Posts Tagged ‘DOS games’

Sab95

2 December, 2015

There’s been a bit of a buzz around the fact that Clive Townsend is

Sab95

Ninja kicks the shit out of, erm, some kind of troll thing (it’s the ’90s!)

working on an update to his classic 1980s platform-and-stealth ninja games Saboteur and Saboteur 2 (the latter featuring a female protagonist long before it made neckbeards and that Tory blogger with ice-cream coloured hair all angry on Twitter). Doing a spot of online googling about this lead to me discover that there was an unofficial Saboteur game released for DOS-based PCs in the 1990s. No really, it has a site and everything.

I’m intrigued, I’m going to play it and then, in a few days, I’m going to report back. It’ll probably be shite. The knocked-off Mortal Kombat stuff is already making me roll my eyes. But it also might be brilliant because, hey, you never know.

Meanwhile, information on Townsend’s official update can be found a his website here.

 

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Does the “D” stand for “Derek”?

22 July, 2015

“In the footure, we all wear red jumpsuits with grey patches”

A friend of mine recently punted me in the direction of indie cyberpunk-ish isometric game DataJack which is very nice and all that and I’ll maybe write something about it here in the next month or so.

But what I wanted to talk about was what DataJack immediately reminded me of – the largely-forgotten 1991 arcade-adventure D-Generation.

When it came out, D-Generation won plenty of praise from the press for its gameplay but was criticised for its visuals which had an outdated, even amateurish look to them. This was a couple of years after Shadow of the Beast and only two years before Doom; 16-bit software was expected to look impressive. D-Generation didn’t and for that reason largely passed an awful lot of people by.

But discovering it again, what’s notable apart from the still-brilliant gameplay (a mixture of action and puzzle-solving) and unintrusive, Bioshock-style plot development (found largely via messages and through conversations rather than cut-scenes and exposition) is how little its “primitive” looks actually matter today and, in fact, how in the modern era of deliberately retro and visually spartan indie software D-Generation weirdly now looks more modern than a lot of its contemporaries.

Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any digital distribution retailers selling this game, so I can only link to its Abandonia page here. Note that the PC version doesn’t seem to have any joystick support, so playing or emulating the Amiga or ST version may be the best option for most people; there’s also a CD32 version if you can be bothered hunting-down/emulating that.

Prehistorik 2

23 June, 2014
Looks better, isn't better

Looks better, isn’t better

Okay, then, so Prehistorik has a sequel, the name of which you can probably guess, and I decided to try it out and see if it was any better than the original ‘Rik which was, frankly, bloody disappointing despite my memory lying to me about it being quite good.

And the sad, short, answer is no, it’s not really.

There’s a nice touch at the start where the program prints up the year and expresses astoundment that the game is still being run and played. Unfortunately, this is the most surprising and likeable thing about the whole package.

There’s clearly been an attempt to improve on the previous game in terms of gameplay. When you load the game up it has a very console feel, from the title screen to the Ghosts n Goblins-style “game map” at the start to the much improved graphics. What’s weird though is, despite all this, it still feels horrendously clunky and 8-bit. The scrolling is still jerky and “screen by screen” rather than continuous and the control feels loose and imprecise. It’s been given a new lick of paint but for all the good looks it feels like a very old game engine running underneath some 1990s graphical sheen. And even without those problems it’s all a bit boring and uninspiring: Rik has to collect food again and enter caves, jump over spikes, twat monsters with his club. You get the idea. There are also some clumsy “features” which don’t quite work like the rubbish “lights off” pick-up which changes the colours so it appears dusk has fallen (until a “lights on” icon is collected) and the odd decision to make level codes a part of the background rather than appearing once a level is completed meaning the player is expected to take notes whilst playing. When Rik gets hit by an enemy he often shouts out what sounds like “Why?!”, it’s practically the tagline to this game. There’s really nothing to recommend Prehistorik 2 other than as a curio. A shame.

Faintly interesting thing about Prehistorik 2: it was released on unusual formats. As well as DOS-based PC (rather than Amiga and Atari ST) it was also published for the Amstrad CPC and CPC + (but not Commodore 64 or, again, Amiga or ST). There’s also a heavily-redesigned SNES port (where, confusingly, the caveman isn’t called Rik, even though the name is still used in the punning re-title of Prehistorik Man). It’s still pretty rubbish, though, despite feeling much slicker, suggesting that there was never much milage in this sequel.

