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Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Gamer Forever Voyaging Presents - Andrew Braybrook

Hey, it's me!

Yeah, I know... I said my book and its related blog wouldn't take up all my time... and they have.  Sorry about that.  It's a very exciting project for me, though, and it'll be great if I can achieve most of what I want with it.

Can you remember, back in 2011, that I did a retrospective on Andrew Braybrook's Commodore 64 games?  It went down fairly well, but I suppose you'd expect that because they're great games.  Anyway, one of my readers is a big Braybrook fan, and he took it upon himself to take what I'd written, combine it with ZZAP! 64's reviews of Braybrook games, and put them all together in a PDF, available for download as a published work for free!

Now, why didn't I mention this before, you might wonder?  Well, the truth is, it's my fault.  I'd planned to write more... stuff about Andrew Braybrook's enhanced re-releases of his C64 games, and also about his Amiga games.  They were going to be added to the PDF as exclusive material, making it something worth downloading for regular readers of the blog.  And I just never got around to it.  Sorry.


An exclusive look at the cover! Get it downloaded!
For all that time, it's sat there, unloved by the masses, albeit not forgotten about.  But in the latest issue of Retro Gamer magazine, there's a look at Braybrook's Uridium, with a small retrospective on his other games.  And it struck me that it might be nice to "release" the A Gamer Forever Voyaging PDF at this time, to kind of capitalise on that.

So, here it is, or rather, the link to the page where you can download it: A Gamer Forever Voyaging Presents - The GFV Guide to Andrew Braybrook

It's a little bit rough around the edges, which again is my fault.  Basically, Tony (the splendid fellow who put it together) knocked this up for me to look at, and I said, "Great!  Don't do anything else just yet, I'll give you more stuff to put in it".  And then I didn't.  So it's a bit warts-and-all... it hasn't been edited for spelling mistakes, for instance.

If you can get past the fact it's not a final draft, though, I'm quite chuffed with it.  My first printed work, so to speak!  And it just goes to show that there really are people who like what I do.  Many thanks to Tony for putting in the time and effort to produce this... hopefully, with my book in the works, it's just a taste of things to come...

Oh, alternatively, you can visit my original articles:

Andrew Braybrook - a quick C64 history
Lunattack
Gribbly's Day Out
Paradroid
Uridium
Alleykat
Morpheus
Intensity

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Dragon Flight (iOS)

I've been playing a few games on my iPhone lately.  That makes a bit of a change... with the exception of The Bard's Tale, there's been very little to catch my imagination in the last month or two.


Fortunately, people on my Twitter feed, Rev. Stu Campbell in particular, will often champion the cause of a gaming underdog.  And as they're usually either cheap or free, I'm more than willing to give them a try.


It's all happening here.  Look out for that flaming rock!
The first one I had a go at was Dragon Flight.  If you were to just look at the screenshots, you could be forgiven for thinking it's a bullet-hell type shoot 'em up, and as Cave has more or less cornered that market, you could also be forgiven for passing it up.  But Dragon Flight is not what you might think...


That sounds very cryptic, so let me explain.  Dragon Flight is an "endless runner" style of game, where the object is to get as far as possible.  Yeah, I know, yet another one.  But this one is a bit more interesting, enjoyable and addictive than the majority of them.


Cutting a swathe through enemy dragons.
Dragon Flight sees you sitting atop a dragon, your girly pink hair flowing in the breeze, flying upwards and spitting fire.  Yes, it's a vertically-scrolling shooter as well as an endless runner.  Lines of enemy critters stream down at you, and you need to blast a gap in the line that's big enough for you to pass through.   As long as you're able to do that, you should be OK.


It's never that easy, though, and some of the enemies are fairly resistant to your firepower.  It's up to you to spot these as quickly as possible, so that you can manoeuvre to a position that will see you through.  This is certainly enough of an obstacle to make things difficult.


Destroyed dragons leave a shower of gold coins!




That said, there are ways to make things easier.  Shooting any of the enemies will see them releasing items for you to pick up.  The standard items are gold coins... the more of these you pick up, the better, as you can spend them in the shop and permanently upgrade your firepower.  Other items available include valuable gems and one-use items, such as a limited-time dual shot or "hyper flight", which sees you roaring through the enemies at high speed for a few seconds, despatching anything which stands in your way.


I might be getting better, but it doesn't mean I'm any good...




There are two different scores to chase... furthest distance, and highest score.  You can consciously go for one or the other while you're playing... furthest distance is easier to go for, obviously.  But to entice you into going for a higher score, the game has a very well thought-out risk/reward element.  Much like many modern shooters, you score more points for shooting enemies when they're closer to you.  This is a dangerous way of playing, but when you know you can earn many times a "normal" score, it's very tempting to give it a go, and the game helpfully puts a health bar over stronger enemies to help you judge what you're doing.


Dragon Flight is very entertaining and has that crucial "one more go" factor.  If it weren't for the fact it's sharing time with two other iOS games I've also downloaded this week, I'd probably never be off it.  As it is, it's a great little timewaster, and it's free!  Unless you've got absolutely no room left on your iThing, you've got no excuse for not downloading this, at all.


Dragon Flight is FREE on iTunes!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

They Were Our Gods

Just writing a quick post here, for anyone who hasn't picked up on it yet.


I've committed myself to another writing project... a big one.  It is to be called They Were Our Gods, and it will be a book celebrating British games and programmers of the Eighties.  I don't believe they get anywhere near enough credit in games books, so I'm aiming to put that right.


