Magic Carpet 2, PC

The full title of this 1995 sequel is Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds, and it is an excellent continuation of the series.

Magic Carpet 2 features exterior and interior (cavernous) levels that are more dense than the original, with more new monsters, secrets, and evil wizards to defeat. It also has a multiplayer mode (which the first game didn’t have).

Graphically, Magic Carpet 2 is more impressive than its predecessor and the use of night and day in the game results in a more varied colour palette – and a more interesting landscape – than previously. Again: the landscape is deformable to some degree by shooting it with fireballs, and various locations hide triggers that spawn monsters, new spells, and bosses. Unlike the first game, Magic Carpet 2 features a useful ‘Help Mode’, that points out what everything is – until you get sick of it and turn it off. It helps get into the game quicker, and not miss any important gameplay features.

The gameplay in Magic Carpet 2 is pretty much the same as before: build a castle; collect mana with your balloon; build your castle up; collect more mana; rid the landscape of monsters; complete any quest objectives.

Most monsters are pretty tough, so the best tactic is to lure them away from groups to deal with them one at a time. The killer bees, for example, will kill you quickly if a number of them swarm you, so it’s best to split them up if you can, which you can do with your deft carpet skills. Mastering the carpet is key to beating the game, and the controls work extremely well, allowing you to perform very tight and precise manoeuvres with just a modicum of skill. You can also fly backwards and sidewards, which helps a lot. The controls are very responsive, though, so do take some getting used to.

There are 25 levels to play through in total – all of which can be completed quickly (by completing quest objectives), or can be scoured for more spells and mana, and a higher completion percentage, if so wished.

Magic Carpet 2 can also be changed to SVGA mode (640×480) ‘on the fly’, meaning: you can switch between the default VGA (320×200) resolution, and SVGA resolution by just clicking an option in the menu, although I couldn’t find a way of making SVGA the default (every time I restarted the game it ran in VGA, and I had to manually change the resolution). The game also crashed quite a bit for me in SVGA mode (usually preceded by graphical glitches), and I had some problems saving the game (and having to restart from the beginning – four times so far). Playing in VGA proved to be more stable (no crashes). And this is the bought GOG.com version I’m talking about… In spite of that I really enjoyed playing Magic Carpet 2 again – it is better than the first Magic Carpet, and it is also a superb game in its own right. Another classic DOS game from Bullfrog.

More: Magic Carpet 2 on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds on GOG.com

Magic Carpet, PC

Magic Carpet from Bullfrog was first released in 1994 through Electronic Arts. It is a DOS-based, first-person action game with you – the player character – flying a ‘magic carpet’ around a series of islands, fighting evil wizards and monsters and collecting ‘mana’ to increase your magical powers.

The game plays a bit like a flight simulator, although obviously flight sims don’t have magic spells, castles and monsters that shoot fireballs at you. Using a mouse and keyboard the carpet flies around very smoothly. Initially it moves quite slowly, but acquiring a ‘boost’ spell helps speed up when necessary. Which is often because the many monsters found wandering the landscape are actually quite tough cookies.

There are numerous spells to collect – usually in the shape of a red jar, and these only appear once you’ve flown near them to disable their “invisibility lock”, forcing you to explore the whole map – or at least certain places – to find them.

The one spell you begin with is the ‘Build Castle’ spell. Fire this into the ground (or sea) somewhere and a castle is created, which then sends out a balloon to collect any mana you’ve claimed. Neutral mana is coloured gold; your mana is coloured white; enemy mana is coloured whatever colour they’ve chosen. Mana can be found for free scattered around the landscape, or can be generated by killing monsters. The basic aim is to collect a set amount of mana on each level in order to progress to the next.

The landscape itself is deformable (to a degree), meaning: you can blast it with fireballs and change the elevation. You have to be careful where you shoot, though. Accidentally blasting friendly villages will usually result in a hail of arrows to contend with – as well as everything else – so is not advisable. What is advisable in Magic Carpet is to learn when to run away. And also how to ‘peck’ at tough opponents, and avoid their shots at you. Becoming familiar to the two-button command system is a must too, but learning how to play Magic Carpet properly is worth it, because it’s still a great game.

