Review: Tournament Golf (Atari ST)

Simple but effective box art – you won’t mistake it for a shoot-em-up

ST Format Review (Issue 20)

ST Format seemed to mostly like it – screenshots suggest they didn’t get very far though

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 433, Medway Boys 103, SuperGAU 381/2
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

Derek gazed longingly at his caddy, her long luscious legs tempting him but he knew, in this #metoo era, there was no chance.

I absolutely hate golf. It’s a horrendously boring sport to watch, and on those occasions I’ve tried to play it in real life I’ve generally considered myself pretty fortunate if I manage to connect club to ball, often outclassed horrendously by children (my main experience of playing golf was school trips when I worked as a teaching assistant back in the day). Golf on TV is just a bunch of men in funny trousers whacking a ball you can hardly see and honestly how are you supposed to tell the difference between a good swing and a bad swing? And yet, for no obvious reason, there are two golf games which I found myself actually liking. This is one of them, and the other is Sensible Golf – very different games I’m sure you’ll agree.

Derek had to play the shot but all he could think of was how she looked with her hair blowing in the gentle breeze

Tournament Golf plays it fairly straight, it largely follows the tried and tested three-click formula. You turn up at the hole, check the wind (you get an animated weathervane), check the lie (nice inset graphic of the ball on the grass), pick a club, adjust your stance (though I’m buggered if that has any damn effect) and go to swing at your shot – first click to start, second as the bar rises to set power, third as the bar falls to get height (as usual you have to get it into a small box so need to get it just in time). You can do this with mouse or joystick but in my case I found I was getting more accurate timing using a heavily-microswitched joystick than my mouse, but no doubt your mileage will vary with hardware.

Right there he could feel the connection, though the clubs stood between them he felt closer than ever to Janine

Upon reaching the green the game switches to a top-down 2D view, and you can switch modes to show which direction the grass is going to send the ball – I must confess to being a bit rubbish at this bit as I can never quite get the right level of power for the shot. Many a birdie has turned into a triple bogey – like the game’s trying to recreate the underside of my chair (not really but I had to make a bogey joke somewhere).

Often Derek found himself thinking about holes. He knew he had to stop, to take his mind out of the gutter.

Visually it’s a real treat, a combination of vector graphics rendering most of the course with bitmapped trees and a bitmapped representation of your golfer. Animation isn’t the smoothest but gets the job done. As cool as it looks, it’s actually not terribly ambitious technically as changing the view takes a good few seconds to re-render, and really most of the actual view is a single animation for the swing (admittedly the sprite is huge but there’s only one and we’ve seen Turrican use bigger) and the ball moving (mostly as a dot). Sound is solid, if sparse. It consists of fairly convincing samples of hitting the ball and the crowd applauding.

Even the grass was mocking him, conspiring to take him away from his one true love.

Gameplay consists of completing a number of rounds of golf, each consisting of the traditional 18 holes. The courses are initially fairly tame, perhaps expecting a 1 wood drive straight down the line then round the bend with a 1 iron before putting, but as you go on the holes become trickier, with traps carefully placed to make your life hell, either at likely stop-off points on the way (ie the length of a good drive) or surrounding the green with hazards like bracken, bunkers or water.

Perhaps we could get lost in the woods, Derek thought, and have a picnic among the trees.

Doing well will see you earn new sets of clubs which lengthen your drive – this can allow you to take a shot less on some holes, and no doubt the later courses will require those more advanced sets of clubs just to keep up with the AI. You also get a better caddy who gives you some actual advice – at first you don’t even get the vaguest clue as to which club to use and have to guess, though of course that’s part of the fun, learning rather than being led by the nose as you would in a modern game.

God punished Derek for his filth by making him take a shot while walking on water.

Verdict

The holes got more difficult, the bracken coming to life and wriggling around the course devouring all in its path.

If you play golf games on more modern systems the chances are you won’t feel terribly interested by this, which would be a shame. As it is, it’s a good fun game, a puzzle of movement to get from point A to point B with some skill and luck required to execute your plan. The graphics are lovely, I was hugely impressed by them as a kid and they still look good today, benefitting from a slightly stylised look. Courses are well-designed, tricky but not unfair, and your computer opponents don’t generally get unrealistic scores.

