What’s Coming Up?

So with the review of PowerMonger we’ve more or less got most of the best games from ST Format Issue 19 and so we’ll be moving into the 20s. Now issues 16-18 were pretty large, featuring a hell of a lot of reviews, but it does start to slow down a bit from here, as the failure of the STE begins to bite as well as the traditional post-Christmas slowdown.

Still, issue 20 has some interesting games, with Domark’s MiG-29 Fulcrum likely worth a look. Then there’s a bit of an oddity from Lucasfilm in the form of Night Shift (a plate-spinning platform game). Tournament Golf is better than it sounds – golf games are always more fun on a computer than to watch on TV or heaven forbid play. Turrican 2 follows hot on the heels of the first game and improves enormously, though the same can’t be said of Dragon’s Lair 2 which is more of the same. Enchanted Lands was a pretty highly-regarded platformer with impressive visuals from some demo-scene coders. Quite a decent selection I’m sure you’ll agree.

Issue 21 sees Readysoft attempt to atone for the style over substance of Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair with Wrath Of The Demon which absolutely isn’t ripping off Shadow Of The Beast. Team Suzuki gives us some 3D motorbike racing fun, while Super Monaco GP gives us a more old-fashioned 2D take on F1. We get Mighty Bombjack which is probably a bit dated at this point. Viz brings us the violence of Biffa Bacon, the flatulence of Johnny Fartpants and the massive bollocks of Buster Gonad – you can be assured I’ll be reviewing that and making a video. A weaker issue overall but still fun to be found.

Issue 22 shows the ST continuing to move away from dodgy arcade conversions and movie licenses. The Bitmap Brothers bring us Gods, while Mirrorsoft bring us Brat (think Lemmings but with a single baby instead of lots of lemmings). The Killing Cloud is an interesting take on law enforcement in 3D, while we get some driving action in Test Drive 2. Elvira gets a brief mention, unlike in Zero where she gets the cover – can’t think why. What’s more puzzling is that ST Format’s review is nearly a year after Zero’s.

Issue 23 gives fairly extensive coverage of the remarkable game creation tool 3D Construction Kit which used the Freescape engine made famous by Driller and Castle Master among others. Despite that, the star review is The Secret Of Monkey Island. Ludicrously pretty and brilliantly funny. The other standout game is Chuck Rock, a gorgeous-looking Flintstones-inspired platformer. Less brilliant but still interesting is Moonshine Racers which sees the standard 2D rolling road racer adapted to driving a beaten-up old truck.

Issue 24 shows the ST still has some life in it, with Wonderland a game trailed way back in the distant past, demonstrating a new windowed approach to what is fundamentally a text adventure with some pretty pictures. Of more importance is the all-time classic, Lemmings. You know it’s brilliant. Supercars 2 is another belter, maybe not Lemmings level but a game I have tremendous affection for. Hill Street Blues is a police management game I was always curious about but never got to buy, so this might be my chance. On the sports front we get some squash and a 3D future sports game, as well as Pro Tennis Tour 2. Given my persistent failings at tennis games, the latter may end badly for me.

Finally (for this preview) issue 25 features platform action with Toki, the intriguing mafia caper Crime Does Not Pay, the Cinemaware-esque Champion Of The Raj, and a remarkable number of terrible arcade conversions. In truth issue 25 is slim pickings.

The next 6 months see us get F-15 Strike Eagle 2, Midwinter 2, Life & Death, Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker, Mega Lo Mania, Exile, Railroad Tycoon, Adventures Of Robin Hood, Cruise For A Corpse, Utopia, Vroom, Populous 2 and more. Hope that whets your appetite for what’s ahead.

Review: PowerMonger (Bullfrog – Atari ST)

Awesome box art!

ST Format Review (Issue 19)

Could someone explain why these idiots are playing PowerMonger with a joystick?
Someone tore a hole out of the page – sorry about that.

