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Topic: Adamant reviews Spectrum games

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Adamant

1. Posted:

In an effort to get more familiar with the game library of one of the greatest classic gaming systems out there, Adamant has taken it upon himself to play through a chunk of Speccy games, offering his thoughts on them as he goes.

And so, he presents the three first reviews of this series:

Deathchase (Micromega, 1983)
This likable arcade action game was no doubt more than a little inspired by Return of the Jedi. Placing you on a motorcycle, the game tasks you with driving around a forest gunning down two other cyclists. The game is viewed from a first-person perspective, providing a nice sense of 3D. The graphics are quite colorful for a Spectrum game, and while the enemy cyclists are single-colored blobs, the trees are quite detailed, and scale very well.

Unlike later, similiar games like Space Harrier, the focus is more on dodging trees than the shooting itself. The acceleration and brake buttons let you switch between 3 different levels of speed, but you'll only be able to fire your gun at the top speed, and the enemy cyclists will not be within range, as indicated by a small radar device, until you've driven on the top speed for about 10 seconds. Even if you switch to a lower speed for a split second, you need to stay at top speed for another 10 seconds for another shot, making the brake button the absolute last resort for avoiding trees.

Like most arcade racing games, a point meter will count upwards as you drive around, but the big points obviously come from killing enemies. The point system is well-balanced - you go to the next, harder level once you've killed both enemy cyclists, but you also gain enough points for doing this that you can't simply drive around on the first level as the point meter ticks upwards if you want a high score. You'll also have the opportunity to gun down tanks and helicopters that pass by in the distance for bonus points, but there's a limited number of these, and on later levels there'll be so many trees in the way they're nearly impossible to hit.

There are no real level layouts in the game, just trees popping up at random, and the only difference between levels is the speed at which these trees will pop up. Still, the addiction level is high, and once the trees start popping up at a mad pace as you zip past them nearly on pure instinct alone, you get far more immensed in this than many modern games. It's such a simple idea, yet this must've been really amazing back in the day.
Grade: B+

Admiral Graf Spree (Temptation, 1982)
Here's a simulation game putting you in charge of a WW2 battleship, where, as the good nazi you are, you're tasked with blowing up unarmed merchant ships. A look at a screenshot might make you want to classify this as a strategy game, but there's really very little strategy going on. On the main map screen, you move a pixel around searching for radar blips, which you can enter battle with by pressing S. The battle screen itself is viewed from a first-person where you use the clunky interface to move near the other ship and blast it to pieces. Some ships are armed battleships instead of merchant ships, however, and these will fire back at you, often doing relatively major damage. Since you can't tell what kind of ship you're approaching until you've engaged in battle, you can't really do anything but hope you're lucky.

For a strategy game, you have relatively little control over what goes on - all you can do is change the speed and direction of your ship, and fire either your guns or torpedoes. You control the ship via a badly designed interface where you can make an order every time a small box flashes. If you miss it, you have to wait for the next flash. If you're fighting a ship, they get to make actions every time the box flashes too, but unlike you, they can fire or switch directions instantly, while you have to open another menu first. Unfair.

The interface can certainly be memorized so you'll be able to make commands instantly every time the box flashes, but even if you got the controls and basic battle tactics down, there's little more to the game than just moving around on the map, engaging the closest ship and hope it's not armed, or if it is, that you're lucky enough to survive the battle. While there is some satisfaction to be had from blowing up those annoying ships, the game is luck-based, simple and hard to control, making for a frustrating experience.
Grade: D+

Ant Attack (Quicksilva, 1983)
Here's an interesting one - an isometric adventure game that allows you to switch between 4 different camera angles. The gameplay itself involves exploring a ruined city, using a radar to locate a trapped child, then leading her back to the city gates. Evil ants stalk the city, but you have a healthy supply of grenades to defend yourself with, and you can take up to 20 hits per level. You need to complete 10 levels in total, all using the same layout for the city, but placing the child in different spots, but these are randomized from a pool of 50 or so, so the game will play differently every time, and you won't be able to simply remember the locations of the children. The difficulty scales nicely, with the first few children being out in the open, while the last one will always require a lot of tough platforming with no room for error.

