Monday, November 2, 2009

Commodore Format 1 (October 1990)

Hey guys, I'm gonna start uploading Commodore Format issues again, seeing as the Commodore Format Library went bust. So here's issue number one (click).

It was as late as October 1990 that Zzap64 got a powerful competitor in the form of CF and the soon-to-be mighty Future Publishing. Future meant business, getting together a good team (including many ex Zzapsters) and also quality monthly covertapes, thus forcing Zzap to raise it's game.

This first issue is quite nice. Within it's 100 pages there's reviews of minor classics such as Time Machine, Lords of Chaos and Iron Lord, as well as Murder - the famous game that wasn't. Also of note is the intriguing disk-only adventure Mean Streets. On the features front, there's a presentation of the then brand new console C64GS (basically a C64 without a keyboard, and with only cartridge games), while on the covertape there's at least a classic in Tau Ceti, as well as neat demos of Ivan Stewart's Off Road Racer and St Dragon.

By the way, this issue was kindly contributed by Mort from the Zzuperstore. Mort has scanned an impressive array of retro computer magazines, so pay a visit (click) and see if you're interested in buying something.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NBA Jam (Mega-Drive, 1993)

Hey retro maniacs. Sorry for the lack of activity. I've been a bit busy with.. stuff. Sure I love retro gaming, but there's only so many things you can do in your spare time. Anyway, so let's talk about
NBA Jam. Originally, NBA Jam was a basketball arcade game (aka coin-op) from 1993, and quite good it was too. Like most good arcade games, it benefited from not being too complex, not offering a simulation of the sport, but rather a simplistic version of it, but which was playable enough to entice both the basketball buff, as well as the occasional gamer.

Now let's be clear about this, technically speaking, this Sega Mega-Drive conversion is excellent. The graphics are brilliant, the action is fast and furious, and even the voice commentary has been retained from the coin-op. But let's take a look at how the game is played first. Well, no nuclear science here, you pick your NBA team and then go head to head with the computer (or a friend) on a match. The action is being portrayed from a horizontal semi-3D view, similar to television footage, and also reminiscent of Commodore's ancient
International Basketball, or even 1987's Basket Master.

The game uses some poetic licence in that you don't get to play with all five players, as normal in basketball games. Instead you play only with two, the stars of the team, say, Shaquille O'Neal and Scott Skiles in the case of
Orlando Magic. This not only simplifies things, but it also speeds up the action. Another thing that is ommited is the fouls and resulting free throws. Again, this works in the game's favour since it speeds up the action significantly.

However one aspect which the programmers got wrong with this conversion is the difficulty. In fact, it's possible to "hijack" the game, so to speak, by using the following little trick. Now, in NBA Jam there is this thing whereas if you score three successive times while the opponent doesn't, you get "on fire" and your chances of scoring increase dramatically. You are also rewarded with the ability of interfering with the ball while on its downward flight to the basket, which is normally a violation.

Herein lies the game's loophole. If you do that on an opponent's shot, while the game considers this as a violation and thus as a scoring shot, if you proceed to score, it considers it as if you've scored while your opponent hasn't (even though the score is normal). So by doing this, you can easily get "on fire" and thus win all matches easily. It is because of this little bug that I give this 7/10 and not 8/10. Thankfully, the following
NBA Jam Tournament Edition omitted this flaw and as such is the version to get.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Catalypse (C64, 1992)

Catalypse is a horizontal space shooter which came along late in the C64's commercial lifetime, and as a result is not that well-known, something which was hardly helped by a Zzap review which slated the game. Commodore Format was far more favourable, even giving it a corker. Did those two mags ever agree on something? Catalypse also got a reputation for being influenced by Armalyte, though I don't see that much of a resemblance, to be honest.

I don't see any point in getting involved with the plot either, as it's sure to deal with the usual space liberator scenario, so let's just take a look at the game straight away. Now, if there's an immediate criticism about Catalypse, is that it's a very difficult game to get into. We played this recently in the Lemon-64 gaming competition, and I was getting nowhere, until a fellow Lemon member posted longplays on YouTube. Only after seeing them I got into the game mechanics and realized that you should use the drone ship bonus, not as a shield, but as an extra weapon.

