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.

JetPac - mojo Refuelled (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I've been in a real gaming funk lately. My two wireless 360 controllers broke within a day of each other, so I went over a week without the 360 as I waited for my new one to arrive in the post. I couldn't be bothered with any of my PC games, and I really couldn't be bothered to hook up any of my old systems. The iPhone did provide some moments of respite, but... y'know.

Then, on Saturday, my new 360 controller arrived... and I just couldn't stand any of the games I tried to play! Disc after disc was thrown in and ripped back out in minutes, if that, as my malaise seeped into the core of my gaming persona. I needed something that was a quick blast, to try and re-ignite my fires. And so I turned to one of the first games I bought for my 360... JetPac Refuelled.

Lasers are pretty.

JetPac, of course, was one of the Spectrum's all-time classic games. Released by the legendary Ultimate, it was a single-screen shoot 'em up where you played a spaceman who had to rebuild a variety of spaceships whilst fending off the hostile natives with your blaster. It was great fun, and one of the games I really coveted as a Commodore 64 owner.

I was over the moon when I bought my 360 and found JetPac Refuelled on the XBLA Marketplace. I bought it without so much as looking at a single review. And I wasn't disappointed... not only was it a great piece of blasting action, it also contained the original JetPac! It was the best of both worlds on my 360, and I really enjoyed it.

...aaaaand we're outta here.

Of course, with my 360 being new, I was distracted by the shinies... new and lovely-looking games were everywhere, and JetPac Refuelled was soon shoved to the back of my mind as I indulged myself in the finest games the modern generation had to offer. But it was never forgotten...

A few months ago, I got back into the game in an attempt to pick up one of the achievements that I really felt I ought to have... Retro Cyclist, given for completing the original game. The old-schooler in me wouldn't let it rest until I had that one. I'd grown up playing that game, even if it was just on mates' Speccys. There was no way I was going to let it beat me. And though I found a couple of the sixteen levels bastard-hard, it finally fell to me after a few days of trying.

This is how we kick it old-school.

And then I left the game alone again.

I certainly had unfinished business with it, though. I don't think I'd ever really played it properly, or concentrated hard enough, and so my games had finished far short of where they should have. And then, whilst reading up on the game on TrueAchievements, I spotted something that I'd never noticed before. The game has a smart bomb!

It was no wonder I wasn't getting as far as I should, or scoring as highly as I should. There are times when JetPac Refuelled overwhelms you, with tons of enemies on-screen at a time. It's actually one of the game's little flaws... in taking advantage of the power of the modern system, there's actually too much going on at times, and occasionally you or your enemies get lost in the backgrounds, which leads to the odd unnecessary and frustrating death. I think that was what had put me off going back to it, in part. But the discovery of the smart bomb changed that.

When the enemy numbers increase, sparks will fly.

And so, after an hour or so this afternoon, three more achievements have fallen to me... Survivalist, for reaching level ten without dying; Robo Rocket, for building the ship on level thirteen; and Millionaire Man, for, ummm, getting a million points. I'm happy with that... that's over 600,000 better than my previous high score.

It's amazing what finding out one little extra game mechanic can do for you. Having said that, I kind of learned how to play the game properly as well, learning not to fly recklessly around the screen, timing my excursions better and bunny-hopping around the ship with a fuel canister to hand when things looked dangerous. It's opened the game up, and I can now see myself cracking on with it in an attempt to finish the game.

Peeeoooowwwww! That's what a smart bomb'll do for you!

JetPac Refuelled is a lovely update of a classic game, at a great price (400 Microsoft Points). It's pretty much a must-have for anyone's 360, and I'm very happy to have re-re-discovered it. It's knocked me out of my gaming funk and, as you can see, out of my writing/blogging funk too. That's good, because I've got some projects I need to crack on with...

ZUB (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

ZUB is a game that came highly recommended to me by Spectrum owners. And indeed, on World of Spectrum it averages a highly respectable 7.8 out of 10 from the voting public, which is about on a par with its Crash review of 79%. And yet, I remembered it not doing very well in ZZAP! 64. Must have been a poor port, I figured, as I settled down to play.

