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)

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: 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

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: 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

January 1991

The World In January 1991

The UK was heading for some tricky times – the Gulf war began and the RAF was involved pretty heavily alongside the US. The recession continued, and there was a train crash in London.

The US news Pan Am filed for bankruptcy protection, the US began operation Desert Storm, and tens of thousands protested in Washington against the war. In many ways the Gulf War was the last successful US military intervention in pure military terms, though their failure to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime likely led to the later choices of Bush Jr.

Elsewhere in the world the UN Security Council condemned Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, though as is usual with the UN it had no effect. Haiti had its coup attempt. Latvia had its Singing Revolution. Iraq fired scud missiles into Israel to provoke the into fighting, which would have drawn the rest of the middle east into the war – looking back Israel’s restraint here likely prevented a lot of bloodshed.

On TV probably the biggest event was the Gulf War. Viewers were treated to missile’s eye views of attacks on targets in Iraq and Kuwait, showcasing the devastating power and accuracy of American firepower – this was in some ways America’s last hurrah as a confident superpower, and they went to town on it. Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air made its UK tv debut. The other notable debut was The Brittas Empire.

The film charts are pretty unfamiliar to me – I know virtually nothing about Reversal Of Fortune, and while I’ve heard of Arachnophobia I’ve never seen it. Indeed of the top 10 the only one I’ve seen is Home Alone – apologies, but I’ve really got nothing useful to say about this month’s chart.

The album chart is dreadful. Ok Madonna’s Immaculate Collection at #1 is a fantastic greatest hits album, but you’ve got Enigma at 3, the 3 Tenors still hanging around, 2 more greatest hits album and a live album. It’s a really weak chart.

The singles chart has Seal at #2 with Crazy which is pretty decent, and KLF are at #5 (they were brilliant). Vanilla Ice at #6 is cheesy stuff but the best cheese is Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes with Time Of My Life at #10. A couple of awesome indie hits at 7 and 8 for Jesus Jones (International Bright Young Thing) and The Farm (All Together Now). Madonna’s dire Justify My Love makes a rapid exit from the chart. Appearing at 27 is A Tribe Called Quest with Can I Kick It.

This Month’s Magazines

ST Format Issue 19

ST Format Issue 19 (Jan 1991)

ST Format Issue 19 (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 January 1991

The UK was heading for some tricky times – the Gulf war began and the RAF was involved pretty heavily alongside the US. The recession continued, and there was a train crash in London.

The US news Pan Am filed for bankruptcy protection, the US began operation Desert Storm, and tens of thousands protested in Washington against the war. In many ways the Gulf War was the last successful US military intervention in pure military terms, though their failure to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime likely led to the later choices of Bush Jr.

Elsewhere in the world the UN Security Council condemned Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, though as is usual with the UN it had no effect. Haiti had its coup attempt. Latvia had its Singing Revolution. Iraq fired scud missiles into Israel to provoke the into fighting, which would have drawn the rest of the middle east into the war – looking back Israel’s restraint here likely prevented a lot of bloodshed.

On TV probably the biggest event was the Gulf War. Viewers were treated to missile’s eye views of attacks on targets in Iraq and Kuwait, showcasing the devastating power and accuracy of American firepower – this was in some ways America’s last hurrah as a confident superpower, and they went to town on it. Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air made its UK tv debut. The other notable debut was The Brittas Empire.

The film charts are pretty unfamiliar to me – I know virtually nothing about Reversal Of Fortune, and while I’ve heard of Arachnophobia I’ve never seen it. Indeed of the top 10 the only one I’ve seen is Home Alone – apologies, but I’ve really got nothing useful to say about this month’s chart.

The album chart is dreadful. Ok Madonna’s Immaculate Collection at #1 is a fantastic greatest hits album, but you’ve got Enigma at 3, the 3 Tenors still hanging around, 2 more greatest hits album and a live album. It’s a really weak chart.

