Saturday, November 09, 2019

Return To Genesis


Firebird released Return To Genesis the same year I got my Atari ST and it was developed by the incredible "ST Dream Team". Yup, Steve Bak, Pete Lyons and David Whittaker: three masters in their own field. These guys pushed the ST without ever resorting to excuses or using a lame Amiga port. #respect

RTG is basically a funky take on Defender where Mechanauts have forced scientists into slavery. We've gotta rescue each of these guys which means jumping into a spaceship to skim the surface of 50 psychedelic worlds.

 
Can you see the Mechanauts? Not easy, is it? Wait, there's a scientist here waiting to be picked up!

If you've ever played Defender then you should be right at home with RTG. There is only a minute learning curve so the lazy option is to keep your finger on the fire button and kill everything in a mad panic as the alien's attack. However, it's worth slowing down to pick up the scientists rather than killing them: once onboard, hit the HELP key to see what cool power-ups they might provide. These guys are useful and could improve weaponry, shields, invisibility, and so much more. However, Festus might be less than fun as the master of self-destruction!!

A scanner shows the location of each scientist but this sadly falls short at detailing the level layout. I don't know why, but this doesn't work well for me. Sigh... how many more times must I be rebounded back and forth like a yoyo. Yes, this is one incredibly FAST shoot 'em up that has you on the edge of your seat. Blink and you're dead!!


This is an incredible idea that uses who you rescue in a positive way for the next level. It's superb!

Pete Lyon designed everything you see but I'd be lying if I said this was his best work (I personally think Zynaps won that accolade). Don't get me wrong, RTG looks lovely but it's also pretty gorky and I sometimes found it difficult to distinguish the aliens against those funky backgrounds. The scrolling is smooth to prove, once again, that the Atari ST needed no custom chips when in the hands of talented people that care about their product.

Audio is such a treat. Dave Whittaker sure knew how to get the best heard from our computer - his work proves "chip" will last forever. Okay, it does sound <cough> familiar but it suits the gameplay perfectly. Heck, our ST talks to us which is a zillion times better than Goldrunner. Dave certainly gets the YM processor rocking!!

 
Oh look, a weapons upgrade. See, I told you it was better to rescue these guys rather than blasting 'em!

RTG is one of those games that apparently has it all. It looks, moves and sounds absolutely brilliant yet I still cannot bring myself to playing it that much over the last three decades. I love a good Defender but this is simply too difficult thanks to its blistering speeds which means hitting lots of objects and suffering humiliating deaths. However, the scientist's power-ups is a wonderful idea that compensates the repetitive (and difficult) gameplay.

Return To Genesis is an iconic shoot 'em up for most ST gamers but it's way too furious for me and thus another Anarchy. Sorry, but give me Xenon or Menace any day of the week. Overall, I like it but I don't love it.

Return To Genesis is available on floppy or your hard drive device.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Quadralien


I must admit that Quadralien wasn't something I was looking forward to. I remember being completely bemused by this puzzler back in 1988 so I was dreading booting it up again - and having to write something interesting!! So, cautiously, I inserted the floppy disk into my beloved Atari ST and braced for an embarrassing moment of gaming torture. I only hoped my nightmares didn't return to haunt me - at my age, I need all the sleep I can get!!

Quadralien is an action-enhanced puzzler released by Logotron and, once again, we find ourselves on-board a spaceship that's about to go into a nasty radioactive meltdown. This time it's thanks to a pesky race of Quadraliens who must be stopped before everything goes boom. Next time, I think I'll just stay at home...

 
Click the red square to see detailed information for each of the six droids. Choose wisely!

Each level is viewed from above, Gauntlet-style, and we control two droids that need to clean up the Quadralien's mess. Actually, there are a total of six droids but only two are usable at once. Each has its own individual characteristics to take into account: magnetic structure, the ability to carry waste, battery, weaponry...

Initially, I found this unnecessary because I felt blind in terms of planning ahead for an unknown level. It didn't seem to work very well... However, I later found a fantastic series of videos by sushicalmagi who nicely explains each droid along with the basics of the gameplay. It's worth watching, especially if you have no instructions manual!

 
So much radioactive stuff to zap or pick up... use those "I" terminals to see the services it offers.

Six chambers make up a level and their objective differs: in the first room we are tasked to clean the radioactive materials to lower the temperature but the later levels involve puzzles to tax the old brain cells. Quadralien uses a passcode system to lock the harder levels which I thought was a neat idea for the long run.

