Retro Round Up
It's that time of year again, CPCRetroDev2016, where Amstrad game-writers far and wide come up with new and original games in search of glory and cash. It's a great time to be an Amstrad gamer, everyone proclaims. But, unsurprisingly, Dave Edwards finds something to complain about...
Reviewed By Dave E In Micro Mart #1442: December 2016 SpecialWelcome | Maze Adventure | Scores | Amsthrees | Scores | Pingu Soccer | Scores | Ice Slider | Scores | The Grenades Conquest | Scores | Hair Boy | Scores | Dragon Attack | Scores | VirusDog | Scores | Hire Hare | Scores | Final Scores | That's All Folks!
Welcome to Retro Round Up, where we take a look at all that's new in the world of the computers of yesteryear. This week the whole article is dedicated to Amstrad CPC games that have emerged from this year's #CPCRetroDev2016 competition. It's the Amstrad's equivalent of the Eurovision Song Contest, and allows any publishers to enter their new Amstrad game for the chance to win not only €1,000 in cash but something that money cannot buy - the respect of Amstrad gamers worldwide.
If you were reading last week's Retro Gaming News, then you'll already be aware that overall winner trophy went to Outlaws, a chaotic Wild West shooting game. However, that was just one of 34 entrants to the competition. In previous years, some of CPCRetroDev's games have been reviewed in Retro Round Up, but in a rather piecemeal fashion - for instance, winner Space Moves (MM #1390), runner-up Frogalot (MM #1398) and third-placed Top Top (MM #1406). Some lower-placed entries also appeared in subsequent issues, and one of my pet gripes regarding all of them was the lack of instructions on how to actually load or play them. That situation has been addressed to an extent by this year's competition and downloading any of the games we'll look at here brings a zip file containing a tape-based version of the game, a disk-based version, the instructions and, in some cases, a development diary.
Anyway, sufficiently buoyed by CPCRetroDev's own publicity, which proudly announced all entries had been of a supremely high standard, my initial intention was to look at all 34 games over the next four pages (challenging as that would no doubt have been). However, in order to do that I had to actually play them and I quickly came to the conclusion that no-one outside of CPCRetroDev's "generous" judging panel would share their enthusiasm for a great many of the entries at all. In fact, I'd describe many of them as something between mediocre and abysmal. As I've pointed out before, games do have to reach a certain quality before I give them column space and many of these simply do not!
In parallel with the countries who forward song entries for Eurovision, it would seem that CPCRetroDev attracts those publishers who take it seriously, and those who bung in half-finished programs still badly riddled with bugs and hope (vainly) for the best. Unfortunately, this year, far from being 34 entries of a supremely high standard, I'd say the duffers outnumber the genuinely good games by a ratio of about 3:1, which means that in bringing you this article I've been subjected to quite a few hours of incredulity at what CPCRetroDev2016 considered worthy of being in the competition in the first place...!
If you're interested in how the competition is scored, then the site itself has some interesting information as to some of the Amstrad coding heavyweights who give their ten cents, but essentially what results is a Eurovision-style scoreboard with the winner at the top. When I tell you that five-screen platformer Elliot (by Approxbit) actually crashes when you fire a single bullet and still managed to finish at position 21 then you probably get a fair idea of the dross that's underneath that.
Indeed, for my own ten cents, I'd encourage CPCRetroDev to adopt a more aggressive stance as to the standard of entries that it is, and that it is not, acceptable to enter for CPCRetroDev2017. But the good news is that, by the time you get to the top ten, you do have a fairly varied and quite worthy set of contenders for the crown. And so it is to these contenders alone that I'll now turn, working from Maze Adventure which came tenth to Hire Hare which came second...
Maze Adventure is from a genre of games called 'dungeon crawlers' and in its case, the term couldn't be more appropriate. This is certainly a game that crawls along. If I was feeling particularly vicious I'd say it moves at the speed of a depressed lemming who can't find a bridge to jump from. And add that, after a few hours of playing it, I was that lemming...!
