Tag Archives: 8-Bit

Commodore 64 mini-guide, and a concert I went to.

epzrfuk

Sorry for being a little bit late this week. I was able to see a fantastic concert for the first time in many moons. I had to take full advantage of that fact. I got to see The Dollyrots for the second time ever (They don’t get out to New England very often), and it was awesome. An area band, Chaser Eight opened for them, and had an absolute killer set. Then the Dollyrots got on stage, and crushed it too. If you’ve never heard either band, and you like rock n’ roll, do check them out. Chaser Eight is pretty great, with elements of Alt-Rock, Glam, and straight up rock. It just works. The Dollyrots on the other hand, are an amazing Pop Punk trio led by Kelly Ogden, and Luis Cabezas. They have a really great blend of the sound of the early Rock groups like The Ronettes, and 1970’s Punk bands like The Ramones. Over the years they’ve grown as musicians but the roots are still apparent. It was a great show. Both bands were very approachable, and kind. They hung out with everyone at the bar after playing for a bit, and visited with fans like family you love, but don’t get to see all of the time. It was awesome. If either comes to your area, go see them. If they’re in your town as you’re reading this, just stop reading, and go see them. What are you waiting around for? Go!

hrftago

Okay, you’re back? Good. I hope you had as great a time as I did. Anyway, lately I’ve talked a lot about the mighty Commodore 64, its library, and a great C64 peripheral. It’s one of the best platforms of all time. It was sold more than any other computer in its day, and there are a plethora of great games on it. With those, the demo scene, and even a few great bands using its sound chip, you may have thought about getting one. As a lifelong fan of the computer, I can point to some facts, and information you’ll need to know if you’re going to collect for the C64. Now this isn’t going to be the most in-depth look at the platform. There are books that go into the detailed information over the course of several hundred pages for that sort of thing. But these are some key things to look for, and some things to be aware of. There may even be a few things that intrigue a casual reader. So feel free to read on.

First of all, there were a few models. The first version is often called the bread bin model. This came in a couple of variants. The silver label variant is the earliest version, and is sought after by the most devoted Commodore fans. These have the logo in a silver style paint. The drawback with this variant is it has a 5 pin DIN connector for video, where the later models (which had a rainbow of colors next to the logo) used an 8 pin DIN connector for video. Later models also added support for S-Video which is a major jump over the stock RF cable, and switch box that all models can use. The image will be much cleaner, and clearer. Provided of course you track down one of the cables.  After the bread bin model, Commodore released the C64c, which has many of the same updates as the rainbow variant of the bread bin. It also has a couple of chip refinements, and a redesigned bezel.  It should also be noted that while you gain the S-Video, and slightly better power connector in later models, you lose the ceramics for heat reduction on chips. To remedy this, later models have a metal shield inside to draw some heat, but this still isn’t always an effective solution. In Europe some later models didn’t have a metal shield, but a metal coated cardboard one, which trapped heat in some cases.

ra8khbb

Aside from the revisions to the standard Commodore 64, there were alternate versions altogether. The SX-64 was one of the earliest portable computers, as it had a built-in screen, and floppy drive. These things weigh a good 20 lbs. though, so they’re not portable in the sense you’re used to.  In Japan, there was a short-lived version of the C64 called the Commodore MAX. But this cut some functionality. So it didn’t compete on the games or business end, and quickly disappeared. There was also the C64 Game System. But this cut out all of the computer aspects of the computer to play cartridge games. Unfortunately this also broke compatibility with most of the game library as by 1990, the best titles were on tape or diskette.  All three of these variants are considered collector’s items. But unless you just have to have a conversation piece in your collection, I would focus on a regular C64 instead. These alternate versions can also be expensive.

The one noteworthy alternate Commodore 64 is the Commodore 128. This doubled the amount of memory in the computer, and could run all of the C64 software. The catch is it has to be run in C64 mode, as some of the revisions to the hardware led to some incompatibility in 128 mode. But the 128 did well with business, and productivity users, as there were applications that did take advantage of the extra memory. There were two versions, the standard C128, and the C128D. The latter made the keyboard an external peripheral, and included a built-in 1571 floppy diskette drive. The C128D can get expensive as a result, as finding one with a working drive is getting harder.

sipjujt

There are a couple of risks involved when getting into the platform. But these can be mitigated if you’re wise enough to do a couple of simple things. First, when you find a potential C64 purchase, confirm it is working. If it’s a store, they should be willing to hook it up, and confirm it’s operational. Second, make certain the Power Supply Unit not only works, but is in great shape. The PSU actually has two rails inside. One powers the motherboard, and most of the system, while the other powers the sound chip. As a means to control costs, it is encased in a resin material. However there’s a chance even a working PSU can overheat. Depending on the problem, a bad PSU can fry components inside the computer. That’s why it’s imperative you get a plug-in as pristine condition as possible. You’ll want to make sure it sits out in the open where heat can escape, and if you’re paranoid, you can always have a small desk fan blowing on it. Also keep in mind some of the later bread bin releases may have heat issues from the cost reduced RF shield. These are mostly in PAL territory releases. But again, keeping things cool can help mitigate a problem.

With that out-of-the-way, you’ll want to start gaming. But what else will you need? This depends a bit on what territory you’re in, and whether or not you plan to do any importing. Since I’m in the US, I’ll focus on that, but I’ll touch a bit on other parts of the world in a bit. When the C64 arrived on the scene, games for it started out on cartridge. They had about as much space as the ones found on consoles that were out at the time. Not every user had an external drive right away either, so it made sense for publishers to put games on cartridges. Some of the earliest software also came on cartridges, and this even includes diagnostic software, which may or may not work depending on the hardware issue. If applicable you can turn on the computer with a diagnostic cartridge, and it will let you run simple tests to determine if a chip has gone bad.  But this isn’t always a sure thing, since some hardware failures won’t give you anything other than the blackness of space on your screen. More on that later.

6oew73y

So a lot of the earliest stuff was out on cartridge. Activision ported many of its console games to the C64 including H.E.R.O., Beamrider, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, and River Raid. But there were a number of great games on cartridge. Eventually however, publishers found alternatives that gave developers more space at a lower cost. The first of these were cassette tapes. Games, and other programs could be published on audio cassettes. These were also cheap, and so many titles started being released on cassette.

In order to run these programs you’ll need a datasette drive. These are basically old school cassette decks. If you want an in-depth look at how these worked, I highly recommend this video from the 8-Bit Guy. In European territories this is the format nearly all of the biggest titles came on, due to the lower production costs. There is one thing for newcomers to be aware of though, and that’s long load times. A lot of larger games on tape can take minutes to load. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t that big a deal. Even today’s console games can take eons to load if you’re playing them off disc, rather than installing them. Still, if you’re short on patience, you’ll need to learn to gather some if you need to run a game off of cassette.

ygbbi6w

In North America, prices of writable media began to fall after a while though, and so many games began the move to 5.25″ Floppy Diskettes. these eliminated the storage concerns for a long time. When they cropped up again, many developers simply made games that took multiple disks to get through. To play these games you’ll need a 1541 or a 1541-II floppy diskette drive. There were a few aftermarket drives as well like The Enhancer 2000. In the USA, nearly every notable game came on floppy diskette. Even games that were previously released on cartridge or cassette tape. Most games released on floppy take a lot less time to load over cassette releases. However they’re not quite as fast as one would hope due to a slow port speed. To help with this, there are a number of Fast Loader cartridges you can get. These take some of the load off, and do shave some time off of loading. Again, 8-Bit Guy has a great video on the specifics of how this worked that I won’t go into here. Just know, that an Epyx Fast Load cartridge, or equivalent is something you want if you’re going to play games on Floppy Diskettes.