But Derek and Janine would be reunited, back together at last. “I love you” said Derek. “I know” said Janine.

Personally I had a good time whacking the ball around, even if my skills have atrophied somewhat. I could feel myself getting back into the groove, the quality of my game slowly improving and no doubt with a little more time I’d be able to do reasonably well, but even not doing brilliantly I still felt the need to keep going, playing multiple rounds of golf.

With that, Derek thumped the ball into the distance, shouting “bollocks to golf” and ran off with Janine, getting married at Gretna Green.

Video Updates 14/05/2021

Hi all, just giving a quick update on some of what’s going on behind the scenes here at Bitmap Towers. So I’ve been working hard to add video content to the site, and it turns out it’s quite a fun thing to do. If I’m honest I’m not sure it’s where I want it yet but one has to start somewhere and you will hopefully see improvements over time. As it currently stands we’ve added videos added to the following articles. Note that we’re adding videos to most new articles but also going back to add videos to most older reviews as well, a fairly lengthy task given there are over 100 reviews on the site now!

Review: Enchanted Land (Atari ST)

What a dreary bit of box art

ST Format Review (Issue 20)

This is awkward – ST Format got the name wrong

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.
  • D-Bug 148, Superior 55
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

Enchanted Land is a particularly interesting game in that it marks the entry of demo group The Care Bears into the world of game development. Published by Thalion (who housed a number of demo groups having been founded by demo sceners though I’m not sure how deep this connection runs) – the general goal of the demo scene for those unaware was to push the ST to its absolute limits with parallax effects, samples, wibbly text, smooth animation and scrolling and of course, an absurd number of colours on screen at once.

Now there is some variety of plot about some MacGuffin being shattered into 100 pieces and you have to collect it or the world will turn into a turnip or I don’t know I fell asleep half way through it. What this amounts to is 5 levels of platforming in which for each level you must find all the pieces of magic to open the door at the end to the next level. Before going to the next level you will first need to defeat a guardian, usually a massive sprite doing ridiculous damage with some weak spot somewhere. A white flash indicates when you’ve hit a vulnerable spot.

Anyway, to the game. It opens with a gorgeous use of the ST’s sound chip as it draws some rain drops and drops in the Thalion logo, before embarking on some stunning parallax-scrolling and excessive-number-of-colours stuff in a demo showing your chap running along in the game world under his own steam. Sadly that’s the last we see of the parallax scrolling – in-game the vertical scrolling is of course wonderfully smooth but horizontally it moves in jerks which is a disappointment after that intro. Musically it’s really really good and shows that you can actually get some really cool sounds out of the ST’s sound chip if you give it a bit of a shove.

The game looks pretty good in motion. Animation is smooth, the art style is lovely, and the music is pretty good. That scrolling is poor, but functional enough and I’ve enjoyed enough single-screen and flip-screen games not to let that get in the way. However, as pretty as it is, it’s also incredibly shallow with so much cheap death. It’s just hard in a lazy way. Honestly I could find bugger all in the way of actual fun in this – too many enemies that had horrible movement patterns and took 50 shots to kill. Too many blind jumps. Too many jumps to tiny platforms under attack from too many creatures. It’s a shockingly poor game frankly.

The Amiga port is fairly lazy – the music is brilliant, don’t get me wrong, but it still has the poor scrolling of the ST version.

Verdict

So I did my best with Enchanted Land, I really did. It’s very pretty, the art style is lovely and the music is great. Unfortunately, for some reason the game just doesn’t click for me, to the extent that I found myself not particularly wanting to make a video for it. It’s a triumph of style over substance that lets itself down by promising fast scrolling and tonnes of parallax but then not even delivering proper scrolling. In short, it’s pretty vacant.

