Posts Tagged ‘retrogaming’

Jet-Set “William”

18 November, 2008

I’m still tip-tapping away at my noville but I’ll try and get the next Atari ST game review up soon. Until then, why not take a look at this version of Jet-Set Willy which is basically the original game but with an “updated” graphics remix. Most of the changes make it look shinier and newer in an “early ’90s Spectrum graphics” stylee (with the exception of the new-look giant skull thing which now looks like an old man whinging about kids today or Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross or something else like that) and it’s definitely worth a shot if you’re a fan of the original game.

Normal service should be resumed in December.

Grav – not to be confused with “Guv”

12 November, 2008

Like Pacman on E’s, today’s game, Grav (date of publishing unknown but I’d guess somewhere between 1987 and 1992) is a variation on a very well-worn theme; this time that of controlling a small triangle-shaped spacecraft and piloting it through caverns whilst shooting at bad guys. Oh, and here’s the important thing, your craft is affected by gravity with the player turning the ship and “thrusting” to make it move. Yes, this game is based on the perennial favourite Thrust.

Now, this would be a good time to mention that I never really played Superior/Firebird’s original Thrust back in the day nor did I really play any of its many clones very much. The one that sticks in my mind most is the Amiga indie title Gravity Force 2 which does-away with the single-player missions of the original game and is instead a two-player dogfight-style game so the whole fly through caverns and shoot gun-turrets whilst occasionally picking something up and taking it to a mothership/base on a sort of elastic string, that sort of thing doesn’t cause my brain to go into nostalgic wibbles the same way it might with other men of my age.

That sparkly thing is a generator, apparently. BUT NOT FOR LONG!!

My superb skillz are in evidence in this screenshot as I spectacularly fail to hit that sparkly blue generator-thing.

So I can’t really tell you how Grav measures up to the original game, all I can tell you is what it felt like to play in the here and now, over twenty years after its inspiration was published. And the answer is that it’s not too bad. The plot is some guff about an evil alien that needs to be stopped before it does terrible things to planet Earth. The game offers a couple of training missions (non-compulsory, thank f*ck, unlike a lot of modern games which force you to play through an hour’s training before you’re actually given permission to do anything) which allow you to get a feel for the game before taking on the main missions themselves. These missions are based around two planets (you can play them in any order, chosen before the game commences) of four levels each. Before commencing on a mission the player can review “intelligence” about the enemies they will face and even adjust the engine power and spin speed of their ship. From what I could gather, the missions consist of guiding the triangular spaceship through various caverns laying waste to gun turrets, generators (which refuel you if you land next to them although you’re often asked to trash them anyway) and the irritating attracting/repelling enemy thingybobs which do exactly what they say on the tin and push or pull the player’s ship to a background of torrents of foul language. There are also some simply “switch” puzzles whereby shooting a certain block will cause doors to open allowing access to more of the level.

As with any game of this type, the main enjoyment is derived from the difficulty of guiding the ship through the caverns without slamming it into the walls or wandering into an enemy bullet. In many ways, the Thrust varients were the videogame equivalent of those carnival games where you have to maouvere a loop along a wire without touching it – they are all about careful skill and manouvering through tight corners only with added shooting and being shot at (well, I say added, there are some very rough carnivals out there, you never know…). Grav is a very simple game – it doesn’t rank up there with superb takes on this genre such as Oids or the aforementioned Gravity Force 2 but it’s pleasant enough if you want to try your hand at a very old-fashioned form of physics-based gaming. Just try not to swear too much when you get “repelled” into a wall.

Theatre Europe – Go on, blow the whole world up

27 October, 2008
Lets not blow each other up, Mr Reagan! Gee, thats a good idea, Mr Gorbachev!

"Let's not blow each other up, Mr Reagan!" "Gee, that's a good idea, Mr Gorbachev!"

Righty-ho, this is going to be the last of this batch of strategy game lookbacks because, as I might have intimated here before, I find writing strategy titles up an enormous rectal discomfort. This is because so damn few games in this genre are simple and straightforward and the articles always end-up being about the various features and rules of the games rather than what they feel like to play, whether they’ve weathered time well, and any crude jokes I can wrangle out of them. The next batch of games are going to be straightforward action games; oh yes.

