Retro Round Up
For this final issue of Micro Mart, Dave Edwards does what he does best - picking up and playing those games that you, quite probably, would otherwise never hear of...
Reviewed By Dave E In Micro Mart #1445Welcome | Election Battleground | Scores (Election Battleground) | The Story Of The Sinclair ZX Spectrum In Pixels Volume 1 | Larry And The Long Look For A Luscious Lover | Scores (LATLLFALL) | Air Apparent Zx | Scores (Air Apparent Zx) | Snake Escape | Scores (Snake Escape) | CPCRetroDev2016: The Verdict | That's All Folks!
Ah, it's the very last Micro Mart, so they've let me bring you a final Retro Round Up... hence I've scoured far and wide for the very best of what's been released this month. I'm not one for long goodbyes so let's get to the games first and then I'll let you into where those of you who have followed this column can continue to get your fix of it.
Election Battleground, or Haciendo Campanya in Spanish, is a two-player only game in which each player visits towns in Spain as the representative of one of four political parties. All that may make it sound like it's going to be a boring election result predictor but it's actually an arcade game.
You see, to win an election, as we all know, you have to advertise your candidate by plastering posters of him everywhere. And that's what each player must do - race around the board, covering every last square inch of the town with small poster icons. Beware colliding with the students, who will grab you to discuss political issues and cost you time. Also beware colliding with the police, who will take all your posters down.
Other than posters, there are icons which, if collected, can tip the balance in your favour. The jacket, for example, switches your opponent's posters to your own.
Election Battleground is a bit of a frantic affair but it's passable as Basic games go and if you can find a second player, you may well get some enjoyment out of it.
This book was funded last year with the help of Kickstarter, and is a glossy (reasonably heavy!), full colour B5 (that's slightly less than A4) printed homage to the Spectrum with 234 pages. It's split into two main sections - the games, and the memoirs. Oddly enough, the first thing I noticed about it was its very strong "new book" smell.
The "games" section is largest, with information about each game spread across two pages. A large screenshot of the game in action takes up most of the space, with a few details on the authors and publishing house in the top left and a passage describing the game (nine lines or so) top right. On the left of the opened book page you find either a reprint of the poster advertising the game or, if one did not exist, a reprint of the game's cover art.
The "memoirs" section comprises roughly 60 of the 234 pages and this (probably) holds the more intriguing information because it features a large number of articles by Spectrum games programmers.
I don't intend to give chapter and verse on all those games featured (or indeed all of those authors who have contributed to the book). That's because it would be a fairly extensive list and I honestly think that most people will decide if this book is for them simply based on whether they are interested in the Spectrum per se (rather than because it just happens to feature, say, two pages on Agent X by Mastertronic).
To be sure, the games that have been selected for inclusion are some of the Spectrum's finest but it's not actually a collection of the "best" games; more a randomised selection of memorable ones. Indeed, to discover what games are actually in it, you have to flick through its pages, as they are not numbered on the contents page.
In its favour, it's a very easy read. The majority of the memoirs can be digested in less than five minutes, the write-up on each of the games in less than half a minute. You can dip in and out of it with ease. At time of writing it was available from www.fusionretrobooks.com for £13.00 but stock was running low so you had better be quick if you want to bag one of the last copies.
In 1987, the old MS-DOS PCs boasted a peculiar graphic adventure. It was called Leisure Suit Larry and, in it, you played a 40 year old, bald-headed trier (Larry) and your mission was to hook up with a lady for the first time. It spawned several sequels and Larry himself became a cult "adult" character (Every few years he seems to pop up again in another adventure for the most recent format!).
Well, the ladies may not have loved Larry but K-Han Games clearly did, because LATLLFALL (Yes, that is a long title, isn't it?) is his original first outing, remade for the original Nintendo Entertainment System (the one of Mario Bros. fame). Now I never played the original back in the day but clearly what appeared risqué in 1987 seems less than tame by modern standards. Indeed, when I unboxed LATLLFALL and read its cartridge-emblazoned tagline "Just the release you were looking for", I think a tiny part of me cried just from the sheer unassuming innocence of it.
