Review: Boulder Dash (C64)

Boulder Dash Commodore 64 Front Cover

Equipment Used/Recommended

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

My Review

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

The title screen

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

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

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

Where it all begins

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

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

Verdict

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

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Review: Bruce Lee (C64)

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

Equipment Used/Recommended

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

My Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

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Review: Viz (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Automation 453
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

Resources

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

Review: Super Monaco GP (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Automation 496, Fuzion 47, Medway Boys 110, Pompey Pirates 80, Superior 65.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

Review: Team Suzuki (Atari ST)

https://i1.wp.com/www.atarimania.com/st/boxes/hi_res/team_suzuki_gremlin_graphics_d7.jpg?w=782
Box Shot

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

https://i2.wp.com/www.atarimania.com/mags/hi_res/atari-st-format-issue-021_59.jpg?w=782
Fast but limited

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 446, Fuzion 37, Pompey Pirates 74, Superior 56.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

I think most people who know me will be aware that I love a good racing game. As much as my man-cave is a haven of retro goodness with the lovely MiSTer box and variety of old-school joysticks and 8bitdo console controllers, it’s also home to a triple-monitor and VR racing game rig with a Thrustmaster T300 wheel and Fanatec CSR Elite pedals. My idea of fun is to go out in a Caterham R300 and throw it around sideways at Donington. However, most of my racing time is with cars – motorbikes have featured little in the real world (unless you count trying not to die in Thai traffic on a moped) and not much in gaming either outside of Super Hang-On.

Team Suzuki therefore represents only the second motorcycle racer we’ve looked at here at Bitmap Towers, and it’s a long way from Super Hang-On. Gremlin have wonderful form for racing games of course, creating the wonderful Lotus games for that Outrun vibe, SuperCars 1 and 2 for the top-down racer and Toyota Celica GT Rally for those who wanted a 3D sim flavour to their racing. Team Suzuki is closest to the latter of those games, with its focus on 3D with a sim slant.

It actually has quite a bit in common with Toyota in that it has the funky sampled intro music at a ludicrously low bitrate (sadly not quite as good as the Toyota music) and the 3D engine is likely the same. However, you where in a rolling road game it doesn’t matter too much whether you’re driving a car or a bike, in a 3D sim it becomes a different proposition as a bike handles very differently to a car.

3D bike sims have for the most part been outshone by their 4-wheeled counterparts through the history of sim racing. Very few 3D motorbike sims have really gained the kind of traction of an RFactor or an Assetto Corsa, and there is a reason for that. Representing the control of a motorbike using the gear available to home users (typically a game controller or joystick seeing as dedicated handlebars and bike platforms haven’t made their way into home setups in the same way wheels and pedals have) is hard. Before analogue joysticks became a thing, mouse control was the general accepted tool of choice, and yet really while it does at least offer precision and speed it still doesn’t do a great job given it represents so little of the weight-shifting that happens on a motorbike.

Coming back to Team Suzuki for a moment, the controls are, at least with my modern USB mouse, a little too fast to be controllable. Now one could probably find ways to tune that down, but that’s just the start of things. A related issue is that acceleration is very on-off, making it hard to have the subtle control you need to control a motorbike. Both of these are not the big issue however.

For the video review I chose a track I’m very familiar with, and which I know had a reasonably similar layout in 1991. Now I know that 16-bit racing games can get layouts fairly close – one only has to look at Microprose F1GP to see that, the layouts are really very impressively close to the real thing. Suzuki however is not. The tracks bear very little resemblance, Donington may roughly have the same number of left and right turns but it really bears very little resemblance in corner profile or elevation. That is not the biggest crime however – one can work around that and just treat it as a fantasy track that you’re learning.

Donington isn’t as wide as Silverstone, that much is obvious (I’ve driven both), but it’s still actually pretty wide, even in a Caterham there’s plenty of room to move around. Most race tracks are in fact plenty wide enough because you generally want cars to have enough room to pass – it’s considered a given that motorbikes will be able to. So the question one must ask is why these tracks are goat tracks with barely room for two bikes to go side by side. Going back to controls and difficulty then, these goat tracks combined with twitchy controls make it impossible to get round the track, and while F1GP sensibly added driver aids to get people going, Team Suzuki lacks any other than an auto-gearbox for the 125cc bikes.

Verdict

Clearly it’s a little unfair to compare Suzuki with Geoff Crammond’s masterpiece given it came out quite a bit later. Driving aids weren’t common at this time, nor were accurate tracks, and yet even wider tracks would have helped, and as for the driver aids, well someone had to be first. Clearly there’s a difference between something that’s a labour of love over a long time from an auteur like F1GP, where Microprose indulged him the time and space to get that done, and Gremlin who while better than the likes of Ocean and US Gold still had their eyes on the prize and weren’t necessarily placing a Microprose-esque focus on polish.

