Battlespire, PC

An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire is a spin-off from the famous Elder Scrolls series of RPGs by Bethesda Softworks.

It first came out in 1997 – between Daggerfall and Morrowind – and is an MS-DOS-based action/RPG, with fairly primitive 3D graphics. What Battlespire does is take the dungeon-crawling aspects of Daggerfall and make it the focus of this game. There are no shops, so you can’t sell things (a real pity because you acquire tons of stuff, which you just have to leave behind as you progress), and dialogue is limited to the odd friendly character.

When I first played Battlespire I didn’t like it at all. I thought the controls and interface were clunky, and the game seemed very basic. I felt the same about Morrowind when I first played that… How wrong I was about that game! And Battlespire is actually pretty good when you get into it – certainly better than Redguard, anyway. It’s no Morrowind, though.

Like most RPGs you have to gain a foothold to start reaping the rewards of the game. That means getting used to the dodgy mouse-based combat and extremely limited inventory capacity. Once you do gain a foothold, you’ll probably realise that there’s more to Battlespire than meets the eye.

More: Battlespire on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Battlespire on GOG.com

Wanted: Monty Mole, ZX Spectrum

Back in 1984 in the UK there was an infamous, historic miner’s strike that lasted for over a year and caused hardship for many communities.

Rather than sit and spectate, young Peter Harrap wrote a satirical platform game about a mining mole and published it, with all the profits going to help the struggling, striking miners. That game was Wanted: Monty Mole, and it launched Pete Harrap on his career making video games, and also the Monty Mole ‘franchise’. I can’t really call it a franchise because it really wasn’t. It was simply a series of games.

This first Monty game isn’t a particularly great game overall though. It has its quirks, and its plus points, and graphically it is very nice (especially Monty himself, who is very characterful and well animated), but the gameplay is a bit weird and frustrating – compared to its sequels, which I feel are more refined in terms of gameplay.

Still, Wanted: Monty Mole is an important platform game for its time and should long be remembered.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanted:_Monty_Mole

Solstice, NES

Solstice is a neat isometric platform/puzzle game from British developer Software Creations. It was published by Sony for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990 and is the (spiritual?) predecessor to the Super Nintendo game Equinox.

I think Solstice has stood the test of time relatively well. The titchy graphics are cute and well drawn. There’s not much animation, but then a lot of games were like that at the time. Control of the main character is solid – he can change direction in mid air, which allows for some deft leaping. It is, however, too easy to accidentally walk into a doorway when moving around the tiny rooms. Which is a problem when it upsets your puzzle-solving by re-setting the room (happened to me all the time).

Solstice is a very good NES game overall, though. An obscure gem – and a rare British one (no pun intended).

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solstice_(video_game)

Equinox, Super Nintendo

Sony‘s Equinox is an isometric platform adventure that was first released in 1994. It was a Super Nintendo only release, and wasn’t converted to any other platforms. It is also a sequel to the NES game Solstice.

Equinox is a relatively simple puzzle/action hybrid in the mould of Knight Lore and Monster Max, although – at one point – it was going to be something much more in-depth. It’s fairly well-known among games fans that Manchester-based developer Software Creations had originally intended Equinox to be an RPG, with absorbing combat and levelling, but – for some reason – Sony cut the game back and decided to release it as a platform puzzle game instead.

In the end, Equinox is neither here nor there in terms of genre, although it is a beautifully-designed game that works very well on the SNES and is more than good enough to warrant playing nowadays.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equinox_(1993_video_game)

Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, PC

Nihilistic Software‘s 2000 release, Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, is a 3D RPG with real-time combat and is held in very high regard by those who have played it.

On the surface Redemption is similar in style to Neverwinter Nights, although Neverwinter Nights came two years after Vampire, which demonstrates how ahead of its time it was. Gameplay is basically party-based combat with point-and-click mouse controls. Left-click attacks things and right-click casts blood magic. Actually, the mouse clicks are context sensitive, depending on what you’re clicking on. Moving the camera around uses a combination of mouse and keyboard.

What is great about Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption is the fact that you get to play as a vampire – drinking blood from necks and having special vampire powers. It’s an interesting angle of play, even if the script and voice acting are somewhat mundane, and it helps keep things interesting.

Combat is fairly simple and reasonably enjoyable, that is: until you encounter the boss battles. The bosses I encountered were really very tough – especially the Golem fight in the early part of the game, which drove me to use the console to get past it, after wasting many hours trying to figure out how to beat it (and failing). Considering the ease at which previous opponents had been beaten, I thought that the Golem battle was a difficulty spike too far. But anyway…

Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption is nearly 20 years old now, so I don’t want to criticise it too much. It is a fantastic game overall – well worth buying and playing. Just be prepared for those boss battles…

More: Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption on Wikipedia
Steam: Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption on Steam
GOG.com: Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption on GOG.com

Rampage, Arcade

Rampage is a very fondly-remembered arcade game that features gigantic monsters fighting it out over a series of destroyable skyscrapers.

The monsters – Ralph, a giant wolfman; Lizzie, a Godzilla-like monster; and George, a King Kong-like ape – can climb the buildings, punch holes in them, and grab people from windows (to eat, of course!). When a building has been punched-out, and reaches a critical point, it collapses. If a monster is hanging onto a building when it collapses it loses a big chunk of life energy, so jumping off when it starts shaking is a good idea. Incoming bullets and tank shells also whittle down monster energy, so the idea is to flatten incoming forces before they can hurt you.

What makes Rampage so special is that up to three players can play simultaneously, and also the wonderful touches in the character designs, animations and situations. Like, for example, when a monster picks up a guy with a flamethrower, the monster eats him and then spits flame. Also, when a monster loses all of its life energy it shrinks and reverts back into a naked human being… Little details like that never cease to amuse!

Rampage was developed and published by Bally Midway in arcades in 1986.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rampage_(video_game)

Mercenary: The Second City, Commodore 64

Not a sequel to Mercenary, but a ‘data disk’ add-on, although you don’t need the original Mercenary to play it. No, the real sequel came on 16-bit machines later.

The Second City starts off pretty much the same as Mercenary – crashing on a planet (this time the other side of the one you explored in Mercenary, and also a different colour) and having to explore to get on and eventually escape.

Again: the two local factions – the Palyars and Mechanoids – are at war with each other and both will offer you missions to sabotage each other for cash.

The Second City is another great exploration game with wireframe graphics – just like its predecessor – and the simple interface makes for a pleasant exploration experience. That is: until the shooting starts.

More: Mercenary: The Second City on Wikipedia

Mercenary: The Second City, Atari ST

A 16-bit conversion of Paul Woakes‘ classic 8-bit exploration sequel to Mercenary. Well, not really a sequel – more a continuation… The real sequel came later.

The Atari ST‘s power (relative to the Commodore 64) means smoother, faster 3D graphics; more colours (useful, when colours are used to identify rooms and places underground); and more sensitive controls.

As a stand-alone game, Mercenary: The Second City is fun to play. More complex than Mercenary, with a bigger underground section and more challenging missions, given to you by two warring factions. You can choose who to side with and who to sabotage.

The Atari ST version of The Second City was released in 1988 by Novagen Software as part of a compendium with Mercenary.

More: Mercenary: The Second City on Wikipedia