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. ūüôā

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

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 spartan 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

Revolution, ZX Spectrum

Costa Panayi‘s Revolution was published by U.S. Gold in 1986. It is an isometric puzzle/action game with well-designed, monochrome graphics and a bouncing ball that you control around a series of rooms, levels, and puzzles.

Holding down the fire button makes the ball bounce higher and you must manoeuvre it towards a series of black cubes in order to touch them. Touching these cubes turns them white temporarily, and you have to keep touching them until they turn white simultaneously. Each puzzle has two associated cubes and each level has a number of different puzzles. When you complete every puzzle on a level you ascend to the next level, and there are nine levels in total.

You start with five lives and lose one if you fall off the edge into the abyss, or hit a spiked ball, or any of the other nasties trying to thwart your progress. You’re also up against a time limit.

Revolution is typical Costa Panayi – beautifully-designed, simple, but interesting and playable. It won’t appeal to everyone, but if you like unusual puzzle/action games then there’s some mileage to be had with this classic ZX¬†Spectrum game.

More: Revolution on Wikipedia

Three Weeks in Paradise, ZX Spectrum

The fifth and final Wally Week game, Three Weeks in Paradise was published by Mikro-Gen in 1986, for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC.

As the title suggests: this time there are three members of the Week family on this particular graphic adventure – specifically: Wally, Wilma and Herbert, trapped on a tropical island inhabited by cannibals.

Unfortunately Chris Hinsley – the guy who wrote this (and all the previous Wally Week games – except Herbert’s Dummy Run) – decided that only Wally would be playable. Wilma and Herbert remain only as motivation – you don’t get to play as them.

Three Weeks in Paradise plays similarly to Pyjamarama in that you can only carry two items at once, and that certain items do specific things (the bow and arrows let you fire an arrow, for example), which means having to think quite hard about what to carry and to where.

The tune that plays during the main game is quite jolly – a blatant rip-off of the theme from The Addams Family. And when the game slows down (which is quite often) the tune also slows down, which makes it sound unintentionally funny. Thankfully it can be switched on/off with a press of the ‘5’ key.

Something else that can be switched on or off is Wally’s infamous colour clash. The yellow attribute box that used to follow him around can now be switched off by pressing ‘3’. Funny that this feature would come at the end of the series. Oh well.

There were 48K and 128K versions of Three Weeks in Paradise made available. The 128K version had a small number of extra screens and an extra AY chip tune on the title screen. These grabs are from the 128K version.

The Wally Week series:
Automania (1984)
Pyjamarama (1984)
Everyone’s A Wally (1985)
Herbert’s Dummy Run (1985)
Three Weeks in Paradise (1986)

More: Three Weeks in Paradise on Wikipedia

Labyrinth, Commodore 64

The actual, full title of this 1986 adventure game from Lucasfilm Games is Labyrinth: The Computer Game, but I’ll refer to it from now on as Labyrinth.

Labyrinth was the very first Lucasfilm Games adventure game and is based on the fantasy film of the same name – the one written by Terry Jones, directed by Jim Henson, and starring David Bowie in a big white wig.

Labyrinth¬†is a fairly simple character-based adventure with puzzles, and mostly involves walking around talking to the various ‘beings’ that you meet, trying to solve various problems and unlocking the route forward.

It doesn’t have any of the complex puzzles or character interactions we see in later LucasArts adventures although it does establish a basic graphical style for the point-and-click genre to come. It also has a rudimentary menu system that feels a bit like an early prototype of SCUMM.

Playing the game now, it’s obviously not one of Lucasfilm Games‘ best, even though it was quite innovative for the time. Unless you’re a big fan of the film, or are interested in the evolution of LucasArts adventures, Labyrinth probably won’t hold a great deal of interest for you.

More: Labyrinth: The Computer Game on Wikipedia

Labyrinth-Poster

The Great Escape, ZX Spectrum

Denton Designs made this smart little POW game for Ocean Software in 1986.

It basically re-enacts the risky life of being a Prisoner of War during the Second World War, with a planned escape being top of the list of things to do.

Prisoners have to comply to a strict prison timetable, but can ‘go walkabout’ in-between compulsory attendances. Meaning: if you miss roll call, they’ll notice and come after you. So you have to be careful. The flagpole on the left indicates your current morale. Each time you discover a new part of the camp, or each time you find or do something useful, your morale will increase. However, getting any of your items found and confiscated, or getting locked in solitary for attempted escapes will severely damage it. When your character’s morale reaches zero you lose control of him and he then just follows routine and it’s game over.

Like most isometric action/adventure games on the Spectrum, The Great Escape is relatively slow to play, but also quite absorbing. The sparse graphics do a good job of creating a good atmosphere and the controls are responsive enough to at least give you a fighting chance. Puzzles are mostly timing, lockpicking, outfit changes, and basic item juggling problems, although there are a couple of alternative solutions to escaping.

