I thought about the right title for this review for a long time. Only to realize that it doesn’t need any. Sam’s Journey is probably the most talked about Commodore 64 game of the recent years. It dares to inject console gaming principles into 8-bit gaming. Checkpoints. Game saves. Level scores. Loads of content. And who hasn’t heard of the authors’ gamble and their developing the game not in their spare time but sometimes as a half-time, sometimes full-time job? Unlike some other reviewers, 8-bitstuff.com played the game from start to finish, so we base our review on the full experience.

Biggest 8-bit jump and run of all time. 30 hours of captivating content. Zero bugs. Buy it. Play it! Love it!!!

 

NOD TO THE SISTERS

A little boy named Sam wakes up in the middle of the night (or does he?) to some loud noise and bright light leaking through the door of his wardrobe from the inside. He opens it, and a giant claw appears, grabs him, and throws him into a strange land.

If it sounds kinda familiar, it sounds right. Sam’s Journey is one giant nod to the legendary The Great Giana Sisters, from collecting diamonds to getting rid of enemies by jumping on their heads and the advert saying “The Sisters Are History” (deeper than some might think, as Giana’s slogan was “The Brothers Are History”). Except that Sam’s Journey scrolls in 8 directions (Giana just left to right), offers almost 60 huge (think Turrican level size) maps, and countless enemies.

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS?

Each circle on the path stands for a level consisting of 2-3 big maps.

The game’s coder, Chester Kollschen, and graphician, Stefan Gutsch, are no novices to game making. Ice Guys are still cute after all those years, Stroke World doesn’t stop amazing with its crazy story and the main character animated in some 170 sprites, Bomb Mania is still many a party’s favorite multiplayer game. They chose to take take the classic 8-bit cuteness and playability, and up it with the good bits the modern-times gaming brought, like more content and less frustration.

Concerning content, there’s tons of it in Sam. 27 levels, all of them multi-load (2 or 3 maps), 3 boss fights, and a lengthy animated intro and end sequence.

Long games sometimes run the risk of overstaying their welcome. It’s happened to me too many times on the PC that I was totally ready for a game to end, but it still threw more of the same at me. It’s not the case of Sam though. Sam is perfectly aware of that, and the authors do their best to make the game as variable as possible.

TWO WAYS TO PLAY

Basically, you can play Sam two ways: either just find the exit and get out as soon as possible or try to collect all of the 40 diamonds, 10 coins, and 3 trophies that are placed in each level. A diamond counts as 1%, a coin is 3%, and a trophy counts for 10% in the level score (don’t ask me why a coin is more valuable than a diamond of roughly the same size), adding up to 100%.

SEVEN DIFFERENT SAMS

By the way, before you start playing Sam, you should really read the manual, otherwise you might not get the most out his seven forms. Yes, seven! Apart from his little boy persona, he can collect “costumes”, as the game calls them, that give him special abilities. Pirate Sam has a sword with which you can dispatch most of the enemies, Ninja Sam can cling to walls, Pitcher Sam can throw objects fast and far, Space Sam has a jetpack that allows him to make double jumps, Disco Sam (whom I promptly dubbed Elvis) twists in the air, allowing him to stay airborne longer (a feature that looks like it’s escaped from Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams), and Vampire Sam (aka Dracula in my personal vocabulary) can change into a bat and fly for a while.

Left to right, up to down: Boy (default) Sam, Pirate Sam, Ninja Sam, Pitcher Sam, Space Sam, Disco Sam, Vampire Sam, and flying Vampire Sam

If all you want to do is enjoy the game and see all the levels, you should stick to Dracula, as flying will help you to make a lot of shortcuts and avoid most of the enemies. Only in very few levels you will need the Ninja to get you through a high vertical passage. If you want to reach 100% score in every level, sooner or later you’ll need the other costumes too. Here a coin is hidden in a chest that you’ll need to open with a sword, there only the Ninja can climb up a chimney, or the Pitcher throw a rock so that it will hit an otherwise inaccessible diamond. The Pitcher is the least useful–you’ll really need him only twice, I think, but he’s also pretty good when it comes to boss fights. But as you don’t need him otherwise, you probably won’t practice with him enough to really utilize him against the bosses. Anyway, the best way to enjoy the game is not to try to stick to one particular costume, even if you like it best, and just enjoy the variability as you go through the level.