Luckily, this last strategy title is a bit simpler than the others. Theatre Europe is not, as the title might suggest to some, about putting on a Continental performance of As You Like It (although I imagine some boring bastard has written just such a game) but about the balloon going up and the military juggernauts of NATO and the Warsaw Pact going at it tooth and claw in the mid 1980s. This jolly, upbeat little game was published in 1985 by PSS (which stands for Personal Software Services which can’t help but remind me of a film called Personal Services which was all about prostitution, but anyway…) for the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64. Because of my appalling Spectrum bias so far I’ve decided to play the C64 version for the purposes of this article, although all versions of the game are very similar from what I’ve seen.

This is how things look at the start with the Soviets aiming to be chomping sausages in Bonn within weeks and NATO, erm, hoping to protect their sausages (er...)

This is how things look at the start with the Soviets aiming to be chomping sausages in Bonn within weeks and NATO, erm, hoping to protect their sausages (er...)

The plot is built-on Cold War politics of the mid-80s. A conventional war has started between the superpowers and their allies; essentially the Warsaw Pact is trying to secure control of West Germany and NATO is trying to prevent them from doing the same with the player being able to choose either side (I plumped for NATO). There are also neutral armies which will defend their respective countries from invasion by either side. Both sides have a number of different armies (represented with blue and red blobs on the strategic map) which, over a number of different phases per turn, can be moved, ordered to attack and “rebuilt” (ie resupplied with equipment and air support). After these orders have been given the player is shown a screen detailing Special Missions which mean ordering either a chemical or nuclear strategic attack.

This is the arcade section. Im not sure this was terribly realistic even in 1985.

This is the "arcade section". I'm not sure this was terribly realistic even in 1985.

The game has “arcade screens” and the player can opt to have these turned on or off at the options screen before starting a game. These appear when the orders to attack have been given (by either side) with the player choosing an in-combat army to represent at which point the game displays a backdrop of countryside (if fighting outside a city) or a city (if fighting… well… in a city). The player controls a target and must fire missiles at the enemy which is represented by little tank-things rolling from the horizon to the middle of the screen whilst protecting friendly vehicles which roll along from side to side at the bottom of the screen. Additionally enemy aircraft fly overhead. This arcade section is, to be blunt, a bit confusing. According to the instructions I’m supposed to fire my missiles and then keep the target aimed on enemy vehicles in order to destroy them but it doesn’t seem to work like that at all and the best way (as far as I could see) way of blowing up the Soviet army seemed to be to fire a missile and then arrange for it to fly into the side of the approaching T72s (or whatever they’re supposed to be). Aircraft can be destroyed by the player as well according to the instructions but from my experience they simply exploded by themselves every so often (or was that down to my vehicles occasionally throwing into the air what looked like bunches of white dots, I’m not sure). Apparently, how you fare in this one fight will have a knock-on effect on all the battles your troops are involved in that turn so destroying as many enemy as possible is important. This is all reasonably entertaining at first but you’ll soon grow tired or it and turn it off in favour of proper strategy.

The proper strategy, as it happens, is mostly pretty straightforward. You move armies, order them to attack (or leave them to defend) and replenish what you can during the “rebuild” stage. There’s also some stuff about air power which involves prioritising air superiority, counter air (ie attacking airstrips and the like), interdict (trashing the supply lines of the enemy) and reconnaissance. Apparently, these affect the chances of the ground troops you control directly, I’m told it’s an important part of the strategy that can turn the tide of the war if used correctly but I can’t say I noticed it making much difference.

The Special Missions is the most dramatic part of the game. There are three types of attack you can order: chemical weapon attack (the computer chooses the target for you, Moscow in the case of the game I was playing), strategic single nuclear strike (nuke a city in other words) and a full nuclear strike which basically blows the entire world up. In order to use nuclear weapons, the player originally had to call a real-life phone number to obtain the authorisation code (“Midnight Sun” as wikipedia kindly told me). My game ended with a full nuclear strike; what a silly sausage I am. Still, at least I didn’t end-up having to spend my days in a re-education camp carving a marble bust of Marx and composing Das Kapital: The Musical, eh readers?

Strategic Gas Attack is nothing to do with farting. Really. Dammit, this is deadly serious!

"Strategic Gas Attack" is nothing to do with farting. Really. Dammit, this is deadly serious!

It’s clear from the manual that the programmers put a lot of thought and detail into this game with the two power blocs represented roughly accurately and the various war options open to the players roughly what was available to commanders at the time, even the suicidal Mutually Assured Destruction option of a full nuclear strike. The instructions list a bibliography used to inform the game including various books on (then contemporary) NATO/Warsaw Pact capabilities, leaflets from the American and Soviet embassies and documentation from CND. Playing the game itself feels like a simulation of the basics of a European Western/Soviet face-off as well. There’s no exciting dashes for Moscow for NATO troops or marching into Paris if you’re playing as the Soviets, it’s all purely about control of West Germany and much of the strategic map doesn’t even get used.

