Too Big Issue


Play It Again Sam 15

Author: Russell Wills
Publisher: Superior/Acornsoft
Machine: BBC/Electron

Play It Again Sam 15

This looks like a pretty fine compilation at first glance, especially when you see that two of the games were programmed by the ace programmer Peter Scott, and also when you consider that most of the games were great hits for Superior at their time of original release. So here is the review, it is broken down into sections for each of the games on the compilation.

Cyborg Warriors

Programmed by Tony Oakden, this makes a change from his normal style of Arcade Adventure games (Camelot, Quest and Star Port) and onto the well worn path that is the shoot-‘em-up genre. The plot is thin, and as always with shoot-'em-ups, unnecessary, who wants to be bored with the standard you are trapped in an alien world, shoot everything and you will win scenario? Luckily this one doesn't get too stuck in with padding out this thin plotline, and thus the plot is left to one or two lines at the start of the instructions. So what you do get then is a pretty impressive piece of programming, a fast moving parallax scrolling shoot-'em-up with a variety of four different weapons, the Standard Issue Laser, the Multi Directional Laser, the Anti-matter Torpedo, and the Smart Bomb Launcher.

The game is pretty much endless, and is more of a high-score getting game than a game with fixed objectives and levels, this makes a change from the objective based games of today. The gameplay itself is superb, the graphics are quite good, even though the colours are a bit on the psychedelic side, and they move with such speed and fluidity it makes you wonder what went wrong with all those badly scrolling games that there have been over the years. The screen size is impressive as well, as most shoot-'em-up games have a need for speed, the window must be reduced, too much and this can lead to people going blind from squinting at a stamp sized window on the screen (you only have to look at a game called War from Martech to see what I mean) and too little and the game becomes slower than a one legged hedgehog. The game play is nice and fast and furious, and very very hard, just like shoot-'em-ups should be. The only bad thing I have to say about the gameplay side of things is that the enemies are not as varied as they could be, there are only really three or four different enemies to encounter on your journeys.

Sound is not exactly brilliant, very limited in fact, but this doesn't detract from what is probably among the best shoot-'em-ups on the Beeb, perhaps only beaten by Firetrack from Aardvark and Nevryon from The 4th Dimension. The weapons in the game are very nicely done, and just when you get bored, up pops a new weapon for you to slaughter the enemy with. Wonderful!

Network

The first of the two games on the disk by the mystical Peter Scott, who in his day (don't know what he's doing now) was probably the most consistently good programmer on the BBC, his softography is extensive to say the least. This is one of his best genres, the arcade adventure, with the quirky quaint type of characters in it that give his games a style all of their own. This one sees you, the sort of squashed egg cup shaped thing (the name is never mentioned as far as I know) trying to construct the Flynche machine by collecting all of its 20 parts. To hinder your progress there are aliens and dangerous objects which must be negotiated so that you lose as little of your energy as possible (shown by a bar at the top of the screen). This task is made easier with the inclusion of a laser, with which you can shoot said beasties, but be warned, this laser has only a limited amount of energy (shown by another bar at the top of the screen).

The first thing you notice about this game is its size, it is pretty huge, but organised neatly into single screen areas, it is flick screen rather than constantly scrolling. The main things you have to do on this game are jumping and avoiding the baddies, this is not as easy as it sounds, and the game is actually quite hard, especially when you have to use the moving platforms, as you must match your movements to those of the platforms, they will not carry you along with their own movements. There are also other things to negotiate including springs which can be bounced on, lifts, and the especially nifty teleport machines which can move you to the other teleport machines (you have to have seen them before to teleport to them). The game moves along quite nicely, but it is perhaps too hard in places, especially at the start screen which is a task all of its own just to get out of, once you get used to how the game works though, it is nice and user friendly.

The game uses low-resolution Mode 2 graphics, but these are very well drawn, and the colour palette varies constantly throughout the game. The graphics detailed, though not as much as in games like Pandemonium and Thunderstruck. The whole thing is very well programmed, there is hardly any sprite flicker, even when there are a number of moving objects on the screen, and the graphics move very smoothly. The colours are well combined, and there aren't really any where they clash with each other, they go rather nicely with each other in fact.

The sound on this game is pretty poor, no music anywhere in the game, and the sounds are actually exactly the same as in most other Peter Scott games. This means just a sound when the energy goes down, and various other bleeps and pings for accomplishing things in the game. It could have certainly done with a bit of music in game. Overall though, it isn't a bad play, although it isn't Peter Scott's best work.