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Any of Automation 495, Pompey Pirates 91, SuperGAU 380/706, Vectronix 269/788
  • A mouse

My Review

The Automation release has a selector menu which lets you guide rick dangerous around some platforms – each door takes you to a different game

There’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of Powermonger, and yet it is, for me, one of the best. As I’m sure you’ll know, the Atari ST had 3 major game development supergroups. You had the Bitmap Brothers with their metallic sheen and coolness, penchant for shades and love of taking fairly standard arcade concepts and giving them a touch of polish. You had Sensible Software who were quirky, tended to have tiny men wandering around, and had more of a home computer interest with some strategy, some sports, and some Wizkid. Finally you had Bullfrog. Bullfrog were masters of accessible strategy. They made Populous, they made Theme Park, they made Theme Hospital, they made Syndicate and Magic Carpet, and they made Dungeon Keeper. Among all these giants of gaming, two games get forgotten. Flood, which was a mediocre platform game, and Powermonger. I enjoyed it immensely as a kid and it still holds up today, and I aim to show you why.

This is the map, or at least the first page of it. You start at the top left and work to the bottom right, maps getting harder as you go.

Powermonger had the misfortune of being released between Populous and Populous 2, and because of its similarity in presentation it gets overlooked, especially as it never got a sequel or any later re-releases. I should probably explain what Powermonger is – an early example of a real time strategy game. The conventions of the genre were still a long way from being settled so it does things in its own peculiar way and some things work well, some don’t. There’s a plot, but honestly it doesn’t matter too much. Your goal is to conquer a map of 195 territories from top-left corner to the bottom-right, by whatever route you like. Needless to say the difficulty goes up as you go towards that bottom-right corner.

Copy protection required you to find this information in the manual. Thankfully the pirate version lets you just put anything in.

You accomplish this in battles over 3D maps in which your tiny men wander around under the command of your captain. He can command them to attack, to move, to give food to a village or to take food, and he can make a village get to work inventing and constructing weapons of war. Your captain must be kept alive, and he exists on the map just as his men do. If he dies, you lose. You can recruit additional captains and their lives are less important. I won’t explain each icon since the ST Format review has a panel that does a decent enough job of that, but I will explain that the captain’s posture, his aggression level, determines much about how those actions are carried out. A 3-swords fully-aggressive captain attacking a village will kill everyone, while a 1-sword passive captain attacking a village will spare lives, meaning you can take villagers for your army, but making it more likely that the attack will fail. An aggressive captain will take all the food, give all the food, recruit all the men or disband all the men when commanded to do so where a passive captain will do those things with smaller quantities.

A peaceful village just waiting for me to attack it.

Inventions are where it gets a little more complicated. Equipping and dropping inventions works as food and recruitment do, but the act of inventing itself has some complications which will determine what gets invented for you don’t get to decide entirely. Posture has an effect of course, with an aggressive captain favouring heavy weapons like cannons and pikes, while a more passive captain will produce things for the village, like plows. Invention is also dependent upon availabe raw materials however so if you chop down an entire forest you won’t be able to invent much (and you can use this – starving your opponent of resources limits his capacity). Many useful items can be constructed from wood, but some require steel, which requires a mine. You’ll see a tower if a mine is present. If there are no resources available the villagers will make pots out of the mud which you can use for trade. What gets produced is also affected by the presence of a merchant (opening up cannons and catapults) and fisherman (opening up bows).

Clicking on anything after clicking the question icon allows me to get more information. You get a bit more when you click on a person.

In finest Bullfrog tradition you can play the game with another player either via a null modem cable or via modems in voice mode. I have neither of those things so wasn’t able to test this functionality but I’ll trust that it works and no doubt that adds a layer of entertainment to the game.

Lots going on in this quiet little fishing village

Powermonger is notable for its remarkable attention to detail. Each little person wandering around has a name and a job and an opinion of you. He’ll be performing a specific task and you can find that out by clicking the query icon and then clicking on him. Weather can slow your troops down, as can climbing up big hills. Killing a sheep might enrage the farmer if he sees it, and start a fight, which might bring in his village. If you chop too many trees down the weather in the area gets wetter, and if there are no trees left you can’t build new weapons, boats, etc. If you take the whole population into your army the village’s population will be slowly replenished by stork deliveries, which you can see. If you have additional captains and order them to do something, a pigeon flies from you to them, and they only acknowledge the order once the pigeon reaches them. If the enemy shoots the pigeon down, the order doesn’t arrive. All this detail is really quite remarkable.

Another village ready to be attacked

Video

Video of the brilliant game

In this video I demonstrate how to take over the first couple of islands while swearing about the frame rate.

