Review: Blood Money

Blood Money

ST Format Review

My Review
So, my final game for issue 2 – Blood Money. I couldn’t find an Automation menu for this one so had to use a Superior cracked version instead. This is all running on my trusty Steem 1MB STE. Two other versions didn’t work – it seems to be a hard game to get running.

The game begins with some fancy sampled sounds as it flips through some screens before reacing a menu to choose music, 1/2 player, etc while playing some decent chip music.

The game starts – and well it’s a bit of a yawn. Animation is reasonably smooth though the scrolling is achingly slow, lots of things move around the screen and you do what you can to avoid them (I picked the helicopter) and shoot back at some of them – I’m picking up some Defender vibes from some of what’s going on. The trouble is it’s all a bit so-what, and the action doesn’t feel very connected. You fire bullets and things take a few bullets to explode but it never really feels like anything is connecting, there’s no feeling of kinetic energy – a product both of the lack of visual response and the lack of any audio register of a hit.

In a way this is a game that carries some of the hallmarks of a psygnosis game in that it’s well-presented but seems to lack substance. That DMA design would later go on to create Lemmings and GTA is a bit of a surprise when you see how poor this game is, but I guess everyone starts somewhere and perhaps they needed to learn their craft with something less ambitious first.

In the end, this game isn’t interesting enough for me to put the effort into a full review as honestly I’d struggle to find enough interesting to say to justify it. It may well get more interesting later but I’ve got a lot of ST games to get through and maybe I burned myself out a bit on Issue 2!

Onwards, issue 3 awaits!

PS here’s the Amiga version – it’s quite a bit better visually and the audio makes a big difference.

Review: Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (Action Game)

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (Action game)

ST Format Review

My Review
In some ways it’s appropriate to go from Rick Dangerous to the man who inspired him (that the first level sees the player running from a rolling boulder is no coincidence). Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the action game of the movie, with an adventure game to follow. The adventure is of course much-loved as one of Lucasarts greats, while this action game is a little closer to the typical movie tie-ins of the era, a platformer mostly. It looks like this isn’t the one I had as a kid as I remember that one having a mine-cart section among other things (click here if you want to see it in all its shite glory, where this is more or less a straight platformer. ST Format make the comparison with Navy Moves but talk themselves out of it, but in truth that’s probably about right.

For this review I’ve used the usual STFM with TOS 1.0 and 1MB of RAM running in Steem, and I’ve used an Automation disk (menu 124 in this case). The menu is nicely presented, with an animated disk sliding into the ST’s drive when you select your game.

The game goes straight into a Lucasfilm logo with a sound-chip version beeping the theme tune (doing a far better job than the later adventure game which suffers from the same problems as the Zak McKracken port in that it seems to have been ported straight from the C64 in sharp contrast to Monkey Island when that came along). Eventually we get the Indy logo and he cracks his whip to switch between credits, high score and an image which might have been captured from the movie. Press fire to start.

So we arrive at the first level and the sprite is pretty large, while the status bar takes about the bottom third of the screen, leaving nowhere near enough room to see what’s going on. I’m on a ledge and it looks like I’ll be taking a leap of faith. Not a great start. The framerate is actually pretty smooth, though the jumping is poor, suffering in from some similar problems to Verminator in that once in the air you don’t really have much control (and yes I know that’s not the most realistic thing to ask for but it does make for better gameplay and makes it easier to jump variable distances). Controls are left and right to walk, down to crouch and up to jump (which is surprisingly common in these older games where now we expect a separate button to jump) while fire takes care of punching (and later whipping).

Indy loses energy from some quite short drops which really makes playing him quite a chore, especially when he’s so bad at grabbing ropes. Then there’s his whip, one of his trademark items. Even the crappy old Temple Of Doom game understood this and allowed you to make regular use of it. Here you get to use it 5 times, then you have to wait for a power up. Why restrict a fun mechanic like the whip? Admittedly it doesn’t seem to offer much over the other move, the punch.

All in all, this is a lazy cashgrab and as the developers don’t seem to have put much effort into make it, I don’t feel compelled to make a huge effort playing it. Instead, here’s a video of someone eles playing it. In case you wondered, no I don’t recommend this game.

Review: Verminator

Verminator

ST Format Review

My Review
For this review I’m using Automation’s Menu 181, on Steem with a 1MB STFM and TOS 1.0.

After a lovely Automation intro screen (not strictly part of the game but who cares) we get to a start screen that weirdly requires you to move your pointer around with your joystick, without it ever being entirely clear what any of the icons does. Anyway, I clicked one and the game started.