Once you have all of those in order, you’ll probably want to look into controllers. Most games took advantage of joysticks, though many also had keyboard binds. Almost any controller with a DB9 connector will fit the ports. Atari 2600 joysticks, Sega Genesis pads, and so on. However, it is NOT recommended you use a Sega Genesis pad, because the Sega Genesis pad draws more power than the controller ports need, so there is the chance you can blow a controller port in the process. So it’s best to stick to controllers built with either the C64, or Atari 2600 in mind. My controller of choice is the Slik Stik by Suncom. But there are no shortage of joystick options. Note that some games still utilized two button schemes, at a time when nearly all controllers were one button controllers. The work around most developers went with, was using the space bar.  Depending on the title it may take a little getting used to. In slower paced games it’s rarely a problem, in action games, you’ll want the joystick right in front of the computer so you can easily press the space bar when you need to.

48yypyo

Now the thing to remember is, this is still a computer platform. So you can do more than game on it. In fact if you’re willing to learn the Commodore variant of BASIC, you can code your own homebrew games for the machine. Which a lot of people did. So you may even have fun tracking down old, defunct Commodore 64 themed magazines. Some of them have been archived like the entire run of Ahoy!. Not only do you get the sensation you feel when looking at an old Nintendo Power, you get programs. Long before the advent of getting a CD full of demos with your game magazine, computer magazines had program articles. You could type in these programs, save them to a diskette, and run them whenever you wanted. Many of them were written entirely in BASIC, although some were written in machine language, and you typed them into a HEX editor program. But you could save them to diskette! Some of these were really good too, like Mystery At Mycroft Mews, where you had to go around a town as detectives, solve murders, and bring the right suspect to trial.

Aside from gaming, there are a wealth of old productivity, and business programs you can find, but honestly, they’re not really going to be much value beyond the history. It is nice to see the original Print Shop in action, or some of the word processors of the time. But you’re probably not going to send your masterpiece novel to a literary agent on a 5.25″ Floppy these days. Still, you can still find old dot matrix printers, and the ribbons though they’re getting scarce.

rvdvoch

But in the more interesting range you can find things like the Koala pad, which is one of the earliest graphics tablets. You could draw with a stylus, and save your art to diskette. There were a bunch of clones that came afterward. But if you draw on a modern Wacom graphics tablet, and wonder where the earliest versions of the tech came from, their infancy took place on 8-bit home computers. You can also find the original 300 baud modems, that let users connect to services like Quantum Link back then (LazyGameReviews did a wonderful video on that service.) But these days, there are homebrew network cards, and browsers tinkerers can invest in.

One of the craziest things I have in my collection is the Hearsay 1000. A cartridge, and software combo that reads whatever you type, back to you. In a kind of creepy robot voice. The software is far from perfect, it doesn’t account for pronunciation, so it can only read things as they are spelled. So if you type in the name “Barbara” it will say it back as “Bar-Bar-A”. But this is where stuff like Dragon Naturally Speaking got its start. Building off of this early tech, or properly doing what it was trying to. If you find a Hearsay 1000, don’t use it while playing games with voice samples. It will yell “HEARSAY ONE THOUSAND!”, and then crash the computer. Then you’ll have to turn it off, disconnect the module, and turn it back on. Then load your game again. Considering you’re going to wait a while for Ghostbusters to load again, best to know that up front.

8xr7wob

Of course not too long ago, I reviewed the SD2EIC. This is a must own peripheral because you can make disk images, or download images of stuff you own to an SD Card. It’s also great if you do happen to have old disks with personal files on them, and want to save those along with your other programs. Plus the load times, are dramatically cut down.

One also needs to take into account the difference between PAL, and NTSC territories If they plan on importing. A lot of really great games including some of the best were exclusive to Europe. While most of these are playable on a North American C64, the speed differences can often lead to all kinds of glitches. Random characters popping up, graphics showing up in grayscale rather than in color, some extreme cases will involve lock ups, and crashes. One can convert their computer via modifying it, but this isn’t recommended if you don’t know your way around altering a circuit board. My advice is to either deal with the glitches if you import a game or follow the purist. Purists will import a PAL C64, peripherals, and either a PAL monitor or else using a scaler with their HDTV to run a native 50 hz signal from the computer. You’ll also want a power converter as the electrical outlets, and standards are different. If you’re in a PAL territory, and you want some of the NTSC exclusives, you’ll see similar issues. So again, purists will want to import an NTSC setup, and use a power converter.

While some of this may get a little complicated, it is worth the plunge. Once you have a fully functional C64 setup, there really isn’t anything else like it.  The unique sound of its sound chip (known as the SID) is popular to this day. The wide, and varied library gets you a large variety of original games, multi platform games, and arcade ports. As is the case with every platform you’ll find a lot of good games, some truly great games, and a fair number of bad ones. I highly recommend visiting Lemon64 for its wealth of information, and its game archive. Plus they have a very helpful community if you do run into issues. Thanks to them I discovered a wonderful hobbyist who does repairs, and builds a lot of high quality homebrew accessories, and power supplies. When my C64c gave me a dreaded Black Screen Of Death last month I got in contact with Ray Carlsen, After some back, and forth messaging I ended up sending him the machine. Having some background in PC repairs, and upgrades I had taken it apart, checked the motherboard, found no bad capacitors. The fuse was intact, and working. I didn’t see any corrosion on chips. But I had no way to test them, and I was stumped. Well he was able to determine I had a minor issue with my power connector, and that my PSU was on its way out. He installed a breaker to prevent the components from frying from a bad PSU. I also ordered one of his homebrew PSUs. When the computer came back, not only was everything working the way it is supposed to, but he somehow got it looking much newer than when I had sent it in. Now he isn’t a traditional business, so he doesn’t do bulk jobs. Don’t go looking to send him 50 broken C64 computers. That isn’t what he is about. But he’ll charge you a fair price to fix a single machine, and take a look at some of his PSU models. With the originals drying up, it can’t hurt to have a spare.

ujt0dp4

The Commodore 64 may have been a home computer, but it was one of the most important platforms in video game history. It’s where many games went after the infamous crash in North America, and even after the rise of the NES it still retained a viable market share. In Europe it was also a major contender throughout the 80’s, and 90’s. Although there are some things to be aware of if you want to begin collecting for one, it can be a rewarding experience. Prices fluctuate constantly, but expect to spend between $50 – $150 for a working model with a good PSU. With that alone, you’ll be set for any cartridge games. But chances are you’ll want some of the higher profile releases. A 1541 Floppy drive will set you back about $50. There are deals out there to be had, but many of the cheap ones aren’t tested, so you may be buying a worn out drive. On the budget end though, Datasette drives are fairly inexpensive. So keep an eye out for one of those.

Then, you’ll be ready to pick up some C64 games! Just like on retro consoles, some games are cheap, and common. Some are rare, and expensive. A lot of times you can make out well, by buying lots. A lot of games don’t require anything beyond a floppy diskette, cartridge or cassette. But there are games that have manual protection. So do some research on a title before you buy it. For example, you’ll want to look for complete copies of certain RPGs as they require a code wheel, or manual as a means of copy protection. (IE: Type in the first word in the third paragraph on page 13.) Plus it’s nice to have the manuals, and keyboard overlays for flight sims, RPGs, or point, and click adventure games. Action genres usually didn’t have these vast control schemes requiring hot keys. But a handful did use manual protection so make sure the game you’re interested in isn’t one of them if you’re looking at a loose copy.

cyypfyk

Also be sure to keep your disk based games in sleeves when you’re not using them, and don’t let them get too hot or cold. Definitely keep them away from magnets, as that will corrupt the disk, and destroy your game. It was a lesson we children learned quickly back when home computers were first gaining prominence.  Finally, the Commodore 64, and other computers of the era were powered by variants of Microsoft BASIC. So you’ll need to know a few basic (Ha, ha!) commands. The most important being LOAD”*”,8,1 which for all intents, and purposes tells the disk drive to load the first file on a disk (Usually the executable) into memory. Then when the computer says ‘READY” you can simply type “RUN”, press RETURN, and fire up your game.

