Friday, 24 February 2012

Gridrunner (iOS)

Less than a month after the release of Caverns of Minos, Jeff Minter and Llamasoft are back with an iOS update of one of the Yak's early classics... Gridrunner.

Back in the day, and we're talking thirty years ago here, programmers of home computer games would routinely rip off existing arcade games, creating inferior clones in the hope of making a quick buck. Jeff Minter was one notable name who decided this wasn't good enough. Sure, he loved those arcade games like the rest of us. But he didn't want to merely copy those games. Instead, he took their influence and added his own stamp to the games he loved, and in the process created some of the most memorable and challenging games of the 8-bit era.

No, it's not the latest Cave game. Refreshingly, they're your bullets dishing out the death.

One of his most well-known and successful games was Gridrunner. Taking an obvious cue from Centipede, the addition of moving lasers at the bottom and left hand side of the screen added a different dimension and ensured you were constantly on your toes. Gridrunner was originally released on the VIC-20, but such was its popularity that it saw release on the Commodore 64, 16-bit computers and PC and Mac, each time evolving as it made the leap in time.

Its latest version, Gridrunner Revolution, was quite a long way removed from the original game, and you can see its influence in Llamasoft's first iOS game, Minotaur Rescue. But for iOS Gridrunner, Jeff Minter has gone back to its roots and to his love of classic arcade games. The result is an unmissable shoot 'em up treat.

Everything must die.

The object of the game is to shoot things, last as long as you can and get as high a score as possible. How's that for uncomplicated? And that's what you'd expect of a game with this lineage.

It all seems easy enough at first... those Centipede-esque enemies are short and slow, and they trundle down as cannon fodder. Even those bastard lasers are fairly benign at this point. Oh, and just to note... the vertically-firing horizontally-moving laser has cleverly been switched to the top of the screen, so as not to be obscured by your controlling finger. Very thoughtful.

That's a big laser. You just might be a match for it, though.

After just a few levels, though, things really get ramped up. The Centipede-droid-train things get longer and faster, and more and more enemies make appearances, and you really have to concentrate on what you're doing if you want to survive. With each level the action gets more intense and you're given a real adrenalin rush. Luckily, pick-ups can furnish you with a variety of impressive weapons, with firepower to frighten even the bravest of foes.

As if this mighty effort wasn't enough, we're treated to a history of Gridrunner. Included for your 69p are the original VIC-20 and Commodore 64 versions of the game. You'll have to figure out how to unlock them first, though... The VIC-20 version feels a little cramped, with fat graphics hogging the screen. That's not to its detriment though... quite the opposite in fact, it gives the game a frantic feel.

Just like a KitKat, chunky is better.

This is lost to a degree in the 64 version. You'd expect it to be superior, but the wide open spaces make the game feel a little empty and not as much fun to play as the VIC version. Still, getting both of these for free (or for 23p each, if you want) makes for terrific value.

This iOS version of Gridrunner is pure Zone gaming at its finest. Once you're locked into the grid, you're going to be stuck there for the rest of the day, pushing and nudging your best score just that little bit higher. It might be bad for your health, but it's good for your gaming soul.

Pretty colours + laser death = joy.

Get yourself comfortable, crank up the volume and press start. Once this thing is going full-tilt, you could be forgiven for thinking you were standing in the middle of an arcade in the early Eighties. Gridrunner is a glorious celebration of arcade shoot 'em ups. I've downloaded it, played it until my phone charge ran out, given my eyes a break while my phone recharged and now I'm back on it again. iOS-sential.

Buy Gridrunner for any iDevice from 3GS and onwards, for 69p.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Ziggurat (iOS)

Well, shit.

We've spent years fending off alien invasions. Sometimes, we've even gone seeking the bastards out, destroying them before they've had the chance to get to us. Call those ones "pre-emptive attacks". We've done whatever has been necessary to ensure the continuation of the human race.

But it's all been for nothing. It all ends here.


And where is "here", exactly? It's on the very highest point of a ziggurat, an ancient temple complex. Basically, you've scarpered up here to take the high ground, in the hope of taking out all the alien attackers.

It's futile, of course. Sheer weight of numbers means you'll be overpowered and killed. It's inevitable. It's happened to everyone else on the planet...

Die, alien scum! I might have said that before.

And so, the scene is set for Ziggurat, an iOS game of immense simplicity. But I like simple. There are times when simple fits the bill just nicely,

You can't move in Ziggurat. Instead, you slide your finger left and right along the bottom of the screen to aim your gun at the incoming hordes. And then you let go, and let 'em have it. And that's it. You do that until you die.

Now that's what I call a close encounter. What?