By level three you’ll also be up against a rival wizard, who flies out on his carpet, turning any mana he finds his colour. You have to build your castle quickly and turn any mana he’s earmarked as his, to your colour, and fend him off (with fireballs) until your balloon collects the mana. This results in some very exciting dogfights over coastlines. You can even get lucky have monsters kill your opponent – it depends on where he goes. When he dies, though, you get a message on screen. If you die, you start back at the castle and can continue the level without losing progress.

Finally: there are two really weird “3D” modes in the game (toggled by pressing F10), one being red/blue mode for use with cheap red/blue 3D glasses (these were supplied with the original game), and also a Stereogram mode, where a complex pattern of coloured dots are used to create a 3D image. I remember being able to actually see the Stereogram image when I first played this game back in 1994, but trying it now I just can’t see it. It must be age… There’s also a ‘high res’ mode (toggled by pressing R), although it really chugs (or at least it did for me) and I found it best to play in VGA mode for a higher frame rate.

Magic Carpet is a classic MS-DOS game from Bullfrog and is still very much fun to play today. GOG.com are selling the ‘Plus’ version of Magic Carpet, which includes the Hidden Worlds expansion pack, and it’s well worth picking up, as is the even better sequel, Magic Carpet 2.

More: Magic Carpet on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Magic Carpet Plus on GOG.com

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Atari 2600

This notorious 1982 release for the Atari 2600 was – at the time – the most expensive movie license ever acquired by a video games company ($35 million dollars it apparently cost), and it also undoubtedly hastened the demise of Atari Inc. as a company (as it was back then), and was also a major contributing factor in the video game market crash of 1983.

Yes: pumping out games as bad and as cynically-rushed as E.T. was created a significant fall in consumer confidence – particularly in North America where the effects of the crash were felt most strongly.

And none of this was the fault of the programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw, who took some persuading to actually take on the project in the first place. Warshaw was given only six weeks to create a finished game from scratch, when normally an Atari 2600 game would take between six to twelve months to program. But complete the game he did, and it was then marketed by Atari some six months after the film had been released (ie. late; when people where starting to become fatigued by the film). Also, Atari suits at the time inexplicably decided to manufacture six million E.T. cartridges in anticipation of high sales. And – while E.T. did sell more than a million copies initially – a lot of the people who bought it were not happy and returned the game for their money back. Ultimately  – after returns – Atari sold less than ten percent of the cartridges they manufactured for E.T. and infamously buried hundreds of thousands of them in the New Mexico desert in an attempt to hide their embarrassment.

Throughout the decades there have been numerous instances where upper management at a video games company have made calamitous decisions, but those made by Atari management in the case of E.T. must rank as the greediest, most cynical, and most stupid of all time. Again: no real blame can be placed on the shoulders of the programmer, but the people who pushed him to make the game in six weeks; and the ones who thought that $35 million dollars was an acceptable price to pay for the E.T. video game license, are nothing but fools. Fools who brought the video games industry to its knees with their blindness and greed.

As for the game: it’s dogsh*t, of course. Of little or no redeeming value. It bears little resemblance to the film, or the characters in it, and few people who play E.T. have got anything positive to say about it.

E.T. on the Atari 2600 is an interesting story, but unfortunately one that highlights the very worst of the video games business.

More: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on Wikipedia

Chuck Norris Superkicks, ColecoVision

This 1983 action game sees you playing as Chuck Norris – the infamous action hero of the 1970s – and it really is quite bad.