That should about do it this time. But keep in mind how many great things the retro games, and computing scene keeps pumping out for the mighty C64. Here’s hoping the new motherboards, network cards, card readers, and even homebrew games continue preserving one of gaming’s most iconic platforms.

 

 

Advertisements

Toy Bizarre Review

hwev3uk

As we get closer to Christmas, this year I’ve found myself going through my library, and replaying old games. Part of this is due to nostalgia. The years of childhood Christmas memories. Gaming with friends, and family. It’s great being able to experience some of this old stuff in my collection, and it’s also great being able to share those experiences with others. Seeing how we are in the holiday season, we’re looking at a holiday themed game.

PROS: Frantic, and enjoyable.

CONS: Long load times.

NEAR EXCLUSIVE: Only saw release on two computer platforms.

Toy Bizarre lives up to its namesake. It centers around toys, and it’s bizarre. The game takes place in a toy factory where the automation has gone awry, creating killer toys. If the box art is any indication, it also happens to be Santa’s workshop. So Toy Bizarre also appears to have a bit of Silent Night Deadly Night embedded inside.

Each level of the factory is a single screen affair, and right away you’ll notice the gameplay is a little bit reminiscent of Nintendo’s Mario Bros. But only slightly so. In Mario Bros. You would punch floors from below creatures to knock them upside down so you could then bump them off the screen for points. Here, you’ll have floor layouts, and entrances similar to the ones in Nintendo’s platformer, and there’s some bumping things off-screen for points. But there’s a lot more going on than that.

kreh6xn

One major thing you’ll find are little valves throughout the level. If left unattended they eventually inflate balloons. If you don’t pop the balloons in time they will float to the top of the screen, and pop. If you let the balloons pop on their own the explosion will summon different kinds of toys. Touching these toys is fatal. In order to remedy that you have to get them to land on specific surfaces. While they’re on these surfaces, you can quickly jump to a switch that will temporarily deactivate the toys, so you can destroy them. Each level has a certain number of balloons to be destroyed while the punch clock winds down. The faster you can do this, the more time you have left at the end, which also gives you more points.

One strategy a lot of people will also go for on their quest for a high score is to shut off valves. This is an excellent strategy to employ. However there is yet another hurdle the factory throws at you. Remember those cheap wind up walker toys we’ve all had at one time or another as children? You know the type. They have a key or knob sticking out of their back, you twist it as far to the right as it can go, then set it down. The toy then walks around until it either falls off of a table, or collapses on itself.

sgskmow

Well imagine if there were a giant, life-sized, killer toy android that worked that way. Because apparently, Santa Claus invested in one of them in his toy factory. This automation has also gotten the HAL 9000 virus, and decided that you need to die for it to complete its mission. Not only do you have to avoid this thing at all costs, The android will turn on any valves you’ve previously shut off, allowing for more balloons, more killer toys, and less time on the clock. There are even bonus stages called Safety Checks where you have to shut off all of the valves before the android can turn them back on. And the android will manage to get a couple of then on. In later safety checks you’ll sometimes contend with multiple androids.

If all of that sounds confusing, fear not. It becomes easy to understand once you’ve played the game for a few minutes. Once you understand it, you have yourself a very addictive, and entertaining holiday puzzle-platformer. But it gets better! Because every stage has a different layout from the last. Where in Mario Bros. the only deviation were new enemies to figure out how to defeat, in Toy Bizarre you have to also learn maps.

dmeqjph

One saving grace are power ups called Coffee Breaks, where you literally grab a cup of coffee, and everything stops. During the coffee break you’re basically invincible, and you have a few quick seconds to clear everything before the balloons, toys, and evil androids get back to work. If you’re good enough at Toy Bizarre you can start to loop stages. Again, being an arcade puzzle-platformer you’re not in pursuit of an ending, but a high score.

The game was designed by Mark Turmell who did a number of computer games for Activision. One of the best being Fast Tracks, which I’ll have to get around to doing a review for. But Toy Bizarre is another Activision game from the era, that isn’t as fondly remembered as the heavy hitters they put out on the Atari 2600, and other platforms of the time. Which is a shame, because almost everything about the game is spot on. It holds up in almost every way. The hit detection is great. You’ll rarely have a moment where you hit an enemy, and can’t believe it was a possibility. Due to the kind of game it is, later stages do tend to put in more, and more obstacles that the majority of players find difficult to overcome. But it doesn’t feel like your deaths are cheap.

xljn15l

And while visually one could argue it doesn’t look as nice as Mario Bros., one can’t deny it is a cut above what one would find on average back then. It still looks nice enough. It does a lot with the simplicity. Factor in the ominous song that plays between rounds, and you’ve got some eerie atmosphere going on in a soulless toy factory. The only major problem with Toy Bizarre are the load times. Activision released the game on three formats for the Commodore 64. Datasette Cassette tape, 5.25″ Floppy Disk, and Cartridge. The cassette version by far has the worst of the load times. Most tape games can take several minutes to load into memory, but this game is insufferably long on tape. The Floppy Disk version is nowhere near as bad, but still takes longer than a lot of other games on disk. Which is weird considering just how small the game is, even for the time. The cartridge version is obviously preferred in this regard. But keep in mind that cartridge versions of C64 games can be harder to find since most users had a Datasette drive or a Floppy drive. That doesn’t necessarily make them rare, but they can be uncommon. As such expect the cartridge version to set you back more than the other formats.

ve5lu6r

The game also came out for the ZX Spectrum in Europe. I don’t have either the computer or that version of Toy Bizarre, so I really can’t compare the versions. Though the game was published by Mastertronic in some territories outside of North America. No matter how you slice it though, aside from terrible load times, Toy Bizarre is one of the best Santa themed games to be experienced. If you have a working C64, track down a copy. The only other way to find it, is if you can track down the Activision Commodore 64 15 pack collection for Windows 95. Which can be a hassle to get running on a modern PC.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Psycho Fox Review

btpftitle

Platformers have always had a presence in gaming. From Donkey Kong, to Super Mario Bros., to the Giana Sisters to Sonic, there has been no shortage of bump, and jump fun. In the 80’s, and 90’s platformers were one of the most popular genres. Nearly every publisher at the time tried their hand at making platformers. Vic Tokai was one of them.

PROS: Great graphics. Wonderful music. Nice use of physics.

CONS: Controls take a bit of getting used to.

CONNECTIONS: There are two seemingly unrelated games connected to Psycho Fox.

Vic Tokai had one cult hit on the NES. Kid Kool was loosely based on a celebrity, and it starred a kid who ran, and jumped his way to victory. But it did do one thing that made it stand out from other platformers of the time, and that is physics. You had to get a running start to get anywhere in the game. While even Super Mario Bros. had elements of getting places with masterfully running, Kid Kool made it the sole focus. But in doing so, Kid Kool became one of the most despised games of its time. It had many blind jumps that resulted in a lot of restarts, it didn’t have the best collision detection, and many cheap deaths.