On to the game proper then, or should I say the part of the game that I have managed to explore so far. It runs in the standard Nintendo mode (with approximately 32 colours) and you have control of the suited would-be lothario who begins his mission out on the pull (alone) outside Tusky's bar. You can interact with the barman, the jukebox, the toilet and another patron, or you can jump in the taxi and make your way to one of three other locations, keeping an eye out for any of them that contain women.
Unlike the first text only, and later point-and-click, formats of the PC Leisure Suit Larry games, LATLLFALL has a more "arcade" feel to it, with the user-interface mapped to the Nintendo controller's D-pad and two buttons.
This makes playing the game a question of simply interacting (using the A button) with everything you can, in order to discover objects. For example, in the toilet you'll find a discarded engagement ring (pressing A picks it up automatically) and the ring comes in useful for wooing one of the ladies (who likes "nice things") in the disco. Bring up the menu with the B button and offer it to her to get hearty congratulations from the game but unfortunately little in the way of "mission complete".
Something very nice about the game is its sense of pace. With the cartridge as medium, loading times are cut to mere seconds making wandering, interacting and sitting in the taxi a joy. I should also mention the amazing "finish" of the physical product itself too. It comes in a lovely glossy cardboard box with a full, colourful instruction manual, a purple cartridge and even a copy of the original plastic placeholder found in the old NES releases.
Unfortunately, all of this also comes with a hefty price tag. LATLLFALL will set you back, after you convert your pounds to dollars and pay the import fees, the best part of £70. And don't think you'll just download it for free; there's no ROM of the cartridge available - it's a limited physical release game only.
Having said all that though, I do quite like it. Well, like is maybe too strong. It's more that I have a high regard for it in that it's nice to see this original "naughty" PC adventure on Nintendo's ultra-clean, family-friendly little gubbins. The suggestion of sex on the NES in the Eighties alone would probably have seen the head honchos faint (before they said no).
Its high price and limited distribution also mean that, if you do shell out your £70, you're practically assured of bagging a game that will increase in value over the next few years. The two elements combined mean that, whilst LATLLFALL may be almost mind-bogglingly dated in itself, it's being reborn as almost a new variant of forbidden fruit.
It's a struggle to review Air Apparent ZX, the latest game from Stephen Nichol, because it's one of the most boring shoot-'em-ups I've ever had the misfortune to encounter.
Created with the aid of Jonathan Cauldwell's Shoot-'Em-Up Designer (published by Cronosoft), this is a smooth sideways-scrolling monochrome blaster in which you must face off against the forces of the evil Prince L'thargy. And no, I didn't make that last bit up. Whether it's the ponderous crawl of your bullets across the screen, the sound effects that been sampled from the snap, crackle and pop of your morning bowl of Rice Krispies, the long pauses between the waves of attackers or simply the ridiculous of blowing up if you collide with the clouds, Air Apparent Zx seems to have been designed to make your face contort. If you're anything like me, you'll sigh and you'll yawn throughout.
The basic premise is to shoot enemy planes out of the sky. The trouble is that Air Apparent's planes always fly in formation, and always in set patterns. All you need to do is to work out whereabouts on the screen will allow you to safely pick them off the fastest and stay there. The same strategy will also see you past at least the first of the game's "big boss fights" (I couldn't face the subsequent ones). There are shields, smart bombs and additional ammunition which hang in the air and can be collected. The shield and smart bomb are fired with additional keys, if you can be bothered to play long enough to need them.
A more bizarre inclusion is that of the music. Or, should I say, the lack of it. You commence a game not by pressing Fire, as you might expect, but by choosing a piece of music (1 for LZ2000 theme or 2 for Elicor Fanfare) - so it's a little surprising that the game then plays throughout with no music whatsoever. Only when you lose your last life (and the game is so easy that you'll probably only do so in a suicide smash into the clouds) will it play, against a completely stationary screen, until you press any key.