Ricochet

The is what you could call the 'premium' game of the bundle, it was actually released before the compilation was made, and is one of the biggest selling Superior Software games. In this game you play 'Sprat' a ball shape, who can only roll around and bounce in order to achieve his goal. The objective of the five levels included is to find the hourglass in each level, and then teleport out of the level, you get a password for each new level that you visit, so you don't have to go through all of the levels every time you play. Although the passwords are available, they aren't really supposed to be used to complete the ultimate goal, to go through all five levels in one game, without stopping, this will uncover the secret message!

Although not exactly original, this is quite a fun game, the way you have to work out which points to bounce from and in what direction so that you can reach otherwise unreachable platforms. This adds so much more to the arcade adventure genre, instead of just climbing up and down ladders, you have bounce through narrow gaps to reach things, and generally it is more interesting just moving around the levels than it is in most other arcade adventures. The password feature is excellent as well, as on most other arcade adventure games you cannot really save your game in any way, and they are normally very hard. By splitting this game into separate levels, you get the game in bite sized pieces, which can be played separately, and then you can decide when you want to attempt the whole thing at once. The difficulty level is set just right, it is nice and easy at the start, to get you into the game, and once you are in there, it doesn't just slack off but the whole game seems to move up a gear. The good thing about the keys on the game (which you must collect to open doors) is that the keys are marked with letters, and these are shown if you have the key in your inventory, also when you move to a room with a door in it, the letter of the door is also shown, so you can easily tell if you have the right key straight away, instead of relying on special colour coded doors and keys. Everything about this game seems to have been designed so that you get the most time puzzling and wandering around, and not wondering what key goes where or what the hell the object actually is that you just picked up. This has to be in my top three most playable adventure games on the Beeb, a classic, right behind Castle Quest and Citadel.

The graphics on this game are very nice, extremely finely detailed and very well drawn, they really do push the Beeb to the limits of its sprite handling technology I feel. The graphics colours are well chosen, and they never clash, even with the frequent palette changes which take place throughout the screens.

The sounds of the game are nice enough, if very bland, in fact this whole compilation seems to be one of the most devoid of sound out of the whole 18 PAS's! Sound is limited to beeps and bleeps, not too interesting really. Something which is good about the game is the fact that there is a nice little message scrolling by on the title screen, it is quite funny, and you can read it for ages, it never seems to end!!!

The Last Ninja 2

The Last Ninja was one of the few games that managed to keep my interest right until the very end of the game, and it never felt like a hard slog through the later levels, so I was pleased to get hold of this game, as I expected more of the same. The game is written by Peter Scott, a very accomplished author, and it pleased me that this game was a change from his usual style, and even more that it was nicely done. Basically, you are a Ninja in New York, and you have to fight through the six levels of the game, killing everyone, and also finding time for a small bit (and very easy at that) of puzzling.

The game is played in a pseudo 3D sort of style, from a fixed viewpoint, but is more detailed and has chunkier sprites than some of the Isometric 3D games, prime examples of these come from Ultimate Play the Game. Anyway, it is basically easy to move through the game, the puzzles are easy enough, but the fighting at times seems impossibly hard. Until you get one of the various weapons in the game (there are some nice Ninja weapons available, the Sword, Num-chuks, Stick, and my favourite, the Shuriken Star!) it is very hard to kill the people who chase you, and many of your six starting lives can be lost at only the start of the game. Once you do get a weapon though, the game becomes a lot more fun, and although the baddies are not exactly very artificially intelligent, they are quite hard. There is a good range of baddies to conquer, from Policemen to other Ninjas, and some pack a pretty hard punch with their weapons! Aside from the fighting, there are also other parts of the game which are more puzzle orientated, for example, in the first level (Central Park) there is a stream of lava (!?) and you have to step on the stepping stones to get across the level, this is hard, especially as you have to pick the right jump key (there are three, small, medium and large) this adds some variation to the game, so you don't feel like it is punching all the way.

The graphics on this game are extremely impressive, the 3D (even though it is not exactly true 3D) is good and works well, and the colours are nice. There are a lot of different objects in the game, and the screens are always packed full of details. One minor gripe about the graphics engine is that sometimes it goes a bit wrong and you end up actually walking through solid objects! This is quiet annoying and looks a bit stupid at times. The rest of the graphics are excellent though, and very well put together. The main character is very well animated, with kicks, punches and jumps.

The sound (as I've said before about this whole compilation) is very minimal, and again is limited to small beeps and buzzes. A bit more imagination for the music would make this game into a classic, but as it is it is a very good game, it seems to me that Peter Scott was a bit of an all-round great programmer.

Summary

A nice blend of games make this one of my favourites PAS's, it has some great games, and they will all last you for a long time, two are huge graphics adventures, there is a nice beat-em-up to play which has some nice puzzley elements, and a good old fashioned shoot-'em-up to relax with. If you only buy this for Ricochet (definitely the best of the bunch) then you may be presently surprised by your other three acquisitions.

Russell Wills

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