Like I said, simple. And therein lies its beauty. It's a perfect little time-killer. At first, you won't last long at all, as the initial confusion over how the control method works sees you die stupidly. But it doesn't take long to get the hang of it, and then you might actually last a few minutes (I'm averaging eighty seconds per go at the moment).

You're not really supposed to last much longer than that. You're obviously good, if you're the last surviving human, but you're not that good. They're gonna get ya, simple as that. All you can do is take out as many as you can, in the hope of putting up a number that will impress your friends. I reckon over a hundred is a job well done. Over five hundred would be extraordinary... nobody's cracked a thousand yet...

R.I.P. The Human Race: 50,000BP - 2012.

I think that Ziggurat is well priced at 69p. There's not really much to it... it's got about as much depth as the endless runner games. But it's also about as much fun as they are, and although it's best suited to short bursts, there's still a good chance you'll keep hitting restart for one more go...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

JetPac - mojo Refuelled (XBox 360)

I've been in a real gaming funk lately. My two wireless 360 controllers broke within a day of each other, so I went over a week without the 360 as I waited for my new one to arrive in the post. I couldn't be bothered with any of my PC games, and I really couldn't be bothered to hook up any of my old systems. The iPhone did provide some moments of respite, but... y'know.

Then, on Saturday, my new 360 controller arrived... and I just couldn't stand any of the games I tried to play! Disc after disc was thrown in and ripped back out in minutes, if that, as my malaise seeped into the core of my gaming persona. I needed something that was a quick blast, to try and re-ignite my fires. And so I turned to one of the first games I bought for my 360... JetPac Refuelled.

Lasers are pretty.

JetPac, of course, was one of the Spectrum's all-time classic games. Released by the legendary Ultimate, it was a single-screen shoot 'em up where you played a spaceman who had to rebuild a variety of spaceships whilst fending off the hostile natives with your blaster. It was great fun, and one of the games I really coveted as a Commodore 64 owner.

I was over the moon when I bought my 360 and found JetPac Refuelled on the XBLA Marketplace. I bought it without so much as looking at a single review. And I wasn't disappointed... not only was it a great piece of blasting action, it also contained the original JetPac! It was the best of both worlds on my 360, and I really enjoyed it.

...aaaaand we're outta here.

Of course, with my 360 being new, I was distracted by the shinies... new and lovely-looking games were everywhere, and JetPac Refuelled was soon shoved to the back of my mind as I indulged myself in the finest games the modern generation had to offer. But it was never forgotten...

A few months ago, I got back into the game in an attempt to pick up one of the achievements that I really felt I ought to have... Retro Cyclist, given for completing the original game. The old-schooler in me wouldn't let it rest until I had that one. I'd grown up playing that game, even if it was just on mates' Speccys. There was no way I was going to let it beat me. And though I found a couple of the sixteen levels bastard-hard, it finally fell to me after a few days of trying.

This is how we kick it old-school.

And then I left the game alone again.

I certainly had unfinished business with it, though. I don't think I'd ever really played it properly, or concentrated hard enough, and so my games had finished far short of where they should have. And then, whilst reading up on the game on TrueAchievements, I spotted something that I'd never noticed before. The game has a smart bomb!

It was no wonder I wasn't getting as far as I should, or scoring as highly as I should. There are times when JetPac Refuelled overwhelms you, with tons of enemies on-screen at a time. It's actually one of the game's little flaws... in taking advantage of the power of the modern system, there's actually too much going on at times, and occasionally you or your enemies get lost in the backgrounds, which leads to the odd unnecessary and frustrating death. I think that was what had put me off going back to it, in part. But the discovery of the smart bomb changed that.

When the enemy numbers increase, sparks will fly.

And so, after an hour or so this afternoon, three more achievements have fallen to me... Survivalist, for reaching level ten without dying; Robo Rocket, for building the ship on level thirteen; and Millionaire Man, for, ummm, getting a million points. I'm happy with that... that's over 600,000 better than my previous high score.

It's amazing what finding out one little extra game mechanic can do for you. Having said that, I kind of learned how to play the game properly as well, learning not to fly recklessly around the screen, timing my excursions better and bunny-hopping around the ship with a fuel canister to hand when things looked dangerous. It's opened the game up, and I can now see myself cracking on with it in an attempt to finish the game.

Peeeoooowwwww! That's what a smart bomb'll do for you!

JetPac Refuelled is a lovely update of a classic game, at a great price (400 Microsoft Points). It's pretty much a must-have for anyone's 360, and I'm very happy to have re-re-discovered it. It's knocked me out of my gaming funk and, as you can see, out of my writing/blogging funk too. That's good, because I've got some projects I need to crack on with...