Saturday, November 23, 2019

Seconds Out


Do you remember a game called Frank Bruno's Boxing on the ZX Spectrum? Well, it looks like the folk over at Tynesoft did when they released Seconds Out in 1988. As in the Speccy game, we're in a boxing ring fighting ugly dudes and the action is viewed ringside from behind our noble challenger. Yup, it's original alright!

We are Marco, a challenger who must complete against five increasingly difficult champions from around the world. His first bout breaks us in gently against Joe Weed who lives up to his name and is pretty easy to knock out. The second is much harder, closely shadowing you and can easily block your punches. The third is rather odd and that's saying something for this peculiar boxing game: it's a lame fella who wears glasses and can headbutt. (I believe there are two more champions: an American and a Russian. Just don't ask me if I can reach that far!!)

 
First up is Joe Weed, an easy opponent! But Jonesy is harder, although he seems shocked to lose!

Controls are initially odd but the one-button ST does well after a few practices. Moving left/right is easy, but slow, and we can guard ourselves using up/down with a little sway thrown in for good measure - if absolutely pointless. With the fire-button pressed we can punch with either arm as we float around that ring looking to sting. Well...

Energy levels are displayed along the top of the screen: decreasing with each hit taken and increasing when dealing out damage/resting. Also, a throbbing boxer's "KO" glove will indicate when your opponent is weak enough for a knock-out. That is the time to hit up/fire to perform the special ability, a swift right hook!!

Each round lasts for 1:30 seconds but oddly feels longer against the tougher guys who cannot easily be knocked out. Between rounds, we are slumped in the corner with our coach who helps to recover lost energy - something I didn't realise until after I made my recording. That'll teach me for not reading the manual... Doh!!

 
Don't be a fool like me!! Waggle that joystick and put that old man to some good use ;o)

Graphically, this ain't anywhere near what the ST is capable of but it does feature lots of comical aspects - like Mike "Hammerhead" Hagman!! Also, the see-through wireframe idea works well but spoiled by his head which doesn't make sense... Animations are less than average and the crowd make few movements and look bored.

Audio has been forgotten with no music and the near-static crowd are completely silent. Freaky!

 
Watch out for this dirty Jeff Minter fighter. Even when I'm knocked out, he still tries to headbutt me!!

This game has massive drawbacks, like speed. There isn't any. These athletes are the slowest I've ever seen! Also, the gameplay itself is very short and obviously linear in structure, so I'm sure better players could complete it in under an hour... Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee? Hardly, it's like walking barefoot in slutch!!

That being said, Seconds Out is still quite enjoyable and everyone needs to witness that Glaswegian and his idiotic headbutts! Overall, an average sports game that needed to be much quicker, flashier and a lot noisier.

Those who fancy sparring with Marco can find all the Super Pack floppies for download on AtariMania.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Road Wars


For the most part, my Super Pack run has been a glowing success featuring lots of brilliant Atari ST games. Okay, there's been a couple of bumps along the way, but that's only to be expected and even Atari wasn't able to please everybody all of the time. Although I seriously doubt I'll ever load up Chopper X or Marble Madness again.

Well, up next is Road Wars by Melbourne House which looks a bit like Eliminator. Apparently, a computer controls the safety mechanisms of the highways but it isn't working properly so the roads are no longer safe. Perhaps it was running Windows, who knows? So hop into your Battlesphere droid and rid the roads of menaces!

 
Weirdly, I like that their title screen and they get straight to the point with the instructions!

Road Wars is a 3D racer but, instead of a car, we're a mounted-gun sliding down a yellow highway. We're also inside something called a Battlesphere which looks like a giant bowling ball and acts as a shield. Two-players are supported and solo gamers will be happy to see the computer automatically assume the role of an absent friend.

The highway is walled on both sides with several types of enemies and other problems. Some wall panels are blue and fire electricity across the highway. Shooting either panel will disable that or you could just roll through hiding inside the safety of the Battlesphere. When both panels are gone, you're free to zip onto the next level.

Controls are simple to move left/right and pushing UP activates the Battlesphere's shield to hide inside. Pulling DOWN removes this so you're free to kill stuff using the fire button. The controls work okay but there is a noticeable lag when things get busy. I also found it way too easy to kill my friendly opponent. Clumsy me... Oops!

We're not alone! Beware and look out for the dangerous on these futuristic yellow roads...
Red balls. Yup, red balls. These can kill you with one touch unless you're shielded - but even then, it'll completely destroy your sheid leaving you vulnerable. These can also appear in clusters which obviously gives you much more to shoot at. Also, beware of those that turn into missiles!!
Chevrons are an unusal surprise and it worth rolling over one...
Spikes are a pain in the rearend so cloak up quickly and hide inside your protective sheld!
Satellites frequently flyby and some can fire a deadly laser beam.
Barriers are quite fun and something to enjoy ramming through. Well, if cloaked!

 
We begin on Electric Avenue hunting down the evil villain, Eddy Grant. No, not really!! :p

The graphics are drab. When I say drab, I really do mean drab. The only thing I actually like is the loading screen which features the two developers - because I felt had a demoscene vibe to it. Oh, I also like the rolling moon animation which isn't too shabby. Well... However, what disappoints the most is its ludicrously sluggish framerate.

Audio is freaking annoying with the one tune that plays constantly. Aggravating!!

 
Taking screenshots is usually a mad rush during the fun of frantic gameplay. Not during Road Wars! Yawn...

Road Wars had the potential to be so much more, but its limited design lets it down because there ain't an awful lot to this shooter. I did wonder if we had another Quadralien on our hands but, no matter how long I played, I was bored by the repetitive gameplay, laggy controls, terrible framerate, and the constant music only makes matters worse!

Overall, I this has to be one of the most disappointing games I've played and I'm struggling to think of something nice to say. Well, for what it's worth, Road Wars comes on the same floppy disk as Chopper X. I rest my case.

Masochists will be happy to know that AtariMania has this Super Pack floppy to download!!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Atari Legend


I'm taking a quick break from my Super Pack adventure to share something very special. Well, it's only special because of the one reason ;-) but I'll let you guys decide what that is!! Atari Legend has a FANTASTIC YouTube channel ran by Maarten Martens. Oh, they also have a crummy website too, apparently!

Anyhow, it shocked me to discover that many of my ST friends didn't know about this amazing channel. I love Maarten's silly sense of humour which is equally matched by his video production skills. Everything always comes together incredibly well for great entertainment so I hope you will enjoy this video as much I have?

Anyhow, I shall now be heading back into the depths of my Atari Super Pack adventure... Wish me luck!!

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!!