Saturday, March 28, 2020

GIANTS


This might come as a shock, but I don't own any Atari ST compilations. Until now that is! Giants was released in 1989 by US Gold and is "a mammoth compilation of world beaters" according to the box. Inside a sturdy plastic case are lots of floppy disks for four big names - which only goes to prove how cool the 1980s were:

+ Out Run - I cannot believe this is by the same guy that gave us Enduro Racer!
+ Gauntlet II - an Atari ST classic developed by Golden Axe legend Richard Costello.
+ 1943 - developed by Probe... No, wait! Come back, this one is a good 'un!!
+ Street Fighter - Tiertex gave us Strider so I'm hopeful for another gem. Ahem.

Now then, one of these is an arcade beauty on the Atari ST but what about the other games? Hmm, let's see...



- OUTRUN -

So let's begin with Out Run. Oh, dear... Yup, I'm not sure what to say about this because we have all moaned about it for many years. Personally, I thought the perspective didn't work on the home computer versions. I know we're in a Ferrari but there ain't enough pixels for such a low position. However, it's that framerate which hurts the most. This is supposed to be a fast-paced rush through the sunny streets but it feels more like a jerky slideshow.

Ignoring the dreadful framerate, the visuals aren't too bad and look bright, colourful and sunny. Of course, the music is fantastic and that's thanks to Jason Brooke. However, it's that framerate which destroys everything this could have been. I wasn't expecting an arcade-perfect conversion but whoever programmed this should be shot.

Stay clear of this game. There are so many other - far better - racers available for the Atari ST.

Thankfully, there is light at the end of this horendous tunnel, thanks to Manic Miner legend Peter Jørgensen. He's in the process of upgrading Out Run for the Atari STe using the Blitter coprocessor for better framerates along with new sprites, music and more. This is a work-in-progress but is already a million times better than the official game, which is a car-wreck. Watch this space...


The road ahead is blocked by four trucks. Yes, four trucks. And I'm almost outta time too!!



- GAUNTLET II -

Unlike the other two Gauntlet games, this one is oddly missing from our archives so Giants has nicely plugged that gap. Come on, what a fantastic game this is, and also something every Atari ST player knows and loves dearly. Whether you are playing solo or with (many!) friends, this is a brilliant conversion of the arcade game.

From the moment its cabinet appears - with that foot-tappingly cool music - we are in love. Chose a character from four heroes: be it a brute like Thor, the cunning Valkyrie, a powerful wizard or a wise Elf. Each has their style and all will find it tough clearing the crowded dungeons of evil monsters, ghosts and other demons.

Use your weapon, kill everything and leave nothing alive. This includes those generators popping out all kinds of monsters from the depths of hell. Look for potions to help against the tougher beasts - like death or a massive hoard. But there is also treasure and food along the way to keep yourself wealthy and healthy.

What a brilliant and exciting game this is. One of the greatest Atari ST arcade games you will ever play!


One of the best Atari ST arcade conversions there is. Right? Of course, I'm right!!



- 1943 -

1943 follows on from (wait for it) 1942 and is another vertically-scrolling shooter. However, this conversion is initially extremely difficult and I was saddened how much I hated it. The gameplay feels too fast so I spent ages ramming into the enemy - and their bullets. It's almost like I had a kamikaze gift for getting myself destroyed.

I also miss the real-estate of a portrait display but that's hardly the STs fault. Nor is reaching over for the spacebar to use a bomb during those difficult moments. However, stick with it and don't be put off because this is actually a faithful and frantic conversion with tons of enemies to kill and power-ups to collect. Also, I must say that I absolutely love the energy bar which I thought was superb - and certainly helped prolong my games!

Graphically, we've not been given a perfect clone but it's no ugly beast. The sprites are nice zooming around your screen but the backgrounds are pretty lame. However, that is compensated by parallax scrolling - using fluffy clouds gliding down the screen like melting butter. Music was YM-composed by Jason Brooke and is just brilliant.

