Posts

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.

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!

There are games that have cute graphics. There are games that have great playability. There are games that have a long playtime. And then there are games that have all of that. Mega games. And mega games deserve mega reviews. In terms of pictures (exactly 100 screenshots!), not text–so relax and read on. In case you’re really extremely text-shy, just scroll down to the mega gallery at the end of the article.

A VERY DIFFERENT RACING GAME

Hot Rod was originally a 1988 SEGA top-down racing arcade game. A very different racing game.

Hot Rod is one of the best racing games to ever hit the 8-bit market.

 

It starts with that it’s one of just very few overhead games where you don’t race on circuits. Instead, you’re driving across an unspecified country. Every three stages take place in roughly the same kind of landscape. The landscapes range from mountains to deserts to sea shores and from wilderness to cities. You’ll drive not only on good old tarmac, but also on dirt, sand, snow, and ice. So what you’re getting are 30 levels of scrolling awesomeness in ten different environments.

Hot Rod title screens

Title screens from the Spectrum (left) and Commodore 64 (right) version. The CPC one has no title picture.

Another huge difference is that unlike in other car games, Hot Rod isn’t about lightning-quick reactions. The pace of the game is quite relaxed, so it’s all about precision driving, not jerking the wheel in this or that direction as fast as possible. That is supported by a game mechanics that’s only possible in a game world: there are no collisions with other players. Your car can be in the very same place as your opponent’s, so everyone can take the racing line they deem the optimal one. This eliminates the most frequent problem of multiplayer car games, where you often get rid of the other humans as soon as possible through crashing into them and/or driving them off the track and then just cruise to victory. It practically asks for cooperative playing instead: sharing the available bonuses and trying to get both humans through all the levels.

Anytime you have a scrolling multiplayer racer, you have to solve the same problem: what to do with a player who’s lagging behind so much that they’d fall off the screen? Hot Rod bases its logic on one all-important variable: gas. You get extra gas depending on your place in each stage, and you can collect some on the road in the form of extras. You burn it with each second the road, and it’s a currency in which you pay for your blunders. If one of the three cars (up to two human players, the rest is played by the machine), for example, falls into the ocean or gets buried by an avalanche or a landslide, they’re resurrected at the cost of 20 gas units. Same goes for the time when they fall behind–the game puts them back among the competitors, but they lose 20 gas. If their gas tank gets empty–game over.

Perhaps the only traditional element of Hot Rod are the upgrades, which you exchange for the second most important indicator in the game: money. You receive money for your performane in the races, and in the CPC and ZX version also for collecting bonuses. Between the races, you can visit a parts shop and buy one of the 20 possible thingies that change the behavior of your car. These are engines, wings, bumpers, and tires for different surfaces. Yet even here, Hot Rod inserts its own little twist. Every shop has only select upgrades and you can always buy only one; therefore, you have to plan your upgrade strategy very carefully.

CPC Parts Shop

In Parts Shops, you can buy upgrades for your car. This one is from the CPC version.

In most stages, the roads and/or streets are closed for the race, but occasionally, Hot Rod gets a Gumballish touch, and you have to navigate among other cars, dozers, and rollers, and avoid being caught by the police or hit by a train. And sometimes you can take a shortcut that, in turn, is more difficult navigate – so if you’re good, you gain, if you make a mistake, you lose time (and possibly gas).

THREE DIFFERENTLY BEAUTIFUL VERSIONS

All of the above says how much creativity and effort went into the game, but what I’ve always loved about Hot Rod the most is how it all clicks together. You get a polished, immensely entertaining, variable, highly replayable eye candy monster of a game. Hot Rod is simply one of the best racing games to ever hit the 8-bit market (and my No. 1 personally). And its versions are a perfect example of that each 8-bit platform has its strengths.

Hot Rod found its way to the C=64, CPC, and ZX.

Podium ceremony

Top right: ZX Spectrum. Bottom left: C=64. Bottom right: CPC. This layout will be the same for all the pictures in the mega gallery below.