Verdict

For all of that attention to detail, the truth is that what the game mostly boils down to is capturing as many villages as possible, starting from the smallest and working up, to build your troop strength. Inventions take so long to make that no sensible person would bother, and trade and alliances are probably of more use if you have multiple players but in this case only two are possible. It’s a shame because clearly effort has gone into those mechanics but they don’t quite get the use you’d hope for. If you allow for that you still have a fundamentally very good game, one which can get very challenging very quickly as you progress along the map.

I won – it’s better in the video. Getting good screenshots was a bit of a pain.

Visuals are pretty, but speed is an issue. I have a feeling they may have been better off going for a more 2D game, even if that did come at a cost of not being able to simulate the advantage of height for archers. In truth I think they probably pushed a little beyond the capabilities of the machines but then again Bullfrog were always ambitious. Still, what this game is is an excellent early RTS which still holds up well today, though you will need to read the manual (see link below) to get the most out of it.

Resources

Manual: https://mocagh.org/ea/powermonger-manual.pdf

Reviews From This Issue Of ST Format

Review: Prince Of Persia (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 19) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Any of Automation 398, Vectronix 222/3 / 781/2 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review So here you are, in the fortunate position of having just pulled…More

Review: Exterminator (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 19) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Any of Automation 500I, Fuzion 28, SuperGAU 487/541, Vectronix 525 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review So I was going to have a look at Robocop…More

Review: Nebulus AKA Tower Toppler (Atari ST)

The art style of this box really doesn’t match the game…

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

Not quite sure why there’s a picture of a granny in a swimsuit…

So we’re doing a few non-ST Format reviews as well as going back to some older reviews and redoing them with accompanying videos – we’ll also be looking at other formats rather than just the Atari ST. I expect these to come out on Mondays.

Art that really does a cracking job of capturing the various bits of the game

So, another Monday review. This is one where I’m redoing an old review – the early ones were actually forum posts so this is a welcome opportunity to expand a bit on what was a fairly barebones review considering my love for the game – in truth I hadn’t yet arrived at a good format for doing these, nor was a forum thread the ideal location for this.

If this doesn’t bring back memories you have no soul

Nebulus is a platform game, and I was fortunate enough to have it as part of the ST Power Pack. My Atari ST came with a ludicrous number of games, a decent number of them were pretty good, but Nebulus was the best. A devilishly tricky platform game, you were a frog tasked with navigating a rotating tower to reach the top and bring the tower down. There was a plot somewhere but it scarcely mattered. What mattered was good platforming fun.

Why a frog needs a submarine is anyone’s guess

Now the movement isn’t necessarily the game’s strong point. Nebulus is another platformer with a fixed jump. His walking speed is decent enough though and he has one rather useful trick up his sleeve, the ability to use doors through the middle of the tower to come out on the opposite side. This adds an extra layer to the platform puzzling.

And why a frog needs a lift is also anyone’s guess

All through you’re faced with the tricky timing of lifts and jumps to avoid nasties usually on fixed courses trying to murder you. Then at random intervals an object on a flyby tries to get you, causing you to either pause a bit (costing precious time, for time is limited) or hitting you and knocking you down to a lower level. Hitting enemies is rarely fatal as they just push you down the tower, unless of course there’s only water below, but with the strict time limit they can make it a more frenetic task (as shown in my video). To be clear, this game is hard. Sometimes unfairly so, in that platforms disappear without warning and you must remember which one next time you come up the tower, but it never stops the game from having that one-more-go factor.

Nearly there, so tantalisingly close!

Sound is remarkable with some lovely sampled music, a really unusual thing on the ST in 1987. Similarly graphics are fantastic, the tower’s rotation was absolutely mind-blowing at the time even if the techniques aren’t necessarily anything special. Coming from the likes of Oh Mummy on the Amstrad CPC 464 to this was a hell of a shock. As well as looking gorgeous, everything runs super-smoothly (another unusual feat for the ST). In many ways this is a game way ahead of its time and making the ST do things that no other developers at that time could manage.

Got the bastard!

Verdict

Time to catch some fish

Do I even need to say it? Go on, play it. It’s one of the greatest platformers ever made. One quick caveat: the Commodore 64 version isn’t quite as exciting technically but is the better game. It’s a little bit smoother and the collision detection on the bullets is a bit more reliable (they can sometimes pass through the balls on the ST version).

This level is a bastard

Bonus C64 Video

Annoyingly the C64 version is better than the ST version due to superior collision detection. Still looks gorgeous too.