I've got a blog up and running for the book... kind of like ZZAP! 64's Diary of a Game, but less interesting.  Nonetheless, if you want to see my daily struggles and successes with the book's progress, go here: They Were Our Gods.


I'm two weeks in... there's a long road ahead, but let's see how it goes.


In the meantime, I won't be completely abandoning A Gamer Forever Voyaging; after all, I can't spend all my time on that, so I'll still write about games I play that are unrelated to the book.  But you'll forgive me if it's updated less frequently than you'd like, I hope.


So, please join me on my journey if you're interested.  Even better, spread the word.  The more people that get behind the project, the better.  I've got a Facebook page if you're into that sort of thing, you can like it here: Facebook - They Were Our Gods.  I've also set up a Twitter account that you could follow... you can't link to Twitter accounts, it seems, but the name is @TheyWereOurGods.


Here's to an ongoing saga of tears and happiness, trials and tribulations and above all, games!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Bundle in a Box (PC)

One of the best innovations in the indie games scene, in my opinion, has been the advent of the pay-what-you-want bundle. Usually tied to a charity, these splendid packages offer some of indie gaming's finest efforts wrapped up in a cheap-as-you like package. Often, there are extras thrown in, too. And in saving yourself some money (unless you're rich and/or extremely generous), you can feel all warm and fuzzy in the process.


You're bound to have heard of some of them... Humble Bundle and Indie Royale being among the most prominent.  The latest is called Bundle in a Box, and is just released today.  It's a bit different to the other bundles, in that it has a specific theme to it, rather than just picking a few random titles and throwing them all together.  In this case, the theme is adventure...



I thought that was Cornwall for a minute... (The Sea Will Claim Everything)


Yes, Bundle in a Box brings together some of the most renowned names in the world of the indie adventure game.  And that's great.  But it goes further than that.  It also features the launch of a brand new title... The Sea Will Claim Everything.


The latest release in the Lands of Dream series of adventures, The Sea Will Claim Everything is the first commercial release from Jonas Kyratzes.  If you haven't cottoned on yet, that means all his previous releases are free.  Click on his name and check them out.  They have a very distinctive style.  The Sea Will Claim Everything may be the biggest and most ambitious of Kyratzes' titles yet.  Promising "walls of text" and featuring charming graphics and sound, it's a chilled-out affair where every location is worth exploring.



Christ.  Don't much fancy going in there. (The Sea Will Claim Everything)


If this slice of exclusivity isn't enough to convince you to take the plunge, then maybe some of the other goodies in The Box will do it.  It might help if I actually say a little bit about its other contents, in that case.


Ben There, Dan That! (Special Edition) and Time Gentlemen, Please are here, for starters.  I've put them together because the second of them follows directly on from the first.  They make up the story of Ben and Dan (who are the programmers... I REALLY hope it's an alternative version of their story!), a couple of Magnum PI-loving guys who end up having problems with things like aliens and the whole world dying.  You know, little things like that.  Over the course of the two games, you have to get things back to how they were before that fateful Magnum PI marathon.  They're quirky and funny, and well worth the time of any point-and-clicker.



That's OK, anything for a mate. (Time Gentlemen, Please)


1893: A World's Fair Mystery is billed as "an interactive adventure into Chicago history".  It's similar to an old-school adventure, using text and archival photographs to construct a fictional diamond robbery at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.  It's almost ten years old now, but I've never seen it anywhere else before now, and if you hanker after bygone days then this could be right up your alley.


The final game in the "standard edition" of the Bundle In A Box is the now-fabled Gemini Rue.  Programmed by a one-man team, namely Josh Nuernberger, it's a science fiction epic set on a faraway planet.  Graphically, it brings to mind classics such as Beneath A Steel Sky, and its complicated storyline and Blade-Runner-esque leanings make it one of the most interesting adventure games released in any year that begins with a '2'.



That would be the decent thing to do. But we're not decent. (Gemini Rue)


There's more, if you're feeling flush.  Pay more than the average and you'll get two more games, The Shivah and Metal Dead.  The Shivah is a classically-styled point-and-click adventure with traditional Lucasarts-esque graphics... the twist is in the plot, where you play a Rabbi who, on the verge of having to close his synagogue due to a lack of funds, receives a large inheritance.  But is there something sinister behind this turn of events?  Metal Dead is pretty much the polar opposite, as  you play a couple of heavy metal fans who, having crashed their car outside a medical facility, have to use what brains they have to survive a zombie apocalypse.  It's kind of like Wayne's World of the Dead.


As ever, there are more treats in the bundle that will be "unlocked", sales depending.  And one lucky indie developer stands to make some serious cash toward their next project... for every 15,000 bundles sold, $2,000 will be added to a pot and awarded by ballot, once the sales have ended.  It's a great way of helping potentially struggling developers to get a possible masterpiece out to the public.



Tell you what, you're not wrong. (The Shivah)


But the biggest winners out of the deal will hopefully be the charity that it supports.  Perivolaki is a Greek organisation - The Hellenic Centre for Mental Health and Treatment of Child and Family.  A non-profit organisation that helps to treat mentally ill children and support their families, it's a cause that can use any extra help it can get.  We gamers are always quick to throw our spare cash towards good causes, especially when we're getting a pile of awesome games for our trouble.


