Friday, 19 April 2013

Dizzy - Commodore 64 - 1988

Dizzy on the Commodore 64 boasts better 'Spectrum-style' graphics than the Spectrum.

Dizzy is a simple platform/graphic adventure game released in 1987 for the Sinclair Spectrum and Amstrad CPC with the Commodore 64 conversion arriving a year later.  As usual I tested all the versions to find the best.  As the game was originally programmed by the Oliver Twins I expected the Spectrum version to come in first place.  Although it has no border graphics and therefore a larger play area than both the Amstrad and Commodore versions, Dizzy on the Spectrum suffers quite badly from colour clash and has limited sound.  The Amstrad CPC offering only has four-colour graphics so was immediately discounted.  This leaves the Commodore 64 version which has the best graphics of the three and adequate (though sparse) sound effects.

The Spectrum version is colourful but suffers from clash and poor sound.  The Amstrad version on the right can only manage four colours.

In the game you take control of an anthropomorphic egg called Dizzy.  The ovoid sprite was apparently used as it was easy to rotate and animate.  The aim of the game is to collect ingredients for a potion with which to banish the evil wizard Zaks.  The ingredients need to be collected, deposited in a cauldron, cooked, then poured into a flask.  Helpfully the cauldron is on the start screen and a flaming torch and glass flask are nearby.

Dizzy is viewed from the standard side-on platform view and he somersaults around the screen rather than jumps.  Apart from the ingredients there are many other items to find a use for.  Most allow you to open up new screens or to dispatch some of the nasties that inhabit the game.  The puzzles are all logical, for example you would use the grease gun to move a rusty mine cart, a crowbar to open a trap door, a raincoat to dispel rain, or make a bucket rise from the ground by dropping a purse of gold into it.  Ok, so maybe not all of them are logical. A little trial and error is required and there is quite a bit of backtracking due to the single inventory slot.
One of the tougher screens.  I lost several lives retrieving the purse of gold.

There’s not really much more to say about Dizzy.  The graphics are good for the time and the few sound effects are ok.  The platforming elements of the game can be very challenging in places even using the extra lives that are scattered around.  The somersaults can also pose a problem as Dizzy can occasionally roll further than you want him to. It is a cheap and cheerful, enjoyable game and was a bargain at only £1.99 on release.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Armalyte - Commodore 64 - 1988

Static screenshots fail to do Armalyte justice.

Due to only one of my mates owning a Commodore 64, Armalyte is another classic game that passed me by.  It is one of those colourful, loud, scrolling shoot 'em ups the Commodore 64 seems to excel at.  At this point I would normally compare other versions of the game but it doesn't look like it was converted to the Amstrad and there was only a demo made for the Spectrum. A game called Armalyte was released for the Amiga and ST with the only similarity being that it was a side scrolling shoot 'em up.  The level layout and game mechanics were totally different, and it was too damn difficult to be enjoyable.

The plot in this game involves reclaiming a research base with which contact was lost just as they made a major scientific discovery.  The surrounding area has been over run by a race called the H'siffian Khanate and you must fight your way through them to make it to the research facilty.

Armalyte can be played with either a single player or two players simultaneously.  In one player mode the second player is replaced by an indestructible drone which replicates your fire power.  By default it follows your ship around but by hitting the space bar it can be made to stay in one place.   

The drone can do all the work for at least the first two bosses.

Scattered throughout the eight levels are munitions pods.  When collected they will make your craft invincible for five seconds.  Alternatively they can be shot and will cycle through various upgrades such as rear shots, vertical shots and batteries.  The ship also carries three types of 'super weapon', each of varying degrees of power.  The super weapons can be selected from the keyboard and when used drain power from the ships onboard generator.  If the generator is empty the super weapons cannot be used until it has recharged although it can be backed up with up to four batteries picked up from the munitions pods.  If you lose a life all power ups are thankfully retained.

Unleashing Super Weapon B.

I am a big fan of this type of game and Armalyte is an excellent example of the genre.  The graphics are fast and the scrolling is very smooth.  In single player mode the drone gives the game an R-Type/Gradius vibe which is no bad thing.  The sound is also very good and I like the power up system.  Criticisms?  It's tough, very tough. What makes it worse is that the explosions are the same colour as the enemy sprites and travel for a bit which can make the screen cluttered and confusing.  I don't like that your ship and the drone can't overlap - if you are just below it and want move up a fraction you can't, they just swap places.  Also, the 'hit box' for the aliens seems a bit small, although to be fair so is yours and your ship can get away with slightly overlapping the scenery.  All in all the good far outweighs that bad and I can see myself returning to Armalyte a lot.

Overtones of Gradius.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Goodbye 1987, Hello 1988

Hello CD-ROM² - This peripheral for NEC's diminutive PC Engine came out in April 1988.  It was the first time optical media was used to hold video game data for a console - something we now take for granted.

Hello Sega Mega Drive - Released in Japan in October, Sega was first out of the blocks with a 16-bit console.  It was based around the same Motorola 68000 / Zilog Z80 processor combination as the Sega System 16 arcade board, potentially making it easier to port arcade games.

As I predicted, 1987 was a long year, no small thanks to Ultima IV.  1988 looks to be no different.  Amongst the myriad arcade conversions on my shortlist are sequels to some games I played this year - Ultima V and Final Fantasy II.  Staying on the the RPG front are the well regarded Phantasy Star and Ys: The Vanished Omens for the Sega Master System.  A game I am personally looking forward to is The Sentinel* by Geoff Crammond.  I remember The Sentinel getting rave reviews for every platform it was released on but it looked too daunting to me so I've never played it.  Now I'm forced to give it a go.

*Later edit - I appreciate the Sentinel may have been good in 1988 but in 2013 I just couldn't get on with it.  I found it far too slow and, as a consequence, too hard to keep track where you were in relation to the Sentinel and where to move next.  I'm glad I tried it though.