The music's about the only good thing about Air Apparent, and the game is actually so poor that I'd recommend Nichol just strips out the two tunes and releases them as Speccy music demos. Otherwise, most people will drop off after a few moments' play and never even encounter them.
Snake Escape (tinyurl.com/hpjb9f7) is a brand new game for 48K+ Spectrums and the more recent ZX Vega. It's brought to the Spectrum by Einar Saukas (He of Pixel Quest and Alter Ego fame) so you can almost expect quality from the word go, and Snake Escape certainly doesn't disappoint. This new concept may also involve a slithering reptile eating big, juicy apples but everything else about it is very far removed from the average game of Snake.
In Snake Escape, each level is viewed from the side - something that takes a bit of getting used to. Snakeface grows each time you make a single move in any direction. And getting to the single apple per level isn't as easy as the usual angling your snaky head in its direction. No, Snakeface must, in Snake Escape, contend with gravity, and gravity sends his head plummeting to the lowest empty position on screen whenever it is not supported by anything.
The first thing you notice as you control Snakeface is that he can't stretch upwards more than three squares. Indeed, if you try he gets rather red in the face and stubbornly refuses to go any further. The second is that you can predict what will happen to him at least two or three moves ahead - for example, if you're about to move his head left or right and there's nothing to support it, then it will quickly fall to the nearest surface. The third is that, because if he can't move it is game over, innocent-looking gaps in the ground are actually fatal; if you fall into them then there's no escape! All three elements combine to teach you exactly how Snakeface must be controlled in order to reach the elusive apple. The screenshots illustrate how you essentially need to put on your thinking cap and make use of your tail to support you on your crawl to victory.
This is a remarkably addictive little game - it's one where each screen generally only has a single solution, but only a lot of brain-strain (or trial and error) will allow you to work it out. If (or should that be when!) you get stuck, a simple tap on the Space bar will allow you to give up and restart on the same level. There's no lives system so you can play until you beat the screen or give up in frustration.
The only proviso to be aware of is that the game features some great pieces of music - four individual tunes in fact! - but you only get them on the 128K Speccy models. If you load it on a 48K model, it will run in complete silence. Needless to say, the game is much improved with the music. The music does, however, change each level. The first few levels are relatively easy so when you first play Snake Escape, you may hear only about ten seconds of each tune before it switches to a different one!
As with many of Einar's other games, Snake Escape is written using the Nirvana+ engine which means that, even though the game uses all the Spectrum's colour palette, there's no attribute clash whatsoever. Apparently, the concept of a gravity-encumbered snake has been done before in a little-known game called Lime Rick. However, I suspect most people will have neither heard of nor seen this concept before... which is great, because it means Snake Escape will be, for many, a brand new type of puzzle game.
It's available completely free of charge and contains 42 levels in total. So far I've reached level ten, which has introduced a box Snakeface can push around... and which obviously needs to be pushed into that gap which otherwise will trap Snakeface when he tries to pass over it. My head-scratching continues...
In issue 1442, you'll recall our coverage of the top ten entrants for Amstrad competition CPCRetroDev2016. That article was just a quarter of the whole story though, and you can now, if you wish, watch my controversial reviews of every one of the 34 entries on YouTube at tinyurl.com/hd79zfo.
As a stalwart retro games player and the webmaster of www.everygamegoing.com, it has been a fun two years reporting on all the new developments on every machine from the Colour Genie to the NES. In that time I've covered over 200 new retro games. As I suspect those who have eagerly followed my adventures through retroland have realised, I genuinely could have gone on forever about these tiny masterpieces of code - just last issue I wrapped up a top ten which contained games that ranged from collaborative indie publishers with significant development "budgets" (by which I mean "time invested" in bringing out a quality product) to those brought out by a "team" of a single author.
But in case you didn't catch all of the reviews over the past two years however, I've now uploaded them all. It may well be that I also keep on reporting on this link too, because, as I've said before, new retro releases seem to only be given a cursory inspection by most websites (In fact, I have sometimes thought they just rework the press releases issued by the developers themselves!). On this site, we shall see what the future holds...