If the games, the charity or both sound like the sort of thing you'd like to get behind, then go and visit Bundle in a Box.  As is often the way with these things, the website is taking a bit of a hammering after its launch.  But bookmark it, bear with it and do your bit when you can.  With a deal like this, everybody wins.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Hypercircuit (Commodore 64)

I've been a bit stuck for things to write about lately.  Not that I haven't got lots of possible subjects; it's just that it's been hard to gather my focus sufficiently to nail something down.  And I've been dipping in and out of a number of games, enjoying playing them but not really giving them enough time to justify writing about them.



Mmmm, look at all those lovely points to be had...


Lately, I've been mulling over the idea of writing a retro book.  I've had some good feedback about the idea, too.  That's added a bit of a spring to my step, and this write-up has really come about as a result of that.  While I was pulling together all my thoughts, ideas and plans and read a few old ZZAP! 64 magazines, I realised that I had never played Chris Butler's Hypercircuit.  And so, I decided to put that right.


Hypercircuit was Chris Butler's first Commodore 64 game.  A follow-up to a game he'd programmed on the BBC called Transistor's Revenge, it saw you miniaturised and placed inside a Commodore 64, using a tiny fighter craft to destroy marauding enemies that are intent on damaging the computer's circuit boards.  How dare they?



Am I awesome, or what?


You can't just go rampaging wherever you like in your quest, though... that would cause more harm than good.  Instead, you have to manoeuvre your way around using the wiring on the circuit board.  You have to be careful, though, as those dangerous enemies could lurk around any corner...


So, Hypercircuit is a shoot 'em up, then.  It's presented in classic arcade fashion, with your enemies and their points values set out on the title screen.  And although the gameplay is nothing like it, it's clearly inspired (at least in part) by Defender in the way its bad guys behave.  If you're going to borrow from something, borrow from the best.



Things that need to be shot.


It's not a bad little game, when all is said and done.  It has a few little problems; the screen size is too small, the music gets annoying, there are times when you'll be trundling around a seemingly empty level.  Oh, and it's a bit predictable.  But it's still quite enjoyable to play, in the chase for a high score.  That said, it was improved and refined immeasurably for Chris Butler's next game, Z.  Still, it was a nice introduction to the C64 for Chris Butler, who would go on to have a very interesting career on the machine...

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Giveaway - Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 (PC)

I know, I know, I haven't written much lately.  I've been in a bit of a funk, and in the meantime I've had other ideas buzzing about, which I mentioned last time I did actually write something.  I need to gather a bit of focus.  I will.


In the meantime, you might have noticed that Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 was released this week.  But what if you haven't played Episode 1 yet?  Well, I'm giving away one copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 for the PC, through the medium of Steam.  If you'd like to try and win, just leave a comment after this post telling me what you think of my new banner...


See you soon!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

What the hell am I doing?


OK, so April was a bit of a washout... not just weather-wise, but for A Gamer Forever Voyaging.  It was more like A Gamer Who Sat Down For A Nice Rest During His Voyage.  Bit rubbish, really.  Sorry.

So, what have I been doing?  Lots, actually.  I was working on a number of things for Way of the Rodent, for one. I think you're going to particularly like one of the things I've done, when it's published...it took me ages, though...  I have actually played a few games, too.  Asura's Wrath and Need for Speed: The Run have fallen to my gaming hand over the past month.  I may well write something about those in the coming days... both are worthy of my thoughts, for various reasons...

One more thing I've been kicking around and looking into is the possibility of writing a book.  With Kickstarter getting everyone's creative juices flowing, I've wondered if there's any possibility of using something similar to get a project I've had in mind for years off the ground a last.  But to be honest, I wouldn't need money for ages.  I'd have to actually get the content together first.

I'm not sure where that's going.  It's still up in the air in my own mind.  The idea I have is, I believe, a good one (and it involves retro games)... I think it would cover ground that's previously untrodden as far as games books go.

But we'll see.  It would be tricky, and a mighty undertaking.  But if I could get people on board, it could take off and be awesome.

In the meantime, the poor old blog has been a bit neglected.  Sorry about that.  I'll do my best to make it up to anyone that cares, this month.  I might even have a games giveaway or two, so stay tuned...

Monday, 9 April 2012

R.I.P. Jack Tramiel

When I was a teenager, nothing in this world mattered more to me than my Commodore 64. School became something that just got in the way of my game time. My heroes were not rock stars, or film stars... they were the reviewers at ZZAP! 64, still the best computer magazine of all time. Or the programmers who made such awesome games: Andrew Braybrook; Jeff Minter; Archer MacLean; the guys at Sensible Software; even musician Rob Hubbard. The Commodore 64 has meant more to me than any other possession I have owned. It's part of my soul.


I didn't spare a thought as to how that Commodore 64 ended up in my possession, save for the fact my parents had bought me it for Christmas (which, whether they knew it or not, made them the most awesome people on the planet that Christmas Day). I certainly didn't think for a moment about the people who had designed and manufactured the thing. Why would I? I didn't want a job with them. I just wanted to play games.


I never had any interest in programming, as such. I think that's always been beyond me. Still, the Commodore 64 was the first machine that inspired me to so much as dabble. The first such instance was probably much the same as yours. I'd go into Boots with my mates, and there's be a few computers running in their display. We'd sidle up to the Commodore 64 and type:


10 PRINT "BOOTS IS SHIT" 
20 GOTO 10 
RUN 


And once we hit the Enter key, the message would infinitely scroll down the screen, and we'd run out of the shop laughing, hoping to avoid a clip from the security guard.


