Karateka, Commodore 64

Karateka was Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner‘s first published game. He programmed it (originally for the Apple II) while attending Yale University in 1984.

It’s a simple martial arts fighting game that uses rotoscoped graphics to create realistic animation. Back in 1984 they were pretty revolutionary.

The aim of Karateka is to fight your way into a guarded fortress to rescue your love interest, Mariko. Using well-timed punches and kicks you defeat waves of opponents; defeat attacking hawks; and make your way past deadly falling portcullis – until you reach the boss, Akuma. Who of course you have to fight to free Mariko.

Karateka is – I think – a better-looking game on the Commodore 64 than on the Apple II. Both versions play quite slowly (frustratingly slowly for some, although you can boost the speed in an emulator), but the underlying gameplay is still sound.

Jordan Mechner himself was involved in a 2012 remake of Karateka, released for XBox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and iOS.

More: Karateka on Wikipedia

Karnov, ZX Spectrum

The ZX Spectrum conversion of the Data East arcade game, Karnov, is a good example of a decent arcade conversion on the Spectrum.

The graphics are colourful, well-drawn, and avoid colour clash by using a black masking effect around the sprites. It’s quite a clever technique that works very well in this game.

Gameplay-wise: Karnov is an unforgiving arcade game, and this Spectrum conversion is marginally easier than its parent, helped in a perverse way by the frequent slowdown. It’s reasonable fun though and worth digging out if you like challenging platformers.

More: Karnov on Wikipedia

The Sentinel, Atari ST

I keep banging on about Geoff Crammond‘s The Sentinel and will probably continue to do so until I’ve written about every version available. 🙂

Converted in 1986 by Firebird, the Atari ST version of The Sentinel is just as good as the Amiga version – or any of the other conversions that were made from the BBC Micro original. Meaning: no bad versions of the game exist. Not that I’m aware of anyway.

The Sentinel is actually quite simple to play, when you figure out what to do, and the aim is simple: to gain height on the landscape, until you’re able to see the ground The Sentinel is standing on. Once you can do that you can absorb him, rather than the other way around.

A tense and gripping game with 10,000 different, procedurally-generated levels, The Sentinel really is the thinking-man’s video game classic. It will definitely not appeal to lazy people who can’t be bothered to learn how to play a game unless it’s spoon-fed to them with a tutorial. And it will positively delight those who twig it.

Don’t be a Sentinel virgin. Join the club: know how to play it… Go and absorb The Sentinel. At least once. Then you can say your life is complete.

More: The Sentinel on Wikipedia

Bad Games Week #2 Ends

Bad Games Week #2 has now ended.

[“Phew!” you’re probably thinking.]

Here’s a summary of links to what was published:

Chuck Norris Superkicks, ColecoVision,
Cap’n’ Carnage, Atari ST,
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Atari 2600,
The Evil Dead, Commodore 64,
Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy, Atari Jaguar,
Kung-Fu Master, ZX Spectrum,
Jail Break, Commodore 64.

Back to *GOOD GAMES* from this point onward! 🙂

Thank you!
The King of Grabs

Jail Break, Commodore 64

Jail Break is a conversion of the Konami arcade game of the same name, and was developed and published by Konami themselves in 1986.

It’s a very basic run-and-gun game where you’re basically a lone policeman, up against waves of escaping convicts.

Rescuing fleeing civilians will gain you an extra weapon – a shotgun or a bazooka – though neither really makes any impact on the gameplay. Which is truly awful.

If there was an award for worst sprites in a video game, the Commodore 64 version of Jail Break would be in contention. The expanded characters look ridiculous, frankly, and are animated just as badly.

The game’s only saving grace is that there’s some colour variation in the different stages. And it has a nice loading screen/tune. Woopie… Otherwise, it’s a pile of retro-gaming excrement. Konami really took their eye off the ball with this one…

More: Jail Break on Mobygames

Kung-Fu Master, ZX Spectrum

This terrible Spectrum conversion of the mighty arcade game, Kung-Fu Master, was developed by Ocean and published by US Gold in 1986.

It contains none of the thrills of the original arcade game… The animated figures in the game are slow, badly-drawn and badly animated. When anyone raises a leg in the game – to make a high kick – it looks more like they are trying to squeeze out a tricky fart than kick anyone… And that includes you. The animation is pathetic. The colour clash is also bad. As is the (part-time) scrolling. The sprites have a horrible, distracting judder too. It wouldn’t have hurt to use a few different colours to differentiate the levels too – they all look the same…

The gameplay is also a pale imitation of the original, which requires precision, skill, and good timing to beat, and is fun to play. This is just a turgid shuffle through a soup of frustration and slowness.

There are some great arcade conversions on the ZX Spectrum. Kung-Fu Master isn’t one of them.

More: Kung-Fu Master on Wikipedia

Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy, Atari Jaguar

Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy was released for the Atari Jaguar in 1993. It is a side-scrolling, ‘bullet hell’ shooter, and it is awful.

Why is it so bad? Well, firstly: the graphics are rubbish. They are unimaginative, pre-rendered, SG workstation visuals that look very dated in this day and age, and they don’t gel well together in my opinion.