Any costume also serves as an extra life. If an enemy hits you and you’re wearing a costume, you lose the costume and go on as Sam the boy. If you’re hit in your boy form, you can either return to the last checkpoint or restart the level as a whole. After completing a level you can save your game. And you can always restart any of the levels you’ve been through before to improve your score there.

As I mentioned the manual, there’s one sentence there that’s very easy to overlook: “Some switches are portable and can be moved to more useful locations.” Remember it when it looks like you can never reach the portal before the switch with a timer switches back.

LIKE A SWISS WATCH

There’s one 8-bit quality that’s hard to in the PC world–stuff working out of the box. I haven’t met a single one bug in Sam’s Journey, and only maybe two or three times a sprite flickered in a different y position when being multiplexed.

As Sam’s playtime is longer than that of many PC AAA titles, this disproves at least a part of the PC developers’ excuses that you can’t get rid of all bugs prior to release because of the vast complexity.

MULTITUDE OF MONSTERS

Where the game deserves a lot of credit is the area of monsters. Not just that there are many of them, but the authors took a lot of care to make each one an original in their behavior. So there are monsters that patrol their platform by walking on it end to end, others that jump down to lower platforms if they can, some change their speed if they’re hit, some leave fiery footprints, some fly horizontally, others vertically, some just hop, others throw stuff at you, and then you get a whole new set of movement patterns from the fish in water levels.

DEADLY CUTENESS

The graphics are colorful and cute.

The price you sometimes pay for the variability of the graphics is that when you enter a new environment, it’s not quite clear what’s a platform that will support your weight (or a wall that will block your progress) and what is just background. Especially climbable stuff I often discovered by sheer luck.

The monsters are beautifully drawn. Not the style (Stefan, aka Big Users, has always had his own) but the mood of the graphics reminds me of another timeless Commodore classic: the Creatures series. All of the monsters are absolutely lovable, most of them smile … and are happy to tear you apart if they get the slightest whiff of a chance to do so.

MAGICAL MUSIC

There are nearly 40 minutes of original music by Alex Ney (also known as Taxim in the scene) in Sam, split into 18 tracks, each about 2 minutes long. And now comes the strange thing. When you spend 40-60 minutes in a level (which is about the time you need later in the game to find all the secrets and finish it with a 100% score), you hear the tune 20-30 times. I usually hate short tunes in games, but not a single one in Sam’s Journey turned out to be annoying. My musical experience with Sam’s Journey was oscillating between the tunes just being a part of the overall thing and me sometimes deliberately stopping to enjoy the tunes that I liked more.

THE NOT-SO-GREAT

When you throw tons of content at the players, they’re bound to have issues with a few grams of it. There are three bits I would change in Sam if I had the power.

The first one is a trivial controls issue: “enter the door” is the same direction as “jump” (up). What’s the problem with that? You go through a door and end up in a new location. What I often did was try to jump up to get a better initial idea of the level layout… and of course went back through the door (often meaning waiting for the previous location to load, then go back through the door immediately and waiting for the new location to load again). It kept happening to me even toward the end of the game; I never got used to it. If the going through doors was assigned to the down direction (or up+fire), the problem wouldn’t exist.

My second gripe is about the things that happen automatically. Even the game’s manual advises that it’s not always advantageous to activate a checkpoint. The thing is, you activate it by just passing by (or landing on it when jumping from above etc.). So sometimes you store your position even if you don’t want to, especially if you’re trying to get a score of 100%. Same goes for autocollecting the costumes. Too many times I ended up with a costume I didn’t want to use.

And finally, in their effort not to play all their trump cards too soon, the authors didn’t put too many secrets and new enemies into the first levels. Between perhaps the 6th and 8th level I initially thought, “Is that all Sam’s got to offer?” Boy, am I glad that I persevered and played on!

THE GREAT

What I’ll remember for quite a while will be Sam’s Dracula, Spaceman, and Elvis personas, and countless monsters with their various movement patterns. The funny caterpillars, the hilarious elephants, the fireballs with fiery footprints, the… And the second boss. I loved the second boss, even though I had to play against him maybe 60 times to get it right!

The fireball, as I called him. Ain’t he beautiful?!

As the physical edition comes with the game’s soundtrack on a CD, I converted it to mp3s and tunes like The Green Hills, Under Deck, The Ice Caves, and Desert Sands are now in my playlist.

The secrets. Especially in the advanced levels, you often end up looking for the one last, very well hidden coin. And it’s always “Ah, there it is!”, not a “Bah, so it’s there…”

The end sequence. No spoilers, but Knights of Bytes know how to make a nice ending to a game. Loved it.