Boot this one up for a good hour of frantic joystick-breaking action! An excellent shoot 'em up.


Oh no, the enemy is attacking from multiple directions? Argh, I'm bound to die pretty soon!!



- STREET FIGHTER -

Anybody that knows me, knows that I'm no expert of this genre. In fact, I know very little until having recently dipped my toes in the water a few years back with Double Dragon 3. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it and found the whole experience rather mind-blowing. What had I been missing all these years?

Sadly, things aren't (ahem) quite as impressive here. Street Fighter's gameplay is slow, very slow and the controls simply don't feel right. To me, it's like I'm blindly bashing the button in a desperate hope to punch or kick at the right moment. Also, the opponents never truly feel like they have much AI but, when they do attack, they're possessed by Chuck Norris!! The balance is off so I dare anyone to beat your first opponent - without cheating!

Graphically, it looks fairly nice with neat backdrops and huge sprites. However, the game moves dog-slow and the sprites feature little animation. I'm not sure why everything is so eye-burstingly jerky because there's actually very little going on. I'm not going to mention the music other than to say how much it grates. Ugh!!

Everything about this conversion feels like a wind-up. Have I been given a beta by accident? Surely this is a joke? Imagine paying the RRP for this lol. Play something else and don't waste your time booting this one up!


Looks quite nice I think. Though fighting in slo-mo is made even worse by a ridiculous difficulty.



- THE CRYPTO'PINION -

It's obvious Gauntlet II was always going to be the star of this collection - and it is. But I'm shocked how much I enjoyed playing 1943 which is a seriously crazy shooter. Okay, I initially hated it, but after many agonising attempts, I finally got the hang of it. I still need a cheat for infinite lives but I loved every second of it.

Sadly, that leaves two stinkers. OutRun is a terrible racer with a headache-inducing framerate that makes our Atari ST run slower than an Amstrad CPC. So I'm (more than) relieved we have Peter's Atari STe upgrade in the pipeline. Street Fighter is something else. I'm not sure what to say other than shockingly poor programming.

Overall, I would have been pleased with this compilation back in the day. It's obvious that I would have spent most of my time playing Gauntlet II whilst occasionally booting up 1943 for a quickie - and probably not lasting very long. However, the other floppies would have been reformatted and used for the latest Automation disks!!

GIANTS is available to download from AtariMania.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Liberator


I've been given what I can only describe as a fantastic gift of kindness! A good friend, and patron of AtariCrypt, has donated a box of Atari ST games he didn't need and there are some crackers which are new to me: Impact, Battle Chess, Targhan, European Soccer, Mean 18, Rock 'n Roll and Sky Fighter. Christmas has come early!!

Well, add Liberator to that list. The box intrigued me with screenshots that appear a mix of Toobin' and Mystical. Like they both had a baby - then dropped it. Picked it up, wiped away the blood - and then dropped it again. Yeah, it looks tacky but how often have we played a corker with terrible graphics? Exactly. So, I booted it up.

 
Navigate by alien wreckages, remembering to collect the ammo caches while you kill the ugly aliens.

I've never played Liberator so didn't know what to expect - which I've clearly demonstrated in my video recording? This is a vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up that has us killing aliens, only this time we're sitting inside a hovercraft with 8-way movement/firing. As the screen scrolls downwards, aliens will climb out from the ground or walk onto your screen. They're easy to shoot because they're so slow but can often attack in hoards, so watch out!

Liberator was coded by Tim Moore who gave us excellent games like Verminator and also the legendary Beyond The Ice Palace. Okay, perhaps everybody has to start somewhere, so I can only assume he learnt many lessons from programming this shoot 'em up? Ahem... :]

 
The aliens might be slow but they're determined to play chase and it's a life lost if they catch you!

