bad in today's prices, but still a fair sum to the kids of the early Eighties. It took companies like Mastertronic and Firebird to introduce a second tier of pricing that appealed to those with less disposable income. Firebird originally offered games for £2.50... much more affordable, as one or two weeks' pocket money would be enough to grab yourself some gaming goodness.

It was when Mastertronic introduced their classic £1.99 range that pocket money gaming really took off. No longer did you have to trail into the city (costing extra valuable money) in order to buy a game... you could find the distinctive Mastertronic packaging in newsagents, petrol stations... shops where kids would be dragged in by the mothers, and displayed prominently, in the chance that mam might be badgered into buying Little Johnny a gaming treat.

It really worked, too. Anybody with a computer owned at least one game with that classic black and red packaging. Firebird soon reduced their games to £1.99, with their own packaging standing out, too. They were happy times, with loads of new titles released, and kids buying them in droves.

The quality wasn't always there, of course. These companies, particularly in the beginning, were outlets for the bedroom coders. And whilst some of those programmers were good and would go on to greater things, if your game actually worked there was a fair chance it would be published, often to the disappointment of children across the country!

Things eventually spiralled out of control, with more and more budget companies springing up and Mastertronic and Firebird introducing range after range, at differing prices. The "golden era" of budget games had passed, probably in tandem with computer owners growing up. For a while, though, it had been one of the most exciting times in the growth of home gaming.

March 23rd is Budget Day!

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Awwww, come on... that's boring!

It's going to be horrible, isn't it? Another Government stooge standing in front of a lot of rowdy blokes (and women), telling them how much they're going to screw everyone (but themselves) for in the coming year.

Well, I'm going to try and lighten things a little. All day (or as much as is humanly possible) it will be Budget Day with A Gamer Forever Voyaging. I am going to be playing and writing about budget games on the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. If you loved your Mastertronic and Firebird games, this will be the place to visit.

My intention is to do budget-sized articles... two or three paragraphs, so that I can fit more in. The intention is to cover lots of games so that I can bring many a nostalgic smile to faces. And in keeping with the saving money thing... I will be interspersing them with tweets of links to games that I consider to be good bargains. So if you don't follow me on Twitter, now might be a good time to start.

I'm looking forward to it. I've got a huge list of games picked out... let's see which ones I get to...