Prior to that, I was trying to make ends meet by using my own ship and just firing at the enemies. It was pretty clear that this wasn't the way to go, because some enemies just wouldn't die with your normal firing range, but if you use the drone ship as a weapon, you can kill pretty much everything.

Another turning point is when i realized that if you just keep the fire button pressed, it acts like an auto-fire switch. That made things a lot easier because before that I was getting the thumbs blues by pressing fire like a maniac. Well, that was it, after discovering these two little tricks, I got hooked. Catalypse transformed from a really frustrating experience to a frenetic and speedy shoot-em-up ride.

That said I still don't consider it a classic. It lacks a bit in atmosphere. Even though the levels feature nicely drawn graphics, I've seen these kind of backgrounds so many times before that they don't have an effect on me. I also don't find the music that special, even though it's nice that there's sound effects and music simultaneously.

I've already made the point in previous reviews, on how important music can be to a game, case in point, Rob Hubbard's spectacular tune for Lightforce. It's that tune alone which makes Lightforce a great shoot-em-up. So, overall, Catalypse just lacks that bit of atmospheric edge to make it really special.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Bobby Bearing longplay part 2 (C64, 1986)

And here is part two of the longplay of this very difficult Marble Madness variant.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Addams Family (Mega-Drive, 1992)

I've already written about the C64 version of The Addams Family, so why not take a look at the 16-bit version as well? It's quite a different game, so let's start with the similarities. This is still a platform-game, and you still play the part of Gomez who's on the look for his family that are scattered here and there in the gargantuan Addams residence.

Also, it still takes it's cues from the ancient Jet Set Willy, meaning that basically, as you roam around the screens, there's enemies galore that are moving in set patterns and which you must either avoid, or kill by either jumping on them, or shooting them - if you got the necessary power-up.

The major difference is that this is not a flick-screen affair, but a fully scrolling environment moving in all four directions. Also, the levels are completely different to the ones found in the 8-bit game. It pretty much is a different game altogether. Now, seeing as the good ol' C64 coped admirably well with conversions of such 16-bit classics such as Sleepwalker and Chuck Rock, I don't see why they couldn't do a proper conversion of this as well, but oh well, what can you do about it.

Like I mentioned before, basics apply here. You run around, jumping on platforms, jumping on enemies etc. There's also switches to activate, which in turn activate platforms, walls etc. The levels don't follow a linear pattern, meaning that you don't start in Level 1, proceed to Level 2 etc. Rather the game offers a more interactive environment, whereas you start outside the mansion and you pretty much choose where to go. A doorway leads to one level, another doorway to another etc. The levels feel more like different areas of one bigger landscape in that respect.

The atmosphere is special, what with such fairy-tale environments like the catacombs and the ice-world, and with a batch of decent tunes to accompany the action. I'd say it's a great game, if it wasn't for one major fault: it's hugely difficult and frustrating. Gee, I swear, in later levels the frustration-o-meter hits red as you die in the same spot, time and time and time again. Who would blame you if you played this with save states? I wouldn't.

This game is so difficult that even power-ups can be a nuisance, like when you get the shoes, with which you run faster and jump further. Cool, eh? Well, no, because apart from running faster, it feels as if you're sliding on ice, making those pixel perfect jumps nigh on impossible. I pretty much made a habit of avoiding this power-up as altogether.

So there you have it, the silly difficulty curve spoils this gaming experience. Bah.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Buggy Boy (C64, 1987)

This is a great game. No surprises there since this is generally considered one of the flagship C64 titles. Sadly, it's one of the classics that I missed back in the day. There were only so many games you could have, even if you were buying pirate copies. But having recently played it extensively thanks to the monthly Lemon-64 gaming compo, I can say that it fully deserves it's reputation.

