Wednesday, 17 April 2013

ZX Spectrum - Winners! (Compilation)

Sinclair Spectrum

One thing SORELY missed about the 8-bit days is the compilation pack. It was a win-win situation for everybody. On the part of the software house, it meant that they could get yet more sales of some of their not-quite-so-brand-new games (after the initial rush of buying the game when it first came out had subsided), and on the part of Joe Public they got several games for the price of about 1 and a half. It was a no-brainer.

Of course, software houses weren't daft. Many compilations consisted of a couple of good games bundled in with a couple of crap ones, but on occasion there were some real gems out there. Of course, on occasion software houses tried to sell compilations of simply terrible games to try and make some money out of them. You know, value in quantity and all that.

The first compilation I got my hands on was "Winners", and it was a typical mix of good and crap. So what joys await, then?


Things get off to a bright start with a game I convinced myself was going to be crap, but actually turned out pretty good. It's an Asteroids clone (you could have guessed that) with knobs on. But it's fast, frantic, and very very challenging, even on the "easier" paths. It's an arcade conversion, but regrettably I've never played that version. Just like all Asteroids-type games, you are surrounded by hurtling pieces of rock, which, when shot, break into smaller pieces, which, when shot, break into smaller still pieces, and you get the idea. Purple asteroids contain Energy Crystals, the sooner you collect these the more energy they restore. Some asteroids expand and then simply freeze when shot, and occasionally a nasty alien ship will start to open fire on you. Once the level is clear, fly to the warp to escape, and choose your next sector. After clearing enough sectors, you have to face Mukor, a green tentacled alien, whose tentacles you must destroy to defeat him.
Your ship can be transformed into 3 different forms, a light, nippy effort with little firepower, a big heavy beast of a ship with additional armour, or a mid-size ship with the best firepower. Playing with 2 players allows you to "dock" your ships together, if one of you is the nippy thing, and the other is the beast, giving you one ship with a rotatable gun turret.
There's a host of power-ups on offer too... from the usual shields, extra fire power and invisibility, to the "Ripstar", which causes your ship to fire rapidly while spinning around.

Colliding with enemies or asteroids is never a good idea, each hit reduces your shields if you have any available, or causes major loss to your energy banks. These are depleted just anyway by using your thrusters... so you have to keep on top of the energy crystals.
Fast, challenging, enjoyable. Nice one.

Impossible Mission II
Now, THIS is a gem. And, I'm very happy to say, one I managed to complete. I was determined to do it, and when you play this game you'll see why.

The evil Elvin Atombender, foiled in the first game, is out for revenge. Exactly what that entails, I'm not sure, but by the sound of his name, it probably involves Atomic death around the world on a grand scale. You play the part of an athletic (and very well animated) spy, wandering about the nooks and crannies of Elvin's tower block. Unfortunately, many deadly robots are also rambling around, attempting to stop you.
To progress to the next tower, you must collect 3 numbers for the passcode to open the elevator, these are located inside various objects inside the main rooms in the towers, along with a couple of other useful tools. These can be activated from the computer terminals and include such delights as bombs, a snooze button for the robots (some are still deadly on contact though) and extra time.
So, you collect these numbers to try and crack the code to progress, however that's not all... to actually reach Elvin's lair and defeat him entirely, you need to also collect a song. Snippets of the song are stored in safes, 1 in each tower. There's 8 towers, but only 6 snippets, so 2 are duplicates and must be recorded over. You can't just search a safe though, you need a time bomb to blow them open first. Things are never straightforward in the life of a spy.

The rooms can be quite tight and hard to navigate, especially when the only jump you can do is a forward somersault, and the various robots will do their best to foil you. Some drop mines, some try to push you off platforms to your death, but the most common one is the one that looks like a cat with laser beam eyes, which is also highly electrified, thus deadly to the touch. Others are less lethal but very annoying, and will ride lift platforms to make life harder for you, or perhaps
All in all, this is a HARD game, and will give you a lot of satisfaction if you manage to crack it. The crown jewel of this collection and no mistake.

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom
You may remember I reviewed the arcade version a little while back... and told you how great it was.

But by the bloody hell, US Gold, or Paragon, what the hell were you playing at with the conversion??!? Even with the Spectrum's limitations, this could've... SHOULD'VE been a much better conversion than it ended up.
Well, I did say there had to be a couple of duffers in there, right?