Midwinter Remake?

14 January, 2014

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a good festive period!Image

Something that caught my attention this month was a report about the possibility of the late Mike Singleton’s classic open-world arcade-adventure-cum-strategy game Midwinter being rewritten for modern systems.

It strikes me as a good choice for updating anyway because it was always a game punching a little above the weight of the 16-bit systems it was developed for (erm, if that’s not rather a mangled metaphore). For those who don’t know, Midwinter sees the player in the role of a lone freedom fighter tasked with exploring the land of Midwinter (itself the creation of some kind of environmental catastrophe do-da or something) recruiting people to help him fight the standard evil dictatorship and ultimately bring peace and some semblance of freedom to the frozen country.

What makes it unusual, though, and so likely to be a bit more than just “Skyrim but with guns and gilders” is that gameplay is a mixture of real time and turn-based. The player recruits allies to their cause, performs all of their actions over a certain period of time and then takes control of the allied characters over the same period of time. This would add a whole new layer of strategy whereby, for example, the player moves a sharpshooter into position over a ridge, then leaves them there with the order to fire on enemies before taking control of another character who needs to cross dangerous terrain: now protected by covering fire from the previously-placed character.

Will it be like this? Will we even see it? Who knows, it’s being funded through Kickstarter which worries me as Kickstarter favours the very well known and I worry Midwinter is a little obscure (even Dizzy came a cropper recently). We can but hope, though (and contribute, of course).

You can read a whole lot more about the remake here.

Populous II: Trials of the Peter Molyneux

4 January, 2012

If you take too long to conquer a world monsters from ancient mythology start wandering across the sea and land causing all sorts of indescriminate trouble, a nice touch.

Happy New Year for the Space Year 2012, I hope you had a good Christmas and all of that. Now, where were we…?

This is the first part of a story about two games I’ve been playing quite a bit over the holiday period. They both have the same designer (Peter Molyneux) and share a lot of the same DNA but are separated by ten years and represent very different evolutionary stages of gaming. One is Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods and the other is Black & White.

Populous II I bought from Good old Games for the distinctly un-princely sum of $2.99 (that’s less than two quid in real money) during their Holiday Discount period (it’s over now, you’ll have to pay a mammoth $5.99 for it instead!). I have a lot of good memories of playing the Amiga version in the ’90s and the PC version is largely the same only with higher-resolution graphics, a few new features on full-screen mode, one extra spell and (as was typical in the early ’90s alas) poorer sound. For those who aren’t aware of Populous II it’s a god-game (in fact I think the first Populous may have been the originator of that particular label) where the player takes on the role of one of Zeus’s many demi-god children and must fight numerous opponents taken from Greek mythology (starting with figures like Pan and other demi-gods and ending with the gods of Olympus themselves) over an incredible 1000 different levels. Each level is an individual world containing followers of both the player and whoever you’re up against as well as having a number of rules (eg in some worlds water is fatal and others not, in some worlds you can raise and lower land and in others not).

A wee man representing the army of your leader leaves his villa. Maybe he's been forced-out by Coalition housing benefit cuts (satire! Or if you will, since this is ancient Greece, satyr)

To complete a level you have to defeat your opponent demi-god or deity which means you have to wipe-out his population of followers either by slowly defeating them or massively outnumbering them, building up enough mana to use a godly power called “armageddon” and have everyone change into a mythical hero and charge towards a big ruck from which only one side’s followers will emerge victorious. There are other powers to help you win as well and these are slowly handed-out to the player as he or she progresses through the game. These include the “papal magnets” which provide a focus for your followers, various godly powers (including destructive powers like rains of fire and earthquake as well as subversive ones such as the fonts which change the allignment of any army which walks through them) and the heroes, based on characters from Greek mythology, who the player’s leader (identified by the tiny papal magnet which floats next to him/her) takes the form of and who then march into the enemy’s land to do mischief based on who they are (Perseus fights people, Helen of Troy leads them away etc). Your followers will build houses and cities based on the amount of farmland they have access to so you spend a lot of time manipulating the geography until its nice and flat so that your people can multiply.