On the surface, this is just another arcade racer. Usually, in arcade racers (especially the retro variety) you somehow run much faster than your on-screen opponents, so the focus is into avoiding other vehicles, all the while you try to stay in the circuit managing those nasty corners effectively. Buggy Boy takes a different approach, whereas you only encounter few and far between enemy-vehicles. Instead, you slalom your way across the circuit, ski-style, in-between poles that contain bonuses. In the meantime, the circuits are littered with obstacles: walls, rocks, bends etc. Some of them can "interact" with your vehicle. There is this certain type of rock for example that makes your buggy run on two wheels, or this mud-like thing which makes it jump. Others simply make you crash.

What basically happens is that the game tempts you into chasing bonuses (some of them quite surreal, like the football which you can kick with your buggy), before throwing a hazardous number of obstacles at you. It's a good idea to memorize the trickier parts of each circuit then, especially since some circuits require you to perform faultlessly and pick those time-bonuses in full. In that sense, the best strategy is to deal with one circuit at a time.

Now, I've heard some complaints about this game, that it's not fast enough. I think this is poppycock. The speed is just perfect for what the game offers. Any more fast and it would've been unplayable with so many obstacles scattered around. Besides, the thrill is there. And also, since when is speed all there is to an arcade racer? In my opinion, too much speed can make a game frustrating as hell, as in the case of, say, Outrun Europa. Instead, the reasonable speed, great action and grippy controls make Buggy Boy a winner.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dalek Attack longplay part 3 (C64, 1993)

And here's the final part of the Dalek Attack longplay, featuring the last three levels.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

World Rally (coin-op, 1993)

World Rally is a bit of a classic when it comes to coin-ops. It's a 1993 racing game by Gaelco, and it's one of those coin-ops which I wasted many a coin on. Basically this is an isometric-3D racer, whereas you must complete a given rally course within 60 seconds. Easier said than done. Sort of. You see, the good thing with World Rally is that it's a very uncomplicated game. The controls are dead simple, and you get the hang of it within a couple of plays. That's very important for a coin-op. It has to grab your attention fast.

From there on, the other important bit is for the game to maintain your interest. World Rally delivers. It's ridiculously addictive. It was ridiculously addictive in 1994 when I was throwing dime after dime on the machine, and it still is damn addictive when I emulate it on Mame-32 today.

With a bit of practice, you should be able to finish it with but a couple of credits, but with 12 courses, different conditions where the car behaves differently (tarmac, snow, soil etc), daytime and nighttime races, and so on, completing it with that one coin is a challenge you'll keep coming back to.

Arcade games by definition are somewhat shallow. How could it be any different when we're talking about games whose main purpose is to have you pay money ad-infinitum, merely for that extra few minutes of gameplay? World Rally isn't any different, and if you play it too much, too soon, you might grow to dislike it. But if you play it for, like, 10 minutes everyday, then it's the kind of game which you'll still like 10 years later (as in my case).


Monday, April 27, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Maniac Mansion (C64, 1987)

I suppose most retro-maniacs are already familiar with Maniac Mansion, Lucasfilm's flagship graphical adventure. It represented the next step in adventure gaming, whereas the traditional text input commands and static screens were replaced by a point 'n' click interface and animated action. It was enough to woo arcade-orientated gamers that were previously ignoring adventures. And it's not hard to see why. Simply put, Maniac Mansion plays a mean game.

At the heart of the game lies a wacky and comical plot, whereas a group of teenagers goes to this creepy mansion to rescue this female friend of theirs that was last seen in the area. During the course of the game they're gonna encounter the seriously oddball Edison family, alien tentacles, evil meteors, nuclear reactors, not to mention the inter-galactic police-force. Not bad, eh?

You actually get to play with three (out of five in total) characters, and according to what characters you choose there are also different solutions, as well as different endings. The point 'n' click interface works really well, and it was something new back then. Nowadays it can get a bit tiresome, especially when using a joystick instead of a mouse, as in the C64's case. That's one of the reasons this sort of game worked better in the 16-bits. The other is that it involves a hell of a lot of loading, though it's not that bad; I've played tape games that were much much worse.

The action is really cool. It's not hard getting started, exploring the house and figuring out what objects to use where, but it will be quite complicated putting the solution together. One of the problems I had is that the game involved a hell of a lot of walking across the three floors of the mansion, so, say, if I was in ground-level and needed to get to the third floor, it got quite boring slouching there time after time. Some sort of elevator would be real handy.