Oh noes!!

Oh noes!!

So how does it all come together? Is it a magnificent piece of wargaming or a pile of poo? Well, neither to be honest. It’s all well-detailed without being confusing or full of tedious minutae and playing it is certainly fairly interesting but limitations in gameplay really put a dampner on a lot of things. For example, the manual mentions some “assumptions” the game made which effect how the war plays out such as: that the Warsaw Pact won’t start the war with a nuclear bombardment, that NATO will control the Atlantic, that the French will enter the war immediately. It would have been better to either let the player decide or randomise these factors making for a more realistic scenario. The “action” sequences are also very crude, poorly-implemented and don’t seem to add much to the game. I thought having “closeup” representations of the battle was a good idea but it should have been done in a way other than a confusing shooting-gallery. The strategic part of the game isn’t too bad and works quite well but the player only really has control of ground forces and can only really tell them to move and attack; things like air support/warfare and naval engagements are taken care of by the computer offscreen and it’s all a bit vague as to how they effect gameplay. The Special Missions also seem to be a bit limited with any nuclear or chemical strike being immediately responded to in kind and with one option basically ending the game. I suppose there’s a strong real-world point being made here about what happens when one nuclear power attacks another nuclear power but, from the point of just playing a strategic game, it doesn’t really add much.

Theatre Europe isn’t a bad piece of software at all, it’s certainly interesting for a couple of games, but it all looks a bit primitive and limited to modern eyes. A shame, since it’s the only game I can think of off-hand that’s a strategic simulation of a cold war superpower confrontation on this sort of scale. When thinking of other cold war videogames I can only really think of Steel Panthers which simulates things at the individual battle scale rather than an overall war and the realist FPS Operation Flashpoint which again takes place at a small scale and is also somewhat hampered by a very silly plot and (sigh) being set for no good reason in a made-up country. The Red Alert games, I think we can safely say, don’t really count. Theatre Europe is an interesting title in an under-represented sub-genre and it’s worth a look but it really hasn’t aged that well.

Election – get yer oversized rosette on

18 October, 2008
Mmmm, bold primary colours; very 80s

Mmmm, bold primary colours; very '80s

“Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Out, out, out!”, “The lady’s not for turning”. Ah, British politics in the 1980s; thank f*ck those days are behind us. Anyway, I’m not just bursting out a couple of quotes for no good reason, today’s game is all about British politics in the ’80s. It’s Mastertronic’s 1984 release Election in which the player must contest a parliamentary seat in a general election and run a campaign to win that seat. This game was published on the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC from what I can gather but it’s the Speccy version I’ll be playing for this review.

First, the player chooses their political party from between Conservative, Labour and the Alliance (now known as the Liberal Democrats) and from there chooses a number of manifesto commitments to focus on; the opposition candidates then do the same. Choosing the manifesto commitments is quite interesting as regards how things have changed since 1984 with Labour wanting to leave the EEC and unilateral disarmament whilst the Conservatives focus on encouraging private healthcare and controlling the trade unions with ne’er a word about recycling. The Liberals, bless them, hardly seem to have changed at all.

Fight the power!

Fight the power!

Anyway, you chooses your party and your manifesto commitments and then we get a graphical display representing streets in the constituency (called Pendel) and their voting intentions which, surprise surprise, are fairly evenly-split between the three parties. Essentially, your campaign focuses on canvassing voters on a street-by-street basis.

Starting with campaign funds of £4000, the player decides how the money must be spent over the course of ten days after which the election will take place. Each day is split into several sections. First, the player will be offered the opportunity to rent billboard space on a street (they have no choice which one, it’s announced by the computer) and must place a higher bid than the other candidates; this is done “blind” meaning the player has no idea what the other candidates are bidding, the winner gets the billboard and presumably more votes.

Next comes the opportunity to buy a newspaper advert. This time it’s all about how much you spend on the advert and this affects the candidates general popularity in the constituency.

After this comes the chance to speak at a meeting in a street. Residents will bring up issues and the player has 25 “points” to distribute in their replies and can allocate as many as they like to a single issue. The number of issues brought up is random and so allocating points can be a gamble. Manifesto commitments also affect how replies go down – if it concerns an issue on your manifesto you score extra, if it concerns an issue on an opponent’s manifesto you lose points. If your points are in the positive after the meeting then you gain votes on that street; presumably based on how many points you have.