Poor ZUB is a creature on the planet ZUB, where everybody is called ZUB. That's gonna cause a bit of confusion. Turns out the green eyeball of ZUB, one of King ZUB's most precious crown jewels, has been nicked. And for some reason you, a coward of the highest order, has been promoted to Sergeant and tasked with the duty of retrieving it.

I'm facing the wrong way. They're going to knock me all the way to the bottom again...

The game has a great, well-written storyline, which made me chuckle a couple of times. Pity the same can't be said about the game. To escape a planet, ZUB must use the platforms that are positioned around the place to get as high as possible, where the teleport is situated. ZUB must find a platform, leap onto it, and then steer it to where the next highest is located, jump up to that one, and so on.

Sounds easy, but there are robots hovering about who will think nothing of knocking ZUB from his perch. Chances are you'll get really high and then be knocked all the way to the bottom. It's really annoying and frustrating, and the bouncing screen when you walk doesn't help. ZUB is the worst game I've played so far today. It does nothing but irritate. If I want to play a game where I jump up a lot, I'll play PapiJump+ on my iPod Touch. The ZZAP! lads were right with this one, I think... not a lot of fun.

Star Farce (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

I never had a Spectrum... I've mentioned that before... so I don't have a particularly wide knowledge of Spectrum games. A lot of the games I'll play today, I won't have played before. I'm quite looking forward to that... for all the Spectrum was maligned by a large section of Commodore 64 owners (and vice versa, of course), there's no doubt the Spectrum was home to a lot of quality games.

I picked this one because I love the arcade game Star Force. Still, I was a bit wary... would this be a total pisstake? I really didn't know how it would work out.

It turns out that Star Farce is a really good vertically-scrolling shooter. The reason for the name lies in the amusing plot... aliens have been trying to make contact with Earth for years, but every time they do, paranoid Earthlings send out waves of attack craft to wipe out these "aggressors". The Universe is collectively sick of this, and to put a stop to it (and to save those that are left), they've sent in a fighter pilot to destroy Earth's resources and attack craft, and all its inhabitants while they're at it. You are that fighter pilot.

Kapow-pow-pow-pow-pow! Take that, evil Earth scum!

I was amazed by Star Farce. For just £1.99, this would have been amazing value. The graphics are really great, being detailed and colourful. Pretty much everything you see is destructible... it felt fantastic to shoot a power generator and see it set off a chain reaction that destroyed everything connected to it.

There are loads of other tricks and surprises, too, one of which sees you going under the planet's surface to tackle a mothership. You also get loads of options before you even start playing the game. Star Farce is one of the most full-featured and entertaining shmups I've seen on either Spectrum or C64, which makes the price all the more surprising. The only quibble I really had was with the firing rate of the ship. Other than that, I had a really great time with it, and quite fancy another go now...

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.

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...

Advent Calendar - December 23rd.

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Catch 23 (ZX Spectrum)

I bet a lot of you were thinking I wouldn't find anything for this one. I was thinking that myself, for a long time. It just goes to show how much research I did for this thing before getting under way!

Catch 23, from reading the instructions, is a very deep and complex game, in which an enemy faction has perfected an oribital interceptor, a craft capable of escaping Earth's gravity and lying in wait in space before re-entering the atmosphere at any moment to intercept and destroy missiles or aircraft. The fact that one of these is necessary on either side doesn't bode well for the current state of the planet's harmony... you are dropped into the enemy's test development site one dark night, with the aim of infiltrating and stealing the enemy's plans and eventually destroying the base.

They can't be too concerned by your threat if they've got time for plate-spinning.

I don't mind admitting that, in my first game, I was dead in three seconds. I'd figured that I'd work out the keys as I went along... so much for that idea! So it was off to World of Spectrum for a much-needed look at the instructions.

Once I'd got the controls to hand, I was able to last as long as thirty seconds. Ten times better! This is a seriously hard game... incredibly hard, in fact, at least at first. As soon as one of those guards appears on the screen, you'd better shoot the bastard, or you're dead. You get hit once, and it's Game Over. There are no health packs, no hopes of respite. You're dead.

Hey! Is that... is that a cheese?

