I suppose some might have expected me to write about Wizball if I'm going to write about a Sensible Software game for C64 month. Indeed, I might still do that yet. But I thought that, for now, I'd write about the game that announced the arrival of Sensi as a real force in the games world... Parallax.
My first exposure to Parallax didn't even come through the game itself. I remember it clearly. It was on one of my usual Saturday morning jaunts to Newcastle and I was heading to the computer shop, imaginatively named The Computer Shop. I didn't even make it inside, once I got there... the opening sequence to Parallax was playing in the window, and I was compelled to watch.
I'd arrived at the very start of the sequence, too. I saw the credits and then the familiar flashing bars and swirling letters appeared, along with some really weird sounding "music". I wasn't that taken with it, but with this being a hot new game I was obviously going to watch until it finished...
I didn't realise that would be another ten minutes or so. The swirling continued, the music evolved and I was rooted to the spot. It was almost hypnotic, in an odd way, with the music becoming more melodic and more powerful the longer it played. I loved it so much, I stayed in front of that shop window and watched it all the way through, twice.
It was a while before I actually played the game, though. I didn't actually have any money for buying games that day. When I finally got around to getting it, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Besides the extraordinary title sequence, the game itself was a pretty unique experience. It was kind of a sci-fi space shooter in a maze (with parallax scrolling, naturally), with exploration elements.
Those exploration elements, to be fair, were minimal. All that was really involved was landing on a platform, running into a building, shooting any scientists who might be in there, nicking anything they had that might be of use and then getting back to your ship. Occasionally you'd take one of the scientists back to the ship with you... they would prove useful in cracking the central computer and getting to the next level.
Still, it was an ambitious concept... possibly too ambitious for 64K. It was a very good and very enjoyable game, using all aspects of the C64 very well, but I can't help wondering what a version of Parallax using more advanced technology might be like. There hasn't really been anything quite like it since, and I feel that a Parallax game with its concept expanded could be fantastic.
Having said that, the game we got was great for its time and a wonderful prelude to the madness that would follow from Sensible Software. That was certainly a unique team, making great games with their own brand of humour, even in games where you wouldn't think humour would fit. They were certainly a leading light on the Commodore 64, and Parallax was a great introduction.*
*Yes, I played Galax-i-birds. :-P