Resources

Manual: https://www.lemonamiga.com/games/docs.php?id=564

Review: Turrican 2 (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 20)

ST Format got the review bang-on – also props for getting to the later levels

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 449, Pompey Pirates 75, Superior 57, SuperGAU 403/469/769/808/844, Vectronix 566
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

An intro that will be familiar to many of you

So you’d be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu here as it’s only 3 issues ago that ST Format reviewed Turrican 1, and yet here we are, 3 months later, with Turrican 2 on our hands. Surely a good game can’t be built that quickly?

In truth, while a good game can be built in 3 months, one with the complexity and performance of Turrican probably can’t. It’s fairly obvious then that this game was not built from scratch, but instead built on the bones of its prequel, given it shares a good portion of its sprites and weapon power-ups and even enemies and backdrops. Even the title screen looks basically the same, just with 2 hastily added to it. So is it a lazy cash grab?

This is a sequel that deals in evolution rather than revolution – little touches that make it look better, the stripping away of less successful elements of the first game, and the refinement of what’s already there. For example, you may recall that when you hold down the fire button while stationary the gun fires a lightning bolt laser thing which you can rotate with the joystick. It remained in a straight line and would come from the end of the gun which would not move.

In Turrican 2 it’s a more visually impressive affair, with flames emanating from the gun and Turricans arms manoevreing the gun around in a circle as you rotate, giving it a much more realistic look. The flames themselves also have a physical weight to them where as you move the gun the outer edges of the flame trail tend take a little time to catch up. It’s hard to explain but it looks a lot more impressive. There are loads of these little touches – bridges where the bridge visibly sags under the weight of your warrior, which isn’t to suggest that he needs a diet – he is after all wearing a metal suit which probably weighs a fair bit.

Sensibly the sequel drops the bizarre vertical scrolling shooter sections where you can only fire horizontally – it didn’t really work and difficulty was horrendous. In its place is a more traditional side-scrolling shooter in a spaceship which could easily be mistaken for R-Type. That’s no bad thing of course and showcases the versatility of the game’s engine which is truly impressive in its ability to throw sprites around both in vast numbers and vast size. I really can’t emphasize enough how impressive it is that an Atari ST can be made to cover the screen in bullets and aliens and all manner of nasties while retaining a high and consistent frame rate and smooth scrolling. On a technical level, this game is a masterpiece.

As you’d expect the music is fantastic. Now clearly it doesn’t sound as good as it does on the Amiga or Commodore 64, but even on the ST’s sound chip it’s awesome – Chris Huelsbeck composed gorgeous music and the arrangement on the ST does it justice in its own bleepy way. It has its melancholic moments and its moments of driving you on, I could talk about it all day but you likely already know how good it is and the video below will do it better justice any any description I can offer.

I reckon difficulty has been ramped up a bit – this isn’t uncommon in sequels of course as they tend to assume the player has completed the previous game, but it’s a bit of a challenge for an old fart like me. For me there are a few too many enemies where the only recourse is to use the flamethrower but you don’t get enough time to fire it up – I get that it doesn’t fire immediately for balance and to prevent accidental triggers but this is perhaps a case for a twin-stick control scheme which would have been impossible on the Atari ST. Admittedly things like the 3-direction spread-shot and the bouncing ball of flame can work these cases quite well but they’re better suited to enemies up high than enemies down a slope.

One of the under-appreciated facets of the game would be the way it presents an alien world – it really does feel properly alien, properly weird. It’s huge too. The levels are absolutely bloody enormous and I got lost more than once. It’s really quite impressive stuff, though sometimes this does come from areas being insufficiently distinct – a property more likely to be found of procedurally-generated levels than hand-drawn ones but perhaps suggesting the developers might have been better advised going for a slightly smaller world with a little more difference between areas.

With all that said, there really are huge thematic differences visually between the worlds now – each has its own colour palette setting a mood unique to that space – frankly I find Turrican 2 to be one of the prettiest games on 16-bit due both to its technical merit and its fantastic art design.

If I were to fault any of the design I would say that there are a few too many blind jumps once you get up high, though this is a fault more of the ‘camera’ than anything else. The truth is precision jumps to platforms you can’t see aren’t particularly fun and feel a bit cheap, it’s something the game could do without. Still, overall world design is about as good as you’ll find anywhere in 2D 16-bit gaming.