It's very unforgiving, which was the case for a lot of games back then. It forced you to think a bit whilst playing... you can't just charge around gung-ho, you're not invincible. But once you get used to the idea of the guard just popping onto the screen, and the way the control method automatically switches to firing mode, you can actually start dispatching a few guards and think about making a move towards progress.

Not that you'll make a lot of progress. Like I said, it's complex, and as with a lot of these games, slow going. It'll really take a long time before you start figuring out where you are and what's around you. And the fact that you have random starting positions doesn't exactly ease you into the game, either.

Ah well. We all knew it couldn't last.

Catch 23 is a game from another era. It's 25 years old, and 25 years ago we were all a lot more patient with our games. If we'd spent our money on it then by God we were going to wring every last minute out of it. Nowadays, speaking personally, I don't seem capable of this, and so a game like Catch 23 that I might have taken the time to learn and really got into just hurts my head a bit. Out of the millions of brains cells I've lost in the last few years, some of them were apparently the ones that facilitate the playing of complex 8-bit games. And for that reason, Catch 23's charms have almost completely escaped me.

Stop the Express (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , ,

I'm sure one of my mates owned this way back, but I can't remember actually playing it. Stop the Express featured in various Top 100 lists when I was looking for blog ideas and it jogged a memory, so here we go.

And bloody hell, it was nearly "there it went". This game, at least when you first start playing it, is rock.It doesn't look like it would be... the basic aim is to run across the rooftop of an express train, jumping across the gaps, to get to the front of the train and, umm, stop it. What's difficult about that?

Now, you just know that this one is going to hurt.

Plenty, when you don't know all the rules and all the controls. Obviously, the game throws obstacles at you. It wouldn't be much fun if you just ran, unimpeded, to the front of the train. No, the point is that the train has been sabotaged, and the bad guys are out to stop you from stopping them. They'll climb up onto the roof of the train and give chase, pausing only to shoot at you. Yes, they're armed.

Pretty Polly pushes off the perps.

It was at this point the frustration overtook me, as I died time and time again. I really was getting sick of seeing "Game Over" pop up, with me having a final score of 0. It couldn't possibly be that hard. And then I saw the bird flying overhead and wondered what would happen if I jumped at it?

Turns out you collect it, and can then unleash it on your attackers, knocking them from the train. And it's at this point that Stop the Express turns from a frustrating waste of time into a fun little arcade game.

Over to the Commonwealth Games, and up next for England, on the rings, it's Malcolm McLaren.

For an early Spectrum game, I have to say it looks pretty good. There's a lot of colour in the game with barely any clash, other than the characters having a black block around them. It doesn't hurt the game in any way. Your mad-looking little Malcolm McLaren-esque fella is really quite endearing. I was also surprised to see the traditional arcade font... I was so used to seeing the classic Spectrum font in games that I presumed it was very difficult to program anything else. It certainly adds a fair bit to that important arcade feel.

Once you get the hang of it, Stop the Express is an enjoyable little arcade romp, blessed with a fair helping of that "just one more go" quality. I was a little surprised at just how much I did enjoy it... eventually. If you feel like giving it a go yourself, just make sure you read all the instructions first!

Cruising on Broadway (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Cruising on Broadway, graphically, is probably the most basic game you will ever see, that isn't called Pong. Or, depending on how you want to look at it, the most minimalist. It consists of a line and two squares. The line twists around the screen, granted, but it is still a line.

Look out boys, it's da cops! Erm... really?

As such, you are patently not Cruising on Broadway. Why they litter the front cover with popular entertainment icons is beyond me. Well, it isn't... those big names (which I'm pretty sure they didn't license back then, the naughty chaps) are there to lure in the punter. You're not going to see them once you load the game. In fact, they don't even make any attempt to sell you a storyline to go with the title. Read the cassette inlay, and all it tells you is how to run the game, and that their are "Cash prizes" on offer for high scores. Cash prizes? Now you're talking! Oh, hang on... expires at the start of 1984. Bugger.

Not that it matters. There's no danger of me getting a score to trouble Solarsoft's accountants. Cruising on Broadway is incredibly simple, and pretty difficult. The objective is simply to paint the entire line on each screen. The problem lies with the other square, or "chaser". As you'd expect, it's out to spoil your fun. It patrols the line at random, and if you happen to crash into it, you die. It's a bit like playing Amidar on a Tron lightcycle... without being that good.