The game is insanely pretty. The huge sprites and incredibly detailed backdrops laden with colour are really quite impressive, far beyond the standard of the time, though sadly frame rates take quite a hit as you’d expect. I might have expected a port to the Amiga to run faster but googling suggests no such port exists, which perhaps was a missed opportunity. There isn’t any scrolling as such, it’s more a flip screen with an animated transition. I suspect part of the reason for the flip-screen approach is the remarkable graphical detail.

The gameplay is standard platform fare where you run, jump and hit things with your hammer. Unfortunately someone seems to have forgotten to ship a game with this tech demo. The hammer just passes through things and eventually the enemies die, but with little feedback and no feeling of connection. Jumps are, once launched, set on their trajectory, and they are unsatisfying. We’ve all come to expect better jumping from Mario et al but even on the Atari ST in those days there were platformers with better jumping mechanics.

The lush graphics are not without cost, aside from the frame rate. It’s clear the developers wanted to show off, and they did so admirably, but the huge sprite makes it impossible to see much of the level, and this combined with the poor jumping mechanic means you don’t have particularly exciting or taxing platforming, just simple jumps and the avoidance of slow-moving objects.

Navigation is tricky – while there are signs indicating money in one direction and some scales in another (maybe justice?) it doesn’t seem to really ever get anywhere. In the end, the game is deeply unsatisfying.

Overall this feels like a wonderful showcase of a developer’s talent, but one which is unsatisfyingly empty in its execution. Not one I can recommend sadly.

Review: Robocop

Robocop

ST Format Review

My Review
For this review I’m using Automation’s Menu 96, on Steem with a 1MB STFM and TOS 1.0.

So Robocop begins with a lovely loading screen with a sampled voice giving the prime directives. It’s worth remembering that at this point sampled sound was rare and quality artwork wasn’t always a given on loading screens. There’s a really slick animation of Robocop grabbing his gun when it flicks between title screen and high score. I press fire to start.

Oh dear. Robocop has haemorrhoids. He has a very strange gait, and the top half of his body remains stationary. His jump is.. well it’s a single frame with him in a crouching position. Gameplay consists of walking along punching things. No other moves available and so far the crouch only seems to be used to avoid slow-moving bullets (though you don’t actually crouch low enough to avoid them), and the jump not at all (which is good because it has a really weird control where you must crouch first otherwise it doesn’t work).

You eventually get a gun and can direct it ahead, diagonally up or diagonally down, but that does little to break up the gameplay loop. Animation is slow. Movement is slow. Finishing stage 1 sees you battle a big robot you’ll recognise from the movie – to be fair it’s a decent size though animation is shit.

A brief interlude at a shooting range where you have to use dodgy joystick controls (why can’t I use the mouse) and then it’s back on the streets. Stage 2 ends with a fight against a bloke in a van. Another minigame, this time face-matching.

Honestly the game is a cash-grab, a truly shit cash grab. It sold a fuckload of course, because people bought it for the name, because the Robocop movie was awesome. This game however was typical of film conversions of the era.

Review: Kick Off 1

Kick Off

ST Format Review

I’d love to know what on earth posessed ST Format to run the review with such a vibrant background, making the review basically unreadable.

My Review
Kick Off is, for anyone who had an ST, a game that you already know. You either had it yourself or your mates had it, or one of its many later variants. Like an early The Sims, the game had many minor updates in the form of addon disks and expansions adding little to the game, but it also spawned Player Manager (which took an enhanced Kick Off and added an excellent management game – so good that Championship Manager basically passed me by), and later Kick Off 2, which for me is the ultimate football game. Later, Anco and Dino Dini would part ways, with Anco releasing a Kick Off 3 which really had little to do with the first two games, while Dino Dini went to Virgin Interactive and released Goal, the true sequel. I had Goal on the Amiga and its attacking play was a revolution, though defence was very very difficult. Anco never really recovered from Dino Dini leaving, releasing a series of sub-par games including a terrible Player Manager 2 – in truth before Dino they were nothing, purveyors of strip poker games, but Dino elevated them to a new cult success that could never last forever.

For this review I’m using Automation’s Menu 76, on Steem with a 1MB STFM and TOS 1.0. The menu has a rather fun little background…

The title screen is simple, not as pretty as the box, nor as pretty as what was used in Kick Off 2 and Player Manager, but gets the job done.

From the title screen we get to a simple menu to choose a game mode – it’s all very bare bones with little hint of the greatness that lies ahead.

