Review: Cadaver (Bitmap Brothers)

ST Format Review

My Review

The Bitmap Brothers were absolute megastars of the 16-bit era, a team of developers known for taking established genres and polishing them to perfection to create masterpieces. Their first, Xenon, was a simple but technically fairly accomplished shooter, and they followed that with Speedball, their first effort at future sports. The formula wasn’t quite there yet however but then Xenon 2 happened (admittedly it was The Assembly Line who did the actual development with the Bitmaps handling design). At this point the Bitmaps had only really done fairly arcadey things, and indeed their later games all trend in that direction with Gods, Speedball 2, Magic Pockets and the Chaos Engine games being firmly arcade. Cadaver was a bit of a curio, the Bitmaps branching out into an adventure game with an unusual isometric style reminiscent of 8-bit classics like Head Over Heels.

Control is handled mostly by the joystick, moving around as you’d expect and the fire button handling interaction with objects – typically icons appear when you go near an interactable object and you can press fire to switch from movement to selection mode, move the joystick to pick your option, fire to confirm and then you’re back to movement. Return brings up your inventory – they couldn’t quite get everything onto a single-button joystick. Additionally pressing space will make the right-hand side panel of the normal display show the most recently-interacted object in your inventory and the icons in the interaction box update to reflect this. F1 brings up a map of what you’ve seen so far. The manual (linked below) details a few ways you can customise those controls.

Save and Load are handled by pressing S and L on the keyboard, with saves costing gold. A formatted disk is required, so if you’re using an emulator you may prefer to just use a save state instead. I’m using MiSTer emulating a 1meg STFM with TOS 1.04 which doesn’t do save states, so I’ll be saving the old-fashioned way.

I went with Automation Menu #415 which is quite a low-key menu, in part I suspect due to the difficulty in squeezing everything in. Once into the game we get treated to the story (or you could read the 9 pages of story in the manual) told in a scroll with some sampled music in the background (the Bitmaps do love a bit of sampled music). Sound in-game is less spectacular with chip-driven spot-effects in contrast to the Amiga’s samples. In the end I got fed up of the slow loading and switched to a hard disk image.

Visually, the game is a treat. To maximise detail the palette is largely drawn from two distinct hues, a bluey-grey for tiles and water, and brown for wood (and this was something of a signature approach for the Bitmaps). Indeed Karadoc himself is formed of those colours. Alongside the well-considered palette and beautifully-drawn artwork, animation is solid and the frame rate is consistently smooth. Usability is pretty solid – once you learn the controls it’s pretty easy and usually fairly self-explanatory. The only irritations are common to most isometric games – that sometimes you walk behind something and can’t see yourself (nobody had yet thought to fade out the foreground layer like The Sims does house walls) and that you can only pull an item in 4 directions rather than 8. The latter can make it hard to arrange things as one might like.

The story is revealed through scrolls and objects left lying around, a trope which continues today in many immersive sims. Progress is largely linear, and the story is on rails, not that there’s much to it. The game itself is small and self-contained, with no real hint about an outer world beyond the walls of the dungeon. Curiously it is both small and quite empty, with many rooms containing nothing of value, and yet I completed 20% of the game in a matter of an hour. It is true that games were shorter back then but it’s surprising how little there is to Cadaver.

Cadaver is a product of its time, both in its adherence to traditions of dwarves and swords and magic, and in its efforts to mimic something of the atmosphere of the kids TV series Knightmare (I have no idea whether the bitmaps stated it as an influence but it certainly has the feel of being influenced by it). The small self-contained rooms with monsters and objects to pick up, much as they could remind me of a million other things, remind me of Knightmare.

Verdict

The thing which makes Cadaver stand out from the crowd really is its atmosphere. It sells a limited game pretty well, and that’s not to denigrate it. Cadaver aims to do one thing and do it well, and there’s no shame in that. It’s a remarkable departure from the rest of the Bitmaps oevre and they are to be commended for trying something different. This is one of those occasions where their trademark graphical excellence really served to enhance the game they created (if people say graphics don’t matter tell them to fuck off – they’re right that it doesn’t matter if a game is 4k with 50 billion teraflops running at 4000 frames per second but they’re wrong that art style can make a game that is technically weak look like a masterpiece). Where it does perhaps fall down is that it doesn’t always feel like a place. At times it feels more like a puzzle constructed by some malevolent creator than a real place in which anyone lived or died, and while I get that it is intended to be a dungeon, that lack of connection with any reality is a shame, though this is something which was corrected in the data disk Cadaver – The Pay Off. It’s a very good game that you will likely have fun with, it’s just not quite a Hari Seldon Gold.

Resources

Manual: https://www.starehry.eu/download/rpg/docs/Cadaver-Manual-atrist.pdf

Review: Rick Dangerous 2

ST Format Review

My Review

So the first Rick Dangerous was a bit of a surprise. ST Format didn’t even bother to review it until its later budget re-release, while ST Action waited til over a year after the budget. The One gave it 88% at the time, CVG gave it 87%, and Amiga Format gave it 89%. One review expresses surprise that it took the game so long to arrive on the ST, which may well be because of an aborted release. The ST Format review for Rick 2 refers to the original release of Rick 1 being too hard with a ‘recent’ re-release which added the ability to play the levels out of sequence. Despite a challenging release, it became something of a cult classic for Core Design who would later find fame for their Tomb Raider games, while also serving as inspiration for the wonderful Entombed which would appear on a later ST Format cover disk and likely also the modern classic Spelunky to which its initial free version bears a striking resemblance.

