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.

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