Review: Boulder Dash (C64)

Boulder Dash Commodore 64 Front Cover

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the C64 Core
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

Games have over time come in many shapes and sizes. The early days of gaming were consumed by action, by creating that addictive one-more-go thrill, that need to beat the high score or see the next screen. More recently designers have shied away from this, seeing it as perhaps toxic in some way, or as being less of an artform, and yet by discarding these things we lose some of what makes gaming great.

The title screen

I’m sure we all remember those days, when we had time but no money, when every game we bought, and the cover disk demos on magazines, would be played to death. And in truth those games demanded such – they hooked you and made sure you wanted to play more. I remember being deeply addicted to Mad Professor Mariarti and Mouse Trap back in the day, and I don’t think it can honestly be said that I was harmed in any way by my gaming. Indeed, it offered me an escape from a difficult childhood in a family where in truth I was not always welcome.

There is much to be said for gaming – older games have the property of difficulty, of encouraging you to work hard at something to get better. Practice makes perfect, and when you only have a few games you must practice. It undoubtedly helped shape a mindset which helped later in life, a desire to ‘git gud’ as the kids say today disparagingly, and yet why is it so bad to desire personal improvement?

So we come to Boulder Dash. Its rules are simple, its goals straightforward. You must get a number of jewels and head for the exit. Digging through the earth you may dislodge boulders and have to dash, hence the name. And yet it’s so much more than that. It’s incredible tension, found in Jenga and Operation, knowing that one wrong move might dislodge the pile and send it crashing on your head. It’s also puzzling – sometimes you’ll have an arrangement of rocks blocking access to a jewel and you’ll have to figure out how to move them, and then have to hurry doing it so they don’t land on your head. There’s immense satisfaction that comes from success, and failure just drives you on to try again. How can we not love that?

Where it all begins

Graphically the game is simple enough, a tile-based layout with simple designs, but the main sprite is well-animated and scrolling is smooth. The visuals can get a little muddy in places but it’s usually still fairly clear what is expected and in a way muddy visuals shouldn’t be a surprise when you’re digging underground. Luckily the deliniation between enemies, rocks, immovable walls and earth are clear, so you can never blame the graphics for any confusion.

Sound is sparse but gets the job done. It doesn’t get in the way, other than the awful opening tune, it gives you the information you’d want it to. It’s not exciting but it doesn’t need to be.

Verdict

So you can probably already guess the verdict – I love it. This is a game that drags you in and doesn’t let go – there was some genuine danger of me making a video several hours long but I had to show some discipline and stop myself before I bored everyone to tears. Boulder Dash is a classic for a reason.

https://i0.wp.com/i.ibb.co/HrkmK0J/hari-Seldon-Gold.png?w=782&ssl=1

Review: Bruce Lee (C64)

Atari 400 800 XL XE Bruce Lee : scans
Bruce Lee Box-Art

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the C64 Core
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

So here we are at the first game in the Zzap64 Challenge – starting first from the Top 64 that was published in the first issue to get a few of the pre-Zzap classics, games which belonged to a different era. I sought suggestions at https://www.reddit.com/r/c64/comments/nnlbvr/which_prezzap64_games_are_worth_covering/ and on Twitter and as helpful as people were it didn’t narrow my list down much. So I set about poking and prodding a few games to see which ones to cover, as I can’t cover them all. I enjoyed quite a few but one game absolutely stopped me in my tracks.

A simple and rather humble intro screen belies a truly wonderful game, one deeply suffused with the joy of movement. Skittering across the screen at a clip, as seems the tradition with these older games, and leaping around with reckless abandon, Bruce Lee karate kicks his opponents in the face making a beautiful connection that is so often absent in the combat of other games.

When I first played I thought it was just a combat arena, not entirely understanding that I needed to collect the lanterns. Once I figured that out and understood that doing so would unlock the path to the next area I found myself leaping around, looking for quick ways to get to lanterns and drawing enemies out to sneak past them.

The first level is fairly simple, offering an introduction to the combat side of things mostly, and giving you a playground to try out the movement, and honestly as simple as it is this area is still incredibly good fun. I can never tire of kicking the little green fella right in the face.

I chose the single-player path as my wife, being a bit of a millennial, was horrified by the graphics. Personally I liked their clarity, everything the game tried to communicate to me, it did successfully, and that is in no small part due to readable screens with much care and attention put into presentation.

As you make your way further into the game so more environmental hazards come into play and the game becomes a dance of death, trying to get all those lanterns while avoiding being killed by a wide range of skewery murder-gadgets or worse still, kicked into them by the ninja or the green fella.

There’s no denying the difficulty ratchets up as the game goes on and yet it still has that compulsive one-more-go feeling. When I was making the video, in truth I could have carried on playing for hours but I know nobody wants to watch me being crap at the game for quite that long. Still, I will be playing this for many an hour away from the camera.

Verdict

I’ve killed all tension already, but I make no apologies for that. Bruce Lee is absolutely utterly wonderful and I strongly urge you to go get yourself a copy, whether it be an original or a ROM or however you wish to play, but damn well make sure you do it, because this is a genuinely fantastic game. What a way to start the Zzap64 Challenge!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is hari-Seldon-Gold.png

Review: Viz (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

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.
  • Automation 453
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

Moving on from racing games we now find ourselves engaged in more athletic pursuits – this time racing on foot. The game is split into multiple events, mirroring the format of a typical olympics game in many ways, with races on foot interspersed with events like trying to jet-propel yourself as high as possible using only the power of beans and methane. Yes methane. If that surprises you then perhaps you’re unfamiliar with Viz.