The first game scrolled vertically in stages (the action would literally pause as the screen scrolled down) while flipping screen to move horizontally. This same approach was seen on the Commodore 64 version, and indeed the two versions are very similar with the C64 having somewhat blockier graphics. The Amiga version was visually identical to the ST version, as was often the case in 1989. In many ways Rick 1 is a perfect example of a game being held back by the lowest common denominator though it’s hard to tell whether that was the C64 or the ST.

The sequel improves things on a technical level by making the vertical scroll smooth and continuous and changing the horizontal flip to a rapid scroll. Sound is still the usual chip tunes comined with awesome samples (waaaaaaaah!). Visually the update is a treat, with the original’s Indiana Jones theme swapped for a more futuristic sci-fi superhero theme, perhaps a hint of Flash Gordon, a product of a flimsy plot about alien invasion. His pistol swapped for a ray gun and his dynamite is no longer left where you stand but can be thrown, like all the best sequels Rick 2 adds a little to the formula while avoiding the mistakes of the Lemmings sequels which bravely evolved but lost sight of the simplicity that made the original an all-time classic.

In an earlier issue (issue 14) ST Format interviewed Core Design there’s much talk of improved cinematics between levels but these are simply little vignettes. The fact that they also appear on the C64 shows they’re not necessarily anything special technically, even if they add a little flavour artistically. However the other highlight of the interview is discussion of the new trap system where traps are triggered by dynamite, bullets and enemies rather than just the player. This creates the kind of emergent gameplay which made Spelunky such a smash.

For this review I chose the Medway Boys menu 93 – it’s got a fun graphic and the standard chip tune and scrolly text, and when you pick Rick you get the traditional scene greetings. It seems like everyone knew everyone else on the scene and while there was some beef I think it was mostly characterised by a spirit of friendly competition.

Gameplay is still old-school hard, even if it is easier than Rick 1. Progress means learning each of the traps but you’ll almost certainly get bitten by them multiple times first. In many ways this isn’t dissimilar to a modern Souls game – the enemies and their tricks are the traps and just as with Souls you will die frequently but each death will teach you something. The thing about hard games is that they offer a sense of satisfaction, and the success of the Souls games shows there is still a market for that sense of satisfaction. Remember that each little bit of progress is in itself a small victory, a small hit of satisfaction at beating this vicious bastard, something which even beating the entire game might not offer if there’s no challenge. I’m shit at Souls and I’m shit at Rick, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

If I were to offer some criticism it would focus on two things. The first is the decision to allow access to all five zones from the start. I understand why they made the choice, a reaction to the first game being too tough and the positive response the update had, but it takes away the excitement of seeing a new area for the first time. It’s more exciting when you’ve earned it and you know you’ll have to walk over hot coals to see it again than if you just select it from a menu. The second is not entirely the game’s fault but rather an issue with the single-button nature of joysticks on the Atari ST. The controls to move are straightforward enough, and I can understand the reasoning behind Fire+Downward-Diagonal to slide a bomb along the ground or Fire+Down to just drop it. However Fire+Up to shoot seemed to cause me quite a few issues and led to me not getting a shot off due to poor co-ordination. A simple fire would have sufficed. And I’d like to fire while falling too. Overall though these are nitpicks, minor gripes in the overall scheme of things.

The Verdict

Rick 2 is unashamedly old-school, a game stuck in the 8-bit era but given a 16-bit lick of paint with some extra presentation layers. It’s hard, and on a technical level you might wonder if it has much merit. In truth it pushes no boundaries in graphics or sound, but the gameplay is wonderful. The way traps function gives an early glimpse of the emergent gameplay which has been on trend in recent years, with a certain chaos coming from that. Its predecessor may have had more influence graphically (see Spelunky) but the sequel is likely where more of the gameplay beats were cribbed from. Rick is, like many of the best games, a simple game done brilliantly well. I can heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys a challenge.

Resources

Manual: https://www.gamesdatabase.org/Media/SYSTEM/Microsoft_DOS/manual/Formated/Rick_Dangerous_2.pdf

Review: Leisure Suit Larry 3

The Box

ST Format Review

ST Format’s take

My Review

Leisure Suit Larry 3 – Passionate Patty In Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals is the third game in the Leisure Suit Larry series and the last one to be primarily keyboard-driven. For those unaware, Al Lowe’s creation is a slightly desperate man approaching middle-age, a balding virgin in the first game and self-styled lothario in later releases. Larry’s roots can be traced back to sex comedies like Porkys (albeit the characters were younger) where the joke is often on the males who just don’t quite know how to get to grips with a confident woman.

There is of course some attempt at random titilation for those willing to answer the somewhat US-centric proof of age questions (most of them will have gone over the heads of Brits even if they were old enough) – you get different levels of filth depending on your answers. This is revealed early on in the first scene, where using a set of binoculars focuses on a window with a young lady removing her clothes and jiggling her pixellated breasts. One would have to be pretty desperate to get much excitement from that.

