Mega Man, NES

Known as “Rock Man” in its native Japan, Mega Man is a Nintendo Famicom game developed and published by Capcom in 1987. It is the beginning of the long-running Mega Man series.

What the first Mega Man did was establish a style of its own – for both gameplay and graphics.

Like, for example, the fact that Mega Man jumps according to how long you hold down the fire button. Hold it down for only a short while and he’ll do a short jump. Hold it down continually and he will jump continually – until he reaches an apex; at which point he’ll come back down again. Learning that apex, and the timing of jumps in Mega Man, is key to unlocking the entire series. And that particular mechanic has been there since the very first game and is what makes it what I would describe as “hardcore”.

The graphics are basic and the colours are garish, and the introductions to the baddies are not very interesting. Playing this now you can see that it is really an embryonic game – not quite fully formed, even though the distinguishing features are there. As the Mega Man series progressed, so did the presentation, and by the third Mega Man game the series was looking unstoppable.

Final note: in this first Mega Man the bad guys are… Cut Man, Guts Man, Elec Man, Ice Man, Fire Man, and Bomb Man, and you choose who you want to attempt next from a menu screen.

More: Mega Man on Wikipedia

Zolyx, Commodore 64

Written by Hungarian coder Zoltán Tass and published by Firebird in 1987, Zolyx is a variation on the ‘painting game’ theme, made popular by the classic arcade game, Qix.

Zolyx is similar to Qix in that you control a ‘dot’ which can be used to draw boxes inside the playing area by extending out from the edge, and returning back to the edge, to close the connection.

Depending on the difficulty level, a certain number of enemy pixels bounce around the inside of the playing field. If one of these bouncing pixels hits your line (or your ‘dot’), you lose a life. You can, however, if you’re quick, draw a box around an enemy pixel and trap it for extra points.

Also – unlike Qix (and in a genius moment of game design brilliance) – enemy dots also bounce around the ‘positive space’ that you’re drawing, making avoiding them even more difficult (especially at higher levels when there are more enemy pixels bouncing around).

You’re essentially drawing positive space inside negative space, and the bouncing dots threaten you inside both spaces.

Zolyx is a simple game but is great fun, highly addictive, and very challenging.

More: Zolyx on Moby Games

Defender of the Crown, Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 conversion of Defender of the Crown is a celebrated retro gaming classic. Apart from loading times, there’s little to fault about it.

Considering that the game has effectively been converted from the 16-bit Amiga original, down to the 8-bit Commodore 64, it must rank as one of the best conversions of all time.

Part Risk; part Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Defender of the Crown is where castles, strategy and cinematics meet – 8-bit retro style.

Also on The King of Grabs: Cinemaware Week


Airball, Atari ST

Published by Microdeal in 1987, Airball is a weird and challenging isometric puzzle game where you play a bubble exploring a trap-ridden castle, looking for gems (which convert to a low number of points), and also looking for ‘Inflation Stations’ because the bloody stupid ball has a slow leak and needs to be constantly topped-up with air…

Touch anything dangerous and the bubble will pop, losing you a life. Lose all three lives and it’s game over. At least the pump stations also act like waypoints, so you return to the last one you visited if you die. At leastAirball is a tough game. Touch the wrong pixel and you’ll pop…

Airball on the Atari ST is slightly better than the Dragon 32 original. It just looks so much better and is more varied and playable. It’s still a relatively frustrating experience, although I am glad it exists! 🙂

More: Airball on Wikipedia

Airball, Dragon 32

Microdeal‘s isometric adventure/puzzle game Airball originated on the Dragon 32 in 1987. This is the original version.

It doesn’t look like much, with its (sub Knight Lore) monochrome graphics, but it plays okay. It’s frustrating to play in general. Mostly because of the premise, which is: you are a delicate bubble, exploring a large, trap-ridden castle for hidden treasures (for measly points too – it’s hardly worth it). Touch anything even remotely spikey and you go “pop!”. You also have a slow leak so must find pump stations to keep the air topped-up. As if the game wasn’t difficult enough…

I had multiple goes over the space of a couple of hours and the most I ever scored was 15 points. I think you get one point for each item of treasure… The measly bloody programmer! 🙂

Thankfully, Airball was converted to other systems and proved a bit more interesting than this Dragon 32 version. The Atari ST version of Airball is much better.

More: Airball on Wikipedia

Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh, Arcade

Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh (aka Arkanoid 2) is the sequel to Taito‘s hit game Arkanoid and was released into arcades in 1987.

It takes the ‘bat and ball’ genre (aka the ‘Breakout‘ genre) to previously unheard of levels of both playability and difficulty, and it also managed to influence a lot of other games in the process.

Differences to Arkanoid include: Warp Gates which allow you to choose a direction to branch off in, after completing a level (left or right); new power-ups and enemy types; two new brick types; a mid-game mini boss; 64 levels in total, of which 32 are playable in any single game, before a boss battle with mighty Doh himself at the end (if you were wondering who the hell “Doh” was – he’s the end boss).

Revenge of Doh – like its parent – is devilishly difficult, but very compelling. To play the game properly you really need an analogue controller – otherwise you’re going to struggle to reach the ball with your bat in time. Get it set up right, and Arkanoid 2 is a challenge still worth undertaking today.

This game came out around the same time the 16-bit- home computer revolution was happening, so was converted to most home systems. The Atari ST conversion is particularly good.

More: Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh on Wikipedia

Maniac Mansion, Commodore 64

Released in 1987 for the Commodore 64 and Apple II, Maniac Mansion was the birth of SCUMM (Story Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), the game engine that defined LucasArts point-and-click adventures for a decade. Actually, back then they were called Lucasfilm Games, and they were breaking new ground in a number of different places.

