Thursday, 26 May 2011

We have the power: Sinclair Spectrum +2/+2A

Christmas 1986, and being 4 years old, was very excited at the prospect of getting my very first home computer. So, Christmas Day came, and when the wrapping paper came off to reveal a grey box with the words 'SINCLAIR SPECTRUM +2' on it, and bundle tapes containing Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Konami Arcade Classics and Screen Heroes, each containing a variety of games from sport, to movie/tv licenses, to arcade conversions, that range from great (Green Beret), to good (Street Hawk), to bad (Miami Vice) to downright shit (Highlander). But, being 4 years old, I had a bit of knowledge to figure out what to do (mainly with some help from my older brother), and was very excited, so I didn't care if they were crap. I got some enjoyment (and frustration) out of them.

So, fast forward a few years, and I'd amassed quite a collection (the price helped, what with some games costing as little as £1.99! Those were the days!!), but there were some excellent wheat among the chuff. Bomb Jack, Airwolf II (which I seem to be the only person to like it), Klax, Escape From The Planet of the Robot Monsters, Italy 1990 and Strider (which is a very competent port, I might add). Unfortunately there was a considerable amount of chuff, like Podder, type in text adventures like Murder and Desperado, Top Gun and Jack The Nipper (everyone seems to like this, but I hated it). One software house seemed to dominate in the 80's, and into the late 90's....

Ocean seemed to have a hand in nearly everything and anything. After aquiring Imagine after their spectacular downfall, sadly documented in Commercial Breaks (Xmas 1984), their output was, roughly, 35% of all games released (it might even be more), with them releasing movie tie-ins, arcade conversions, and even publishing. Some of their notable games games were their conversion of Chase HQ (which I've also wrote about, and love to pieces), Operation Wolf and its sequel Thunderbolt, Head Over Heels (by Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond), Match Day and Match Day II (both also by the aforementioned guys) and Rambo. Again, there was quality there, but also crap (Highlander again, and Knight Rider), but then, you always get that, even nowadays, with budgets of £25 million and staff of 100 people, as opposed to £25 and 2 guys in their mate's bedroom.

But, even still, it was and still is, my favorite of the 8-bit micros (and I've only had a C64 for about a year and a half, but I still find myself loving the Spectrum more). The games were plentiful, at the right price, and as mentioned, some were of such high quality, you'd easily mistake the £1.99 games for £7.99 games. And, even though it's considered by some as a 'bastard child' of Sir Clive Sinclair's successful original, I still find it a great computer. But, as always, that's only my opinion.

"Our work here is done!" - Your Sinclair 'Big Final Issue', 1993.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

We have the power: The Commodore Amiga 500

One of Commodore's most successful home computers (along with the Commodore 64 Micro Computer), the Amiga 500 was a home based brother of the A2000 business computer. I got one myself  for christmas in the late 80's (roughly 1988-89), and it came bundled with the Simpsons: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants, Captain Planet & The Planeteers, Lemmings and Deluxe Paint III (the latter being used by me to draw many faces, with speech bubbles with the word 'ARSE' in them). Not a big line up of games, I grant you, but being 6/7 years old, you'd be pretty excited at the prospect of arcade-quality games in your own home (considering the Mega Drive was about 2-3 years away), and even conversions or arcade games themselves. The bundled games were a mixed bag: Lemmings was just great and frustrating, Bart Vs The Space Mutants was good and frustrating, and Captain Planet was just frustrating in its under averageness. Sure, it looked good, but it played awfully, and was the weakest of the three games.

One of the first games I'd actually bought for the machine was Treasure Island Dizzy. Now, the only experience of a Dizzy game I had was on the humble ZX Speccy, in the form of Fantasy World Dizzy, and Magicland Dizzy. The game was ok and was sodding hard to boot, with me still not knowing how to solve some of the puzzles. The other one was a game that I had originally sent through the post, and again played on the Speccy, and that was the lush graphics fest of Shadow of the Beast. It looked and sounded awesome, with an excellent opening sequence consisting of images and subtitles to tell the story. But, it was unfairly hard (which was common on those days, but this was even more so), with many paths. On the upside, at least it came with a free T-shirt (which I do in fact still have :) ). This was a taste of the things to come on this brilliant home computer. I got my hands on many more brilliant games, namely Rod-Land, Batman The Movie, Prince of Persia, Sensible Soccer, Desert Strike (ported from the Mega Drive in 1993....or was it 1992?), Apocalypse, Sensible Golf (am I the only person to love this game?) and Putty. But, one game, which would give the console shooters a run for their money, was made by Manfred Trenz, and was ported to the Spectrum, C64, Amstrad (I think :s) and later the consoles in Mega and Super flavours. That game was Turrican, and has since become somewhat of a cult classic.

Turrican showed what could be squeezed out of the 512k (1mb with the upgrade) of ram and its awesome sound chip. Playing the lead character, you run and jumped through dozens of levels, shooting a variety of aliens and end of level bosses (a giant, spiked hand, anyone?). It did show what the Amiga was truly capable of, and was an outstanding game in its own right. The mags of the time obviously thought so too, with glowing praise for it.

Yes, I do still have an Amiga 500 to this very day (admittedly, it is my fourth. The first blew up, the second one, an A600, just threw a wobbly and stopped working and the second A500 did the same and took its ball and went home), but due to space and time, I haven't the time to play it as much as I'd like. Still, there is emulation, and for that, I'm thankful, as I can now play the games I owned, own or want to own, and remember the memories the machine has given me over the past 23 years, and it's something I will pass on to my kids so they can enjoy the games I played when I was young, and let them enjoy them as much as I do.

Amiga 500: 1985 - 1996 RIP :(

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Iffy Game Corner: TRON Evolution (360)

A spin off from Crap Game Corner, I take a look at some games that had some potential, but ultimately delivered groans instead of screams of joy.

TRON Evolution is a prequel to the recently released on Blu Ray TRON Legacy movie. Evolution has you, playing as the character called ANON, go around The Grid and clean up an infection by a virus program called Abraxas, and ultimately defeat him. You have a variety of moves on offer, and can run up walls, leap from wall to wall, ride light cycles, grapple to get to far ledges and control light tanks in your quest to clean up the system. The only problem is, that once you start, and get a way into the game, you'll soon get the feeling that you've seen it all before. And here is where...

Prince Of Persia. Yep, I'm afraid so. For all the running, jumping and wall-jumping you can do, it's nothing more than a re-skinned version of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Yes, it looks absolutely brilliant, and sounds just as good, but the format is getting a little tired. And it's a shame really, as there is potential underneath for an excellent TRON game.

Another problem is the controls. There were sometimes when performing a wall jump (read 30 minutes worth of frustration!!!!) that you have to land the left stick in the right  place to execute it well, which is a bit troublesome as another problem is that you couldn't see the platform you were meant to jump onto, so jumps became a leap of faith because of the also dodgy camera which flails like a fish in a boat. You can move it with the right stick, but it does no good, as it still shows you nothing. I will say, though, that the levels where you ride a LightCycle and drive a LightTank are welcome breaks in the levels, and gives you something different to do when you're not scaling each and every wall.

As I said before, the graphics are outstanding, with the LightCycle trails behind your bike shining bright, and the clashes of discs when you fight an enemy. So is the music, as there are two tracks taken from the film, and original music which do the game a good service. Its just a shame it's been done as a 'been there, done that, got the t-shirt' kind of game, when it could have been so much more. And thats a kind of repeating pattern with modern released games. They all seem to copy each other, and offer no variety, and thats sad in this day an age, when no-one has the guts to do something different, and play it safe every single time.