Review: Prince Of Persia (Atari ST)

So that randy old goat is after your woman – and I can see why. Ruling the land is just a nice bonus… Also, someone got a bargain.

ST Format Review (Issue 19)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Any of Automation 398, Vectronix 222/3 / 781/2
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

So here you are, in the fortunate position of having just pulled the Sultan’s daughter. Well done. You’re pretty pleased with yourself. Problem is the Grand Vizier Jaffar has seized power and wants to consolidate it. The bigger problem is that to do so he needs to marry your mrs. To that end he’s had you shoved in a cage and he’s given her an hour to choose – marriage or death. Now personally unless he had really poor personal hygeine or has some particularly quirky kinks I’d probably go with marriage but each to their own.

Just hanging around, don’t mind me…

So your quest begins – you have no sword and are dressed only in pyjamas which don’t do much to repel the stabby gits who litter each level. You’ll want to get a sword then. Getting it is easier said than done though. The palace in which you’re trapped is a bit of a health and safety hazard. Bits of floor are loose, shaking when you land near them or jump on them and falling to the ground with a crash. Portcullises grash on your head, spikes appear in the floor for you to fall onto, and then there’s all these dickheads with swords trying to turn you into a sieve.

He could often be a bit spiky with people…

Now the thing is all this is fairly standard so far. Nothing there particularly stands out. Stab people, jump on platforms, rescue the girl, all very ho-hum. So why is Prince Of Persia so highly regarded? Well it’s in no small part down to the animation. At the time the standard approach to animation was that someone would hand draw the sprites and this would include drawing all the frames of animation. What they did instead here was use motion capture to generate a particularly realistic animation, and to make that work animation is at a solid high frame rate rather than the ST’s usual slow speeds. Now this comes at a cost of course. There’s no scrolling, backgrounds are static, you’ll only have one enemy on screen at once and so on. It’s actually not terribly demanding of the processor, but that’s fine, it keeps frame rates ticking over nicely, and even allows enough headroom that the ST can have sampled sounds. Interestingly, animation does slow down if a gate is rising while you’re running, further backing up the notion that it had to be flip screen to achieve this level of fluidity.

Oooh nasty

Watching videos you might expect controls to be an issue, with the character having momentum, especially once you read that a jump across a chasm is executed with a joystick diagonal. You’d expect to miss the timing and fall to spiky doom. Not so. In fact the game has a bit of sense and will wait to just the right spot to perform the jump if you diagonal nice and early. It’s pretty swish. Additionally, you can clamber up to the next platform up or clamber down safely knowing the game will do what you intend – holding the fire button lets you take cautious steps left and right, while pressing down will lower you on a ledge, releasing when you release the fire button, and up allows you to clamber up. All this quickly becomes second nature. Combat is also pretty good – there are clear tells for your opponent taking a swipe at you and you have to time your block (up on the joystick) correctly to stay alive, and get your attacks in on time. It’s a decent combat system with a nice level of tension and a decent requirement of skill.

Why am I wandering around in my pyjamas with no sword?

Difficulty on the first level isn’t too bad – I’ve not played the game before but was able to clear the first level fairly rapidly once I’d got the hang of the controls. I soon found myself quite comfortable jumping around from platform to platform, shimmying up and down, leaping like a demented salmon and stabbing Jaffar’s henchmen in the face. In many ways while the movement looks spectacular, the controls mean that it’s actually quite a carefully co-ordinated and controlled business, while there are actually a limited number of places at which the player can come to rest on screen, being half steps or full steps, turning the levels more into puzzles than the kind of platforming you’d expect in a Mario game where missing a jump is death (though the presence of spikes certainly adds some jeopardy if you do screw up).

At last, a sword. Just ignore the skeleton. Don’t grab the skull and start reciting Shakepeare…

Video

This game looks ok static but looks best in motion. Here’s a video of me playing the game and talking a bit about it. I also briefly show the Amiga version for comparison. For once the ST version looks better.

Verdict

Prince Of Persia doesn’t look anything special in static screenshots, but in motion it truly comes alive thanks to its fantastic animation, using a technique which would eventually become an industry standard. The game is not without technical limitations, the occasional slowdown being one, but it also makes a feature of its other limitation. Because of the animation the game uses a static backdrop with the screen flipping between locations, and the player’s freedom of movement is restricted due to the additional animation frames required for smaller steps. This creates a more puzzly feel than the more freeform flowing nature of a Mario game.