The singles chart has Seal at #2 with Crazy which is pretty decent, and KLF are at #5 (they were brilliant). Vanilla Ice at #6 is cheesy stuff but the best cheese is Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes with Time Of My Life at #10. A couple of awesome indie hits at 7 and 8 for Jesus Jones (International Bright Young Thing) and The Farm (All Together Now). Madonna’s dire Justify My Love makes a rapid exit from the chart. Appearing at 27 is A Tribe Called Quest with Can I Kick It.

The Magazine

ST Format Issue 19

So this one is the traditional “hey you just got an ST – let’s show you how to use it” that you expect after Christmas. We get pages covering things like how to use a mouse, the fact that a file ending PRG or TOS is a program, how to work with windows, dialogs and menus, and so on. We also get a guide to what serious software is most useful with Protext getting the gong for word processing, Superbase Personal 2 for database, K-Spread for spreadsheet, Deluxe Paint (obviously) for art, Timeworks for DTP (not Calamus?), and Personal Finance Manager for accounts. We also get a rundown of classic games you need to own – a sensible selection:

  1. Xenon 2
  2. Midwinter
  3. Sim City
  4. Operation Stealth
  5. Kick Off 2
  6. F-19 Stealth Fighter
  7. Rainbow Islands
  8. Populous
  9. Dungeon Master
  10. Damocles
    .. followed by Armada, Austerlitz, Battle Of Britain, Blood Money, Bloodwych, Captive, Castle Master, Conqueror, Dragon’s Breath, Flood, Gettysburg, Gravity, Hound Of Shadow, Interphase, Iron Lord, Indy Jones and the Last Crusade, Legend Of Faerghail, Magic Fly, Onslaught and Player Manager. The top 10 is bang on but the rest is bang average.

News is interesting – it seems there was a dodgy copy of TOS 2.2 on the loose, though I never saw any evidence of it at the time. That said, I wasn’t lucky enough to own a modem to find these on the BBS services where such things were known to lurk. More exciting was the news that we’d soon be getting the 3D Construction Kit. For those who don’t know, it’s based on Freescape, which drove Driller, Castle Master, etc. Clearly Incentive didn’t feel their 3D games could keep up with commercial releases anymore so they decided to let others try it themselves – as far as I know after 3D Construction Kit came out they never released another game using the Freescape engine. The Mega STE was revealed at Comdex, offering 16MHz from its 68000 CPU.

The cover disk has Champion Of The Raj as it’s main feature – a very Cinemaware game but like those games it’s insanely pretty but utterly lacking in decent gameplay. Even at 11 I saw this and noped the hell out of it. It ran like a slug on valium too. Not sure you’d get away with it these days given it does rather glorify colonialism. More positively you get the McAipof reader. It’s pretty cool – it reads text files out to you using a computer voice. For me, the big star was a full version of GFA Basic 2. If I recall this was the beginning of my journey into programming – I dabbled on the Amstrad CPC 464 but I was too young really – I was now old enough to properly understand what I was doing. The feature on getting started with GFA Basic may even be the very start for me – stop I’m getting all emotional!

A bit later we get some discussion of the ST in music with some recommendations of software you might want to use – Henry Cosh Sequencer comes out top from the PD libraries, while TCB Tracker is the main tracker choice while Cubase and C-Lab are at the expensive end of the market (Cubase is £550 which is £1207.56 in 2020 money).

We get a deliberate error in this issue – have a look at pages 135 and 137 and see if you can spot the mistake… (not ragging on the ST Format guys – they were cool and did an awesome job, it’s just sometimes fun to spot these things)

Previews

The previews have the usual mix. There’s the deeply uninteresting looking Predator 2 and Insects In Space but also a few interesting looking titles. The big one, for me, is Delphine’s Cruise For A Corpse which I completed on the Amiga a couple of years ago for the first time – an absolutely incredible game even if the plot does break down a bit towards the end (which to be fair is something that also afflicted Operation Stealth). Less highbrow is the Viz game – using Johnny Fartpants wind power to rocket into the air and lugging Buster Gonad’s giant bollocks around and using them to flatten pizza is my idea of a good time. More wholesome is Mighty Bombjack – the original came in the Power Pack with my ST and I’m sure it’ll be just as good. Slightly politically-incorrect discussion of the IRA’s love of bombing the shit out of everything in the preview – not sure they’d get away with that with our newer class of terrorists these days. Blue Max is one I don’t remember – it seems not to have got any magazine coverage whatsoever while the Amiga version made it into Amiga Power and others – it did not score well. Finally we have Hillbilly Moonshine Racers – a game I remember playing the demo of quite extensively but on more recent attempts I found out it was incredibly slow and jerky. The visuals are lovely with some great pixel art and I quite like the idea of driving an old truck instead of a sports car, evading the sheriff, etc, but the execution was, in hindsight, not quite there.