Video

I made a video to show off this extraordinary game and to show off its extraordinary technical accomplishments, and compare the sequel with its prequel. Sequel coverage kicks off at about 5 minutes if you want to skip the prequel.

Verdict

So the verdict is a tricky thing. In many ways Turrican 2 is a retread of its prequel after three short months and this should be acknowledged, and yet here we are 30 years later, the passing of those 3 months somehow feels less significant so the question is one of whether the game is worth playing. The short answer is yes, you should absolutely get hold of it, be that via the new collection that has come out for modern computers and consoles or via your favourite emulator, FPGA device or original classic hardware. Is it a meaningful improvement over its prequel? Well, yes in that it evolves and improves what went before but no if you’re expecting anything new and revolutionary – this is a refinement of the formula to a perfect point, and I for one am perfectly happy with that.

Reviews From This Issue Of ST Format

Review: Tournament Golf (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 20) 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 433, Medway Boys 103, SuperGAU 381/2 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review I absolutely hate golf. It’s a horrendously boring sport to watch, and on…More

Review: Enchanted Land (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 20) 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. D-Bug 148, Superior 55 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review Enchanted Land is a particularly interesting game in that it marks the entry of demo group…More

Review: Gazza 2 (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 20) 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 404, Fuzion 39, Pompey Pirates 69 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review Time for another football game review. The magazine screenshots make it…More

Review: Gazza 2 (Atari ST)

In this video I tested ST Format’s claims that the movement was as good as Kick Off by playing Gazza 2 and then Kick Off. The good news is you get to see just how bad the animation is in Gazza 2. The bad news is that I had to play it.

ST Format Review (Issue 20)

So it must have been pretty good to get 86% right?

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 404, Fuzion 39, Pompey Pirates 69
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

Time for another football game review. The magazine screenshots make it look pretty cool, with the cartoons of the commentators and the nice little graphic for a yellow card or the ref blowing the whistle or fans cheering a goal. Indeed the ST Format review makes it all sound quite jolly, the players move more realistically than in Kick Off. Do they bollocks.

We get some sampled music as this image builds up pixel by pixel like the old Amstrad CPC 464 tape-loading days

Before I continue I should probably elaborate on Gazza for those who are unfamiliar. So Gazza is the nickname of Paul Gascoigne, who at that time played for Spurs in the First Division (now known as the Premier League). The thing about Gazza is that he was unusual at the time in being an English footballer who wasn’t a complete clogger. Ok so we had Chris Waddle so it wasn’t all bad, but for the most part there wasn’t much in the way of flair among English players. This didn’t stop Bobby Robson doing an incredible job at Italia 90 with the England team and getting them to the semi-final, only to fall short in a now-traditional penalty shoot-out defeat to West Germany.

The menus look really good.. oh wait, nope. Still, you get Paul Gascoigne’s face, so that’s something.

Now the important bit here is that Gazza was really really good. I mean proper dribbling past people and making them look silly good. And he got to the semi final knowing that one booking would mean missing the final. Now of course he’s English so he should have known the final wasn’t for us anyway, but he got booked and promptly cried like a baby. This was at a time when the English stiff upper lip still held, when men were men and we hadn’t all become a bunch of emotional incontenents due to the death of Princess Diana (which by the way I regard as the precise moment the British collectively lost their stiff upper lips). As it was, it was unusual, we didn’t have reality TV stars bawling and wailing about nothing, and in being unusual it rather endeared him to the public even if it also got him a little bit of mickey-taking. Spitting Image fitted his puppet with projectile tears and even made a song, but sadly there’s no copy to be found on Youtube. We’d already had Gazza’s Super Soccer, but with his new-found fame it was essential to get a new sequel out to cash in on his fame.

In what world are Cardiff City (who were in the third division at the time I think) in the same division as AS Roma?