And then there’s the elusive quality called “playability” that can turn even a soundless game with ASCII graphics into a killer. Sam’s Journey woke up the passionate player in me. Because before writing this review, I finished Sam twice. The first playthrough was about 18 hours, which might be how much the game will take a casual player to finish. And then I decided that I want to see and know it all. I went for the 100% score. 30 hours, more or less. I doubt that in the last ten years, I sunk about 50 hours in one 8-bit game over the course of some two weeks.

VERDICT

Talking about Sam in the 8-bit community, one could hear all kinds of opinions, from that it can’t really be that good because it’s new to people taking offence at hearing that not everything in Sam is perfect.

So, what’s 8-bitstuff.com’s position?

Rational summary:

Biggest 8-bit jump and run of all time. 30 hours of captivating content. Zero bugs.

Subjective summary:

The best C=64 game since the commercial death of the 8-bitters in mid-1990s? Totally!

The best C=64 jump and run of all time? Yes.

The best C=64 game ever? No. But it’s up there in my top X.

Buy it. Play it! Love it!!!

 

As a bonus, we give you a gallery with one screenshot from every level, except for boss fights, so that we don’t spoil the surprises for you:

Level 01

Happy Grassland. The pink monsters are called Roamers, and Sam is soon going to be called Ninja Sam.

Level 02

Deep Woods. The hornets are invincible. If you jump into a gun, it will shoot you somewhere where you otherwise couldn’t get.

Level 03

Forest Cave. What will you find in the old mine?

Level 04

Ice Flowers. Pirate Sam climbing up a liana. The penguins have a funny pattern: they fly a short distance and then slide on their belly.

Level 05

Frozen Land. If I had collected the violet T-shirt, I would have become Elvis.

Level 06

Arctic Plains. Panic mode on, I’m under a penguin attack!

Level 07

Cold Castle. If the lightning-throwing mummy comes just a bit closer, my spaceman will be able to hit it with a stone. That’s what I call eclecticism.

Level 08

Beaver Bridge. Another reference to Giana here.

Level 09

Desert Heat. Ancient statues spit fire, a gun moving left and right, and you have to shoot it at the right time to avoid the fire and hit the other gun. I wouldn’t mind my desert a bit colder.

Level 10

Mystical Pyramid. The first really complicated level with a lot of secrets. Need to time my jump for the coin so that the wasps don’t sting me.

Level 12

Underground. After you dispatch the first boss, you go underground. When the ghosts are transparent, you can run through them. When they are white, they can harm you – but also you can harm them. And what if one of them drops one of the three trophies scattered around the level?

Level 13

Deep sea. The underwater parts of Sam are like a second game within the game. New physics, new monsters, new patterns.

Level 14

Glittering Cave. Snowmen roll snowballs at you. The balls get bigger and bigger as they roll. Nice touch.

Level 15

Spiky Tower. A kinda pop problem. Do I want to get Elvis if it means risking getting (a) Sting?

Level 16

Flower Shore. You can climb these nets. So climb to the top, jump up to get the diamond, jump diagonally over the wasps, jump up to get the second diamond, jump back…

Level 17

Pirates Ahoy! The pirate/ship levels are some of the best fun in the game. Not easy, not at all. But totally fun anyway.

Level 18

Elephant Tree. Don’t ask me how that elephant got onto the platform. It’s just there and you’ll have to deal with it.

Level 19

Wet and Dry. A lot of underwater action going on. Who would have thought that pearls can be used as ammo?

Level 21

Platform Hell. So you thought that if you get rid of the second boss, the game will give you a break? Wrong! Platform Hell is exactly what the name suggests, especially if you want the 100% score. In this part of the level, I have a bit of a hope: if I make the jump for the red T-shirt and don’t collide with the bat, I’ll get the Dracula form, which will make my life among the moving platforms a bit easier because I’ll be able to fly.

Level 22

Highlands Gate. Welcome to the Highlands. Fancy being flattened by a giant granite cube?

Level 23

Sunken Ship. Is that a turtle throwing an axe?

Level 24

Waterfalls. Alright, so that’s a lobster shooting its claw at you, while you’re carrying a huge key to the door to unlock it. Getting keys to doors is often difficult because while carrying them, you can’t use your special abilities.

