It's C64 month - Buggy Boy

by Paul Morrison


The second game I've played for C64 month is not a C64 exclusive.  In fact, it was probably released on every format that was available at the time.  But the Commodore 64 version was arguably the best, most playable version, was one of the best racing games on the system and probably one of its best games, full stop.  That fact is made even more interesting when you consider that Buggy Boy is a racing game where you don't actually race!

Looks chilly!  Better get finished quickly, then!

Looks chilly!  Better get finished quickly, then!

OK, strictly speaking that isn't true.  It is an unconventional arcade racer, though, in that you have no actual opponents to beat.  It's just you against the clock, trying to get round one of five increasingly tortuous courses.  In the wrong game, that could be deathly dull, but Buggy Boy is never, ever boring.

There were two things that a lot of racing games found difficult to get right on the Commodore 64: the screen update, and the car handling.  Buggy Boy got both gloriously, joyously right.

Get away from the edge!

Get away from the edge!

The sheer thrill of playing the game was enough to keep you coming back for more, but it was also a brilliant high score game.  The idea of collecting flags might have seemed silly in every other racing game outside of Rally X, but it seemed perfect in Buggy Boy.  On all five tracks the layout of the flags was devious, meaning the player could make choices between picking up lower-scoring flags in the correct order or higher-scoring gates.

This'll liven things up a bit!

This'll liven things up a bit!

This element of risk/reward was enough to ensure addictiveness.  With five increasingly difficult courses, it was almost impossible to get bored with Buggy Boy.  In fact, I can say the same about it today.  It's stood the test of time very well and remains one of the C64's finest hours.


Star Paws by John Darnell (Commodore 64)

by Paul Morrison


Right, then.  I'm kicking off my relatively-frequent series of game write-ups with a suggestion from a mate... and that suggestion is Star Paws, on the Commodore 64.

I actually own this game, courtesy of said mate and a house clear-out a few years ago.  It has a blue cassette.  That's the computer game equivalent of a coloured vinyl LP, that is.  Very flash, especially considering the game only cost £5.95.

What a hero.

What a hero.

Written by John Darnell, it came off the back of his highly successful Dragon's Lair II: Escape From Singe's Castle.  That game learned from the mistakes of its predecessor: everyone involved realised that you couldn't possible convert the arcade machine and instead produced a series of highly-playable mini-games bases on arcade sequences.  It proved that, with computer games, playability is key.

It's odd in some ways, then, that John Darnell's next game was a completely original property. Star Paws put you in the space boots of an inadvertent hero... Captain Rover Pawstrong.  Don't you hate it when someone makes a typo in an official memo?  There we were, with an emergency in space, and Neil Armstrong was left twiddling his thumbs.

Whoa! Whoa there, fella!  

Whoa! Whoa there, fella! 

The premise of the game saw Pawstrong sent into the far reaches of the Galaxy, where unscrupulous mercenaries have been secretly breeding the Tasty Space Griffin.  Why is that so weird, you ask?  Well, the Tasty Space Griffin is a rare delicacy, and if these mercenaries flood the market it will destabilize the monetary system of the entire universe, causing untold chaos and mayhem.  They must be stopped!

You have to love a game that gives you instructions on how to cook your adversary on the title screen.  Couple that with the scenario and you realise that you're not dealing with an entirely serious game when you play Star Paws.  That's in no way a bad thing, though... gaming doesn't need to be po-faced all the time.  It certainly wasn't in 80s Britain, and the games industry only recently seems to be recapturing its lost sense of humour through the indie scene.

The only good Tasty Space Griffin is a dead Tasty Space Griffin. Actually, no... they're lovely.  And tasty.

The only good Tasty Space Griffin is a dead Tasty Space Griffin. Actually, no... they're lovely.  And tasty.

The object of Star Paws is to capture or kill the rogue Tasty Space Griffins, thus saving the economy.  It's a bit of a shame as they're docile, friendly and loyal.  And tasty.  It seems a shame to slaughter them all, but that's the way it has to be.  To help you in your quest, spaceships constantly drop by, leaving an array of useful equipment behind.  I'm wondering if this is the first instance of a game giving you “care packages”?  They're the norm now, but this was quite novel back then.

These care packages are critical in ensuring the game doesn't get boring. If you were endlessly running after the dim-but-fast birds, you'd get a bit fed up.  Instead, the different weapons mean that playing Star Paws is a bit like playing Road Runner in Space.  It has lovely cartoon graphics and some great music, which are always plus points, but the crazy chase capers are a lot of fun to play.  Especially when you have a Zap Death Ray Gun.  Every game should have one.

Star Paws is a really good little game.  It's one of just a number that John Darnell wrote, and they're all of a very high quality.  I'll be writing a piece on each one in the book, and would love the opportunity to ask John a few questions too.  We'll see if I manage that in time...


Going South

by Paul Morrison


One of my favourite programmers on the Commodore 64 was someone who was probably under-appreciated by many.  I'm talking about Shaun Southern.

A very versatile programmer, Shaun Southern programmed for VIC-20, C16 and C64, before eventually moving on to the Amiga.  He released loads of games, usually under his Mr. Chip Software guise, and they covered a wide variety of genres.  Better still, most of them were budget games, making them easily accessible.

The first of his games that I (probably) played, unbeknownst to me, was one that so many people have played... Vegas Jackpot.  Fruit machine simulators at the time were strangely alluring.  I don't know if it was because games took ages to load so you felt you had to play them, but you'd sit there and hit F7 for absolutely ages, hoping to land a big (imaginary) score.  Strange.

Hurray! I'm in the moneeeeey... oh, wait, it wants me to gamble. It'll end in tears...

Hurray! I'm in the moneeeeey... oh, wait, it wants me to gamble. It'll end in tears...

Fortunately, later games were a bit more action-packed.  The two Kikstart games are classics, for instance, and put paid to untold hours as I tried to learn the strategies needed to get to the end of a course without falling off that damn bike.

Then there was P.O.D. (Proof of Destruction).  Another budget game, this was similar to Jeff Minter's Gridrunner (apparently completely by accident), although it had its own features and personality.  It was one of the best £1.99s I ever spent, being an absolutely frantic and very addictive shoot 'em up that I could never get enough of.

For some reason, this makes me want a boiled sweet.

For some reason, this makes me want a boiled sweet.

Eventually, the full-price market came calling.  Shaun had programmed a few racing games of differing styles, but went and did it again with Trailblazer, and again with its sequel, Cosmic Causeway.  These games saw you rolling a ball along a series of fast-moving pathways, avoiding obstacles at breakneck speed... or, more likely, not avoiding them!

Both of these games were very well-received, and again I played them for hours, trying and trying to get as far as I could, and usually failing.  To say they were challenging was an understatement!  But they managed to retain that crucial addictive element that kept you coming back for more.

Blazing a trail through the world of racing games.

Blazing a trail through the world of racing games.

As I've said before, tracking people down can be quite a tricky task.  I haven't found Shaun Southern yet, although I have found a website detailing a lot of the Magnetic Fields/Mr. Chip games in which all the descriptions appear to have been written by Shaun Southern.  Sadly there are no contact details though, but I'll certainly keep looking.  In the meantime, I fancy another blast on P.O.D....