Okay, my first game was quite the mind-blowing affair because there's so much clutter on-screen which bewilders!! My advice is to take it slow and experiment with your droid: familiarise yourself with the room, find water, play with magnetised objects, zap/collect toxic waste - and use the console. Actually, these terminals are excellent and stuffed full of detailed stats, full toxic decontamination, and can also recharge your battery to full power.

 
The console is your best friend who can help out in a number of different ways - like a good scrub!

After a couple of games in, things began to fall into place and I was enjoying myself. Getting around is easy using the joystick and it's a lot of fun zapping the nasty stuff with your laser. Also, the spacebar is used to collect toxic waste and hitting F4 activates a nifty Geiger counter on all lucky droids. F5 flips between your two chosen droids and F3 allows you to pan your location without moving, which is more useful than you might first assume...

Also, there are some rather odd magnetic mechanics which can be useful, annoying or humorous and that depends on your choice of the droid so learn your environment before blindly running around. However, there are other objects to be wary of like magnetic tracks, forcefields and those impetuous Quadraliens!

 
It's good to know your environment and Quadralien is bursting with much to learn. Study hard!

Graphically, this puzzler is pretty amazing and I liked its crisp, clean design using bold colours. It's quite futuristic in some ways and reminded me how I thought a 16-bit game would look - back when I was a ZX Spectrum guy. Okay, I'd have like scrolling but the flick-screen method works nicely and I'm thankful push-scrolling wasn't used!

The sound effects are great but it's that funky Dave Whittaker music which wins it hands down. Listen...

 Any David Whittaker Atari ST tune can be played directly in your browser thanks to SNDH Record.


Okay, we're now at that point where I write why I loved or hated a game. However, I'm doing something a little different today because of Quadralien's enormous learning curve which I initially failed to master...

If I'm honest, I never fully got to grips with Quadralien. Not nearly as much as I'd have liked but something was putting me off. The idea is interesting but also overwhelming and I found the concept of using different droids rather irritating. This is one of those puzzlers that I fear others, with a cool temperament and lots of spare time, will enjoy the most. Whereas I'm that guy watching on, totally gobsmacked, and wondering what everyone else sees in it...

So why did I leave in my obviously premature conclusion? Well, sometimes we're quick to judge and I feel I fell right into that trap because I didn't master Quadralien's massive learning curve. Anyhow, I recently took a week off with the family to eat, drink and walked the fells of northern England. I returned fresh, raring to go, and booted up my ST to give this puzzler another shot. You know what? I actually enjoyed it for the first time in over 30 years!

Quadralien may offer the usual end-of-world scenario but it also feels very different and with some interesting mechanics. Sure, there's a huge learning curve, but I suggest trying your best to master that otherwise you'll do what I almost did and miss out on nothing less than a class Atari ST puzzler. This is brilliant. Dismiss it at your peril.

AtariMania has the floppy download and 8BitChip obviously has the hard disk version. Enjoy!!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Marble Madness


Of all the games in this wonderful Super Pack collection, it is (ironically) Atari's own Marble Madness which I was looking forward to the least. I've never played the arcade original but I did have a number of clones back in my Sinclair ZX Spectrum days - and I hated every one of them!! So, we're off to a good start lol.

This ST conversion was programmed by Will Harvey, which shocked me somewhat. After all, this is the guy who gave us the excellent Zany Golf and The Immortal so my expectations were always going to be high.

To be honest, I find the whole Marble Madness concept pointless and very frustrating. I've simply no patience to spend any amount of time on something that was obviously designed to torture people like me. However, I must keep an open mind and attack this game just as I would any other... Maybe I've been wrong all these years?

 
The first level looks good but is a cheap imitation with missing decals.
Level two introduces us to the enemies - a black ball that loves to play chase... Weird!

The aim of Marble Madness is to navigate a ball through six wacky isometric mazes that feature lots of tricks like moving platforms, vents and even "monsters" that zap you for valuable time loss. Yes, there's a timer so, the quicker you complete each screen, the more time you accumulate for the next. This idea is pretty cool and forces you to master each level the best you can. Or you could play coop head-to-head which I thought worked well.

The controls are awkward, so it's now you will probably miss that trackerball? Sure, I've no trackball myself but I found the ST's mouse to be nothing less than useless as I wildly zipped about in every direction except the one I wanted. The joystick proved to be the better choice for the diagonal movements and holding down fire delivers a burst of speed. This is good to climb slopes or avoid baddies - just try not to fall over the edge!