Enter the Sega Master System. Vic Tokai would bring about a new game to Sega’s 8-bit offering, using the lessons learned from the poor reception of Kid Kool. In Psycho Fox you play as a fox who is trying to save the world from an evil fox named Madfox Daimyojin. At a first glance, you might think this game looks, a bit more Alex Kidd, than Kid Kool. But stick with it, and you’ll find it is quite a fun, and brutally hard game at the same time.

btpfeggs

As we’ve established, Fox has to run, and jump his way to victory. But the game feels a bit more refined. You’re still going to need to get running starts, and time jumps. But stages don’t feel quite as much like a guessing game. That’s because in this game, there are a couple of paths you can take. You can take a high route, or a low route. Taking the higher paths will usually lead you to secrets, and more opportunities to speed. The lower routes are usually a little bit easier, and don’t require quite as many jumps of faith. But there are also more enemy encounters in some stages when taking the lower path.

The biggest secrets are warp zones. Many platformers over the years have had secret ways to skip ahead. But in Psycho Fox you have to not only discover the area it resides, but you have to literally punch a hole in the level. Once done, you can climb into the hole to cut ahead. Beyond trying to find the secret warp zones, another improvement on the formula set up in Kid Kool, are the bonus characters.  Like Kid Kool, you can find an animal helper who acts as an extra hit point, and a boomerang. Defeating enemies, and finding eggs will often give you items. Usually you’ll find money. But sometimes you’ll find sticks, and of course the aforementioned helper.

btpfpause

Here’s the thing. You’ll want to hang onto the sticks you pick up. Because you can control different characters with them. Pressing pause on the Master System will bring up an inventory screen, where you can use your sticks to turn into one of three other characters. A monkey, a tiger, or a hippopotamus. Each of these has added abilities over using the fox. The monkey can jump higher. The tiger can run faster. The hippo can break through certain objects.

At the end of every stage you get put into a lottery depending on your financial collection. You’ll bet, and guess a path. Guess correctly, and you’ll win items. Guess wrong, and you won’t have a bonus going into the following stage. Stages are broken up into seven worlds. Each of these has three stages in it, the end of which culminates in a boss battle.  Most bosses break down into a routine of luring the boss into a position, and then using a background item to damage them. Others play a little more traditionally with you having to throw yourself on top of them a number of times to defeat them.

btpfgamble

Psycho Fox has a very similar art style to Kid Kool, sharing some of the same character sprites, as well as some of the items in the stages. But Psycho Fox also looks significantly better. The colors pop more, and things look crisp. Some of this is likely due to the graphical quality the SMS has over the NES. But there are other NES games that still look better than this one. The point is it is a big improvement over Kid Kool’s visuals.

Psycho Fox also has a very catchy, hook ridden soundtrack. The tunes may not be quite as memorable as a Mario or Sonic soundtrack, but it’s very good. It’s bouncy, optimistic, and you’ll be humming along with it in no time. The rest of the sound is nothing to write about home though. Just the standard boops, and beeps many games of the era had. But again, the songs are so good, you won’t really pay any mind to it.

btpfbosses

All of this said, Psycho Fox still has one area that may drive some folks crazy, and that is the high level of difficulty. As I’ve said before, this game is hard. Most of the challenge is fair, but there are still moments where you’ll have to take a blind jump, landing you on an indestructible enemy, or in a bottomless pit. It is by far, not an impossible game, and you’ll be able to clear it if you can resolve to approach it with patience. But sometimes the trial, and error feeling can creep in, and sap some of the fun. It is still a big improvement over Kid Kool though, and is something that is manages to be pretty decent.

As a platformer Psycho Fox isn’t a great game, but it is better than average. It doesn’t hit the lofty levels of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. or Sega’s own Sonic The Hedgehog. But it also doesn’t  crash, and burn the way many nefarious examples have. It isn’t Bubsy 3D bad. It isn’t Awesome Possum bad. Being slightly above average isn’t a bad thing. It just means there are better titles to get first. But Psycho Fox is also a Master System game, a console where the best platformers starred Alex Kidd, and Sonic. There wasn’t much else. Especially not in the USA. So if you collect for the Sega Master System you’ll probably want to check out Psycho Fox anyway. Just keep in mind that it isn’t a common game, and that it isn’t cheap. But if you already have all of the Alex Kidd games, or you find a bargain, Psycho Fox is still worth checking out.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Werewolf: The Last Warrior Review

gdc75s5

Last week I looked at a rare, expensive, and weird shmup from Meldac on the NES. Well the Nintendo Entertainment System was home to many oddball ideas. As we get closer to Retro World Expo, I thought I’d dig through my collection for another NES game to showcase. Werewolf: The Last Warrior is not only a little strange. It’s also very cool, and is a game every NES collector, and owner should play.

PROS: Graphics, and sound. Very challenging.

CONS: Some will find it too challenging. This is definitely NES Hard.

RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE: Aside from one similarity it’s nothing like Sega’s Altered Beast.

Werewolf: The Last Warrior is awesome. You play a human who collects items, and then gets to turn into a werewolf, and mess people up. I know I’ve just described Altered Beast. But this is nothing like Sega’s arcade cab turned Genesis launch title. Because it isn’t a beat ’em up game. It’s an action platformer.

But many of the best NES Game Paks were action platformers. In fact many of the best video games of the era were action platformers. So what sets Werewolf apart from the pack? (I think I just made a pun.) A number of things. Right away one thinks of the RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE moments. Throughout the game you’ll find power ups that beef you up, grow your attack power, and of course let you be a werewolf.

4tvopms

As a werewolf, you do a lot more damage to enemies, and you can do cool stuff like climb walls, do awesome backflips, and more. You become the werewolf by collecting enough red *W* symbols you find. They’re often hidden on pedestals you have to punch. You can actually become a super werewolf that the game names Warwolf. You can become Warwolf by finding enough orbs. Giving you an even bigger reminder that Altered Beast is a thing.

When you’re a super werewolf, you’re practically unstoppable. The game instantly feels like a Dolph Lundgren movie. You dispatch enemies quickly. You can super jump into areas you couldn’t before. But there is a kryptonite to your furry Superman. They’re blue colored *W* symbols. If you touch one you’ll go back to being a human.

vlwbh1v

You do not want to be a human for very long in Werewolf. Everything, no matter how weak, will ultimately kick your ass. The game throws a ton of stuff at you. The roster of enemies on display is actually pretty large, even if they aren’t necessarily the most original. You’ll run into ninjas, goons reminiscent of the ones found in Rolling Thunder, soldiers, bad guys with jetpacks, and more.