Look, Stu... it's not all about graphics and sound. They are shit, though. (Letter to PCG, July 1984).

As was often the way with old Speccy games, you only get one life. I was a bit shocked at the end of my first game... I just wasn't prepared for the Game Over message at that point. But it makes sense, even if it is twisted and evil.

This game ran on the 16K Spectrum, and the limitations are obvious - there are only four "courses" to navigate. To spice things up, should you complete the fourth and wrap back to the first, there will be two chasers rather than the one. Apparently. I'll confirm that if I ever manage it...

I almost expect this to buzz when I touch the line.

I can't imagine that Cruising on Broadway was ever more than a mild diversion, although we were pretty obsessive about our games back then, squeezing as much out of them as we could. Who knew when we'd be able to buy another one? And yet, this one does have a weird addictive quality, thanks in part to the fact that you get time bonuses for completing levels. That's the kind of feature that makes iPhone games popular today... I'm not recommending someone remake it for that - the controls would be horrible - but there's a basic appeal to it despite its flaws.

Rex (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

And so, on to the "proper" game I was going to play today. And after asking for suggestions and getting hold of all the games that were mentioned, I've completely ignored the lot and gone for something that I'd never heard of.

Rex was issued by Martech, a company I know better for Commodore 64 releases such as Crazy Comets, Mega Apocalypse and Nemesis the Warlock. Apparently Rex was planned for the C64 but never released on that format. Luckily, it was released on the Spectrum, thereby giving me a new game to try out for my blog.

"And here we see, in the wild, a species indigenous to this planet... Mercenarius Rex."

The first thing that hit me when I started this game was how colourful it was. It reminded me of a few games all at once; Starquake, Exolon and Cybernoid. In fact, I wonder if this game was ever intended to be a Hewson release. It has something else in common with those games; it's rock hard. Yes, even harder than Cybernoid.

That doesn't mean it's not fun, though. It could have been frustrating, quite easily. But once you take a bit of time to evaluate the scene, watching bullet patterns and enemy movements, you can plot out your plan of action and then get moving. And you have a shield with limited energy, so if you save that and only activate it at the hardest bits, you should be alright.

Rex ain't no John Travolta...

Rex is not merely a platform game. As you're being shot at, it's only fair that you get to shoot back. Rex has (or can have) a number of weapons at his disposal. I say "can have"... you only get to use more powerful weapons once you've collected them from weapons pods around the complex. Even then, you need to have built up enough energy to power them. You do this by blasting enemies and collecting the little energy bubbles they leave behind.

It's interesting, this game, in that you're battling against humans as well as robots... but you aren't human yourself. Rex is kind if a hybrid dinosaur mercenary. Which is awesome, because there aren't enough games where you play as a gun-toting dinosaur mercenary.

When stealth and sneakiness fail, just let 'em have it.

It's worth noting again the graphics in this game. They're really lovely, and I like that the characters are all small as it gives the game more room in which to throw things at you. In fact, all those little characters, missiles and bullets bring to mind thoughts of Bangai-O, although this game really isn't anything like that.

Rex is a great little game, that offers a real challenge. I suspect it was released towards the end of the Spectrum's commercial life, which is a shame and means that many of the more seasoned Spectrum gamers might not have seen it either. If you still like to give the Spectrum a bit of your love,treat it to a workout and fire up Rex.

Mick the Mugger (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you'll know that I owned a Commodore 64 in my youth, and although I occasionally played on Spectrums that mates owned, I'm not as "up" on Speccy games as I would like to be. Picking games to play for the blog can therefore be a bit difficult. Sometimes I'll rely on recommendations. Others, I'll recall a classic name from a magazine review. And then there are times where I'll simply scroll through the World of Spectrum database and pick something I like the sound of. That's how I came to play Mick the Mugger.

The game had me at a disadvantage right from the start. I was expecting some kind of precursor to Grand Theft Auto, some crime epic where maybe you worked your way up from a petty criminal on the streets. Although having said that, many Spectrum games were resolutely British, and so if this had been that game, you'd probably have been knocking over old ladies outside the Post Office and occasionally knocking off a bobby's helmet. And I'd probably have been fine with that.