This represents streets in the constituency; in my first game I managed to turn Tory Way into a red stronghold. Ha!

This represents streets in the constituency; in my first game I managed to turn Tory Way into a red stronghold. Ha!

Following this comes the main part of the campaign – the player is shown the streets in Pendel again and asked to choose how many and which streets to canvas. Once the streets have been chosen the player is then asked to decide how much they want to spend on canvassing and this will affect their number of votes in that street.

After this, the whole process starts again with a new billboard opportunity for the next day. In addition to this there are random events which can affect your popularity or campaign funds. After day ten the election takes place and the votes are counted on a street by street basis until they are all in and the winner is declared.

So, how does all this play? Well, not too badly. The game is in basic so it runs a bit slow but thinking about which streets to canvas and how to allocate meeting points is quite good fun and the election at the end is genuinely quite gripping as the votes pour in and (occasionally) predictions are turned on their heads.

However, I had some issues with this game. The main ones are about realism. The voters in Pendel don’t seem to be terribly ideological and can be won over far too easily. For example, I concentrated on canvassing the true-blue Tory Way in my first game and managed to turn it into a Labour stronghold. The thing is, Tory Way was clearly a well-off area full of blue rinsers and in the real 1984 some Labour candidate could spend £10,000 canvassing such an area and be lucky to pick-up a handful of votes. The way the random events affect gameplay is also clumsy. If bakers lose jobs then your candidate loses popularity but there’s no indication that you are the incumbent so… erm… why do I get all the shit for it? On an even more absurd note I once lost popularity for something the population were blaming on the government despite being a Labour candidate; say what now? The “meetings” system is similarly flawed; you gain extra points for answering a question that links to your manifesto in some way but again there’s no ideological basis for how this works. For example, if I am the Labour candidate and I have a manifesto including a commitment to control the police and I’m holding a meeting in a Conservative street and someone brings up a question regarding the police then I score well for banging on about my manifesto point despite the fact that it simply would not go down well in such an area, indeed quite the opposite. Again, this whole aspect of the game feels unrealistic. It’s also pretty easy; I played this game twice to write this article and won both times despite not having a very carefully-planned (indeed some might say utterly bloody slapdash) campaign strategy and despite having a general popularity in the negative figures.

So, overall this might be worth a game or two just out of interest but it is repetitive, easy and you shouldn’t expect anything remotely like a real mid-’80s general election campaign. Now, where’s my donkey jacket?

Daves Day Out – collect flashy things from around Great Britain

4 October, 2008
No, I dont remember Princes Street looking quite like this either

No, I don't remember Prince's Street looking quite like this either

Having covered a ’90s indie title for my last article I thought we’d head even closer to the present this time with a much more current homage to Jet Set Willy and its ilk. Daves Day Out (yes, I know it’s missing an apostrophe but that’s how it’s spelled in-game) is a freeware title released this decade (exactly when I’m not sure, there doesn’t seem to be any copyright message in the game) for Windows-based PCs. It describes itself as a tribute to classic platformers such as Jet Set Willy and the Monty Mole games and, like a lot of recent tribute titles, tries hard to recreate the look and feel of the era.

The title screen consists of the name of the game in huge, blocky, letters and a few scraps of information about gameplay. Starting the game, you are confronted with a deliberately primitive-looking graphical display. Dave, the monsters and the backgrounds are all drawn in a blocky Spectrum-esque way with only the status panels and text being high resolution. It’s only the movement of the characters that gives the game away visually – everything is very fast and smooth and there’s an excellent use of particles when an object is collected or when Dave collides with a nasty. The monsters themselves are a competently-designed but not especially inspiring bunch; according to the instructions they have names like “Mad Chad” but I’ve no idea who is who, they’re all “Chunky the Bucket-thingy” and “Ronald Rollerskate” as far as I’m concerned.

Sound is a mixture of the old and new. Whilst the (sparse) in-game effects sound quite 8-bit there is a tune constantly playing on loop in the background which has a distinctively modern feel being a sample-based bit of electronica. Whilst this tune isn’t too bad I’m not sure it fits the game all that well (it sounds like it belongs in something a bit more aggressive and fast-moving) and it can’t be turned off which is never, ever a good thing in games. So a big boooo to that, basically.

Dammit, Dave! Get out of that cellar or well have to change the name of the game!

Dammit, Dave! Get out of that cellar or we'll have to change the name of the game!

