Review: Viz (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Automation 453
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

Moving on from racing games we now find ourselves engaged in more athletic pursuits – this time racing on foot. The game is split into multiple events, mirroring the format of a typical olympics game in many ways, with races on foot interspersed with events like trying to jet-propel yourself as high as possible using only the power of beans and methane. Yes methane. If that surprises you then perhaps you’re unfamiliar with Viz.

I should perhaps begin by explaining a little bit about what Viz is. Viz is some good old-fashioned British filth. It’s full of toilet humour and swearing, a comic for grown-ups started in the late 70s featuring such characters as the Fat Slags (who predictably were generally busy trying to hump everything), Buster Gonad and his unfeasibly large testicles, Biffa Bacon and his love of violence, Roger Mellie the (sweary) man on the telly and my personal favourite Johnny Fartpants whose skills can probably be guessed.

So we find these loveable characters transposed from the comic to our computer screens, and they look wonderful. The sprites are beautifully drawn, colourful and decently-animated. Indeed graphics throughout the game are excellent.

So to the events. The race is conducted over 5 levels with different sets of obstacles, and if you stray out of your lane a bloke throws bricks at you. Each character can use his special powers to help complete the course, and they each get two bonus levels to gain tokens for later use. For Johnny Fartpants those events include the previously-mentioned jet-propelled high jump where waggling your stick propels your man and inflating balloons with his anus. Buster Gonad flattens pancakes with his balls and then uses them as space hoppers to bounce as high as possible, and Biffa Bacon punches the shit out of people and drinks pints.

Now these tokens gained from mini-games are essential if you’re to progress in the race. Biffa punches people out of the way with a single fire-tap, or a long press sends him into a frenzy as someone has spilled his pint. These powers cost tokens, and thus it is clear one must obtain as many tokens as possible in the minigames before race segments.

Verdict

So is it any good? Well, it looks great and runs fairly smoothly, in part due to a small scrolling area, but in truth the difficulty is insane. Getting enough tokens to really make any progress is impossible and the game rarely responds in a timely manner to pressing the fire button to perform your character’s main tasks. It’s not a bad game, just one that could have done with a bit more time in the oven to balance it a bit.

Resources

Manual: https://hol.abime.net/1591/manual

Review: Super Monaco GP (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Automation 496, Fuzion 47, Medway Boys 110, Pompey Pirates 80, Superior 65.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

Continuing with our racing game theme, we arrive at Super Monaco GP. For those unfamiliar, it’s a racing game, very much in the Outrun mould, but with F1 cars. It reviewed pretty well, scoring 89% in The One, 85% in Zero, 72% in ST Action and 71% in ST Format. While the score is solid enough, the written review of Super Monaco GP could best be summed up with one word – the word of the millennial, meh.

It praises the smooth graphics and observes the use of more than 16 colours while pointing out this isn’t shown on the screenshots (I couldn’t detect this when running personally – this may be a case of them taking press releases at face value), while observing correctly that joystick control is a nightmare. There are also complaints that the other cars can wreck you as much as they like while you can’t do the same to them. These are valid complaints, alongside a general narrative of “well it’s another racing game” in the review which hints at a reviewer tired of reviewing this crap.

Structurally the game is quite minimal with only 4 tracks, the final one being Monaco which you run dry and then wet. This doesn’t exactly scream longevity. You’re expected to qualify in the top 15 to progress, and then have to finish on the podium to proceed to the next race. The problem is that this is nigh-on impossible.

Where in most racing games like Outrun or Super Hang-On you can hit the scenery as much as you like and you’ll crash and just lose time, here it’s game over if you do it two or three times. Now this might not be so bad – I can go a good distance in Super Hang-On without hitting anything, but this is not a game as controllable as its contemporaries. Indeed, the controls are an unholy mess. The car lurches around like a drunken fool and the rolling road lurches into different directions instantly rather than smoothly as you’d expect, the corner suddenly being upon you rather than being something you see in the distance and ease into.