What I didn't expect was to play a fat lad with a penchant for Beck's beer and a habit of butting in on photographs.

Mick's found his way to the bar, where countless photo opportunities await.

You see, the "mugging" referred to in the title revolves around Mick's unending quest to get his mug snapped next to as many people as possible. If someone has a camera out, Mick's job is to creep up to the unsuspecting subject and, at the most appropriate moment (or inappropriate moment, depending on how you look at it), snake his arm around them, slap on his trademark grin and raise his drink to the camera. Simple, eh?

Maybe not. In order to get to your "victim", you have to navigate a traditional platform game scenario, with the location's denizens intent on keeping you at bay. Fortunately he's prepared for all-comers. Pressing the fire button delivers a vicious kick, and pushing down in conjunction with pressing the fire button sees Mick launching an empty Beck's bottle at any hapless foe. Pushing up will, amazingly, see Mick jump, almost gracefully, over enemies of a certain size.

Should Mick be successful and manage to get to the end of the level, the photo opportunity presents itself. The viewpoint switches to a "through the camera lens" position, and Mick has a limited amount of time to position himself where he will get the best photo. Should he be successful, his popularity will increase and he'll be able to move on to the next target. If not, he'll have to try the level again...

One is not amused! Mick repels the attacking corgi with a swift punt.

With Mick being such an endearing cheeky Cockney chappie, it's not long before he's moving on from nobodies and attempting to be snapped with the A-list. Film premieres, football matches and supermarket openings are all fair game for our hero. Each successful encounter will see Mick's popularity increase until he feels confident enough to go for his ultimate goal... a photo with The Queen.

Unfortunately, for all Mick has charmed London and Hollywood's finest, Liz wants nowt to do with the lairy twat and has ordered her servants to attack on sight. And her servants are numerous and varied. Once inside Buckingham Palace, Mick has to fend off butlers, corgis and, in a nod to Jet Set Willy, even toilets. But if Mick can use his skills well, then surely that elusive snap with our Monarch will be Mick's for the taking...

It's rumoured that Mick the Mugger sold a mere seven copies, all of them out of the programmer's local papershop. If that's true, it's a real shame... for the seven poor kids that wasted their pocket money.

*Mick the Mugger is obviously not a real game, but something I knocked up as a piss-takey birthday "card" for a mate. I think it's got potential though, so if anybody fancies trying to make it, go for it! Happy Birthday, Mick!

Number 4.

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Chaos (ZX Spectrum)

Of all the games in my blog top ten, Chaos is probably the one I knew least about, prior to playing it. In fact, I knew nothing about it, other than a couple of Speccy-owning mates loved it.

Chaos was actually the tenth game I played for the blog, and the first Spectrum game, all the way back at the beginning of February 2009. So for it to have stuck with me for that length of time, to be fourth on my list of favourites, you know it has to be pretty special.

Whooo, look at those spells, feel the power! Actually, that's not that great a "hand".

Now, I'm not generally one who likes a lot of thinking in my games... time spent thinking is time that could be spent blasting. But Chaos had me intrigued from the start, and it was a classic example of using what the game gives you and adding to it with your imagination to make the experience even better. It's a lot like a board game in that respect, and in every other respect, actually.

And so it begins. Things will get a lot messier than this...

I did some deeper digging into the game with it having made my top ten, and found that it's got a really good Wikipedia page. Reading that gave me a deeper appreciation for the game... no bad thing, the game deserves it.

As with many games like this, be they computer, board, card or whatever, your fate depends to a degree on the luck of the draw. But in Chaos, if you're good, you can play around almost anything you're dealt. It remains an intriguing and enjoyable game... and that's just for one player. One of these days, I'm going to introduce it to Aidan, and then the real fun will start...

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!

FIGHT! Commodore 64 vs. ZX Spectrum. Number 1: Bomb Jack

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

Here's a feature I thought would be a good idea, that would tap into our schoolyard memories and provoke, erm, "discussion"... ZX Spectrum vs. Commodore 64! We've all had those arguments as to which is better... and I felt like stirring the pot a bit more. Just for argument's sake.