It’s worth taking the time to be clear that this game is not as bad as the dreadful Codemasters Italia 1990 – few things in the world are thankfully. However, it’s still pretty bad. Player movement is weird and jerky, with predictable repercussions on control. The controls themselves are dreadful even without those issues as there’s no easy way to pass to another player (and you won’t see one anyway because you’re too zoomed in and the players positioning is awful). Unfortunately if you don’t pass to another player you will get tackled instantly, though you can use the zig-zagging trick to improve your odds.

The graphics don’t look too bad static

There’s a complicated selection of types of shot you can perform based on the joystick direction upon releasing the fire button, and it almost never comes off. As well as the view being far too close up we have the radar at the bottom, obscuring the pitch as it’s not transparent like its Kick Off equivalent, and you can’t get rid of it. The pitch view area is further reduced by a big status bar at the bottom which serves no other purpose than to shrink the rendering area and make the programmer’s lives easier.

So I think the one on the left is meant to be Jimmy Hill but I’m buggered if the one on the right looks like Gazza

The controls outside of the match are terrible with obscure icons leading to god-knows-what, menus that make no sense, even things like picking a damn team to play has you go next team next team next team through a list that isn’t even alphabetical and why couldn’t they show you all the teams and let you move the cursor around to pick one?

Still, the banter between pundits is about as good as the real thing

Sound is ok I guess, not absolutely terrible, but even if it was the best ever it would struggle to redeem this absolute turd.

Verdict

So for those who follow these things, Gazza’s life is something of a tragic tale. He was so insanely talented but prone to self-destruction, things like a lunging reckless tackle in the FA Cup putting him out for a season with a nightclub incident extending that. After football he turned heavily to drink and this exacerbated his mental problems, culminating in the famous Raoul Moat incident (I’ll leave you to Google that).

This is not the Gazza of 1990, the unstoppable force who could waltz through defences, dancing through with the ball glued to his feet like an English Pele – that title belongs to Kick Off 2. No, this is the washed up Gazza, the alcoholic Gazza, the Gazza who will surely one day be killed by alcoholism, in game form. It’s a lazy cash grab by those who don’t care, and considering Gazza was brought down by surrounding himself with parasites leeching off his talent one could argue that is quite fitting.

Oh, and if you were thinking of playing it on the Amiga because surely it must be better there, it’s not – the scrolling is still weird and the controls are still terrible. Seriously, how the buggery bollocks do you screw up the scrolling on a god-damn Amiga? That takes extraordinary talent.

Reviews From This Issue Of ST Format

Review: Turrican 2 (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 20) 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 449, Pompey Pirates 75, Superior 57, SuperGAU 403/469/769/808/844, Vectronix 566 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review So you’d be forgiven for feeling a…More

ST Format Issue 20 (Feb 1991)

ST Format Issue 20 (Download)

Welcome to another issue of ST Format. As usual we’ll begin by placing the issue in its historical context, and note that we use the month the magazine actually came out rather than the one printed on its spine, before diving into the issue’s contents. Finally, over a few weeks we add a list of reviews to the bottom of the article, each a link to a new article.

The World In February 1991

In the UK the IRA launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. There were no injuries but that is probably why it’s so heavily fortified these days. It wasn’t always thus. We also got heavy snow, which was great for me as it let me build some awesome snowmen. Photos of me doing this were quite rightly destroyed. There were bombings at Paddington and Victoria Street stations (it’s quite terroristy this month – back in those days it was the Irish who did most of it). In what would prove to be history’s biggest error, Tim Berners-Lee introduced WorldWideWeb, the first web browser.

The US news was mostly dominated by the Gulf War, though there was a collision between two planes as well and an imposter at Princeton University – quite an interesting tale if you feel like googling James Hogue.

Elsewhere in the world Haiti got their first democratically-elected president. He lasted until September before being ousted. Lithuania declared independence, while the Visegrad Agreement pushed Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland towards free-market capitalism. In the Gulf War, Iraq accepted a ceasefire agreement proposed by the Russians, but the US rejected hte agreement, giving Iraq 24 hours to leave Kuwait. They did indeed leave, setting fire to the Kuwaiti oil fields as they left, the fire lasting several months. In Thailand they had yet another coup. Having lived there during one, I can confirm they’re quite regular occurrances.