The controls are complex and take time to learn, requiring use of 12 buttons, and you control your character with a "walk" button and two "rotate" buttons, which can be hard to get comfortable with, causing your character to run the opposite direction of what you intended a lot. The controls are unfortunately a bit stiff, and you won't be able to move for a short while when under attack. Couple with the fact that it can be a bit hard to see which direction your character is facing, running away from enemy ants is not always too easy. Switching camera angles on the fly is hard, and can often disorient you, so unless you get stuck in the scenery or need to locate platforms hidden from the standard view, it's best to keep the camera at the default angle. Your character has infinite lives, death simply sending him back to the city gates, but each levels has timer ticking down, resulting in a game over if it hits 0. Your score is solely dependent on the time remaining after the level is complete, so you need to be quick on your legs if you want to set a record. Ant Attack is not a bad game, but it has it's share of annoyances, and the learning curve is ridiculously high.
Grade: B-

Edited on by Adamant

Adamant

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The_Fox

2. Posted:

Was the Spectrum only huge in Europe? I've head it mentioned numerous times before, but it's almost always from overseas sources.

"The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

-President John Adams

Treaty of Tripoly, article 11

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WanderFan91

3. Posted:

[I don't know why Adamant is characterizing himself in the third person, but eh, I don't mind]
That was really an enjoyable read, Adamant. :) That third one got me real interested.

AKA StarBoy91
Ah, irony
Wanderloggery | StarBlog
Massive retro gamer with a heart <3
Big Wander Over Yonder fan
ActRaiser is the most overexposed Quintet SNES game ever!
23 and proud =)
To each their own

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Trin

4. Posted:

Dizzy, Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy.

Try those.

Trin

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Adamant

5. Posted:

@Trin: Already have :P Great games all

@The Fox: I'm pretty sure the Spectrum was only released in Europe. But yeah, it was huge here. Being born in 1986, I missed out on it's heyday, though.

@Starboy: Sandy White, the author of Ant Attack, has the game available for play online on his site. Give it a try.

Two more here:

Armageddon (Silversoft, 1983)
Armageddon is a relatively servicable Missile Command clone. Keyboard control features a comfortable button layout for controlling the crosshair, but the buttons for firing missiles from individual bases are badly positined, making the not always ideal "fire from closest base" button the only option during keyboard-controlled play. Still plays relatively okay, though enemy missiles sometimes appear from the middle of the screen without warning, and flicker can make it hard to see if you destroyed a bomb or not.
Grade: C+

Atic Atac (Ultimate Play the Game, 1983)
Here's one of the first big hits from Ultimate Play the Game, later to be known as Rareware, and serves as somewhat of a prototype for the Sabreman series. In this game, a knight, a wizard and a serf (who looks a bit like Sabreman if you squint enough) are trapped in a haunted house, and must search for the key to the exit. Said key is split into three parts, each hidden deep in the house, which has 5 relatively sizable floors, each packed with monsters. After choosing one of the three character, you start exploring the house through a overhead view. The house is filled with colored doors which can only be opened if you have the correct key in your inventory. Since there are four keys, and only three inventory spots, you need to juggle them around a bit, especially since the pieces of the gate key take up a spot as well. You can also pick up other items along the way, though I never found any use for them.

The three different characters play mostly the same, though each of them has access to a different type of the warp zones spread around the house, allowing for shortcuts. The serf is also faster, but is harder to control. Each character has an infinite amount of projectiles to fight off the enemies. The characters have a life meter that will steadily decrease over time, and obviously get a huge part knocked off by contact with an enemy, so you need to constantly pick up health items. These are found all over the place, and respawn over time, but they never seem to be around when you're low on life :(. If you die, you respawn in the same room will all your items intact, though you only got 4 lives to make it through the game.

Atic Atac requires quite a bit of patience to get into, as the rooms all look very alike, and it's not always easy to figure out where you're warped yourself by use of the zones. The keys and main key pieces are not located in the same spot every playthrough, but there's a system to their whereabouts, so familiarity with the game definitely helps when trying to track them down. The yellow key is always in the same spot, though, though it can be a bit tricky to get a hold of. With no pause button and endlessly respawning monsters in nearly every room, mapping the house is near impossible, but with a good sense of direction and the rough layout of the house imprinted in your memory, escaping the house is no impossibility. Atic Atac is a fun and addictive adventure game, though the type of gamer who complains about the NES Metroid being confusing may want to stay away - that game is a walk in the park compared to this.
Grade: A-

Edited on by Adamant

Adamant

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The_Fox

6. Posted:

I will say that after a curious peek on youtube some of those games don't look bad. I usually have a graphical threshold that prevents me from playing anything on the level of the 2600 or below, but interesting none the less.

"The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

-President John Adams

Treaty of Tripoly, article 11