Every one of the game’s five stages are broken up into two parts. Sometimes they’ll be straight forward. Other times they’ll be a maze you have to explore your way out of. At the end of the first part of any given stage you’ll fight a mini boss who kind of resembles Street Fighter’s Zangief. After you defeat him, you’ll move onto the second half. If you can beat the second part of the stage, you’ll go on to fight the boss.

g8tnnlb

Each of the five stages also has something kind of archaic about them. The first time you play it you’ll try punching any where a power up may be, and this is how you’ll most often hit a blue power down, and screw yourself over. There are also some holes in the cut scenes you can nitpick. The story is that a mad scientist named Dr. Faryan has assembled a group of super-villains to take over the world, and you have to stop them. It’s the paper-thin B-movie plot you’d expect, but it isn’t air tight. For instance, in one scene you climb up the right side of a building to chase a Juggernaut knock off. The next portion of the stage you move left, and have to jump off of the left side. Yet the following cut scene has you falling off of the same side you climbed!

rydyhjt

Nitpicking  aside, the game is really challenging thanks to the cues it takes from Castlevania. It has the same slow, plodding movement as that game, and a lot of enemies showing up right when you need to make a pivotal jump. Blend that with some of the moments where the game kind of expects you to know to do something when it hasn’t shown you how, and it can get frustrating. That’s really the only major criticism here. Werewolf can be quite cryptic at times, and it will take you many attempts at it to figure things out. Especially if you manage to find the game cartridge, but not a manual.

jbebfmu

And no, it isn’t the biggest deal in an age where you can pretty much run an internet search for instructions, or a walk-through. But it does make one wonder what the thought process was when putting the game together. Still, Werewolf is a really enjoyable game in spite of the difficulty, and being sometimes unclear. The soundtrack isn’t particularly long, but the handful of chip tunes are really thumping speed metal send ups, with catchy melodic hooks. Which goes with stabbing jet pack wearing mercenaries,  countless henchmen, and ninjas very well. Just make sure you’re grabbing not just health, from fallen enemies, and mystery places. Grab any hourglass too. Each stage has a time limit after all, piling even more pressure onto you in this high difficulty contest.

eftq89e

Between the music, mostly solid platforming, and the detailed sprite work on display it is one of the more engrossing games in the NES library. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t get as much attention as some of the more expensive games of its ilk these days. If you’re collecting NES games, and have been eyeing stuff like Power Blade, and Vice: Project Doom, you should have this on your radar. It isn’t quite as polished as V:PD. There are some times where the cryptic nature forces a restart. But it is still a terrific game nonetheless.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Zombie Nation Review

qujuxam

Over the course of video game history, there have been a number of titles that have fascinated us. Sometimes they gave us something we never experienced before. Other times they tweaked or perfected an existing formula. Some of them pushed the idea of storytelling. But sometimes a game will surprise us with just how bizarre it can be. Zombie Nation is one of those games.

PROS: A fun shmup. Nice graphics.

CONS: Hit detection could be better. Brutal difficulty may turn off some.

A CAR PAYMENT: Is about how much this NES Game Pak will set you back. It isn’t cheap.

Released in 1990 by Meldac, Zombie Nation (or Samurai Zombie Nation as the title screen suggests) is a peculiar shoot ’em up. Instead of a space ship, or a fighter jet you pilot a disembodied head. The original Japanese version was called Abarenbou Tengu, and was released on the Famicom. In that version you play as a disembodied head as well. But in that version, the head is the mask of a Tengu.

In Zombie Nation the story goes, that a meteor crashes somewhere in a Nevada desert, and unleashes an alien creature named Darc Seed. Darc Seed takes over the world using magnetic rays somehow, and everyone is turned into zombies as a result. So the literal head of a samurai named Namakubi flies from its body, and goes on a mission to the USA to kill Darc Seed, and save the world. As well as regain his sword.

a37f9vk

Zombie Nation takes one idea from Capcom’s Mega Man series, by letting you select which stage you want to begin the game on. You can’t choose stages after that, they’ll play sequentially from that point on. So for example if you choose Stage 4, after you clear that stage, you’ll play Stage 1, then 2, and finally 3. If you manage to clear all four of the stages you’ll go to a 5th stage where you fight Darc Seed one on one.

Zombie Nation is a really short game. But what is going to keep you playing it for hours is its high difficulty. Even if you play the game on the easy setting, it is still very unforgiving. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the head of Namakubi is a very large character. Being this is a shmup, that means it is going to be very hard to dodge the enemy firepower, and obstacles. The game doesn’t follow the typical shmup health formula. In many of the most popular shmups like R-Type, getting shot by anything will kill you. No matter how many power ups you have, one hit, you die.

r6ggrld

Zombie Nation opts to give you a health bar instead. So getting shot will slowly reduce your bar until you die. You’ll also get continues when you run out of health, though these are limited. But you’re still going to want to avoid as much as humanly possible. Because not every attack, or projectile damages you equally. Case in point; the lightning. In nearly every stage there is lightning, or an equivalent. During which, cloud to ground lightning will appear. If one of the bolts so much as grazes you, your life bar goes down to one hit. A single hit by anything after that will finish you off.

The saving grace here is that you can try to replenish your health by eating people. The very people you’re trying to save will act as your nourishment. Floating heads are not the strangest part of Zombie Nation. You find this nourishment by destroying the scenery. Not only do you shoot eyes from your eye sockets at enemies, but at backgrounds as well. All while also puking up grenades. Destroy enough of a building? A hostage flies out to be eaten. Blow up enough of a mountainside? A hostage flies out to be eaten. But with the lightning, and hundreds of projectiles headed your way, getting these meals isn’t very easy at all.

wrqgcaf

But there is another reason to eat hostages. Eventually you’ll upgrade your shots to be more powerful. Things that took five or six bullets to destroy before may take one or two. After you eat enough people you’ll even get a one-time use smart bomb.  One you use it however the power up shots reset, and you’ll need to feast on more hostages.

The four bosses are pretty zany too. Stage 1 pits you against a Gorgon version of the Statue of Liberty. Stage 2 has you facing Atlas. Stage 3’s boss is part of the scenery. In this level you fly through a sentient power plant, and have to blow up the core. Stage 4 throws you up against two snakes. Beat all of these foes, and you’ll go on to the final battle with Darc Seed. Who is just a giant grey, who just kind of lies there while you avoid marbles. An underwhelming affair to be sure. Especially after so many high stakes battles.

The bosses have difficult enough patterns to memorize, and move through. But what makes them even harder is that there are no health bars or other information on the screen. So you can’t tell how hurt you are, or how close you’ve gotten to victory. When you do defeat a boss it’s always a surprise. Even if you’ve become really good at Zombie Nation.

ljycwis

But whether you’re good or bad, there is enough to like to recommend the game. It’s hard. But not as hard as a lot of other NES shmups. At least not once you figure out how to effectively avoid some of the more devastating things in it like the lightning. The hit detection could have been a bit better. Sometimes things you don’t think hit you actually did, and the inconsistent damage output of projectiles can get annoying. Still, the experience is mostly pretty fun, and it is worth experiencing the oddity of it all.

Be that as it may, Zombie Nation is also one of the more expensive NES Game Paks these days. It came out near the end of the NES’ life span. While not as rare as something like Power Blade 2, or The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak, it is a scarce game. So expect to pay an exorbitant amount of money to add it to your collection.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Pitfall! Review

sma3cvw

To some, this is going to seem pointless. To others, there may be a bit of intrigue. David Crane was one of the original pioneers at Activision. Long before it was the behemoth it is today. It started life, as one of the original indie studios. Looking to come up with something original on the biggest console of the early 80’s, Pitfall! became one of the biggest hits to ever grace a system of the era.

PROS: A classic that still holds up today.

CONS: Some versions don’t have the most responsive controls.

GATORS: Nearly four decades later, they’re still one of gaming’s most nefarious enemies.

Pitfall! was a smash hit. It spawned numerous product tie-ins, and even a Saturday morning cartoon. When you play it, it is easy to see why. The setting was something different. Instead of a high-action arcade game, Pitfall! is a platformer that takes place in a jungle. You play as Pitfall Harry, and his goal is very simple. You need to find 32 treasures within a half-hour. On three lives.

vcv8lny

The thing is, while your goal can easily be surmised in a sentence, actually doing so is very difficult. There are a lot of traps, and obstacles set up to impede or completely derail your progress. Barrels slow you down, most everything else will kill you. Unattended camp fires, snakes, all add up to the pressure. Two of the game’s key enemies are some of the most iconic. The trademark scorpions, and the alligators. You can cross lakes by jumping on their heads when their mouths are closed. If they’re open, you’re getting eaten, unless you happen to land on their eyes. Scorpions show up in the underground areas, and take a lot of practice jumping over.

