Friday, June 26, 2020

War In Middle Earth

Bought yet never played. . .

I've had this golden oldie gathering dust for over 4 years now and I've never once booted it up. Yup, I've no idea why, but the three floppy disks have never seen the inside of my ST's drive! Heck, I've never even tried it in emulation... I'm now wondering why I'm so lazy and stupidly wasted cash to rescue a game I didn't really want?

I imagine it was going cheap on eBay but I've loved anything by Melbourne House, since my Speccy days so it was bound to happen!! Hang on, did you think that I was going to say "Tolkien" instead back there?? Anyhow, this 30-year-old treasure is in nice condition, even though the paper (for the map and manual) smells a little musty.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of Stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Well, that sounds rather interesting!! But, for those who might not know, Tolkien's War in Middle Earth is a strategy adventure based around little creatures called Hobbits. You can't miss them - annoying fellas with big feet! This adaptation is loosely based on the books but, I believe, there is always the option to veer from the storyline to venture forth your own way separate from the novel. How far that might get me is anyone's guess.

So, umm, I've got little to say about this RPG but I did notice that the screenshots display the Speccy and Amstrad versions - not exactly a positive sign!! Maybe I should stop yapping and boot it up? Has anyone played it? What can I expect? Should I watch the movies first or (gulp) make an effort to read the books? Surely not!!

Okay, I thought this would make a cool feature for our Box Art section and I hope you like the photographs of this golden oldie? Right then, enough talk because I've got free weekends coming up, so let's see what happens.


Ignoring the side with yellowing, the map is in good condition (click it). I wonder how accurate it is?

The little book inside the box is the manual, I wanted a bigger book but I'm awkward...

Three disks. Yes, three!! I've not checked, but I guess they're single-sided. Doh!

I love that the box is actually a sleeve and that logo always reminds me of The Hobbit.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Serenade #78

I really enjoyed the STAX #90 feature so figured I would do another one! This time we delve into the Serenade archives to see what's lurking on one of their amazing 85 "PD" disks - nothing quite like keeping it legit? Anyhow, menu #78 appeared to stand out from the crowd with lots of cool games crammed onto one disk.

This is quite a simple menu compared to others from their catalogue but there is stereo music for those lucky enough to own an Atari STe. In fact, it's one of few mods which hasn't aged badly at all, so it's a massive thumbs up from this chiptune guy. Also, the scroller is very interesting - apparently, Man Utd did well against their arch-rivals!

The entire Serenade library can be downloaded from Stonish with credits/etc on Demozoo.


A platoon of little stickmen have crash-landed on the planet Ursula Minor and this place is crawling with Ursulan Soldiers who are eager to kill you without mercy! Also, there are dangerous natural disasters to avoid so it's best we don't hang about and quickly repair our spaceship to escape this hellhole. This means piecing that together (JetPac-style!) before anyone can be safely evacuated. Sounds very easy, right?

Deadland first feels similar to Rebellion or Cannon Fodder: control the direction of your active soldiers using the mouse and a right-click turns them into trigger-happy Rambos. The planet is crawling with enemies and constantly frantic so it's tough learning to battle whilst planning construction work - that might also leave some vulnerable? It's easy to lose your bearings and, just when you're getting to grips, your men drown in a mud pool!!

The enemy is relentless so you cannot expect to wander about easily killing anything without taking a more strategic approach. Each member of your team is listed on the right-hand side of the screen for a health condition and other abilities. Don't forget to look after these guys - green is never good outside of the GEM desktop. There is a lot to master whilst here, especially whilst defending against enemies, incoming rockets, mines /etc.

I really enjoyed Deadland and the concept is great but this isn't something you can easily pick up and play. It takes time and a map would have been nice as would using the cursor keys to scroll. Yep, I have struggled to get to grips with Deadland but it's an excellent strategy and potentially rewarding. If you're brave enough?


I couldn't get this to work on my Atari STe - blank screen! So I switched to emulation to discover a nifty Tron game. I've never been much of a fan of the genre but I gotta admit that it's good and features different game styles, screen layouts and even a few power-ups (which I didn't expect). There's not much to look at (shock) and I imagined the sound effects would grate, but they didn't. After all these decades, I actually enjoyed a Tron game!