We also get a bit of a developer diary around creation of the coming game Stormball. It’s actually a pretty interesting read even if the game itself proved to be hopelessly mediocre (I had fun with the demo back in the day but going back to it since it really doesn’t hold up). The article itself is interesting in how different it all is to modern development, with the dev having to video himself running in his pants to create a temporary sprite but having to do top and bottom halves separately due to not having enough room.

ST Game Charts

F-19 remains on top, with Kick Off 2 holding on in 4th, but the big mover is Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge coming in at #2. There’s a compilation which has rocketed in at 3 while M1 Tank Platoon, Supermacy and Golden Axe make their marks on the top 10. Captive makes an appearance after only being at 21 last month. There’s a peculiar re-entry for Microprose’s Gunship at 15, apparently at full price despite its age. Disappointing to see Turrican do so badly as to end up down at 22 having only got in at 15 the previous month. Perhaps the upcoming sequel will do better. Italy 1990 is STILL at #3 in the budget charts. What the hell were people thinking?

Reviews

Games reviewed this month:
Powermonger (Strategy – EA – £29.99 – 93% Format Gold)
Exterminator (Bug splatting – Audiogenic – £24.99 – 87%)
Robocop 2 (Side scrolling shooter – Ocean – £24.99 – 84%)
STUN Runner (3D Future Racer – Domark – £24.99 – 42%)
Matrix Marauders (3D shooter – Psygnosis – £19.99 – 73%)
Horror Zombies From The Crypt (Hack And Slash – Millennium – £24.99 – 74%)
Battle Command (3D Tank Sim – Ocean – £24.99 – 93% Format Gold)
Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (Shit movie game – Mirrorsoft – £24.99 – 38%)
Line Of Fire (First Person Shooter – US Gold – £24.99 – 39%)
Mystical (Abysmal shooter – Infogrames – £24.99 – 76%)
Welltris (Tetris in a well – Infogrames – £24.99 – 71%)
Prince Of Persia (Rotoscoped platformer – they forgot the price and publisher – 90% Format Gold)
ESWAT (Scrolling shoot em up – US Gold – £24.99 – 31%)
Judge Dredd (Scrolling shooter – Virgin – £19.99 – 41%)
Damocles Mission Disk (More Damocles, yes please – Novagen – £9.99 – 85%)
Edd The Duck (Platformer – Impulze – £24.99 – 73%)
Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road (Top-down racer – Virgin – £24.99 – 68%)
Finale Compilation (Paperboy, Overlander, Ghosts N Goblins, Space Harrier, Frank Bruno’s Boxing – Elite – £24.99 – 65%)
Ninja Remix (Beat em up – System 3 – £24.99 – 81%)

So just looking at these, Powermonger I know well, having enjoyed it immensely as a kid. I can tell you now that it still holds up as one of Bullfrog’s finest. Exterminator interests me, it’s a little out of the ordinary after all. Robocop 2 is likely awful but I’ll probably have a look to see if it was any good – I have a vague recollection of it being top of the charts for ages. Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles is terrible, which means I need to play it for comedy value. I had a look at Mystical after seeing some rather cool screenshots in the review – it’s slow and really quite a shit game as far as I can tell so won’t be covering it. I’ve never played Prince Of Persia but it’s regarded as a classic so I’ll be covering it – given its animation is considered one of its main features that’ll require a video to go with it. Damocles mission disk is a tricky one – I love Damocles but reading the list of missions it does look a bit limited* with two of them concerned with getting as much money as possible, one being Damocles but with a harder start with no money, and so on. I’m curious to see if Last Ninja Remix meaningfully improves on Last Ninja 2 so I’ll have a look to see if it’s worth covering. The rest don’t particularly grab me but if anyone wants to make a suggestion in the comments I’d be glad to hear it.