Reaching the end of level one is easy unless (argh!!) a stray bullet hits. So that leaves the final task of freeing a captive - just shoot the bars of his cell. You're then sped off into a world of psychedelic gateways for access to the next level. Disclaimer! Because we guys never read the instructions: aim for the flashing square!! It's the only way to access the next stage otherwise, you're doomed to repeat the same level over again. Which is stupid!

Visually, the Atari ST being pushed to its limits. No, not really. It's lame with poorly designed backgrounds and aliens you cannot help but laugh at. The scrolling is smooth albeit with some slowdown, which is odd because there isn't ever a whole lot going on. Sound effects are meek but do their job for firing, pickups, etc. Wally Beben composed the music which is shockingly irritating. I love the YM2149 but what was he thinking - turn it off.

 
Free your man and then get ready for teleportation and make sure you chose the correct square!

Liberator is fun for a couple of plays and I came away thinking, "Hmm, not bad for 1987". Which is daft - so I slapped myself because we had oldies like Goldrunner, Plutos and Ikari Warriors. All of which destroy Liberator!! Also, I noticed lame collision detection and some landscape objects that blocked my movement and firing - Grr!!

Still, nothing is perfect (Liberator certainly proves that) but, I must admit I quite enjoyed this olde shooter. Possibly because it's something I've never played before? But it is weirdly entertaining. Sure, it's not the corker I might have hoped for, but it is worth booting up just to experience what is a rather odd game. Go, kill some aliens.

Grab the funky cool Zuul floppy disk from the Stonish website.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Adventures Of Robin Hood


I haven't posted any box art from my collection in a long while - so I figured a guy in tights, lurking in the woods, was the perfect way to the end this bleak streak? The Adventures Of Robin Hood was released in 1991 by Millennium Software and is an RPG quite similar in appearance to certain 3D isometric God games... The box is absolutely awesome and in good condition with all contents too. But what I like is that it boasts this statement "the most original real-time adventure ever produced". Errol Flynn would approve, I'm sure of it!!

The game begins with a cool intro of life in Nottingham Castle. However, it's not long before the nasty Sheriff turns up and kicks Robin Hood out onto the street where he suffers cold shoulders and verbal abuse. These peasants continue to go about their day (that aspect intrigues me) and there are many interesting characters too!

The Sheriff is ruthless so the people need a hero who is willing to wear tights, find a band of Merry Men, and camp out in the woods. All perfectly normal, honest. Joking aside, I loved watching the intro so am eager to finally take up the challenge of this rather spiffy RPG - which has been sitting on my shelf for too many years!! :/

Yes, I'm really looking forward to exploring Nottinghamshire to see what fun adventures await within the legendary Sherwood Forest. So let's kill the baddies, recapture the castle and defeat the Sheriff before King Richard returns home for tea. Watch this space for a review later in the year but, until then, enjoy my screenshots!

Any of you guys played this? Would love to know what you think :)



Once upon a time... in God's country, there was a lovely and peaceful place called Loxley.


The folk here had it good with dancing, beer and music. Life doesn't get any better than this!


Oh no, a new Sheriff has arrived and he's not a particularly nice guy...


Robin gets kicked out of his spanky castle and the townsfolk ain't exactly supportive!


Yep, bumping into anyone proves to be an eye-opener. Billy no mates!


Fascinatingly, the medieval world continues to spin... Life carries on!


What? Wait a minute! What is that?? A dragon?? RUN!!!!


Right, come on Robin it's time to put on those big boy pants and sort out this evil dude!!

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Temple of Apshai Trilogy


Temple of Apshai Trilogy was released all the way back in 1986 by Epyx with the ST conversion handled by Westwood, of Command & Conquer fame. The package features the original plus two expansion packs "Upper Reaches Of Apshai" and "Curse Of Ra". However, Hellfire Warrior is oddly not included?