Each screen presents you with a challenge to overcome. Some are non-existent, displaying only a couple of holes, and a ladder. Others are the aforementioned lakes, tar pits, and deadly creatures. There are no maps. You have to go out on your own, exploring the jungle screens until you find a treasure. Gold bars, silver bars, rings, bags of money, all waiting to be claimed.You’ll notice that there aren’t any weapons, or attacks in this game. The only thing you’re doing is running, jumping, climbing ladders, and swinging on the occasional vine. Which lets out a chip tune of the Tarzan chant.

dpgvyug

But despite the fact you’re really only given two commands, you’ll find the game has a bit of complexity. Aside from the challenges of the many traps, is the use of the underground tunnel system. Using the underground paths will take you three screens left or right, rather than the usual one. There are also brick walls placed to keep players from abusing this fact. This also brings about an overall puzzle to the game: Finding the proper path. You have only thirty minutes to clear the game. So unless you’re going to look for a walk through online, you’re going to play the game many times to figure it out. Even once you figure it out, it doesn’t make the game easy to complete. You still have to make each jump count.

But the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Because every treasure type you collect gives you its own specific point value. Every mistake you make that doesn’t cost you lives, costs you points. Fall down a pit, lose points. Touch a barrel, lose points. This means to be truly great at Pitfall! Not only must you have a shot at beating the game, you must have a shot at beating it without making any mistakes. Moreover, as quickly as possible. This makes the game one of the earliest speed runnable games in video games. In fact, Activision, Imagic, and others gave out physical rewards to players who could prove themselves contenders. In the case of Pitfall! The best players were sent exclusive iron on patches.  These can fetch a fair amount online when they turn up. In any case, getting a perfect score of 114,000 is easier said than done.

x7xug7o

The Atari 2600 original version of Pitfall! is probably the most impressive due to all of the limitations David Crane worked around to bring the game to life. In his GDC panel six years ago he talked about them, and the 1,000 hours of work it took to make. Even if you’re not technically proficient it is a fascinating story to hear.  The 2600 version also plays spectacularly well, has very responsive controls, and is easily one of the best games on the system.

But there were other versions that came after. The Intellivision port is very similar, with a minor bump in graphical fidelity. It retains nearly everything from the 2600 version, though the Intellivision controller is a bit stiff, making some of those split-second timings a bit more difficult to adhere to. As such the game is among the hardest versions. Though it is entirely possible to complete with enough determination.

The Colecovision version has similar controller issues to the Intellivision version, although the visuals are even bumped up more. This version was also used as a reference for the MSX computer port. The Commodore 64 version also looks similar to the Coleco port. But the C64 version has a different color palette, better sound, and more responsive controls. Mainly because it feels similar to the Atari 2600 original.

vj90bhr

The game also ended up on the Atari 400/800 computers, and the 5200 console. These look almost identical to each other. The game controls better on the former, mainly because of the 5200’s notorious controller problems. Finally, there was also a release on the Apple II computer. But despite the improvements some of the other versions add in the graphics, or sound departments, the 2600 version seems to have the most responsive controls. It’s also the most common version, making it the least expensive version. It has also been re-released several times over the last 30 years. There were a few Activision Atari 2600 game collections that included the game.

Pitfall! is a true classic that everyone who loves video games should play. It’s as important to the hobby as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, or even Super Mario Bros. are. While later games in the franchise may have tarnished its branding, The original remains among some of the best platformers ever made, with its emphasis on treasure hunting, pixel-perfect timing, and inadvertently becoming one of the earliest examples of speed runs. It’s a timeless game for good reason.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Atari Vault Review

cergmo1

Ah, the video game compilation. Every few years we see them, bundling games of yesteryear for a budget price. We’ve seen them for Mega Man, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros, and so on. Lately we’ve even seen Re-mastered collections for Uncharted, God Of War, Gears Of War, Halo just to name a few. Over the years we’ve seen a lot of collections centered around the Golden age of consoles. Especially the Atari 2600.

PROS: Online multiplayer. Content for enthusiasts. 100 games!

CONS: There could have been some better titles included. Limited controller options.

PADDLES: Sadly, nothing has compared to them in nearly four decades.

So what makes Atari Vault stand out from other Atari 2600 compilations that have come, and gone over the years? There are actually a few nice features here. This is one of the biggest compilations of Atari games yet. In the past we’ve seen a disc of 20 games or a disc of 80 games. Usually dumped ROMs in a sub par emulator for whatever platform. The game shows up in stores, you pick it up. Done. Every so often a better than average one would show up with nicer emulation, and maybe some historical backgrounds. Other times there would be a terrible remake bundled with the original game.

wkhvr9a

Atari Vault doesn’t feel slapdash at all. You get 100 games. Some of which are not Atari 2600 games, but Atari arcade games. Right away this shows that effort went in. Why? Because Atari actually had a complicated history after the crash of 1983/84. The company was originally founded by Nolan Bushnell. Eventually Time-Warner (Warner Bros.) bought the company from him. But when the crash happened, Atari was essentially broken up into two entities. Time-Warner sold the home division to Jack Tramiel. He had been ousted from Commodore, the company he founded. So from 1983 to around 1997 his family owned the half of the company that made the 2600, 5200, 7800, Lynx, and the Atari Jaguar. As well as a long line of successful  computers 400/800, XE, and ST. Time-Warner still owned the arcade division which they eventually sold to Midway. When Midway exited the arcade business Atari Games became Midway Games West. In a bit of irony, when Midway hit hard times they ended up being bought out by Time-Warner. Of course after the Jaguar tanked, the Tramiel family ended up selling Atari Corporation to JTS, a hard drive manufacturer. JTS started to flag, and sold Atari to Hasbro. When Hasbro had no success with it, they sold it off to Infogrames, who changed their name to Atari.

hwzaqok

In short, there were probably many months figuring out what Time-Warner has the rights to, what Infogrames/Atari has the rights to, and what may have slipped between the cracks. So it is pretty astonishing to see that this collection does give you both, arcade, and 2600 games to play. That being said, this is also the reason why you may not see some of your favorite games included. It’s disappointing. But at least it is understandable.

Still, with 100 games in the compilation you’re bound to find several you do like. There are the commons like Combat, Flag Capture, Canyon Bomber, Haunted House, Breakout, and Warlords. Interestingly, they also have a couple of prototypes, and unreleased 2600 games included here. There are even a number of uncommon games that came out near the end of the 2600’s long life cycle. Basically you have over a decade of 2600 history here.

hmrqyo7

But the inclusion of the arcade games is another big reason you might consider picking this collection up. You get a pretty good selection of them, and many of them were games that used a Trackball. Missile Command, Centipede, Millipede, and Crystal Castles are here in their glory. What’s really nice is that you can play these with the mouse. If you happen to have a trackball mouse you’ll definitely love playing these. The developers at Code Mystics have gone above, and beyond too. Because they retooled their emulator’s inputs to mimic the response time of the arcade machines’ trackballs. So if you have a high dpi setting, expect to see some lag if you spin your cursor around thinking you’re going to have an edge. You’re not. The games really do play pretty close to the original machines.