Apart from that I think it's a really good game. Personally, I like the humongous second adventure (Zak McKracken) Lucasfilm did on the C64 better, but you can't deny this game is great as well. Unfortunately, since only a minority of C64 users had disk drives, it didn't really catch on, which is a shame. The C64 market was always tape based, and it'd be impossible to convert this on tape.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dalek Attack longplay part 1 (C64, 1993)

Here's levels 1 to 3 of this neat arcade-adventure. Don't be put off by the silly first shoot-em-up level; it gets better afterwards.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Midnight Resistance (C64, 1990)

Hmm, what do we have here? It's a coin-op conversion of a classic early-90's run 'n' gunner. You're some kinda commando type, and some bad dudes have kidnapped your family. Naturally, you get your guns and go after them in a multi-level killing spree. You know it makes sense.

So anyway, it's a shoot-em-up platformer. Mind, it's not your average walk-left-to right affair, rather a multi directional, multi weapons (from flame-throwers to rocket launchers), and multi enemies (from tanks to helicopters, and from enemy-commandos to F-16's) extravaganza. Cool.

Not being familiar with the arcade original, I actually sat and watched an Amiga longplay in YouTube, to see how the good ol' C64 compares with a 16-bitter. And I tell you what, it's pretty damn good. Naturally, 16-bit graphics fare better, but the action is pretty much the same, if not superior.

Indeed, there were times when the Amiga game looked a bit stuffed and rigid, whereas the C64 version looked more flexible and playable. And when I say that the 16-bit graphics fare better, don't assume that the graphics in the c64 version are bad. Far from it. Most levels have beautifully drawn backdrops, while variety comes aplenty. Just look at those screenshots.

The action is fast and furious, mean and addictive. Occasionally hard, but never frustrating. And if you spend some time playing it, you're guaranteed to be able to finish it. No problem. But hey, it's such a cool little game that you might want to do it again.


Monday, April 6, 2009

McDonaldland longplay part 9 (C64, 1992)

Phew, and here is the final part to the McDonaldland longplay. That was long, wasn't it? So, beat Hamburglar, then go to your local McDonalds and get a Big Mac to celebrate your success. -)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Saboteur 2 (C64, 1987)

Remember the spy from Saboteur 1? It seems that he has a sister, and that his sister is a spy too. Must be something in the family DNA. Or maybe they watched too many James Bond movies when they were kids. Anyway, you take over the sister in this game and there's a number of missions she has to go through in this huge complex, which must belong to terrorists or something. The missions range from the relatively simple - i.e. just kill enemies you encounter and escape the complex - to the definitely steep and hazardous - i.e. kill enemies, disable electric fence, collect evidence (in the form of tapes), redirect the huge missile that the terrorists have obtained etc. You get the drift. Rats, there's a time limit too.

So what we have here is an arcade adventure. The adventure part has to do with mapping the whole thing - and it is a huge playing area; especially getting to know where the tape evidence lies and where the terminals are - with which you can operate the electric fence and the missile direction; and last, but not least, planning your route in such a way so that you make it to the end within the time limit. The arcade bits have to with the beat-em-up encounters between you and the enemy guards - and their pet pumas - that populate the place! There are crates which contain weapons - like shurikens or swords - and they help a lot in dealing with them, but you can only use them once. Thereafter you have to pick up another weapon from another crate.

The graphics and sound are minimal, to say the least. There's definitely a Spectrum-esque twist to the palette and, to be honest, whenever I played this I had some piece of music playing in my SID player - seeing that the game doesn't feature much sound. Yet this bare bones approach does manage to convey a nice sense of atmosphere, what with the varying parts of the moody landscape et al. So let's give the programmers the benefit of doubt.