This is a turn-based RPG with few expected similarities to Rogue. Each of the three realms has four different levels of difficulty and, unlike Rogue, each dungeon has been designed rather than randomly generated. Curiously, there's an almost nonexistent storyline beyond the point of killing and treasure hunting. Understandably, this might disappoint some of you but, for me, I enjoyed the freedom to roam without bothersome tasks to get in my way.


  
Each adventure comes with its own pitfalls, monsters and difficulties. Only the brave may enter...


First things first, we need to build ourself a character using a combination of different attributes that will affect strength, dexterity, intelligence, and so on. Thankfully, you can save and reload your character at any time. Either keep it real and roll a dice or fudge the numbers to get playing. Personally, I wouldn't restrict yourself...

You can venture naked with only your pride as a weapon but it might be best to visit the Innkeeper and get yourself equipped. He has everything you need, even if you must haggle for the best price - if you can be bothered? Armour, weaponry, arrows and more all come with a financial and weight cost... So try and be wise!


 
The InnKeeper seems to have everything you need to get started. Well, for a price...

 
He's not a generous man. I tried to explain that I couldn't pay, so his heavies broke my kneecaps!


Playing the Temple of Apshai is fantastic but I recommend starting on the first level of Temple rather than foolishly jumping in at the deep end. When you begin, your world is viewed from a top-down perspective with some helpful information listed on the right for health, ammo, information, etc. And yes, it's running under GEM :)

It's odd that there isn't any real point to these dungeons - other than killing the baddies and collecting loot. However, Upper Reaches does (umm) attempt to give your adventures some purpose. Well, it tries... For example:

Level one takes place behind the Innkeeper's Backyard which needs tidying up. Yep, we're on cleaning duties but at least he's warned us of a bandit in the area. Come on, this has to be the strangest tasks ever?

Level two, Merlis' Cottage is quite odd. We're in Merlis' home looking for cash because he failed to cough up after we painted his fence!

Level three is Olias' Cellar but nothing is mentioned in the manual so I assume we're back to killing and looting without reason? Fine by me!

Level four is set within Benedic's once peaceful Monastery which has been turned into an unholy Romero movie thanks to an evil vampire!


 
Start slow. Why not fire an arrow at your first opponent and don't forget to search everywhere...

 
I found a secret room inhabited by a swamp rat. I killed that and took the Magic Sword. Yeah, bonus!!



Stay Awhile and Listen

Whatever realm you're in, each room has a design that includes a written description detailing what you see and hear. There's no need to pick up the manual for the ST game just hit [return] to read about your environment. Also, the rooms are numbered so it's possible to map your adventure noting routes, traps, hidden doorways, etc.

Getting around the dungeons is done using a keyboard command system quite similar to something like Ultima. Predefined keys are used to walk, turn, fight, talk, search, and much more. You can use the mouse - but it's a bit of a mess - so stick to using the keyboard. This is perfect and also a lot better than you might first assume:

RETURN = Make sure you read each room's description.

0 = Use this to rest and recover from some of that nasty fatigue.
L/R = This is pretty obvious and makes turning around easy.
V = Swoosh, you've just made a complete 180°
1-9 Let's go for a little walk, under the moon... Erm, never mind!

A = Hit 'em hard when you're up-close!!
T = Thrust a lunging attack which might leave you vulnerable?
P = Defend yourself with a countermove, you wimp!!
F/M = Take 'em out from a safe distance, sniper-style.

E = Budding adventurers will look under every stone.
O = Doors won't just open themselves you know!
S = Don't rush through, search for those hidden thangs...
I = Inventory (there's a shock).
G = Grab any treasure you find.
D = Ugh, drop that heavy trash.

Q = Shushh, did you hear something?
! = Dr Dolittle, he talks to the animals!

H = Heal yourself before you croak it.
Y = Ohh, gimme some of that fancy Elixir healing.


Characters

Characters make any adventure fun and interesting so it comes as no surprise to find out that this Trilogy is stuffed with many exotic creatures. Many spooky delights are waiting around each and every corner with the first being a skeleton - a classic encounter! This guy is pretty tough so I wouldn't let him get too close if I were you.