Now, I owned a Commodore 64, but I'm perfectly able to accept that it might not have had the best version of every game. I thought it might be fun to take a game that was released on both, put them up against each other and see which is better. Let's see how it goes...

The first game I chose was Tehkan/Tecmo's Bomb Jack. OK, so it's an arcade game, and that being the case, why did I choose two no doubt inferior versions to look at? Even stranger... Bomb Jack is not a game I have any particular love for. I've never been any good at it, and I find it quite frustrating. And yet, I've subjected myself to it... twice.

Here's what we started with... lovely, juicy bombs.

The arcade game is actually quite nice. It's pretty enough... bold and colourful, with those lovely red cherry bombs hanging in blue skies. To get the best scores, you have to collect the bombs in order. Once you collect one, the next in the sequence will start flashing. That's the one you should go for. Collect all the flashing bombs and you'll receive a big points bonus.

It was never a favourite of mine; I never was any good at it. Playing it in MAME these days has given me a new appreciation of it... skilful play can see you weaving in and out of enemies, and it can get pretty intense. And of course, there's the risk/reward aspect of collecting the bombs in order for bigger points. It's a classic name, and in retrospect I would say rightly so.

Bit naughty, putting all that red in the background. Where are the bombs?

I had Bomb Jack on the Commodore 64... I did play it a fair bit but it was annoying. It wasn't well reviewed either, generally speaking. I'd also heard that the Spectrum version was really good... something that's stuck in my mind all this time, and partially led to this little feature.

Playing the 64 version again just brought home all its faults, but magnified this time. Jack's a fat lad, for starters... and oddly, you can actually feel the weight! Jack seems to drop more quickly than in the arcade version, and also seems to struggle to get his lardy backside off the ground. The enemies are all bigger too, but it's more than just a cosmetic problem... this extra size makes the screen very cramped, and it's very difficult (if not impossible) to manoeuvre around for the bombs. It's fast... but that's also a problem, given the size of everything. Also, bonuses are very hard to come by, which is annoying... and then you find out the game has a completely different (and lower) scoring system to the arcade version. Bomb Jack on the Commodore 64 is not very enjoyable.

That bird's nothing but trouble. One peck, and you're dead.

Having re-acquainted myself with the Commodore version of Bomb Jack, it was time to try the Speccy's effort. And the first thing I noticed was the size of the game's characters... they're small. Thankfully! When I say "small", I mean "just the right size". The game is perfectly playable on the Spectrum. Gaps can be squeezed through, enemies can be dodged, bombs can be collected in order, bonuses can be had. And the scoring system is the same as the arcade version's. Graphically, it's one of the nicer Spectrum efforts I've played so far, with colourful backgrounds and no sign of clashing. Nice work, Elite!

The home versions had a problem from the start, in that Bomb Jack in the arcade has a vertical monitor, and these versions had to be squashed hozizontally. One version coped with this far better than the other. I had quite a lot of fun with the Spectrum version of Bomb Jack. It's a very well implemented version of the arcade game, with precise controls and accurately-proportioned graphics. It seems as though they really took the time to lay out the screens with the horizontal aspect taken into consideration. The 64 version, on the other hand, doesn't work all that well. It does have nice red bombs, although they're more blood red than the big arcade cherries. But the poor scoring system and claustrophobic playing area really cripple it, and it's not really worth much time.

RESULT: Spectrum wins!

Saboteur! (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

This was recommended to me ages ago and, erm, I forgot about it. But it's always been a game that was in my mind anyway. I quite fancied it back in the day, but never got around to playing it. Now I can, but I had to decide which format I would go for. As the Speccy version is in many Top 100 lists, I went with that one.

It's an odd title for the game, Saboteur!, because there's no actual sabotage involved in the gameplay. Instead, you have to search an enemy compound for a computer disk which contains names. Lots of lovely names, of people that no doubt need to be stopped from, erm, doing something. Probably something bad.

That'll teach you to mess with a ninja, sucker!

The enemy won't just let you stroll around unchallenged, though. Oh, no. From the moment you climb out of your little rubber dinghy, guards and security devices are out to stop you. The guards can fight, and some are armed, and there are also attack dogs and laser-firing security cameras, so you'll need your wits about you. Just as well you're a ninja.

