Review: Rocket Ranger

Rocket Ranger

Note that the game requires use of a copy-protection code wheel which has been brilliantly recreated at https://www.oldgames.sk/codewheel/rocket-ranger (UK release) and https://www.oldgames.sk/codewheel/rocket-ranger-us (US release) if you want to play along. Note that they are different.

Cinemaware have a particular style, their games often graphically excellent and featuring an array of minigames. Rocket Ranger is no exception to that. Visually splendid, with a true 16-bit feel that few games of the era have, and with ambitious ideas executed in perhaps limited ways due to the capabilities of the machines, it still paints a way forward for games.

ST Format Review

Before I start my review, here’e ST Format’s take on the game.

My Review
Loading the game I get the wonderful Atari ST desktop in all it’s lime-green splendour and double-click the program icon, noting the helpfully-placed list of codes which will really do nothing useful for me as the numbers scroll by (I presume the intent was that you’d print them on your dot matrix printer but that isn’t so useful now – this is presumably to get around the copy protection wheel, but more on that shortly).

This being a pirate release, we have the traditional classy intro screen.

This one failed me however, with a demand later on for a disk that didn’t exist, so I swapped to a different release, this time with no desktop but with this wonderful intro.

From the outset it’s clear that Cinemaware want to live up to their name – the opening having that lovely art-deco look evocative of the era around which the game revolves. An opening animation followed by exposition text presented in black and white gives way to a riot of colour and a rather dashing chip tune gets you in the mood. The opening animation is far beyond the standard of the time (although admittedly using some cheap tricks like palette-cycling), being closer to the kind of thing we’d later see from the likes of Delphine, Microprose, etc.

The game drops me in at a menu where I head to the war room. Nazi efficiency is currently 80% and I need to drop that down so I can stop their evil plans. And yes these are actual Nazis, not the modern kind. Someone decided that moving a mouse pointer was better done with a joystick than a mouse (on a machine which will almost certainly have a mouse in one port and a joystick in the other as the mouse and joystick ports are in an awful spot on the STFM [under the machine] which was thankfully fixed on the STE).

Checking some reports I find out I have to destroy a moonbase (how the fuck are nazis on the moon?). First up, let’s move my agents. They’re all over the fucking place, and it seems to me the nazis will mostly be interested in Europe so let’s do something about that. I move my agents from around the world to cover the main European countries. Before I can complete the moving though my man in Persia detects a secret base, with rockets. Well obviously I swap him to resistance and prepare to get over there and kick some ass.

Trying the British and American code wheels – one simply dumps me in the ocean while the other requires more fuel than I have, so back to the war room and some more infiltration and…

Spain has a rocket base, and both versions of the wheel give numbers I can actually do. Let’s see which one’s right!

So that one’s wrong.. let’s try the other one. Thank fuck for emulator snapshots. Finally, success!

So now it won’t detect disk 2 no matter what I do. At this point, having fucked around with code wheels for ages and all sorts of other non-running hassles, my patience is running low. Time to attempt the 3rd fucking copy of this fucking game.

So, trying to recreate the steps of my previous run through.. Turns out this time Spain is holding a prisoner, and I should probably do something about that. Predictably the first code-wheel value I choose is wrong, but the 2nd, the British one, is right. Brilliant, and now the game is bitching at me that the zeppelin is moving too quickly. Still, time for a fight.

First I find myself in a Space-Harrier-esque (albeit without the speed) section, taking out some planes at an impressive 2 frames per second.

I succeed, greeted by some text informing me that I’ve rescued the scientist. Unfortunately I fucked up and didn’t have enough lunarium to get home, so had to call an SOS and the nazis had a party while I was out of action for 3 months.


So now we have a zeppelin factory in England (because Britain isn’t a thing), the nazis have taken Russia, my spy in France has been shot, and my spy in Italy too. This isn’t going well. Time for a hail mary, let’s go intercept the zeppelins in Yugoslavia.



Ok now I’m on a roll, time to go to Russia and see what’s up. Another punch up, like the last. The beat-em-up section is very very basic and it soon becomes apparent that the only way to actually hit the guard is with the low shot, so it becomes a game of waiting for his guard to move elsewhere and hit him. His attacks are not terribly effective. It looks ok, albeit with crap animation, but honesty there’s no gameplay there. Off to Italy then as it appears there’s no way to intercept the zeppelin. Nothing there, despite nazis killing my spy.

In the end I just find myself not caring enough to continue and call it a day. Fundamentally this is a collection of pretty but poorly-executed minigames that don’t add up to a whole lot of fun.

Review: Powerdrome

My video review – done about a year after the written one on a MiSTerFPGA box.

It’s likely you won’t have heard of Powerdrome, the EA racer from 1988. It’s not enormously well-known but it’s a little something different from the norm at a time where most of what was being released was platformers and shooters, with most racing games being Outrun-clones. 3D filled vector racing games were certainly unusual at this point.

ST Format Review

Before I start my review, here’e ST Format’s take on the game.