On TV not much happened. A very quiet month, unless you like news reports showing missile-eye views of raids on Iraq.

The film charts are actually quite interesting, with some films I’ve heard of. You’ve got Dances With Wolves at #1, the mediocre Three Men & A Little Lady (sequel to 3 Men And A Baby) at #2, and Kindergarten Cop at #3. I had no idea that there was a Ducktales movie, but it turns out it was a thing, and it hit #4. Rocky V was sufficiently bad as to put the franchise on ice, while Home Alone is still there hanging on.

I had to pick this – weirdly controversial these days because we’ve all gone completely mad

The album chart is starting to show some signs of recovery from Christmas with a new Queen album at #1, admittedly not their finest work but still at least not a greatest hits album. Wicked Game from Chris Isaak is the latest of those greatest hits albums, with 4 of the top 10 still occupied by greatest hits collections. Belinda Carlisle’s Runaway Horses was still there having been released in 1989, and Gloria Estefan had one of her weaker albums Into The Light at #2.

Not Queen’s finest work…

The singles chart is a little healthier, with Queen at #1, but more interestingly KLF at #2 with 3AM Eternal. Seal at #4 with Crazy is a decent tune. Gonna Make You Sweat by C&C Music Factory is good clean pop fun, though the less said about Wiggle It by 2 In A Room the better. We do at least get the absolute classic mega-banger, I’ve Had The Time Of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warner.

Gotta love a bit of KLF
Turn the speakers up and dance around the room
I don’t care if it’s cheesy as hell, I love it

The Magazine

This issue is a bit of a tips issue, telling you how to use AUTO programs and how to plug stuff into your computer. The cover is… well they’ve made it more interesting with a bit of colour but really it’s not one of their better efforts. A big advert for Gauntlet 3 graces the inside cover, alas the game was a massive disappointment.

The cover disk is a pretty good one – I remember playing the Turrican 2 demo to death, and look forward to playing the full game for the first time. There’s also a sampler progeam called MasterSound 2, which while more or less a full version isn’t much use without some sampling hardware. Of the serious programs, probably the most useful is the cocktail database, something which would have been immensely useful in the pre-Google days.

The news covered the impressive sales of the ST, 2.5 million shifted globally at a time when computers weren’t as ubiquitous as today. Weirdly further into the magazine we have Atari US confessing that they’d have been sunk without Europe, perhaps a harbinger of things to come. In that interview there’s talk of CD but in reality Atari never really got to grips with the format and in truth it was too early with most games at most occupying two disks and even serious applications doing the same. Lots of hope seemed to be pinned on the Mega STE but it was never priced competitively enough to be worthwhile, nor given capable-enough graphics hardware to be worthwhile, and the TT and Falcon left it no obvious place to go. We also had confirmation that there was a sequel to Populous on the way, taking some lessons learned from Powermonger apparently. I look forward to reviewing it.

In slightly teaching-granny-to-suck-eggs news we get a summary of what the ports on an ST are for, including those god-awful under-the-machine ports for the joystick and mouse (soldered directly to the motherboard and an absolute bastard to push in and pull out). For each of those ports we get a bit of a round-up of things you can plug into them. It’s interesting enough I guess, trying to encourage ST users into the wider ecosystem (in truth I don’t think we tended to do that as much as Amiga owners did, in part because as the cheapest 16-bit machine it didn’t tend to attract those with deep pockets).

Previews

There’s some talk of the CES show in the news section, which means we get mention of a few games and screenshots clearly not from ST versions. I’m not sure Bill Elliot’s NASCAR Challenge made it to the ST (it did get an Amiga release) while the screenshot for Secret Weapons Of The Luftwaffe was quite clearly from the PC which is where it was released. Castles and Ancient Art Of War In The Skies did indeed make it, and they don’t seem to have noticed that Hoverforce is actually Resolution 101 which they’d already reviewed. Eye Of The Beholder did not make it to the ST. All in all, quite an impressive hit rate there from ST Format showing perhaps some naivity and not quite enough research.