Level 25

Fungus Lake. While other enemies have their steady movement patterns, the jellyfish always goes after you.

Level 26

Cloud Runner. Having a treasure chest and not being able to open it is unfortunate. Luckily, it also opens if it hits an enemy (while taking care of it too).

Level 27

Foggy Treetop. Hear the words of wisdom: never ever jump between two angry elephants. I bet you’d never figure that out on your own!

Level 28

Sky City. So, after I leave the net, I’ll collect the key, jump over (on onto) the two caterpillars, and then–should I or should I not exchange my Elvis outfit for the green Pitcher outfit?

Level 29

Chilly Challenge. Climb and grab and slide and jump and fly and avoid and… After all, this is the final level before meeting the final boss.

The beginning of the end

End of the Journey. Now let’s assume you have defeated the final boss. If you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to play the game to deserve it. Have fun!

Sam - score

The playtime is about 10 hours more than I actually spent with the game, as once I forgot to turn off the computer and the game ran overnight. The score is accurate though. Try to equal it!

I can’t say I don’t like games that have been made in editors. There appeared several game editors during last years on the Spectrum. The most well known is probably AGD, the Arcade Game Designer by Jonathan Cauldwell. I’ve seen many games that have been produced in this software and some of them aren’t really bad, some are even cool. One game that came into my spotlight last days is Impossabubble by Dave Clarke of Monument Microgames. The game’s his debut and it really, really impressed me that much, that I’m writing this short review.

Five lives are desperately little for this game! Btw. see the potion? Go pick it!

The game is about a bubble. If you’re familiar with those multiscreen maze games like Jet Set Willy, Monty series or so, this could be the exact description of the game and I don’t need to talk any further. Simply, a Jet Set Willy with a bubble as a main character instead of Willy. Hmm, okay, but that’s not a big deal. Well, maybe not. You control the bubble jumping on platforms and avoiding baddies, thinking of which way would be the best to pass the screen and collect flashing objects – potion bottles actually. What a classic! There are wind fans that get you higher if you can’t reach a platform by your normal jump, there are nasty bugs that kill you, there are unpleasant arrows and ugly spiders you really have to avoid. And you have just five lives for all that adventure, which is really not much. The game play needs a bit of training. After that, you’ll be able to go trough screens game quite easily. The controls are simple. Just keys for left, right and jump. Sinclair joystick (keys 6, 7 and 0) or Kemston joystick can be used instead, as well as the key H to pause the game, which could be handy in dangerous situations. It’s a 48K game with additional AY music, so your old rubber mate with an AY interface is the right setup. If you don’t have AY, you’ll just hear beeper sounds, but you won’t miss anything else from the game.

I’d say that graphics aren’t the state of the art, but all that is ballanced by well gameplay and excellent music.

I must admit that the graphics aren’t my cup of tea. They’re, say, oldschool. If the game came in 1984, it would be okayish. I can clearly imagine how Dave aka Bedroom Coder makes the game in 1984, sends it to a famous software house (would guess that someone like Artic Computing or Mastertronic might declare insterest) and then gets his money and lives happily on a tropical island for the rest of his life 🙂 So, yes. The graphical side of the game is very retro, but not bad at all! Kinda cute, I’d say. Now, let’s move on to the music. Whoaa! This is quite cool piece of AY sound! I love David Saphier’s track. It fits perfectly to the game and makes the gameplay super addictive. It’s kinda retro as well, It doesn’t sport much under-the-hood advantages of the AY chip, but the melody and arrangement are so good. Last but not least, there are in-game beeper sounds as well that make the audio experience complete.

I must say the money spent on this game wasn’t really a thrown out deal as I like the gameplay, the music and the retro feeling of all this project. The author says that he should produce copies on a real tape soon, so this would be something for retro collectors and true Spectrum gaming enthusiasts. Impossabubble can be downloaded as a digital copy for a tiny amount of money at itch.io.

Uhm… Have I heard this name somewhere already? I think… actually i might! Ninja Gaiden, that’s the name of a Japanese blockbuster with errm.. a ninja. The Japanese word Gaiden (外伝) means Side Story by the way. This game was originally released in 1988 by Tecmo and has been ported to a wide range of computer platforms and consoles. However, the ZX Spectrum wasn’t in the list. But that changed this month! A bunch of indie developers – Jerri, DaRkHoRaCe and diver4d – took the Game Boy version – which is the 1991 Ninja Gaiden Shadow actually – and adapted it to the Spectrum. Wikipedia says about the game’s plot following stuff: Set three years before the events of the first Ninja Gaiden (NES), the player controls Ryu Hayabusa, who must save New York City from the forces of Emperor Garuda, a servant of Jaquio. Garuda’s minions include the cyborg “Spider”, kickboxer Gregory and his manager Jack, former military commander Colonel Allen, and the Japanese nobleman Whokisai (風鬼斎 Fūkisai). Hmm, sounds good. But what about the game? Well, the converted result is kinda cool. Let’s look at it.