You can play the game as a POW ‘sandbox’ game if you like, and not bother trying to escape. And if you’re really lazy you can leave the controls alone and the prisoner will just go about his daily routine! I’m not sure how far you can get doing that, but it demonstrates that Denton Designs¬†at least tried to create a self-contained, ‘living world’ inside this little 48K prison camp.

More: The Great Escape on Wikipedia
More: The Great Escape on World of Spectrum

Rolling Thunder, Arcade

Rolling Thunder is a side-scrolling arcade action game, developed and manufactured by Namco in 1986.

You take control of Codename “Albatross” – a highly-agile secret agent and a member of the “Rolling Thunder” espionage unit. Your mission is to rescue your partner, Leila Blitz, from a secret society called “Geldra”, and who are holding her against her will somewhere in New York City.

Rolling Thunder is split into two ‘stories’, each one comprising of five different stages, making ten stages in total. The stages in “Story 2” are essentially harder versions of those seen in “Story 1”, with different enemy placement and more traps, which is a little disappointing. At the end of the game there’s a battle with the Geldra boss, Maboo, to free Leila. Getting there is quite a task, though, because if you lose a life during any stage you have to start at the beginning again. There are no ‘waypoints’ or ‘save points’, and there’s also a time limit on each stage, so you can’t dawdle.

Codename Albatross starts out with a bog standard pistol and can upgrade weapons as he goes. All the way up to a fully-automatic machine gun that fires continuously if you hold down the fire button. Ammo is strictly limited though, so you can’t just go blasting away willy-nilly. You can however replenish your ammo in special doorways that say “bullet” on them. Simply stand in front of one and push up.

The most memorable thing about Rolling Thunder is the animation of the main character. It’s very Japanese, very distinctive, and very dynamic. With his pointy shoes and flares – rockin’ that mid-Eighties look… Kind of a cross between Sonny Chiba and James Bond. That animation style has been noticeably influential on other games over the decades though.

Like a lot of old arcade games, Rolling Thunder is extremely challenging. There are a variety of enemies – all colour-coded in different outfits and each behaving differently. Some fire guns, others throw grenades; the lowest common denominator henchmen simply have their fists to rely on. There are also weird ape-like monsters that leap around like crazy, and some surprisingly laughable bats. In later stages the obstacles start getting trickier (like the tyres, for example) and you then have to be more careful with your moves. Thankfully you have a ‘Life Bar’ so at least you don’t die with one hit, but even so: Rolling Thunder is not easy.

Rolling Thunder is still playable enough to be enjoyable today. It might be hard, but at least it’s fair. And still looks reasonably stylish. A sequel followed four years later, and a third game three years after that.

More: Rolling Thunder on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros. 2, Famicom Disk System

Super Mario Bros. 2 was initially released on the Famicom Disk System in Japan in 1986, but was not released in North America or Europe in its original form, as you might have expected. It was instead decided that the gameplay was “too difficult” for Western gamers (and also the video games market in North America was undergoing a crash at the time), so Nintendo decided not to release it in English language territories – at least until it was later re-branded as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost levels¬†– and released a different Super Mario Bros.2 in North America instead.

This ‘lost’ version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is just as insanely difficult as the legend describes. It plays very similarly to the first Super Mario Bros. game, but has a variety of new features that seem designed to trick you. Like black mushrooms. You learn not to pick those up quite early in the game… The level designs this time have been designed to make you tear your hair out too. Make one wrong move, and you’re dead. Some sections have easier routes, but these are often hidden and require Mario (or Luigi) to find a hidden block to open them up.

The whole game seems like it was designed with “professional players” in mind. This original, Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is certainly not for beginners. Which is why it is so much loved by speed-runners and modern game pros now. It’s one of the toughest challenges in gaming.

The game sold over seven million physical copies in Japan in its first year of release.

More: Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels on Wikipedia

The Sentinel, Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 version of Geoff Crammond‘s The Sentinel is just as good as the original BBC Micro version of the game, if not better – ie. it’s absolutely bloody brilliant.

Like the game of chess – but scarier – The Sentinel is a game of strategy and cunning that is played-out on a mountainous chequerboard landscape that is overseen by the titular Sentinel. The Sentinel slowly rotates his view of the landscape and if he see you he’ll start absorbing your energy – energy that you need to get around, so avoiding his gaze is key to survival.

The basic aim is to move to a position where you can see the ground The Sentinel is standing on. This allows you to absorb him, and not the other way around. You move around using energy (represented as a bar at the top of the screen), but have a limited amount of it, so must absorb trees (and other, lesser guardians) in order to keep it topped-up. When you do move you create a sort of clone of yourself to teleport into, which you can then look back at and absorb for more energy, unless The Sentinel beats you to it.

The Sentinel is not a game that will appeal to those who’re looking for simple entertainment, but… You’d have to be pretty simple yourself to dismiss it as “boring”. It’s actually one of the greatest video games of all time!

More: The Sentinel on Wikipedia