ST Format Review
For this review I’m running a MiSTer FPGA box with a 1MB STFM, running TOS 1.02 as the STE seemed not to go down too well. This is my first review using this setup, so apologies for any issues. For this one I used Automation disk 332, a low-key affair with an odd scene with an elephant and some cheery but grating chip music. I think it’s a slightly racist picture of some black guys loading spears into the trunk and hammering the elephant’s balls to make it fire the spear, but I can’t be 100% sure.
I’ve taken a few shots from the intro and smooshed them into one image here – effectively it’s a comic strip with little animated vignettes. The theme is somewhat apocalyptic, playing on the fears of the time about man destroying the environment (this was 30 years before Greta) but ultimately it’s just an excuse to shoot some bugs. It’s pretty enough, though sadly sound through this intro is limited to a chip tune which is a solid if uninspiring composition that doesn’t push any boundaries – that said it does get better after a poor start.
An intro screen tells you nothing but pushing the joystick up inserts the coins it demands, earning you credits. Left and right switch between 1 and 2 players, though I didn’t test two player.
The action begins and as you can hopefully see, the graphics are really quite pretty with large detailed sprites. Frame rates are solid and the main sprite reasonably responsive, while the scrolling is reasonably smooth. Sound consists of the usual primitive chip music and chip sound effects, but they work well enough.
Enemies are mostly insectoid, with the occasional corrupted plant (I assume corrupted as the ones that shoot at you are grey while the ones that aren’t have some colour). You’ll see a silver ball in this shot – when you kill many enemies they’ll drop a silver ball. Most games would have you collect the power up by walking over the ball. Not this one. You have to shoot the ball to reveal the power up and then walk over it. It’s a nice idea but really all it does is interrupt the flow. As the game wore on I stopped bothering, the power ups weren’t terribly useful and the flow mattered more.
Platforms are placed nicely on trees – I would question the wisdom of not following platformer convention and allowing you to jump up through platforms and land on them – instead here you just bump your head.
One slight issue with gameplay is the lack of challenge. There are never an enormous number of enemies on screen at a time (and given their size that wouldn’t really work anyway) which means there’s not much challenge, nor do the enemies do much more than walk a patrol for the most part with most not even firing any weapon.
There are some nice touches including buttons on the floor, some of which help you jump higher or force a jump, but in this case I’d encountered a button which reversed gravity. Unfortunately it was somewhat unclear how to jump and I fell in the hole.
Venus is certainly not a badly put together game. In many ways it’s quite competent, a decent tech demo of sorts, and the potential was there for a good game. If only they’d gone for pick-up power ups, upped the difficulty a tad (I’m not exactly hardcore so if I’m saying it’s too easy, it’s definitely too easy) and maybe sped movement up a bit to give it a bit of zip as for all its smoothness it does feel a touch pedestrian with no sense of urgency.