Only the players with an encyclopedic knowledge of how those games played will really see a vast difference. They play great. Every game in the collection does. On top of this, every game has the appropriate machine decals bordering the screens, and there are even start button models displayed below to make things feel as authentic as possible.

f7hxxis

But the extra hard work doesn’t end there. They painstakingly tracked down Atari arcade cabinet art to scan in. The arcade manuals, and flyers are here to read. The arcade machines themselves, are modeled, and animated as you select what game to play. This carries over into the 2600 games too. Each 2600 game featured here has a box model textured with the original retail box art on it. Front, back, and spines. They also managed to track down every manual for every cartridge featured in the collection. So when you go to look at the controls, you’ll actually be seeing scans of the manual that came in the box when the game came out. They even have the original 1977 console manual scanned in here. They didn’t just dump ROMs into an emulator, and call it a day. They put in a lot of historical research, and time into getting a nice presentation down.

94aorce

If all of that isn’t enough for you though, Atari Vault also has internet multiplayer. You can play all of the games in the collection against other people. For most of the games you’ll still prefer playing these games the way we did 30 years ago, computer hooked up to the Television, with controllers. But for some of the games like Combat, internet multiplayer can actually make things feel fresh. It’s pretty great, and in my tests I didn’t run into much in the way of lag. It’s really worth checking out.

qcnqky8

If I had any complaints with the compilation it would have to be with the controller options. Every game will have different ways you can play depending on the title. Most of them will let you play with the keyboard, and the arcade trackball games give you the aforementioned mouse option, which again, works great. But Code Mystics doesn’t seem to like to put in options for a variety of game pad controllers. If you have an Xbox 360 controller, you’re gold. That controller works flawlessly. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the game to see my Steam controller, nor could I use my USB Retrobit controller, which is a perfect fit for collections like this one. These were the developers behind porting Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection to the PC, and I had the same complaint with that compilation. If you want to use a controller, you pretty much have to have Xbox 360 controllers.

vzowonm

The other problem, which I can’t really levy at Code Mystics, is that nothing compares to a paddle controller. You can play classic 2600 games like Warlords, and Demons to Diamonds with a mouse, keyboard, or Xbox 360 controller but none of them will give you the feel of a paddle. Paddle controllers had a dial that you would use to move your character, and it just has a spot on, responsive feel that nothing has replicated in almost 40 years. About the closest you can get is using the mouse controls, which I would implore you to do. These games simply don’t feel as responsive using a game pad or a keyboard. A mouse will give you the precision you need, even if it does come up a little short in the feel. If you played a lot of Circus Atari as a child, it is still a lot of fun to play here, but it might take you a few rounds to get accustomed to using something else.

29vdnzv

Overall though, I highly recommend this collection. True, the selection of games could stand to be a little bit better. But considering the history of the company, and the rights hell some of those games may fall under it is understandable. There are a lot of good games here anyway. The internet play reinvigorates some of these titles, and finally having a legitimate way to play classic arcade games like Centipede is a boon. It’s a great bundle for older fans who might not have their physical 2600 collection anymore. It’s also a great bundle for younger fans who are interested in what came before.

bmfw2uw

While not every game featured here has held up, most of them have stood the test of time with their rock solid game mechanics. These games are fun. If you’ve played them before, revisit them again. If you’ve never played them because you weren’t around for them, have an open mind. Check them out, you might be pleasantly surprised. Just make sure you have some Xbox 360 controllers for the games that didn’t use a trackball.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Cosmic Ark Review

obs0aeb

Last time on the blog we looked at Atlantis. A game that combined defending the lost city during its death throes with classic arcade action. But this time we’ll be going over the sequel. Cosmic Ark plays completely differently than the previous game. None of the skills you learned from the previous game will help you here at all whatsoever. But fear not! It does continue where Atlantis left off.

PROS: Experimental game ideas gone right.

CONS: The planetary defense system.

SPACE NOAH ADVENTURES: ABDUCTION: Could have been an alternate title.

Remember the little ship that flew away when you finally lost in Atlantis? Well it’s actually a mothership, and it turns out that now you have to rebuild your civilization. How do you do this? By taking a page from the Old Testament, and rounding up pairs of living things. As well as sentient beings. Cosmic Ark  merges Noah’s mission of preserving civilization in the wake of a cataclysm with episodes of Unsolved Mysteries.

In fact you might even want to play this game while the Unsolved Mysteries theme song is playing. It did have a number of episodes centered around U.F.O. sightings, and alien abduction stories. It was one of the creepiest shows on television. But I’m getting away from the topic at hand here, so I’ll refocus.

cvukmlx

Cosmic Ark is broken up into two stages. A space stage, and an alien abduction stage. Both of these stages alternate until you lose. Once again, this is a game about high score. In the space stage your mothership is in the center of the screen. You can shoot lasers above you, below you, and on either side by moving the joystick up, down, left, and right. Asteroids will appear in any direction, and you have to shoot them all. If an asteroid hits the ship, it explodes, and you have to play the stage again. You’ll keep going until the red meter below your score runs out, or until you complete the stage. Every collision drains part of the meter. Explode too many times, and it’s game over.

But if you succeed, you’re sent down to a planet’s surface. In this stage you pilot an away team in their own saucer. You’ll leave the mothership, and fly down to beam up two inhabitants. Once you have them on board, you fly back into the mothership, and go back into space, where you’ll play another round of the space stage. But things don’t go so swimmingly as the game progresses.

vacc6sl

Every time you make it back to the first stage, the asteroids become faster, and the order becomes even more random. Eventually you’ll get to a point where it’s impossible to continue, and you’ll have to accept your final score. The second stage becomes more difficult in a few ways. For one thing, if you don’t abduct beings fast enough, the mothership will sound an alarm. If this happens, you need to quickly get into the mothership, and shoot down asteroids so you can leave, and go back into space. If the ship is hit, you go back to the space stage anyway, but with a much lower bill of health.

ncjnyyg

Successive trips to planet surfaces will reveal planetary defense systems. Laser guns will raise, and lower from the left, and right to shoot down your scout ship. If you get shot down you can send another before the alarm goes off. But note that if you are shot down, anyone you’ve abducted will fall to the ground, and you’ll need to abduct them again. So what you’ll need to do is act fast, and abandon the mission when you hear the alarms. Otherwise you risk  your mothership from being destroyed. Worst case scenario is you’ll repeat the same planet after the following space stage. Each planetary visit will change-up the kinds of organisms you’ll need to abduct too.

sfrzyjm

Of course, you will, again, get to a point where you’re unable to ward off asteroids, giving you a final score. Fortunately the game controls very well, and is pretty easy to get the hang of. Cosmic Ark stands out from the hundreds of other Atari 2600 games because of just how bizarre it is. Most other sequels will give you more of what you loved about their predecessors. Cosmic Ark takes chances with some weird ideas. But as crazy as it’s going to sound, it’s a lot of fun to play! Part of the fun is obviously the challenge of it all. But it’s also great trying to see what the people of each planet are going to look like. Kidnapping people in a makeshift attempt to rebuild your empire shouldn’t sound compelling. But somehow it is in Cosmic Ark. Demented. Twisted. But somehow a great time. If you have an Atari 2600, pick it up.

lpk4ups

In the end you’ll lose, but once again, there’s a backup plan. When the mothership explodes, your scout ship survives the blast. One can only wonder how things would have gone if this had become a trilogy.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

C64 Direct To TV Review

u4diz13

15 years ago or so, there began a craze. Companies like Jakks Pacific, ATGames, and a handful of toy companies decided to make game systems out of controllers. These systems were basically systems on a chip. A small board, with a bunch of ROMs on them, usually run under some sort of emulator. But they were often a step up above those bootleg contraptions we’ve all seen at one time or another. These didn’t skirt around copyright law either. Most of them went to the original publishers, and paid for the rights to resell these games in their units. There were joysticks with classic Namco games built in. There were controllers with Midway games in them. There was even an EA Games pad with old Sega Genesis ROMs of Madden inside. But in that sea of joysticks lied one TV game controller you most definitely ought to own.