The graphics are half-decent enough, sure, but why lose nearly half the available screen with that piggin' status bar and colourful border?

The sound is awful, the framerate is awful, the collision detection makes the game borderline unplayable. But hey, you've had 2 top quality titles, it'd be greedy to expect a third, right?
Just to top it off, I recently discovered that there is in fact an INTENDED GAME-BREAKING BUG in the game's code. Once you reach level 4, you're stuck as the level doesn't appear to have an exit... however, in the code itself, the game doesn't even bother checking to see if you've reached the exit on level 4, so this was clearly done with intent.

LED Storm
Oh, hold on. Now we're talking. LED apparently stands for "Lazer Enhanced Destruction", but I don't remember seeing many lasers in this game. In fact, I don't recall seeing many Storms, or for that matter, much destruction. Oh, wait, there is some of that.

There's also a lot of mighty fast futuristic cars, smooth scrolling and nasty jumps. So ignore the title, it's crap. Instead concentrate on a mightily addictive game, if a little frustrating.
I don't know what the plot is, but it's irrelevant anyway. Basically you're in some kind of race, with limited fuel, and you must race to the end of each course as fast as you can. You must avoid, or jump on, opposing cars, there's one particularly nasty computer-controlled car that does its best to stop you. There's also "Frogs", which cling to the back of your car and slow you down, flicking your car left and right will shake them off. The roads aren't great, with massive gaps in places, so you'll have to jump them, and occasionally collect either fuel, temporary shields or points to try to prolong your progress.
Alright, it's a bit quiet on the roads, clearly they thought sound might be asking too much, but it doesn't matter. Impossible Mission II has so little sound they needn't have bothered, and that works, so why shouldn't this?

OK, so I never got past the "Big Cave Tunnel" level. But I tried and tried and tried, which must say something for the quality of this game. It's the speed more than anything, and even if you can only clear the first 3 levels like what I could, they're nice long, challenging levels, and fun to play.

Thunder Blade
I like to do my research when I'm writing reviews. Apparently all the still images used in the arcade version of Thunder Blade, were taken directly from the film "Blue Thunder", which Sega may never have actually acquired the rights to base a game on... I'm sure Sega did things all legally and above board, after all, they were definitely one of the best forces in Arcade Games throughout the 80s and 90s. But take a look at the image below:
Anyway, I digress.

Thunder Blade was Sega's helicopter-based version of After Burner. That is, it was a shoot 'em-up, mainly played in 3D (but with 2D sections too), often delving into what can only be described as "Bullet Hell". That said, it was a decent enough game, often available in sit-down hydraulic cabs and featuring oversize joysticks.
Which is where everything goes wrong for the Spectrum version. You see, you need to be able to adjust your height and move left and right... as well as accelerate and slow down. Unfortunately, having a single joystick makes this a bit of a challenge to implement. Obvious answer? Define a couple of keys on the keyboard to take care of either the height or the speed. Actual answer? How about to speed up, you have to hold down the fire button and move the joystick up and down?

So, while you're accelerating, you can't shoot back at the enemy, OR change your height; The agility of your futuristic chopper gunship has just been slashed... As have the odds of you reaching the end of level 1. Sorry, but they ruined the game with this decision.
Having said that, the slowdown rate when there's enemies on screen doesn't help either. Shame, really, as the graphics are really quite good, this game could have been pretty special, unfortunately the cumbersome and ineffective controls just spoilt the whole thing.

Winners... don't use drugs. Oh, wait, sorry, that was William S Sessions' famous words appearing on practically every 90's arcade game ever. Winners... on the Spectrum, at least, was a decent compilation. Taking 3 hit games and 2 duffers for the price of 1 and a half full-price Spectrum Games, it really was a no-brainer. Oh, yes.
Yeah, hindsight is a wonderful thing and all, so how about you just check out Impy Mish II, LED Storm and Blasteroids, and leave the rest to fester? Saying that, Impy Mish and Blasteroids are freely available on World Of Spectrum, LED Storm currently sits as "Distribution Denied" as Capcom do not allow the free distribution of their copyright... but I'm sure with a bit of hunting you'll find a copy on Ebay.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Various Formats - Mortal Kombat

Various Formats
Mortal Kombat

Oh, come on. It had to happen eventually. I had to cover one of the most controversial, bloodthirsty games of all time, the game that infuriated a whole generation of clueless parents. The game that pretty much invented the "Death Move", brought blood and guts to be standard fare in video games, and really kicked off what was just the beginning of increasingly violent digitised beat 'em-ups across all available formats.

