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.


Friday, March 6, 2009

McDonaldland longplay part 6 (C64, 1992)

Alright, so off to world-four - which offers a few imaginative environments, but not really much gameplay.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bobby Bearing (C64, 1986)

This time around you're a metallic ball named Bobby Bearing. Sadly, your four brothers have gone missing in the Metaplanes and you have to go and save them. That was the plot done with, so let's move on to the game. Take a look at the screenshots. That's right, it's a Marble Madness variant and it bears more than a passing resemblance to Spindizzy. And honestly, it does play like something in between these two games.

But first things first. You won't get far in this without a map. So either you make one, or you download one - here's one published in Zzap aeons ago (thanks Dohi). Now, when you start playing this you'll probably think that it's a bit pointless and there's not much happening. It's true. As you wander round the 3D landscape trying to locate your brother balls, your only worries is trying to avoid moving-blocks (that can crush you), and not getting lost. So you do need that map. All the while, it's not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the tricky elements of this 3D world, like lifts - usually activated by floor switches, air ducts that lift you off the ground, enemy balls, magnets that can trap you temporarily etc.

The game really comes into it's own when you do find one of your brothers and you have to guide him to safety, aka to the start of the game - which is also the exit. Suddenly, it's not so straightforward choosing which route to take. Say, what do you do when you're at some crossroads of passages? You might just have to leave your brother there in the middle - with some block moving threateningly towards him, while you take some other road and join back the room where you left him from the opposite side so that you can push him and move on. All of a sudden, what seemed like a pointless exploration game turns to an intriguing little puzzler. Oh, and did i mention the time limit? That's right, there is one. At first it seems generous, with 999 seconds to spare, but you might start to panic when there's 300 seconds left and, say, two brothers left unsaved.

It all sounds like an excellent game, doesn't it? A thinking man's Marble Madness? A more easy and less complex Spindizzy? It could well be but sadly there's two big problems to deal with. Firstly, the C64's eternal malaise when it comes to isometric 3D games. Busy screens slow the game considerably. So much that it makes it a chore. Secondly, and more importantly, the sluggish controls. They're so bad that it's a nightmare having to push two balls in more difficult rooms.

What a shame! It could have been a star if only it was better programmed. But it seems that for the time being, Red LED is is no danger of being dethroned as the best Marble Madness variant on the C64.