The original Cybernoid says "bye bye, strange-looking gun-turret"
Cybernoid, and its rather obviously-titled sequel Cybernoid 2, were both published in the same year, 1988. There was already a fair bit of excitement about Cybernoid before the magazines got their hands on it in the Spring of 1988. Cecco’s previous game, Exolon, had gone down more than well when it was released in 1987, managing to be one of those games that worked to the Spectrum’s strengths. The graphics were clear and very colourful with little in the way of the machine’s notorious attribute clash, the sound was excellent (on 128K models with the AY chip, anyway), progress was screen-by-screen rather than scrolling (something the Sinclair machine was never too good at) and the gameplay was challenging and addictive; if arguably a little sedate.
When it arrived there were some clear similarities to Cecco’s previous game: same colourful graphics with little clash, same great music and effects, same screen-by-screen progression; but this time around the gameplay was quite different. Cybernoid had moved things up a gear.
Both Exolon and Cybernoid (or, to give it its rather-excellent full title Cybernoid: The Fighting Machine) could loosely be called “shoot ’em ups” but whereas the former game sits more precisely in the “run and gun” sub-genre with its walking-and-jumping soldier protagonist and screens divided into an ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ section by platforms, Cybernoid, moving faster and with a player-controlled ship which could fly rather than just jump, was closer to scrolling shooters like Nemesis. There was one crucial difference, of course: Cybernoid didn’t scroll. The ship flew around and took-on gun-emplacements, missiles and flying enemies (space pirates, according to the essentially-meaningless fits-onto-a-postit plot) with a variety of weapons but rather than the conventional scrolling levels this had levels split into a number of screens, each with its own challenges.
Controlling the ship was fairly simple: the player used left, right and up to move (gravity affected the ship so when the player wanted to move down they would release up rather than press a down key) and fire to release killer white lines (don’t do it) at the enemy. The additional weapons which the ship came fitted with, though, were rather harder to use. Each life (one collision with an enemy or bullet was fatal) came with a full compliment of these weapons which were: bombs, mines, shield, bounce bombs and seekers. These were accessed by pressing the keys 1 to 5 and fired by holding down the fire button.
The special weapons were crucial to getting through the levels (although the brave/foolhardy could theoretically complete most of a level without using them) and since each screen presents its own dangers, the weapons needed also change. For example, screens featuring pirate ships spawning from the opposite exit were made easier by using bouncers or mines to make the pirates’ lives a little bit more difficult (and shorter); seekers could be used to clear homing missiles or destructable gun-emplacements which make some screens trickier; shields could be used by those lacking pixel-perfect ship-manouvering skillz (ie most of us) when negotiating the troublesome “lift” screens (in which indestructable and deadly “lifts” move up and down in pairs with the player having to manouever their ship between them and through gaps); bombs (which could be “dropped” upwards or down) were great for clearing blocks covering the exit to a screen or taking-out a gun-turret. Accessing these weapons using keys was, to be blunt, a bit of a pain in the old arse and tended to mean you took your eye of the action for a split second meaning that by the time you’d selected “seeker” to deal with a troublesome turret one of the weird spirally-looking green bullets had collided with the Cybernoid ship causing the game’s tremendously-colourful explosion effects to take its place.
The weapons, though, are largely what makes the Cybernoid games unique. Along with the screen-by-screen advancement they added a significant strategic element to gameplay. The player quickly learned which weapons were most effective when facing a certain enemy or mixture of enemies so quick thinking was as necessary as quick reflexes. There was a lot more to Cybernoid than “move and shoot”.
Adding a little more spice to gameplay, the pirate ships would sometimes drop items when destroyed. These might be cannisters (which would provide the player with an extra one of whatever weapon they had chosen, up to the initial limit), extra exterior weapons (a rear gun which fits onto the ship sprite, Cyberrun-style, and a mace which flys around the ship destroying enemies) or treasure. The last was apparently stolen by the pirates and the amount collected appeared onscreen under the score. When the level was completed, if the player failed to collect enough treasure then they forfeited a Cybernoid ship. And, just to stop anyone hanging-around an “easy” screen taking-out pirates and clocking up points/treasure, each level is played against a time limit as well.
In Cybernoid 2 the ship was bulkier. Or do the kids say "phatter"? It's pretty "sick" anyway (erm). Note the original Cybernoid sprite circling the player ship.
Cybernoid 2 (or, to give it its quite-shitty full title Cybernoid 2: The Revenge) arrived in the Autumn of ’88 and with a bigger, beefier version of the Cybernoid ship but, otherwise, largely-unchanged gameplay. The levels were still screen-by-screen, the different weapons were largely the same as the first game with the mines being replaced by ‘time bombs’ and with the addition of a couple of new ones: ‘smart bomb’ and ‘tracer’. There were also some tweaks to the enemies such as the gun emplacements now having opening-and-closing “blast doors” for firing meaning you had to launch a seeker or drop a bomb at the moment the doors open to shoot (and when you blow it up a pirate ship flew out heading for the Cybernoid ship – naughty but nice, Mr Cecco); oh, and a terrific new pick-up in the form of the smaller original Cybernoid ship which flew round your ship like the mace only with firing ability. But, yes, apart from these small changes it was basically the same game right down to the plot (which basically says “you did a good job last time, going to do it again?”), the treasure and the dire consequences for finishing a level without enough wonga in the hold.
None of that mattered or matters, though. The Cybernoid games were terrific then and they’re terrific now. I still love playing both of these titles, not only because they look and sound fantastic (and I have to say that, although the other versions are perfectly good, the Spectrum versions come off best for me – I think it’s the sharp graphics and bold primary colours) but because they’re a great test of skill and quick wits and work brilliantly as high-score games. Not everyone will like them, some people will hate the “fiddly” finger-dash for weapons and the screens with the “lifts” to negotiate (although everyone cusses them, to be honest) but, for me, these are two games that have stood the test of time very well, proper classics. Top marks, Raffaele.
Cybernoid is available for a host of systems from Speccy to C64 to CPC to NES to Amiga to Atari ST and even, I think, the Wii virtual console; Cybernoid 2 spreads its pixellated wings almost as widely (?! – Ed). If you’ve only got a Windows PC and can’t be bothered with “fiddly” emulation (you big wuss) then both games have been the subject to brilliant remakes which you can find here and here.