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On the cyber world of Thraxx, an evil baddie called Havok somehow returned after 10,000 years and started wreaking himselv. Or something. Plus he’s got his “nightmare creations” to help him, while everyone on the good side has died… I mean, everyone but you, the last survivor of the ancient Bladeknights. Normally, the Bladeknights would have probably kicked Thraxx’s bottom, but he somehow managed to destroy the Fireblade, the source of the Bladeknights’ power. So it’s up to you to find the 16 fragments of the Fireblade in the Undercity and then get medieval on Havok. And by the way, if the bad guy’s name is Havok, yours can’t be any other than Hiro.

Switchblade is a wonderful game. Do yourself a favor and play it. But, for the sake of your sanity, only on the CPC. Because there’s no other decent 8-bit version.

This introduction from the manual of Switchblade (a 1989 game developed by Core Design and released by Gremlin Graphics) competes with the epic emptiness of stories for Manfred Trenz’s games. But we’re not here to write literary reviews. We’re here to see the undeniable truth: that the CPC has always been the best 8-bitter of them all. Switchblade is just one random example out of the countless proofs.

I’ll put aside the title screen, which looks quite similar on all the three machines. Yes, three, because as usual, the game made it to the Spectrum, the C=64, and the CPC. It doesn’t exist for the 8-bit Atari, but it might actually be good for the platform, as it saves it from humiliation by the Amstrad version.

IT’S ENOUGH SEE THE INTRO

The intro tells the story you already know from the manual. It also tells us that the authors of the C=64 and the ZX version were, uhhh, not very smart.

Let’s say you’ve got a source picture from a machine with a better resolution or more colors. The picture is very small, and it’s the only piece of graphics on the screen. In the corner of a bloody eye, it features three colors, which might be a problem. The rest of the screen is just a very short text. What do you do?

On the ZX, do you try to shift the picture in the bitmap so that you don’t get a color clash? Or, perhaps, do you redraw the picture so that it’s slightly bigger and you always have only 2 colors in one character square? No, you don’t! You just convert it and get the clash!

And on the C=64? Do you overlay the critical area with a sprite (you could have up to ten different colors in the critical attribute square this way, if I’m not mistaken)? No, you don’t. You just obviously leave your brain switched off, too, and convert the picture from the Spectrum, including the bloody (pun intended) color clash!

Intro - ZX and C=64

The colors are different, the hardware is different, the unnecessary color clash is the same (left: ZX, right: C=64).

And now look at the CPC version.

Intro on the CPC

See? It is doable (CPC)!

AND YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE GAME YET!!!

Well, now you do. Now you’ll understand.

On the Spectrum, the game was bound to look ugly from the start. They just had to choose between ugly looks because of the attribute clashes or because of being monochromatic. And, congratulations, having gone monochrome, they managed to take the wrong decision again! As the background is more or less dithered (lots of dense dots), you can hardly see any objects or monsters if they’re not moving.

The first screen on the ZX and the 64

Left: blobs of dots on blabs of dots (ZX). Right: Ugly multicolor (C=64).

Knowing the game, I thought at least monsters would look decent on the C=64 with its fabled hardware sprites. But … this? Either they just, again, converted the ZX version (might as well be it, as the game get suspiciously slow as soon as you get more enemies on the screen, so it might be animated bitmap instead of the sprites, which would cost the C=64 next to no processor time), or I’d rename the sprites to ha-ha-ha-hardware sprites. Yes, the monsters are that laughable!

And now look at the CPC version.

The first screen on the CPC

So much of a difference (CPC)!!!

WHY MAKE THE PLAYER HAPPY?

As you’re exploring first the surface of the planet and then the Undercity, you’re looking for the 16 pieces of the Fireblade. There are many bonus items that increase your score or attack abilities, but if you’re skillful, you can do without them. But without the Fireblade, you can’t do, because only when you collect all the bits, you can wreak havoc on Havok. And to get to those bits, you’ll first have to discover that not all the walls are alike in the game. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Well, you might call the wall part a puzzle, but do you think the C=64 and ZX help you find the parts of the sword? Of course not! In some cases, especially on the Spectrum, you can’t even distinguish them from the backdrops.

Where is the sword on the ZX and the 64?

Where on Tarxx would you look for the first part of the sword (left: ZX, right: C=64)?

And now look at the CPC version.

See the sword now on the CPC?

Just a bit of an extra color, and you know where it is (CPC)!

BEEP, SPLASH, BOING

The area where I couldn’t see why the ZX and the C=64 couldn’t be on par with the CPC version was the sound department. I’ve never minded about the AY, and some say the C=64’s SID isn’t that bad either. Well, the C=64 sound was a shock… and not a positive one. The Commodore versions of the tunes sound like they’re coming from a beeper. Even though I thought that was what the Speccy originally had. The Spectrum sounds better, but still like in the early ’80s when the musicians where just happy that the machine made any sound. The CPC tune then renders the same melody in a much fuller and more atmospheric sound.