Later, inspired by the ZZAP! lads, I actually programmed, using much the same instructions as the infamous Boots message, an entire catalogue of reviews of the games I owned. I separated them by genre and wrote reviews in the ZZAP! style, with the same categories of ratings and my own personal comments. Somewhere, in a north-east landfill, lies a Boots C15 cassette with that program on it.


Since those days, I've always fancied being a games writer. It's why I love writing for Way of the Rodent, and it's why I've got this blog. I even have thoughts of writing a book about computer games. And it all stems from owning the Commodore 64.


The main man behind the Commodore 64 was Jack Tramiel, and he died this weekend. The videogaming world owes him an awful lot, as do I.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Phantoms of the Asteroid (Commodore 64)

Never before has a game suffered from such an identity crisis. If you bought this game, the cover picture told you it was Phantom of the Asteroids. But when you got to the loading screen, it had become Phantom of the Asteroid. Then, once it had loaded, the title screen said it was Phantoms of the Asteroid!

So, which was it? Well, given that you were on an asteroid and there were phantoms, I would say it should have been Phantoms of the Asteroid. That's what I've always called it, anyway.


I'm-a-livin' in a box... I'm-a-livin' in a laser-edged box...

Phantoms opens with an excellent, rousing and energetic Rob Hubbard track, which just gets you in the mood for a fast-paced spacey shoot 'em up. Which, erm, you don't get. Instead, it's more of a leisurely exploration game.

Actually, it's not that leisurely. Granted, you move around the gigantic asteroid at a slow pace, but the phantoms appear very often indeed, so you'll have to keep your finger on your laser trigger or you won't be getting off the thing alive. Or dead, actually.

There's a reason why you're on this asteroid, though, besides just having a bit of a look around. It's actually on a collision course with Earth, and that wouldn't be good. So it's your job to stop it.


Ahhhh... precious fuel.

It should be easy enough... just float about the inner passages of the asteroid, collect the 36 uranium cubes that are known to be located within, combine them and get out of there before the thing blows to smithereens. Nothing to it.

The thing is, this asteroid is home to thousands of phantoms. And they're pretty clever beings, intent on taking over the Earth (although they can't be that clever, because if their asteroid hits Earth, both will be destroyed. Ummm.). The asteroid is riddled with deadly laser gates which hinder your progress. In fact, they're worse than that... touch any of them, just once, and you're dead, and all Earth's hope is gone.

That makes Phantoms of the Asteroid a very difficult game. It's absolutely huge, which makes it a bit unfair that you can lose it all with one miscalculation. You've got a lot to keep an eye on besides that; fuel, energy and oxygen are all depleting constantly and must be topped up, if you can find any of those things lying around.


That would be my first uranium cube, if it wasn't for that massive wall in the way...

It's funny, because there's a lot of emptiness in this game, with large spells where you're flying around empty caverns with just occasional phantoms for company. You could say that would make for a boring game, but I think it actually adds loads to the atmosphere. It feels like you're in a desolate place, which is how it should be.

For £1.99, it's impossible to argue with the value that Phantoms of the Asteroid provided. It's an enormous challenge, truly living up to both of those words. If you've ever completed it without cheating, I salute you.

Chickin Chase (Commodore 64)

I've played all the classic genres today... shoot 'em up, platform games, racing games, beat 'em ups, puzzle games. It's been a rich and varied diet. But the next game I played defies classification. It has no genre... it is what it is. And what it is, is Chickin Chase.


Letting the coop run out of eggs gets you a clip round the ear. Ouch!

In Chickin Chase, you play a cockerel/rooster/male chicken. The object of the game is to, ummm, service the female chicken of the coop. Having done so, she will go and lay eggs... the number of eggs depends on how good you were/how long you were at it.

No, I'm not kidding.

Once the eggs are laid, they must hatch. The thing is, eggs are tasty, and a variety of nature's critters will come creeping into the coop in an attempt to steal the eggs. Your job, as the virile hero, is to defend those eggs by pecking the thieving bastards into oblivion.


Well, that was obviously a job well done...

This can be tricky. Once you've finished sorting out the missus, you're a bit knackered. In fact, you're walking around like a snail rather than Foghorn Leghorn at his peak. Fortunately, there's an unlimited supply of feed, and pecking at this will restore your energy. It's just finding the time to do it that's the problem.

You see, not only do you have to fend off the egg-fanciers, you have to keep topping up the egg supply. Once those eggs hatch, the chicks come down from their nests and ring a bell to signify they're up and about. And if the number of eggs ever reaches zero, you get a whack around the chops from an irate mother hen.


Look mate, it;s more than my job's worth to let you have these eggs. Alright?

And so, Chickin Chase is a bit like spinning plates. You can't ever stop for a rest. You're always either pecking away intruders, replenishing energy or servicing madam. It's a frantic little game that's a bit bonkers and a lot of fun. It actually reminds me of the old Activision VCS games, with its big, chunky graphics and appealing little jingles and sound effects. It's definitely recommended if you're looking for something a bit different.

Flash Gordon (Commodore 64)

You know, I'm amazed that I've never played this game before. It got an awesome review in ZZAP! 64, and I actually had a tape full of games that had this on, but I just never bothered with it. Silly me. Time to put that right, eh?

Flash Gordon was released under Mastertronic's Mastertronic Added Dimension (M.A.D.) arm, which added an extra pound to the asking price but promised extra quality and scope with the games. It didn't always work like that.