My Review

I decided to dive straight in, and on my first few floundering attempts using the mouse I managed to crash into every wall, floor and ceiling possible on the test track (a simple oval). I then decided to read the manual (http://www.lemonamiga.com/games/docs.php?id=1272), which informed me that the mouse is preferable to the joystick. I then found the option to switch to the joystick and found myself profoundly disagreeing with the manual. The mouse suffers from similar problems to Elite, with the mouse moving around an area that represents the position of the joystick. Why on earth hadn’t they figured out better ways of doing things as found in games like Battlehawks 1942, where if you move the mouse left the plane banks left, move it right it banks right, and that’s it, with simple and immediate movement. To top it off, there’s lag. So, joystick it is, the proper control being sufficient to make the lag manageable.

Overall movement is smooth despite the lag, and this is of course because actually it’s not pushing many polygons around. That’s a sensible decision given the limitations of the machine, better to have smoothness and speed than prettiness. The problem however is that the controls are pretty bad. The game was notorious back in the day for being hard to fly and I can see why. Looking at the differing manuals for the ST and Amiga version (the Amiga version arrived later) it seems the Amiga version got an option to increase the centering strength which I presume was in response to complaints about the difficulty. If that is the case it is probably the better version. I tried the C button and got nothing so I presume that it never made it to the ST, which is a dreadful shame.

Sound isn’t particularly exciting, the ST can do better but I’ve heard worse.

Overall I’d call this a fantastic idea poorly executed. There were many such games early in the ST’s history as developers adapted from 8-bit machines of lesser capability to the vastly capable ST (though it’s fair to say some early ST games were less impressive than some of what was put out for the C64). It’s not something I’m pissed off about though – developers were still figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and taking risks. Where now even the worst games are at least basically controllable, mediocre but at least capable of doing what they set out to do, the life of the ST contained many absolute stinkers that would never see the light of day today, but those stinkers were the by-product of creativity unbounded by convention, a rich seam of enthusiast developers creating for fun, not profit. More power to them.

ST/Amiga Format Issue 6

Issue 6 – Download

The World in November 1988

Previews
The previews here are a bit more unknown to me than previous weeks. Puffy’s Saga I don’t know, but a quick Youtube suggests it has much in common with Gauntlet. Turbo Cup is a racing game I’ve heard of but never played, Galactic Conqueror looks like a standard space shooter, along with Outland, then there’s a pepsi ad-game. They ended up being quite big in the 90s with games featuring the 7-up spot and the Quavers mascot proving to be big hits. This one I’ve not heard of so I can only assume it was awful.

The Munsters looks like standard platform license fare, Thunderblade seems to be a shooter of some kind but google has been inconclusive. I see F-16 Attack Fighter and I suspect that’s the game that eventually came to be known as F-16 Combat Pilot. I found it a bit too complex as a kid, preferring Microprose’s F-19 instead. We finish up with Superman and Lasertrain which look deeply uninteresting.

Reviews
Missing the cut this month were Spitting Image and Return of the Jedi owing to the publishers sending blank disks, cybernoid owing to being all graphics and no substance, Daley Thompson Olympic Challenge on some flimsy excuse, and some uninteresting junk.

Games reviewed this month:
Powerdrome (3D space racing game – Electronic Arts – £24.95 – 95% Format Gold)
Rocket Ranger (Collection of minigames in one overarching story – Cinemaware – £29.99 Amiga or £24.99 ST [unusual] – 90% Format Gold)
SDI (Shooter – Activision – £19.95 – 85%)
Pacmania (Isometric Pacman – Grand Slam – £19.95 – 80%) – note the version shown is the Amiga version which is MUCH better looking than the ST conversion
Battlechess (Chess – Electronic Arts – £24.95 – 85%)
Colossus Chess X (Chess – CDS Software – £24.95 – 87%)
Speedball (future angry sports game – Imageworks – £24.99 – 80%)
Zero Gravity (3d pong – Lankhor – £19.95 – 75%)
Driller (Freescape game – Incentive – £22.95 – 70%)

That’s actually quite an exciting selection. I’ve played Pacmania (came with my ST), Colossus Chess and Speedball and enjoyed all three, while Driller is intriguing as I never got a chance to play a freescape game though I did dabble with the 3d constructor demo on an ST Format cover disk. Then there’s Rocket Ranger which I don’t quite know what to make of. I’ll give it some thought and choose some suitable games to review in due course.

Review: Rocket Ranger

Rocket Ranger Note that the game requires use of a copy-protection code wheel which has been brilliantly recreated at https://www.oldgames.sk/codewheel/rocket-ranger (UK release) and https://www.oldgames.sk/codewheel/rocket-ranger-us (US release) if you want to play along. Note that they are different. Cinemaware have a particular style, their games often graphically excellent and featuring an array of minigames. Rocket Ranger is no exception to…More

Review: Powerdrome

It’s likely you won’t have heard of Powerdrome, the EA racer from 1988. It’s not enormously well-known but it’s a little something different from the norm at a time where most of what was being released was platformers and shooters, with most racing games being Outrun-clones. 3D filled vector racing games were certainly unusual at…More