For this review I’m running a MiSTer FPGA box with a 1MB STE, running TOS 1.62. I’ve chosen to use Vectronix’s release, and took the opportunity to install it to a hard drive so speed things up as Larry 3 is notoriously slow as it is. I did consider running with a Mega STE but I’ve strayed far enough from the typical hardware of the time as is – few ST owners had hard disks as far as I know.

So before we delve into the story and some pretty screenshots I want to talk a little about the technical side of the game. It’s clear fairly early on that the game is not using the ST’s graphical capabilities as fairly rough colour palettes are smooshed together with dithering – certainly it’s nowhere near as pretty as Operation Stealth. Looking at the PC box I note it’s compatible with Tandy, CGA, EGA and VGA but one would assume that the lowest common denominator is the base and that’s what we’ve ended up with here – my gut feeling is that we’re looking at EGA graphics, which are really quite ugly. The second problem, which ST Format alluded to, is that the graphics are slow. The intro has an ‘animation’ of a young lady running her leg up and down Larry’s suit, but the animation is two frames and you can actually see the frame being drawn. In the game itself you can set the speed to highest and for sections Larry will zip around quite speedily but as soon as there’s some animation like maybe the credits rolling in or a 3-frame fountain he slows to a crawl. On a technical level the game is a mess.

The game is a bit of a dead-end in design terms too. Much as Magnetic Scrolls Wonderland game tried to take text adventures into the graphical era with an approach more rooted in text, so Sierra’s system is also fundamentally a text adventure with graphics bolted on – the only purpose of the mouse is to move Larry. This is in sharp contrast to the full graphical adventures characterised by Lucasarts and Delphine, and later Revolution. Where Magnetic Scrolls attempted to use the GUI to mitigate weaknesses of the text adventure by listing objects and available exits, Sierra have gone a different way. In a text adventure you have to fairly explicitly tell the player what things exist to interact with, which makes it much less of a guessing game. However, the addition of graphics gives the developers an excuse to let the user infer what the objects might be. This is a mistake however, coming unstuck in just the first scene. There is what looks like a bin. You try to “look at bin” or “examine bin” to no avail. Even walking up to it and just typing “examine” gives you the “look at room” text which fails to mention the ‘bin’ – this is the text you would have got in a text adventure upon arriving into the location. Looking at a walkthrough reveals that it is in fact a plaque. Look at plaque will let you take a look at the plaque. Now this isn’t a super-essential puzzle but it highlights how the addition of graphics without graphical hotspots leaves the player guessing. This might have been fixed if mousing over the scene gave you the names of objects as you rolled over them. This was not done.

Annoyingly Larry 1 is actually much better in this regard. Expectations are clearer because there is no pretence of mouse control, and the shit graphics actually make it easier to see what objects are on the screen, what you can interact with, etc. Indeed, I found myself preferring Larry 1 original to the remake (Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded) for this very reason. The game is significantly easier than Larry 3 because it’s immediately clear what you can interact with, and text descriptions properly fill in the gaps, knowing that the mouse isn’t an option. Indeed Larry 3 is written almost as if there’s an assumption that you’ll be able to mouse over elements and get a name and hotspot to go with it in the traditional adventure style, maybe that got cut at the last minute.

Another usability complaint, exits are very poorly signposted, with one screen having 2 exits next to each other on the left depending on which foliage you stand behind, with each path awkwardly jagged so that Larry keeps getting stuck on invisible barriers which would leave an inexperienced gamer thinking that wasn’t an exit. There’s an exit, but you’ve got to really work for it.

ST Format take issue with the puerile humour but for me that’s what makes Larry, and everyone loves a bit of puerile humour. Ok some people don’t, but for the most part those people are dried up husks and if you’re one of them please press the X on the top right of this window as you are not welcome here. Of course it’s ironic that after complaining about puerile sex jokes the review’s author then wishes Larry would catch a fatal dose of VD – I think we have an early example of the Social Justice Moron. Or perhaps just a miseryguts who thinks he’s too good for this.

Verdict

So you may have gathered that I’m not particularly impressed by Larry 3. It’s a shame as Larry 1 was awesome, but the myriad usability and technical faults drag a decent story with some good old fashioned puerile jokes and silliness down pretty badly and result in a game that’s simply not worth the effort of playing. A game running on technology that’s unclear on what it wants to be results in a game that just doesn’t match up to other adventure games released in the era. It’s not even the best adventure game in ST Format Issue 15.

Resources


Some kind folks have uploaded the manual so go read that. It’s actually quite fun with some cool spoof 80s adverts.

Review: Simulcra (Craftgold)

ST Format Review

My Review

For this review I’m running a MiSTer FPGA box with a 1MB STE, running TOS 1.62. I’ve chosen Automation 386, and I’ve been rewarded with this lovely frog.

There’s a nice loading screen with some reasonably decent chip music – the image chosen almost harks back to an earlier ST age as the games become more professional and genres more defined (though still some way off the modern homogenised state of things).