It's set out in typical 8-bit platform fashion, with you running across the screen and "flicking" on to the next one when you reach it. It's also, as is fairly typical for these games, a bit repetitive, but given the setting of the game, that's not surprising or even any kind of a detraction.

What? Hang on... I didn't find the disk, and I got killed. How did the worst ones get on?

Once (or if) you've found the disk (against the clock... you can't just wander around for as long as you want!), then you must make your way to the roof where a helicopter is waiting to whisk you to safety. Just as well... that dinghy would be a bit of a rubbish getaway vehicle with all the heat you'll have generated!

Saboteur! is a pretty enjoyable game. It gives you a choice of nine difficulty levels which is pretty nice... get proficient at one level and you can ramp it up and try your hand at the next. There can be some frustration when you can't find the disk, or your way out, but that's just the nature of these games. Overall, this one was a pretty good pick.

Atomhex (XBox 360 Indie Games)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

Another day, another 360 indie shooter.

Atomhex is an indie game, and it's a twin-stick arena shooter. There's a lot of them about, so if you make one, it has to have enough worthwhile features of its own to make it stand out. I would say that Atomhex just about does.

A triple stream of laser death. Handy, with those big atomhexes around.

You control an Asteroids-style ship, and you whizz around the arena, using your other stick to shoot in whichever direction you choose. I'm not sure I like that in this game... because of the shape of the ship, that mode of firing looks wrong. It's the right choice of control method for the game, though... maybe a different design of player ship would have been a better fit.

Atoms and hexes of different colours roam the board. Your objective should be to shoot the shields from the hexes and collect them for points multipliers and different weapons. If hexes bond to an atom, the combination starts firing out harmful enemies of varying types. This is when things start to get hectic...

That's not my high score. That's just insane.

Although this is more dangerous, it's very good for your score, and massive bonuses can be had at this point. Also, it's just more fun when you're barely in control. That said, Atomhex never really clicked with me like I'd expected it to. Still, it's cheap, there's lots to shoot, and there are 100 Awards to unlock, which is nice for an Achievement-deprived indie game. It's certainly worth a punt if arena shooters are your thing.

Highway Encounter (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Highway Encounter is a game that I probably wouldn't have thought about playing, but it's in World of Spectrum's Top 20 games, and as the Spectrum is a bit of a blind spot for me, I thought it would make a good blog game. I can actually remember reading the review of the Commodore 64 version in ZZAP! 64, where it got a pretty decent if unspectacular review, so I wasn't coming into this completely in the dark.

Then again, I might as well have been. I had no idea what the gameplay was going to be like... although I knew that the game had a Zaxxon-esque viewpoint, it plays nothing like that. Nor is it particularly fast-paced, as you might expect from a game called Highway Encounter.

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go...

The game sees Earth in the grip of an alien invasion. The only way to repel this invasion is to destroy the mothership, which is parked at the end of a highway. It's far too dangerous to send in troops, so the plan is to use a squadron of droids to transport a massively powerful bomb called the Lasertron to the mothership, where it can be detonated, and all will be well.

You start with five droids, one of which is under your direct control. I say "direct control"... that was never really the case with me! Your droid uses an Asteroids-style control method, where you rotate and then push forward to accelerate. It really takes some getting used to!

The remaining droids just plough on in a straight line, pushing the Lasertron toward its destination. That sounds great, but naturally the enemy has populated the highway with obstructions. Your job is to clear these, either by pushing obstacles out of the way or by shooting enemy droids. Or, in some instances, you actually have to block the path so that the droids don't just rush headlong into danger.

Guys! Come baaaaack! Wait for meeeeeee!

It's easier said than done. The game takes on something of a puzzling nature as you work out the best way through each screen... if you're in time. Many's the time my squad of droids went piling onto the next screen before I could get there, and when I caught up, I found them in trouble.

I found Highway Encounter to be a really interesting little game, if a difficult one. I would imagine that if you put the time in and get to grips with it, it would prove very rewarding. It was nice to play something as different as this... there's not a lot like it.