Nice loading screen swearing a good gaming experience.

The graphics by diver4d are cute. Because of the fact, that the programmer took the same resolution from the Game Boy version, the whole game runs in a window in the middle of the Speccy’s screen and the rest are illustrations with these nice and cute graphics. The graphics in the game window, which is the only moving area on the screen, are a bit basic and monochrome, though. It is strongly visible that it’s converted and modified, but this fact doesn’t make the game any worse. There’s in-game music, also. It’s very retro, as it seems it’s just a conversion as well. The Spectrum can do better things, but this one was ment to be authentic. So no hardware envelopes and advanced drums. Just the plain melody with a couple of white noise rhythms.

The second round’s getting harder with the annoying birds.

The gameplay is surprisingly well. I used the standard QAOP-Space key combination with no problems. The ninja has to go to the right direction, kill all the enemies and reach the end of the level. Besides of that, there are special loot boxes with extras like energy pills, lives and weapons. Because the ninja is armed just with a sword at the start. Anyway, he can walk, can use the weapon against enemies but can also climb on walls and hold the poles when it’s necessary. Levels are often divided into more parts with different graphics. At the end of each one there’s a final boss. This is pretty standard in this type of games I guess, but there’s one more cool stuff: The game uses a level multiload, just like in the good old times. Remember? That could be frustrating for someone wanting to play the game from the tape, but hey, it’s kinda cool to see a new game using this old fashioned system. So whenever you play the game on, you can always turn the fastloading off in your emulator and enjoy loading each level separately, waiting, and rewinding the tape and loading the first level again when you make it to die.

Top left: Level 1, top right: Level 1 as well; Bottom left: Title screen, bottom right: Level loading from tape

The Ninja Gaiden – Shadow Warriors is a very nice piece of stuff. But the main thing is, that it is playable. No need to worry about slow loading of levels, as we have things like divIDE/divMMC or emulators in the 21th century. Go get it from the Internet and try it, it’s free and good New Stuff!

Puzzle games never get boring until you remember all levels that you’re able to complete with covered eyes. The newest one for the Spectrum is called Stepping Stones and it’s made by guys around the SinDiKat club from Slovakia. Though, the original game idea and level design had been created by Emiel de Graaf.

The task is simple. You must reach the target rectangle by selecting and expanding stones with numbers to paths which lead to the destination stone. If a stone has number 1 on it, you can click it and expand it to left, right, up or down. If there’s 2, you get 2 extra stones, 3 for three, etc. If there’s another stone in the direction you expanded your numbered stone, an extra stone is added. But one can expect that if it’s a numbered stone, extra stones corresponding the number are added, but this doesn’t happen. So if you click on a stone numbered 3 and expand it to the right, and there’s another stone two positions next, doesn’t matter if with or without a number, you get four instead of three stones. It’s simple but the level difficulty’s increasing rapidly.

Fortunately, each level has its unique code you can write it down and continue from that point. You can also restart the level by pressing the R key in case you have no more possible moves. The C key is for entering the code, L shows a level grid where you can select an already reached level again, I’s for credits information and S stops or starts the music. If you make a mistake, you can always press U to make an undo step. The game controls are usual QAOPM or QAOP-Space. There’s no score counter, everything you need is to finish each level.

When I got the game, I’d absolutelly fallen in love with it. The graphics are very stylish, the whole game area is in light colors and the music, oh, the music is just excellent! I’m recommending this game to all Speccy enthusiasts and not only. It’s really a good game. It works on a 48K Spectrum and it’s good to have an AY sound interface to enjoy the fantastic music piece in the game. As an exception we provide a temporary exclusive download link until the game will appear at usual place like World of Spectrum. Here.

Recent Atari 8-Bit Ports

In the early 1980s, Atari’s 8-bit computers were an extremely popular gaming platform. Every important game of that time (as well as most of the unimportant ones) had its Atari 400/800 version. However, that changed dramatically sometime around the middle of the decade. Suddenly the 8-bit Atari lost its appeal for the nascent gaming industry.