Minesweeper was another fad that I have always failed to appreciate and Manic Minefield appears faithful to what I remember with gameplay that's about as enjoyable as I expected. Anyhow, after a few games I enjoyed this crude imitator even though I never won a single game! Actually, I would often feel robbed of a win because I'm sure the ST cheats!! Then it rubs salt into your wounds using a fuzzy sound sample to mock your lack of success. Interestingly, the board size, wallpaper, /etc can all be altered in the Options screen, which is kinda cool.

Manic Minefield is okay and I imagine fans will enjoy it? But I doubt it's something I will play again...


Never would I have imagined loving a game's title more than "Hector vs The Mutant Vampire Tomatoes From Hell" yet here is Frank And The Lost Aubergine which is superb!! It's a fast-paced platformer developed using the STOS Missing Link extension and has us frantically running around screens crammed with monsters and gems.

Collect every gem to proceed onto the next level but watch out for the baddies. These can be killed by dropping a well-timed bomb directly in their path - difficult but doable. Or you could just slam into them albeit at the expense of losing one of your 50 lives. Yep, 50 and you'll need them all because there are lots of monsters!

Movement is very fast - too fast!! It's extremely difficult to position just where to stand when you wish to leap off a ledge. In fact, leaping over the wider gaps is close to impossible and it takes too many attempts. I love a platformer that tests your patience, skills and dexterity but it simply doesn't work here. A good idea poorly executed.


I love Space Invaders and I'm confident nothing will ever beat Sinister Developments' fantastic conversion which is arcade-perfect using authentic effects!! However, this is a conversion of Roklan's 8-Bit Deluxe Invaders by one of the biggest ST legends. I've never played the Roklan game so was hoping for something different.

There are two game modes: slow and fast. The slower game looks superb with colourful aliens invading your screen and can be sped up by flicking over to 60Hz - something you should consider. The faster version is better to play but appears boring in comparison, so I went looking for green cellophane to wrap around my monitor!

Sadly, I didn't feel it with Deluxe Invaders and much preferred the original if I'm brutally honest. Okay, it's a good game but, there are better "Invader" games for the Atari ST. Sigh, I'm also a bit deflated about that fact if I'm honest.

- NIBE -

This is a great snake game I featured this a couple of years ago so I'll copy and paste it:

NIBE is a Nibbler/Snake game by Marc Bourlon that features an ever-greedy snake who wants to chomp his way through lots of apples. However, this gluttony makes him grow longer with each bite so it becomes harder protecting him from bumping into walls or even his own tail. It's our job to help him eat his way through lots of screens - and many are pretty cruel in their design. You can even change the game's speed (if you dare!!)

Graphics are humble and suit the retro theme plus I love its title screen - which is actually a good intro. Sadly, there are no sound effects so Mad Max music plays throughout - never a bad thing!! Overall, Nibe is pretty straightforward and also extremely challenging thanks to a sinister design. Stick with it because the basic mechanics are spot-on and Nibe will certainly test your reactions, patience and concentration so prepare thyself to be tormented!!

I really enjoyed this olde game but beware, it's tough. Probably too tough for you!!!


Groan, another Tetris game? Yup, and it's not that good I'm sorry to say so play BLAT or Teserae instead.

- The CryptO'pinion -

Well, that wasn't the awesome ride through the Atari ST history books that I first imagined. In fact, it was a little bit of a letdown if I'm honest! Not only did I have compatibility problems with a couple of games (Atari STe) but this was a true mixed bag of joy, disappointment and even a few stinkers thrown in for good measure!

It all depends on what you like but, for me, Deadland and Nibe are the best reasons to click download.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

River Raid

Let's play with Carol

For those living under a rock for the last few decades, River Raid was developed by Carol Shaw for the Atari 2600 and is a vertical-scrolling shoot 'em up. It was ported to other machines like the C64, Intellivision and ZX Spectrum (the latter being what I played throughout the 80s). I thought this game rocked and it's only now, thanks to using OpenEmu, that I've had my eyes opened by the original. Wow, the differences are staggering!

Okay, we're flying up the River Of No Return which is endless so split into handy sections, divided by bridges. Viewed from a top-down perspective, we fly under the radar and shoot anything that gets in our way - but stay over the water because the land results in our humiliating destruction!! (Really?). The controls are superb and dead easy: we can alter our speed by pushing up to go faster and pulling back to slow down. Left/Right skims over the water using an awesome level of inertia and allows us to dodge the enemies we foolishly left alive.