So it’s worth noting that this was made by Craftgold, a fairly legendary team of developers responsible for Paradroid and Uridium on the Commodore 64, with a games history stretching all the way back to the early 80s, making games for the Spectrum and Dragon 32 8-bit computers. Through the 80s they were incredibly prolific, in 1986 they released an astonishing 8 games targetting Spectrum, C64 and Amiga. Through the 8-bit era they would usually release 3 or 4 per year, but in the 16-bit era this began to slow down a little as games took longer to make with 1991 being an especially slow year. Their greatest work of the 16-bit era would probably be Fire & Ice and Rainbow Islands, the latter an incredible conversion and the former an impressive original work. However Simulcra harks back to their shooter roots even if it is unusually three-dimensional for their later work.

A brief but very cool animation lets you know that you’re heading in to do battle.

This is the map of the first level. Note the red walls, these need to be broken down to reach the end point, and this can only be done by destroying the generators. There are, as you’d expect, an assortment of nasties waiting to make that a little harder,

Simulcra is a hard game to get a great screenshot from, in that while it’s very pretty in motion and great to look at, its abstract nature means that it’s hard to construct much narrative around what I’m doing in the game. In this shot for instance I’m taking down a nasty. I can just hit the fire button (control is via joystick) to fire my standard bullets, or I can hold the fire button down to fire a missile. Controls are tank controls, and that’s fine for this game.

Your kill will leave behind an orb which is worth collecting as it will usually do something like topping up your energy or enabling you to fly (more on that later).

This is one of the generators. As it’s early it’s not got quite so many guards around it (and at this point I’ve dispatched a few) so all that remains is to blast it to smithereens. On a separate note, does anyone out there know what the buggery bollocks a smithereen is?

These little hangard contain…

.. little cars which represent an extra life.

There are nasties wandering around, the most common being a mouse-like creature, though there are also flying creatures and tanks. However here we see two stationary enemies, turrets firing at me. I can shoot them from a distance though so that’s fine.

So yeah you can take off. While on the ground you can’t fall off the track and as far as I can tell landing will always be safe too, this is not a flight sim. To take off, move forward and then quickly pull back on the joystick (a novel way of getting around only having one button on the ST joystick – it was often necessary to have such creative solutions). Controls on the ground are easy, tank controls, but in the air it’s a little trickier but sometimes it’s needed to get to some of the separated islands of territory.

Back on terra-firma and there’s another couple of enemies to contend with.

Level one is soon over and level two upon me. This despite the fact that I’m far from being the most skillful gamer out there. The game would benefit from a challenge.

So just to talk about the visuals for a moment – as static images they probably don’t do much to impress but in motion they’re fantastic. The game sensibly keeps draw distance short to keep the frame rate up, and it does this to no detriment to the game play, while the semi-abstract style is actually really pretty, to my eyes at least. It harks back to older abstract 3D games like Virus/Zarch and Archipelago, with a little hint of Starglider 2. These kind of games became less common in the quest for greater realism, but in this case I really like the style they’ve chosen.

Verdict

Clearly this is not a massively original game, and yet it is a game out of time. However, that does it a disservice. While its style may evoke memories of those abstract 3D classics from 88 and 89, the speed of the 3D graphics elevate it above those games, and this is probably one of the best early examples of the third person shooter. While not enormously challenging it is immensely fun to run around blasting the living shit out of your opponents. It isn’t going to change the world, it won’t make you think much, but you’ll have a bloody good time. Gold.

Review: Operation Stealth aka James Bond: The Stealth Affair

ST Format Review

ST Format Review Page 1
ST Format Review Page 2

My Review

Crack greeting screen

For this review I’m running a MiSTer FPGA box with a 1MB STFM, running TOS 1.2 owing to the cracked version not liking the STE or even TOS 1.4 (odd when Future Wars was STE-compatible). There aren’t many pirate options (and too many of them are in French), in fact there’s only Vectronix with disks 836 to 838 (Vectronix are compilations so the original crack is from Medway Boys). I had the original when I had my ST back in the day and that also came on 3 disks.

Before going further into the review I just want to call out the utter turd copy protection, thankfully cracked here. Imagine this image..

..printed on a stupid foil card thing. Now it’s fine for me, it might be fine for you, but imagine if you were colour blind. You’re asked the colour (or not in the cracked version thankfully) and kicked out of the game if you get it wrong. Accessibility really wasn’t something people thought about in the 80s and 90s, and for all the things wrong with the modern era of gaming that’s one thing I’m glad we’ve improved on. In the double-screenshot above you’ll see our first bit of dodgy English. Strange plurals pop up from time to time, some of the translation wasn’t quite there.

We get treated to a glorious animated intro. The ST just gets chip music, while the Amiga is treated to proper sound effects that give it a far more cinematic feel, with the different instruments used conveying different atmospheres in a way that chip music just can’t (I’ll come back later to why I know this). The intro is setting the scene for a suitably Bond-esque affair, albeit one with an odd (dare I say French) sense of humour, as this game’s Q-equivalent discusses the missing Stealth Bomber but a pin-up is accidentally projected on his TV instead. We finally come in to land in the lush tropical South American land of Santa Paragua, a fictional nation that bears no small resemblance to the many tin-pot dictatorships that dotted the continent at the time.