There were several reasons: the success of the Commodore 64, shift of Atari’s focus to the 16-bit ST line, and the popularity of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in the United Kingdom, Europe’s biggest gaming market at the time. Because of this all, even though the 8-bit market still had some 5-8 successful years to live, some of the biggest 8-bit hits never made it to the 8-bit Atari.

It’s because BBC Micro and Atari have the same processor and the Micro version uses a graphics mode that is very similar to an Atari one.

But times they are a changin’! About twenty years later (i.e., recently), many classics are getting ported, faithfully and enthusiastically, by the community. Now even Atari users can enjoy games that the industry didn’t bother converting back then because the 8-bit Atari was considered a dead horse. Today we’ll have a look at five of them.

LUNAR JETMAN

Lunar Jetman Screenshot

Lunar Jetman is a shooter originally released by the legendary Ultimate Play the Game for the Spectrum and BBC Micro. It’s a sequel to Jetpac, Ultimate’s previous game in which Jetman has to rebuild his rocket. This time, his mission is to find and destroy evil ETs’ bases on the Moon, and apart from his trusty jet pack, he has a moon buggy – called Hyperglide Moon Rover in the game’s manual – on which he can transport equipment for bridging craters and additional weapons.

Fandal, who ported the game, chose the BBC Micro version as the source for the port. It’s because BBC Micro and Atari have the same processor and the Micro version uses a graphics mode that is very similar to an Atari one. The Atari version of the game was then included in the disk magazine Flop in 2014.

PENTAGRAM

Pentagram Screenshot

Pentagram is another game originally published by Ultimate Play the Game for the Speccy, in 1986. It’s a part of the legendary Sabreman action adventure game series. The game is based on Ultimate’s revolutionary Filmation isometric engine. Sabreman’s goal is to recover the fabled Pentagram, a potent magical artifact. He’s trying to do that in a maze full of enemies and objects with which he can interact.

The Atari 8-bit version was coded by Mariuszw in 2016. To port the game, Mariuszw created a special recompiler that takes the original code for the Z80 processor and translates it to its equivalent for the 6502, which is the heart of the Atari machine. The 320×200 resolution used in the the game is only monochromatic, but more colors can be added through a clever use of hardware sprites, called PMG (Player-Missile Graphics) on the Atari. José Pereira took care of this part of the graphics, and Miker did the music.

E-TYPE

E-Type Screenshot

E-Type is a car racing game in the vein of Out Run, originally released in 1989 for the British computers BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, and Acorn Archimedes, written by Gordon J. Key. You try to go as far as possible in your Jaguar E-Type, avoiding such obstacles as mail boxes, roadworks, or oil on the road. When you hit something, you and your gorgeous blonde passenger (because all your passengers in all car racing games seem to be blonde bombshells) are knocked off your seats. If you give a ride to the policemen on the road (or run over them, depending on how you interpret the necessity to hit them with the car), you receive a time bonus.

The Atari port was realized by Fandal, with Irgendwer doing the graphics. As an extra, the Atari version received an additional first-person mode in which you are put into the car’s cockpit instead of just watching the vehicle on the screen.

E-Type stands out for two reasons. It’s one of the few road games on the Atari 8-bit in which the landscape isn’t strictly flat, so you drive also up- and downhill. And because of the game coming out only for the Micro and the Acorns, it’s one of a few good games that never made it to either of the Atari 8-bit’s biggest competitors – the Speccy and the C=64.

BOBBY BEARING

Bobby Bearing Screenshot

Bobby and his brothers are bearing balls living in the future land of Technofear, where everything is made of steel. They have been warned many times to stay clear of the Metaplanes outside their home, but one day their rogue cousin came and led Bobby’s brothers right there. There the evil Bearings stunned poor Bobby’s four brothers, and now it’s up to him to find them and roll them back home.

According to the authors, Robert and Trevor Figgins, they hadn’t heard of similar games like Marble Madness or Spindizzy until well into the development when their publisher pointed out the similarities, and cited Ultimate’s Knight Lore (perhaps for its isometric graphics and puzzles) as their inspiration.

The game was released in 1986 for the Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and C=64 – and in 2016 for the Atari 8-bit, ported by Mariuszw with additional graphics by José Pereira and music by Poison, supporting stereo.

