Power Pack Disks M, N, O: Language Disk, Music Maker and Organiser

Disk M
Language Disk

The language disk is just an old-fashioned Basic, in this case First Basic. I’m not sure I’ll be able to go into much depth with this one when it’s been decades and I don’t particularly want to learn a shit basic! As you can see, I did what I needed to do.

Disk N
Organiser

This was what we had instead of Microsoft Office. A text editor which could do bold, italic and underline, but no different fonts. A spreadsheet that I haven’t yet managed to figure out how to do a formula on. A calendar which as far as I can tell just lets you type some text in each date box.

Disk O
Music Maker

Music maker is a surprisingly charming little tool to create music using either the sound chip or a connected MIDI device. It can handle rather more than you might expect and while I don’t remember playing with it much as a kid I can imagine it helped a few people into the world of music. The biggest headaches I found were mostly in the drum editor where you can’t have any polyphony and clicking one cell tends to trigger other cells.

Power Pack Disk L – Starray and Star Goose

Disk L
Star Ray

Star Ray opens with a lovely loading screen and some reasonable chip music. It doesn’t mess about – pressing fire takes you straight into the game.

The game itself is a Defender clone, albeit one that is ludicrously smooth with insane parallax scrolling. Sound isn’t bad and it’s reasonably solid as a game, but for whatever reason this never grabbed me. Shooters generally didn’t, they didn’t seem to me to have much depth (albeit I appreciate more the layers that can exist in a shooter these days). It’s ok, nothing special.

Star Goose – Review

Star goose is a pretty-looking game, a vertical shooter, one with a manual with an interesting sense of humour which you totally miss in the Power Pack version. It wasn’t one of my most-played games, but it wasn’t bad for what it was.

Power Pack Disk K: Black Lamp and Outrun

Disk K
Black Lamp

So Black Lamp, for me looking back after playing so many games, exists in a similar place to Verminator, in that it’s very pretty, the art is lovely, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, it doesn’t flow. The intro screen is pretty, with decent chip music. Press fire and it drops you straight into the game.

The sprites are large and well-drawn, backgrounds are detailed if perhaps not as colourful as you’d like and they’re a bit cluttered so you can’t be sure what’s what. The frame rate is slow, and navigation is tricky as everywhere looks quite samey. One other problem is that frankly there is no way to actually avoid some of what’s coming at you owing to such a limited range of movement.

Outrun

Outrun comes with a certain notoriety – we all know it’s a terrible port. But I played the hell out of it as a kid. In part for the brilliant music (even if it is a chip tune version – and yes Super Hang On is better). In part just because I’m driving a god damn Ferrari in gorgeous locations. In part because when I went to any arcade I always gravitated towards the racing sims. If only I knew then that I’d be 40 and have a ridiculous VR rig with wheel and pedals at home when I grew up, and that I’d get to race against actual F1 drivers.

The game runs with all the speed of an arthritic snail, poorly coded as it was, but it looks lovely. The cars, the palm trees, the spectators, it all takes me to a wonderful place that’s hard to explain to someone who’s never played it. I’d forgotten the disk access between stages.. that was a ballache. The big gimmick of branching stages is present, providing a bit of longevity and no doubt that helped get some more coins out of people.

Overall, it’s a poor conversion of a great game, but Super Hang On is better.

Power Pack Disk J: Double Dragon

Disk J
Double Dragon

I spent so much time on this as a kid, and it’s one of the earliest games I remember beating, facing the gun-toting giant at the end. It opens with that wonderful sampled music over a loading screen which isn’t much technically but created so much atmosphere. And then the game starts, and dear god it’s ugly. And the animation is shit (2 frames to kick, 3 to walk, 1 to jump). But I don’t care. I remember all the controls, and I can still have a blast with it. No, it’s not as good as Streets Of Rage but who gives a shit? It’s still fun.