Populous II takes ages to get going, so to speak, having so many levels and a gentle learning and difficulty curve. What makes it work, though, is that it’s plain fun and the range of things you can do means there are numerous potential strategies to win. For example, on earlier stages its easiest to just create farmland, have your followers settle it and build-up mana for armageddon, the computer being too slow and dozy to build up his own followers quickly enough. Later, though, the computer gets faster and more aggressive and starts sending his followers into your territory and using godly powers to trash your land meaning you have to respond in kind and can use godly powers, heroes or even just standard armies to invade and take-over his land and defeat him more quickly (speed brings higher scores, quicker advancement through the levels, and sometimes more experience). The Populous titles have often been criticised for being “land-flattening games” because, early on especially, this is what you spend most of the time doing but the fact that you end up mixing this up with a little warfaring, self-defence and godly wrath as the game slowly opens up its wide range of features means this is a simplistic criticism. Flattening the land is also, believe it or not, quite satisfying and nimble mouse-clicking makes for faster victory (indeed, Populous II is arguably as much an action game as strategy).

Whenever I return to this game I’m surprised by how well the gameplay has aged, how much fun it still is to play and how it manages to suck you in for hours despite the more rational part of your brain claiming that there’s not quite enough variety, largely because despite all the godly powers and no matter how much you might enjoy it you are still just spending an awful lot of time flattening land. Like Black & White, which I will talk about in the next few days, Populous II is a product of a starry-eyed ideas man but in this case his grand plans have somehow created an addictive, absorbing action-cum-strategy title which offers the player a great deal of potential strategies but ultimately has less depth than I think he imagined although is arguably better for it. Can the same be said for Black & White? Does it marry the enjoyable gameplay to real depth? Ooh, let’s see in a few days shall we…

Footnote: a data disk was released for this game called The Challenge Games which took place in Japanese, rather than Greek, mythology and had both a conquest game and a series of levels based around puzzles. As far as I know, this wasn’t released for MS-DOS computers and isn’t available on GOG, a shame.

Pick a game for Matty

14 August, 2010

Did you play it then? What do you mean “no, I had meaningful things to do that had a lasting impact both on myself and society?” There’s always time for a wee play of Uwol you bunch of miserables.

Pick a game, any game (as long as it's in this picture)

Anyway, for those who did give my challenge a go I didn’t manage to complete it but I did end one game with 205 coins, not far off the number needed to have Uwol leave the house a happy… whatever he’s supposed to be.

This weekend I have another request for you, but it’s not about “wasting” your “time” playing old “video” games. No, this time I need you all to help me decide how I’m going to be “wasting” my “time” for some of next “week” (that’s enough “humourous” use of scare-quotes – Ed). You see, I have these three games that have been kicking around my shelves for a while. Two of them were rescued from my local Oxfam Music in the last couple of years and the third one I’ve had for a ridiculously long time without ever getting around to playing it. So I need you lot to help me pick one. Then I’m going to install it, play it, and tell you what I thought of it.

The games are:

Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines – From 1998, the first game in the Commados series which Wikipedia tells me is a “single player real-time tactics computer game” set in Europe and Africa during World War II where I get to command a whole bunch of allied special ops-types of various allied nationalities (and one Irishman).

Full Throttle – Tim Schafer graphic adventure from 1995 released by Lucas Arts. Set in a dystopian future (a dystopian future, in a ’90s videogame? Surely some mistake!) and involving motorcycles. Reputed to be rather good.

Thief II: The Metal Age – I bought this ages ago because it was the 2000 sequel to 1998’s Thief: The Dark Project which I really liked and which remains one of the scariest videogames I’ve ever played. Not sure how well the whole “darkness” thing will work on an LCD monitor but, should you choose it, we’ll see.

If you have an opinion, let me know in the comments. Come on, make me play something!

EDIT: 22nd August, the votes are in. Thief II is the winner! Time for me to get my moss arrows out…

Treasure Trap

10 February, 2009
Id like to be, under the sea, in an octopuss garden in the shade. Collecting gold.

"I'd like to be, under the sea, in an octopus's garden in the shade. Collecting gold."

Oh, woe is me! There’s two games that I really want to write articles about (Times of Lore and the silhouette-based Blade Warrior) but they’re going to have to wait because both games are proving more complex to play than I expected. But let’s not worry about them right now, let’s worry about the forgotten game of yesteryear I’ve decided to dig-out and talk to you all about instead: that would be Electronic Zoo’s  Treasure Trap (1989) for the Amiga, Atari ST and DOS (I’m playing the Amiga version for the purposes of this review).