The game itself is very simple, deceptively so. Sound effects are limited to the sound of boot on ball, the referee’s whistle, the crowd booing a foul and cheering a goal, and a voice sample telling you about a foul, while the pitch is represented only by the white lines for the edge of the pitch and penalty areas, missing the centre circle. To create a feeling of movement, instead of using a texture for the pitch, the developers opted instead to palette swap down the screen to create the illusion of a striped pitch – this has the effect of making the ST’s notorious huge border look like part of the pitch (though lines and players don’t appear in that area of course). You have some basic HUD elements at the bottom indicating a goal kick or corner, the score and the number of the last player to touch the ball (in his team’s colour), and you have a radar on the left showing you where all the players are. Player sprites are small but well-drawn and animated – personally I like them but some people prefer the tiny men of Sensible Soccer – these are chunkier footballers.

This simplicity allows Kick-Off to be lightning fast, running at a rate unmatched on the ST. This smoothness allows games to be fast-paced affairs, a big contrast to the later, more cerebral affair of Sensible Soccer. This early iteration doesn’t have named teams, nor does it have named players, so all you do is decide the level of your team and your opponent and crack on with it, reds vs blues. Later releases would allow more options in this area.

Controls are simple – you run towards the ball (your player is underlined) and either try to nick it off the opposition by walking into the ball, or pressing fire to slide tackle, or if the ball is in the air pressing fire to jump for the ball (this is also how you head in crosses). Once you have the ball, it is not glued to your feet in the FIFA fashion. When running you kick the ball ahead, and the ball moves a little ahead of you and then you start to catch it up, and it’s only in that latter phase that you can control the ball. Tap and hold fire here and you’ll be able to trap it, ready to pass to another player, selecting one of 8 directions on your joystick, no automated passing here, when control switches to the other player you’ll have to intercept what is almost certainly a wayward ball. If you tap the fire button any other time you’ll take a shot. Later releases featured aftertouch allowing you to bend and dip the ball, but this first iteration keeps it simple, omitting this. There are no power bars, nor would there be in later releases, it is simply a game of pure football.

Slide tackles often end up mistimed and lead to fouls, though if I’m honest in my case it’s usually intentional, but the referee (unseen) will give you a yellow card if it becomes too frequent, and your player might get a red if you go too far, making the match that bit harder as you go down to 10 men. I vaguely recall in Player Manager that getting 5 players sent off would lead to the match being abandoned, but I have yet to test this in Kick Off 1.

Yes I did deliberately foul in the box to get that screenshot.

Newcomers are initially put off by the ball not being glued to the player, and the insane speed of the game which makes it hard early on to control the players (often running around the ball instead of to it) but once you get the hang of it, the simple one-button controls become second nature, a far cry from the convoluted 50-button controls of FIFA which seem more like a Street Fighter game than a football game.

Scoring a goal is one of those absolute delights that newer football games can’t match – on getting my first goal I let out a yell that scared the cats, I was so elated to have got one, having struggled through a few matches trying to re-acquire my old skills from 30 years ago. Once it kicked in though, it felt so good. The passing started to feel natural, the rhythm of the game made sense. What I wouldn’t give to persuade my wife to join me for 2 player – she isn’t keen though. Two player is where it shines even more, as this is a game designed around playing a single match – it does have a league competition but the primary focus is just playing a match. It’s football in its purest form.

That win felt so good. I can heartily recommend Kick Off, though you might want the newer Kick Off 2 instead as that has a few useful features added and is the superior version.

See also:

Kick Off 2, Player Manager

ST Format Issue 2

ST Format Issue 2 – Download

The World in August 1989
In the UK the West Midlands Police Serious Crime Squad was disbanded after years of fabricated confessions – the police were not defunded in general, just the rotten department disbanded and replaced with a less corrupt unit. Electronic tagging was introduced, allowing some offenders to be placed back in the community with minimal risk to the public.

In America, for the first time, a privately-owned rocket put a payload in space, a TV satellite. Elsewhere Gazprom (Russian energy production) became a state-run enterprise, and would many years later be used to hold Europe hostage by threatening to shut off gas supplies – a key tool in Putin’s international ambitions. In South Africa, president P W Botha was replaced by F W De Klerk, the man who would end apartheid. Voyager 2 approached Neptune and Triton.

The film charts look pretty damn good. Tum Burton’s Batman at #1 (the only decent one), the less brilliant Licence To Kill at #2, Katate Kid 3 at #3 and Indiana Jones at #4, though the less said about Police Academy 6 the better.

The album chart sees little movement from the previous month, with the only new entry of any significance being Gloria Estefan with Cuts Both Ways.