PROS: 30 games in a controller. Modifiable.

CONS: Joystick could have been a little bit better.

REGIONAL DIFFERENCES: NTSC, and PAL have slightly different game rosters.

The brainchild of Jeri Ellsworth, the C64 Direct To TV is one of the best devices of its kind. Originally sold through the QVC Television shopping network, and the now defunct Kay Bee Toys this system was, and is awesome. When you turn the system on you’ll have the option to play 30 different games on it. The system was also sold in Europe, where it is almost the identical. The differences being that the EU version is set up for a PAL signal, and that there is a minor difference in the library due to publishing rights.

m5hkanq

Among the thirty games though you’ll see some of the better titles put out by Hewson, and EPYX. Including both Cybernoid, and Cybernoid 2. Firelord is also here, along with Jumpman Junior, Tower Toppler, even the Impossible Mission games. Best of all, you really don’t have to be familiar with the BASIC interface of the Commodore 64. This was designed in a way that requires no typing in of LOAD or SAVE commands. Nor do you have to worry about the odd SYS or POKE commands. Turn on the unit to find it auto boots to a launcher. Pick your game, and play away.

More importantly though, the games here don’t run under an emulator. The C64 DTV runs on a custom board but uses both SID and VIC-II chips for authentic Commodore sound, and video. So how do the games themselves run? Pretty favorably. Everything seems to run about as it would on an actual Commodore 64. Except as the games are preloaded, you won’t be dealing with any load times.

rdcfzvc

The joystick the system is built in is pretty solid. Things feel sturdy. You won’t feel like you’re going to break it if you move it. The joystick also re centers itself nicely. If you stop moving, it stops moving. All in all, it isn’t too bad, and feels a lot better than most of these other “Compilations in a joystick” products. But it isn’t perfect. Some games like Jumpman Junior require spot on, pixel perfect movement. The joystick here may sometimes shift you left, coming off of a ladder. Leading to an unintentional suicide when you fall to your doom.

az4zppz

Still, when compared to a lot of these other contraptions, the C64 DTV fares much better, doesn’t feel gimmicky, and has one huge edge over all of them. If you’re willing to do some tweaking, and are also willing to risk damaging the system should you fail. It is entirely possible to turn this unit into a nearly fully functioning Commodore 64 computer!

havfyda

Doing this opens you up to being able to run the lion’s share of C64 games. Just remember this is going to be for the advanced home brewer only. It requires a lot of soldering, rewiring, and electrical knowledge. But if you have the time, and the guts there are a number of Commodore enthusiast sites that have guides on how to do just that.

But even if you don’t want to do any of that, this is still a great device. Especially if you’ve always been curious about Commodore 64 games, but aren’t sure you want to invest in collecting the computer, peripherals, floppy diskettes, and cassette tapes. It’s also nice if you’re a collector who lives in the USA because some of these games were only released in Europe when they came out. As far as these compilation systems go, the C64 DTV is one of the best.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Keystone Kapers Review

Activision. There was a time when that wasn’t a name met with the same ire of Electronic Arts. These days, Activision is known as “Those guys who publish Call Of Duty, and sometimes Guitar Hero or Tony Hawk.” to many people. But there was a time when the company was very different in its business. Back in its infancy, Activision was helmed by a lot of people who created games in-house, and took chances. Oddly enough, a lot like Electronic Arts’ early days they wanted to make sure game creators were credited like authors or musicians. Formed by many people who used to work for Atari, Activision was one of the earliest third-party developers, and made games that really pushed what the Atari VCS could do.

Some of these games like Pitfall!, Kaboom!, and River Raid were so huge, that even today people hold them in high regard. Many an Atari, Colecovision, Intellivision, or home computer game collector are sure to have them in their collections with good reason. But Activision also took chances on some ideas that weren’t typical of the time period. One of those games is Keystone Kapers.

PROS: Fast, addictive gameplay.

CONS: High Score gaming may not appease some players.

KILL SCREEN: One of the 2600 cartridges that you can become too good with.

Programmed by Gary Kitchen (who did a lot of great work in Activision, and Absolute) Keystone Kapers is certainly a game that while adored when it came out, somehow isn’t mentioned much when talking about Activision’s glorious run in the golden age of consoles. But Keystone Kapers is worthy of all of the love it received in 1983, and it’s a cartridge anybody who collects old games should try to track down.

Keystone Kapers puts you in the role of a police officer named Keystone Kelly. A criminal named Harry Hooligan has broken out of prison, and run into a shopping mall where he plans to do more larceny, and escape the long arm of the law. Unfortunately Harry Hooligan isn’t all that bright. Because he doesn’t even stop off to change his clothes, or appearance. He just decides to go for a heist the second he breaks out of prison. Anyway Keystone Kelly arrives at the mall, and has to arrest Harry Hooligan before he can get away.

You start the game as Harry runs away. As stated before, your job is to arrest him as quickly, and efficiently as possible. At first, you’ll find he’s a really easy criminal to apprehend. But once you bust him, the game gives you the same task only each time Harry starts throwing more, and more obstacles to hinder you. Each time he gets away, or you fall victim to one of his traps you lose a life. You start the game with three lives, and you can earn bonus lives by scoring big points. Every 10,000 points nets you another life. How do you get points? By having time left on the clock when you catch Harry. The more time you have left, the bigger the point bonus. You can also pick up suitcases of money, and bags of money for around 50 points. In earlier stages you’ll get around 100 points multiplied by time left over, and later stages it can jump to 200 points, and then 300 points.

With every arrest you make, the game becomes more, and more difficult throwing all kinds of obstacles at you. Some items like shopping carts will cost you time if you hit them. Most other ones will take your life. Bouncing balls, model airplanes, and carts are the main traps you’ll run into, though there are others. To ensure that you run out of lives, each round not only adds more to impede your progress, but speeds them up as well. So while jumping over a cart the first time you see one may seem fairly easy, later levels will send them at you 100 miles an hour. Keystone Kapers can become really difficult, really quickly.

The game does throw one major bone your way though. That is a radar screen at the bottom of the TV screen. As you hunt down Harry by using escalators, an elevator, and your platform jumping skills it will tell you what floor he is presently on. Just remember Harry has a few cheap things he can do to you. First, if you chase him on the roof, he leaves you no way to go back to the lower floors. So you had better catch him if you follow him to the roof. In many cases the game leaves you no choice but to go to the roof. But note that if you miss him, he can get to lower floors. Second, Harry also has the strange ability to go down floors without using the escalator or elevators. Third he is also immune to his own booby traps of merchandise.

The game has no soundtrack, or many audio effects for that matter. Getting hit makes noise. Scoring points makes noise, and jumping makes noise. That’s about it. But the game has the same visual hallmarks Activision was known for on the 2600. Graphically, it is one of the better looking games on the console, utilizing some great tricks to simulate the elevator, and escalators. It also runs at a pretty great clip with no slowdown, even when the game throws a ton of stuff at you. The only issue I ever had is the precision entering an elevator takes. It requires pixel perfect placement, and timing. The 5200, Colecovision, and computer versions look even better. Adding more details to the shops you chase Harry Hooligan through. All of the versions run fairly well, though the 2600 version, and computer versions tend to have the best controls.

While the game isn’t very long given it’s a game centered around a high score, it is really engaging. Like Donkey Kong before it (Which Gary Kitchen also ported to the 2600 for Coleco), it may be simple to pick up, but the challenge can keep you playing for hours if you’re willing to let it. If you find yourself looking for a really fun classic game with staying power, track down a copy for yourself.

Final Score: 8 out of 10