Sunday, 30 September 2012

All good things must come to an end....

....and in this case it's my trusty XP PC which has lost the will to live after years of sterling service.  I can just about scrape enough money together to get a spanking new i7 PC, but it will take a few weeks to spec one up, get it built, delivered, restore my data and set it up to my liking.  In the meantime I won't be able to update my blog but will respond to any comments from my wife's laptop.  Take care and I'll be back as soon as I can.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Quazatron - Sinclair Spectrum - 1986

Basically, Quazatron is Paradroid for the Spectrum.  It was written by Steve Turner who took the gameplay from Andrew Braybrook's Commodore 64 classic and moulded it onto an isometric landscaping engine he had been working on. It was decided the graphical limitations of the Spectrum meant it was not suited to running a straight port (and they were probably right!).

Your aim is to destroy all the hostile alien droids in the underground city of Quazatron on the planet of Quartech.  You take control of a droid called KLP2 (or ‘Klepto’) which has capabilities similar to the influence device from Paradroid. The enemy robots vary in power, armour and weaponry.  This is denoted by the digits they carry - the letter shows the type of droid and the number indicates the power (1 is the toughest, 9 the weakest). You can damage the hostile droids by ramming them, shooting them, or pushing them off ledges.  You can also scavenge them for parts by grappling with them.  If you put Klepto into grapple mode and ram another robot it brings up the same mini game found in Paradroid.

Looks familiar.

You need to fire ‘pulsers’ across a circuit board to change most of the central bar to your colour.  A successful grapple allows you to remove parts from a defeated droid including power and drive units, weapons, chassis and any special devices it may be carrying.  Some parts may be damaged during the grapple; a more decisive victory means more items will remain intact and usable.

Winning a grapple allows you to salvage equipment from the defeated droid.

Moving around the play area, shooting and ramming robots takes energy.  How quickly power is consumed depends on the parts you have scavenged e.g. energy is rapidly used up if a heavy chassis and powerful weapon are combined with weak power and drive units. Klepto's energy level is denoted by his expression.  Happy is good but when he starts to look glum it is time to search out a recharge point or grapple another robot.

Once a level has been cleared of droids the lights go out and it is off to the next.  You can travel between levels via lifts.  Consoles are available which can be accessed to display a map of the current level, a plan of the levels and a database of robots. The map shows the location of lifts, charging points and other consoles.

You can access a level map from the consoles.

Although Quazatron is a good game, it has several issues that prevent it being as good as Paradroid.  The main problem has to be the scrolling which is slow and quite jerky.  It is not as noticeable when you are concentrating on the game but is still annoying. Controlling Klepto can be quite difficult too when negotiating the terrain while trying to chase down another robot - I put this down to the isometric viewpoint.  Another problem is when ramming or moving to a new level, a droid can sometimes become 'stuck' to Klepto, which can quickly drain your power or kill you if you are already low on power.  I would say the sound is above average for the Spectrum with some short tunes and decent effects.  Despite the criticisms I still like the game a lot  and think it deserves a place on my list.

The lights go out when a level is cleared.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Gradius - NES - 1986

My first taste of Gradius was a rather dodgy conversion on the Sinclair Spectrum under the alternative name of NemesisDespite this I have since become a long time fan of the series from the arcade original to Gradius V on the PS2.  Konami have made a good fist of converting the arcade game to the NES, although there is one major issue which I will pick up on later.

Gradius is a horizontally scrolling shoot 'em up.  The game involves you controlling a ship called the Vic Viper and you have destroy the evil Bacterians who have taken over the planet Gradius.  What made the game unique at the time was the Power Meter. Power-ups are dropped when destroying certain formations or certain individual enemies. Each power-up collected highlights the next upgrade on the meter allowing the player to choose which upgrades are fitted to the ship and in what order.  Power-ups range from Speed Up to the mysterious '?' (or shield to you and me).  The power-up most associated with Gradius is the 'Option' which is an orb that follows your ship around replicating its firepower. Up to two 'Options' can be carried in this version of the game.

Gradius is played over several stages, each stage ending in a rather weak boss with a predictable firing pattern.  However, preceding each boss the scrolling stops and you are bombarded by attacks from all sides - projectiles from a couple of volcanoes on the first level and a mass of kamikaze enemies on the second.
The infamous volcanoes.  If there's a safe spot I haven't found it.

The sound is good, as are the graphics though they do flicker slightly in places.  My one major gripe is with the punishing difficulty level.  When you lose a life you lose all your weapon upgrades.  On the original arcade game you are guaranteed to get a few power-ups in front of you to get you started again.  On the NES you are lucky if Speed Up is highlighted on the Power Meter.  With my skill level the next two lives are normally lost in very quick succession and then it's game over.  Overall though, Gradius on the NES is still very good game in it's own right and I am enjoying the challenge.

Moai heads regularly appear throughout the series.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future - Sinclair Spectrum - 1986

Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future is a game based on comic book character Dan Dare.  He was first seen in Eagle comic in 1950 and has also appeared in 2000AD among others.  His sworn enemy is The Mekon who is ruler of the Treens, a race of green skinned humanoids that live on Venus.  I am in no way a fan of comics so wasn’t aware of Dan Dare before I heard about the game.

In Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future, The Mekon has sent a large hollowed out asteroid on collision course with Earth.  Unless the powers that be agree to his demands (I couldn’t see these demands in the manual) the planet will be destroyed.  As Dan Dare, you must explore the asteroid to find the five parts of the asteroid’s self destruct mechanism.  There is a time limit of 2 hours in which to achieve the goal. 

Three down, two to go
The game is a flick screen arcade adventure played across 120+ screens.  The player can run left and right onto adjacent screens and can reach rooms above and below by way of lifts.  The asteroid is inhabited by Treens that you can easily dispatch with a blast from your laser. The laser has only a limited number of shots available with extra ammo pickups being very few and far between.  The Treens are similarly armed and you lose energy if they shoot or run into you.  There are wall and floor mounted lasers that also reduce your energy.  If you run out of energy or fall too far you are captured and put in a cell.  The cell doors are broken and you can walk straight out but will have lost 10 minutes game time.  Extra energy is available to pick up and is as sparsely scattered as the laser ammo.

The asteroid is split up into five sectors, each containing a part of the self destruct device.  Each part of the device has to be taken to the control centre in order - the second sector will only open once the first item has been placed in the control panel and so on. This makes the game linear which is one thing I don’t like about it. 

A closed door on the right leads to another sector.  Next to it is part of the self destruct device.

For a Spectrum game the graphics are excellent.  Each screen is very colourful and is cleverly designed to avoid colour clash.  An especially nice touch are the comic style captions that pop up at times.  The same can’t be said of the sound which consists of a pitiful amount of weak spot effects.  Overall though, Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future, is a very slick arcade adventure that still plays well today.

Same name, different game 

Unusually, Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future was a completely different game on the Commodore 64 and the Amstrad.  Although it looks good in static screenshots the Commodore 64 version is ultimately unsatisfying.  It has different objectives to the other versions and a 25 minute time limit.  Annoyingly, you are unarmed and have to have a protracted fist fight with each Treen you come across.
Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future for the Commodore 64 and Amstrad.  Neither is as good as the Spectrum game.
On the Amstrad you play a rather squashed looking Dan Dare.  The objective is the same as on the Spectrum but the asteroid layout is different and the graphics aren't as good.  Your initial enemy is The Mekon who you can kill, yet he reappears on the next screen.   As The Mekon is a unique being, this makes no sense.