The screen is divided into a number of areas; your 3D view of the maze ahead takes up the largest part with level, health and compass indicators fairly intuitively placed. An overhead "teletext-style" map features below and scrolls in the appropriate direction as you take steps.
Perhaps the game's biggest failing is that, although it has copious instructions, it omits the singularly most important one of what you have to do. There are apparently 32 levels yet I never found my way off level one, despite hours of trying. I encountered rats and blobs, and manipulated the fiddly icon system when regular keyboard controls would have done just as well, but it felt pretty much futile when I didn't know what I was actually searching for.
It's a shame really, because the presentation, graphics and sound are extremely atmospheric. But, in my opinion, 3D maze games have never really had a lot going for them. Dressing them up doesn't disguise that.
We've got games like 2048 to thank for Amsthrees, a sliding tile game where the objective is to make the highest multiple of three that you can.
Each time you move the tiles in the grid, those labelled 1 and 2 merge together, as do any pairs that are in alignment. A new tile of 1, 2 or 3 is also introduced to the grid as well, so if the move does not result in at least two tiles being merged, it starts to fill up. A good strategy is to try and keep your highest number in the top left hand corner and build its pair in the square below. Employing this technique I seemed to get higher numbers.
Amsthrees has a nice soundtrack and the tiles scroll smoothly. Obviously it doesn't have much in the way of graphics but it does have bucket loads of addiction. When you lose, it's very tempting to immediately try again. As with 2048, you could easily lose swathes of your life playing this one!
Pingu Soccer is a soccer game between two penguins that is shown from overhead. The aim of the game is to score goals by getting the ball into the goalmouth. However, as the game takes place on a sheet of ice, it's a lot more difficult than a regular soccer game.
The biggest problem is to keep control of the ball. Sliding around the arena you can get near to it easily enough but the direction you are facing when you make contact, combined with the velocity your penguin is travelling at, is transferred to the ball. Your computerised opponents have a much better understanding of how to make the physics of the soccer rink work in their favour. So expect to have your penguin ass kicked the first few times you play.
There's a two player option, as well as a configuration section. In all, it's reasonably enjoyable but nothing to write home about.
Princess Amy is the heroine of many of Ego Trip's games on the Amstrad and her adventures continue in Ice Slider, a game which features the phenomenon I call propulsive movement. By which I mean when you move her left, she doesn't stop if you release the joystick but only when she is stopped by a maze wall.
Her task in Ice Slider is to clear each successive screen of doughnuts without getting caught in constant horizontal or vertical propulsion. So think hard before you move her - especially when the new screen appears for the first time. Try to assess which blocks of the maze can be best used to allow her to collect the doughnuts - and which will get her into a loop that she cannot escape from.
Ice Slider is quite cute and rather simplistic, but it's fairly addictive and working out the correct routes across each screen can be very rewarding. I'm not sure how many there are in total but, needless to say, they get progressively harder to complete.
There aren't a lot of two player only games for the Amstrad, so, if you want to take on your little brother or your girlfriend, there's only a fairly limited choice. The Grenades Conquest adds one more game to that short list, and offers you the opportunity to either hunt down the other player and blast him with a grenade launcher or, alternatively, to steal a key from his base and make good your escape.
The game works on the "best of nine" principle, so the first player to either steal five keys or massacre his friend five times is crowed winner. The two characters move speedily through the maze and can even occasionally outrun the other's slugs.
Of course, the game is limited if you can't find a mate to play with, and on one occasion there seemed to be a bug that caused one of the characters to stop firing for a short time. But other than that, there's nothing to criticize.
It's Hair Boy...! Let's see what he's all about. Hmmm...
"Hair Boy was born with strong, sticky blonde hair but sadly with no arms or legs. Hair Boy loves nothing more than tossing his sword around and then retrieving it again. Help reunite Hair Boy with his sword throughout 78 crazy screens of fun."
So, in fact, a better name for Hair Boy would be Sticky Hair Head. What you have to do in the game is to use the hair's sticky properties to climb walls and beat through bricks. There's actually not too much more to say than that - screens require a combination of dexterity, timing and, on occasion, a fair amount of good luck. The sticky hair makes for an unusual game mechanic, allowing you to slowly bounce up what appear at first to be unassailable walls - and of course to recover from falls if you jump from one to another but don't quite make it.
