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STEPPING STONES

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.

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!

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).

 

ON YOUR MARKS – JET – SET – WILLY!

Just in case you’re a visitor from another galaxy, have discovered the world of 8-bitters just recently, or have been on a platform the game never made it to: Jet Set Willy is a part of the 8-bit family jewels. It’s a sequel to Manic Miner, also an outstanding game where Willy the miner must escape a complex of caverns filled with such grave dangers as mutant telephones or an alien kong beast.

Anyone who’s ever played Jet Set Willy knows that it’s not an easy game. After Willy escaped the mines, he threw a wild party in his new house. The house is not only new but also huge, so when Willy’s annoyed wife Maria tells him in the morning she won’t let him enter the bedroom until he tidies up the whole house, there are more than sixty (!) rooms waiting to be put back into order.

In the beginning it might look like Willy’s got enough time for the cleaning job (from 7 a.m. to midnight), but there’s more to the house than meets the eye. Like that there’s an item in one of the rooms (Conservatory Roof) that you can’t collect without losing a life? Or that the game looks different on different 8-bitters? Let’s have a closer look at some of the trivia around the game.


The Attic Bug

The original release of the game had a fatal bug. Once you visited the room called The Attic, you couldn’t enter some rooms (like The Kitchen or The Attic itself) anymore. If you did, some mysterious power kept killing you there until you ran out of lives.

Software Projects, the game’s publisher, were neither the first nor the last to try the stupidest excuse of them all: “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” They said that visiting in The Attic caused some of the gas pipes in the house to break and the corrupted rooms therefore contained poisonous air.

This naive “explanation”, however, wasn’t enough, and Software Projects had to release an official set of POKEs that fixed this bug and several others that had transpired in the meantime.


The Uncollectible Item

Apart from some invisible objects, which you acquired by just visiting certain rooms (e.g., Swimming Pool), there was also one that couldn’t be collected. Originally, it was located in First Landing, just next to the top of the blinking cross. Not only you couldn’t see it, but you couldn’t even reach it. So a fix was published that kept the item on the same screen coordinates but moved it to The Hall, whose layout made it possible for Willy to get it.

The Forgotten Abbey

This room isn’t bugged, just insanely difficult. To cross it, you have to jump over four monsters whose paths mutually cross, so you have to plan your way carefully and be almost pixel-exact while jumping over them.


Secret Passages

From certain rooms you can take shortcuts from completely different parts of the house. Usually, it is done through exiting the room in the “up” direction, like in Watch Tower, where jumping up from the conveyor belt on its top gets you to The Off Licence. Likewise, if you jump up from the conveyor belt in Rescue Esmeralda, you’ll find yourself in Ballroom East.


Bugged Mother – Bugged Daughter

Even though the 1980s were the idyllic time when games usually just worked, the curse of The Attic Bug seemed to affect also the ports of the game to the other major platforms. The C=64 version by Shahid Ahmad was also bugged. Perhaps the biggest problem is that Willy’s jumps to the left and to the right are of different heights (and, consequently, lengths). It’s a matter of just a few pixels but prevents you from completing the game. That every stair in the house is about waist-high and Willy looks like strangely levitating when climbing them is then just an insignificant detail. The translation to the 8-bit Atari by Tynesoft, however, was even worse. I could throw a lot of funny adjectives at the graphics, animations, and mechanics of this totally unplayable disaster of a game, but I’ll just refer you to the screenshot above instead. If it wasn’t for Rob Hubbard’s music, there would be no reason to load this version even once.

Note: The Tynesoft version shouldn’t be confused with Jet Set Willy 2007, a fan port of the game to the Atari 8-bit, which in turn is perhaps the most faithful conversion from the ZX Spectrum, Willy’s home platform, to any other 8-bit computer. But Willy’s journey around the 8-bit world will be the subject of a different article that we’ll publish in near future.

This Little Piggy Had Wings

In The Nightmare Room, Willy transforms into a winged pig. Some sources call it a flying hedgehog. I’ll leave it up to you to decide. This feature is missing from the Atari and C=64 versions, while on the Amstrad CPC, the joke is applied even to the lives display at the bottom of the screen.

In some conversions, the piggy joke didn’t appear


The Banyan Wall

On the screen called The Banyan Tree, there’s a wall that makes it impossible to jump through the tree’s roots and get to A bit of tree (capitalization – or rather the lack thereof – as opposed to most other rooms, in the original). The wall has to be removed by one of the aforementioned POKEs.


Run, Willy, Run!

While in most rooms you have to be very cautious not to collide with any of the baddies and plan your way and jumps well in advance, in The Kitchen and West of Kitchen you can avoid the flying killer cooks by just blindly walk left all the time.


The Rainbow of Virtue

For those of you who have played the game as kids, this will be nothing new because we all have always played only legally bought games (right?!), but anyway… The game was one of the first to come with a special form of copy protection: once you loaded Jet Set Willy, you had to enter a 4-digit, color-based code that you had to look up in a matrix printed on the original cassette’s inlay. If you got the code wrong the first time, the game asked for a code from another square from the matrix. If you failed two attempts in a row, the computer reset and you had to load the game again.

Jet Sandbox Willy

Willy’s mansion, or rather manor, comes with all kinds of expected and unexpected rooms. Apart from the Master Bedroom (about which the whole game is), Willy has his own yacht as well as a watchtower and battlements, an emergency generator, or a chapel. There are much more obscure rooms as well: one’s called We must perform a Quirkafleeg, others have names like Dr. Jones will never believe this, or I’m sure I’ve seen this before.. (“Honey, could you please bring me my curlers from wemustperformaquirkafleeg? If they’re not there, then I must have left them in I’msureI’veseenthisbefore.. or in Dr.Joneswillneverbelievethis.”) There’s also a priests’ hole – whatever it is – and even an entrance to Hades! Here’s map of the game.

Watch Tower is one of the secret entrances

The game is so unique and the house so big that it almost begs for you telling your own stories. So when you know Jet Set Willy in and out, you can invent your own little games. What would happen if Willy just disobeyed his bossy wife and do the exact opposite of what’s asked of him? How many rooms could you visit not collecting a single one item? Or what if you just acted out a real-life scenario and instead of tidying up after the party immediately you just holed up somewhere and slept out of your hangover? For example, you could enjoy a nice nap in the branches of the tree in the Out on a limb room and, as a matter of principle, not to collect a single one item on the way. You can go through The Bathroom, Top Landing, First Landing, Main Starway, The Kitchen, and West of Kitchen, then through Cold Store and Back Stairway to The Wine Cellar. There you have to cross The Forgotten Abbey, The Security Guard, and Under the Drive. From there you’ll go to At the Foot of the MegaTree you’ll just jump through Inside the MegaTrunk to the Tree Top and Out on a limb, where Maria will never find you. You will not officially win the game this way, but you have not collected a heap of the things and can enjoy that priceless, heartwarming feeling of outsmarting the old witch in the bedroom. Or you can use one of the shortcuts – from the Back Stairway you can climb up to the roof and in We must perform a Quirkafleeg you climb up the rope to the Watch Tower. Once there, jump over the left obstacle, carefully avoiding the item on its top. Then go to the conveyor belt and jump up. Voila, you’re in The Off Licence, from where you’ll just go on to the left to the MegaTree.

Or just don’t care about my advice and get a bottle or five in The Off Licence. That’s a nice revenge too and gives you the sweet satisfaction of playing according to your own rules.

Either way, I heartily recommend you to stop reading and just load the game and enjoy it yourself. On your marks – Jet Set – Willy!