ADVENTURE

Adventure Screenshot

Adventure is a bit older and different from the other games in this list. It was originally published in 1978 for the Atari 2600 console (VCS). The player controls his avatar, a simple square. Next to not getting lost in the maze, the player must find a magic cup and bring it to the golden castle, avoiding the deadly dragons (who, as the author Warren Robinett noted later, look more like ducks). The game, inspired by Colossal Cave Adventure (that ran on mainframe computers), is also recognized as one of the first game containing an Easter egg, a secret room containing the text “CREATED BY WARREN ROBINETT.”

The game was ported to the Atari 8-bit by Avery Lee, the author of the widely spread video processing software VirtualDub … and the Atari emulator Altirra.

Hey, stop reading, start playing!

(This article was guest-written by Krupkaj, the maintainer of the Czech and Slovak Atari Portal. Thanks, mate!)

A brand new game for the Commodore 64 in 2017? YES! Protovision, todays’ only software house producing exclusive C64 games has, among others, released a new shoot’em-up game based on the aged Galaga: Galencia by Jason Aldred. But why the hell did he do a Galaga clone in 2017? Because he could. And because Galaga is cool. And because it’s not just a copy of the former game; it adds a lot of cool stuff. WE PLAYED IT!

Posters! You’ll get them if you purchase this game on a tape or disk.

FIRST IMPRESSION

Is amazing. You load the game, it automatically recognizes whether you’re using a PAL or NTSC machine, shows a very nice intro with a story about a person named Amy (who surely has to be gender neutral, because he or she looks so in the game graphics, but let’s suppose it’s a woman because Amy is a female name) and her dog who has to fight against the big bad insect population that mankind has lost control of, and then the main game loads up and a title screen appears. Pressing the F1 key will take you to options. There you can alter things like background starfield color and score and time font colors, turn in-game music on or off, load, save or reset the high score, and a tournament mode which gives you just one life.

Galaga (1982) had two versions on the C64: a monochrome one (for saving the screen of your high-radiation 1981 CRT monitor) and an upgraded color version, which didn’t contribute to its beauty, to be honest.

Galencia is one of the best Galaga clones ever made for a home computer; no doubt.

The game starts by pressing fire on your joystick, and you can watch a pretty animation of the hero with her dog at a rocket base entering their “1981 Galencia Fighter” space ship. Then a classic playfield appears with your fighter ship on the bottom, the starfield in the background, and all the insect baddies attacking you from left and right. The insects are actually big wasps. They might seem quite peaceful at the first sight, but then, when you start shooting them, they retaliate soon by attacking your ship with bombs.

The picture and scroll text introducing the plot.

GAMEPLAY

You’ll have to find a certain strategy of what to shoot and when to shoot it. The number of lives is important here, because you can be kidnapped by one of the aliens, named Siren. It’ll take one of your lives away, but just until you shoot the kidnapper and your kidnapped ship returns to you as a second fighting module, so you’re able to shoot double bullets since then. However, the game respects the old Galaga style. Your ship(s) can be controlled to the left and right directions only while you can shoot bullets. Unfortunately, the bullets never get any extra power, at least to the point where we’ve got to. After every three standard rounds there is an extra hard stage with different, tougher enemies, and then comes a bonus level, in which you have to shoot anything that moves.

Top: The Siren is going to kidnap the player’s fighter ship | Bottom left: Preparing to destroy the kidnapper | Bottom right: Double fighter ship in the first bonus level

If you miss a single object, you don’t get a bonus. The bonus can be an extra life or extra rocket in the tandem (double). Another type of bonus levels come later in the game. There you have to avoid asteroids and collect stars for points and extra lives or to kill the big boss and get the same for that. As the stage counter comes up, the enemies are tougher and survival is getting harder and harder. They are the basic “Formations” (150 points), nastier “Attacking” (250 points) and the insidious “Sirens” (500 points when shot).

The big-bee-boss bonus with lasers is hard to pass even with the double fighter ship.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

The graphics are just cute. All of them are well drawn, detailed, and very well animated. You’ll love the intro screen and the intro animation of the hero and her dog entering their space fighter ship.

Cute animation of Amy and her dog entering the fighter ship.

The in-game screen mode uses extended upper and lower border areas to display score counters, your ranks, and messages. Some aliens change colours to indicate how many hits remain to kill them. In addition to the title screen music, there are also in-game music and bonus level music, which strike as a bit repetitive, but they use just one or two SID channels, so you never miss any of the all-important sound effects. Anyway, if the music gets annoying to you, you can turn it off in the settings, as mentioned above.

