Review: Xenon 2

Xenon 2

ST Format Review

My Review
For this review I’m running Steem with my usual 1MB STFM. This is from Automation Menu 133. The menu has some pretty decent music and a nice piece of art along with the traditional scrolly message.

Damn this game makes an entrance. Absolute banger of a tune, not the most exciting screens but who cares when the music is that good? Before I start I just want to say that getting good screenshots was an absolute bastard of a job, because of how the emulator works. I have to use the mouse to click a screenshot button, which is quite tricky when I’m trying to avoid being fried.

So we get to the image above and we switch back to chip music. Boooooooo! Just to get it out of the way, I had a look at the Amiga version on Youtube and the music quality is VASTLY better and carries on into the game – it seems a couple of the instruments get dropped when there’s a sound effect like shooting or an explosion. Let’s see how the ST handles it. Chip music and chip sound effects – but actually the sound effects are well thought-out and in a way they mesh better with the music than the Amiga version, despite being less spectacular.

Graphically it looks a little less smooth than the Amiga, but overall it’s still very very good, and the most important thing is that the controls are responsive. After Blood Money this really is an absolute pleasure to play. Enemies are inventive and well-drawn (it’s that Bitmap style – yes I know The Assembly Line did the code but it’s an art style that would become the Bitmaps own, with the trademark chrome look for the text and the highly-shaded greys and oranges creating a unique palette that belongs just to them). Backgrounds are beautiful with worms going into and out of tubes which pulse with their contents, and clue the player in on where the worm will re-appear. Enemies are traditional shoot-em-up fare mostly, following patterns aimed at trapping the player in an awkward spot – no AI here, just patterns. Bosses are spectacular, but you already know that.

The game throws an impressive number of sprites around the screen, eschewing the common tactic of limiting the number of bullets the player can shoot at once and still throwing a decent number of aliens plus bullets thrown in from stationary objects on the side. It’s also worth considering those worms, which as far as I can tell are made up of many small sprites (which makes them an absolute pain in the ass to take down as the collision detection with the bullets can be a bit ropey sometimes and there are so many segments to take down when even one can do significant damage on contact). At points the game rather puts you in a corner where you have no choice but to take damage, but that’s 80s difficulty for you.

Power-ups are mostly well-thought-out – the best of the early ones is the one allowing simultaneous fire to the front and rear, allowing you to deal better with enemies that swoop in a wide circle down to the bottom of the screen before coming back up to attack. Visually they’re nice and clear, and it’s a nice touch that you have to shoot the cannisters open to get them. There is of course the traditional item shop, a staple of 16-bit gaming. One modern irritant is that there’s no indication of what each of the items in the shop actually is, or does, so you have to look at the manual (which I’ve linked below). That’s just a product of its time though as I don’t think anyone else was doing it either.

Xenon 2 is about as good as an ST version could be at this point in the ST’s life. Its importance however is in some ways not directly tied to the quality of the game, which is after all good but not particularly groundbreaking in many ways. What it did was set a standard of presentation that ST gamers would come to expect. It also made people sit up and realise that samples on the ST could be really damn good.

In some ways it marks the transition from the old 8-bit values to a new 16-bit mindset, for better or worse. From here on we’d see fewer oddities like Virus, Sentinel, Captain Blood, Archipelagos, etc. We’d get Tower Of Babel soon but there was definitely a shift to a more professional output, in presentation at least, at a cost of some lost experimentation. Granted, we still had a wider and more varied gaming landscape by far than we have today, but we would never again see the magic of the 8-bit era. With all that said, I think this is probably the best brainless fun so far other than Kick-Off

Finally, as is compulsory, we finish with demonstration that, at the age of 40, I am still not a grown-up.

Resources
Manual: https://www.starehry.eu/download/action/docs/Xenon.2-Manual.pdf

Bonus

Havoc2049 on GAF kindly pointed out the Jaguar version so here’s a video. Graphically of course it’s gorgeous though I think it loses something without the iconic music.

Review: The Games – Summer Edition

The Games – Summer Edition

ST Format Review

My Review
For this review I’m running Steem with my usual 1MB STFM. This is from Automation Menu 148 which consists of two disks (A and B). The menu has some fancy music, and a typical scrolling text which is weirdly polite and helpful.

The game itself is somewhat delayed, having missed the Seoul Olympics by about 15 months. We begin with a selection of somewhat racially-stereotyped images of Korea (though some are more Japanese or Chinese frankly) before being treated to a vector 3D flight down to the track from an overhead shot – this took me by surprise. We then arrive at a menu with icons representing the sporting events available to us. An eclectic mix of archery, 2 gymnastics events, cycling, diving, pole vault and hurdles.