Sadly, the controls aren't without their quirks and sometimes it felt like my blue ball had a mind of its own: many times I'd move one way only to see it go another! Plus there are bugs, lots of bugs: for example, level two features an invisible wall which your ball can ignore and drop down into oblivion. Level three crashed on me twice!

 
Okay, I've dodged two wibbly things... but... Oh no, there's another black ball ready to chase me!!
Those green blobs are slow and easy to beat. Hang on, what's that vent used for...?

Graphically, I expected better from the ST. Just look at its title screen if you don't believe me - what were they thinking? The game itself resembles the arcade levels but feels rushed with missing decals, bland colours and weak shadows. It's pretty rubbish when compared to other isometric games I've enjoyed on my Atari ST.

Audio is quite poor, the sound effects barely resemble the original and the music is irritating at best.

 
Level four has some of the most infuriating moments which had me screaming at my poor ST!!!!

Okay, I know that I've never loved Marble Madness - but - I have kept an open mind. Honestly, I've tried my best but time has not healed my wounds and it failed to deliver the slightest hint of enjoyment. Also, the ST appears to have received an incredibly lame conversion that feels rushed and is riddled with silly bugs.

Marble Madness is definitely the weakest game in the Super Pack (so far) and yes, it's even worse than Chopper X so I don't think I'll be booting it up again anytime soon. Sorry guys, but I absolutely hated this with a passion!!

Those wishing to endure torture can download either the floppies or a hard disk version. Good luck...

Friday, October 11, 2019

Eddie Edward's Super Ski


So far, my Super Pack adventure has been very strong with some huge titles: Arkanoid II Revenge of Doh, Beyond the Ice Palace, Black Lamp and Buggy Boy. All are searchable right here and all are sweet Atari ST classics. However, there's always an exception and it was Chopper X. But we'll say no more about that...

Okay, the sixth game in the Atari Super Pack is Eddie Edward's Super Ski which is basically an "Eddie The Eagle-endorsed" version of Microids' Super Ski. Now, everyone (here) admired our lovable sporting icon who was our plucky hero that certainly won over the entire nation's heart. Heck, he even got his name on an Atari ST game which is a gold medal moment and far more impressive than the Calgary Winter Olympics. Oh yeah!

 
Okay, there's no music but the interface is clear and well-designed. I like the ability to instantly play!

Oddly, I had a bit of trouble running this game on my own STe so I switched over to Hatari and configured that to emulate a basic STf (TOS 1.02). Also, (thanks to AtariMania) I had a good laugh reading the box cover which says: Fly like "the Eagle" on the Ski Jump!!

Super Ski is a 3D skiing simulator where we compete in slaloms, downhill racing and a ski jump. Each event is experienced from a third-person perspective to show Eddie in the thick of the action - which basically means we try our best to help keep him on course using our lightning-fast reactions. Which is harder than it sounds...

The races are fast. And I do mean fast! Chose from three tracks that increase in their number of twists and turns for a chaotic experience. Controls are superb - move from side to side to steer through as you zoom down the snowy hills (press the fire button to move quicker). To increase your speed, push up, for an insane boost!

Competition mode supports multiple players using the Booking Office (which is a bit weird) to choose how many and their names. Now you can find out who can jump the best and ski the fastest without incurring too many penalties. You might even become a human snowball... Tell me that ain't the funniest thing you never expected to see!

 
If you can handle it, ride low for faster speeds. I did and finished without turning into a snowball!!

There is a training mode used to practice each of the four events before taking part in the competition. Using this is something I cannot recommend highly enough, because you will certainly need lots of practice:

The slalom games are fast so require quick reactions to safely navigate each of the progressively difficult tracks. The harder you go, the more winding the path and all whilst trying to hit through the gates. Wow, these races are insane - dare you hit UP to go even faster??

Ski Jump is simple and simply awesome. Sure, it's over within the blink of an eye compared to racing, but it's exciting to see Eddie fly like the eagle he was (ahem). I really enjoyed trying to get the speed and angel just right - now all you've gotta do is try and stop. If you can!

Downhill Racing is very similar to the slaloms and, I suppose, sports fans will hate me for saying that? However, I found it harder because I felt snowblinded due to the lack of colour and visual objects! It's fast, it's furious, it's racing so crouch down if you can handle the exhilerating pace.



This has got to be one of the best moments in gaming? I never expected to be Eddie The Snowball!!

Graphically, I'm impressed by Super Ski which nicely presents an Olympic scene. Everything flows at a frightening pace and possibly too fast for my old eyes that desired less speed and more frames. We even have foolish spectators standing in dangerous places just waiting to be splattered. Actually, it's good that they're there because I'd probably go snowblind in this white world. But I shouldn't complain because this is brilliant for 1988.