“Did you spill my pint?”

Clearly the technical side has less of an impact now than it did in its day and yet it’s still a super-attractive game. For once I actually prefer the look of the ST version with its more clearly-defined tiles and better colours vs the Amiga looking quite flat, muted even, though I’d appreciate the Amiga’s reduced slowdown. Still, while the technical side tends to be what people talk about, but this is a good game. I’d not played it before so I gave it a go last night to prepare for the video and this review, and I had a damn good time. I had fun when I was doing the video too, even if I did die more often than I’d like. It’s a good game and that’s not nostalgia talking, after all how can I be nostalgic for a game I never had much interest in back in the day?

“No, I spilled your blood.”

Resources

Manual: https://www.popuw.com/files/pop1manualA_A_CPC_PCC.pdf

Reviews From This Issue Of ST Format

Review: PowerMonger (Bullfrog – Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 19) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Any of Automation 495, Pompey Pirates 91, SuperGAU 380/706, Vectronix 269/788 A mouse My Review There’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of Powermonger, and…More

Review: Exterminator (Atari ST)

My video of Exterminator in action – written review below

ST Format Review (Issue 19)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Any of Automation 500I, Fuzion 28, SuperGAU 487/541, Vectronix 525
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

So I was going to have a look at Robocop 2, and then I started playing it and got so bored I nearly fell off my chair, such was my comatose state. There was no hint of originality and dear god it was just so boring. I needed
something a bit different, something with a bit of life. So I had a look at ST Format Issue 19 to see what my options were and lo and behold, I found Exterminator. It’s definitely different.

So the scenario is fairly simple. A whole load of houses have been infested with bugs. Millions of the little blighters. Now in my house we just let the cats deal with anything that dares fly into their domain, but here you don’t have a cat, you are the exterminator and it’s your job to deal with those pesky pests. So far so simple. So from the sound of that you might expect a platform game where you have to shoot bugs, or maybe jump on their heads, or maybe you’re smart and you looked at the weird screenshots and saw just what a weird little game this actually is and you know it’s not.

So the game is played in a sort of first person perspective. You have control of a severed hand, which can grab insects in mid-air, pound your fist to the ground to squash them, or shoot bullets from your fingertips (the blue panel at the bottom of the ST Format review above does a pretty good job of explaining). That last one is peculiar, and this is quite a peculiar game.

Now the tricky bit is finding something to write about it, as while it’s undoubtedly an interesting game, it’s not the deepest, so really discussion is limited to the technicals and the mechanics. We’ll continue with the latter and circle back to the former. So you play in various rooms of a house, and as you kill things floor tiles change colour. You want to turn all the tiles your colour to move on. You can have a 2nd player helping out, and they have the same objective. You want to kill all the bugs but there is a hazard – wasps. A really annoying little buzzing bastard (and my hatred of wasps is such that I would happily see every last one of them wiped from the face of the Earth) will start buzzing around and try to sting you. You can only get rid of it by flapping around in a circle.

It’s actually a conversion of an arcade game and I’ll include a little slice of it below that someone kindly put on Youtube.

The original arcade conversion – thanks random internet stranger

As you can see it’s smooth, where the ST version is less so. That’s not to say it’s bad (indeed by ST standards it’s pretty good), just it isn’t running at that kind of frame rate, but I’m not convinced the impact is huge. Also, the more realistic graphical style of the arcade version in my opinion dates quite badly vs the more stylised ST version. For me then this is a case where the home port looks better than the arcade original.

I actually looked for the arcade version because I wanted to see what they controls were, and judging from the video I’d say they’re the same joystick controls of the ST version. Clearly then they’ve tried to do a fairly faithful port, but to me this is a game crying out for mouse control (even if that would leave player 2 at a disadvantage because the ST won’t take two mice as far as I recall). The reason is that the joystick on an ST (and on most arcade machines) is a thoroughly digital affair. It’s on-off in each of the 8 directions, and for many games that’s wonderful – I love the sound of those microswitches in my Speedlink joystick. However it makes it a bastard of a job to get where you want to be and to perform the gesture required to shake off wasps. Now it’s entirely possible that mouse control would have thrown the game’s balance out, and thus I might be wholly wrong, but my gut feeling is you could have mouse control and make the movement of the insects a little faster to compensate and it would have worked (albeit it would become a little more twitch and a little less planning and strategy).