Gameplay itself is pretty good. Starting in Dave’s flat, the player must collect as many flashing objects as possible from around various British towns and cities. The rooms all consist of a mixture of platforms and ladders and have been quite deviously designed with some of the objects requiring a little thought to collect and since Dave only has five lives and there are 400 objects to collect, skill at avoiding the nasties is crucial. Once Dave ventures out of his flat the towns also have rooms based around real-life locations which is a nice touch and adds a feeling of exploration. Dave also travels to the towns via a train link meaning he can choose to visit the towns in any order; this creates a non-linear and open feel to the gameplay which deserves a big yay. The only real downer in gameplay terms is that, depite being a recent game, there’s no joypad support. The excellent JoyToKey utility can deal with this, thankfully, but it’s still a major omission and so also gets a big boooo. There’s also a disappointing lack of a highscore table with the programmers instead opting for a rating based on how many objects you collected; better than nothing but an inadequate replacement.

Despite the problems I mention above, Daves Day Out is still a pretty-good, if tough, retro-styled platformer and it has enough little features of its own to be worth recommending in its own right. It’s just a shame the programmers couldn’t have added a few features whose absence is much-missed.

This game is freeware and it can be downloaded from this site here

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.

Subterranean Nightmare – Atomic testing creates instant-civilisation in the early ’90s

29 September, 2008
It sort of goes wikki-woo-wikki-woo-wikki-woo... whilst Prof Fusion walks back and forth between those pillars

It sort of goes "wikki-woo-wikki-woo-wikki-woo..." whilst Prof Fusion walks back and forth between those pillars

Now this is an interesting one: a game I know quite well having owned it back in the day. I got this game as part of a three-in-one-pack deal alongside Bounty Bob Strikes Back and Jonathan Smith’s Pud Pud (both of which are great, by the way). Subterranean Nightmare, published by Americana Software in 1986 and programmed by James Closs is set under the Nevada Desert in the then-future year of 1991. The fortuitiously-named Profession Fusion has been sent to the site of an underground atomic test in 1986 to investigate “unusual seismic disturbances”. When he gets there the ground collapses underneath him and he finds himself in a network of caves full of mutated beasties and must find his way out.

The first thing I should mention is the title screen and its “music”. This screen consists of the usual nice colourful display along with our bespectacled hero (who’s also a little portly, what is it with being a bit overweight and plaform game heroes?) walking back and forth ‘twix two huge yellow pillars. But the curious thing is the “tune” which plays which is a repetitive racket that sounds like some sort of siren made up of speeded-up snatches of someone scratching records (and if you’re reading this then you’re probably old enough to remember what scratching sounds like). Utterly bizarre. Anyway, never mind that, what about the game?

This huge snowman is typical of the background detail in some screens

I didn't see this screen back in the day, I was too crap to remove the wall that allows access to it. Tsk.

Well, Subterranean Nightmare is a shameless JSW clone and acquits itself well on first glance. Everything moves reasonably quickly and smoothly (although there is some flickering) and the rooms are well-designed and colourful with well-drawn nasties of numerous designs (and sizes). The “underground” theme is also consistent throughtout and the idea that the mutants have built an subterranean civilisation (bloody impressive in a mere six years, that) allows for some variation. Unusually for a game of this type, there’s also a lot of use of large scenery graphics such as gravestones, snowmen, giant candles and machinery. These add a lot to the rooms and the general feel of the game and are something JSW (or any of the clones we’ve looked at) didn’t have. That’s a big plus in Nightmare‘s favour.

The object-collecting aspect is also distinctive. Whilst in most games you simply collect the objects as you go along, exploring the rooms at will, in Nightmare some of the objects (radium crystals) affect certain rooms when collected. So, if Prof Fusion clears the crystals on a certain room it will remove a barrier in a later screen. This doesn’t make this game as open-ended from the start as most JSW clones are but there’s still a lot of freedom to explore with later areas essentially being “unlocked” as the player

These huge candles are typical of the background detail on some screens

These huge candles are typical of the background detail on some screens

progresses. This means there’s more incentive to collect all the crystals rather than just pass them by whilst exploring the game and since most of the fun is in trying to collect the crystals this means the game is more fun.

