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Retro Round Up

Reviewed By Dave E In Micro Mart #1398: January 2016 Special

Introduction | Dead On Time | Majikazo | Get 'Em Dx | Super Starship Space Attack | That's All Folks!

Introduction

Welcome to the first Retro Round Up of 2016 where I introduce the good, the bad and the ugly of the latest indie releases for older machines. As promised, I now have a site chronicling everything Retro Round Up includes and you'll find links scattered throughout this article, and subsequent ones, to a permanent page of screenshots, instructions, reviews, videos and information about any respective new game. This month I've also re-instituted the 'Retro Find Of The Month' feature, as well as giving each new game a breakdown of scores. Let's go...

jBiplane

Retro Software is back with jBiplane, a two player only dogfight game for the BBC written by "jbnbeeb". The premise is fairly simple - shoot your opponent out of the sky - and it's a side-on game, plotting a city skyline at the base of the playing area.

The game itself is a nice rendition of the old favourite. Rendered in Mode 5, it's red plane versus green plane on a blue background... and it won't be long before you're darting and weaving about the screen trying to get your friend in your line of fire. You can fire two bullets at a time and, unlike in some versions, you will not "float through" your friend if you get too close - so if you want to be a kamikaze pilot that's also possible. The skyscrapers are, naturally, to be avoided.

When a plane is hit, it explodes on the spot, reincarnating later in time with a brief period of invulnerability (not long enough to use to your advantage, natch!). The first player to shoot down the other plane ten times is the winner.

Over the years I've roped a few friends into playing games of this ilk with me, and it's incredible how much fun they are. However, essentially that is the jBiplane problem. Firstly, to play it you need to find a friend. Secondly, that friend must humour you as you drag out your 1983 BBC B to play the game on. And before you protest that you could play jBiplane on your laptop, just try getting your hands positioned your game controls, and your friend's on his game controls whilst both being able to see the screen clearly!

Other than that, jBiplane is fun and faultless, if a little basic.

Scores

Graphics 5
Sound 4
Presentation 9
Overall 6

Tiger Jenny

Ludosity (ludosity.com) is a Swedish company which makes "kick ass games" and has released a new Nintendo Entertainment System platformer entitled Tiger Jenny. The premise is nothing special; you are in control of Jenny (who professes little in the way of tiger-like abilities) and you must journey through a number of stages to reach the Turnip Witch. You're not told why, or what you should do to her when you find her.

Functionally, Tiger Jenny works. The D-pad allows you to run left and right and enter the doors that you find. You can also jump over the pits, spikes and monsters or use whatever weapon you are holding to stab the monsters instead. There are also additional weapons to collect to upgrade you from the rather pathetic knife with which you start the game.

In an aesthetic sense, however, the presentation of Tiger Jenny is distinctly lacklustre - although it was released about six months ago, it seems unfinished. The character design is, at best, unimaginative. When Jenny or any of the monsters run back and forth, they do it smoothly enough, but there are only two frames of animation in play. When Jenny jumps there is no animation at all - she simply remains in the "standing stock still" position.

The very small patrolling enemies similarly look plucked from a monochrome Spectrum game rather than what seasoned NES fans might expect from their graphics. They have zero intelligence and, quite remarkably, the decision has been taken not to have them only patrol left and right until they come into contact with scenery - instead many of them only patrol left.

I don't mean that they come at you from the right and you leap over them... No, no, no. These enemies do an extremely peculiar patrolling routine indeed. In a small area to which they are confined, they sort of rise up, out of the ground, walk forward a few steps then descend down back into the ground, then loop back to their original positions. Thus you see where they sink, position Jenny just before that spot and then move slightly forward, wait for them to repeat their loop and stab/jump them without fail every time.

There are other glaring shortcuts too. Even on the very first stage, you find entire scenes repeated. You enter a door, complete a short section, enter a door and the next section is exactly the same as the one you just completed! This is lazy design coupled with a lack of expectation testing - and it's totally baffling why it would ever be considered a good idea. I thought at first I'd been somehow teleported back to the beginning!