Verdict

It’s tricky to give this one a proper verdict. On one hand it’s a lovely inventive idea, and the visuals are fantastic. I think that if it had the option of mouse control it would have been a better game and perhaps the timing required to grab bugs in mid-air could be more forgiving (the smash to the ground is much easier), but as it is it’s still a really interesting game which deserves your time. If I were to find fault it’s that the mechanic doesn’t really evolve through the game, it just throws more hurdles at you in terms of explosions in addition to the wasps, and they don’t really add anything to the experience, but that’s really quite common to arcade games as typically most players would only see a couple of levels and the goal was to get more coins out of the player which is best done by repetition of the first few levels rather than focusing at all on longer runs.

Resources

Manual: https://www.gamesdatabase.org/Media/SYSTEM/Microsoft_DOS/manual/Formated/Exterminator.pdf

Review: Codemasters Italia 1990 (Atari ST)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

So we’re doing a few non-ST Format reviews as well as going back to some older reviews and redoing them with accompanying videos – we’ll also be looking at other formats rather than just the Atari ST. I expect these to come out on Mondays.

So these Monday reviews have so far seen two excellent games in Little Computer People and Mouse Trap. However, sometimes it’s also fun to cover the absolute clunkers. This is one where to be honest you need to watch the video to get a true feel for just how bad it is. It’s really special.

The first thing is that this is a cut down version of another earlier game – that game had 4 modes while this one has two, and one of them is even numbered 3 in the UI to rub salt into the wound. That’s lazy.

The training section isn’t too bad, I suspect it’s there for screenshots. You have to restart your ST to get out of that and into the football game, and none of the work in the gym has any effect on the stats of your players (because they don’t have any).

The game purports to represent the World Cup but your team is named Reds and always plays in red, while the other team, no matter who it is, plays in a yellow-orange puke colour.

If you get a free kick you don’t have to pass it, you can just dribble it.

If you get the ball and dribble it, the other team’s players will mill around not doing much, and won’t be able to tackle you. A goal is a matter of a quick tap from outside the box if going down the pitch, or a quick tap just inside the box then walk it in if you’re going up the pitch. The difference is because going down it chips and going up it sends the ball along the ground. You can score a goal every 30 seconds or so.

The programmers decided that horizontal scrolling was too hard, so instead they flip the screen between the 3 thirds of the pitch.

Verdict

This is a game so bad as to be comical, though it’s not so funny that people spent money on it. It was in the top 3 of the budget charts for months so clearly a lot of parents made the same mistake mine did, buying this on the strength of its world cup connection. Licensing wasn’t so rigorously enforced in those days and it’s more than likely that Ruud Gullit had no idea he was on the cover of this game either. Play this only if you hate yourself.

Review: Ivan ‘IronMan’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 19)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Any of Automation 423, Fuzion 21, Medway Boys 100, SuperGAU 418/740
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

So in ST Format issue 18 we had Badlands, a top-down-side-on-ish single-screen tiny-cars racer which I reviewed and found to be a limited and flawed game that could have been decent with just a few tweaks. It you’ve seen Skid Marks (stop laughing) you’ll know the kind of game I’m talking about but imagine that with much tinier cars and all on one screen with no scrolling.

The ST Format review asks who the buggering hell he is, now Americans will likely know, but us British tea-drinking types have no bloody idea. However, I’m an unusual Brit. I know a bit more than average about the vast and awesome range of racing found in the US – from dirt midgets to modifieds and awesome stuff like what we have here, stadium trucks. America has some bloody brilliant racing, and thanks to iRacing I have managed to learn a bit more about it.

Ironman is a little more conservative than Badlands in that it doesn’t have tunnels, and the setting is a little more conventional being a stadium truck race track – what it means is that the colours don’t cause any problems with visibility and the course is always super-clear and readable.

Another point in its favour is that while still smooth the car’s movement is a little slower. That may sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t – too fast on a game like this quickly becomes unplayable, and indeed that’s why when upgrading my vehicle I favour handling improvements over speed boosts. The cars handle pretty well though, the tank controls doing what you want them to do without too much fuss.

The between-races graphics are ok, not quite as good as say Supercars 2, but perfectly serviceable. More importantly the upgrade interface is eminently sensible with a cash system as you’d expect, and easy readable steps showing you how far you are along the upgrade path. Basically everything just makes sense.