So, is there anything wrong with this game? Well, there’s the fact that Prof Fusion can “bounce” on many monster’s backs which isn’t really a bad thing as such but feels all wrong in a game like this – if you touch a monster you should die really. There’s also a few monsters that don’t kill you (such as the blue ball-thing in the mine shaft – play the game to see what I mean) which, again, doesn’t really feel right and can be a bit confusing. There also seem to be a few bugs, such as the “moving floor” in the mineshaft which doesn’t act as a conveyor (as I’d expected) and the way Prof Fusion can jump through some of the walls or into rooms that should be unaccessable such as bouncing across the monster on the first screen which leads to a room called “The Way Out” although I can’t seem to reach the exit.

However, these are pretty minor flaws and, overall, Subterrranean Nightmare is a worthy clone of Jet Set Willy and well-worth playing if you enjoyed that. I’ll leave the last comment to the (rather snotty) review that CRASH magazine gave this game back in its August 1986 issue (see the scan above-right). Yes, CRASH, yes it bloody well might.

The Archaeologist – Tony Robinson goes exploring for telephones

28 September, 2008
Hes not really in this game, alas.

He's not really in this game, alas.

If you say “archaeologist” most people these days will probably think of Howard Carter or Indiana Jones, people exploring Egyptian ruins and digging-up long-lost treasure. Those in the UK may even think of Tony Robinson in a pair of big grey shorts alongside that bloke in the hat saying “ooh-arr, oi be foindin’ a noice bit of Roman paaaartery” in the middle of a field somewhere near Bath. This game, The Archaeologist, doesn’t seem to feature much in the way of either representation, though, in fact I’m not sure what it’s all about.

You see, this game was published as part of a covertape compilation back in 1985 for something called “Spectrum Computing” which I’m guessing was a magazine. Apart from that, I can’t really find out much about it. There’s a very brief plot on the title screen about entering a volcano and passing through the Earth’s core collecting artifacts along the way before emerging out the other side. That’s it – no name for the character, no rational to what he’s doing – nothing. Maybe he does it for kicks. Anyway, I’m not going to talk about an anonymous character again so, for the purposes of this review, I’m going to assume it’s Tony Robinson having decided to do a Time Team episode after too much ale.

No wonder Bjork is so kooky if thats what Icelandic gardens look like!

No wonder Bjork is so kooky if that's what Icelandic gardens look like!

On starting, we find Tony standing on the edge of a volcano ready to enter the depths and get collecting. It all starts out well – everything is bright, colourful and moves quickly and the volcano actually looks like a volcano. There’s none of the bland look of Stay Kool here. There’s even a tune in the JSW “croaking frog” style but for some reason it defaults to “off” and you have to turn it on using the “t” key (and not just at the start – for every life) if you want to listen to it which, fortunately, you won’t.

Tony bounces around quite the thing and whilst the movement doesn’t feel as smooth and “clean” as in JSW or Fahrenheit 3000 it’s pleasant enough. Collecting the relics (which consist of such fabled antiquities as apples and 1980s telephones) and avoiding the nasties requires some skill, there’s also a nice sense of cohesion to the rooms with the underground theme being maintained throughout (well, except for the bits in Iceland at the start but we’ll forgive that) – this actually feels like exploring a network of caves and the various rooms can be quite atmospheric. There’s even a save/load feature which, whilst unusual in a game like this, is a nice idea.

Id have expected some sweltering magma, not ZX Spectrums and disembodied Sigmund Freud lookalikes

I'd have expected some sweltering magma, not ZX Spectrums and disembodied Sigmund Freud lookalikes

Unfortunately, this game doesn’t quite work. The first reason for this is that it feels untested and unfinished. Some of the screens, once you get used to them, seem poorly designed and ill thought-out. Another problem is that, instead of altering the room design, the programmer has incorporated some sort of super-jump key which, when pressed, allows Tony to jump much higher than usual. This makes the feel of the game a bit farcical since it seems designed to be played on “normal” jump with the super-jump only existing to rescue Tony from the occasional bit of bad room design (although if you hold it down too long it kills our erstwile archaeologist so you have to be careful). Having two heights of jump (and especially implemented as they are here) feels all wrong in a JSW clone and has a bad effect on the playing experience – I’d much rather one height of jump to deal with problems all the way through thankyouverymuch. And, last but not least, this game has the same “infinite death” problem as JSW except in this game it’s less predictable.

The Archaeologist seems quite good at first but the game’s flaws (especially that ridiculous jump feature) chip-away at its good features leaving it decidedly average. I suppose it should remembered that it was a covertape game and, with that in mind, it’s not too bad but there’s real promise in this game that I’d like to have seen built-upon rather better.

Next up, we should have more underground exploration fun with Subterranean Nightmare.