The plot is very straightforward – you’re a treasure hunter in an old-fashioned diving-suit who’s been lowered into the wreck of a ship called the Esmerelda and have to explore it and loot all the gold on board. That’s it: no “emotional journey”, no cut-scenes, no “moral choices” to make, no sub-B-Movie plotline written by hacks to get in the way of the game. Modern game developers take note! (rant over).

Anyway, enough about my personal issues with the current gaming scene, what does Treasure Trap play like? Well, if you glance around the couple of screenshots I’ve provided around the screen you’ll notice that it bears more than a passing resemblance to Knight Lore, Head over Heels and other 8-bit isometric; and, unsurprisingly, it plays a bit like them as well. The player character can perform the usual moves in four directions plus a jump; he can also collect keys (which come in the form of various shapes) and carry three at at time for the purposes of unlocking doors. The gold bars are collected automatically on contact and on many of the screens can only be reached by solving basic puzzles in order to reach them – usually of the “push this box here, use it to reach that platform” variety that will be familiar to anyone who’s played this type of game before. Of course, our hero isn’t alone in the depths of the ship and there are various underwater menaces which take one of his lives on contact. These include crabs, eels, stingrays and some really really annoying mines which home in on you. The only thing the player has to combat these are ‘smart fish’, friendly fishies which eat hostile creatures; you start with two of them and get more if you collect lots of gold bars (presumably they’re attracted to shiny things, like some kind of aquatic magpie). So, in the main, the player has to avoid the nasties and use smart fish sparingly. Treasure Trap came at the end of a decade which had seen its fair share of isometric arcade-adventures and it seemed to be attempting some kind of minor evolution. It all moves faster and smoother with the more powerful sprite-shifting powers of the 16-bit machines and shadows, much-missed from older titles and necessary to identify where a lot of blocks/monsters actually are in relation to other things, are actually present in this game. It’s also possible to save the game each 50 bars of gold you collect – there’s none of the play-it-all-through-in-one-load problems that we had in Head over Heels and the like. It even has a map which is fills in as the player progresses in surprising detail – this is (as far as I know) unique in isometric adventure games like this and a quite welcome feature.

This screen is a bastard. Trust me.

This screen is a bastard. Trust me.

But despite all that, it doesn’t succeed in beating these older games. The puzzles and screen designs in Head over Heels and Hydrofool (an older aquatic underwater title where you played a robot that looked like Stan Laurel who had to pull plugs out of a giant aquarium – I’m not making this up) were much more devious and well-thought-out than in this game; and it’s not just that the puzzles aren’t as good, some rooms just seemed generally ill-thought-out with enemies that were too hard to avoid and gold that was hidden away from view (although the letter “G” on the gold indicator on-screen does flash if there is gold on a screen still to be collected). There’s also less of a sense of progression; the older titles had considerable freedom of movement, as does this, and weren’t linear but Treasure Trap feels like just one big maze of rooms rather than smaller, individual groups of rooms that need to be beaten and passed. It also has some ill-thought-out features like the “whirlpool” monsters who deposit the player in a random room on the Esmerdela; imagine if Head over Heels had had something like that! Players should have to persevere to see these later screens and work-up to their greater challenges gradually, not just be deposited in them at random!

Ultimately, isometric gaming didn’t die in the 1990s but it left behind the old room-by-room platforming arcade-adventure of the 8-bit entries in the genre and tended more towards RPGs (like Legend) or scrolling action games (like Skeleton Krew). Treasure Trap feels like a last hurrah of a type of game that was dying out in 1989 and, sadly, it’s more of a whimper than a bang. Worth a shot if you like this kind of game but you’d be better off playing some of the classic 8-bit games in the genre.

Metal Mutant – the threefold tin-man

1 February, 2009
Look in the box, see what you got!

"Look in the box, see what you got!"

Ah, February; the month of cold winds and not-as-short-as-in-January daylight hours. Sorry I’ve take a wee while posting a new article, I generally hope to get one posted per week but I get easily sidetracked and, erm, become easily lazy. Now, where were we? Ah, that’s right: games.

I had hoped that this next article would be about the “action RPG” Times of Lore but, unfortunately, it’s taking longer to play and assess that game than I’d expected (ie it’s not a quick pick-me-up-and-play game) so instead I’m going to take a wee look at the 1991 Atari ST, Amiga and MS-DOS title Metal Mutant from Silmarils software.