In the main preview section, we get another dodgy Impressions strategy game in the form of Cohort – Fighting For Rome. Feudal Lords is another, though not one I know anything about. Gremlin’s Hero Quest gets a mention, probably one I should check out at some point. I know bugger all about Nam 1965-1975 from Domark so can’t offer much there. Of far more interest to me is the legendary Midwinter 2 – one of the greatest games ever made – not much said but good to know it’s coming soon.

We get a fairly in-depth look at the Bitmap Brother’s platform slasher Gods. It very much continues the Bitmaps theme of taking well-worn genres and adding a shedload of polish to make them a bit more exciting. There’s a lot of talk of AI dodging your bullets and of morale where shooting the lead attacker might make the others run away. I’m not convinced that much of this made its way into the final game but it’s the kind of thing developers would talk about in those days, Peter Molyneux of Bullfrog being most famous for that kind of thing of course. In a way it’s interesting that the focus back then was on what you could do with AI while these days it’s either how many teraflops the console has or representation issues. I miss the days when game design innovation was front and centre.

We get an interview with Will Wright discussing his coming Sim Earth game. It was to be his most disappointing work, but thankfully one he would bounce back from with the incredible success of The Sims. It’s clear that Will Wright was an incredibly ambitious chap but this is one of those games that just didn’t quite work. Still, it’s a fascinating read and I heartily recommend having a look.

ST Game Charts

Tutles at #1 – what the buggery bollocks is wrong with people?

The charts are.. well I suppose at least F-19 finally got knocked off the top spot, I love it but it had been there a good while. However, it’s a shame that it was something as dire as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles that replaced it. On the plus side, the brilliant Powermonger and Speedball at #2 and #3 make things look better, as well as Kick Off 2 and Golden Axe. Lotus slides down to 8 sadly. Toyota Celica GT Rally made its debut at 12, a low position for such a brilliant game. Pang deserved better than 24 but perhaps didn’t get marketed that well, and it’s not a game which is easy to sell in a review. In positive news, Italia 1990 is finally dropping down the budget chart at #9. Yes I’m still bitter about just how awful it is.

Reviews

Games reviewed this month:
Mig-29 (Flight Sim – Domark – £34.99 – 92% Format Gold)
Gazza 2 (Football – Empire – £24.99 – 86%)
Total Recall (Movie Tie-In – Ocean [of course] – £24.99 – 66%)
Metal Masters (Robot fighting – Infogrames – £24.99 – 88%)
Night Shift (Plate-spinning platformer – Lucasfilm – £24.99 – 86%)
Tournament Golf (Shoot em up – Ultimate – £19.99 – 73%)
Turrican 2 (Golf game – Rainbow Arts – £24.99 – 89%)
Dragons Lair 2 (‘Interactive’ Cartoon – Readysoft – £44.95 [wtf?] – 58%)
Enchanted Land (Platformer – Thalion – £24.99 – 92% Format Gold)
Jupiter’s Masterdrive (Top-Down Racer – Ubisoft – £19.99 – 76%)
Advanced Destroyer Simulator (Boat Driving Game – Futura – £19.99 – 79%)
Crime Wave (Side-scrolling shoot-em-up – US Gold – £24.99 – 38%)
Bug Bash (Side-scrolling shooter that looks like it was made in GFA Basic – Big Bug Software – £19.95 – 58%)
Dick Tracy (Film tie-in sidescroller – Titus – £24.95 – 25%)
Multi Player Soccer Manager (Beat em up – D&H Games – £24.99 – 81%)

So just looking at these clearly we’re heading into leaner times post-Christmas, as well as releases in general starting to dry up as the Amiga begins to overtake the ST in the market. I’d say that the big release, for me, is Turrican 2, so I’ll definitely be reviewing that. I hate golf but loved Tournament Golf growing up, so there’s a good chance I’ll give that a crack. Enchanted Lands is generally highly regarded so I should probably have a proper look, though I remember having a little look at it a while back and not being blown away by it – possibly one of those cases where at the time the technical merit impresses people but that technical merit is secondary to gameplay in longer-term appraisal.