The singles chart were a tad bonkers. Jive Bunny at #1, which was a mash-up of swing tracks over a video featuring a cartoon rabbit, while at #2 we had Lil Louis’s French Kiss which consisted of a dance track with a woman having an orgasm, followed by more conventional fare from Kylie, Martika and Liza Minnelli (by far her best track), and the wonderful Shakespear’s Sister (You’re History). Outside the top 10 is the brilliant Ride On Time by Black Box and Pure by the Lightning Seeds (who would be bigger in the 90s), London Nights by London Boys was an absolute corker and Days by Kirsty MacColl was another brilliant song.

The Magazine
Issue 2 saw a demo of Blood Money on the cover disk, and a cover featuring mug shots to celebrate Fun Face being reviewed and a demo on the disk. Inside the magazine we had an animation tutorial, and more importantly a joystick article featuring such monstrosities as a stick that was modelled on a grenade, but mostly focused on how they come to be. Atari were predicting big things for the Lynx (a handheld colour console intended to challenge the gameboy but stymied by terrible battery life and lack of games) and the Portfolio (I’m not sure that ever saw the light of day) and the STacy ST laptop. Mastertronic acquired the Monty Python license and entrusted development to Core Design (they of Tomb Raider fame). A new law came into effect in the UK to fight software piracy – it had no effect. GFA Basic 3 finally came out (which explains why the previous issue gave away GFA Basic 2), while we also have a feature looking at industrial design which highlights Steve Jobs’ work with NEXT. A brief sojourn into the world of BBS (think of it as the internet before the internet was really available – you dial up to a remote computer and it serves you content).

Previews
We had a promised release for Dragon’s Lair marred by single-sided drive owners only getting half the game, while there was some doubt over whether the game would work on a 520 (though that being the case, surely 1040s mostly had double-sided drives making the half a game redundant). Screen 7 planned a William Tell game (topical) while Domark had a conversion of the arcade smash Hard Drivin in the works. Activision were teasing Bomber, Super Wonderboy and Dynamite Dux.

Reviews
Games reviewed this month:
Robocop (Sidescrolling platform shooter – Ocean – £19.99 – 56%)
Red Heat (Sidescrolling beat em up * – Ocean – £19.99 – 52%)
Verminator (Very pretty platformer – Rainbird – £29.95 – 83%)
Leonardo (top-down weirdness – Starbyte – £19.95 – 62%)
Blood Money (Shooter – Psygnosis – £24.95 – 90% Format Gold)
Quartz (Shooter – Firebird – £24.99 – 75%)
Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (Platform + minigames – US Gold – £19.99 – 90% Format Gold)
Chariots Of Wrath (6 random games – Impressions – £24.99 – 59%)
The Quest For The Time Bird (Adventure – Infogrames – £24.95 – 78%)
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Rodeo Games (Horse stuff – Tynesoft – £24.95 – 83%)
Kick Off (Top-down football – Anco – £19.95 – 88%)

* this one’s really weird in that it appears to only show Arnie from the waist up. Now this features some impressively large sprites but it also means no kicks, just punching. Scrolling left also seems like an odd choice when most scrollers go right.

Needless to say I’ll take any excuse to play Kick Off, but I think Robocop, Verminator, Blood Money and Indiana Jones might be worth a look too – I’ll see how much I can squeeze out of them.

This Month’s Reviews

Review: Blood Money

Blood Money ST Format Review My ReviewSo, my final game for issue 2 – Blood Money. I couldn’t find an Automation menu for this one so had to use a Superior cracked version instead. This is all running on my trusty Steem 1MB STE. Two other versions didn’t work – it seems to be a…More

Review: Verminator

Verminator ST Format Review My ReviewFor this review I’m using Automation’s Menu 181, on Steem with a 1MB STFM and TOS 1.0. After a lovely Automation intro screen (not strictly part of the game but who cares) we get to a start screen that weirdly requires you to move your pointer around with your joystick,…More

Review: Robocop

Robocop ST Format Review My ReviewFor this review I’m using Automation’s Menu 96, on Steem with a 1MB STFM and TOS 1.0. So Robocop begins with a lovely loading screen with a sampled voice giving the prime directives. It’s worth remembering that at this point sampled sound was rare and quality artwork wasn’t always a…More

Review: Kick Off 1

Kick Off ST Format Review I’d love to know what on earth posessed ST Format to run the review with such a vibrant background, making the review basically unreadable. My ReviewKick Off is, for anyone who had an ST, a game that you already know. You either had it yourself or your mates had it,…More