Graphics are.. well, they’re ok. Nowhere near Lotus levels, not as smooth, nor as pretty with even ST Format noting the loss of resolution as objects come closer to the camera. It’s nice to see liveries that resemble the cars of the era, a nice nostalgic touch these days, but in truth I’d rather play F1GP or if I must play a rolling road racer then I’d consider the Nigel Mansell game which was a bit more controllable.

Verdict

What were they thinking? This game is an uncontrollable nightmare. Do not play this. Give it a very wide berth and play Lotus or F1GP instead.

Review: Team Suzuki (Atari ST)

https://i1.wp.com/www.atarimania.com/st/boxes/hi_res/team_suzuki_gremlin_graphics_d7.jpg?w=782
Box Shot

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

https://i2.wp.com/www.atarimania.com/mags/hi_res/atari-st-format-issue-021_59.jpg?w=782
Fast but limited

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Automation 446, Fuzion 37, Pompey Pirates 74, Superior 56.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

I think most people who know me will be aware that I love a good racing game. As much as my man-cave is a haven of retro goodness with the lovely MiSTer box and variety of old-school joysticks and 8bitdo console controllers, it’s also home to a triple-monitor and VR racing game rig with a Thrustmaster T300 wheel and Fanatec CSR Elite pedals. My idea of fun is to go out in a Caterham R300 and throw it around sideways at Donington. However, most of my racing time is with cars – motorbikes have featured little in the real world (unless you count trying not to die in Thai traffic on a moped) and not much in gaming either outside of Super Hang-On.

Team Suzuki therefore represents only the second motorcycle racer we’ve looked at here at Bitmap Towers, and it’s a long way from Super Hang-On. Gremlin have wonderful form for racing games of course, creating the wonderful Lotus games for that Outrun vibe, SuperCars 1 and 2 for the top-down racer and Toyota Celica GT Rally for those who wanted a 3D sim flavour to their racing. Team Suzuki is closest to the latter of those games, with its focus on 3D with a sim slant.

It actually has quite a bit in common with Toyota in that it has the funky sampled intro music at a ludicrously low bitrate (sadly not quite as good as the Toyota music) and the 3D engine is likely the same. However, you where in a rolling road game it doesn’t matter too much whether you’re driving a car or a bike, in a 3D sim it becomes a different proposition as a bike handles very differently to a car.

3D bike sims have for the most part been outshone by their 4-wheeled counterparts through the history of sim racing. Very few 3D motorbike sims have really gained the kind of traction of an RFactor or an Assetto Corsa, and there is a reason for that. Representing the control of a motorbike using the gear available to home users (typically a game controller or joystick seeing as dedicated handlebars and bike platforms haven’t made their way into home setups in the same way wheels and pedals have) is hard. Before analogue joysticks became a thing, mouse control was the general accepted tool of choice, and yet really while it does at least offer precision and speed it still doesn’t do a great job given it represents so little of the weight-shifting that happens on a motorbike.

Coming back to Team Suzuki for a moment, the controls are, at least with my modern USB mouse, a little too fast to be controllable. Now one could probably find ways to tune that down, but that’s just the start of things. A related issue is that acceleration is very on-off, making it hard to have the subtle control you need to control a motorbike. Both of these are not the big issue however.

For the video review I chose a track I’m very familiar with, and which I know had a reasonably similar layout in 1991. Now I know that 16-bit racing games can get layouts fairly close – one only has to look at Microprose F1GP to see that, the layouts are really very impressively close to the real thing. Suzuki however is not. The tracks bear very little resemblance, Donington may roughly have the same number of left and right turns but it really bears very little resemblance in corner profile or elevation. That is not the biggest crime however – one can work around that and just treat it as a fantasy track that you’re learning.