I always love a football game so Gazza 2 and Multi Player Soccer Manager might get some time, though the latter is a bit uncertain due to the fact that there’s not a good cracked version around as far as I can tell. I might have a crack at Night Shift too. Still, these aren’t certainties.

I had a look at Metal Masters and Total Recall as I thought there might be some potential there but honestly I absolutely hated both – the former for poor controls and sluggish frame rate and the latter for being entirely devoid of quality – it seems you can just run and run and ignore the enemies and jump over the gaps.

For those playing along at home, I’ll be sourcing pirated releases from the TOSEC collection on archive.org. Here’s a list of releases, likely you’ll also find decent releases at AtariMania, for the games I might cover.

  • Turrican 2 – Automation 449, Pompey Pirates 75, Superior 57, SuperGAU 403/469/769/808/844, Vectronix 566
  • Tournament Golf – Automation 433, Medway Boys 103, SuperGAU 381/2
  • Gazza 2 – Automation 404, Fuzion 39, Pompey Pirates 69
  • Multi Player Soccer Manager – AtariMania – given it requires a dongle and no cracked versions seem to be available this might not work
  • Night Shift – Automation 454
  • Enchanted Lands – D-Bug 148, Superior 55

February 1991

The World In February 1991

In the UK the IRA launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. There were no injuries but that is probably why it’s so heavily fortified these days. It wasn’t always thus. We also got heavy snow, which was great for me as it let me build some awesome snowmen. Photos of me doing this were quite rightly destroyed. There were bombings at Paddington and Victoria Street stations (it’s quite terroristy this month – back in those days it was the Irish who did most of it). In what would prove to be history’s biggest error, Tim Berners-Lee introduced WorldWideWeb, the first web browser.

The US news was mostly dominated by the Gulf War, though there was a collision between two planes as well and an imposter at Princeton University – quite an interesting tale if you feel like googling James Hogue.

Elsewhere in the world Haiti got their first democratically-elected president. He lasted until September before being ousted. Lithuania declared independence, while the Visegrad Agreement pushed Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland towards free-market capitalism. In the Gulf War, Iraq accepted a ceasefire agreement proposed by the Russians, but the US rejected hte agreement, giving Iraq 24 hours to leave Kuwait. They did indeed leave, setting fire to the Kuwaiti oil fields as they left, the fire lasting several months. In Thailand they had yet another coup. Having lived there during one, I can confirm they’re quite regular occurrances.

On TV not much happened. A very quiet month, unless you like news reports showing missile-eye views of raids on Iraq.

The film charts are actually quite interesting, with some films I’ve heard of. You’ve got Dances With Wolves at #1, the mediocre Three Men & A Little Lady (sequel to 3 Men And A Baby) at #2, and Kindergarten Cop at #3. I had no idea that there was a Ducktales movie, but it turns out it was a thing, and it hit #4. Rocky V was sufficiently bad as to put the franchise on ice, while Home Alone is still there hanging on.

I had to pick this – weirdly controversial these days because we’ve all gone completely mad

The album chart is starting to show some signs of recovery from Christmas with a new Queen album at #1, admittedly not their finest work but still at least not a greatest hits album. Wicked Game from Chris Isaak is the latest of those greatest hits albums, with 4 of the top 10 still occupied by greatest hits collections. Belinda Carlisle’s Runaway Horses was still there having been released in 1989, and Gloria Estefan had one of her weaker albums Into The Light at #2.

Not Queen’s finest work…

The singles chart is a little healthier, with Queen at #1, but more interestingly KLF at #2 with 3AM Eternal. Seal at #4 with Crazy is a decent tune. Gonna Make You Sweat by C&C Music Factory is good clean pop fun, though the less said about Wiggle It by 2 In A Room the better. We do at least get the absolute classic mega-banger, I’ve Had The Time Of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warner.

Gotta love a bit of KLF
Turn the speakers up and dance around the room
I don’t care if it’s cheesy as hell, I love it

This Month’s Magazines

ST Format Issue 20

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.