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Retro Round Up

Dave Edwards is overwhelmed by the excess of absolutely free retro games this Christmas

Reviewed By Dave E In Micro Mart #1390: 30th Birthday Issue

Introduction | 4 To 4: Back To The Future | More Than A Prison | Space Moves | Balachor's Revenge | Popeye | Hard Hat Harry 2: Son Of Harry | And Finally...

Introduction

Welcome to this December's Retro Round Up, where I look at a handful of the games (and these days it really can be no more than a handful of them!) produced by what I would call "cottage industries that are apparently in permanent snowball effect". The growth of retro-gaming in the past few years, has been breath-taking. Psytronik and Monument Microgames are selling out of new retro games within hours of making them available. And, if you were in London recently, then you may well have caught a glance of the hysteria associated with retro games at the London Gaming Market (www.londongamingmarket.com) which took place on 15th November 2015 and was so well attended that many attendees reported being unable to even get near the stalls!

With a whopping new 35 games released for the Amstrad alone in November, even I am starting to wonder where this is all going to end, although in the interests of getting the article started, some of these are a good enough place to start...

4 To 4: Back To The Future

Regular readers will remember, some months ago (MM #1366), that I reviewed a Spectrum 128K block-bashing puzzle game with a very, ahem, "memorable" title and a very tenuous connection to the movie Titanic. Presumably Kukulcan, the publisher of 4 To 4, never saw that review as it has made exactly the same mistake by suffixing its new Amstrad game "Back To The Future" and sprucing it up with a picture of Marty McFly on the loading screen. Fans of Back To The Future will doubtless be infuriated to find that there's no other connection to the famous movie at all, and they are simply faced with a puzzle game, and one which isn't even a new idea.

4 To 4 is a "square slider" game. We've seen a few of these on the Spectrum over recent months, each being variants of the same theme. An overhead maze is drawn on a screen-sized grid and some squares - in 4 To 4, there are (unsurprisingly) four of them! - must be slid to their 'home' within the grid. Once you flick a square in any direction, it doesn't stop until it hits something. The skill of playing is in positioning the squares in such a way that you don't make the puzzle impossible.

4 To 4 comes with fifty levels, each featuring four squares. You can select the square you wish to move by choosing it with one of the number keys, and then flicking it with an arrow key. There are two reasonably easy levels to begin with before the difficulty is seriously ramped up - just watch the YouTube video for what awaits you even at level three! The background music is good (and there are three tunes to choose from) but too distracting during play. Fortunately, it can be turned off.

Such grid-based games don't really demand snazzy graphics. Those of 4 To 4 are functional and the patterns easily distinguish the four different squares from each other.

4 To 4 is one of 35 new games which have arrived simultaneously on the Amstrad CPC 464 courtesy of the annual #CPCRetroRev tournament (See http://cpcretrodev.byterealms.com/en/ for more) which, this year. I'm not sure what I hoped for by picking it out of the box first; probably I hoped for an Amstrad conversion of Telltale Games' superb Xbox Back To The Future point and click adventure game! The sad thing about that is that, if getting reviewers to look at it first was Kukulcan's intention in naming it in that way, then the plan worked. Well, sort of. Because I may have come to it first because of its title, but I left it feeling I had been suckered into just playing another version of Game About Squares, and so I'm not going to recommend it. So there!

Scores

Graphics 8
Sound 8
Presentation 6
Overall 7

More Than A Prison

The next of the Amstrad #CPCRetroRev games is More Than A Prison; a simple overhead maze game which looks like a magazine type-in from the early Eighties. There are no real instructions - you take control of a prisoner in a maze featuring patrolling nasties, keys, doors and weird green blobs that home-in on you once disturbed. It doesn't take Einstein's brain to deduce that you need to avoid everything that moves and collect the keys.

One key will open one door anywhere in the maze so choose carefully, so you can unlock the doors that will lead you to the next screen.

More Than A Prison doesn't have the frills of many of its bedfellows, launching straight into the game with no loading screen and having simple up, down, left and right controls.

Unfortunately, positioning your prisoner is fiddly and, particularly when you're being chased by a green blob, you are quickly killed off. Death sends you all the way back to the very beginning which is hardly encouraging. The music is pretty decent however.