Donington isn’t as wide as Silverstone, that much is obvious (I’ve driven both), but it’s still actually pretty wide, even in a Caterham there’s plenty of room to move around. Most race tracks are in fact plenty wide enough because you generally want cars to have enough room to pass – it’s considered a given that motorbikes will be able to. So the question one must ask is why these tracks are goat tracks with barely room for two bikes to go side by side. Going back to controls and difficulty then, these goat tracks combined with twitchy controls make it impossible to get round the track, and while F1GP sensibly added driver aids to get people going, Team Suzuki lacks any other than an auto-gearbox for the 125cc bikes.

Verdict

Clearly it’s a little unfair to compare Suzuki with Geoff Crammond’s masterpiece given it came out quite a bit later. Driving aids weren’t common at this time, nor were accurate tracks, and yet even wider tracks would have helped, and as for the driver aids, well someone had to be first. Clearly there’s a difference between something that’s a labour of love over a long time from an auteur like F1GP, where Microprose indulged him the time and space to get that done, and Gremlin who while better than the likes of Ocean and US Gold still had their eyes on the prize and weren’t necessarily placing a Microprose-esque focus on polish.

Team Suzuki is pretty good for what it is, and if you manage to master the controls you’ll have fun, but for most of us mere mortals I sadly have to suggest other options, most likely car games instead.

Review: Wrath Of The Demon (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Superior 58 A/B/C – note that none of these worked so I had to use the hard drive image linked by Pezz82 in his Atari ST MiSTer guide video. Go subscribe to him, he’s excellent.
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

So here we are in March 1991. Readysoft have so far seen fit to release Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair. Both games are undoubtedly a treat for the eyes and ears, but they forgot to be games. Instead, each game consisted of a cut scene playing out and having to move the joystick the right direction at the right time, for up to three movements in a scene. In modern terminology it was QTE, the game. Now it was great for demoing what your Atari ST could do, and it might just entertain you for the hour it might take you to guess the movement combos and complete the game, but replay value is zero. The games further diminish with time compared to their less graphically sophisticated brethren as technical excellence tends to stand out less over time while the value of a game’s mechanics only grow if they’re good enough. With that, the value of Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair is pretty diminished today, but even then some were wising up to their awfulness with ST Format rating Space Ace a mere 58% and Dragon’s Lair a mere 43%, while later Dragon’s Lair 2: Time Warp would get 58% and finally Dragon’s Lair: Escape From Singe’s Castle would get 31%.

Wrath Of The Demon represents their attempt to do something about that reputation, they decided to make their competitor to Shadow Of The Beast. Wrath Of The Demon. It even sounds a bit similar. Just like SOTB the focus is on graphics in a hack and slash side-scroller with large beautifully-drawn enemies.

Now the story is your fairly standard wibble. A wizard names Anthrax (yes really) brought forth a demon, hoping the demon would overthrow the king on his behalf. The demon, as demons are prone to doing, chose to do his own thing, deciding to kill the king and have his realm for himself, but first dealing with the wizard in what proves to be the end of a poorly-thought-out plan. The demon then set fire to the land, leaving a ruined mess. The demon slept and men returned, creating their new kingdom. The demon had slept to recover his energy and found a new kingdom, just as powerful as before, in its place, which wasn’t part of his plan. Our quest begins as the demon is preparing to attack and the king has been warned of the coming danger – our job is to rid the kingdom of the demon.

The game opens with some suitably SOTB intro music, with its mellow pan pipes, and you get an intro that bears more than a passing resemblance to that of SOTB 2 (which had already come out on the Amiga at this point).

It then throws you into the game, at full speed, on horseback. You are tasked with riding a horse and having it jump over the obstacles and leaning down off it to pick up potions, not the most sophisticated gameplay in the world as it amounts to a reaction test to press up or down on the joystick. It does however feature some impressive parallax scrolling, not necessarily the smoothest but impressive nevertheless. Sound has at this point reverted to chip music.