I still love the sampled death noise. I still love the hilarious massive guys. I still enjoy the whip girls. I still think this game rocks for all that the conversion is utter shite. I still get annoyed that the weapons are useless up close. I still get annoyed that you can’t throw enemies into each other. On the other hand I can throw barrels into people and the headbutt is present (it’s mysteriously absent in DD2). Most importantly, in 2-player you can beat the shit out of each other.

Power Pack Disk I: Bomb Uzal, Bomb Jack & Xenon

Disk I
Bomb Uzal

Bombuzal opens with a simple loading screen with an exquisitely drawn uzal and a pretty decent bomb, though the crack monster in the background is less appealing. We get treated to some twee chip music, and the game can begin. A sampled voice tells player one to get ready, and we’re ready to go.

Bomb Uzal is a neat little puzzle game, presented in an isometric view, in which your objective is to blow up all the squares. Your little blue chap can trigger bombs placed around the level, or move them if they were on sliders. Some tiles would disappear after you stepped off them. Bombs would often set off chain reactions, and often a larger bomb would set off a really big bang. It was a simple idea, but one that was executed wonderfully with some really lovely graphics and presentation around what might otherwise be quite a dry concept. Certainly 9-year-old me had a good time with it, and truth be told, 40-year-old me quite enjoys it too. It’s in a similar category to Jumping Jack Son for me, though perhaps JJS has a little more charm.

The first level is simple enough, and difficulty ramps up slowly, introducing new mechanics gently. The first level introduces bombs and disappearing tiles, while the second introduces ice tiles across which uzal slides and bigger bombs which have a larger explosive radius.

Bomb Jack

Bomb Jack is a different beast entirely. A simple single-screen game, technically it’s not much, and yet it has buckets of charm and playability. The loading screen brings back so many memories, along with a chip tune which isn’t anything special technically but is still reasonably catchy. The basic objective is to clear all the bombs, getting points for each one, and getting more if you get them in the right sequence (the clue is the fuse being lit). You have to avoid nasties wandering the level, unless you pick up a bonus that stops them moving and lets you kill them.

What makes the game is its movement, which allows your character to do a higher jump than you might expect as well as being able to slow your descent. Visually, while not technically outstanding, everything is clear and you know what each object is and does.

Xenon 1

Xenon 2 is very highly regarded, but Xenon 1, the Bitmap Brothers first game, is somewhat forgotten. In some ways it’s a little lacking some of the Bitmap’s classic touches – it has the chrome but lacks some of their traditional graphical flair and the colour palette isn’t developed yet. That said, it’s a fairly polished, if somewhat formulaic, shooter. No signs of the coming greatness but nothing to be ashamed of either. There’s a hook that you can switch between ground and air but that’s about as inventive as it gets. It’s very very smooth by the standards of the time, albeit not moving especially rapidly.

Power Pack Disk H: Predator

Disk H
Predator

Confession time – I’ve never seen the film. Perhaps I might have enjoyed the game more if I had? Who knows. The intro is cool, with a nicely digitised shot of Arnie and then an animated UFO flying around the Earth and some scrolly text, with a suitably funky 80s chiptune which doesn’t sound like it was in the film (I’m sure someone will correct me).

Predator is not a complex game. You run (slowly, through treacle), you shoot, you die. Sometimes you can throw grenades, though you have to use the keyboard (an awkward illustration of why the single-button was a mistake). The graphics look like they belong on a C64 and the game runs at a bare 2 frames per second. Like much of the world in 2020, Arnie can get fucked up by bats. Something tells me that’s not in the original film. To the game’s credit, collision detection is solid (if generous to the player) and there’s a clear link between action performed and result, which places it ahead of Afterburner.

For the most part the game is fairly easy, with the exception of the predator being able to one-shot you. Overall, it’s not quite as bad as I remember but I won’t be rushing to play it again.

Power Pack Disk G: Eliminator, Nebulus and Pac-Mania

Disk G
Eliminator

Eliminator isn’t a bad game necessarily, but when I reached for disk G I was only after one thing, and that was Nebulus. Sometimes Pac Mania as that was brilliant too, but mostly Nebulus. The loading screen is rather ugly, though it looks somewhat better if you apply a CRT filter.