I decided to kick off with a bit of archery. I used to be quite good as a kid, let’s see if the skills transfer (they won’t). I actually did OK, hitting the bullseye a couple of times. Controls are fairly standard with you choosing how much power then moving the traditional wobbly cursor to hit the target. The other events were reasonably solid, offering stronger controls than Summer Olympiad for instance. Graphics are well-drawn but the colour palette feels a bit 8-bit. That said, it’s a solid little olympics game and I guess in 2020 it matters a little less that it’s late (indeed it fits with how Japan is having its real olympics late).

I notice in the review they discuss late versions of this and California Games from the same company – I wonder if perhaps they had issues working with the Atari ST. Who knows. Either way it’s a solid enough game if you like this kind of thing, though for me the best olympics game is probably still Winter Olympiad. Note that I wasn’t able to try everything as I had some issues with the crack.

Review: Castle Warrior

Castle Warrior

ST Format Review

My Review
So for this review I’m running Steem with my usual 1MB STFM. This is from Automation Menu 124, which also features issue 2’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Castle Warrior opens with a well-drawn loading screen making effective use of the limited ST palette, overlaid with a fairly average chip tune. The thing that stands out to me is the copyright Delphine Software. For those who don’t know, Delphine would go on to create Future Wars (their first big hit), Operation Stealth, Cruise For A Corpse, Another World and Flashback, so they have quite a pedigree, but this was their first game. In many ways it exhibits the strangeness common in French games back in those less homogenised days.

Gameplay consists of slowly walking into the screen in a faux-3d effect which renders better than I expected, in that it’s pretty similar to the Amiga version. Obviously it is flawed, but it’s still cool in a strangely uncanny-valley kind of way. That said, visuals are about the only thing this game has going for it. ST Format were wise to only give it 43% as the gameplay is excerable, with it mostly consisting of moving lanes to avoid objects coming towards you and occasional encounters with large enemies where you must time the swing of your sword to bounce the balls back to kill your opponent. The poor control response makes this quite tricky.

Overall this is more a historical curio than an interesting game, made interesting by what Delphine would go on to do rather than by anything in the game itself.

Here’s a video of Castle Warrior running on an Amiga (couldn’t find an ST video). As you can hopefully see, a very odd game.

Castle Warrior running on an Amiga

ST Format Issue 3

ST Format Issue 3 – Download

The World in September 1989
In the UK our ambulance crews went on strike. Meanwhile, the IRA were bombing and murdering as was their way. Nigel Lawson resigned as chancellor, paving the way for John Major to replace him (and of course he would eventually become PM). The recession gathered pace in the meantime, it was expected to be the worst in a decade.

In America George Bush (Sr) proposed to spend $7.9bn on the War On Drugs in his first televised speech – later in the month 21 tons of cocaine and $12m in cash was seized in Los Angeles. Former president Reagan had fluid removed from his brain. Hurrican Hugo hit South Carolina.

South Africa held the last election before leaving apartheid, confirming FW De Klerk’s leadership. In Asia Nintendo celebrated their 100th anniversary, and Vietnam pulled its last troops from Cambodia.

On TV Peter Sissons took over as presenter of Question Time, and there were a number of really important shows that made their debuts that month. We had Challenge Anneka which would run for 6 years and become something of an institution in the UK, while Bodger and Badger would become a kids TV classic, and finally, one of the greatest comedy series in the world would have its fourth series – Blackadder Goess Forth. It finished with something you wouldn’t expect of a comedy show, a proper tear-jerker, as characters we’ve come to know, love and despise, go over the top of the trenches to certain death.

The film charts see Lethal Weapon 2 on top, and a few decent films from the previous month remain in the charts, but there’s not much fresh quality there.

The album chart features Eurythmics at #1 with their last album for 10 years. While it did get to number one, the singles didn’t perform brilliantly suggesting perhaps it wasn’t a classic. The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith made up the rest of the top 3 while the rest of the charts offered little. Max fucking Bygraves at 12 – that tells you something about the British public’s taste.

The singles chart were led by Black Box with Ride On Time at #1, but we also had Richard Marx with the classic power ballad Right Here Waiting and Tears For Fears with the brilliant Sowing The Seeds Of Love. We also had Starlight with Numero Uno which was very much of it’s time but I guarantee it would fill a dance floor now (if we were allowed to go near them anymore). House Music could also be found at #11 with The Beatmasters and Betty Boo. There are some good songs coming up through the charts with the wonderful Pump Up The Jam from Technotronic, Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode, If Only I Could by Sydney Youngblood and Cherish from Madonna (back when she was awesome), while Aerosmith were steadily climbing with Love In An Elevator (songs took a bit longer to work their way up the charts back then).