Controls are simple enough, up on the joystick allowing you to jump or enter a door, downward diagonals to roll, down to crouch or pick something up, as the horizontal lets you walk. Fire punches. In a fight diagonals hit high or low, verticals smash or hit downwards. F1 will use a shield potion granting 3 seconds of invisibility, F2 will use a Zap potion (think the rocket launcher in Streets Of Rage) and F3 a healing potion. Ctrl-S saves.

So having got off your horse you are next attacked by a couple of goblins who must be dispatched with a sword in a single-screen non-scrolling section that features some beautifully-animated clouds, but this does little to hide mediocre gameplay of rock-paper-scissors level combat. Hits have no feeling of heft, and the combat is boring and repetitive. The next set-piece sees you battling a dragon, a huge beautifully-drawn beast, even if his animation has insufficient frames to be convincing. The backdrop here is 100% static, presumably for performance reasons, though again it’s well-drawn. A scrolling section follows with some green balls attacking you, some impressive parallax as foreground objects move faster than the main backdrop, but gameplay remains repetitive.

Verdict

Honestly this is not a good game. ST Format were very generous in giving this 81%, perhaps wowed by the graphics or just relieved it wasn’t Dragon’s Lair. Whatever the case, while an improvement over Dragon’s Lair it’s still very much a tech demo with deeply unsophisticated gameplay that belongs back in 1988.

Reviews From This Issue Of ST Format

Review: Viz (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Automation 453 Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse) My Review Moving on from racing games we now find ourselves engaged in more athletic…More

Review: Super Monaco GP (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Automation 496, Fuzion 47, Medway Boys 110, Pompey Pirates 80, Superior 65. Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse) My Review Continuing with our…More

Review: Team Suzuki (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 21) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Automation 446, Fuzion 37, Pompey Pirates 74, Superior 56. Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse) My Review I think most people who know…More

ST Format Issue 21 (March 1991)

ST Format Issue 21 (Download)

Welcome to another issue of ST Format. As usual we’ll begin by placing the issue in its historical context, and note that we use the month the magazine actually came out rather than the one printed on its spine, before diving into the issue’s contents. Finally, over a few weeks we add a list of reviews to the bottom of the article, each a link to a new article.

The World In March 1991

The UK the Tories were shocked by defeat in the safe seat of Ribble Valley in a by-election. The Birmingham 6 were freed on appeal, unemployment hit 2 million and Norman Lamont predicted a 2% economic contraction in a nasty recession (not by 2020 standards obviously). John Major announced the abolition of the Poll Tax – the tax undoubtedly ended Thatcher’s run at the top, so getting rid of it was essential. The inquest into the Hillsbrough disaster recorded accidental death – this proved controversial.

The US news the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police, beginning a chain of events which would eventually lead to the 1992 LA riots. The comparison with recent events is obvious. In less unpleasant news Dances With Wolves won 7 Oscars and 43 million people watched.

Elsewhere in the world Estonian and Latvian voters voted for independence. Albania held its first multi-party election since 1970. The collapse of communism continued at rapid pace, truly the height of Western power.

In TV news, it may surprise you to note that until 1st March 1991 TV Listings were heavily regulated, with only the Radio Times publishing BBC listings, and only the TV times publishing ITV and Channel 4 (we only had 4 channels). They could now publish all 4 channels, and newspapers could also publish 7-day listings.

The film charts see Dances With Wolves replaced with Godfather Part 3. Honestly I’ve never heard of Green Card, The Russia House, Pacific Heights or The Field so can’t comment on them. Home Alone, Kindergarten Cop and 3 Men and a Little Lady all remain in the top 10 and Duck Tales continues a steady slide from its high of #4.

You’re singing the theme tune in your head right now, aren’t you.

The album chart actually has some fairly interesting releases, having moved out of the ‘best of’ phase. At #1 we have The Farm’s debut album “Spartacus” – I’m not convinced it’s aged brilliantly outside of “All Together Now” but certainly it was a decent album for its time. The big one, for me, is the wonderful KLF album The White Room. If you’ve not heard their music, go check them out. The addition of 808 State coming in at #4 gives us a really decent chart.