Secondly: the gameplay is dull. There is actually little to make Trevor McFur stand out from the competition. The asteroids and enemies that come at you are bland. The backgrounds are bland. The music is bland. The power-ups are bland. The boss battles are bland. Even the use of animals in a planetary ‘war’ situation seems like a hackneyed attempted to copy what Nintendo did with Star Fox.

If Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy has an upside it’s that it’s inoffensive and could probably entertain a child for an hour or two. Otherwise: it’s a bit of a joke on the shooter scene. And another terrible Atari Jaguar game rushed to market, lacking detail and polish.

More: Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy on Wikipedia

The Evil Dead, Commodore 64

Another great film turned into video game kitty litter! This one in 1984, by Palace Software.

The interpretation is as an overhead survival game, with you playing Ash (spelled incorrectly in the game – slap on the wrist to the programmer!) who is besieged by Kandarian demons inside a remote log cabin. You can close the doors and windows to stop the demons getting in, and must also kill any that make it into the cabin. To kill them you must first find a weapon (randomly located around the cabin, or outside), and then use it on them. Whether it’s an axe, a sword, or a shovel – it makes no real difference – the effect is the same. Eventually, when you’ve killed enough demons, the ancient Book of the Dead will appear and you have to throw it into the fire to triumph.

As a huge fan of the 1981 film I’ve always thought that this game was total and utter rubbish. I remember as a young gamer hoping that it would be good enough to buy, but I read the reviews and thought “there’s no way I’m buying that!”. And I was right. The graphics are pathetic, the cabin is tiny, and the gameplay is clumsy and repetitive. There’s no escaping the fact that The Evil Deadthis Evil Dead (there are others) – is both a missed opportunity, and a steaming pile of crap.

Are there any positives about the game? The intro sequence and tune are quite nice. The scrolly text message at the bottom of the screen describes the monsters as “mutants”, which is sure to piss off any die-hard Evil Dead fan who reads it. Other than those like me who don’t really give a toss.

A BBC Micro version of The Evil Dead was also released by Palace. A ZX Spectrum version was developed and completed, but was never released as a stand-alone game. It later appeared as a freebie on the b-side of another Palace release: Cauldron, so eventually made it out.

More: The Evil Dead on Wikipedia

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Atari 2600

This notorious 1982 release for the Atari 2600 was – at the time – the most expensive movie license ever acquired by a video games company ($35 million dollars it apparently cost), and it also undoubtedly hastened the demise of Atari Inc. as a company (as it was back then), and was also a major contributing factor in the video game market crash of 1983.

Yes: pumping out games as bad and as cynically-rushed as E.T. was created a significant fall in consumer confidence – particularly in North America where the effects of the crash were felt most strongly.

And none of this was the fault of the programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw, who took some persuading to actually take on the project in the first place. Warshaw was given only six weeks to create a finished game from scratch, when normally an Atari 2600 game would take between six to twelve months to program. But complete the game he did, and it was then marketed by Atari some six months after the film had been released (ie. late; when people where starting to become fatigued by the film). Also, Atari suits at the time inexplicably decided to manufacture six million E.T. cartridges in anticipation of high sales. And – while E.T. did sell more than a million copies initially – a lot of the people who bought it were not happy and returned the game for their money back. Ultimately  – after returns – Atari sold less than ten percent of the cartridges they manufactured for E.T. and infamously buried hundreds of thousands of them in the New Mexico desert in an attempt to hide their embarrassment.

Throughout the decades there have been numerous instances where upper management at a video games company have made calamitous decisions, but those made by Atari management in the case of E.T. must rank as the greediest, most cynical, and most stupid of all time. Again: no real blame can be placed on the shoulders of the programmer, but the people who pushed him to make the game in six weeks; and the ones who thought that $35 million dollars was an acceptable price to pay for the E.T. video game license, are nothing but fools. Fools who brought the video games industry to its knees with their blindness and greed.

As for the game: it’s dogsh*t, of course. Of little or no redeeming value. It bears little resemblance to the film, or the characters in it, and few people who play E.T. have got anything positive to say about it.

E.T. on the Atari 2600 is an interesting story, but unfortunately one that highlights the very worst of the video games business.

More: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on Wikipedia

Cap’n’ Carnage, Atari ST

Cap’n’ Carnage is so bad that the programmer hasn’t even spelled the word “captain” correctly in the game itself… When you see a mistake like that you know you’re playing a low quality piece of software. Professionals do not make that kind of mistake on commercial releases. Oh dear me, this game is bad…

It’s a side-scrolling shoot ’em up – of sorts – except the controls are sluggish; the action is boring, and the graphics are truly terrible.

There’s so little of value in Cap’n’ Carnage that all I can say is: I played it, so you don’t have to. And even then I only played it once…

If I had to sum up the game in one word (without swearing) I’d have to say “moribund”. And – as Alan Partridge knows full well – that means “dead or dying”. Cap’n’ Carnage is really only worth loading if you like bad games, or are a masochist. Which pretty much equate to the same thing.

Cap’n’ Carnage was developed by Golden Sector Design, and published by Energize in 1991 (a British/German co-production I believe). I think they’ll probably all want to forget it ever existed… As do I, to be honest.

More: Cap’n’ Carnage on Atari Mania