But no-one, except Midway, made decent ones. Pretenders all were the likes of Survival Arts, Street Fighter: The Movie, Time Killers (OK, not digitised, but riding on the crest of the violence wave), Kasumi Ninja, Way of the Warrior and Vicious Circle. Mortal Kombat and its sequels seemed to be the only games of this type that really WORKED, that didn't come across as a gimmicky load of old tripe.

Right, enough of this, let's dive in.

The arcade version came along first; 7 characters, a fairly standard moveset for each (except for the specials, of course), and a back story that spawned a million (approx) fan stories and ran deeper than Advanced Lawnmower Simulator. Let's touch on that quickly (it gets more and more complicated as the series expanded), basically there is the Earthrealm and the Outworld or some such place, where there exists a fighting tournament, which some guy called Shang Tsung has corrupted. Thanks to his meddling, there now exists a rule where 10 victories in a row for Outworld would result in the Earthrealm being overrun by Shao Khan's Outworld forces. How marvellous!

Naturally, of course, it falls to the fighters of Earthrealm to stop this, especially since last year was victory number 9...

So, the characters first of all: they're a varied bunch, a couple of Ninjas, the token Bruce Lee-alike, a God of Lightning, a film star, a mercenary and a woman. Each of them has the standard moveset, which is high and low punches and kicks as standard, the leg sweep, the big uppercut, the overhead throw and a roundhouse kick. Without special moves, each character would actually handle identically.

But there ARE special moves, although usually only 2 or 3 per character. Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, Kano, Rayden and Sonya all have a "Fireball" move (ok, it might be lightning or a knife, but the effect is the same), whilst Scorpion and Sub-Zero have slightly different moves... Scorpion has a harpoon, which, on successful impact, he uses to drag the enemy in close, briefly dazed, for either a throw or an uppercut for best results. Sub-Zero uses an iceball, freezing the opponent on the spot, again with chance to get in close for a throw or an uppercut. Be careful, though, attempting to freeze an already frozen opponent will result in a "Double Ice Backfire". Oooh, nasty.

Other special moves tend to be something like a "teleport" punch or kick variant, or Johnny Cage has the "Package Check" punch, which is good for a laugh. But the big part of the game was without doubt the fatalities. That's right, upon winning your second round, you were commanded to finish your opponent, a swift joystick combination from the correct place on the screen would result in some kind of bloodthirsty finishing move, which caused outrage in some anti-video game circles, but then again, so did most games, so maybe we can't pay too much attention to that.

Your game would consist of beating each opponent in turn, then a "Mirror Match" against yourself, followed by 3 "Endurance" matches where you must beat 2 opponents. Then comes the big guy, Goro, a huge 4-armed half-human half-dragon who is not at all easy to beat, and then the final boss, the fireball-spamming Shang Tsung himself. Occasionally you'll be asked to "Test Your Might" against a variety of substances, starting with wood and going up to diamond, this little sub-game was a button-bashing frenzy to build up the power and strike. A nice little diversion, there.

You know, I'm going to be brutally honest here... Without the death moves, Mortal Kombat would probably have never "made it", there wouldn't have been a sequel, there wouldn't have been a film, and there certainly wouldn't have been so much fuss about what is mostly a fairly "average" beat 'em-up.

Hold on though, there is more... Y'see, Mortal Kombat was a sneaky and deceptive game, in that there were a few little tid-bits to deliberately keep surprises coming. First of all, on occasion a Green version of Scorpion and Sub-Zero would drop down before a match, give you a little bit of information, then jump away again... This was Reptile, and he was a hard-to-reach secret character. Once you got the clues, you then needed a little luck to find and face him anyway. You needed to fight on the Pit stage, with shadows going across the moon (I seem to remember this was a 1-in-64 chance every time you reach the Pit level), win with 2 flawless victories, no blocking, and do your fatality. Until you find that Reptile is a faster enemy combining Scorpion AND Sub-Zero's special moves, which makes him very hard to beat. But still, word of mouth spread news of his existence.