Top left: Extra life for shooting all the aliens in the bonus level | Top right: In the 2nd bonus level you must avoid the big asteroids and collect stars for good | Bottom left: The Game Over screen | Bottom right: Entering Hi-Score initials

OVERALL

Galencia is one of the best Galaga clones ever made for a home computer; no doubt. It brings some new ideas and offers very addictive gameplay with nice extras, and you won’t get bored after the first couple of minutes. You’ll be wanting to beat your record again and again, which is exactly what a game relying on simple mechanics should achieve. If you have a C64 game party evening with friends, you can turn on the tournament mode and fun is guaranteed, at least for a while. The game can be bought as a digital download at itch.io, and eventually you can get a physical copy on a floppy disk, cassette tape or even a cartridge from Protovision, which is about to be a gem for collectors’ show-cases with all the merch like posters, manual, and original cassette tape, floppy or the cart. We played it. Now it’s your turn!

Wait… Cookie? I’ve heard this before. Oh yeah, I remember! I played it as one of the very first games on my Spectrum. One of the Ultimate Play The Game’s early 16K games. Excellent game on the Speccy. Cool graphics, very good sound, and superb playability. I spent long hours with Cookie; also because it didn’t always load correctly and I got Tape loading errors.

I love the graphics. They’re just wonderful.

So, what’s the point of this article? To review such an old game? Well, actually, yes [*a gale of hearty laughter]! Because the good old Cookie came out for the Commodore 64. After 34 years! Bang!!!

The title picture is drawn in the multicolor mode. It looks very attractive.

The author of the conversion is the well known Andy Noble. The same Andy Noble who created the super excellent conversion Jet Set Willy PC in 1999. The C64 version of Cookie seems cool and has additional title music by Paul Tankard, which is not present in the original version. But first let’s talk about the setting.

You are a little Cookie who has to bake a cake. All you have to do is put all the ingredients coming from the Pantry cabinet into a bowl by firing flour bags. But nothing is as simple as it seems. There are also bad items like fish bones, old cans and nails and tacks coming from trashcans positioned on both sides of your bowl. They’re trying to kill you, unsurprisingly. You can shoot them with the flour bags, but you also have to shoot them down to the trashcans. If you accidentaly get them down to your bowl, the amount of required ingredients will increase. Once you fill the bowl with the needed amount of food, the level is completed and you’re about to go to the next one and next kind of ingredient. The game ends after completing the fifth level and you go from the beginning on a higher difficulty.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

The title screen is excellently converted from Speccy to the C64 multicolor mode. It looks very great. The game character set (font) is a bold Speccy font, and the game is controlled with a joystick in port two or a spectacular combination of Q-A-O-P-Space keys. The C64 sprites are used, of course, so you can see a nice logo animation on the title screen and also all in-game moving objects are very smooth. I love the graphics. They’re just wonderful. It isn’t just a straight conversion — all the graphics are hand-drawn from scratch, to be as close to the Speccy original as possible and to be as colourful as possible on the Commodore 64.

Menu screen (top left), credits and greetings (top right), ready message (bottom left), level 1 (bottom right).

THE GAMEPLAY

This is a very questionable thing. I love the original Cookie for its very good playability. I can return to this game anytime, and it never gets boring. But the C64 version is hard. It is just [*censored]ing hard, even from the very first level. On the Speccy, you get the irritating nails and tacks at a later stage, but here it’s almost the first object that flies out of the Pantry cabinet. And it goes after you and wants to take you down immediately. Even the known tricks to position the Cookie next to the Pantry and shoot in the upper directions doesn’t work well here. I must say this is the worst aspect of the otherwise excellently converted game. The game, like the original, has 1 player and 2 player modes; the second one based on alternating players.

The second level.

Cookie on the Commodore 64 surprised me by its quality, it’s very close to the A.C.G. quality quality level we’ve seen in 1983 on the Spectrum. Nobody did such good games on Speccy back then. The mysterious Ashby Computer Graphics made the breakthrough and all the girls and boys adored them for that. With the new 2017 conversion it’s similar. Andy Noble is a quarantee of quality and the game is so well done that it casts a kind of nobility on it.

We compared the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 versions. ZX title screen (top left), C64 title screen (top right), game level 2 on the ZX (bottom left), game level 2 on the C64 (bottom right).