The game itself isn’t bad, visually. It has some issues in that it’s hard to figure out what’s a collectable and what’s an enemy, and it’s hard to know what can be shot and destroyed and what is indestructible. Additionally, collision detection is decidedly dodgy. In the end, it’s quite easy to see why I didn’t play this one.

Nebulus (Link To Review)

I’ve already reviewed this one but I just want to say that this game is an absolute classic. Bastard hard, but a classic that holds up today. This game caused endless foul language from me as a child (hey I was sweary – I had a school report stating that my language was worse than a building site), but damn it was fun.

Pac-Mania

Pac-mania is a glorious recreation of Pac-man in an isometric style. Visually it’s an absolute treat. Sadly it only uses about 60% of the screen while the Amiga version uses the whole screen, probably a product of the ST’s more limited capabilities, but it’s still a brilliant game. If I were to find fault, such a close up view does present the problem of not being able to see enough of the overall maze and thus it being easier for ghosts to sneak up on you. That said, the isometric view isn’t just for decoration as it allows you to jump over the ghosts, which can be handy when the fast orange ghost is chasing you.

The loading screen is a gorgeous bit of pixel art, and that quality carries through the entire game. Music is decent, a reasonably tuneful chip ditty. In-game the limitations of the ST’s palette become somewhat clear, but it still looks excellent and scrolls at a decent pace.

See if you can spot my entries on the high score table.

Power Pack Disk F: Starglider, Overlander and Super Huey

Disk F
Disk F was the first multi-game disk, with a super-simple selector, none of the scrolling messages and music found on the cracking scene disks.

Starglider 1
Starglider is a 3D space combat game. Controls are simple – holding down the right button and moving forward accelerates, right button and back decelerates, moving left, right up and down work as you’d expect and the left button fires lasers. The I key interrogates silos, but that’s it. That’s the controls. There’s a story but I won’t subject myself to it – the novella with Starglider 2 was more than enough.

The game opens with some gorgeous sampled music, “staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarglider…. from rainbird rainbird rainbird rainbird…”. Absolute banging tune and I’d love to hear more!

Unfortunately the game looks like this…

… and really while it’s super-smooth that’s because it’s not really doing a lot. In the end, it’s not very pretty, nor very interesting. The intro was the only thing about this game that interested me as a kid, and so it remains.

Overlander
Overlander is another of those 2D rolling-road racing games, this one with a combat element, placing it very much in the same group as the likes of Chase HQ (which always looked incredibly exciting to me as a kid but I never got to play it). It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future, think Mad Max, the year 2025. The ozone layer collapsed at the end of the 20th century and now the soil is dry and scorched. People have retreated to underground cities to avoid the radiation from the sun. I’m not sure that prediction aged too well.

Your role is to deliver supplies between cities via surface freeways, as one of a select group of nutters willing to do so. You drive, you customise your car for more speed and more weapons, simple. It’s a game that made appearances on C64, Atari ST and Amiga – the difference between the ST and Amiga version is surprisingly large, with the ST version really looking like an early 16-bit title in many ways.

In terms of the game itself – while the graphics are way behind the Amiga version, the frame rate is super-smooth, probably one of the smoothest of this type on the ST, which is probably in part due to the rolling road routine being somewhat unsophisticated. There seems little penalty for going past the edges of the road and much of it is simply straight with no corner, no undulation. That said, it’s probably sensible to simplify tracks when there’s a combat element, though this seems somewhat lacking. The car can fire bullets, and some cars will return fire, but much of the challenge actually comes from avoiding environmental hazards like poorly placed road signs, etc, for which your weapons are not much use.

It’s a shame really that the game doesn’t quite come off as the atmosphere is fantastic, the colour palette and the artwork gives the game a properly apocalyptic feel, but the game doesn’t quite deliver, which is a shame. I recall being really impressed by this as a kid, but it doesn’t hold up.