I should perhaps begin by explaining a little bit about what Viz is. Viz is some good old-fashioned British filth. It’s full of toilet humour and swearing, a comic for grown-ups started in the late 70s featuring such characters as the Fat Slags (who predictably were generally busy trying to hump everything), Buster Gonad and his unfeasibly large testicles, Biffa Bacon and his love of violence, Roger Mellie the (sweary) man on the telly and my personal favourite Johnny Fartpants whose skills can probably be guessed.

So we find these loveable characters transposed from the comic to our computer screens, and they look wonderful. The sprites are beautifully drawn, colourful and decently-animated. Indeed graphics throughout the game are excellent.

So to the events. The race is conducted over 5 levels with different sets of obstacles, and if you stray out of your lane a bloke throws bricks at you. Each character can use his special powers to help complete the course, and they each get two bonus levels to gain tokens for later use. For Johnny Fartpants those events include the previously-mentioned jet-propelled high jump where waggling your stick propels your man and inflating balloons with his anus. Buster Gonad flattens pancakes with his balls and then uses them as space hoppers to bounce as high as possible, and Biffa Bacon punches the shit out of people and drinks pints.

Now these tokens gained from mini-games are essential if you’re to progress in the race. Biffa punches people out of the way with a single fire-tap, or a long press sends him into a frenzy as someone has spilled his pint. These powers cost tokens, and thus it is clear one must obtain as many tokens as possible in the minigames before race segments.

Verdict

So is it any good? Well, it looks great and runs fairly smoothly, in part due to a small scrolling area, but in truth the difficulty is insane. Getting enough tokens to really make any progress is impossible and the game rarely responds in a timely manner to pressing the fire button to perform your character’s main tasks. It’s not a bad game, just one that could have done with a bit more time in the oven to balance it a bit.

Resources

Manual: https://hol.abime.net/1591/manual

The Zzap64 Challenge

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/E3bgfTrWEAEwjoA?format=jpg&name=medium

We’re going to play a shedload of Commodore 64 games, some from each issue of Zzap64. I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

So we’ve been doing the ST Format Challenge for over a year now, starting life as a forum thread before becoming this site and branching out into YouTube. The ST Format Challenge, for those unaware, is a project where I play a selection of games from every issue of ST Format. We’ve made it to issue 21 (and 13 issues of ST/Amiga Format too). The videos however are some way behind, so I’m going to focus on getting those caught up on the Atari ST side. However, we’re going to bring in a new strand for this site.

The Zzap64 Challenge. We’re going to do the exact same thing, but with Zzap64. Why? Well I’ve been playing C64 games lately and it turns out they’re awesome. We’re going to start by taking a selection of the games listed in the first issue’s top games list to give us an excuse to cover some older stuff too, then we’ll move through issue by issue covering new and awesome games.

What you’ll hopefully get is a written article here on Monday, a video on our YouTube channel on Wednesday, then the Atari ST video going up on Friday, each week. Let me know in the comments if there are any games you want to see covered and what your thoughts are on where we’re going with this.

Review: Super Monaco GP (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

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.
  • Automation 496, Fuzion 47, Medway Boys 110, Pompey Pirates 80, Superior 65.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

Continuing with our racing game theme, we arrive at Super Monaco GP. For those unfamiliar, it’s a racing game, very much in the Outrun mould, but with F1 cars. It reviewed pretty well, scoring 89% in The One, 85% in Zero, 72% in ST Action and 71% in ST Format. While the score is solid enough, the written review of Super Monaco GP could best be summed up with one word – the word of the millennial, meh.

It praises the smooth graphics and observes the use of more than 16 colours while pointing out this isn’t shown on the screenshots (I couldn’t detect this when running personally – this may be a case of them taking press releases at face value), while observing correctly that joystick control is a nightmare. There are also complaints that the other cars can wreck you as much as they like while you can’t do the same to them. These are valid complaints, alongside a general narrative of “well it’s another racing game” in the review which hints at a reviewer tired of reviewing this crap.

Structurally the game is quite minimal with only 4 tracks, the final one being Monaco which you run dry and then wet. This doesn’t exactly scream longevity. You’re expected to qualify in the top 15 to progress, and then have to finish on the podium to proceed to the next race. The problem is that this is nigh-on impossible.

Where in most racing games like Outrun or Super Hang-On you can hit the scenery as much as you like and you’ll crash and just lose time, here it’s game over if you do it two or three times. Now this might not be so bad – I can go a good distance in Super Hang-On without hitting anything, but this is not a game as controllable as its contemporaries. Indeed, the controls are an unholy mess. The car lurches around like a drunken fool and the rolling road lurches into different directions instantly rather than smoothly as you’d expect, the corner suddenly being upon you rather than being something you see in the distance and ease into.

Graphics are.. well, they’re ok. Nowhere near Lotus levels, not as smooth, nor as pretty with even ST Format noting the loss of resolution as objects come closer to the camera. It’s nice to see liveries that resemble the cars of the era, a nice nostalgic touch these days, but in truth I’d rather play F1GP or if I must play a rolling road racer then I’d consider the Nigel Mansell game which was a bit more controllable.

Verdict

What were they thinking? This game is an uncontrollable nightmare. Do not play this. Give it a very wide berth and play Lotus or F1GP instead.