Scores

Graphics 4
Sound 7
Presentation 3
Overall 5

Space Moves

If you're of a certain age, you'll probably recall Dinamic Software's Navy Moves. It was one of the very first Amstrad (and Spectrum and C64) games where the publisher had realistically animated the characters within it. You commenced Navy Moves by leaping a dinghy over some mines, then, in the second part, went on to infiltrate an enemy submarine where you got to torch mercenaries with flamethrowers.

Space Moves is clearly written as a homage to Navy Moves, and is done in the same style with the same type of realistic animation, status panel and menu screen. Unfortunately, it's a Spanish only title - which means you might have to have one or two goes at redefining the keys. However, get it started and you'll find the dinghy mission has been replicated as a truck leaping chasms. There are enemy trucks to blast out of the way too. It's very Moon Buggy-esque.

Alas, the playing area seems rather cramped; often there seemed to be literally nano-seconds to spare between having to shoot an oncoming foe and land safely on a one-inch-wide chasm. I'm not sure if there's a subsequent mission a la Navy Moves as leaping the chasms is in fact pretty difficult and, after ten minutes or so, does become rather boring. To complete the mission, you need to survive for a certain length of time, denoted by the timer ticking down on the right.

Although there doesn't seem to be very much to it, the game is very colourful and very responsive and, because there's probably more than a smattering of Navy Moves fans reading this, certainly worth adding to the Amstrad list of games for them to play.

Scores

Graphics 7
Sound 7
Presentation 9
Overall 8

Balachor's Revenge

Balachor's Revenge follows on from the game Catacombs Of Balachor, an overhead maze jaunt in which you, a grave-robber, set out to loot the tombs of a sorcerer named Balachor. You succeeded, gave him a bit of a drubbing and, apparently, retired to the village of Greenbury with your ill-gotten gains to live it large.

However, he's none too happy about this and so has cast a spell over your village, scattering the possessions of all those who live there. Now your task is to reunite the townsfolk with their possessions, find Balachor and kill him. Nice.

Balachor's Revenge has many of the elements of its prequel, with the walls of the overhead maze simply having been spruced up as castles, houses and jungle. A real difference, however, is that Balachor's Revenge is much more arcade adventure than the former game. The "loot" (in the form of diamonds, crowns and precious stones) isn't intended, as it formerly was, simply to make you rich, but instead to be used to pay the 'seer', a characteryou will quickly chance upon and who gives you hints and tips on other characters you should seek out (and what they might need).

Initial puzzles involve reuniting a wizard with his cauldron, cutting down a tree with an axe and finding three herbs for a beekeeper. Whilst initially interesting however, these "missions" quickly become rather disappointing. The process of discovering the items and bringing them back to the correct character is rather a dull affair. It is hindered even further by the fact that you don't get any textual description of the items you see and pick up either. So you must determine whether that rectangular thing with a squiggle on it is the objective of the current mission, usually by trial and error.

There are some nice points about the game though. It's presented well and the graphics, although mostly monochrome, are fairly good. Ducking and diving around the various patrolling nasties is easily achieved because your man responds well to keypresses - and the many different characters and missions mean Balachor's Revenge can be played in a different order each time.

A feature which is particularly likeable is that you can carry three objects at any one time and the correct one will be automatically "used" if necessary (i.e. the axe will cut down the tree without you needing to select and use it).

For my troubles I have so far attained the rank of 15% and been adjudged a "cowardly serf".

Monument Microgames originally released Balachor's Revenge last year but the print run of physical cassettes was limited to fifty and, as with Cray 5 last month, the game sold out within a few hours. Now a second print run is promised in the near future, with the game retailing at £8.00 including the usual high quality of packaging. To be first in the queue, make sure to 'Like' them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MonumentMicrogames/t56tZN

Scores

Graphics 7
Sound 3
Presentation 10
Overall 7

Popeye

The Vic 20 doesn't get a great deal of new games, but Beamrider's conversion of the 1982 arcade machine Popeye is, for this format, a real blockbuster.

You play Popeye the Sailorman, and your mission is to win the heart of Ms. Olive Oyl who is at the top of the screen throwing out hearts for you to collect.

There are three stages of the game, set in turn on a dock, a street and a ship. All three are one-screen based platform ladders-and-levels type and feature you, Olive and Bluto. Bluto is your rival for the affections of Ms. Oyl and is out to thwart you collecting your quota of hearts by bumping into you, throwing beer cans at you, grabbing your tootsies from the level below you or bonking you on the head from the level above you. So you want to give him as wide a berth as possible by making judicious use of the ladders.