Another rumour was that of more hidden characters, such as Ermac, this was in fact just the name of a counter for "Error Macros". But still, it led to false counters being introduced in subsequent Mortal Kombat games in the future.

But it was the death moves, the fatalities, that everyone wanted to see. Still my personal favourite was Sub-Zero's Head-and-Spinal-Cord-Removal, though Kano's Heart-Rip was also good. Liu Kang's was crap, though, basically a somersault kick and an uppercut, leaving no clue that the opponent was actually dead, except for the big "Fatality" bonus, that is.

Uppercutting your opponent on the pit stage would cause them to fall onto a bed of spikes, ironically Reptile's lair, which was always nice.

So, the arcade game was superb, how were the conversions handled?

The SNES version was heavily censored, and removed blood (instead replaced with "Sweat") and changed several of the death moves to less "gruesome" moves. However, it still played really well, which is always a good thing. The Megadrive version started out with no blood, but had two codes to activate it again, which of course, everyone did. Despite some slight compromising on the graphics, it retained the speed and action of the arcade game, enough to compete with the SNES, so simply for the fact of the added gore, the Megadrive version just about trumps the SNES here, although you NEEDED a 6 button pad for complete control.
The Amiga version was absolutely superb. It SHOULDN'T have worked, especially with only one fire button (I can't remember how it was done myself, but I promise you it worked perfectly), but the game was outstandingly good, and probably the most graphically impressive of all the 16-bit versions, but with disk loading times, and obviously getting used to the 1-button system, the Megadrive version would still win out, just about.

However, the PC version was ARCADE PERFECT, except for the music which was probably better. Of course, you can just play it in MAME now, but without doubt, if you're going to find a home version, the PC is the one to go for. Although with it being DOS based, you might have a few problems here and there.

The MK series got better, though, and even progressed into 3D, but the original game will always hold a special place in my heart. It's just a shame my heart is in Kano's hand and I'm on the floor. D'oh.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Arcade - Tapper


You look back at arcade games of 1983, and you'll remember just how basic the graphics normally were... and then you look at something like Tapper or Timber by Bally Midway. Alright, Dragon's Lair was around then too, but that's a laserdisc game and not a real arcade game in comparison.

Anyway, the point I was making was that compared to arcade games like, for example, 10-Yard Fight, the graphics on Bally Midway's games was the equivalent of High-Definition TV these days. Not only were the graphics top-notch, but the arcade cabinet was slightly unusual too, featuring a foot rail in the style of a real bar itself, and beer taps along with a joystick for controlling the game. Yes, ACTUAL BEER TAPS.

As the server of drinks, you're required to keep the many and varied thirsty punters adequately watered by filling and flinging drinks down the bars to them. Each screen has four bars for you to keep an eye on, and the simple object is to empty the screen of customers by forcing them back out of the doors by continually supplying drinks. Supplying too many drinks and smashing a glass or letting a punter reach your end of the bar is an instant loss of a life, though.

Sometimes a punter won't go back out the door after one drink, they'll stop and finish their drink and ask for more, flinging the empty glass back in your direction. Again, don't let it fall off the end of the bar, or that'll be another life gone. You can run along the bar to collect empties (or tips), so if time allows that might be a better option.

Collecting tips can be both helpful and fatal for you... as soon as you collect a tip, some form of entertainment will begin in the background. Whatever the entertainment might be, SOME of the punters will be distracted and no longer advance towards you, but they also won't pick up a drink if you sling one in their direction, and, in case you haven't guessed, sending too many drinks down the bar for them to smash against the doors... will cost you a life.

So the odds are certainly stacked against you, but hey, the game's still a lot of fun, and once again, like all the best games, there's some nice little touches in there, like your character's reaction when you complete a level... he'll pour himself a drink (sometimes a few in quick succession), and then throw the glass and smash it on his foot (all of a sudden, breaking a glass is PERFECTLY FINE??), or on his head, or even take a bird out of the sky...

And then there's the bonus level between scenes... The Bandit will shake up 5 of the 6 cans waiting on the bar, not only must you remember which one was NOT shaken, he then mixes them up to make life more fun for you.