Here we have a screenshot that rather sums the game up. Glorious pixel art, wonderfully stylish, and dodgy plurals in the text.

Arriving at the airport our first task is to get past the customs official, not so simple as showing my passport because Americans are not welcome. It’s wise to check the lay of the land to figure out which nations are actually on friendly terms with the dictator.

This screenshot shows you a couple of things – first that small locations are kept small, keyholed for artistic effect. Second, we get to see the menu system in action. Where SCUMM favours the verbs and inventory remaining in view at the bottom of your screen, Delphine took the approach of having everything in a right click menu. We can examine objects to be told they’re not important (some items have witty lines prepared but many do not). We can speak to people by choosing speak and clicking on the person, though this is seldom used and doesn’t let you control the conversation. Confusingly we have use and operate, where the latter leads to having to ‘operate girl’ at one point. Right-clicking on operate lets you operate something in your inventory (in this case I’m operating my briefcase to open it), while the left lets you click an object on screen to operate that. Use on the other hand is more use x on y. It’s often used where you might find ‘give’ to be a more appropriate verb (eg use coins on florist).

This is where it all gets very James Bond. Having already taken a pen with a few interesting tricks up its sleeve, here I am taking the money out of my American passport. When you look at an object it’s often blown up like this if there’s something you can do, as per this briefcase, and here we’ve further blown up the passport. The calculator is actually the way into the suitcase’s secret compartment.

And this is where our passport forging device lives, which is why we need to know what to forge. Clicking the arrow buttons chooses a country, while the red dot produces a fresh passport. It all feels very cloak and dagger. The game is also smart enough not to let you do that in the airport lounge in front of the guard, you have to do it in a toilet cubicle.

Some clues lead you to steal some baggage you have to be careful to steal the correct one or you’ll end up in jail. Luckily it’s suitably signposted and you’re not left groping in the dark and guessing. Indeed this is a game where puzzles are, for the most part, well thought out. One downer however is that, unlike the LucasArts games, you can die and you can find yourself in a dead-end, though usually the dead ends don’t involve backtracking too far to fix.

I’ll give out a little tip as this is one of the poorly-executed bits. The taxi doesn’t come unless you stand right at the edge of the pavement by the taxi sign. Just walk up to the taxi and click down to get in.

This is the level of humour, it’s not quite Monkey Island side-splitting stuff and perhaps tonally it’s a little odd in a James Bond game, as much as there has tended to be a certain camp humour. It’s not so much that jokes don’t live in the James Bond world, it’s just that these ones don’t.

You might notice that this picture looks a tiny bit different to the others. The text is on a transparent tile rather than a solid one, and the border is a little smaller. That’s because it’s taken on an Amiga (MiSTer FPGA minimig core). The cracked version sadly had some corrupt data which meant that for instance on this screen the top third of the image was quite broken, and popups kept informing me of checksum errors as I moved from screen to screen around the downtown area. Graphically there are no other differences, but sound is improved (most noticeable in the intro) with some nice atmospheric spot effects and decent music.

The Amiga version I used ran from the hard drive, but the ST version’s 3 disks are hardly a chore with disk 1 used for the intro, disk 2 used for the first half of the game and disk 3 used later. Swapping is thankfully minimal, though there is disk access between screens. A hard drive did improve the experience noticeably however.

In a bit of spy intrigue, I’m tasked with wearing a red carnation in a park, when my contact emerges and is shot by a passing car in a drive-by shooting (reasonably well-animated). The ST version is silent while the Amiga has some gunshot sounds to make it a bit clearer what went on.

Should you fail to leg it quickly enough you’ll get one of these game-over screens as the guards walk you into the distance, to jail (having framed you for murder). This is all animated nicely though of course it’s not terribly demanding.

Giving the card to the bank teller I get to the vaults and open my safe, only to be ambushed. There’s a fair number of clones in this game, sprites re-used pretty frequently, so the guards all look the same and the KGB spies (no names comrad Kruschev) are all identical too. It doesn’t particularly spoil the mood and in all honesty it was probably a requirement of getting the thing to run well.

After a vignette I find myself in a cave before one of the more infamous bits of the game. Tied up, with no obvious means of escape (two KGB agents blew up the exit as proved by the pile of rubble on the left) you have to figure out a way out of the ropes and out of the cave.

The game features action sequences. They are not good. The controls to dive underwater are bad enough, the red line at the top showing your oxygen levels, but there’s a particularly egrevious bit of design on the 2nd screen where the middle safe area (where we can see John chilling in the shot) where if you’re too far to the right in the air pocket, for no apparent reason, you can’t surface. Given the EXTREMELY tight margin of time for oxygen supplies that does tend to lead to frustration. On a positive note, you can at least save your game at any time, so at each safe point I’d advise doing so, for your sanity.

On escaping, John Glames does his Ursula Andress impression, emerging from the water up the steps.

