The Games Page

By Dave E

Originally published in EUG #69

In the tradition of Acorn User's "The Games Page", I thought I would take the opportunity in this 69th issue of EUG to traverse all the games from a particular software house. This may, or most likely will, become a regular feature and I hope it will encourage a few of you to have a go at similar sorts of articles on other publishers. Have a play through each game they created then simply jot down what you like and what you don't in relation to each. Any article you do write will be quite prominently linked to the main catalogue on the website, and give you the chance to link to any external site(s) you wish!

I've chosen Atlantis, which was one of the best 'budget' software houses and arrived relatively late on the Electron scene. Many of its games were priced at £1.99 and it spared no expense on content or presentation. The cover art was, um, colourful and well-designed and featured actual screenshots for the Electron version of the game on its rear.

Anarchy Zone Screenshot Working alphabetically then, Anarchy Zone is a spinning shoot-'em'up game where the object is to stay alive for as long as possible while blasting everything that moves. It runs in full screen Mode 1 which is unusual for an Elk game, and allows for very detailed graphics as standard. The speed of the game is good, although I do prefer it on a Turboed Elk than a normal one. There are some fantastic explosions and a good use of sound, although there is something lacking in addictiveness, and the sprites do move with a 'blocky' feel to them. Despite the welcome addition of a password facility to jump to later levels, this game is not one of Atlantis' best.

Cops N Robbers Screenshot The next in their catalogue, Cops 'N Robbers, is frankly a bit too weird for me - an overhead maze game of sorts, although when you move you are viewed from a horizontal angle, making your character look as if half the time he is walking up and down vertical blocks! Your mission, such as it is, is to mill around the Acme Diamond Company and collect the uncut diamonds. These are just lying around and are represented by xs. There is also a 'haunted mine' where more diamonds can be found. You are either pursued by ghosts or policemen depending on where you are in the maze.

There are big flaws with this game. Sometimes policemen appear right on top of where you are standing and you die instantly. And, on top of everything else which is weird about this game, you can shoot the ghosts - which does not really make a lot of sense unless you wanna pretend you're playing Ghostbusters instead. The game itself is colourful and as you move and enter different buildings, a few sound effects liven it up a little more. However, it looks and feels very dated and I don't recommend it.

Crack Up!Screenshot Bigger and better things are afoot however with Crack-Up, a clone of bat and bricks game Arkanoid. Actually, I've never played anything approaching a better version of this on the Elk. From the colourful Mode 2 screens to the perfect collision detection and adherance to the laws of physics, this game oozes quality and frustration in equal measure. I have come back to this time and time again to try to get slightly further but progress does seem to depend to a large degree on luck as well as arcade skill.

Creepy Cave Screenshot Creepy Cave is one of the poorer offerings and is a platform game in which you need to traverse screens to progress to the next one. There's nothing remotely new except perhaps for the ghost who floats through each level to create 'ambiance' before it begins. The layout of each level is somewhat fiddly to navigate and making progress too slow to make the game fun. Nevertheless, compared with some other companies' budget games, one could say it is vastly superior. It looks pretty and it is a challenge for those tired of the likes of Blagger and Tarzan Boy, but it is not as good as either.

Frankenstein 2000 Screenshot The first Atlantis re-release was originally an Icon and an Audiogenic game: Frankenstein 2000. The Acorn press actually raved about it on each release due to its multi-faceted levels (some scrolling, some mazey and some arcade) and gave it what I considered ridiculously high marks even at the time. My reaction to it now is exactly the same was when I was ten and played it for the first time. Far from what the reviewers led you to believe, it is far too easy!

For heaven's sake, you can complete the whole of its seven levels on your very first go! Now you might say "So what? You can complete seven levels of many games on your very first go!" Yes, but on Frankenstein 2000 completing level seven, and delivering a fatal shot to the monster's heart, feels like total completion, and being returned to level one with no increase in difficulty just feels like a plain swizz. Feel free to marvel at the graphics by all means but don't expect much longevity is all I'm saying.

Gunfighter Screenshot On to Gunfighter, which is a unique type of game where you take the part of a sheriff on a quest to collect a number of title deeds, and wipe out any bandits who cross your path en route. There are a large number of locations to explore, all presented very attractively with Wild West style graphics and a lot of bonus style features to certain locations that only become apparent after this exploration.

At any moment however, you can be attacked by a bandit just as you are exiting a room and, if he successfully shoots you, this triggers the quickest death sequence in any computer game ever as you are immediately deaded, reincarnated and deaded again. It can all be over in one merciless "blamfizzblamfizzblamdead" about three times as quickly as it will take you to say that word. Apart from this feature however, the game is well worth a look.

Hobgoblin Screenshot I will lump together both Hobgoblin titles and say simply that both are brilliant, and were clearly inspired by the Ghosts 'N Goblins titles on the 16-bit machines of this era. They are left-to-right flick screen graphic adventures in which you control a very agile barbarian, climbing ladders, leaping fireballs and hurling knives at your foes. There are superior types of weapons to collect and the games are well presented with superb loading screens and logos above the Mode 5 landscapes. The sequel is, to my mind, slightly better than the original and, as it was the last title ever produced by Atlantis, may have been overlooked by quite a few Elk fans of the early Nineties.

League Challenge Screenshot League Challenge is an oddity in the Atlantis collection. It is a text only football management simulation which gives you a random team to manage and the ability to buy and sell your players. The mission is to build a team up from Division Four to Division One, dealing with the obvious injuries that befall players throughout the season. You have to balance the amount of money you have with the amount you wish to spend on training your players.