The game was originally all about serving beer, obviously, but it also got a family-friendly overhaul as "Root-Beer Tapper", replacing some of the graphics so that the barman now looks like a "Soda Jerker", for example. Obviously the worry was that kids would become alcoholics or something, but as we all know, if video games influenced our behaviour, we'd all be dressing up in yellow costumes, wandering round mazes and eating pills, going "Wakka Wakka Wakka Wakka" all day long.

Hmm. Anyway, to surmise, then: Tapper is a great game that LOOKS way ahead of its time. It's challenging, but it's all good fun. If you're lucky enough to find an original working cabinet, don't waste any time, get your money in and enjoy 80s arcade gaming at its best.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

ZX Spectrum - Lightgun Action Pack

ZX Spectrum
The Spectrum Light Gun Action Pack

Operation Wolf
Missile Ground Zero
Robot Attack
Solar Invasion

The Spectrum Light Gun was an interesting device. Shaped like a weapon that would have looked good on Blake's 7, it was actually quite spiffy as far as light guns went... at least back then, anyway.

Allow me to reminisce for a minute. It's Christmas 1989. I've received my beloved Spectrum. Fairly late to the party, it's a +2A model, and with it comes the  light gun and 6 games. Yes, if you're a regular reader (don't think I have any of those, but it'd be nice), I've told some of this story before, but allow me to bore you further.

The six games are actually all pretty good, really. And all fairly varied, as much as Light Gun Games can be at least. Sure, a few of them might have been subject of some scathing reviews, but what you have to bear in mind is that when these were reviewed at the time, the term "value for money" probably resulted in a great reduction of the scores. This I cannot argue with, when the price of the pack (a princely £30 or so at the time) is taken into account, compared to other compilations such as, for example, Konami Arcade Collection (10 games) or Winners! (5 games) or The Biz (4 games but 3 of them were Your Sinclair Megagames), which usually retailed at around £15... I think you see where I'm coming from.

Anyway, enough yarbling, onto the games.

First up was always going to be the "flagship" arcade conversion, Operation Wolf. Unfortunately, I've already reviewed it, so rather than a feeble copy and paste, I'm simply going to link to that review (which rather handily covers the original arcade game too). So click here and off you go.

Next up was Bullseye. You know Bullseye, staple of Sunday evening TV in the 80s, before Gladiators came along of course. Anyway, based on the hit quiz show (which has had something of a resurgence on Challenge TV in recent years), the gun takes care of the dart throwing (or arrows as they seem to be referred to), but you have to have the keyboard in reach to be able to type your answers quick enough. There doesn't seem to be a massive variety of questions, ones about John Frieda's girlfriend (Lulu) and The Venerable Bede seem to repeat themselves with alarming regularity.

Overall, I personally found this game to be the weak link in the whole package. The targeting sometimes seems way off, you can barely move the gun, fire all 3 darts, and 1 of them will find it's way to the far edge of the screen while the others rest firmly in the treble 20. Because it's not a fast action game, there's no issue with slow-down from firing too much, but still, it remains relatively unexciting compared to the rest.

Next up is Missile Ground Zero. Think "Missile Command", but rather than a trackball and slow missiles, you can target instantly with the gun and shoot at the tiny little things that fall from the sky threatening your cities. Each shot is shown as an explosion on screen, and whilst the white flashes may affect those with photo-sensitive conditions, the action doesn't slow down, and is fast and frantic.

Better still, the game features some of the best music of ALL TIME on the Spectrum. And! AND! AND!! It takes about 45 seconds to load from tape. (Memory fading, but it seemed that way, I know it didn't take long). Sure, it's repetitive and it's basic, but by the hell it's a blast of fun, and for such a quick load, I probably played this game more than any other.

From there, we go to Robot Attack, now this one is a little bit disappointing. Made by the same folks and featuring the same music as Missile Ground Zero (which is a highlight), the game itself is a little bit poor in comparison. Robots walk along the platforms, you have to shoot them a number of times according to what colour they are. Some robots are indestructable, some will collapse when shot, get repaired and come back a different colour. If a robot reaches a crate, they build part of a "Mega-Robot", which, if completed, will spell game over for the human race. Or something. There's power-ups with varying effects, but to be honest, you'll probably play this a couple of times and have had enough by that point.