For starters: you can play Maniac Mansion as one of seven playable characters – and switch between them at will (at least when the game lets you), and the game has puzzles that can either only be solved by one character, or have multiple solutions to one problem. Pretty groundbreaking for the time.

Maniac Mansion was also the video game that defined “verb lists”, or verb charts – lists of verbs that can be clicked-on, then used to carry out certain actions. This was an interesting new development in the graphic adventure genre back in 1987, and one that still reverberates to this day, with games like Thimbleweed Park.

At its heart Maniac Mansion is a tribute to late-night horror films, such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street, but with a humorous – almost Richard O’Brien-like – twist. The game cuts away to other characters doing things, like a TV soap opera, and the dialogue is self-referential and funny.

The graphics in Maniac Mansion are pretty basic, but work very well and are colourful and full of character. The big heads of the main characters are very distinctive and somewhat reminiscent of the main character in Labyrinth. The backgrounds are ‘interactive’ and sometimes change when clicked-on (the fridge for example). A lot of this was very innovative back in 1987 and it really made the gaming world sit up and take notice.

There are better-looking versions of Maniac Mansion around, but this original Commodore 64 version is still well worth a play any day of the week. The MS-DOS, Amiga and Atari ST versions all have updated graphics and mouse controls, and are all excellent. There’s also an NES version too. And – as the eagle-eyed will already know – the full Maniac Mansion is also available to play as an Easter egg in the 1993 sequel, Day of the Tentacle.

More: Maniac Mansion on Wikipedia


Desert Falcon, Atari 7800

Desert Falcon is an obscure isometric shooter with an Egyptian theme, released exclusively for the Atari 7800 in 1987.

You play as a falcon, flying diagonally over the landscape, shooting stuff as you go, in a way similar to that seen in Sega‘s classic coin-op, Zaxxon.

Unlike Zaxxon, however, your falcon can land, stop, and even walk around on the ground, which is key to how the game plays, because one aim is to collect items that litter the landscape. Some items give you points, while collecting random hieroglyphs bestow one of ten different “Super Powers” on your falcon (these can be anything from invincibility, to employing a decoy). You actually begin the game on the ground and must pull back on the joystick to take off, which is nice. The falcon’s altitude can of course be increased or decreased by pushing down, or pulling back on the stick.

Avoiding collisions with pyramids, sphinxes, needles, and other obstacles is also a priority, as of course is avoiding collisions with, or the bullets of, enemies. Most enemies fly at you in waves although some come up out of the ground to attack you if you’re walking, so you have to be quick to react to survive. There are four skill levels of play, although all these seem to do is speed up the scrolling (and Expert level is ridiculously fast). If you do manage to reach the end of the stage you then have to fight a boss battle against the “Howling Sphinx”. Beat him and you then get to collect as much treasure as possible in a bonus round.

Graphically, Desert Falcon is pretty good. The scrolling is smooth, and the sprites and backgrounds are reasonably well-defined and colourful. Gameplay-wise: Desert Falcon does provide a bit of a challenge and is fun to play for a while, although it doesn’t have much long-term appeal. Atari 7800 fanatics might try to claim it’s “the best game on the system”, which it is not. It’s not a bad game though and is still worth a play today.

Saboteur II: Avenging Angel, ZX Spectrum

This 1987 sequel to the pioneering Saboteur is so much bigger in scope than its predecessor, but retains much of what made it good in the first place.

The main character – a stealthy ninja, on an infiltration mission – is actually the sister of the previous character, out on mission to avenge his death. So you’re controlling a woman inside that ninja outfit, which is great in my opinion, and Saboteur 2 was one of the first videogames to feature a female protagonist in the main role.

In Saboteur 2 there are nine separate missions that take place in the same gigantic location, with the difficulty level increasing as you progress. The basic aim is the same as the previous game: sneak around a guarded complex, looking for pieces of punched tape (yes: punched tape…), while at the same time avoiding guards and their pet pumas! No – not dogs this time – but pumas. And they do actually look like pumas, which is pretty cool.

There are also other incidental puzzles to solve along the way, such as having to disable electric fences that are blocking the way, and also a number of rather exciting motorbike sequences that do add some much-needed variation to the game.

The introductory sequence – of the ninja arriving by hang glider, then dropping down to begin the game – is iconic in ZX Spectrum history.

Note: the loading screen actually shows a map of the entire game. Or, at least: the entire complex that you’re exploring, and it is very useful if you want to play the game seriously. A lot of games-players didn’t even realise it was a map of the game at the time! Looking back: this was both a unique and clever thing to do – put the game map on-screen during loading – so players could study it while they waited for loading to finish (which could take more than five minutes).

More: Saboteur II: Avenging Angel on Wikipedia

Amaurote, ZX Spectrum

Amaurote is a strange, isometric action game, developed by Binary Design and published by Mastertronic in 1987. It first appeared on the ZX Spectrum and was later ported to other systems.

You control a spider-like craft (called Arachnus 4) that crawls along the ground and can shoot bouncing bombs out of a hole in the top of the vehicle. Unfortunately, though, the Arachnus can only fire one bomb at a time, so you have to wait for the last one to either explode or time-out, before you can fire another.

The aim of the game is to explore various ‘sectors’ (selectable from a map screen), in order to hunt down the queen of an invading alien insect race. When you find the queen you must then radio in for a ‘Supa Bomb’ to take her out.

Amaurote is still reasonably interesting to play now, although the game does play very slowly. And – like many Spectrum isometric games of the time – it also suffers somewhat from slowdown.

There were two different versions of Amaurote released – a 48K version, and an enhanced 128K version with continuous music by David Whittaker.

More: Amaurote on Wikipedia