Better dead than alien is a vertical shooter akin to centipede or space invaders. The marketing and title screen try to give off a B-movie vibe but that never really makes a difference to the game. I used a mouse although you can use a joystick or the keyboard. The mouse allows more rapid and precise movement as any FPS player will tell you, and that’s why I used it. Overall it’s a simple enough shooter, without any major depth or replayability. Like many games of its era it’s cursed with horrendous framerates (10 fps at best) and this does lead to a lack of responsiveness.
It looks ok, but while the sprites for the enemies change from round to round, that has no real impact on the game, the ships continue to fly in formation, one will break out once in a while and if it misses you it wraps round to the top again. The game is easy because the enemies are mindless, but your firing rate is so slow that it quickly becomes a boring repetitive slog. The ST is capable of more than this and Better Dead Than Alien should serve only minor archaeological interest.
Next Issue With one proper review and two short ones, that wraps up issue 3. Rest assured issue 4 is much better and features games I intend to spend a bit more time on.
So there is some kind of story, and it’s told in a slightly star wars fashion over some wibbly warbly chip-tune bollocks, but fundamentally it doesn’t matter. This is a breakout clone. A good one, but nevertheless a breakout clone. For what it is it’s solid – the graphics are decent enough, the sound is very typically ST beeps and burbles, no music while you’re playing. It does suffer from the low frame rates found in many early ST games which makes controlling the bat a stuttery experience. While later in its life developers found ways to get around the lack of specialist sprite-shifting hardware in the STFM or shifted over to the STE with its superior firepower, much of that early output reeks of 8-bit, shoddily ported to superior hardware while never really pushing it.
To get to the nuts and bolts of the gameplay, much is standard. The ball – initially glued to your bat – goes off in a random direction, hits a brick and comes back again. Most bricks will disappear immediately and grant you points, some bricks will take a few goes, some bricks will drop a bonus which you’ll have to catch with your bat. Some bonuses include double-bat, multiball, a fireball which takes out swathes of bricks, and so on. You also have some aliens floating around for the ball to hit. So far so interesting. But how does it feel?
Between my finger and my thumb, The squat mouse rests, snug as a gun,
Under the brickwork, a clean rasping sound, When the bat stops the ball from reaching the ground: My bat, batting. I look down.
Til it’s straining surface among the spaceships, Judder slow, coming up 30 pixels away, Jerking in rhythm through brick drills, Where I was batting.
Whirligig (aka Space Cutter aka fucking kill me this game is fucking awful) Review
I had a little look into Whirligig at https://www.atarilegend.com/games/games_detail.php?game_id=96 and noted that the game was designed and programmed by Mike Singleton – a name I recognised instantly. He was responsible for Midwinter 1 and 2, two of the greatest 16 bit games ever made, so you’d have to assume the game is good, right? The rest of the names listed appear to have mostly only worked on this one game – I must assume that it was not a success.
I had some trouble hunting down a manual for this one, the best I could find was http://www.lemonamiga.com/games/docs.php?id=1504 so that’s what I used to guide me through this game. The copy protection demanded a word from the manual (a common tactic in those days) and thankfully it matched up (I tried a random word thinking it was cracked – it was not) so it appears this is the actual manual.
Looking at the manual I see something in common with Midwinter – god-awful mouse controls. And when I fire the game up I see that this is actually the case. To speed up you move the mouse forward, and to slow down you move it backwards. Turning left and right comes courtesy of moving the mouse left or right, but while I am not 100% certain, it seems that the mouse is perhaps being moved around a box where each side represents maintaining movement in that direction. If one could see the box it might make the game easier to control, but as it is there is no feedback other than your ship’s movement in response to extraordinarily sensitive mouse controls.
Firing missiles is interesting. I kept wondering why when firing missiles they’d fly off in random directions – and some of those directions would involve circling back and hitting my own ship. Well, it turns out they’re heat seeking, and if they can’t find anything to kill (or if they just plain miss) they circle back and kill your ship. What kind of fucking madman would design that? What utter fucking cretinous buffoon would think that a sensible plan? It’s just one of an array of baffling design decisions. There is no map, so you just float through space not really knowing where to go, zoomed in too close to have the foggiest idea where aliens may be. Some kind of radar might be nice, maybe some arrow pointing to where you need to go, some fucking background markings other than a tiny scattering of points that are presumably stars.