Super Huey
Honestly Super Huey is one of the worst games I’ve ever played. Visuals are awful, the controls are the product of insanity and the graphics wouldn’t look out of place on a spectrum. I’ll just leave this here.

Power Pack Disk E: Space Harrier

Disk E
Space Harrier

 [/url]

Space Harrier has a curious start – the music gently playing over an animation of the player character waving while astride a giant robot as a one-eyed wooly mammoth looks around. The music is so out of place for the game.

Control is via mouse instead of joystick, and I think this is wise, giving better control of the action. For those who don’t know, it’s a 3rd person game where you’re running (and flying) into the screen shooting wave after wave of enemies.

Clicking to start, the colourful graphics hit you straight away – a world away from what the 8-bit machines offered. The music is pretty decent by chiptune standards, and there are some lovely (if low quality) sound samples – screaming when you die and saying something like “smash dragon” when you restart. Animation is smooth despite flinging a lot of sprites around (helped in part by the ground movement being driven by palette swapping rather than actually moving bits), and the game is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s shallow of course, repetitive in its way, and devilishly hard, but all those are things you expect of a coin-op conversion, where the objective is to get the next player up as quickly as possible.

Stage two is something of a pain in the arse with the indestructible pillars and I’d imagine a lot of people saw game over for colliding with one.

One interesting thing is that the game credits P. Cuisset – I recognised that name from Operation Stealth so I googled and it seemed that he went on to become the lead designer at Delphine Software, where he created Flashback. It’s a small world. It seems this was his only game before joining Delphine work, so he clearly landed on his feet.

Power Pack Disk C: Gauntlet 2

Disk C
Gauntlet 2

I have very few positive memories of childhood with my Dad – he was more interested in getting drunk or wrecked on drugs than being a parent, but Gauntlet 2 was a rare highlight. Every now and then we’d plug in a joystick each and tackle the dungeons, that rare moment of him not making perfectly clear that he thought I was a waste of space.

We open with that shot of the arcade cabinet as the game loads, then the shot of our four heroes as the sampled music plays ominously. The palette is scrolled to animate the logo, and then we get a short instructional screen telling us what’s an enemy, what’s food, and so on, and we all know that Red Valkyrie shot the food. The bitch.

Welcome, red warrior. That sample greeted you, and a unique sample for any other player who joined the game. The sound on this game was something special and lent it incredible charm – something I would later experience with classics like Mega Lo Mania (which was ergonomically terrific) and Stronghold where the people loathed me sire. It’s amazing how the right voice sample can just make a huge difference, adding so much charm, and when you hear it decades later it can take you right back.

For those who don’t know, Gauntlet is a top-down game where you and up to 3 other players (though the 3rd and 4th required an adaptor most people didn’t have) can wander around shooting enemies, collecting treasure, eating (or shooting) the food, and trying to get to the next level without dying.

Enemy behaviour wasn’t particularly sophisticated – for the most part a mob would swarm towards you in the fastest straight line route and would thus be outwitted by a wall, but that’s fine – that was enemy behaviour not as AI but as a puzzle to solve. You could be creative picking up the amulets to gain invisibility or invulnerability, or you could just rush through and take the hits and hope you found enough food to keep you going. A wise man would always, however, take out the spawn points if possible to end the wave of enemies. A wise man also avoids the god damn teleport amulet because you can’t pick anything up.

There was one enemy though which was particularly nasty. Death. Red warrior is about to die. I was never entirely clear what the black thing was, it looked a bit like a tap, but maybe it was a wizard in a dark robe. Who knows. Either way, it put the shits right up me.

Levels were wonderfully creative with walls switching on timers releasing or containing the mob, flashing floor segments either draining life or triggering level alterations (usually removing a wall). Keys would open gates, and potions would help clear an area. Graphics were technically nothing special but consider the number of sprites being thrown around, and consider that the graphics were always distinctive, you could tell what everything was and its purpose was clear, in a way a triumph of art style over technicality.

For me, Gauntlet 2 still holds up brilliantly though I think it would hold up better as a twin-stick game – it would certainly be easier.