However, as the budget market grew the companies were able to spend money on licenses. Not necessarily on things like massive arcade games... it wouldn't make sense to release those on a budget label, even at £2.99. Lesser-known arcade games were targets, though, with Motos getting a successful release on the M.A.D. label and
Peter Packrat coming out via Silverbird, just as examples.


OK, according to this map, we should be... somewhere. Hmmm.

So was the money well spent on the Flash Gordon license money well spent? Let's evaluate.

The game is split into three levels. The first sees Flash stranded in the jungles of Mongo, having crash-landed his ship. Crash-landed? Surely it's just crashed? It's like when you're on a plane and they say "in the event of a landing on water". If you come down where you don't expect it, it's just a crash.

Anyway. Flash is trying to find and defeat the evil Ming the Merciless, and being stuck in a dense jungle isn't doing his cause any good. Flash has to find his way out, which might be easier if he wasn't being assaulted by the jungle's inhabitants, who are miffed at the intrusion of this odd-looking character. In true heroic style, Flash can make his way past these denizens by blowing them to bits with his trusty laser pistol.


You just don't mess with Flash Gordon.

It's a right trail to get through the jungle, which is unfortunate because, as we all know, he only has twenty-four hours to save the Earth. There are pathways leading in all directions, with danger at every turn. Eventually though, Flash will find the exit. It's guarded by a ferocious tiger, but that's no bother at all to a man like Flash Gordon.

On emerging from the jungle, Flash bumps into Prince Barin. Barin works for Ming, but he's an honourable man and a sound thrashing from Flash sees Barin respecting Gordon and becoming his ally. Handy.

All that remains is for Flash to make his way through a deadly minefield on his bike, where he'll surely find Ming and defeat him. Winged guards attempt to destroy Flash, but they can be taken out with a well-aimed laser blast. As can Ming, once you finally encounter him. Pity... surely you should have got the chance to impale him on a big spike?


Is that... is that... Brian Blessed?

Flash Gordon is a top-quality effort for a budget game. Each of the three sections has its faults, but they're all good fun. I struggled a lot with the jungle level, which reminded me of Ocean's Platoon in design but not execution. I whupped Barin's ass convincingly... it's not the greatest beat 'em up ever, but it breaks up the other two levels nicely. I was then put firmly in my place by the Hawkmen, the bastards. That bike level is really hard.

Put together as one release at £2.99, Flash Gordon is a great deal. I do wish that I'd given it more of a shot back in the day, although it's much easier to say that in hindsight... without the aid of trainers and cracks I might never have made it past the jungle! Mastertronic did Flash proud with this one.

Spiky Harold (ZX Spectrum)

If there's one genre that was particularly prevalent in the 8-bit era, it was bastard-hard platform games. I can't tell you how many platform games I played back in the day where you had to collect umpteen objects and get through all the screens to win the game. Manic Miner probably started it, although it was probably its sequel, Jet Set Willy, that made the biggest mark on me on the Spectrum.

Many of these games were great fun as well as being rock hard. Monty on the Run, for instance, kept me playing for ages on my Commodore 64. That one was nails, but I played it and played it and even managed to complete it (twice!) without cheating. Granted, Rob Hubbard's amazing music probably drew me back to play more than I might otherwise have done, but it was still excellent.


Not sure I'm liking that smug look on Spiky Harold's face...

But for every great platformer there were dozens of mediocre or downright awful ones. Games that were ruined by a lack of playtesting, bugs or a number of other dealbreakers. So when I loaded up Spiky Harold and found it was a platformer, I wondered which category it would fall into.

I'll get to that in a bit.

Spiky Harold is a hedgehog. He's in a bit of a bind, though... winter is fast approaching, and he's nowhere near ready! What he needs to do is fatten up a bit for hibernation. Luckily, he lives in an area packed with food. He must visit each of 57 locations and eat the food item contained therein. Once he's stuffed himself, he must return to his chamber. Slight problem... he's only got twenty-four hours to do it.


No wonder this character never caught on. A jumping hedgehog? That's ridiculous.

He's a big, fat bugger, is Spiky Harold. Much bigger than all the other critters in the hedgerow, which makes getting about tricky. Because for all he's fat and covered in spines, the slightest touch from so much as a worm is deadly. That means that pixel-perfect jumping is essential.

And that's where the problem lies. Even with twenty lives at his disposal, it's very difficult to see more than half-a-dozen screens. Timing is everything, and if you're a split-second out, you've had it. Moving onto a new screen poses its own problems. There are times where you'll pause for a second to take in the screen, only to be killed by something coming on behind you. Grrrr.


Jesus Christ! Here comes a deadly snail! Stay out of the way!

Spiky Harold is a very traditional platform game, with very little in the way of innovation. For many, that would have been sufficient, especially at a budget price. If I'd bought it in nineteen-eighty-whenever, I'd probably have played it for ages and done quite well before I gave up. Now, though, it was too frustrating to be enjoyable and I don't want to play it any more. Spiky Harold is going to have to go and find an animal shelter, because he's getting no help from me.

Oh No! (Commodore 64)

There is no way... no way, that you could would buy Oh No! just from looking at the cover art. There's a cow with a space helmet on its head, an odd-looking furry animal, a desert and, in the background, a spacecraft.

The spacecraft is the important part. Oh No! is a shoot 'em up, and although the storyline is odd, the game most certainly is not...