A quick stop at the beach and then to the hotel to get another sequence of cut-scenes…

There is a small bit of interaction on the boat and at the bottom of the ocean but otherwise it’s a cut-scene, quite long and perhaps laying the dodgy French comedy on a bit too thick. More dodgy pluralisation in the first frame (“hand ups”), and then we come to…

This is not the end of the game. However, for most people it is where they stopped playing. Certainly it is for me. I’ve never managed to get past this bit because it is an absolute bastard with decidedly dodgy controls. The action sequences in this game were an absolute bastard and this one is the worst. Most irritatingly, if walkthroughs are to be believed, this first one comes as 3 levels and there’s another one later on. What were they thinking?

The Verdict

So is it any good? Well yes it is, it conjures up a wonderful atmosphere and for me is peak Delphine. I enjoyed Another World, but for me, Operation Stealth and Cruise For A Corpse were peak Delphine. Future Wars wasn’t much cop but was a good practice run. Flashback is not for me. But back to the point, this game is one where they’re still learning their craft, but wow they’re good already. The game is an absolute masterpiece with gorgeous pixel art, a fun plot with plenty of spy intrigue, cool gadgets, it’s the perfect James Bond game (and it was sold as a James Bond game in the US), but for the god-awful action sequences. If you were to take those away this game would get the Hari Seldon Gold. As it is, it’s close but no cigar. A beautiful game, and a step towards greatness.

Review: Venus The Flytrap

ST Format Review

ST Format’s take on Venus

My Review

For this review I’m running a MiSTer FPGA box with a 1MB STFM, running TOS 1.02 as the STE seemed not to go down too well. This is my first review using this setup, so apologies for any issues. For this one I used Automation disk 332, a low-key affair with an odd scene with an elephant and some cheery but grating chip music. I think it’s a slightly racist picture of some black guys loading spears into the trunk and hammering the elephant’s balls to make it fire the spear, but I can’t be 100% sure.

I’ve taken a few shots from the intro and smooshed them into one image here – effectively it’s a comic strip with little animated vignettes. The theme is somewhat apocalyptic, playing on the fears of the time about man destroying the environment (this was 30 years before Greta) but ultimately it’s just an excuse to shoot some bugs. It’s pretty enough, though sadly sound through this intro is limited to a chip tune which is a solid if uninspiring composition that doesn’t push any boundaries – that said it does get better after a poor start.

An intro screen tells you nothing but pushing the joystick up inserts the coins it demands, earning you credits. Left and right switch between 1 and 2 players, though I didn’t test two player.

The action begins and as you can hopefully see, the graphics are really quite pretty with large detailed sprites. Frame rates are solid and the main sprite reasonably responsive, while the scrolling is reasonably smooth. Sound consists of the usual primitive chip music and chip sound effects, but they work well enough.

Enemies are mostly insectoid, with the occasional corrupted plant (I assume corrupted as the ones that shoot at you are grey while the ones that aren’t have some colour). You’ll see a silver ball in this shot – when you kill many enemies they’ll drop a silver ball. Most games would have you collect the power up by walking over the ball. Not this one. You have to shoot the ball to reveal the power up and then walk over it. It’s a nice idea but really all it does is interrupt the flow. As the game wore on I stopped bothering, the power ups weren’t terribly useful and the flow mattered more.

Platforms are placed nicely on trees – I would question the wisdom of not following platformer convention and allowing you to jump up through platforms and land on them – instead here you just bump your head.

One slight issue with gameplay is the lack of challenge. There are never an enormous number of enemies on screen at a time (and given their size that wouldn’t really work anyway) which means there’s not much challenge, nor do the enemies do much more than walk a patrol for the most part with most not even firing any weapon.

There are some nice touches including buttons on the floor, some of which help you jump higher or force a jump, but in this case I’d encountered a button which reversed gravity. Unfortunately it was somewhat unclear how to jump and I fell in the hole.

The Verdict

Venus is certainly not a badly put together game. In many ways it’s quite competent, a decent tech demo of sorts, and the potential was there for a good game. If only they’d gone for pick-up power ups, upped the difficulty a tad (I’m not exactly hardcore so if I’m saying it’s too easy, it’s definitely too easy) and maybe sped movement up a bit to give it a bit of zip as for all its smoothness it does feel a touch pedestrian with no sense of urgency.

ST Format Issue 15 – It’s ‘King Brilliant

ST Format Issue 15 – Download

ST Format Issue 15

The World in September 1990
In UK news York City’s David Longhurst collapsed on the pitch during a 4th Division (now known as League 2) match and died. Meanwhile the CBI predicted a recession as Chancellor John Major and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher denied one was on its way. It was very much on its way.

The US news Pete Sampras won the US Open at the age of 19. While never the most interesting chap he would go on to be a huge force within his generation of tennis players, winning multiple Wimbledon titles among other honours. The 1996 Olympics were awarded to Atlanta (Georgia), George Bush threatened to use force to remove Iraq’s forces from Kuwait and later met FW De Klerk at the White House in recognition of the changes happening in South Africa re Apartheid.

Elsewhere in the world, in Myanmar (aka Burma) orders were put out to arrest Aung San Suu Kyi among other political dissidents. She would be prisoner for 15 years, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, and would then go on to become every bit as ruthless as those she campaigned against. The first Pizza Hut opened in China, the poor bastards didn’t deserve such horrors (seriously, who wants a pizza that’s 90% grease?).