You have three lives with an energy bar and your greatest challenge is probably leaping the pits which will see you instantly lose a life.

Overall, and despite some nice music, the NES is woefully underused by Tiger Jenny. It is a very tired production from the word go - rarely do NES games have such a bland opener. If you look at the screenshots, you'll also note the absence of any score line. No score also means no high score to beat either - so your only real challenge in playing it a second time is to see if you can get a little bit further. I was too bored to try.

If you want to see this genre done well, look for Crazy Sue (on the Amiga 500, tinyurl.com/ztko2qe) instead.

Scores

Graphics 5
Sound 6
Presentation 6
Overall 5

I Walk Alone

I Walk Alone, by Carlos Alfaro, is about as entertaining as nosehair.

Picture a maze in 8 x 8 CHR$ blocks. Picture a 8 x 8 CHR$ man being placed in that maze. Picture a lot of flies also buzzing around the maze at high speed bouncing off the walls and generally ratcheting up your stress levels.

Your task is to make it through the flies and collect a token placed in one of the passages of the maze.

Play it through once and inevitably you'll collide with a fly. Play it again and don't go the same way - everything moves in a set pattern so you'll soon learn which way is safe. Hoorah, "You Win". Want to play again with the same maze and the token in the exact same place? No, I thought not.

There are a grand total of two different mazes. They don't change. It's not necessary to visit 95% of either maze as the route to the token is almost as the crow flies direct.

Total rubbish.

Scores

Graphics 1
Sound 0
Presentation 3
Overall 1

Archetype (Plus Cops 3)

Archetype and Cops 3 are two 2008 games for the Commodore 64 which are now available from the long-established Psytronik software on either a single tape or disc for £4.99.

Archetype is an overhead shoot-'em-up game which scrolls vertically keeping your character roughly central in the playing area. Your task is to journey through the "Otherworld" (which actually looks more like a jungle) to "prove yourself a true Archetype". What this actually means is a good old fashioned "if it moves blast it; if it shoots at you, run like hell" type of game in the style of Commando.

Psytronik's releases are always atmospheric and Archetype is no exception; the introductory music begins to play as the game is loaded in and more spooky music accompanies the action itself. Unfortunately, Archetype is really hard. You are given three lives and an inexhaustible supply of bullets. As the game is played from overhead, the instructions warn you to pace yourself instead of running headlong into danger. That's easily said, but less easy to put into practice. Enemies are easily distinguished, as they are all clad head-to-toe in white, but everything moves very quickly and whether you're firing up, down, left or right they seem very adept at being one or two pixels out of range.

Archetype is one of those games whereby you need to deal with the enemies you can see before heading up the screen and forcing it to scroll, because doing that introduces more enemies. The trouble is that it's hard to line up your character with any enemy and in trying it, you can inadvertently make the screen scroll!

I quickly found that the most effective strategy for picking off enemies was to angle the character at 45 degrees and shoot diagonally upwards across the screen, weaving him left and right. His bullets then cover a greater area and are more likely to find their mark. This doesn't feel particularly skilful though.

Scattered around are potions which award power-ups like an extra life, temporary invulnerability or detonate a smart bomb. Again though, these are not particularly useful as they fire as soon as you walk over them. If there are no enemies on the screen, invulnerability or a smart bomb is useless; it would be much better if picked them up and then could activate them when you chose.

Don't get me wrong. Archetype is good, it's just much more challenging than some other games of the same type.

The second game, Cops 3 (subtitled Cobs, Robbers And Dinosaurs) is by the same author (Alf Yngve) and is a slightly more manic number. I haven't played the two prequels but the instructions indicate that the premise is that "EuroCity" has just been overrun by thousands of criminals at the same time; your task is to deal with them as you see fit. And "as you see fit" means a bullet between the eyes.