Team Suzuki is pretty good for what it is, and if you manage to master the controls you’ll have fun, but for most of us mere mortals I sadly have to suggest other options, most likely car games instead.

Review: Wrath Of The Demon (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Superior 58 A/B/C – note that none of these worked so I had to use the hard drive image linked by Pezz82 in his Atari ST MiSTer guide video. Go subscribe to him, he’s excellent.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

So here we are in March 1991. Readysoft have so far seen fit to release Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair. Both games are undoubtedly a treat for the eyes and ears, but they forgot to be games. Instead, each game consisted of a cut scene playing out and having to move the joystick the right direction at the right time, for up to three movements in a scene. In modern terminology it was QTE, the game. Now it was great for demoing what your Atari ST could do, and it might just entertain you for the hour it might take you to guess the movement combos and complete the game, but replay value is zero. The games further diminish with time compared to their less graphically sophisticated brethren as technical excellence tends to stand out less over time while the value of a game’s mechanics only grow if they’re good enough. With that, the value of Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair is pretty diminished today, but even then some were wising up to their awfulness with ST Format rating Space Ace a mere 58% and Dragon’s Lair a mere 43%, while later Dragon’s Lair 2: Time Warp would get 58% and finally Dragon’s Lair: Escape From Singe’s Castle would get 31%.

Wrath Of The Demon represents their attempt to do something about that reputation, they decided to make their competitor to Shadow Of The Beast. Wrath Of The Demon. It even sounds a bit similar. Just like SOTB the focus is on graphics in a hack and slash side-scroller with large beautifully-drawn enemies.

Now the story is your fairly standard wibble. A wizard names Anthrax (yes really) brought forth a demon, hoping the demon would overthrow the king on his behalf. The demon, as demons are prone to doing, chose to do his own thing, deciding to kill the king and have his realm for himself, but first dealing with the wizard in what proves to be the end of a poorly-thought-out plan. The demon then set fire to the land, leaving a ruined mess. The demon slept and men returned, creating their new kingdom. The demon had slept to recover his energy and found a new kingdom, just as powerful as before, in its place, which wasn’t part of his plan. Our quest begins as the demon is preparing to attack and the king has been warned of the coming danger – our job is to rid the kingdom of the demon.

The game opens with some suitably SOTB intro music, with its mellow pan pipes, and you get an intro that bears more than a passing resemblance to that of SOTB 2 (which had already come out on the Amiga at this point).

It then throws you into the game, at full speed, on horseback. You are tasked with riding a horse and having it jump over the obstacles and leaning down off it to pick up potions, not the most sophisticated gameplay in the world as it amounts to a reaction test to press up or down on the joystick. It does however feature some impressive parallax scrolling, not necessarily the smoothest but impressive nevertheless. Sound has at this point reverted to chip music.

Controls are simple enough, up on the joystick allowing you to jump or enter a door, downward diagonals to roll, down to crouch or pick something up, as the horizontal lets you walk. Fire punches. In a fight diagonals hit high or low, verticals smash or hit downwards. F1 will use a shield potion granting 3 seconds of invisibility, F2 will use a Zap potion (think the rocket launcher in Streets Of Rage) and F3 a healing potion. Ctrl-S saves.

So having got off your horse you are next attacked by a couple of goblins who must be dispatched with a sword in a single-screen non-scrolling section that features some beautifully-animated clouds, but this does little to hide mediocre gameplay of rock-paper-scissors level combat. Hits have no feeling of heft, and the combat is boring and repetitive. The next set-piece sees you battling a dragon, a huge beautifully-drawn beast, even if his animation has insufficient frames to be convincing. The backdrop here is 100% static, presumably for performance reasons, though again it’s well-drawn. A scrolling section follows with some green balls attacking you, some impressive parallax as foreground objects move faster than the main backdrop, but gameplay remains repetitive.

Verdict

Honestly this is not a good game. ST Format were very generous in giving this 81%, perhaps wowed by the graphics or just relieved it wasn’t Dragon’s Lair. Whatever the case, while an improvement over Dragon’s Lair it’s still very much a tech demo with deeply unsophisticated gameplay that belongs back in 1988.

Reviews From This Issue Of ST Format

Review: Viz (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Automation 453 Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse) My Review Moving on from racing games we now find ourselves engaged in more athletic…More

Review: Super Monaco GP (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Automation 496, Fuzion 47, Medway Boys 110, Pompey Pirates 80, Superior 65. Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse) My Review Continuing with our…More

Review: Team Suzuki (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Automation 446, Fuzion 37, Pompey Pirates 74, Superior 56. Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse) My Review I think most people who know…More

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.

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.

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Review: Tournament Golf (Atari ST)

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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