Lunar Jetman, BBC Micro

The BBC Micro conversion of Ultimate‘s classic Lunar Jetman is a very good one, using a high res display mode for the graphics, which are mostly monochrome (just like the Spectrum original).

It plays just as well as the original too, and this results in a very challenging, but very playable game. And let’s face it: the original is a very difficult game.

The task in hand: to collect a bomb and drive it to the enemy base, before picking it up and dropping it on an enemy missile launcher, is much easier said than done. Predominantly because there’s a time limit, and random alien sprites keep getting in the way, and holes in the ground impede your vehicle so must be covered with girders. Again: easier said than done. Completing the level by destroying the enemy base is possible (I’ve done it myself on occasion), which means doing it again at a higher difficulty level the next time.

More: Lunar Jetman on Wikipedia

Sabre Wulf, Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 version of Ultimate‘s classic Sabre Wulf was made by Greg Duddle of Mr. Micro for Firebird Software, who published the game in 1985.

Graphically, it’s a mix of the chunkiness of the BBC and Amstrad versions, and the “high definition” (ha!) of the original Spectrum version. It’s a pleasing mix anyway, and there’s none of the graphical flicker or colour clash that blights other versions.

Gameplay-wise: it’s the same as the original and there don’t seem to be any problems with control or collision detection. That said: some enemies seem to spawn in places where they don’t in the original, which makes the game slightly more difficult. C64 Sabre Wulf also plays quite fast, which makes it fairly challenging.

Commodore 64 Sabre Wulf is a respectable conversion overall.

Sabre Wulf on The King of Grabs:
ZX Spectrum versionBBC Micro version,
Amstrad CPC version, Commodore 64 version

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

Sabre Wulf, Amstrad CPC

The Amstrad conversion of Sabre Wulf features the same chunky graphics as the BBC version, except with some extra colouring. It does make make a difference though. The Amstrad version doesn’t look quite as harsh as the BBC version.

Although the gameplay is reasonably accurate, I’m not entirely convinced by the actual playability of this conversion – the keyboard and joystick controls are a little sticky and the collision detection is also a little suspect. I found this to be more unforgiving than the original.

Still: Amstrad Sabre Wulf is not a bad game and is still worth a play now. Just from memory I managed to complete three quarters of the game, although I did use quicksaves. 🙂

Sabre Wulf on The King of Grabs:
ZX Spectrum versionBBC Micro version,
Amstrad CPC version, Commodore 64 version

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

Sabre Wulf, BBC Micro

The BBC Micro version of Ultimate Play The Game‘s classic Sabre Wulf is so chunky and garish that it hurts the eyes! That said: it plays well enough.

Gameplay is identical to the Spectrum version: you play Sabreman and you run around a big maze, looking for four parts of a mysterious amulet. Enemies appear randomly on each screen and most can be killed with a sword. Some are invulnerable though and will only change direction if you hit them with the sword. And of course there’s the titular Sabre Wulf himself, who patrols the lower levels and is invulnerable to everything. If the Wulf touches you – or any other enemy touches you for that matter – you lose a life. So avoiding being touched is key. A skilled player will go for some time without losing a life, although it’s very easy to lose concentration and get knocked down.

Although this plays similarly to the original, it’s really nowhere near as good. Not by a long chalk. The chunky, stretched graphics just don’t look very good to be honest. Certainly not as good as the beautifully-stylised graphics of the original.

Like most of the BBC Ultimate conversions: this is only a partial success. It’s capable of delivering some fun for a short while, doesn’t have much “wow” factor, and is very much overshadowed by the Spectrum original.

Sabre Wulf on The King of Grabs:
ZX Spectrum version, BBC Micro version,
Amstrad CPC versionCommodore 64 version

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

Pentagram, ZX Spectrum

By the time Pentagram came out in 1986, famous development and publishing house – Ultimate Play The Game – had been sold off to US Gold. How much of Pentagram was therefore down to Ultimate‘s designers, and how much was down to US Gold‘s programmers, is still a matter for debate. Most likely, Pentagram was a construct of US Gold, with Ultimate providing only the initial ideas, graphics and game engine (the famous Filmation Engine).

Although Pentagram is the de facto fourth instalment in the Sabreman series (after Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde, and Knight Lore), it doesn’t feel like it fits in with the other three aforementioned games. It doesn’t quite feel like Ultimate.