The final two games in the package are real gems, and more than make up for any disappointment you might have felt by Robot Attack and Bullseye. Which is better? Erm... I couldn't really choose.

First up then, is Solar Invasion. Massive aliens are attacking our Solar System, these massive aliens release little baby aliens that will evolve before your very eyes, eventually becoming equally massive aliens. The object is simple enough... destroy them all before they destroy the human race.

You basically drift around space a bit, aided by a radar to help you find the alien scum, as well as ammo pickups and smart bombs. Shooting the little arrows at the top and bottom of the status panel will rotate your direction accordingly, and, as with all the best simplistic concepts, that is pretty much all you need to know. By the time you reach the last few levels, you'll see just how quickly the aliens evolve, be prepared for some fast and frantic shooting to stand any chance whatsoever of completing the game. I never quite made it.

Rookie is a target shooting game, and a mighty fine one at that. It tests your reactions and accuracy, pitting you against the clock to reach the required score on each level. The action takes place over a number of screens (I think it's about 20, I can't remember), on each one a number of targets will begin to appear, as each one does a number appears on them, beginning at 100 and counting down to 0. Shoot the target too early you'll get no points. The quicker you shoot from the moment 100 is displayed, the more points you get. Ammo is limited, so you can't go crazy.

Fortunately, once the last target has appeared, you'll start getting bonus ammo signs in the corner of the screen. If you have enough time to stock up, you can hang around and shoot these for an extra 10 bullets each time, or you can shoot the arrows to proceed to the next screen, where there will be more targets.

Guess what? ONCE AGAIN, simple concept, simple fun. It works brilliantly and the game caused great competition between me and my family. Which is where this game gets my ultimate seal of approval.

My sister was actually quite good at this game, but she could never put her name in the high score table. Why not? Because as soon as she typed in her name, it replaced it with "Hi there, Smudge Face!" We never understood why. Anyway, the mystery is solved, I emailed a chap called "Equinox" who had a page on Spectrum "Easter Eggs", and told him about that particular incident. Within 24 hours, he'd gone through the game's code and found several other things you could type in on the high score table... only to be replaced by something else. Who "Lynn" is, although the code seems to reveal her surname may be "Fairclough", remains a mystery. But thank you, Peter Gough, for the amusement you provided me and my sister.

Oh, if you want to see the rest of the hidden easter eggs in this game, the page has disappeared from the internet, luckily the World Of Spectrum website has archived it for your pleasure, and you can find it right here. (Warning, this page does contain a few naughty words. You know, like tit, shit and... erm... probably some others.)

(The above review was written with much love to Smudge-Face)

Monday, 8 October 2012

Handheld Games - Tomy Turnin' Turbo Dashboard

Handheld Games
Tomy Turnin' Turbo Dashboard

Hmm. Not technically a hand-held game, but it's small enough, you COULD play it hand held. Despite the 4 'D' size batteries required to run it.

Still, it's a game, it's retro, and it's... well... as a 5 or 6 year old at the time, it was fascinating, but now? It's a hunk of plastic with no real gameplay in there.

Alright, I'm being harsh. Because, despite the fact that it's the shallowest "game" in the world, with very little replay value, young Fishsta would play it over and over again... and my happy memories of playing it as a fascinated youngster come flooding back.

So what do you do... turn the ignition key to turn it on, press the reset button to refill the fuel gauge and turn the "Trip" counter back to zero. Select a gear, and you're away. Your display is a small back-lit rolling roadway with your natty red car at the bottom of the screen. Stay on the road to make the "Trip" counter rise (effectively your score), touching the edges of the road will cause it to stop for a few seconds. And. That's. It. Until your fuel runs out, whereupon you hit the reset button and try again. And again. And again.

The gear stick chooses what speed you go, but after some practice, I'd managed to go at full speed for the entire fuel tank, pretty sure that just about wrapped the Trip Counter back to zero again.

You might see one of these at a Car Boot sale, and if you do, why not offer a couple of quid for a little entertainment?

Just don't expect to be still playing it the next day. I know what I'll be doing is taking it apart to see how the gear lever changed the speed and Revs display. That fascinated me! Simple things, simple minds and all that...