The singles chart is.. well, it’s interesting. Do The Bartman at #1, cashing in on the Simpsons fame. To be fair, there are a couple of decent dance tracks with I Wanna Give You Devotion (Nomad) and 3AM Eternal by the KLF rounding out the top 3, as well as Kylie’s brilliant “What Do I Have To Do?” at 7 and a new mix of You Got The Love by The Source at 8 (one of my all time favourite dance bangers).

The Magazine

This issue marks a bit of a change in the style of covers, a trend which lasts about 6 months where the colourful busy covers are replaced by covers with more white space. I’m not wholly convinced about the change personally, but perhaps they felt it would do a better job of selling the content of the mag on a WH Smiths shelf. The big theme for this issue is animation, with features on how the professionals work, as well as a tool on the cover disk. Of most interest probably is the collection of sprites from Prince Of Persia. There’s a decent article on the basics of animation, basic to the point of more frames means more smoothness, but also explaining what animation is, using Prince Of Persia very much as its starting point. There’s also a tutorial for Animaster, a demo of which comes free on the cover disk, again using the Prince Of Persia sprites. This theme continues through the GFA Basic and Bullfrog Assembler tutorials too.

The news contains speculation that the STE is to get a price cut, though in fact the rumour looks closer to a de-bundling with the games taken out of the pack. I’m not sure that would have been a good idea and I don’t recall Atari doing that. Indeed the packs were vital system sellers, one only has to look at the success of the bundle packs for the Amiga. There’s mention of the coming Magic Pockets, of which an early demo had been used on Motormouth, one of those Saturday morning kids shows where some spotty teenager rings up and shouts left-left-up-fire and some poor sod in the studio had to interpret the commands and do something with it (probably not helped by latency of the broadcast signal meaning the commands would inevitably come in late). There’s also talk of Music Master, a program from Ubisoft, making use of the sound card/anti-piracy dongle that came with BAT.

The Mega STE was now shipping in America and Germany but not yet the UK. ST Format speculated on these markets being chosen because of the more serious uses of the ST in those countries compared to the silly gaming us Brits did.

The cover disk features, in addition to the previously-mentioned Animaster demo there is a demo of Gods which I’m sure you’ll all already be familiar with, as well as a demo of Hillbilly Moonshine Racers, an Outrun style racer with a beaten-up old pickup instead of a Ferrari, with the expectation of running away from the sheriff. I enjoyed it as a kid but when I went back to it more recently I struggled with the frame rate.

There’s a Bitmap Brothers top 10 of ST games which cheekily includes two of their own (Xenon 2 and Speedball 2) but also sensibly includes Damocles and Prince Of Persia, as well as the not-yet-released Lemmings. Space Quest 3 is probably a good include, a game I really need to get round to playing at some point. Can’t say Battle Command, The Immortal or Stormlord do massive amounts for me, and the inclusion of Dragons Lair 2 frankly makes zero sense. The Bitmaps let themselves down.

Previews

ST Format lead with a large preview of Flight Of The Intruder, a flight sim from Spectrum Holobyte. Curiously ST Format pitch it as a sequel to the Falcon games, though personally I can’t quite see why and certainly I don’t think most people would think of it in those terms. STF have made the curious decision to have a bunch of previews without screenshots, doing something of a disservice to Z-Out, Masterblazer, MUDS, Merchant Colony, Africa Korps, Blue Max (which I swear didn’t make it to the ST), Navy Seals, Billy The Kid, Pro Tennis Tour 2 and Battlebound. I know very little about any of those other than that Blue Max was a flight sim and that I am terrible at Pro Tennis Tour 1.