Despite being by head and shoulders the weakest Atlantis title, curiously the price tag attached to League Challenge was £2.99, a full £1.00 higher than its other releases. Yet more evidence soccer fans were as hugely exploited by the gaming media in the Eighties as they are today!

Omega Orb Screenshot Next up is Omega Orb which probably needs no introductin to many; the bouncing BLIP droid is author Peter Scott's best-loved creation. The game is a multi-screen-map graphical extravaganza and was originally released three years earlier on the Audiogenic label. The aim of the game is to explore, Citadel-style, all the locations of a strange alien planet. You have the bonuses of being able to shoot your opponents (although they do re-appear if you leave then re-enter the room!) and to interact with the computer to gain secret messages and clues. Simply a brilliant game and one which I have never managed to master.

Panik! Screenshot Panik is, compared to the majority of Atlantis' titles, a relatively simple game and looks like a game better suited to the very beginning of the Elk's era than the end of it. You scoot around a ladders and platforms maze, digging holes for patrolling nasties to fall into and, after they do, you rush back and clobber them so they plunge to their deaths. Although the graphics and sound are nothing to write home about, it is good for a half-hour's entertainment.

Pro Golf is, I would imagine, a good golf simulation. I say this with absolutely no knowledge of the game whatsoever but it's clear from a quick tinker around with it that there are many types of clubs available. On top of this, the game itself is self-evidently epic in scope. It comes complete with two courses, each with their own loading screen and, rather unusually, runs in Mode 4 with just two colours.

Pro Golf Screenshot That said, the game is a BASIC one, and therefore not as visually pleasing as the excellent Holed Out from the 4th Dimension. Both these golf games are rareties - as by the mid 1990s, there were few Electron fans around to buy them - so are well worth retaining if you have them in your home collection. You will have to forgive my not going into more detail but, as I have no idea of what I'm talking about in relation to golf, then it wouldn't be fair.

Psycastria 2Screenshot Back to good old shoot-'em-up action though for Psycastria 2 which is one of the few games to boast multi-plane hardware scrolling in Mode 5 on the Electron. It is in many respects similar to the original Psycastria (which marked a watershed programming moment) although this sequel was never released in its own right. The only differences are in relation to the level layout and sprites included. It runs at a blinding rate and calls for lightning fast reflexes but is a fairly enjoyable adrenaline rush.

Stormcycle Screenshot Stormcycle I will go out on a limb and say is a fairly good game, especially for those who are just coming to the genre of graphic adventures. It is a Mode 5 quest for five light-reflecting diodes. You get to pace around some beautifully designed screens poking people with your broadsword. I have actually given this game the tagline 'The Man With The Killer Erection' in that the broadsword actually seems to emerge from the front of the hero's trousers (No, this is not correct; you have simply become sex-obsessed! - Ed).

Not only can you run, jump and attack but you have a health bar and three lives to complete the game which is more than enough - unlike in some games where you need to cheat. The game itself is actually not easy but not too hard and therefore it gets a thumbs up from most who play it. The trouble is that old hands don't have any difficulty completing it on their first go and, once you've done this, it really isn't any fun replaying it again.

Survivors Screenshot Survivors is an overhead maze game done with some style. You are in control of three robot drones and you have to imagine yourself as some sort of army commander navigating them around. Your mission is to locate and rescue the survivors of a nuclear holocaust. However, the survivors are frequently trapped by rocks, earth or both. The blue droid can tunnel through the stones to create passageways. The yellow droid can be placed on a survivor to transport him home. The red droid can push the boulders around.

So you have to think carefully, against a time limit, of how quickly you can navigate the droids, and how quickly you can position them so as to help the survivor you have found. It's one of the most difficult puzzle games available for the Elk and has some very nice touches on top of the game itself, such as an title effect which floats in the logo characters. It's a shame that the standard Mode 5 text is used without the characters being made a bit slimmer but then again this doesn't detract from a very engrossing game.

Last Of The Free Screenshot Another Peter Scott title that Atlantis got its hands on to re-release is next: The Last Of The Free. Alas, whilst the premise of an Omega Orb-style multi-map-extravanganza is the same, this game is marred by clumsy controls and the speed at which it zips along. It runs in Mode 5 and, with a lot of patience, progress can be made, but it is too easy to stray one pixel too far over the edge of a platform and plummet through three of the screens it just took you five minutes to fight your way through!! This, combined with the overenthusiastic responses of the protagonist to each keypress - a single touch on the X key sends him eight pixels to the right! - make the game irritating and you'll be reaching for the BREAK key relatively quickly.

The Golden Figurine Screenshot Finally, we come to The Golden Figurine, a pretty big graphic adventure in the style of Palace Of Magic. You control a boy in search of the mystical figurine and must find objects then drop or use them in the correct place in order to make progress. It has one crucial flaw in that, unlike Palace Of Magic, if you are losing energy quickly, you are not immediately transported to where you were when you entered the room. The 'omission' has severe consequences in that, if you lose your footing over a bank of sprites - just once - then it's curtains for you and goodbye to what may have been hours of progress. If the thought of this leads you to imagine hurling your Elk out of the window in disgust then this might not be the game for you.

So that's seventeen separate games covered in this single article and, whilst it may not be as comprehensive a guide as a typical EUG review, Atlantis comes out of it, I think, pretty well. The only dud is League Challenge which gives it a score of 16 out of 17, or a 94% acceptance rating. In the tradition of the Games Page, I'll bid you farewell for this issue of EUG and will turn my attention to all the adventures of Adventure International in the next issue. Considering many of these were bugged, this is likely to be a bit of a spleen-vent, so hurry back.