On TV we saw the first UK broadcast of The Simpsons, debuting on Sky One (which most people didn’t have as satellite TV wasn’t very popular due to being so expensive – we mostly stuck to the standard 4 terrestrial channels in the UK). Thundercats returned to the BBC but all scenes where Panthro used nunchukus were cut out. The 1000th episode of Neighbours was aired in the UK, and it’s worth noting that Neighbours was hugely popular in the UK at the time. BBC 2 had the debut of Star Trek The Next Generation. BBC 2 also saw the debut of Rab C Nesbitt, in which an incomprehensible Glaswegian in a string vest confused the English. Oh and Have I Got News For You also made its debut on BBC2, a satirical news quiz still running today, though it’s lost much of its spark. Heil Honey I’m Home, a comedy featuring Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun managed one episode before being cancelled. More episodes were filmed but never broadcast.

The film charts had rather contrasting films at the top, with Memphis Belle (a fictionalised account of a B-17 Bomber Crew’s final mission in WW2) arriving at #1 to displace Die Hard 2. At #4 we have Crazy People, a fun film with Dudley Moore and Daryl Hannah in which Dudley is declared mad, goes to a nuthouse and the inmates develop advertising campaigns. Other highlights include Total Recall hanging on at #8 with Gremlins 2 at #9.

The album chart sees George Michael at #1 with one of his weaker albums Listen Without Prejudice. The Three Tenors were at #2 still riding the World Cup fever, and we had the likes of Elton John, Michael Bolton (retch) and Phil Collins in the top 10. Mariah Carey’s debut album also made an appearance, though I don’t know any of the tracks on it.

The singles chart saw The Joker by the Steve Miller Band hit number 1 16 years after its initial release due to appearing in a Levi jeans advert. In more interesting news, KLF got to #5 with What Time Is Love and Dee-Lite were at #2 with Groove Is In The Heart. Betty Boo was at 6 with Where Are You Baby which wasn’t quite as good as Doin The Do.

The Magazine
Issue 15 came out in September 1990, and has a striking cover featuring the mask of Tutankhamun due to DPaint getting a review and a cover disk demo (alongside the game of the Days Of Thunder movie). Issue 15 can be considered part of the ST’s golden age in which games and software were plentiful. This issue is notable for the spine text “It’s ‘king brilliant” which amused me but attracted some complaints.

In addition to DPaint and Days Of Thunder demos, the cover disk also has a demo of mediocre puzzler Manix, a tool to figure out the new London area code (London was switching from 01 to 0207 and 0208 depending on where in London you were) plus a program to play some god-awful chip music in the background.

In terms of ST news, the ST’s greatest DTP package Calamus had a massive price drop for its black and white version, while Neodesk had a new version of its alternative ST desktop (Neodesk 3 for those keeping count). High street retailer John Menzies dumped the Amiga to focus on selling the ST in further evidence that the ST was kicking ass and chewing gum. One of the Carebears demo group released TCB Tracker, giving the ST a tracker program to rival those on the Amiga.

The Deluxe Paint review is predictably glowing, and to be fair I had a good crack with the cover disk demo back in the day, though spending £50 on an art package was never an option for me. The interface was well-designed and overall the package reeked of quality, so it’s a fair review. For transparency it’s worth noting that EA will have paid to have their demo on the cover disk, as acknowledged in ST Format 14’s “Who gets your money?” feature. Other software reviews include Fun School 3, probably the most commercially-successful STOS-developed software.

There’s an article on basic ST skills called Back To Basics to get newbies acquainted with the ST (odd timing really, you’d expect that in the January/February issues for the people who just got their STs)

We get the debut of the Kandy Koloured Picture Show in which ST Format readers submit their artwork…

Public Domain and Demos
There’s a public domain release for Bilog, a cycling training log tool which helps manage your exercise regime. Alternatively you can change your desktop from green to blue and use 1k of memory to do so.. no I can’t figure out why either. There’s Galaxia from Budgie UK whic is a clone of.. I’m sure you can guess. In the demo scene we have THe Cuddly Demos from the Carebears, plus we have a couple of STE-themed demos which are mostly focused on audio.

Previews
There are some previews of games I’ve not encountered with Fireball leading the way, a 3D violent future sports game, while Mirrorsoft had a crop dusting flight sim set in the future. More recognisable fare came in the form of Loom (one of the few Lucasarts games I’ve never played – I plan to correct that) and the cutesy platformer Flip It N Magnose. Empire’s tank sim Team Yankee gets a mention, as does Domark’s top-down racer Badlands, while Titus mediocre Outrun with guns game Fire And Forget 2 also gets a paragraph. Crime Wave is one I don’t know much about, nor Rogue Trooper (which doesn’t get a screenshot, just a shot of comic book art). More recognisable is the brilliant Speedball 2 from the Bitmap Brothers, while Readysoft threw off the shackles of laserdisk conversions with Wrath Of The Demon which absolutely didn’t rip off Shadow Of The Beast at all.