Testing your skills and dexterity are many enemies: helicopters, planes, tanks and more (depending on the conversion). Kill everything using missiles and clear the way for a smooth flight up the river. Fuel can be replenished from neglected tankers or you could blast 'em to smithereens for lots of extra points? Yup, that's about as complex as this shooter gets - survive as long as you can whilst killing anything dumb enough to get in your way!

River Raid appears to have its fair share of lovers and haters but I love it. It's such a thrilling blast without complicated mechanics or pointless objectives. However, others feel this simplistic approach can become tedious - but they're weirdos. Enjoy what is nothing less than a fantastic and timeless shoot 'em up. Okay, let's play...

- ATARI 2600 -

As this is the original, I was expecting a fascinating blaster beyond anything I'd previously experienced and that's exactly what I got. Visually, it's a typical 2600 with bland backgrounds and enemies made from Lego. Okay, I'm forgetting how ahead of its time this wooden slab of late 70s technology is because everything moves fast and smoothly. The sound effects are grungy and raspy which is perfect for the engines and explosions.

Wow, this is so incredibly playable with well-balanced gameplay and great controls. It just feels right and obliterates the ZX Spectrum game that I grew up playing - so I'm now looking into time-travel technology. Sigh...

This is the best version of River Raid that I have ever played. Simple as that.

- ATARI 5200 -

I had high hopes for Atari's SuperSystem but there is very little to separate this conversion from the original. Sure, the graphics have been improved using rugged landscapes so the river is more interesting thanks to the contours of the shoreline. This design works well and helps pilots like me to survive longer, which is great because there are now lots of extra enemies. Plus what's better than blasting a bridge just as a tank is crossing over?

Sadly, I preferred the controls of the original but I'm not entirely sure why. The 5200 lacked something and God only knows how I'd cope using the machine's analog stick! Don't get me wrong, this is a great conversion but something about the original kept dragging me back and I cannot say the same for the 5200. Close, but no cigar.


It's sad that River Raid never graced the Atari ST. However, there might be light at the end of this tunnel of disappointment, thanks to a game by REIsoft called (wait for it) River Of No Return. It was developed by J├╝rgen Reichenwallner using SEUCK and is described as a rescue mission with a military theme. Hmm...

Unlike the original, this river is littered with stranded soldiers eager to be rescued otherwise the idea remains basically the same. Controls are fine but the plane could have had a nip more speed and agility. I failed to understand the mechanics behind our weaponry which appeared to speed up to a rapid level and thus made the game easy. Weirdly, we're not restricted to water but some buildings can destroy you, whilst mountains won't. Ahem.

Visually, it's okay to look at, with nice landscapes and sprites that aren't too shabby. However, the scrolling is poor using a low framerate which is incredibly embarrassing. Sound effects are equally humiliating for our powerful 16-bit beast - which should have annihilated those "lesser" consoles! oh, and the firing will drive you insane!

Remembering that this was developed using SEUCK, it's not bad and I did get a level of enjoyment. However, those expecting a River Raid clone will be extremely disappointed by this shambles (the ST has zillions of better shoot 'em ups). I did play a few games - eventually reached the boss - but it beat me (twice) so I never bothered trying again. 

Saturday, June 06, 2020


My best purchase ever?

After more than two years, I can finally update our hardware section with my latest Atari ST purchase. Yep, I dumped my old monitor switch box for a Ubeswitch by Urban Jonsson, which I bought off the Exxos Web Store.

It's amazing how fantastic this thing works: plug it in and power on your Atari ST (mine defaulted to high resolution but that can be changed by holding the top button for a couple of seconds). Changing resolution is simple, just tap the same button to send a signal to the ST that you wish to switch resolution - and you can easily flip between colour/mono at any time. I'm using an NEC 1970NXp multisync which works very nicely.

STOP!! You should first check that your monitor is fully compatible and listed here:
Atari-Forum Wiki

What a cracking piece of hardware and with an incredible design that makes using it so easy to use. If you have a monitor that can support the ST's awkward 15Khz display demands, then head over to the Exxos web store and get this adapter bought. Fascinating witchcraft and I wish I'd have bought one of these years ago!!

Forgive my handy camera skills! Click it for a bigger view of my Ubeswtich love.