The best-presented version is the C=64 one. It has a neat intro, great music by Jeroen Tel, and makes the most of the Commodore’s hardware sprites and hardware scrolling. Everything is smooth and sleek. However, typically for C=64 versions of arcade games, there’s one big dent in all that beauty: the game lacks nine out of the original 30 levels (19-24, 28-30). Sadly, they are some of the best levels. As they are all from the final parts of the game, it looks as if there was a hard deadline and the publisher said, “We’ll just put out whatever we’ll have by then.” Back on the positive side, the C=64 is the only 8-bit version that has an end sequence – on the CPC and the ZX, the game just wraps (which I have always hated–I play games to win them, not to play them until I lose).

The C=64 version is also the best balanced of them all. It’s got to do with the brave, but ultimately bad, decision of the CPC and ZX converters to be fair to the human players and implement actual AI. On the C=64, you have your typical computer droids. They follow a predetermined path no matter what. It’s a little dull, very predictable–but it works. On the Z80-based machines, the computer tries to find the best way through the level on the fly, reacting to what’s currently happening on the screen. The problem is that the AI is too weak. Once you throw it off balance, it usually fails to get back on track and your victory in that level is guaranteed. Yet, when the AI works well, the racing is more fun than on the C=64, as the computer also upgrades its cars, and if you let it grow, it becomes a tough opponent. When a computer car gets a game over, a new car is pitted against you, starting from scratch without any upgrades.

The Z80 versions have somewhat broken economy

Another bit of balancing that the C=64 version got right is the economy. On the Speccy, and esp. on the CPC, near the end, you have a lot of money and not much to buy for it (with most upgrades priced between $600 and $5000, the $48000 from the picture above is ridiculously much). While on the C=64, an engine will last you only 6 races, so you have to make sure to win enough money to keep replacing it–and remember the right levels in which the Parts Shops have the engines you want.

The CPC version of the game has all of the glorious 30 levels but pays the price for the hardware it runs on. Compared to the C=64 and ZX version, it feels kind of sluggish. There’s a delay between the time you change the steering and the time the car actually reacts. Which means that especially on snow and ice, where your car is already difficult to control by default, you have to do a lot of very anticipative driving. Apart from the jerky scrolling, there’s also a smaller game window, into which the creators tried to put all the necessary graphics, resulting in not much detail. On the other hand, compared to Speccy, the graphics are much more colorful. And the slower pace of the game can be an advantage for weaker gamers.

The ZX version has the least colors, but that’s the nature of the platform. The only serious problem with the graphics is that while on the C=64 and the CPC, there’s a red, green, and blue car, on the Spectrum, all the cars are black. And as they can all be in one place at one time, sometimes it happens that you’re happy with how brilliantly you’ve steered through a curve, to notice only five seconds later that your car actually is the one that ended in the barrier and that you’re mistaking it for one of your computer opponents. On the other hand, the hires graphics allow for a solid level of detail, and the game is as fast as it needs to be and very playable.

A MUST-PLAY GAME

Having had a Commodore 64 for almost 30 years now, I’ve completed Hot Rod on the C=64 countless times already, but I loved playing through it on the CPC as well as on the Spectrum. And I heartily recommend you to do the same, because each of the versions has nice bits that the others lack. You can see it in the mega gallery that follows. And then? Stop reading, start playing!

HOT ROD MEGA GALLERY

In this gallery, you’ll find a screenshot from every level on each platform. What we’re not showing you is the end sequence. After all, this is a teaser. Enjoy it, drool, and then play through the game on your own. Have fun!

Level 01

Level 02

Level 03

Level 04

Level 05

Level 06

Level 07

Level 08

Level 09

Level 10

Level 11

Level 12

Level 13

Level 14

Level 15

Level 16

Level 17

Level 18

Level 19

Level 20

Level 21

Level 22

Level 23

Level 24

Level 25

Level 26

Level 27

Level 28

Level 29

Level 30

Parts Shops

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.

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!

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).

 

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!