Sound is your standard chip tune warbling, nothing to impress anyone too much, but it gets the job done. Indeed, on a technical level that largely sums it up, doing enough to get the job done without setting the world on fire, and that’s absolutely fine.

Verdict

So Super Off-Road is a decent little racer, it won’t blow you away but you will have a good time with it. It’s not anything especially new or taxing, but that’s ok, it’s good enough that you’ll have some fun races, and if you get a second player involved you’ll almost certainly have an enjoyable time. It’s not going to get gold because it isn’t doing anything outstanding but it’s still one I can heartily recommend playing.

Resources

Manual: https://www.thegameisafootarcade.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Super-Off-Road-Game-Manual.pdf

Review: Teenage Mutant Hero (Ninja) Turtles (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 19)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Any of Automation 392, Flame Of Finland 49
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles was a pretty big deal in the 90s – the cartoon was enormously successful, the movie sold tonnes, the god-awful Partners In Kryme song even made it to number 1. Suffice to say, bagging that license was pretty much a license to print money. Now this is where you’d typically expect Ocean or US Gold to make some half-arsed side-scrolling beat/shoot-em-up maybe with some platforming and some minigames. You’d expect it to be rubbish, because they almost always were, and you’d expect it to still get a reasonably solid score in the magazines.

In this case though it’s Mirrorsoft’s Imageworks label (ignore the box shot – Ubisoft probably published in some other territories) – they had the likes of Xenon 2, Bomb Uzal, Bloodwych and Cadaver in their stable so surely they had to be better. They did however also have the awful Back To The Future 2. The game was, according to Wikipedia, originally created on NES and then ported to other systems – the ports were not good, indeed the Amiga version was actually impossible to complete. The NES version scored fairly well with the press, generally 70-80%, while the Amiga (barring C&VG which was also an outlier on NES) saw scores between mid-30s and low-60s mostly and the Atari ST saw two reviews in the 30s and one in the 50s. I’m in for a treat then.

Wow. The game has a reputation but it really is just as bad as people say. The game is split into two sections – effectively an overworld shown top-down with a tiny sprite and very dodgy collision detection evading blue blobs on random paths that don’t seem to be aware of your presence but do seem to deal damage if they walk into you, and a platform section which is reasonably pretty but is so slow and jerky and is incredibly uninspired in terms of platform layout and enemies (and those enemies have bugger-all AI too).

There’s not much room for strategy or variety in combat – in the top down view it’s simply move (4 directions only – no diagonals) and stab. The stab is pretty short range and if you’re even slightly out of alignment you’ll miss while your enemies get far greater lattitude to walk into you and drain your health. The side-scrolling bits (accessed by going down a manhole cover) aren’t much better – here we find ourselves in a fairly monotonous side-scroller with enemies simply rushing you or walking on a pre-determined path, with only one move to attack. If you’re too close the attack won’t work, but that’s about as close as it gets to any level of tactics or timing.

One of the things which rather undercuts the design of the side scrolling is the ludicrous jumping, in that your turtle can achieve ludicrous heights and distances, thus making any obstacles in platform layouts rather pointless. You can jump over anything and to anything with ease from the ground. This limits the opportunity for creative platform placement to provide a challenge, and in the absence of any tactics or timing around the enemies leaves the game somewhat empty and uninteresting.

The Amiga version is identical bar the better sound, which is a bit of an insult given the capabilities of the machine, while the NES original is quite a bit better by virtue of being smoother and the overworld being a little nicer to look at, though still fundamentally the design is bad. The NES does sensibly make some of the enemies smaller in the side-scroller, while the overworld has a slightly different layout and adds a steamroller for no obvious reason, which doesn’t appear in the ST or Amiga versions.

It seems to me that this is another of those occasions where some developers are tasked with creating a game for a movie based on very little, and expected to rush it out quickly. Now I will say that this doesn’t excuse the turgid mechanics or the poor performance – any sensible coder will have a collection of libraries to call on to make sure character movement is smooth and fast. As it is, it really seems more at home among the games of 1988 than of 1991 – by this time 16-bit developers had done a pretty good job of figuring out what the machine could do and we’d reached a point where scrolling wasn’t so big an issue for the ST, and we could have smoothly-animated sprites. By 1991 though we have higher expectations. We’ve had Shadow Of The Beast, Turrican, Speedball 2, so really TMHT is out of place.

