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CHASE H.Q.: LET’S GO MR. DRIVER!

Did you think that you can drive a Porsche without driving licence? In Ocean’s 1989 game Chase H.Q. which is a Taito’s 1988 coin-op conversion you can because they said you’re the right hand of the law from Miami Vice or so. You’re chasing thieves escaping in fast, luxury fancy cars, and you have to stop them. Everything would go smooth and clear, but on certain platforms it’s just… Let’s have a closer look at it.

The game came out on major 8-bit platforms. The Commodore 64 (boo!), the Amstrad CPC, and the Spectrum and even some more like Nintendo Gameboy, NES/Famicom or MSX. We’ll focus on the popular 8-bit home computers versions, though. I’m not sure if the CPC and Spectrum versions are equal in many ways, but I’m pretty sure the C64 port is bad.

Simply forget about the C64 version. Really.

 

LOADING SCREENS

The C64 loading screen looks like it had been drawn by one eyed retarded child. Nice colours, hmm, but… Look at the heroes’ faces. They look weird. Now the CPC screen. Hmm, nice – but wait, I’ve seen this before! On the Spectrum. It seems it’s a conversion because even the attribute clash remained in there. The picture itself is a nice pic of the two main heroes in high resolution and decent attribute (even on the CPC!) undercoloring. So the result – C64 sucks with its lame proportions, the CPC has the same Spectrum hires screen but there are more colours on the Speccy. So I’d choose the Spectrum one because it looks the most realistic and has acceptable colours.

Look at the C64 picture above. Doesn’t it look weird? Below are the Spectrum and CPC loading screens that look much better.

SOUNDS

Sounds on the C64 aren’t bad. You easily recognize what’s the matter. It’s SID, although it sounds a bit basic. I’d expect something better in this game, though. Nothing much to say about it. The Amstrad has nice sounds, even a digitized speech, but there’s no title music. The sounds are almost same like on the Spectrum, but the Speccy even has music, which is special as the drums are interpreted by beeper and the melody is played by the AY sound chip. Beeper sounds are also in the game so you experience two different sound sources, which makes the game special. In addition, on the CPC, there’s no siren sound when chasing the bad guy, which the Speccy and C64 have. The MSX port seems to be ported from the 48K Spectrum even with beeper sounds! All of this points to the Speccy version as the winner.

GAME GRAPHICS

Oh dear, the graphics on the C64 isn’t really nice. The cars are brown-grey boxes, the road has no lanes. Spectrum version is very detailed as expected, although it’s monochrome with some bits of attribute colouring. But the CPC rules with colours. The lowres mode doesn’t seem too blocky due to so many colourful details, so can I declare my favourite is the CPC in this case? Too bad the Speccy can’t have it in more colours. Last but not least, I have to mention the MSX version of the game, which looks almost identical to the Spectrum one.

Spectrum (top left), C64 (top right) and the CPC (bottom) gameplay screenshots.

GAMEPLAY AND DETAILS

The gameplay on the C64 is just horrible. Everything is so slow, slow as hell, even a worm would crawl faster than your 64-ized blocky Porsche. All I felt while playing was just boredom. Everything takes so much time and when you catch up with the villain at last and have to wreck his car, oh my, that’s just straining your patience. Endlessly. Simply forget about the C64 version. Really. Let’s move to the Spectrum. Well, it’s a completely different cup of tea. Nice and detailed graphics and great gameplay make the game a gem in a Spectrum gamer’s collection. It’s fast and well designed. You feel all the details, you catch the target car and the destruction derby starts. I like it! On the CPC, well, well… Colourful graphics and solid gameplay, just a little less smoother than on the Spectrum. The game’s taking the best from the Speccy and adds nice colours. Who cares it’s in the lowres mode. Even nicely made blocky graphics can look cute … erm. perhaps. The Spectrum’s overall gameplay is a little bit better, so the Spectrum wins again.


VERDICT

I’m very sorry, Amstrad guys, the Speccy won this race, but it was close. The Amstrad game isn’t bad, it has fancy colours, but the smoothness and absence of Spectrum details are frustrating for me. The Spectrum gameplay is just great. The MSX can be happy with its Spectrum 48K-like conversion and shut up, and even I don’t mention the stupid NES version, which looks silly, but the big beige breadbox can just envy the CPC and Speccy and only regret the programmers of Chase H.Q. probably didn’t know what could be done with this beast. Shame on you, C64!

GALENCIA: BIG INSECT MUST DIE!

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!