In Oh No!, the year is 1,000,000 AD, and you are a breeder of space oxen. These beasts are very highly coveted by other entities, who will stop at nothing to get their hands or other genetically-modified appendages on them. The rustling bastards. So you must mount up on your trusty space-steed and put a stop to their stealing shenanigans.


The first planet is the easiest, but you'll still have to be cautious...

It's much simpler than it sounds as a game... confined within one screen, you must blast anything that comes within range and stop them from taking the oxen off the screen. If all the oxen are lost, the game is over. Them's the rules, and they're easy to follow...

And indeed, the game is simple in theory. Once you start playing it, though, you'll see that it's much more difficult in practice.

Oh No!, to my mind, stands right up there among the finest of frantic shooters. What it essentially does is to cross Robotron: 2084 with Defender and Missile Command. Wait... let me explain.


That pink thing looks familiar... if it wasn't nicked from Defender, I'll eat my hat.

You have a playfield where you have to protect your oxen... they're like The Last Human Family, but in bovine form. But unlike in Robotron, they're not killed when enemies get to them. Instead, they're captured, and you have a limited amount of time to rescue them before they're taken off the playfield. See, that's like Defender.

The game is split up into different planets, and each planet has nine waves, with each being progressively more manic than the last. There's no break between waves. Once you destroy every enemy in a wave, the next one rushes in without a second thought. If you want any kind of a break for your trigger finger, you'll have to wait nine waves for it.


Leave her alone, you BITCH!

As your only objective is to save your oxen, it's important to keep them close together or, if it all gets too much, let them all go except for one and be sure to defend that one to the end. That's the Missile Command aspect... it's very similar to your endgame there, where you concentrate on keeping one city intact.

Oh No! was well-reviewed by ZZAP! 64, but I'm not sure how well it sold or was received in general. Comments on Lemon64 seem to be mixed, but I absolutely loved this game when I bought it and I still play it occasionally now. It's a really pure shoot 'em up high-score experience, guaranteed to get the adrenalin pumping. Lovely stuff.

Ninja (Commodore 64)

Everybody loves games with ninjas in them, don't they? All that kicking and punching and leaping about and throwing stars and stuff... it's great fun. Tends to be a bit painful, though, so it's just as well that people make ninja videogames. We can all live out our black-clad stealth-killing fantasies from our own sofas. Great!

Ninja games have been commonplace for years now, and they still continue to be popular. In fact, they have legions of rabid fans (or fanboys) - just witness the howls of outrage at IGN's 3 out of 10 review of Ninja Gaiden 3 for instance. So Ninja games have moved on in the last thirty years or so, but sometimes simple is best. Let's take a trip back in time to a ninja game that was so simple, it was simply called... Ninja.


Do you know, it's only right now, just this minute, as I was editing this picture, that I realised that graphic is probably meant to be a defeated enemy lying on his back. I always thought they turned into pillows when you defeated them. Yes, I know that's stupid, but I did think that.

For some reason, Ninja was released using Mastertronic's Entertainment USA label. I never really thought of ninjas as being synonymous with America, but there you go. I guess they wanted to link it to American ninja movies, or something.

Your quest is to rescue Princess Di-Di (yes, really), who is held captive in the Palace of Pearls. you'd have thought she'd have liked it there, wouldn't you? Anyway whether it's against her wishes or not, you're there to go and drag her out. You have to collect idols to take to her on the way up, too. She sounds like more trouble than she's worth, this Di-Di.

Being that she's a princess and is held captive, the road to rescue is not an easy one. It's not enough that she's held in a tower (a tower without a single staircase, at that), each floor is populated with martial artists of various levels of ability. These range from thugs to karateka to evil ninja. You're going to have to dispatch pretty much all of them if you want to get the girl.


Come ooooon. Get yerself over here and get on the end of that!

Combat is fairly simple. The protagonists move towards each other, and then unleash a barrage of kicks and punches. The one that runs out of energy first falls to the floor. The other is victorious! The trouble is, any energy you've lost stays lost, until you find an idol. Better hope that watching Game of Death before setting off will hold you in good stead, then...

The martial artists in this temple are a messy bunch. As you wander around, shuriken and kunai litter the floors. You can pick these up and use them against their former owners, making life just that little bit easier. See, if they hadn't kept the princess holed up on the top floor, she'd probably have cleaned that lot up. That'll teach them.


It's all over for our ninja friend. Poor Princess Di-Di.

Ninja is a game that has many flaws. For instance, you might jump up a floor and land on one side of a hole with a number of enemies on the other side. They won't jump across the hole to get you, so you'll have to go after them yourself. And when you jump over, you'll probably die. Bit annoying, that.

For all that, and its atrocious reception in ZZAP! 64 (it managed a mighty 25% in its review), there's something endearing and quite addictive about Ninja. It might look rubbish and be nowhere near as ambitious as the likes of The Last Ninja, but it's always entertaining to put on for a quick blast. I've read that it's easy, but I've never completed it, not yet anyway. Maybe I'll have another go when all my writing is finished for the day, and see if I can finally crack it...

Pippo (ZX Spectrum)

Right, time to venture completely into the unknown. I've known people with Spectrums and played a fair few of the more well-known games on that machine, but to pick my Spectrum games for today I just searched World of Spectrum and picked at random. One of the games that hit lucky was called Pippo.


Money, money, money... must be funny... in a rich man's world.

My face fell a bit, though, when I read that it was a puzzle game. Not exactly the way I want to spend any time off, playing puzzle games. Still, I was committed, so I loaded it up anyway.