Audio is less impressive with the YM2149 trying to make swooshy/sliding noises and penalty alerts. It's fine but could have been far better? Sadly, there are no chiptunes to bop along too, either in the menus or during play.

 
Looks like the fans are enjoying it? I wonder if I can entertain them as much as the real Eddie... Yup!

You know me, sports games aren't really my bag, baby. I enjoy certain motorsports and even a few beat 'em ups, but I admit to being pretty much meh about athletics. Super Ski is fun but I am concerned about its lack of variety and felt we needed "more" to set apart the events - like a bobsleigh or even curling!! Of course, they're not exactly Eddie's chosen events, but this would have added a lot more to the game which feels quite restricted.

However, I will say that this skiing game really impressed me. The controls are perfectly responsive for each frantic event and the feeling of zooming downhill is a thrill - it's almost like a snowy version of Vroom! Also, the training mode is a Godsend to help brush up on your skills before foolishly jumping into a competition. Overall, Super Ski is great especially when playing against the family - and we had a laugh - so this is highly recommended.

This Eddie version of Super Ski was a tough find... Thankfully, AtariMania had the correct download.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Chopper X


Chopper X is a vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up released in 1989 by Paradox that places us in the seat of an Assault Helicopter which is armed with Viper Air To Ground missiles to battle against hoards of bad guys. The blurb says this pushes the ST with its stunning graphics - What absolute twaddle. Don't believe it for a second!

Anyhow, I should first admit that I'm not exactly the biggest fan of the whole vertical shooter genre. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the games that I have enjoyed over the decades: Flying Shark, SWIV, Wings Of Death, Xenon, Xenon II and Lethal Xcess. Most are searchable here and yes, I'm a freak with six fingers...

 
From the start, I knew this was going to be a corker. Yup, right up there with the best of 'em. Ahem!

Upon starting, the first thing that hits you is how crude it looks. Then you pick up the joystick and realise that the controls are equally as bad because they feel clunky without any swift action manoeuvring your chopper about the screen. Hmm, that just sounds wrong... Anyhow, it simply doesn't feel right to me.

Shooting down enemies should always be fun but I'm not so sure Chopper X has the most accurate collision detection system. Perhaps it's the scrolling which throws me? But there are times when killing them (and them killing me) seemed somewhat unnaturally fake. Our main weapon doesn't feel good enough, it's like I wanted more from it... Thankfully, there are powerful Cluster Bombs that help out during those sticky situations.

 
The ship does nothing other than help mask the enemy fire!! At last (right pic) we reach the end of a level.

Each stage is quite short and static in design which is fine because many shooters follow a similar design. However, that means I could soon learn when something was about to appear and these guys are pretty dumb too: they will blindly shoot in a direction which is approximate to your location on the screen. So, if you're quite high up, then their bullets are fired diagonally upwards rather than directly towards your current location. Weird...

It's probably a lot easier to keep your chopper quite low on the screen to avoid the enemy's pathetic attack patterns from above. However, and annoyingly, death not only results in a loss of life but also forces you back to replay the entire level from the beginning rather than the place were you croaked it. Quite infuriating.

 
As you can see, the enemy cannot directly fire at your location but only in the general direction.

Graphically, this is pretty poor by ST standards with bland sprites, dreary backdrops and horrendously jerky scrolling. It's perhaps one of the worst I've seen and I include those developed with Shoot'Em-Up Construction Kit! lol

Audio... Well, this is the game's one saving grace with an incredibly funky tune that I really enjoy. However, it doesn't last very long before looping back to the start and, because this plays constantly, it isn't long before it grates on your nerves!! Sound effects are pretty lame, especially when you die or kill something. Interestingly, midi is supported which is something I'd love to experience one day - I'm after a cheap Roland MT32. Anybody??

 
The 2nd level adds a splash of brown but still looks dreadful. However, I'd lost the will to live by the 3rd...

Well, it looks like my fantastic run of Super Pack games has come to an end with Chopper X? Yes, I've never been a big fan of vertically-scrolling shoot 'em ups but this is pretty bad, to say the least. It's way too easy, dull as dishwater, and, well, it's just no fun. There are better shoot 'em ups on the ST so stay clear of this choppy chopper!!

Perhaps you're insane and wish to play this? The floppies can be sourced using Old Games Finder and you can lose precious hard drive space by installing this version by 8BitChip. Enjoy!