Here’s a rare shot of my ship actually being near something. I had to kamikazi those ships to get the screenshot. I suffered for you. For you, and was it worth it? Those dots.. those are all you get most of the fucking time. Slow, jerky, streaking across the screen like the developer himself personally shat on my screen and the juice is slowly dripping inevitably towards my keyboard.
This is not a good game. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I do however hope that it in some way contributed towards the greatness that was Midwinter. It was a product of a developer having an idea for a cool technical thing to do (the ship seems to be a vector with shading reacting to some kind of light source, and it’s an impressive size) with a clever mechanic (the heat-seeking missile that gives up and shoots you instead) without necessarily thinking through the consequence for gameplay. This is what happens when a programmer designs a game instead of a designer.
I can only assume that ST/Amiga Format gave it such a high rating because it was their magazine cover disk (this happened surprisingly often) or because they were paid a large cash bribe. I can also assume that the presence of the demo negatively affected sales as people realised that the game was utterly, irredeemably shit.
I am delighted to say I will never touch this god-awful shit-stain of a game ever again.
After the oddities of issue 2 we find ourselves in issue 3, named as September 1988 but like all games mags actually released the month before.
The previews section features an eclectic mix including future classics Speedball, Police Quest 1 and Operation Wolf. Further into the mag we find an interesting article on how developers create their games, focused primarily on the graphics, and finally we land at Screenplay. In this issue we have the following: – Whirligig (Space exploration – Firebird – £19.95 – 84% Format Gold) – Space Harrier (You know what it is – Elite – £19.99 – 83% Format Gold) – Skychase (Wireframe flight sim when the ST can do solids – Imageworks – £19.99 – 78%) – Arkanoid – Revenge Of Doh (Breakout clone – Imagine – £19.95 – 80%) – World Tour Golf (Football game – EA – £24.95 – 78%) – Mortville Manor (Whodunnit – Lankhor – £24.95 – 78% [Amiga]) – The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars crap wireframe space blaster – Domark – £19.95 – 60%) – Better Dead Than Alien (Shooter – Electra – £19.95 – 75%)
As you can see, it’s a piss-weak lineup compared to the previous month. Some of those scores are a little generous I suspect, with Whirligig looking bloody awful but featuring as their lead game on the demo disk (no I’d never suggest the two things were linked) and Space Harrier being a solid conversion given how the ST was being used at the time, with reasonably fast graphics and an audio sample that was super-low bitrate but still had plenty of character. It came with my ST when I got it and I had a good time with it, albeit there was little lasting value in it.
The world in 1988
Dear god the late 80s were terrible. We have one good song (Kim Wilde), couple of mediocre tracks (Kylie and Yazz) and some absolute dross. The album chart is little better, though credit where it’s due for Bad, while the movie chart features only 7 films. Is that because not much was in the cinema in those days? To be fair, the movie charts are the best of a bad bunch, with Beetlejuice being brilliant, and I enjoy Coming To America and Crocodile Dundee 2, though I can’t be sure what people were thinking when they voluntarily went to see Police Academy 5.
Back to the games For this issue I’m going to have a look at Whirligig in part because I have no bloody idea what it is and I’d like to see if I’ve got what it takes to figure out these older games (to be fair, issue 2 suggested that I can get a reasonable handle on them which is reassuring – at my age I worry that I may be losing some grey matter).
(video is not mine)
Dear god that looks shit. I’m doing this for you guys – suffering through some god-awful shite just to entertain you.
I will then have brief looks at Arkanoid and Better Dead Than Alien and report on those, though I don’t think I’ll be going into quite as much depth as others. Onwards and upwards.
Note: If there’s something you want me to cover let me know, or any ideas for expanding this thing and making it a bit more interesting.
Better Dead Than Alien Better dead than alien is a vertical shooter akin to centipede or space invaders. The marketing and title screen try to give off a B-movie vibe but that never really makes a difference to the game. I used a mouse although you can use a joystick or the keyboard. The mouse…More
Arkanoid II – Revenge Of Doh So there is some kind of story, and it’s told in a slightly star wars fashion over some wibbly warbly chip-tune bollocks, but fundamentally it doesn’t matter. This is a breakout clone. A good one, but nevertheless a breakout clone. For what it is it’s solid – the graphics…More
Whirligig (aka Space Cutter aka fucking kill me this game is fucking awful) Review I had a little look into Whirligig at https://www.atarilegend.com/games/games_detail.php?game_id=96 and noted that the game was designed and programmed by Mike Singleton – a name I recognised instantly. He was responsible for Midwinter 1 and 2, two of the greatest 16 bit games ever…More