It turns out that Pippo is essentially a 2-D Q*Bert clone. That doesn't help much though... I hate Q*Bert as well! In Pippo, you play an odd, fat character, who must hop about the game board, changing the colour of the tiles. There's no reason given for this, that's just what you do.


Isn't it really annoying when you die in a game and it's your own stupid fault?

Naturally, the boards have inhabitants, and they're dead set on stopping you in your tracks. I say that... they're not that dead set; they just potter about on their little paths, seemingly oblivious as to your presence unless you happen to blunder right into them. And they're all a bit odd... numbers, dollar signs and the like are the order of the day.

If you do happen to find them too offensive to actually share space with, an energy pill appears at times which, if collected, turns the enemies into springs (of course) which you can remove just by bouncing over them. Hurray for odd items that give you supreme power!


It's a numbers game.

That makes Pippo a bit easier and less frustrating than Q*Bert, but on the other hand, it's not terribly exciting, either. It does have some nice touches... the music was better than I'd expected, and there's a sampled (if slightly garbled) scream if you happen to fall off the game world. Pippo is quite good fun and a nice enough diversion. I'll consider myself a little more enlightened today.

Kikstart 2 (Commodore 64)

Wooooo! Kick Start! Peter Purves and a load of dirty schoolkids, what fun! Erm... hang on a minute...

Actually, that's not what I'm here to talk about. Instead, I'm going to talk about Mastertronic's classic Commodore 64 game, Kikstart 2.


Brmmm, brmmm, look at me go! Oh, wait... is that you finishing?

But why, you might be asking, am I not going to talk about the first Kikstart game? Well, to be honest, I hated it. I played it a few times, and I was absolutely sick of seeing my rider lie flat and fall to the ground with that "Weeeeooooooooo" noise. SO. IRRITATING!

For some reason, though, I gave Kikstart 2 a good go, and I did actually get into it. It was like Dropzone for me, in that regard, in that I repeatedly went back to a game that routinely kicked my arse and eventually got the better of it.


Fire + bike full of fuel = not finishing the race.

Kikstart 2, then, is a motorbike trials game. You're given a multitude of courses to choose from, and you must select five to race over, Your times are added together at the end, and the competitor with the fastest combined time wins.

Sounds simple, but it is a trials game as well as a race game, which means that setting any kind of competitive time is far from straightforward. You can't just zoom across every obstacle at top speed. You have to figure each one out and take it appropriately, whether that's by wheeling, jumping, or going fast or slow. It's not just a trial, it's trial-and-error.


You shouldn't lose your head when racing.

Once you learn how to take each obstacle, you can focus on putting some decent times on the board. But with twenty-four courses to blunder through, there's a lot of learning and falling to be done. Even if you manage to master them all, there's a contruction kit for unlimited kikstarting. And of course, there's the split-screen two-player mode for added fun.

The Kikstart games paved the way for tons of other games, right up to current daddies like Trials HD. I have to say, I absolutely hate Trials. I couldn't even get past the tutorial in it. I find all those games to be too much like puzzle games, rather than racers. That makes it all the stranger that I like Kikstart 2. It was a great game then, and it hasn't really lost anything in all these years.

Kikstart 2 (Commodore 64)

Wooooo! Kick Start! Peter Purves and a load of dirty schoolkids, what fun! Erm... hang on a minute...

Actually, that's not what I'm here to talk about. Instead, I'm going to talk about Mastertronic's classic Commodore 64 game, Kikstart 2.


Brmmm, brmmm, look at me go! Oh, wait... is that you finishing?

But why, you might be asking, am I not going to talk about the first Kikstart game? Well, to be honest, I hated it. I played it a few times, and I was absolutely sick of seeing my rider lie flat and fall to the ground with that "Weeeeooooooooo" noise. SO. IRRITATING!

For some reason, though, I gave Kikstart 2 a good go, and I did actually get into it. It was like Dropzone for me, in that regard, in that I repeatedly went back to a game that routinely kicked my arse and eventually got the better of it.

"http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v718/PaulEMoz/Kikstart2.jpg">
Fire + bike full of fuel = not finishing the race.

Kikstart 2, then, is a motorbike trials game. You're given a multitude of courses to choose from, and you must select five to race over, Your times are added together at the end, and the competitor with the fastest combined time wins.

Sounds simple, but it is a trials game as well as a race game, which means that setting any kind of competitive time is far from straightforward. You can't just zoom across every obstacle at top speed. You have to figure each one out and take it appropriately, whether that's by wheeling, jumping, or going fast or slow. It's not just a trial, it's trial-and-error.


You shouldn't lose your head when racing.

Once you learn how to take each obstacle, you can focus on putting some decent times on the board. But with twenty-four courses to blunder through, there's a lot of learning and falling to be done. Even if you manage to master them all, there's a contruction kit for unlimited kikstarting. And of course, there's the split-screen two-player mode for added fun.

The Kikstart games paved the way for tons of other games, right up to current daddies like Trials HD. I have to say, I absolutely hate Trials. I couldn't even get past the tutorial in it. I find all those games to be too much like puzzle games, rather than racers. That makes it all the stranger that I like Kikstart 2. It was a great game then, and it hasn't really lost anything in all these years.

Kikstart 2 (Commodore 64)

Wooooo! Kick Start! Peter Purves and a load of dirty schoolkids, what fun! Erm... hang on a minute...

Actually, that's not what I'm here to talk about. Instead, I'm going to talk about Mastertronic's classic Commodore 64 game, Kikstart 2.