You're not just pursued by Bluto either. There are Sea Hags, who appear on the extreme left or right of the screen; and a vulture which sweeps down over the boat. You can deal with the Hags by avoiding them (and punching the beer cans they also throw) and the vulture by punching it.

Each stage has its common and its special features. Easily the best common feature is the spinach which, when you eat it, renders you invulnerable to Bluto for about 20 seconds. It is very satisfying to find him and send him flying, even if he does recover quite quickly. Other things you can do include dropping a barrel on Bluto's head (scene one), touching the bottom of Sweetpea (scene two) and riding the moving platforms (scene three).

Clearly writing something as accomplished as Popeye for the humble Vic 20 is no mean feat and Beamrider has taken the approach of trying to drop almost nothing of the original. In that, it has succeeded, in that this conversion requires all of the original's dexterity, and retains all of its manic, and very addictive, qualities.

It also retains all of the original's wonderful little quirks, score bonuses and cartoony features. That's not to say, however, that this format doesn't have some rather obvious problems. The biggest one is the resolution of the graphics. Look at the screenshots and you'll see it's pretty difficult to pick out who is who. Admittedly that's only a problem the first few times you play, but more vexing is that you need to seriously squint sometimes to see the flying beer cans against the backgrounds.

There's another problem too which is that Beamrider clearly thinks Popeye for the Vic 20 is only going to be of interest to players familiar with the arcade original, and so doesn't provide any instructions for it! As I've explained, the game has fairly complicated features and the three scenes include both friendly and unfriendly characters. Some people are doubtless going to download Popeye and simply not have a clue what to do!

Those minor points aside, Popeye is great and this new Vic 20 conversion of it couldn't be better. It even includes the theme music and a host of fun sound effects. It can be downloaded here.

Scores

Graphics 4
Sound 7
Presentation 10
Overall 7

Hard Hat Harry 2: Son Of Harry

Hard Hat Harry was last seen avoiding gorillas, birds, monkeys and flying spanners in the game of the same name - and he's now back to do more of the same in Hard Hat Harry 2: Son Of Harry.

As with the evolution of Manic Miner into Jet Set Willy, author Tom Walker has, for this sequel, progressed his game mechanics from a selection of screens to be completed serially to a map of caverns which can be wandered according to your own whim. It retains much of the "feel" of the original, whilst introducing some new touches. There are the same cups of tea to collect as in the first game; there are new enemies in the form of penguins and the "hyper viper"; and there are new puzzle elements. The latter include switches that can be pulled and pushed, and a radioactive boulder that can be used to deal with the viper.

The viper is a particularly terrifying menace because if it collides with you in certain locations, it will do untold damage. Unlike the first game, which had a lives system, this one has a timer that is counting down to when the caverns will explode. If you collide with any animal, the timer is reduced, presumably because you've been knocked unconscious for a short time as a result. You are then returned to the point of the screen at which you entered. The viper is a peculiarity in that it roams from room to room whilst the other animals do not. This means that you can be unlucky enough to recover just as it enters the room for a second time, leading to a fast obliteration of time remaining.

As with the first game, you run left and right and climb and descend the ladders to make progress. The odd choice of the first game's cyan backgrounds are also sensibly corrected to black for this sequel. This makes it a little easier to jump projectiles - but it's definitely not easy and requires practice.

The aim of the game is to collect the cups of tea and escape the caverns in which Harry is trapped. As the instructions don't state as much, I consider them best left unread.

Scores

Graphics 8
Sound 4
Presentation 8
Overall 7

And Finally...

What is it with retro game publishers? This month we've seen at least half the games reviewed come without any instructions on how to play them! Indeed, sometimes you find the game itself on a forum post, the instructions on a wiki, and the discussion on a forum/YouTube comment thread! What's needed is a single page where I can send all of you - one which shows you the game, how to play it, the video review and where you can click to either buy it or get the download, right?

That shouldn't be too much to ask and, not being one to rest on my laurels, I have created such a site. So next month, pending a quick bit of QA, I should be able to redirect you to a single link for each game, rather than a whole host of them. Watch this space...

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