X-Wing, PC

Still considered to be one of the best Star Wars games of all time, X-Wing is a serious, high-tech, fantasy combat sim – in space obviously – with all the different ships from the famous films in there somewhere, modelled in low-res 3D.

This particular game focuses on the Rebel Alliance side of things, and in particular of that: the wonderful X-Wing. In canonical storyline terms X-Wing begins a few months before Star Wars: A New Hope.

These grabs are from the original VGA version of the game, first released in 1993.

X-Wing was later followed by TIE Fighter – the even better sequel, but played from from the Empire’s perspective.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_X-Wing

Hydrofool, ZX Spectrum

Gargoyle Games‘ isometric adventure Hydrofool (1987) is different because the whole game is set underwater.

Rather than walking and jumping, the main character – a robot called Sweevo – must swim around and explore the environment (a giant aquarium called The Deathbowl), looking for plugs, which he must then pull to drain the water away. The plugs, however, must be pulled in the right order. There are also other creatures swimming around that are a danger to Sweevo, which you must avoid.

And – if that wasn’t difficult enough – Sweevo begins to slowly rust as soon as the game starts, so you’re up against a time limit as well.

Hydrofool is still an enjoyable ZX Spectrum game to play now. It is also the sequel to Sweevo’s World. So is something of a curve ball.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrofool

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, NES

Although this second Zelda game sold well (more than 4 million copies worldwide at the time), it is not particularly well-liked.

It is a ‘proper’ sequel to the first game, as such – at least in terms of story (and most other Zelda games aren’t), but it is also quite different in terms of gameplay. There are 2D, side-scrolling, platforming dungeon sections; the use of Experience Points to designate power; a magic meter; and a ‘Dark’ Link character who would become common in later episodes.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was first released in 1987. In the years following its release the game drew quite a bit of criticism from fans of the original, all of whom disliked the new style of play. So much criticism, in fact, that from episode three onward (A Link To The Past on the SNES), the Zelda series reverted back to the original template.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link has been re-released a number of times over the decades, although it still remains the lowest-rated Zelda game on the two main metacritic sites. It is definitely worth playing if you love Zelda games. And you may find the shock of the unusual gameplay quite refreshing. Who’s to say?

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zelda_II:_The_Adventure_of_Link

Pieces, Super Nintendo

Known in Japan as Jigsaw Party, and in the West as Pieces, this 1994 Super Nintendo game is an intriguing and compelling mix of Tetris and jigsaws. Which might sound as dull as hell, but it’s actually surprisingly good.

You can either play Pieces against the computer, or up to five human players, and the aim is to basically beat them to completing a jigsaw puzzle. Beating opponents to certain milestones will spawn items, which can be used to give an advantage.

Pieces was developed by Prism Kikaku and was published by Atlus in North America and Hori Electric in Japan. It unfortunately did not receive a release in Europe.

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

Firebird, MSX

Known in its native Japan as Hi no Tori Hououhen, and Firebird in the West, this 1987 Konami release for the MSX2 is a vertically-scrolling shooter of some repute.

Firebird is based on a very popular Japanese Manga series (Hi no Tori, or “bird of fire” or “Phoenix”) by Osamu Tezuka.

Firebird is a very tough game to master and is quite simplistic by today’s standards, but was significant at the time and has a cult following still now. Worth a play if you can find a copy.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hi_no_Tori_Hououhen_(MSX)

720 Degrees, Arcade

A colourful, isometric arcade game from 1986720 Degrees (aka 720°) is a skateboarding action game where you control a kid on a board, trying to complete tricks and courses in his local neighbourhood, before moving on to compete in a proper skate park.

If you wait around for too long in the neighbourhood area, without attempting an available course, a swarm of killer bees will chase after you. And – once you’ve completed a course – it is then locked off, giving you less avenues of escape from those pesky bees, so you really can’t dawdle.

720 Degrees is a quite a high pressure game in terms of time, which is a pity in some ways because it would be nice to explore at leisure rather than be hurried along. By bees. Especially as there are shops to buy upgrades from.

This is an early(ish) arcade game from Atari Games, so is quite simple overall. It is still challenging and fun to play now though.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/720%C2%B0

Holiday Lemmings 1993, Amiga

Although there were small Christmas demos made for Lemmings in 1991 and ’92, Holiday Lemmings 1993 was the first full retail release of a Lemmings game based on Christmas.

It features 32 new levels and the ever-cute Lemmings dressed as Santa Claus. And is still well worth a play now if you’re in a Christmassy mood and can find a copy.

Happy Holidays.

The Snowman, ZX Spectrum

The Snowman by Quicksilva is based on the Raymond Briggs novel of the same name, but bears about as much relation to it as a penguin does to an albatross.

The Snowman is actually not a bad game at all though. Programmed by a young David Shea and first published in 1983, The Snowman is essentially a Burger Time derivative, only this time you are collecting parts of The Snowman (and avoiding ghosts), so you can drop them in the correct place and reassemble him back to full fitness.

There’s no “Walking In The Air” with Alhed Jones (thankfully) and the only tune of any note is the rather unimaginative Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

That said: The Snowman is still a fun little challenge for a short while. Especially at Christmas, over a plate of sprouts, some gravy, and some warm mead.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Snowman#Video_game

Santa’s Christmas Capers, ZX Spectrum

Santa’s Christmas Capers is a Christmas-themed game, published on the ZX Spectrum by Zeppelin Games in 1990.

It’s a side-scrolling shooter (of all things), with Santa on his sleigh, being pulled by reindeer, shooting snowballs at oncoming enemies. And at the end of each of the three “different” stages there’s a boss fight. Of sorts.

Technically, Santa’s Christmas Capers is not bad. Graphics-wise it’s not terrible either. Where it is terrible, though, is in the gameplay. The game is pointless, with little or no skill required to progress and boss fights that just end suddenly after minutes of blasting at nowhere in particular.

A Christmas curiosity and nothing more.

Hatris, PC Engine

Hatris is basically Tetris with hats, and the reason why this is allowed is because the designer of Hatris is the same guy who made Tetris! Voila: no copyright issues with this clone. Ha, ha.

Alexey Pajitnov designed Hatris in 1990, just one year after the famous Game Boy version of Tetris came out. And Hatris was released into arcades first, with this PC Engine version (and NES and Game Boy versions) following shortly afterwards.

Like Tetris, Hatris features falling objects (in this case hats, of course) which you must arrange into neat piles. Stacking hats of different styles will raise the height of the piles, and if a pile reaches a set line at the top of the screen: it’s game over. Stacking the same hats in piles of four or more will make them disappear, giving you room to stack more hats, which is the aim: to keep stacking hats for as long as you are able to. And – like TetrisHatris gets more difficult as you progress, with hats falling faster the longer you play.

Hatris is one of those ideas that sounds terrible on paper, but works really well as a game. It’s different enough from Tetris to be interesting, and stacking hats has a weird compelling nature to it.

Hatris is what I would class as a “hidden gem” – if you’ve never played it, it’s well worth a look.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatris