Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Treasure Island Dizzy (C64, 1989)

Remember the Dizzy franchise? For some reason these games were extremely popular back in the day. If you were checking the budget charts for C64 titles in the early 90's, chances are there'd be 4-5 Dizzy games in there. I've no idea why. These kind of old-fashioned arcade-adventures harked back to the mid-80's. And that's where they should've stayed.

Anyway, this time it seems that our ovoid friend is stranded in some island, where some pirate also happened to bury his treasure. Dizzy wants out of there, so it's up to you to help him. And like i said, the way the game works is very old-fashioned. You basically run around collecting objects, which you then must use puzzle-style, simply by dropping them on the ground wherever necessary. The puzzles range from the obvious, i.e. collecting dynamite and a detonator and dropping them behind some rocks which obstruct the way, to the not so obvious, like dropping a crystal sword to the pirate's grave - thus revealing a hidden passageway.

Treasure Island Dizzy encapsulates everything that was bad about the Dizzy series. Firstly we have the navigation of Dizzy himself - which is a pain in the ass because when he jumps, he flips in the air 2-3 times. It's really difficult moving like this in tricky areas like the Treehouse Complex, but also making precise jumps (as is often required). Then we have the pathetic inventory system. You can only carry 3 objects with you, but the real problem is that you can only drop them in the order you picked them up. Consider this: you're at the bottom of the sea and your inventory is "snorkel, empty, empty". If you want to pick up something, you drop the snorkel and you die. Woosh, back to the beginning, thank you very much Mr.Game Designer.

Another interesting fact is that most Dizzy releases for the Commodore 64 are straight Spectrum ports, meaning that the graphics are of the monotone variety. It's up to the music to liven-up atmosphere, and thankfully we do get a nice Sid tune, courtesy of musician Matt Gray. Finally, you won't manage to complete the game properly, even if you solve all the puzzles, unless you find 30 golden coins which are scattered here and there. Considering that most of them are camouflaged, most people will not bother to play the game fully. Not that they'll miss much.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Commodore Format 20 (May 1992)

Here's another issue of Commodore Format for your collection. Yes, the C64 was still going strong in 1992, as reviews of Space Crusade, Budokan and Bonanza Bros prove. Also reviewed are Stryker In The Crypts Of Trogan, G-Loc and Murray Mouse, while Bod Squad and Steg The Slug get the preview treatment. A reasonable covertape too.

Get the issue here. More to come in the future. Also, don't forget that there's a number of issues available at the Commodore Format library.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Addams Family (C64, 1992)

Yet another case where the two major C64 mags disagreed was Addams Family. Commodore Format gave it corker status with 92% and declared it "challenging and addictive and with loads of screens to explore", while Zzap64 gave it croaker status with 57% and said that it's a "a frustrating all-too-easy-to-die disaster". Game on. Who got it right? Personally I find the truth to be somewhere in-between. But let's check the game's history first.

For reasons best known to the Hollywood fraternity, in 1991 they decided to ressurect the 60's TV show as a full-blown blockbuster. And they got it right, seeing as it was a huge success. A computer game was inevitable, and who better to do it than Ocean, masters of movie tie-ins? Ocean then proceeded to create one of the best platformers of all time, in the 16-bits at least. 8-bit owners had to make do with a trimmed-down different version. Whereas the 16-bit version was a humongous 8-way-scrolling platform fest, the 8-bit version was a less humongous flick-screen affair.

The plot is simple, you control Gomez and you must rescue your family members who are scattered around the game's levels. There are enemies around too, ranging from kill-able ones (who you kill by jumping on them) to unkillable ones. These enemies tend to move in cunning ways, so each screen becomes a tortuous test where you have to think your route around it. Doors are locked so you need to find keys to open them. Green doors need green keys, red doors red keys and so on. And it is a huge world. You won't get very far without a map, or without a solution.

Zzap said there aren't enough restart points. They got it all wrong. You set restart points yourself by entering doors, and each time you die you restart from the door you last entered. Zzap said the game is too difficult and you haven't got enough lives. They got it half-right. The game *is* too difficult but you get 6 continues and there are more scattered around. That makes it in total over 36 lives, which I found pretty adequate.

Commodore Format said the game is challenging and addictive but maybe too tough. Pretty much so, I agree. Commodore Format said the game has spiffy sound effects. They couldn't have gotten it more wrong. The sound is the game's Achilles heel. The sound effects are atrocious and headache-inducing. It's more like noise. If the game had an atmospheric soundtrack, this would be a real winner. To prove my point I turned the sound down and played something on my Sidplay on the background. It made the whole experience a lot better.

So like I said, I think that neither Zzap or CF got it right. Addams Family's real value lies somewhere in-between. Zzap gave it 57%, Commodore Format gave it 92%, I'll give it a 7. Fair enough.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ristar (Mega-Drive, 1995)

So the story goes in this platformer for the Sega Mega Drive that in the Valdi Planet System an evil pirate, Kaiser Greedy, has taken over and is ruling with an iron hand. You, as the hero Ristar sent by the Star Goddess, must free the planets from Greedy.

Interestingly, this was developed quite late in the Mega Drive's lifespan by the Sonic Team, and I'm saying interestingly because as a game this is a lot different to the exhilarating speed of Sonic The Hedgehog. The pace is slow and laborious, and isn't helped at all by the control method. Ristar doesn't shoot or jump in order to kill enemies. Instead he uses his hands. And also uses his hands for everything else, from climbing and snatching, to jumping over walls.

This control method is fairly tricky to get to grips with. And no sooner than planet number four, this cute little platformer is transformed to a monstrous dexterity test that will frustrate even the most hardened of players. Indeed as I was playing this, memories of Commodore 64's Thing On A Spring came to mind. Such is the difficulty of this game. Also you will need to use the grey cells a bit, as later levels offer obscure routes and mild puzzles.

The thing is Ristar would be an average game if it wasn't for the fantastic graphics. And when i say fantastic i don't mean that there are ten million layers of parallax or ultra high resolution modes or anything like that. Instead I mean that the programmers have created some of the most beautiful worlds you will ever see in a 16-bit game, from magic forests and frozen planets, to music factories and underwater palaces. This is true artistry, it's fairy-tales gone alive.

So to conclude,
purely as a game Ristar is not anything to get terribly excited about. But as a virtual tour and a testament to the programmer's imagination it is really something. Try it out on an emulator with save states and see what I mean.