Posts Tagged ‘platform games’

Fahrenheit 3000 – the temperature at which crapness burns?

27 September, 2008
cheery places to work

Nuclear power plants: cheery places to work

Having been disappointed with Luke Warm and his stupid helmet yesterday I thought today I’d try out Softstone’s Fahrenheit 3000 to see if it can do the JSW-clone thing any better. This time, the player controls some bloke who’s been sent into the nuclear reactor, the reason being that the reactor is going into meltdown and (you’ve guessed it) the only way to prevent the surrounding countryside turning into Chernobyl is to collect lots of objects over interconnected screens.

After a title screen which plays a BEEP-based version of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” (thanks to Jimmy from the World of Spectrum forums for identifying the tune for me) you enter the game and first impressions are good. The graphics are decidedly average but they’re nice and clear, even if the player character looks a bit podgy, and everything moves smoothly and at a reasonable speed (man, that’s so much better after the sluggish feel of Stay Kool). The first screen has a few obstacles to avoid and a couple of nasties; shouldn’t be too hard. Except that that’s deceptive. It actually requires near pixel-perfect positioning and timing from the player and… this is the thing, maybe it’s because he’s on the stout side but the wee man bounces! I mean he rebounds off the walls when he hits them, he doesn’t go through them or have his jump come to a standstill when he hits a solid block like in JSW he rebounds all over the place like he’s in a pinball table or (more pertinently) in the manner of Henhouse Harry in Chuckie Egg 2.

And that first screen, the game’s opening screen? It’s hard, I mean really bloody tricky. It took me about fifteen minutes just to pass it and there’s a lot of learning to do regarding timing and avoiding (or utilising) the bounce. After Stay Kool‘s rather simplistic and easy screens, being thrown into the deep-end of platforming skill like this takes some getting used to. But it’s worth it because when you get past that first screen not only does the game get a little bit easier but it’s actually not too bad.

We seemed to have moved-on from fatalistic to existential. Maybe nearby theres a screen full of joy and laughter but Im not counting on it.

We seemed to have moved-on from fatalistic to existential. Maybe nearby there's a screen full of joy and laughter but I'm not counting on it.

Okay, there’s none of the imaginative character of the JSW screens on display here but the various rooms our little chap has to negotiate are actually quite well-designed for gaming purposes and beating them feels satisfying. The bounce, which I started-off hating, actually comes into its own on some of the screens where the player needs to use it to “climb” to some areas. This gives the game a somewhat different feel to most JSW-clones which goes in its favour. You also don’t die from falling too far which, in a game designed like this one, is a Good Thing. You also get loads of lives (in the form of a radiation level which goes higher each time you get zapped – I’m not sure how many lives you have but it is loads) and given how hard this game is you’re going to need them.

But despite all these positives Fahrenheit 3000 can’t reach JSW‘s crown and knock it off its head. For a start the items that need to be collected aren’t the glowing miscellany we’re used to in this type of game, instead they’re pressure valves (that nonetheless vanish when collected) which look like sparkly-box thingies that change colour and can only be collected when red. This is rather a mean-minded aspect of the game since the colour changes apparently happen at random making collecting them slightly risky – something that is unnecessary and annoying. As I said before, the screen designs, whilst often quite devious aren’t actually all that interesting and there’s not the same desire as in JSW to get further and see more of the game. Also, the nuclear plant setting means there’s not much variation in the subject matter for rooms and they seem all have various depressingly doom-laden names like “The Pools of Certain Death” and “The Acid Bath”. There’s probably a screen called “You’re Going To Die, Arsehole” in the game somewhere but I haven’t found it yet.

Despite these problems, though, F3000 is a pretty good JSW clone, it moves nicely and the screens, whilst a bit bland, are reasonably challengingly-designed. it’s definitely worth a look if bouncing a fatty around depressingly-named but quite devious levels appeals to you and you like a challenge. It’s not as good as JSW but it’s reasonably different to be worth recommending in its own right.

The link to the game on World of Spectrum is here. There are actually two version of this game, the original release from Softstone and a re-release by Firebird Software. The re-release has the option to choose joystick control and (for no apparent reason) a pyramid on the title screen (?!).

Stay Kool – Goldfish-bowl head goes fuel-rod seeking

26 September, 2008
It looks horrible now, but wait until you see it animated. Lunch-losing time!

It looks horrible now, but wait until you see it animated. Lunch-losing time!