At first sight, the game looks a little unexciting. You're placed in a city scene with criminals firing at you out of windows, driving cars at you, and milling about in your general vicinity. Like in Archetype, you have an infinite supply of bullets and so you dodge around, keeping out of the way of their bullets and loosing off your own. The scene initially resembles a thousand other games - the bad guys just keep coming, no matter how many of them you take out.

However, appearances can be deceptive and the scale of Cops 3 is not readily apparent. Rather than being a single scene, it is a collection of many. Move into the bank and you will enter it, finding a whole host of dead gangsters and dead bodies (Nice touch!) inside. Progress further and you'll find the elevator. And the ever-expanding interior of EuroBank is only the first of four scenes.

Cops 3 is a mindless and fairly enjoyable game and could definitely stand as a professional release in its own right (rather than being demoted to Archetype's "bonus game"). The two together represent excellent value for money at £4.99. For that, you not only get a physical cassette or disk for your Commodore 64 but an emulator version of each game too (playable using the Vice emulator) and the usual splendid inlay rendered in the old "Codemasters" style.

Archetype (Plus Cops 3) is available from www.psytronik.net

Archetype Scores

Graphics 8
Sound 10
Presentation 9
Value for Money 8
Overall 9

Cops 3 Scores

Graphics 7
Sound 9
Presentation 9
Value for Money 8
Overall 9

Frogalot

Frogalot is a new platform game from CNG Soft (http://cngsoft.no-ip.org/) in which you take control of a cute hopping frog. The game is a clone of the rather fabulous Nebulus which added a twist to the bog-standard platformer by featuring platforms which jut out from a spire; in Frogalot this spire is a tower which you must climb by hopping or jumping from platform to platform. As you ascend (or descend, should something go wrong!), the camera angle remains parallel to the frog at all times. Baddies remain hidden either just vertically off-screen or just behind the next corner - until you round it to face them.

Each tower is nicely "themed", accessed serially and, as the game progresses, tougher than the last. The obvious impediments to your progression up it are the inconveniently-placed baddies, many of whom are also "themed". Level two presents a Halloween spire where baddies consist of live suits of armour, ghosts and pumpkins. Level three presents a garden where baddies consist of snails and stones. A rising and falling clenched fist appears throughout all towers.

Seeing as you have no weapon of any kind, you have to avoid all of the baddies by nimble fingerwork. Often this simply means waiting for a pumpkin, fist or whatever to move out of the way to let you hop past.

However, your frog can also perform larger jumps if you use the appropriate control key in combination with a movement one. This is used for the less obvious challenges of the game which include disappearing platforms (which allow you to hop over them but then disappear - halting any further progress if you later fall through them) and trampoline platforms (which are disconcerting and toughen the exit jumps from them). There are also red flashing platforms which are "up" teleporters and blue flashing platforms which are "down" teleporters. Touching these performs an instant, and quite disconcerting, teleportation up or down the spire.

Written by Nicolas Gonzalez (of Bubble Bobble 4 CPC fame), you would be forgiven for expecting quality - and Frogalot does not disappoint. Level design is extremely varied, the graphics are excellent and it's all complemented with some lovely music. Those familiar with Nebulus may lament the fact that, in Frogalot, you can't shoot - but, in comparison to Nebulus, Frogalot actually comes off a lot better. The towers are wider and there's much more variety in the colours and themes.

The backstory of the game states that, when you manage to get your frog to the top of "the tower", he will be kissed by his beloved and turned back into human form. I presume they mean "the final tower" as your beloved makes her appearance at the top of each of them.

My only gripe about Frogalot is that a password system would have benefitted it. Get knocked off tower five and it's a bit demoralising to have to start right back at the beginning. One other final thing: The game's on-screen language is Spanish rather than English. It's the type of game where this makes no difference.

Scores

Graphics 9
Sound 9
Presentation 9
Overall 9

That's All Folks!

It's clear that retro and homebrew is booming - it's probably only a few years until Sir Alan Sugar sets his Apprentice candidates a task involving it! - and a few weeks into 2016 there are already indications that this year will see more games released for older formats than ever before. We'll be right here to update you with all of them as and when they happen. See you next month!

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