Verdict

One of the themes of games in the late 80s and early 90s was that film conversions were generally a bit lazy. Mostly terrible in fact. This is no exception, a truly awful game. Performance is poor, the artwork is mixed with the overworld fairly terrible but the side scroller looks a little better, mechanics are poor, and the game is a slow monotonous mess. Avoid it like the plague.

Resources

Manual: https://www.starehry.eu/download/action/docs/TMNT-Manual.pdf

Review: Mouse Trap (Atari ST)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

So we’re doing a few non-ST Format reviews as well as going back to some older reviews and redoing them with accompanying videos – we’ll also be looking at other formats rather than just the Atari ST. I expect these to come out on Mondays.

Ok we’ll ignore the crap dragon, the mouse looks pretty well-drawn

Mouse Trap is one of those cheap games your parents will have picked up having no idea what it was. Certainly that’s how I came to acquire it. In theory it should be absolutely terrible, after all it’s a game that would look perfectly at home on an 8-bit machine with only the higher resolution really giving it away. There’s no scrolling, the chip music is awful and the jump is terrible (a crime for any platformer). So why the hell do I like it?

My tail touched the plant and I died

Some of it will undoubtedly be nostalgia. My dad wasn’t a particularly pleasant bloke, a violent drunk who avoided prison by luck rather than judgement given his tendency not to pay for things. Still, this game and Mad Professor Mariarti were the brief bit of quality time we ever had in between avoiding him because he was drunk again. Still, there’s more to it than that.

I collected all the balloons, now I’m heading for the exit

The graphics are nothing special on a technical level but they’re well-drawn, and franjly it’s remarkable that they’re so well-drawn when you see how bad the Commodore 64 version looks:

Thanks random internet person for this C64 footage

The ST version is at least a clear upgrade from the C64 which wasn’t always a given. In truth the artwork was lovely, even if it was on a flat single-colour background. The sprites move quickly and smoothly around the screen, probably because there weren’t many demands being made on the ST. Enemies are well-designed and well-animated and there’s a lovely little death animation.

Here I’m collecting Christmas puddings. Don’t ask why. The teacup, plant and snail are all deadly.

I mentioned before that the jumping was terrible and perhaps I should explain. It’s one of those games where your motion is fixed when you jump, true to real life physics perhaps but generally unwelcome in a platform game. It is however at least a fire button jump. Worse still, walking off the edge of a platform sends you not down vertically but off in a diagonal like you’ve jumped off. And yet there is actually a good reason for this. Many of the puzzles driving the levels (and this is very much a puzzle platformer) are built around those limitations. Whether the limitations were a product of lazy developers and the level design followed from that or the developers had an idea that the limitations would allow some design creativity we will likely never know, but for whatever reason it works.

Here’s me completing a level to show I’m not totally hopeless

Collision detection is interesting. You can often be suspended on a platform by a single pixel of foot, and similarly you can die because your tail touched the plant. It’s brutal, but it is at least consistent and if it goes wrong you can’t blame anyone but yourself.

Bignose the bogeyman lies in wait as I try to collect all the fishbowls…

The chip music is gratingly awful. You will hate it. And then you’ll find yourself humming it.

Video

So I made a little video showing Mouse Trap in all it’s glory. Enjoy!

Verdict

… but he needn’t have bothered – one wrong jump and I’m dead.

Clearly there’s a personal connection to this game which makes it special to me in ways that it might not be for others, but by cold analysis this is actually a decent little game. It isn’t going to win any prizes for originality or technical merit, but it’s a game with charm, cleverly designed and with some lovely art. It’s no Super Mario World but it is a good time.

New Release 2021 – Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge STE-Enhanced Version!

Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge – New Version!

So a couple of geniuses/nutters have gone and taken Lotus Esprit and made it better. In fact, it’s now pretty much indistinguishable from the brilliant Amiga version, which is an incredible achievement.

Visually it’s an absolute treat, running incredibly smoothly (which is why I’ve gone with a video for this post – static images won’t do it justice), and the sound has had some work with the engine sounds are improved and the dramatic intro music added.

I’m a reasonably capable dev but my ST days are sadly limited to making platformers and shooters in STOS when I was 12 so I don’t understand everything they’ve done, but it appears they’ve leveraged the Blitter especially in some wonderfully creative ways. Get it now!

The Links That Matter

Download The Game From AtariMania