Brmmm, brmmm, look at me go! Oh, wait... is that you finishing?

But why, you might be asking, am I not going to talk about the first Kikstart game? Well, to be honest, I hated it. I played it a few times, and I was absolutely sick of seeing my rider lie flat and fall to the ground with that "Weeeeooooooooo" noise. SO. IRRITATING!

For some reason, though, I gave Kikstart 2 a good go, and I did actually get into it. It was like Dropzone for me, in that regard, in that I repeatedly went back to a game that routinely kicked my arse and eventually got the better of it.

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v718/PaulEMoz/Kikstart2.jpg">
Fire + bike full of fuel = not finishing the race.

Kikstart 2, then, is a motorbike trials game. You're given a multitude of courses to choose from, and you must select five to race over, Your times are added together at the end, and the competitor with the fastest combined time wins.

Sounds simple, but it is a trials game as well as a race game, which means that setting any kind of competitive time is far from straightforward. You can't just zoom across every obstacle at top speed. You have to figure each one out and take it appropriately, whether that's by wheeling, jumping, or going fast or slow. It's not just a trial, it's trial-and-error.


You shouldn't lose your head when racing.

Once you learn how to take each obstacle, you can focus on putting some decent times on the board. But with twenty-four courses to blunder through, there's a lot of learning and falling to be done. Even if you manage to master them all, there's a contruction kit for unlimited kikstarting. And of course, there's the split-screen two-player mode for added fun.

The Kikstart games paved the way for tons of other games, right up to current daddies like Trials HD. I have to say, I absolutely hate Trials. I couldn't even get past the tutorial in it. I find all those games to be too much like puzzle games, rather than racers. That makes it all the stranger that I like Kikstart 2. It was a great game then, and it hasn't really lost anything in all these years.

Warhawk (Commodore 64)

I absolutely love the arcade game Star Force. I've always loved it. I used to play the arcade machine whenever I got an opportunity, whether that was on trips to the seaside or when one of the local taxi offices got a machine in. It's a great, vertically-scrolling spacey shoot 'em up that still provides a massive challenge to this day.

I'd always wanted a conversion of it for my Commodore 64, but that was never likely. So when I saw a game called Warhawk on the shelves, and from the shots on the back of the box it looked like Star Force, I bought it instantly.


Mine! Mine! Mine!

I wasn't disappointed. It was obviously massively inspired by my beloved arcade machine. And although it lacked the polish of Star Force and obviously wasn't as good to play, it still scratched the itch more than satisfactorily. I had a really great time with it back then.

And so, I decided to play it today.

At first, this time, I was disappointed. It didn't feel that good to play at all. But after a few games I got back into it, and it all came flooding back. The Star Force-inspired enemy ships and attack patterns, the belting Rob Hubbard music, the difficulty...


I'm feeling a little blue. That pick-up will pick me up...

Yep, Warhawk is pretty difficult to start with. You only get one life, but you do get an energy supply. If you can see out the level intact, this is replenished. The problem is, every enemy fires bloody homing bullets. Every single projectile flies at you like your ship is some kind of intergalactic bullet magnet. So you have to be constantly on your toes, always moving around the screen, which means you're very likely to fly straight into a new attack wave.

Make it to the end and it all goes quiet. And then, rather than being attacked by a boss ship, lots of little ones kamikaze their way onto the screen, again homing right in on your ship. It's like the boss ship is off-screen, and he's just chucked a load of toys at you. If you've got enough energy left, you should be OK. If not, and luck isn't on your side, expect your game to come to an end.


One to one problem, yes. Five to one problem, too much ask anybody.

You do get help, eventually. Once you get a couple of levels in then, much like Star Force, a pod moves down the screen. If you shoot it, a capsule is released which, if you manage to pick it up, gives you a fast autofire. You definitely breather a little more easily once you've got this, because hammering away on your fire button causes you a world of hurt after a while.

It has to be said that Warhawk is pretty repetitive, and nowhere near as good as the game that inspired it. But at the time, it did exactly what was required of it, and is a really good budget game. I've certainly enjoyed playing it again for the first time in years.

Budget Day 2012.



Hello everyone, and welcome to Budget Day 2012! The house is in session, once again!

Yes, carrying on from last year and therefore possibly making this an annual event, I've taken the day off work to write about 8-bit budget games. And what are these things, you might ask, if you're less than thirty years old and weren't here last year? Well, back in the Eighties you had a couple of price tiers for games. Full-priced games generally sold for between £7.95 and £9.99. Budget games were aimed at taking your pocket money, and cost £1.99 or £2.99.

At first, the budget market relied solely on efforts from bedroom programmers, buying them up cheaply and hoping to make a killing. And this, they often did. But after a while, when the market was much larger, companies that specialised in budget releases would buy up older games and re-release them at budget prices.

It was a good strategy, giving older games a new lease of life as young gamers that hadn't been able to afford games first time around bolstered their collections. The bigger companies, such as Ocean and U.S. Gold, even set up their own budget companies to reissue their own oldies.

I must have owned tons of budget games in my time, both original games and re-releases. For this exercise, though, I intend to focus solely on originals if possible. There was a certain spirit and charm to many budget games that was often lacking in full-priced efforts, even if the games weren't all that good. I'm going to play some games that were favourites of mine in the past, and some that I've never played before. Hopefully it'll be fun, and will keep our minds distracted from that other Budget that's going on today.