Okay, so we’ve got Jet Set Willy out of the way for anyone who wasn’t up to speed on that particular game; now we’re onto the clones. And the first of these out of the hat (ie the first one I chose out of the many suggested by the kind souls on the World of Spectrum forums) turns out to be a title called Stay Kool. This largely-forgotten game was published for the ZX Spectrum in 1985 (yes, I know the copyright message says 1984 but the game was published in the Spring of ’85) by Bug Byte who were, as it happens, the original publishers of Matthew Smith’s Manic Miner. In Stay Kool the player controls an astronaut with the horrible punning name of Luke Warm. Our Luke has managed to cripple his ship following an unsuccessful space battle (possibly fought with someone who objected to his stupid name) and now the ship is overheating (something like that anyway, it involves a time limit based around a thermometer) so Luke needs to make like a tree in his escape shuttle. But, of course, this being videogameland, it’s not that simple and Luke must first explore his vast ship collecting the fuel rods he needs to escape. So, essentially, we have a game with a very similar plot to Jet Set Willy: fuel rods instead of random objects and an escape shuttle instead of a bed. How does it measure up, then?

The first thing you notice about Stay Kool is that it feels slower than JSW. Alright, it’s not quite the Commodore 64 version of Driller (snicker), in fact it might well move about the same speed when placed side-by-side with JSW but it feels slower and more sluggish to play than its inspiration, and it flickers; well, the main sprite does at least. Smith’s masterpiece is apparently a bit notorious for being a horrendous mess under the bonnet but, hell, it looks and moves nice and smoothly even if the code is a dog’s dinner. This game moves a bit slow and it’s got a flickery main character; that’s not the best start when you’re trying to attract JSW fans who’ve grown fed-up with the attic bug into buying your game.

Dissolving floors. This is actually quite nicely done.

Dissolving floors. This is actually quite nicely done.

That brings me onto the look in general. JSW doesn’t have the greatest graphics in the world (although some of the monsters are rather nicely done) but Smith managed to use the various 8×8 cubes and the Speccy’s bright and cheery colour palette in an imaginative way creating a game where each room looked and felt individual. Stay Kool doesn’t really manage that. There are a few rooms that are quite well-designed and the room names provide a certain amount of atmosphere but there’s nothing here to challenge “Doctor Jones Will Never Believe This” or “The Banyan Tree” and, unlike JSW, there’s no real sense of exploring a cohesive environment. Willy’s mansion actually felt like a big house, Luke’s spaceship feels more like a bunch of rooms joined together even if many of them are given names to suggest they’re the ship’s bar or the passenger’s quaters or whatever there’s little in the design of them to add to this impression; they might as well be “the strawberry jam store” or something equally random.

Nothing like the fly and ballroom creatures from Jet Set Willy

Nothing like the fly and ballroom creatures from "Jet Set Willy"

And the “poor man’s JSW” stuff doesn’t end there, oh no. The monsters are largely an unimaginative lot of wibbly things and flying do-dahs some of which are a bit similar to Matthew Smith’s creations. They’re also not that hot at killing the player, there were several moments when I was playing where Luke clearly touched a nastie whilst jumping around and wasn’t penalised for it. That comes a poor second to JSW‘s rather-ace collision detection. The rooms are also rather poorly designed; there are few devious screens requiring much thought or skill and in some cases the programmer seems to have substituted an annoying amount of nasties for good room design. The main sprite also looks slightly-ridiculous, I mean I know the Speccy’s graphics were limited but what on Earth (or off-Earth in this situation) is going on with Luke’s massive goldfish-bowl helmet? I’m surprised the poor man can balance. And I know this shouldn’t matter so much in a videogame but some of the punctuation in the screen names is appalling. I mean, look at that example below-left. Just look at it!

Why not just find Shakespeares grave and take a crap on it whilst youre at it?

Why not just find Shakespeare's grave and take a crap on it whilst you're at it?

So, is there anything good about Stay Kool? Well, there are some nice features that JSW didn’t have such as melting platforms (a la Manic Miner) which dissolve as Luke walks across them as well as tractor beams which suck Luke up (that’s up) and teleporters (the design of which is based on the TARDIS from Doctor Who for some reason) which transport Luke across the ship. I also quite liked the (admitted inexplicable) game over screen where Luke is dropped into a cess pit (I thought he was supposed to be… oh never mind) and the fact the game has a highscore table (something JSW notably lacked) even if it’s called the “Hall of Scum” for no discernable reason (alongside the cess pit, I can’t help but wonder if the programmer was in a mysanthropic state of mind when he wrote this game). Oh, and there’s a Loch Ness Monster somewhere in the game which can only be a good thing.

These things are nice additions but they can’t really make up for the fact that Stay Kool is a poor cousin of JSW. It’s not a terrible game, I had some fun playing it, but it’s full of flaws which hampered enjoyment too much to make me want to play it for too long. Worth looking at if you’re crazy about platform games, probably worth a miss otherwise.

And if you really want to know more, the World of Spectrum link is here.