TRAFFIC

I like big, epic games. Turricans, Nobby the Aardvark, Dragon Wars – that kind of stuff. But every now and then I just don’t feel like immersing in a game for hours or even days. And then it’s time for some of the great game miniatures that replace size and complexity with perfectly polished mechanisms and sheer playability. Like Traffic.

Immense fun! And immensely addictive.

 

WHAT

Traffic is a logical game from 1984, a time long before the genre’s reputation got ruined by the tsunami of 2nd and 3rd rate half-baked quick-cash junk in the mid 1990s. It was originally released by Argus Press Software (APS)/Quicksilva for the C=64 and ported to CPC a year later by Amsoft/Andromeda Software.

Let the CPC version tell us what the game’s about:

Traffic - Game Description

Well, thank you very much for such a reward!

The graphics are simplistic but cute. All the vehicles are just rectangles of various sizes, but you’ll have no trouble seeing motorbikes, regular cars, vans, and trucks in them. Their blinking indicators, made of a minimum amount of pixels, are lovely.

The sound could probably be called simplistic too (but not cute). On the title screen, there’s the typical Big Ben jingle, followed by a forgettable tune with instruments typical of the early ’80s (“we’re happy that it makes a sound!”). There are also a few in-game sound effects, the most important one being the alarm that sounds anytime a queue length is nearing a terminal value.

Where the game excels is the behavior of the cars. They don’t just decelerate and accelerate. They properly slow down when they need to turn. Trucks are slower. But the winner is the situation when the red light comes on and the drivers know they won’t be able to stop in time: in that case they simply step on the gas to go through the crossroad faster. It’s so lifelike that I have to smile whenever I see it.

HOW

Playing the game is easy. On the screen, you have a top-down view of the area, with only two actions available: you move between the junctions with your joystick and switch the lights from red to green and vice versa with the fire button. Cars come from outside the screen, go through the area (adhering to the lights), and then leave. You get a point for each car that leaves your area. You complete the first level if you dispatch 200 cars, the second level is over after 300 cars, the third level takes 400 cars, and so on.

Level 2. C=64 on the left, CPC on the right. Note that even though the roads are put pixel-exact in the CPC version, the graphics aren’t converted but re-drawn (see placing of the buildings, the perspective, and the number of their floors) from scratch.

As long as incoming cars fit onto the screen, everything’s fine. When a queue starts to form outside the screen, you’re in trouble. If the number of cars in any one street waiting to enter the screen reaches 5 in the first two levels and 9 in the higher levels, you’re game over. In the higher levels, there’s also a limit for the total of all the queues.

WHY

Sounds as sexy as a decaying zombie teeming with maggots? Sure, but it’s immense fun! And immensely addictive. Seeing the cars traverse the screen fluently gives you a feeling of satisfaction, and then there are countless little dramas when you are this close to a queue reaching critical length and get the traffic going again in the last moment possible. Plus the game has the “just one more try” magic. You’re sure next time you’ll do better because you think you know what just went wrong. And then again. And again. And again.

In the beginning you go all operative. Get used to that it’s the UK, i.e., cars on the left. Just turn the green light on wherever cars are waiting. Then you realize there’s a tactical layer to it: you don’t want cars to go through one crossroad only to stop at the next traffic light because if the cars have to accelerate and brake, they spend more time on the screen. So you need to create a flow. And after you fail a level several times, the strategic element comes in. You see that no matter which queue finally gameovered you one particular time, there always seem to be one or two streets that are absolutely jammed at that moment and are probably the bottleneck. Therefore you try to create a flow with special attention paid to those critical places. Well, yeah, you still haven’t negotiated the level – but your high score just went 15 points up. You’re on a good track. Next time (or the one after that) you’ll sure make it!

C=64 VS. CPC

The two versions are almost identical.

The C=64 version boasts an achievement for the time: when you complete a level, a sampled voice says, “Next map.” But the CPC has a unique element as well: it offers a special color scheme for playing on a monochromatic monitor (having white color for red and blue for green if you choose it on a normal device feels kinda surreal).

Traffic - screenshot from the monochrome version

Would you stop or go if you saw a white traffic light? And what about a blue one?

The rest is just details. On the Commodore, the active junction is indicated by a crosshair, on the CPC, its outlines change color. The high score table (which is not saved) has 3-char names on the 64 and 4-char names on the CPC.

So the only important difference is that the CPC version seems to be one tiny little bit easier than the C=64 version. Which might be an important factor because the game’s not only great; it’s also fairly difficult.

But whichever platform you prefer, give traffic a try. It’s totally worth it.

Stop reading, start playing!

COOKIE

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).