Beneath the simple exterior lies a meaty game in any case. The first mission might seem fairly simple, but as you progress to more complicated tasks, you find that there is much to love here. There's real skill involved in choosing your route and things get quite hectic as time runs out. The beat-em-up part could be better, and the loose collision-detection gives combat a somewhat, well, loose feeling. But all in all this is a neat little game which got me pretty absorbed. I give it the thumbs up.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

McDonaldland longplay part 8 (C64, 1992)

Welcome to the latest installment of the McDonaldland longplay. It's getting a bit boring by now, but at least there's not much left. Btw, may I suggest you try the NES version of this, which is much better.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

PP Hammer (C64, 1991)

Heeeeeere's Johny!! Oops, sorry, I meant to say here's PP Hammer. So here's PP Hammer, placing you in the role of an Indiana Jones type archaeologist. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to travel around the world in several ancient temples - find whatever treasures there and flee for dear life. Flee for dear life? Why? Well, that's because there's traps galore, as well as the odd enemy. And they're out to get you!

Ahem, let's take things one at a time. Essentially this is a puzzle-platformer. It ain't your average walk left to right, kill all enemies, face the boss and get done with it type of game. The main catch is this: you've got a pneumatic drill, and with it you can demolish blocks of stone. Usually, the treasure (in the form of gold) is hidden in these blocks, or the blocks obstruct the path to the gold. The thing is, once you demolish those blocks, they don't stay demolished but reform after a while. This means that they can trap you - if you don't get out the way soon enough, or even kill you. Now, consider this, there might be a pile of four lines of blocks obstructing your way to the desired treasure, and they can be intersected with solid stones which cannot be demolished. That's the part of the game where you have to think carefully about how to proceed - and all the within the time limit.

As if that wasn't enough, the game slaps you in the face with an eclectic mix of level design - ranging from the chaotic maze to the tricky logical test, as well as an arsenal of additional elements. There's keys with which you can open doors, there's teleports, as well as essential power-ups like jumping boosts, drilling boosts, invisibility potions and so on.

Make no mistake, PP Hammer is an addictive game. Whenever I started playing a level, I had difficulty putting the game down. I'm not exaggerating here, this really is addictive stuff. It's not the kind of game you will finish in an afternoon - but that's okay because each level has it's own password so you can continue from where you left off without repeating earlier levels frustration.

There are criticisms. First of all there seems to be a tendency towards invisible elements later on: invisible ladders, invisible teleports and even invisible blocks. There's also the odd bug, with enemies getting trapped in walls for example. Also, while the original 16-bit version has over 60 levels, they only bothered to convert 38 for the C64 version - which is a bit of a shame. Nevertheless, this is really playable, with solid graphics and tunes, and did I mention the humorous Legoland bonus-level? Well, now I did!


Saturday, March 14, 2009

McDonaldland longplay part 7 (C64, 1992)

Boy, is this game huge or what? It is! But it's also a case of quantity not matching quality. -)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Zaxxon (C64, 1984)

Hello! Hope you like the re-decoration. That too much white was getting on my nerves, hence the change. Anyway, check out Zaxxon, an ancient shooter from 1984. It's a 3D isometric shoot-em-up, similar to Blue Max, albeit set in space. It's plot no-doubt involves the usual sci-fi nonsense. It's pretty certain that you're the good guy and you must liberate a planet - a galaxy even - from the bad guys. But hey, if you're feeling foul today, why not take the role of the villain? It's up to you.

The gameplay consists of basically two sections, one where you fly over what seems to be a space-base, and one where you're just shooting enemy ships in outer-space. The cool thing about Zaxxon (and Blue Max in that sense) is that it works in three different axes. See, not only you have to move left to right and backwards and forwards, but also up and down - change altitude in other words. That works quite neatly, even though it can result in a few clumsy moves with the joystick. This is a kind of shoot-em-up that is more sophisticated than your average vertical or horizontal shooter. And just look at those lovely shadows and explosions. Great for an 1984 game, no?

Wait a minute, did I say sophisticated? The main problem with Zaxxon is that it doesn't have enough levels. There's basically two space-bases and two outer-space sections. Finish those and you play them again - with slightly increased difficulty. Finish those and the game loops ever after. See, that was quite common in 1984. Games just weren't that complex back then.

In that sense, Zaxxon is a bit of an oxymoron. You have quite a sophisticated structure - and it is my opinion that this is a more sophisticated game than, say, all the R-Types out there; but you don't get enough of it cause there's not enough levels.