Catwalk (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Never let it be said that I don't listen to suggestions.

Catwalk was recommended to me just a few days ago, and as someone always on the lookout for Spectrum recommendations, I jumped on this one pretty quickly, not knowing anything about it.

It's a straightforward game - you're a cat, and you have nine lives to get across nine screens. Each of those screens is filled with tasty mice, birds and other foods... the perfect nighttime feeds for a cat. In order to progress to the next screen, you have to eat all the food you can see.

Why go through all that effort to reach the cat food, when you can't open tins?

Naturally it's not as easy as that, as each screen is filled with obstacles that must be avoided or overcome. And being a Spectrum game from the early half of the Eighties, you might expect those obstacles to be a bit on the weird side. Surprisingly, they're fairly normal, run-of-the-mill things, at least to start out with. Dogs, boots thrown from windows, workmen... these are your enemies. It does get a bit more bizarre as you go on, but it's quite refreshing to see a game from this time period that's relatively grounded in reality.

I was a little bit surprised to find myself quite enjoying this. It does get considerably more difficult later on, but with only nine screens, you'd expect that. Catwalk is a nice idea, boiled down into a simple platform game, and a lot less epic than the likes of Jet Set Willy (who makes an appearance here). I noticed that this cost £5.95 when it was released. Although nine screens is not a lot for your money, I think I'd have been quite happy with it for that, and it would have made a fantastic release for two quid.

TLL: Tornado Low Level (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , ,

Well, my first ever poll to decide which game I would play has ended in a tie. The only surprise is that it wasn't a tie with one vote each! The first game I've gone for is TLL: Tornado Low Level on the Spectrum. I remember seeing the box for this in a friend's house years ago, but never playing it. Apparently, it's quite a well-loved game!

TLL is a fairly simple concept: fuel up your fighter plane, take off, bomb/take out your targets and land. I remember playing Harrier Attack which was a similar idea, but was a side-scroller. TLL has an overhead view, but it features depth, so you have to learn whether you can go under or over certain obstacles.

The black target on the grass is what you're after... but you'll have to drop your altitude to hit it...

That takes some learning, and it's easier said than done. And to make it more difficult, and to make sure the game earns its title, to take out your targets you have to fly at low level.

Sometimes this isn't so bad... the target will be in a field or open plot of land, and you can take your time circling and lining it up. But others will be near houses, trees or powerlines, and these will call for some fancy flying if you want to prevail.

That seems to be it... I wasn't good enough to get past the first level to see how or if things changed. But in that time I could see that TLL was a decent enough game to be worthy of the reverence it's held in. I could definitely imagine it eating up a lot of any Speccy owner's time.

Starstrike II (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

3D Starstrike impressed me enough to want to go straight on to the sequel. And if that game got the programmers noticed for programming a great arcade game, the sequel is a different entity altogether.

It's a different game. An original game. It's an arcade game with depth. And for me, that's where it goes a little bit wrong.

Starstrike II is a very ambitious game. Rather than just give you the same levels in a set order, you must choose which planet/system you'll visit. Each area has a variety of installations to be taken out: military, agricultural and industrial. The challenges you face in each area will be slightly different, as you would expect.

Die, filled-3D alien scum!

The first problem I had was that, despite reading the instructions, I had no idea what to do. On the second stage, there's a grid with a hole in the middle. In this hole you'll find various shapes, some of which will shoot at you. It's the only way through, but no matter how much I shot stuff, I couldn't get through. Impasse!

Luckily (and I mean that literally!), after many games, for some reason I did eventually find myself past that stage, which meant I could play more of the game. And it's a pot-pourri of spacey shooting. Shoot spaceships in dogfights. Shoot installations in trenches. Don't shoot installations in trenches. Destroy the end-level installation.

It all sounds a lot like Star Wars, or even 3D Starstrike, but it really isn't. It's a more serious game. It's not as much fun. It's probably a better game than its forerunner, by virtue of its originality and ambition. But it's not as pacey... the much-vaunted filled 3D graphics are quite a bit slower than the wireframe originals, and although the Spectrum was lauded at the time for its ability to push this stuff around, the fact that it's slower takes the edge of the gameplay. I'd rather just stick with the original.