Chuck is on his way to an ancient temple and must fight off various opponents who attack him in order to get his black belt and gain access to the temple… This game really is as bad as it sounds… Which is a pity really, because Chuck Norris deserves better. Or at least he deserved better back then… He was the guy who took on Bruce Lee in the Colosseum in Rome (and lost), in the 1972 classic Way of the Dragon. He was the guy who made chest hair fashionable in action movies… He was the ginger assassin… Unfortunately Chuck is no longer with us (he died in 2001), but he did leave a considerable legacy. I’m not sure, though, if he’ll ever be remembered for this game…

I read the original manual before playing Chuck Norris Superkicks properly and had to laugh at how it tries to make the game sound more involved than it actually is. I mean: a big part of the game involves walking up a path, and you get penalised for walking on the bloody grass for God’s sake! Yes: Chuck walks up a path (avoiding the “tall grass”) and every now and then a fight breaks-out, cutting to a beat ’em up section.

The fighting sections are unsurprisingly lame. Chuck can block, kick, punch, and do a somersault jump. Beating opponents is a case of timing blows correctly, and also avoiding the shuriken they throw your way. If Chuck is hit by a throwing star he gets sent back to the last checkpoint with a time penalty. Beat your opponents and you are awarded a new belt (indicated by the colour change on the info bar at the bottom) and can continue walking up the path. Run out of time and it’s game over.

I’d almost put this into the same category as E.T., in that: there really isn’t much of a game in there, and what there is is pretty pathetic. It certainly doesn’t do justice to Chuck Norris  – or the ColecoVision – in any way shape or form.

Developer Xonox was a subsidiary of K-Tel and was one of the many companies to go bust during the big video game market crash of 1983. With games like this on their roster, it’s no surprise they didn’t survive it.

More: Chuck Norris Superkicks on Wikipedia

Raid Over Moscow, Commodore 64

Raid Over Moscow was a controversial release for Access Software in 1984. The game depicts a fictional nuclear war scenario between the USA and Russia and involves US forces fending off nuclear attacks, then flying into the Russian capital to attack what is supposed to be The Kremlin.

Like most of Access‘s early output Raid Over Moscow is an interesting, playable, and beautifully-programmed action game that is broken down into distinct stages. Firstly there’s take off, which involves piloting a “spaceplane” (their word, not mine) out of a hangar and towards Russia. Secondly, there’s a side-scrolling, isometric shoot ’em up section that plays similarly to Zaxxon, in that you increase/decrease altitude and move left and right to avoid obstacles while at the same time blasting anything that gets in front of you. Eventually you land and then have to take out the troops guarding the gate to the city. Reach the final stage and you then have to destroy a series of robots protecting the reactor underneath the Soviet “Defence Center” (actually the State Historical Museum), and you must do this within a strict two minute time limit.

In spite of the questionably propagandist scenario (Raid Over Moscow was made during the Cold War which kind of explains the thinking), this is still an excellent game. It presents a decent challenge and is extremely well-produced. And it still plays great to this day.

Later re-releases saw the title changed to simply “Raid“, with all references to Moscow being dropped.

More: Raid Over Moscow on Wikipedia

Red Dead Revolver, XBox

Red Dead Revolver was first published by Rockstar Games in 2004. It is the first title in the Red Dead series.

It is a Wild West style third-person shooter, with RPG and adventure overtones. In it you play the lead – a bounty hunter called ‘Red’ who must track down various outlaws and collect the reward on them. Of course there’s more to the story than simply bounty-hunting, and this becomes clear as you progress.

Presentation-wise: Red Dead Revolver is atmospheric, but I thought that it looked a bit ‘murky’ overall. The colours are very subdued and the celluloid scratches out-of-place (scratches were more prevalent in 1930s and 1940s films, and grindhouse pictures, rather than Spaghetti Westerns, which this game is obviously trying to emulate), and the whole game looks very downbeat and un-colourful.

Gameplay-wise: Red Dead Revolver is engrossing and fun to play. The game didn’t do too well critically at the time of release, though, and it wasn’t really until 2010’s Red Dead Redemption that the world really sat up and took notice of the series.

Red Dead Revolver is still a game that should be in any self-respecting XBox collector’s library, though, and shouldn’t be difficult to pick up relatively cheaply.

Note: these grabs were taken on an XBox devkit, which produces lossless screenshots. Even so, with the game being as murky as it is, they still appear quite indistinct.

More: Red Dead Revolver on Wikipedia

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