When this game was published eighteen years ago (michty!) it completely failed to set the world alight. Reviews, it’s fair to say, weren’t terribly positive and it didn’t exactly jump out of the magazine pages at anyone doing a spot of browsing. I mean, the robots look nice and all of that but it’s all so green and drab looking; hardly the sort of thing that was going to inspire the average gamer to fork-out when there was Lemmings and Speedball 2 to buy instead. So, as a result, Metal Mutant is one of those games that was largely forgotten about; exactly the sort of game, in fact, that tends to attract me…

So, what’s it all about? Well, the plot seems to be some nonsense about a bunch of cyborgs being all uppity and turning against humanity. So, humanity decides to deal with this by, erm, building a cyborg and then sending it into battle against the rebel cyborgs. That’s sure to be good…

The player takes control of the cyborg in question. But – and here’s the almost-unique selling point of this game – this cyborg can transform into two other things. Namely a robot dinosaur thing and a, well, a sort-of robbie-the-robot-on-track tank-robot thing. It’s not exactly a T1000 but it’s fit for purpose, I suppose.

Your feeble dinosaur-thing skills are now match for the power of the mutant side!

Your feeble swamp monster skills are no match for the power of the mutant side!

Gameplay takes place over a number of levels and completing these levels seems to consist of ridding the various screens of horrible nasties and collecting add-ons for the cyborg. These add-ons allow the three different forms the metal mutant (ah, you see where the title came from?) takes on to access additional abilities. For example, at the start the “original” cyborg form can’t use it’s axe-attack, an attack that involves it making its arm into an axe and twatting anything nearby, but it can do this once it picks up the necessary add-on. The monsters and hazards that confront our threefold hero are numerous and varied and the different forms and abilities need to be used to progress through the game. As an example, on some screens the player is attacked by a swarm of horrible wasp-like insects. Tank-things bullets are useless (nobody can actually shoot bees with bullets except that bloke in Save The Green Planet) as is cyborg’s axe; but dino-thing’s firey breath is great for turning them into roast wasps (a possible future-delicacy in these times of crunchy credit – you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when you’re tucking into a bag of roasted wasps outside the local nightclub two years from now).

Everybody do the (robot) dinosaur!

Everybody do the (robot) dinosaur!

And it’s this working-out-what-ability-to-use-to-get-further aspect that drives this game. When you enter a new screen you are often faced with a puzzle or a nasty whose defeat requires a little thought as well as some rudimentary joystick skills. This arcade-puzzle feel means you have to engage your brain to some extent as well as your reactions and makes Metal Mutant… well… actually rather fun to play.

You see, despite all the “this is pretty shit” reviews that this got around the time (except from a positive review from the rubbish Amiga Action whose positive reviews were often the equivalent of a crap review) this game is actually pretty good and, for me, something of a neglected classic.

It’s not perfect: the graphics, as I’ve said are a bit “plain” in the old colour department, the sound isn’t great and I’m really annoyed that the player-controlled cyborg doesn’t transform in a spectacular animation but instead turns into some stupid stars before re-appearing in his next form. But, in spite of all that, this is way better than the reviews around the time it was released suggest and for that reason I recommend a casual look if you get the chance. You might well agree with contemporary reviewers but you also just might like it and want to spend some time with it. And, hey, it’s that sort of thing that this blog is all about. That and rubbish jokes.

Ascendancy – conquer space, again

24 October, 2008
Come to space! Fight lizard-things!

Come to space! Fight lizard-things!

Okay, so I’ve taken a look at the 1994 Amiga “conquer the galaxy” indie game Colonial Conquest 2 and I rather liked it. So, given that I decided to take a look at a game I rescued from my local Oxfam Music a couple of months ago, the 1995 “conquer the galaxy” commercial PC title Ascendancy and see how the two compare.

Both games basically have exactly the same mission – settle and conquer planets and beat piss out of your enemies whilst doing so. In fact, when starting out the two games have some striking similarities. As with CC2, Ascendancy splits each planet up into a series of squares on which facilities can be built to create food or industrial output. Whereas in CC2 “idle” workers produced science, here science is produced in facilities. Each facility, whether food, industry or knowledge “occupies” one free colonist and free colonists must be available in order to keep building (since the building process itself occupies a colonists time); this means that in order to keep building the player might have to wait until a new colonist is produced (which is dependant on food output). In addition to these, various other facilities can be built on planets with which it can attack nearby spaceships and defend itself from invasion as well as sundry other abilities. As I said, when it all boils down to it the way planets are developed in CC2 and Ascendancy is actually quite simliar and demonstrates just how much of an influence Sid Meier’s Civilization was on turn-based strategy gaming.