Brilliantly, we have an option to listen for distant sounds and even talk to some of the nasties. I doubt you'll get much sense from most but sometimes a creature might respond. They might just let us pass or reveal something interesting? Attempting a dialogue is something unexpected, mind-blowing and pretty funny too.

Each of the 3 realms has a myriad of ghoulish creatures and some unexpected ones. Battles are fought using few weapons but victory comes to those prepared. Press [A] to attack when up-close and personal but you could use [T] to execute a ravaging thrust? This might plunge your sword into a beast's heart but at what cost? Those carrying a bow can use arrows to pick off their prey from afar. Just make sure you're facing them properly!

 There are some fantastic enemies within the dungeon. And ants and mosquitos too...

 Upper Reaches is so different but can you find the bandit? Whereas Merlis' home has ... a cat!

 
The Antmen are incredibly tough blighters but oddly, the Ghoul was an easy victim of mine!

 
Bears and Giant Bats, whatever next? You'll be telling me there's Vampire Bats around the corner!


Mind As You Go

Playing any part of this trilogy is an amazing experience but it's a good idea to experiment with your newly-created character, just to see how clothing and weaponry feel to your own preferences. Experience is gained as you progress deeper into the dungeon and it's always good practice to take it slow at first. Remembering to search/examine/listen no matter where you currently are. You never know what might be nearby - be it a treasure chest, a trap or something lurking in the dark waiting to pounce. It's never a bad idea to read the room's written description!

Always keep an eye on your fatigue level, which can take a hit whether you're exploring or battling something freaky. Walking isn't free and multiple movements will cost a little tiredness that adds to your fatigue. Hitting [0] now and then can be rewarding. As is purchasing a box of bandaids before heading out into the unknown...

Remember, we're not God and any deadly battle will result in severe wounds possibly leading to death. Thankfully, not all is lost - roaming these dungeons are three peculiar helpers who may help. Bendic is a lost priest who can revive your broken body and all he asks in return is a financial donation. However, others aren't as kind, watch out for a dwarf or wizard who yields greater sacrifices - so keep your hands in your pockets!


During those desperate moments when all has gone wrong, this is the message I prefer to see!


Graphics & Sounds

Visually, this is pretty lame by ST standards yet faithful to the barebone originals. The backdrops are rather basic but the sprites are detailed and can look pretty good. Personally, I prefer the visuals in other RPGs, of the time, but Apshai still has its own unique charms. Also, it's GEM-based, which I think is crude but it works great.

Audio features a nice chiptune on the title screen but only spot effects in-game. However, I do love the little clipping that plays when a monster appears - scary stuff! lol. Overall, more than good enough for an RPG, I say!


The CryptO'pinion

Temple of Apshai Trilogy is brilliant but possibly also a forgotten and a much-underrated RPG for the Atari ST? That's a shame because the original game was a massive success and I think the Atari ST conversion captures the essence of that very well. And, dare I say it, improves upon it? Well, at least visually anyhow.

Whatever you chose to play first, each game is absolutely huge with hundreds of rooms to explore over four levels. Most of my time has been spent within the realms of the temple, which I'm still battling through to this day. I love how each room has been pre-designed yet still manages to feel fresh and interesting.

I've been making a map with notes of hidden doorways along with curious hints taken from a room's description. This took me back to the 80s when I was a geek. Of course, I'm no longer a geek. Honest. Anyhow, I feel that I've only scratched the surface, especially with Upper Reaches and Curse Of Ra. So I need to change that asap.

If you love being transported to another level filled with weird creatures and looting treasure then this old timer is definitely for you. Ignore the graphics, don't use the mouse, read the descriptions, and remember to save regularly! A whole world awaits you so expect lots of late nights. One of the best olde RPGs and I love it!!