PLAYABILITY

Surprisingly, the game behaves almost identical on all the three platforms. The layout of the rooms is the same, the speed movement is the same, the jump lenght is the same, you get more or less the same bonuses in the same places. However, this is one of the cases when the graphics and the music make or break your experience. If the music is crap, there’s no real immersion, and if you can’t make out what’s what on the screen, it significantly hampers your experience.

Some not-so-nice monsters on the ZX and C=64

Can you find the monsters? And if so, can you enjoy them (Left: ZX, right: C=64)?

A screen with monsters on the CPC

Now that‘s what I call monsters (CPC)!

VERDICT

Switchblade is a wonderful game. It’s full of secrets. It’s full of surprises. It’s huge. Do yourself a favor and play it. But, for the sake of your sanity, only on the CPC. Because there’s no other decent 8-bit version.

There is no point in beating about the bush. Oil’s Well is best on the 8-bit Atari… Wait, you don’t know Oil’s Well? Okay. Let’s explain it, you dumb Commodore and Zed Ex Ex Ex freax!

Oil’s Well is an early ’80s game by Sierra On-Line released in 1983. That was around the time when the C64 and the Speccy appeared but the 8-bit Atari was a strong player on the home computer market playground already – I mean the best machine, I’m telling ya! With a dedicated hardware for gaming, it was the ideal and natural choice for both developers and gamers. And that’s when Sierra came with their new game. The game is about an underground oil rig harvester that has to collect all oil from the underground deposit under the oil well. It looks like a Pac-Man on a stick and has a similar principle – to eat dots. The harvester is connected with the well by a telescopic tube, so it can get to the deepest places in the underground. But the underground corridors are full of horrible insect, and if they hit the harvester or its tube, one loses a life.

Title screen. Top left: Atari, top right: C64. Bottom left: MSX, bottom right: Colecovision

The telescopic tube is controlled by you, the player, by standard joystick movement and the fire button, which works like the telescope’s remote, so when you press it, the telescope starts to wind up. Thus you can avoid the nasty baddies. Sometimes, there are also bonuses going in random rows from random directions. Collecting them brings points or extra lives. But sometimes, a bomb that can kill your harvester unit comes, but it leaves your tube intact so you can avoid this danger easily.

The game came out for the Atari, C64, MSX, Coleco Vision, and the IBM PC compatibles. Let’s focus on the 8-bit ones, just mentioning that the 1983 PC version is very ugly and slow.

The Atari version is the best one. It has nice and colorful graphics, great sounds and excellent playability. The C64 version isn’t that good: the sounds are worse, and so is the use of colors. Some effects are missing altogether. Colecovision is, surprisingly, in the third place with high resolution graphics and sounds very close to the Atari version, but the color amount is limited. The last place belongs to the MSX, which has identical graphics as Colecovision version but a bit weaker AY chip sounds with no background kind-a-melody that’s present in other versions highlighting the game’s atmosphere nicely.

The first level. The Atari and C64 versions might seem identical, but if you take a closer look, you’ll find out differences. The MSX and Colecovision versions are almost the  same; you’d hardly find a difference. Top left: Atari, top right: C64. Bottom left: MSX, bottom right: Colecovision.

What is bad in the C64 version? One could say there’s nothing wrong with it. If you’ve played the Atari version before, you’ll see a lot of difference. First, the sounds are a bit simple. I’d be awaiting some more drama from the SID chip. It seems to me like a little boy was trying to make fancy sounds in V2 BASIC. Second, the graphics are really very similar to the Atari, the color palette is… erm… steady brown and pink, but, that’s just Commodore. Rather than this, I miss that the baddies aren’t appearing on the sides of the screen like on Atari, but they’re coming out of the C64’s border. But, that’s understandable for the hardware. Some elements like flashing bombs and bonuses are made in hires and that’s making a weird impression to me, namely flashing in random colors seems ugly. The C64’s color order in the memory is weird and it seems that nobody took care about smooth flashing effects.

Level two on the 8-bit Atari.

On the MSX and the Colecovision, things are substantially worse. Everything is in higher resolution than on Atari and C64, but there’s a lack of colors. All baddies are just white and they’re small like one text character or so, which looks and feels ugly. The only colored things are static graphics and the miner’s tube. Both versions seem like they’re running on a ZX Spectrum, although a ZX version doesn’t exist at all, actually. There’s nothing much more to say about these two versions, except the sound. On the Coleco, sounds are closer to the Atari version, while we hear just MSX’s AY chip simple bleeps on the other side. All in all, none of these two conversions are good enough to stand on the Atari’s step.

The verdict was clear since the beginning. Atari rulez! If you own a Commodore, you can feel quite a similar experience, but not on the other platforms. This is an Atari game, and you must play it now!

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!