Where Ascendancy becomes a quite different game is in how it handles everything else. Let’s start with the planets themselves. CC2 gave us an extremely simple “galaxy” of several dozen planets scattered around space in the Anacreon mould. Ascendancy completely does away with this sort of thing and goes for a much more realistic galaxy model. Instead of a scattering of planets we have a scattering of stars and each of these stars has a number of planets orbiting them which can be colonised (meaning that you and an opponent can both have colonies in the same star system – more on that later). Not only that but these stars have fixed “star lanes” between them by which spaceships must travel meaning that the galaxy isn’t quite “open” from the start; the player must wrest control of nearby systems to secure the path to further away ones. The game displays this galaxy (the complexity of which is decided by the player – you can play in a galaxy of a dozen stars or absolutely loads) in a 3D wireframe model which the player can spin and rotate; it’s all rather nice.

Two rival powers face-off in an uncontrolled system. Thatll be my ship on the left. After naming all my warships Space Bastard I settled on the more conservative Killer

Two rival powers face-off in an uncontrolled system. That'll be my ship on the left. After naming all my warships "Space Bastard" I settled on the more conservative "Killer"

Another big difference is the combat and the fleets. Ascendancy is designed to keep ship numbers down and it does this via a rule meaning any empire can only control a certain number of ships: two for the home system and one for each additional system controlled. Note that this is systems controlled, not colonies; you can have five colonies all producing merrily away in one system but it only gets you one additional ship. Also if you have a colony in the same system as an opponent then tough – that makes it an uncontrolled system for both of you. If you think this sounds f*cking stupid then you’re right. It annoyed me that I could have around nine planets in my empire and yet only produce five sodding spaceships. Even China’s probably got five sodding spaceships by now and this is nine planets!

The reason for this is probably the way the space battles occur. In CC2, the player builds massive fleets, sends them into battle and the computer works out who comes out of it alive and who ends up as little bits of metal giving any nearby planets a nice shiny new ring-system. In Ascendancy, the battles are strategic affairs fought between these big hulking-great ships. You can’t just send them into battle, you have to tell them where to maneuver, which weapons to fire, when to put their shields on etc etc. This is all quite good fun, especially when more advanced weapons are developed meaning more thought has to go into the fight than “move, shoot, shoot, dieyoutwat!” and to be honest it would be pretty dull with loads and loads of spaceships. Still, nine planets, five ships… tsk.

A nearly-developed planet. The different planets type and size determines how much you can build and what facilities perform best.

A nearly-developed planet. The different planet's type and size determines how much you can build and what facilities perform best.

The way technology works in this game is also different. CC2 had a very simplistic technology system whereby scientific progress was linear and each new level brought the same advances each game. Ascendancy, however, uses a technology “tree” similar to that used in Civilization. This means that the player gets to choose which tech to pursue each time and depending on what is chosen new technologies may be open. This non-linear scientific progression has a greater sense of discovery in early games and prevents later games from feeling too “samey”.

And talking of Civilization, the way that game dealt with opposition powers has obviously also had a big impact on Ascendancy. As with Civ, there are a number of different factions to choose from (various alien races rather than nationalities and none of them human – we can assume that this is a galaxy far, far away) and, unlike the Mechs in CC2, hostility is not inevitable. The game features a fairly advanced form of diplomacy (more advanced than the original Civ) which allows for peace treaties, war, alliance and exchanging of information about star routes discovered. So, this game isn’t total war – expansion and dominance is about hedging your bets and making alliances as well as trashing those you’ve made an enemy of.

So, despite some basic similarities these two space-conquest games are actually pretty different. Which one is better depends on what sort of game you’re looking for – if you just want to fight battles and build things and don’t want too much complexity then go for CC2; if you like to micromanage a bit more, take control in battles and prefer diplomacy to endless slaughter then Ascendancy is more likely to tickle your fancy (I’m not sure how appropriate that phrase is for a wargame, but anyway…). Oh, and I know this sort of thing isn’t supposed to make too much of a difference but Ascendancy really does look and sound really nice even if you can’t seem to turn the music off.