Screens get tougher - but there isn't really the variety needed to sustain interest. Without any real hook factor, it's too easy to tire of the concept and look elsewhere.
Dragon Attack is a superb little game released by Bitplane Technomantes. In it, you've been volunteered to defend the Earth - yes, again - this time from Star Dragons. And believe me, one Star Dragon is about ten times more vicious than the most hardened fleet of Space Invaders.
Star Dragons keep at the very top of the screen and pepper the whole playing area with arcs of bullets. It's your task to destroy them and avoid colliding with anything that moves - a task that needs fast reactions and a lot of concentration. What prevents it being impossible is some generous collision detection and the ability to turn on a nice auto-fire function.
Graphics and control are first-rate. The soundtrack is also awesome and sounds a little like The Terminator theme. Even the intro is suitably atmospheric, doing some clever things with ASCII characters that I've never seen elsewhere.
Dragon Attack is fast and frantic, and the amount of work that's gone into it is clear for all to see. Bravo!
VirusDog is a tile-matching game which requires you to engage your brain and try to think many moves ahead. The task before you is to clear each successive grid of "virus" tiles and you move a cursor to any tile, press ENTER and then fling it in any direction. If it hits a tile which is identical, both tiles disappear.
The difficulty is that tiles can also be inverted if they collide with a different type of tile. An inverted tile needs to be matched with an identical tile or inverted again by throwing it into another to put it back as it was. If this sounds difficult to follow then just play the game - it quickly falls into place.
As puzzle games go, VirusDog is reasonably taxing, with a steady increase in difficulty balances with the game's guarantee in that all of the grids can be solved in six moves or less. If you like reversi, mah jong and chess then this is going to be pretty addictive fair.
Hire Hare is a colourful isometric game in which you play the Sorceress Hecatia on a dungeon crawl to find nine black lamps. It comes from CNG Soft.
The dungeons are filled with dragon trophies that spit fire across your path and patrolling nasties of different types. Colliding with anything that moves reduces Hecatia's energy level, shown on the right of the screen. Some screens also have little arrows that indicate they join to others.
As well as walking and firing, there are objects like barrels, chairs, tables and blocks scattered around that get in the way and can be pushed, pulled and jumped upon.
The main issue with Hire Hare is the collision detection - it seems to take a heck of a lot of work to simply position Hecatia safely, particularly in relation to fireballs which seem to make contact when they shouldn't. A secondary issue is that it's quite a tedious trek through the dungeons, which seem all-too-pretty into the bargain.
There's nice music throughout but it's not an intuitive game to play and it's hard to work out when you're on the right path or when you're just wasting your time. Those who persevere however may find it holds a few secrets I haven't found.
I covered the winner of CPCRetroDev2016 - Outlaws (by Retrobytes) - in detail last issue. I only awarded it an overall mark of 49% which I still stand by, mainly because its third level is an incoherent mass of graphics that it's impossible to pick out the crosshair against. Interestingly therefore, whilst I broadly agree that the games that made it into the 'official' top ten are correct, my own top ten places them in a completely different order and Outlaws scrapes only seventh place:
|4.||The Grenades Conquest||63%|
The difference is, of course, because of the different scoring systems. Here at Micro Mart, we still score the old way, whereas the judges award points for technical achievement, originality and all that jazz. But, considering I've already played Amsthrees long into the night for a week now, it's clear to me anyway that Glasnost Corporation (Amsthrees) was robbed of its €1,000 Euros prize money.
On that controversial note, let me round off this look at CPCRetroDev by announcing that this article is in fact "not the end". Masochist that I am, I am actually putting together a video "CPCRetroDev2016: The Verdict" with a few of the other entries that didn't make the official top ten, and a look at the also-rans that I could stand for longer than a few minutes. As Terry Wogan would have said, "Keep a wary eye on the Everygamegoing homepage" for further details...