Grab yourself a copy of this brilliant RPG for hard drive or floppy.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Van Eijk Collection


I love finding Atari ST/e demos which I've not seen in years (or had forgotten about) and here is one which I enjoyed many moons ago... but somehow forgotten about!! It's called Van Eijk Collection and was developed by Van Eijk back in 1994 - just as most of us had powered off the ST to play the mighty Doom. Sigh...

Anyhow, this is a collection of screens featuring dots, colour cycling, overscan, and a familiar tune you will adore. I think much of the demo was developed in GFA Basic but I'm only going off the scroller text - so I might be wrong? Presentation is a little sluggish and a few screens are dated, but there is also many which I did enjoy - that morphing is superb. All text is in Polish so don't expect to read anything - unless you're Polish of course!

This and many other Atari ST videos are on my YouTube Channel.
Credits & download links can be found on Demozoo or AtariMania. Crank up the volume! 🎧

Monday, February 17, 2020

Sardonic


Sardonic is a brand new (well, for the Atari ST) vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up that was recently released by José Mário. Yep, it's already out on other (lesser) systems so it's fantastic to see it also getting a Fuji conversion!! Now, I love getting my grubby mitts on anything new for the Atari ST so let's see what all the fuss is about...

This game is basically an old skool-styled shooter and the idea is to blast as many aliens as possible, use power-ups, kill the end-of-level boss and repeat. These aliens are constantly invading the screen in waves using various attack patterns - and from three sides of the screen. Our spaceship can only fire upwards but is freely able to move in all directions - rather than being limited to just left/right, ala Space Invaders. And it works brilliantly too!


Each type of alien is unique and the power-ups will help to recover lost lives and much more!

 
Sardonic is an arcade-style shoot 'em up so I love it already. Check out that funky mothership!


Interestingly, our Atari ST conversion has a few enhancements = extra power-ups, different enemies and new attacking styles. This is pretty cool and even more so when you remember than this is Jose's first Atari release!! Hold onto your hat because he's also implemented support for both ST models making use of the Blitter and also the STe's hardware scrolling = ultra-smooth 50fps action!


Boy, is this a tough game. At first, I didn't very last long and it took a few more attempts before I even came close to reaching the first boss! The action feels familiar but it isn't some cheap clone of Space Invaders, Phoenix or even Galaga but instead feels more like a game of dodgeball - in space! You can only fire a couple of shots at once and the enemy will come at you using some seriously wacky patterns so be prepared to battle hard.

Thankfully, blasting five of these blighters into smithereens will result in a random bonus for speed, armour, bombs and so on. This will help newcomers and thus I eventually got into the flow and reached the fourth guardian - which you can see in my video recording. Hint: if I was you, I'd save all those bombs for these bosses!

 
They're attacking from all directions and then their boss shows up for some gun love!

 
I hate the Stealth ships. They're so tough to destroy and then Mummy Stealth turns up!

Visually, there's not a whole lot to see beyond a boring black background populated with a few stars! This is quite disappointing but the enemy sprites make up for that with nice colours and brisk movement. I'm talking 50fps which is gloriously smooth - I just wish the background had a little "more" to it other than a few dots for stars.

Sadly, the audio failed to impress me after the title screen's funky chiptune. The in-game sound effects are rather insufficient, to say the least. Our YM chip has only three uses: firing, pickup and explosions. That is it. So I personally think more could have been done to dazzle? Especially on the Atari STe using DMA samples.

 
Can you believe I made it to level four? Until fatigue beat me and then the boss ...sigh!


So cruel... LOL

Sardonic is a good shooter alright. I love how those aliens attack in so many different formations and the power-ups appear frequently. Okay, it's quite repetitive, but this is a fun arcade blaster and is very addictive. It's impressive to think that one guy was behind it all and he supported Atari STe graphical hardware too. Incredible.

Overall, a slick and very playable shoot 'em up which I have really enjoyed. Download Sardonic right now!!