Unfortunately, after the purchase by US Gold, the Ultimate Play The Game label died a swift death. I don’t think people were fooled by the change of ownership and sales of the last few Ultimate games were peanuts compared to the previous releases.

As a game in its own right, Pentagram just about pushes the Filmation Engine as far as it can go on a humble Speccy. Just like in Knight Lore and Alien 8, there’s tons of slowdown when a few things are moving on-screen at the same time. And – like Knight Lore and Alien 8Pentagram is ridiculously difficult too.

More: Pentagram on Wikipedia

Alien 8, ZX Spectrum

The original ZX Spectrum version of Alien 8 was first released in 1985, not long after Knight Lore had already blown the world away with its incredible isometric graphics and characteristic gameplay.

This game carried on the tradition of great releases from Ultimate, even though the gameplay was very similar to Knight Lore. The general consensus at the time was that the graphics and gameplay in general were an improvement over the previous game, so we shouldn’t worry too much about the similarities. Which is right.

As much as I love Knight Lore, I think Alien 8 is more straightforward (and less annoying, since it doesn’t have you transforming into a werewolf in the middle of a jump). The ultra-cute design of the main character is wonderful – it contrasts with the puzzles, which are fiendish!

Just like in Knight Lore, Alien 8 features quite a bit of slowdown when there are multiple objects moving on-screen at the same time, but it doesn’t detract too much from play. This is a classic Ultimate game that cannot be ignored.

The Amstrad CPC version of Alien 8 features more colour (and less slowdown) and is arguably better than this Spectrum original.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_8

Jet Pac, VIC-20

Jet Pac on the Commodore VIC-20 is pretty much the same as the classic ZX Spectrum version. It even has ‘colour clash’ like the original…

Shoot the aliens; collect and drop the parts of your ship; then collect and drop the fuel, before taking off. The game moves a bit more quickly, which makes it more difficult than the original, and the graphics are a bit chunkier (although nowhere hear as chunky as the BBC Micro version), but otherwise it is the same great Ultimate game as seen on the Spectrum.

Jet Pac does have limited lasting appeal, but then again: it is squeezed into only 8K of RAM. The basic game, though, is excellent – it’s a retro-gaming classic!

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

Knight Lore, Famicom Disk System

Knight Lore for the Famicom Disk System was developed by Tose Co. Ltd. for Jaleco with the blessing of its original creators, Rare. It was published only in Japan in 1986.

It doesn’t bear too much of a resemblance to the ZX Spectrum original, other than the basic idea, the isometric viewpoint, and the main characters remain the same. That said: it is not a bad game to play (if you ignore the silly tune that plays when you walk). It’s basically a ‘fetch’ game, where you collect and take objects to a cloaked figure who asks for them.

The game comes on a double-sided disk, so you have to swap sides to load it and make it playable. The text is all in Japanese, but if it says ‘B’ on screen, you know it’s time to switch to side B. And vice versa.

Why this version of Knight Lore was released only on disk and not cartridge I don’t know. The disk swapping is a drag. The game is not too bad overall. Compared to the original, though, I’d say it’s a little lacking. Graphically it’s quite good, although the colours are a bit too… green. Anyway, it is what it is (a little disappointing), but it is worth a play if you’re interested in Knight Lore history.

Knight Lore on The King of Grabs:
ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC, MSX, Famicom Disk System

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

Knight Lore, MSX

The MSX version of Knight Lore was developed by Tose Co. Ltd. for Jaleco and published in Europe and Japan in 1985.

It is pretty much identical to the original ZX Spectrum version, complete with slowdown. That said: if you run it on a more powerful MSX computer it outstrips the Speccy original in terms of performance.

Knight Lore is a legendary game – whatever platform you play it on – and the MSX version is no exception.

Knight Lore on The King of Grabs:
ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC, MSX, Famicom Disk System

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

Knight Lore, Amstrad CPC

The Amstrad CPC version of Ultimate‘s famous Knight Lore is the best-looking version, in my opinion.

The Amstrad‘s extra colours in high res mode make all the difference and it gives the look of the game an extra dimension. It also makes figuring out where you are on the screen a little easier.

Amstrad Knight Lore still suffers from slowdown – I think all the 8-bit version do – but it’s almost like it’s a deliberate feature… Meaning: that if the game didn’t slow down during some scenes they would be almost impossible to beat.

What am I talking about? Knight Lore is impossible to beat. Well, almost. 🙂

Knight Lore on The King of Grabs:
ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC, MSX, Famicom Disk System

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