  • Paul Woakes was a brilliant man who did a hell of a lot – I suspect this mission pack was a bit limited due to simply not having the time to get everything he wanted done, and the limits of the tooling available at the time.

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.

  • Powermonger – Automation 495, Pompey Pirates 91, SuperGAU 380/706, Vectronix 269/788
  • Prince Of Persia – Automation 389, Vectronix 222/3, Vectronix 781/2
  • Exterminator – Automation 500I, Fuzion 28, SuperGAU 487/541, Vectronix 525
  • Robocop 2 – Automation 396, Flame Of Finland 54, Fuzion 26, Pompey Pirates 62, Vectronix 787
  • Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles – Automation 392, Flame Of Finland 49
  • Super Off Road – Automation 423, Fuzion 21, Medway Boys 100, SuperGAU 418/740
  • Last Ninja Remix – Vectronix 596-8

Review: Golden Axe (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 18)

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 399, Fuzion 23, Pompey Pirates 64, SuperGAU 402, Vectronix 281/828
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

So we’re bringing out the big guns. Golden Axe. A true arcade classic. My experience of Golden Axe as a kid came from the demo on the ST Format cover disk – I played it plenty of times of course as one tended to do with demos when games were often out of my budget, but for whatever reason the full game never ended up in my collection. I didn’t have the pirate contacts others may have had, so I had to pay full price (well the cost of mail-order actually which was usually £10 less than in the shops), so I had to select my games with care. The games that meant most to me were invariably not the likes of Double Dragon, but more games Sim City, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Midwinter 2, Damocles, Mega lo Mania, so perhaps I’m not the most qualified person to review an arcade hack and slash.

The story isn’t terribly relevant, Death Adder isn’t very nice and among all the other killing he decides to murder your mate. Being rightfully peeved, you crack on with a bit of the old ultraviolence. You have three characters to choose from and the option of playing as two of them. Ax-Battler is your standard meat head – he’s a big burly brute in his pants in the tradition of Conan the Barbarian, a little slower than the others but with a good dollop of power. If that’s a little too homo-erotic for you then you could play as Tyris-Flare the Amazonian warrior – she struts around in just a bikini of dubious usefulness as armour, and she’s our fastest character, but not quite as powerful a hitter as Ax-Battler. If you want someone actually wearing some clothes you’ll want Gilius-Thunderhead. He’s a dwarf with a bloody great axe. Not golden. His speed and strength lie between the other two characters.

Much of the game is fairly side-scrolling standard beat-em-up fare. You advance and waves of enemies attack. At the end you get a big bad guy or two to deal with. The magic serves the same purpose as the police mortar in Streets Of Rage. There’s clearly a template at work then. Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just genre conventions mostly, but it’s worth being aware that Golden Axe isn’t doing too much that’s new or innovative.

If one were to compare it to similar ST games, you’re probably looking at the Double Dragon games. Compare we must. Clearly, on a visual and audio level, Golden Axe is vastly superior. The graphics look gorgeous, though animation and scrolling aren’t always particularly smooth, while sound is excellent with plenty of sampled sounds to enjoy. Sprites are huge, much bigger than in Double Dragon, and this is both blessing and curse. It is of course an impressive technical feat, but at the cost of being able to see more of the area and the enemies within, and may be the reason for not having a huge range of movement vertically. Like Double Dragon this game offers you that 2.5D view with the ability to move into and out of the screen, giving you options to manage enemies. This is particularly helpful when dealing with the big chunky bosses.