Returning to the traditional format of a screenshot and a couple of paragraphs there’s mention of Chuck Rock, a platformer clearly inspired by the Flintstones which I really can’t wait to play. Cybercon gets a mention but to be honest it’s very much not my bag, I’ve never really got on with these abstract 3D games in the mould of Interphase. Demoniak gets a mention but doesn’t really give much of an indication of what it is. There’s mention of Crystals Of Arborea which I’m sure is perfectly fun but I won’t be covering, and some details on Gauntlet 3 making the ill-advised switch to an isometric view. Notable in this preview is the use of bullshots for Demoniak and Crystals – static single screens that don’t really show any actual gameplay.

Of more interest is a preview of Midwinter 2 which does a cracking job of whetting the appetite for a game that ranks among my favourites of all-time. An absolutely incredible game, in many ways too ambitious for the hardware, and a game which set the template for games like the Far Cry series in some ways (though MidWinter 2 had more RPG content).

ST Game Charts

The charts are interesting – BAT going straight in at #1, with ST Format alluding to the piracy-defeating cartridge as the possible reason. F-19 sneaks back up, Powermonger and Speedball 2 continue to do well. A new entry for the mediocre Narc is disappointing, and how the hell did Emlyn Hughes International Soccer end up at 11? Good to see the dreadful Italia 1990 is no longer in the budget top 10.

Reviews

Games reviewed this month:
Wrath Of The Demon (Shadow Of The Beast-style slasher – Readysoft – £29.99 – 81%)
Team Suzuki (Vector Motorbike Racer – Gremlin – £24.99 – 69%)
Revelation (Peculiar puzzle game – Krisalis – £19.99 – 64%)
Curse Of The Azure Bonds (RPG – US Gold – £29.99 – 74%)
Super Monaco GP (Outrun-style racer with an F1 focus – US Gold – £TBA – 71%)
Codename Iceman (Adventure – Sierra – £34.99 – 77%)
Mighty Bombjack (It’s Bomb Jack – Elite – £19.99 – 48%)
Viz (Minigames in a Viz theme – Virgin [fnarr fnarr] – £19.99 – 74%)
Hard Drivin 2 (SLOOOOOOW 3D racing game – Domark – £24.99 – 81%)
Narc (Side-scrolling shooter – Ocean – £24.99 – 64%)
World Championship Soccer (Cricket game – Elite – £19.99 – 69%)
Steve Davis World Snooker (Horse racing – CDS Software – £19.99 – 78%)

Overall it’s a weak month with not a single Format Gold, and really not many games to grab my attention.

I’m curious to see what Wrath Of The Demon is like. It’s Readysoft branching out away from the Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace games to try to have some gameplay while still being very pretty. I’m also curious about Team Suzuki – another racer from Gremlin, this time using 3D vector graphics. Revelation looks like it might be an interesting game, though I suspect it’ll be one I cover at a later date in a short video. Super Monaco GP will get a go no doubt, given I’m a sucker for racing games. Mighty Bombjack interests me but unfortunately it seems the game is so sluggish as to render the controls pretty horrible. Viz speaks to me. I am not a grown-up, therefore the chance to beat shit out of people as Biffa Bacon, to blow balloons up with farts and do fart high-jumps as Johnny Fartpants, and to flatten pizzas with my unfeasably large testicles as Buster Gonad is thoroughly welcome.

I had a look at a video of Hard Drivin 2 and dear god it’s slow. Narc looks like it came out 3 years too late, it holds very little interest to me, another walk along and shoot stuff game.

If I drop any of these for simply not being interesting enough there’s a chance I may have a look at Codename Iceman. I’m a little reluctant since I’m not a big fan of the engine Sierra used at this point and worry that something more serious than Larry might not be much fun.

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, for the games I might cover.

  • Wrath Of The Demon – Superior 58 A/B/C
  • Team Suzuki – Automation 446, Fuzion 37, Pompey Pirates 74, Superior 56
  • Super Monaco GP – Automation 496, Fuzion 47, Medway Boys 110, Pompey Pirates 80, Superior 65
  • Viz – Automation 453

The reviews will come out usually one per week as I’m also working on creating videos to go with many of the older reviews.