I picked-up Ascendancy for £2 from my local Oxfam Music; as far as I know it’s not been released as freeware so all I can suggest is that you go looking for it. If you want to make it work on a modern PC then DOSBox (which I used) is your best bet.

Top Hat Willy – a man in a top hat collects objects in a mansion, sounds familiar…

1 October, 2008
Maria? Maria? No Maria! Does this mean I can go to bed? Probably not.

Maria? Maria? No Maria! Does this mean I can go to bed? Probably not.

This time around I thought we’d move away from the Spectrum and, indeed, the 8-bit machines for a bit and move to a 16-bit platforms for another JSW clone. This is a game I know very, very well having been playing it since 1995 when I first downloaded it from the online Amiga software resource Aminet via my college’s very slow internet connection hoping not to be spotted by our notoriously humourless IT staff. Top Hat Willy was published as a freeware indie title for the Amiga in early 1995 and was written by Tero Heikkinen. It was later ported to DOS-based PCs but it’s the Amiga version I’ll be concentrating on here (both versions are nearly identical anyway).

As you might have guessed from the name, this game breaks with earlier titles by being a straight homage to its inspiration. This was something that was becoming more common by the 1990s. Emulation existed but it was still in its early stages in most cases and wasn’t widely used, as a result a lot of programmers chose to “recreate” their favourite old 8-bit titles on their new machines. Some were straight-up remakes whilst others, like this, were more like tributes that took the basic idea of an old game and then created something new around it.

Ooh, I wonder what sort of miner might want to go in there...

Ooh, I wonder what sort of miner might want to go in there...

The plot is almost-identical to the original JSW – Willy has to explore his mansion, grounds and the caverns beneath it in order to collect trash which is lying around so he can go to bed. The readme file provided with the game is a bit vague why this should be – “Perhaps he had a party and the house mistress won’t let him sleep before the junk has been cleaned? Or perhaps Willy is from a cleaning company and he has been ordered to a haunted house? Well something like that.”. Basically, it doesn’t matter. Quite right too.

So, how does this measure up? Well, the graphics, as you can probably imagine, are better than we’re used to. They’re nowhere near the best that the Amiga is capable of but they are clear, detailed and very colourful and their somewhat 8-bit look is appropriate for the game. Willy himself is a bit crudely-drawn (and obviously based on his 8-bit counterpart, top hat and all) but the monsters are a varied and imaginative lot and have been drawn in primary colours in order to make them similar to those in the original game. Because the Amiga has a much bigger screen display area than the 8-bit machines the rooms are also much bigger and the extended memory means there are far more of them as well.

As for gameplay, everything moves quickly and smoothly and Willy has plenty of lives with which to help complete the game. The rooms are imaginative, well-designed and fun to play in the manner of the original game and whilst many screens and some of the map (not least the mansion and the yacht) homage the original there are dozens of additional screens and environments, including an extensive network of caves underneath Willy’s mansion.

You looking at my bird?!

"You looking at my bird?!"

Top Hat Willy is probably the best JSW clone I’ve ever played; in fact I’ll stick my neck out here and say that I think it’s probably better than its inspiration (ooh, get me!). It retains all of the original’s charm whilst being faster to play and having a much much larger gaming area which is so imaginative that it’s a pleasure to explore. The addition of a saveable highscore table also adds greatly to replay value (okay, unless you complete it but given that supposedly only one person has ever managed that that’s unlikely). Given that this game is free and that if you don’t own one of Commodore’s beasts then emulation is pretty easy on most modern home computers there’s not really any excuse to not download a copy of this somewhat-neglected but excellent game and see what you’ve been missing for the past thirteen years.

As I mentioned at the start, Top Hat Willy comes in Amiga and DOS flavours. The Amiga version can be downloaded from Aminet (search for “top hat willy”) and the DOS version can be downloaded from this site here. You’ll probably need to use DOSBox to run it if you have a modern Windows based PC. Both versions are nearly identical but the DOS version has differently coloured enemies and some background animation; I also find it runs a bit (actually, scratch that – a lot) sluggishly in DOSBox so I’d recommend the Amiga version via emulation if you don’t have an Amiga.

EDIT: An ADF disk image of the Amiga version (which should be rather easier to use on emulators) can be downloaded from here. Thanks to Hanzi on the Lemon Amiga forums for finding it for me.