One area where Golden Axe doesn’t compare so well is in the hits. Most of the time you whack an enemy and it doesn’t really feel like you’ve hit him. Now it’s hard to explain why this is, but I suspect it’s in part related to the weapon motion and the sounds. One particular hit goes over well which is the bonk on the head, it has a satisfying thud and the weapon stops at the head, where other hits go through the enemy with sound effects that don’t really give the satisfaction of hitting them. Double Dragon had its faults but that was not one of them – it always felt like you had hit your enemy.

Continuing with the act of punching the crap out of someone – the controls are a bit of an embuggerance. The Atari ST has a single fire button, which is a bit of an issue with fighting games. If one compares it with the Mega Drive version for instance, to attack you press B, while on the ST you press fire. Fine so far. Jumping is C, while the ST is up and fire at the same time. Magic is A on the Mega Drive, while on the ST you have to press the Alt key on the keyboard. The Special attack (eg spinning the sword to attack behind you) is B+C on the mega drive vs down and fire on the ST. The controls are just that little bit more clunky. There are problems beyond that though, which are more about the game itself rather than necessarily specific implementations. The problem is one of its best innovations. It’s the context-sensitive attacks. It turns the game into a bit of a button-bash. It’s disappointing as it takes out the rhythm and timing elements of a beat-em-up and contributes to the slightly mushy feeling.

Other issues include the dash being unreliable to trigger, and so the dash attack too, and it being a little tricky to board the Bizarrian (the little dragon fella that you can ride). Said dragon also suffers from a touch of the Yoshis in that he will run away once you’ve been knocked off him a few times. Note that your first mount only has a tail-whip and a dash-barge move available to him, but the next one is a proper fire-breathing dragon, which is pretty cool.

So far I have perhaps been a little bit harsh but that’s because I wanted to get into the nitty gritty of detail. In truth, that detail isn’t everything, and one must consider the whole. Certainly at the time I remember being hugely impressed by the enormous sprites and the artwork is lovely, it has a real otherworldly nature that was so popular in an age of He-Man, Knightmare, and the likes. What the game lacked mechanically it made up for in an abundance of atmosphere, music which still to this day gets stuck in my head (one of my previous reviews had some Golden Axe music in the crack intro and it didn’t leave my skull for days), and that magical ability to transport a person back in time, like all the best games do.

Video

Just for fun I threw together a little video to compare the ST, Amiga and Mega Drive (Genesis) versions of the game – I had fun making it and hopefully you’ll enjoy watching it.

Verdict

Golden Axe is a classic for a reason – its technical prowess is clear but if that’s all it had we wouldn’t see it still talked about today and people wouldn’t be so keen to play it in various Sega retro collections, but it’s there, featuring every time alongside the essential Sonic games. There’s a reason – and that’s that despite its mechanical failings it’s a game that transports you somewhere, both in time and place. It’s a game with a fantastic atmosphere, and one that still holds up pretty well today. Being honest I’d suggest the Mega Drive version is probably the one to play due to the controls, with the Amiga version a close second due to the quality of graphics, but while the ST version isn’t quite as good as those it still holds its own and is a decent example of what the ST is capable of. It’s not quite a Seldon Gold, but it’s well worth your time.

Resources

Manual: https://www.gamerscreed.com/attachments/manual-golden-axe-pdf.29/

Reviews From This Issue of ST Format

Review: Pang (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 18) 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 427B, Flame Of Finland 48, Pompey Pirates 65, SuperGAU 473/805, Vectonix 35/112/801 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review I’ll start with a confession…More

Review: Badlands (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 18) 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 48, Medway Boys 102, Pompey Pirates 69, Vectronix 417/667 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review Continuing our run of…More

Review: Toyota Celica GT Rally (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 18) 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. The usual suspects didn’t work, getting stuck with joystick controls not working, but there’s a Pompey Pirates crack available within the TOSEC collection found on…More

Review: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge (Atari ST)

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Not-Quite-Review: Nitro (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 18) 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 377, Flame Of Finland 45, Pompey Pirates 61, SuperGAU 476/809, Vectronix 192/342/814 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review This game did not score…More

Review: Speedball 2 (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 18) 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 400, Fuzion 30, SuperGAU 374/541, Vectronix 593/785 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review In many ways there’s really bugger all point in me…More