ST Game Charts

Honestly a pretty awesome chart, with Kick Off 2 on top followed by the magnificent F-19 Stealth Fighter, while Midwinter sits at 7. Disappointing to see Damocles at a mere 15, a true classic of a game, while Sim City was only at 17 (though that’s a game that more than made its money back over the years so it’s not so bad). The budget chart.. dear god how the fuck was the utterly abysmal Codemasters Italia 90 at #1? Honestly it’s the worst football game ever fucking made.

Reviews
Games reviewed this month:
Vaxine (3D abstract shooty thing – US Gold – £19.99 – 84%)
Soccer Challenge (Football – Microprose – £24.99 – 85%) – I think this is the one NOT made by Sensible Software
Rick Dangerous 2 (Platformer – Microprose – £24.99 – 86%) – Criminally underrated
Venus The Flytrap (Platform Shooter – Gremlin – £19.99 – 77%)
Their Finest Hour – The Battle Of Britain (WW2 Flight Sim – Lucasfilm Games – £29.95 – 91%)
UMS 2 (War Strategy [hardcore] – Microprose – 87%) – The developer looks like Borat
Manix (Mediocre puzzler – Millenium – £24.99 – 71%)
Simulcra (3D shooter – Microstyle – £24.99 – 81%)
Championship Tie Break (Tennis – Ocean – £19.99 – 83%)
Cadaver (Isometric adventure – Bitmap Brothers/Mirrorsoft – £24.99 – 81%)
Operation Stealth (Adventure – Delphine – £24.99 – 93% Format Gold)
Dragonflight (RPG – Thalion – £34.99 [OUCH!] – 71%)
Satan (Platform Shooter – Dinamic – £19.99 – 39%)
Universe 3 (Sci-fi RPG – Impressions – £24.99 – 48%)
Magic Lines (Pipe Mania with electricity – Thalion – £19.99 – 47%)
Leisure Suit Larry 3 (Adventure with tits – Sierra – £39.99 – 61%)
Dead End (Text Adventure – Interactive Technology – £9.95 – 65%)
Tusker (Hack and Slash – SYstem 3 – 51%)
Weird Tales (Text adventure – Interactive Technology – £14.95 – 72%)
Falcon Mission Disk 2 (Flight sim missions – Mirrorsoft – £19.99 – 70%)

There’s actually quite a decent number of games here that really interest me. The obvious candidates are Rick Dangerous 2, Their Finest Hour, Cadaver, Operation Stealth and Leisure Suit Larry 3, but Simulcra looks interesting, while Tie Break could finally be my first decent ST tennis game, and Universe 3 is weirdly ugly but pretty. Even Venus The Flytrap holds some interest due to being so pretty.

For those playing along at home, I’ll be sourcing pirated releases from the TOSEC collection on archive.org. Here’s a list of releases, likely you’ll also find decent releases at AtariMania.
– Rick Dangerous 2 – Automation 365, Flame Of Finland 49, SuperGU 378, Medway Boys 93, Pompey Pirates 57, Vectronix 289/525
– Their Finest Hour – Automation 369, SuperGAU 389/390, Pompey Pirates 52, Vectronix 694/695
– Cadaver – Automation 415A/B, SuperGAU 591, Medway Boys 88A/B, Vectronix 809/810
– Operation Stealth – SuperGAU 691-693, Vectronix 836-838
– Leisure Suit Larry 3 – Automation 337A/B, SUperGau 654-7, Vectronix 829-31
– Simulcra – Automation 386, Pompey Pirates 63, SuperGAU 423, 535, 816, Vectronix 780
– Tie Break – Flame Of Finland 17
– Universe 3 – no known release so have to use Atarimania’s version at http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-st-universe-iii_10750.html
– Venus The Flytrap – Automation 332, Flame Of Finland 32, Pompey Pirates 46


Reviews This Month

Review: Cadaver (Bitmap Brothers)

ST Format Review My Review The Bitmap Brothers were absolute megastars of the 16-bit era, a team of developers known for taking established genres and polishing them to perfection to create masterpieces. Their first, Xenon, was a simple but technically fairly accomplished shooter, and they followed that with Speedball, their first effort at future sports.…More

Review: Rick Dangerous 2

ST Format Review My Review So the first Rick Dangerous was a bit of a surprise. ST Format didn’t even bother to review it until its later budget re-release, while ST Action waited til over a year after the budget. The One gave it 88% at the time, CVG gave it 87%, and Amiga Format…More

Review: Leisure Suit Larry 3

ST Format Review My Review Leisure Suit Larry 3 – Passionate Patty In Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals is the third game in the Leisure Suit Larry series and the last one to be primarily keyboard-driven. For those unaware, Al Lowe’s creation is a slightly desperate man approaching middle-age, a balding virgin in the first…More

Review: Simulcra (Craftgold)

ST Format Review My Review For this review I’m running a MiSTer FPGA box with a 1MB STE, running TOS 1.62. I’ve chosen Automation 386, and I’ve been rewarded with this lovely frog. There’s a nice loading screen with some reasonably decent chip music – the image chosen almost harks back to an earlier ST…More

Review: Venus The Flytrap

ST Format Review My Review For this review I’m running a MiSTer FPGA box with a 1MB STFM, running TOS 1.02 as the STE seemed not to go down too well. This is my first review using this setup, so apologies for any issues. For this one I used Automation disk 332, a low-key affair…More