The Magazine
Issue 3’s theme is violence. At the time the press was in a bit of a moral panic about violent video games, so ST format gave it a bit of coverage. The disk featured Xenon 2 in which you blew up a bunch of aliens so it’s likely they didn’t give any actual fucks about violence.

The news section discusses the new STs appearing at the PC show, with the STE featuring an upgraded 4096 colour palette (vs the STFM’s 512 – though still only 16 on screen at once), a stereo 8-bit DMA sound chip to improve on the STFM’s horrible chip warbles, horizontal and vertical hardware scrolling, a blitter chip and additional game controller ports (which would be on the side of the machine rather than under it – the underside placement meant that one had a hard time getting the plugs into and out of the ports while the idiotic decision to solder them directly to the motherboard meant they were prone to just not working after a while).

More exciting in some ways was the TT, which featured the super-powerful 68030 chip, clocked at 16MHz and packing 2MB of RAM and a 30MB hard drive. The TT had better graphics modes, able to display 256 colours at 320×480 vs the ST’s 16 colours at 320×200, or 640×480 at 16 colours, plus a 1280×960 monochrome option. The STE was intended to be the Amiga-buster while the TT was aimed at business users, but the STE didn’t really have fancy enough graphics modes to threaten the Amiga. The Lynx was expected to hit shops for Christmas.

Microtext offered ST users a gadget to store teletext pages on their Atari STs – surely the most retro thing I’ve said in this entire thread.

We have a review for GFA Raytrace – the ST had raytracing before it was fashionable, though I remember having to leave my machine on overnight to process a single 320×200 image (I recall using something that came with I think issue 8 as a freebie). We also have a review for the Hypercache accelerator board, allowing you to clock your ST to 16MHz by replacing your old 8MHz 68000 with a new fancy 16MHz one. This involves soldering. To be fair, £150 for that probably isn’t bad.

The violence article amusingly predicts the FPS, musing that Operation Wolf is the perfect violent game as “you can see your enemy as you blast him.. to make this type of game better, the display would have to simulate the view taken fromt he eyes of the hero. Then as the gun was drawn level to fire, you could get a full-screen view of the victim’s face. In a perfect world you’d see it crincle with pain and the eyes bulge with fear just before being treated to a liberal spurting of blood.” I’d say the author has some issues.

Previews
Ocean had Untouchables and Chase HQ awaiting release, while Hewson had Onslaught, Steel and 5th gear. Of those only Chase HQ seems terribly interesting.

Reviews
Games reviewed this month:
Eye Of Horus (Weird Egyptian-themed shooter – Logotron – £24.95 – 84%)
Slayer (Shooter – Hewson – £19.95 – 54%)
Games Summer Edition (late Olympics game – US Gold – 82%)
Passing Shot (Tennis – Mirrorsoft – £19.95 – 71%)
Conflict Europe (Strategy – Mirrorsoft – £24.99 – 84%)
Strider (Sidescrolling platform shooter – US Gold – £19.99 – 92% Format Gold)
Rocket Ranger (Cinemaware weirdness – Cinemaware – £24.95 – 73%)
Xenon 2 (Bitmap Brothers Shooter – Mirrorsoft – £24.99 – 90% Format Gold)
Castle Warrior (very weird 3rd-person game – Delphine/Palace – £19.99 – 43%)
New Zealand Story (Something.. – Ocean – £19.99 – 78%)

Also-rans: Gemini Wing, California Games, Paperboy.

So Castle Warrior looks quite odd – I couldn’t find an Atari ST video but there’s an Amiga one…

An extremely odd game – nice idea but the gameplay doesn’t quite work


The 3D effect is quite odd but you can see what they’re going for. While it only got 43% I’d quite like to have a look at it – it’s quite a weak month overall but I’ll likely have a look at Summer Games and Xenon 2, possibly Passing Shot too. The good news is that while issue 4 is a bit bare, 5 and 6 see things start to heat up again.

Reviews This Month

Review: Xenon 2

Xenon 2 ST Format Review My ReviewFor this review I’m running Steem with my usual 1MB STFM. This is from Automation Menu 133. The menu has some pretty decent music and a nice piece of art along with the traditional scrolly message. Damn this game makes an entrance. Absolute banger of a tune, not the…More

Review: The Games – Summer Edition

The Games – Summer Edition ST Format Review My ReviewFor this review I’m running Steem with my usual 1MB STFM. This is from Automation Menu 148 which consists of two disks (A and B). The menu has some fancy music, and a typical scrolling text which is weirdly polite and helpful. The game itself is…More

Review: Castle Warrior

Castle Warrior ST Format Review My ReviewSo for this review I’m running Steem with my usual 1MB STFM. This is from Automation Menu 124, which also features issue 2’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Castle Warrior opens with a well-drawn loading screen making effective use of the limited ST palette, overlaid with a fairly…More