Friday, June 05, 2020


- You sunk my battleship!! -

Everyone loves the Battleships board game? Well, I know I do! So here is Minefield by Donald Campbell which is a PD game based on the idea. Only this time we're driving tanks across a minefield made from 64 square tiles. Our opponent is your beloved Atari ST who is trying to do the same and the one with the most through wins!

There are three difficulty levels with the first being "Dead Easy" which makes your Atari ST appear rather dumb. Especially as it fails to learn from its mistakes... The second level is "Quite Easy" and a marginally better opponent. Finally, we have "Intelligent" which is the most fun and even uses its cannon to locate mines. Sounds like fun, right?

It sure does! So, let's take a gander at a screenshot before we carry on reading...

As you can see, I shot the square ahead to reveal a mine. Wow, that was a close call. Phew :)

- Play The Game -

We begin each game by placing five mines secretly on your opponent's board (the ST will do the same on yours). Each player takes turns to safely guide a tank from one edge of their board to the other. We start each game by selecting any square from along the bottom row. Our tank can only move upwards or diagonally upwards and once a square tile has been used, it's removed from play. Of course, this is obvious and will also restrict your options later on.

Remember those five hidden mines? Well, to help locate them, use your cannon and fire at any square tile. The explosion will either result in a face or a skull: a smiley face means the tile is clean and free to use. However, if you see a skull then stay clear otherwise it's instant death - and for the duration of the game. Both players repeatably take turns until no tanks remain and the one with the most safely home is the winner. Gameplay is simple and easy peasy to learn!

Those who are clever and don't care about flashy graphics are still here! So let's see another screenshot...

Sometimes this game shoots itself in the foot thanks to its earlier (bad) decisions...

- Graphics & Sounds -

Visually, this game will blow your socks off!! I'm talking 200+ colours, 50fps hardware scrolling and all in overscan... Okay, okay, there's nothing like that whatsoever but a game like this needs nothing more than to be functional. The board is basic but clear, the smilies are cute and the skulls look cheap but I really don't care. Nor should you.

I wasn't expecting much in the audio dept and that's exactly what I got. The old YM chip struggles as I fear Donald wasn't much of a musician? There are a few basic effects but it's all pretty lame and the tanks sound like a wasp is trapped in a spider's web. Not good. However, just like amateur graphics, it really doesn't matter tbh.

That's right, fancy aesthetics are nice but never necessary so let's take a look at the last screenshot...

...and, ahem, as you can see we humans aren't too clever also. Sigh!

- The CryptO'pinion -

This game is superb fun no matter what you might be thinking. However, it's not perfect and I have a couple of quibbles. For example, it's a massive shame that there's no support for two players. Also, I'm not convinced about its three difficulty levels, especially when watching the computer make some terrible mistakes. Also, the 8x8 grid layout is restricting and can leave both players with zero options towards the end - even though a couple of tanks might remain.

Okay, it's time I stopped being an idiot and remembered this isn't a commercial release. Technically rubbish, yet here I am about why you should download Minefield. I can't give you much of a solid reason! Other than I've played dozens of games and loved every single second of it!! Minefield is one of the most enjoyable "PD" games I've ever played.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020


Brace yourself for an epic adventure!

I've just downloaded an iPhone app that claims to scan photos/boxes and will fix the alignment angles and other funky stuff. Why am I telling you this? Well, everything you see within our Box Art section was taken using my phone's camera which means trying my best to get the angles just right! In fact, that's almost impossible with these shaky hands of mine, so I would often take 500 snaps just to get that one decent photo...

Well, no more because I have finally caught up with the rest of the world and started to use Google's Photoscan. This appears to do everything I need and very quickly too, so I thought I'd begin with Shadowlands which I purchased a couple of years ago (btw, you really should click that link and read all about the game). In fact, this RPG is astounding and one of the best games I have ever featured. Certainly one of my favourite games so I am delighted to own it.

What do ya' think about the box above? I believe it's actually very good and it took mere seconds without any shaky hands getting in the way to ruin it. Anyhow, check out what else we have inside the box...

The back of the box is superb and would have tempted the gamer to empty his wallet to buy it!

Should I post this? I wonder what would happen if I did or would the postman just bin it lol

The manual is nothing short of superb and stuffed with helpful information. Read it!!

And finally, here are the floppies which complete what a 90s gamer would have got for this cash.

Even More ATARI ST Articles

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