Millipede, Arcade

Millipede is a direct sequel to Atari‘s Centipede and was first distributed into video game arcades in 1982.

It’s basically the same trackball-controlled gameplay as before, but with a few changes and enhancements.

You control a small elf (yes, an elf – called Archer) who can move anywhere within a small area at the bottom of the screen. Millipedes – long, multi-sectioned insects – move side to side and down the screen, turning when they hit a mushroom (or the side of the screen). What this basically means is that hitting mushrooms makes the millipede move down the screen quicker, so shooting the mushrooms and removing them from the millipede’s path helps keep it higher up the screen for longer. The ‘elf’ fires constantly if you hold the fire button down, but – crucially – he will not fire another bullet until the last one has gone. So shooting becomes tactical at certain times.

Differences to Centipede include: DDT bombs that can be shot once and will kill any insects caught in the blast radius; a bonus level where a swarm of bees replace the usual millipede; the choice of whether to start at an advance level before the game starts; and the introduction of a variety of new enemy bugs. The millipede itself also moves faster than the centipede in the previous game, which makes it harder to hit.

Millipede is a fast and enjoyable shooter from the early days of video game arcades. It’s also been converted to many home systems and is still popular today. Considering that it’s been 37 years since it’s release, that is quite remarkable.

More: Millipede on Wikipedia

Xenon 2 Megablast, Amiga

This 1989 shooter was designed by The Bitmap Brothers but programmed by The Assembly Line – a collaboration that resulted in one of the best-remembered Bitmap Brothers‘ games.

Xenon 2 Megablast is a vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up with five distinct levels, each divided into two sections. The colourful and detailed backdrops scroll parallax and give a nice feeling of depth, and the game has no problem chucking loads of sprites around.

Gameplay is heavily reliant on power-ups and at times can be a bit overwhelming with all the add-ons enabled – they all look cool though and wreak amazing destruction. Xenon 2 has a neat gameplay mechanic where you can reverse the direction of scrolling for a number of seconds, to avoid dead ends, and help defeat bosses.

A shop (called Colin’s Bargain Basement) appears mid-level, and at the end of a level, where you can buy a variety of offensive and defensive power-ups. Credits to buy stuff are awarded when you pick up bubbles left behind by shooting enemies.

Xenon 2 was one of the first games to have a reasonable recreation of a pop song as its title theme, that being: Bomb the Bass‘s “Megablast (Hip Hop on Precinct 13)“, programmed by David Whittaker. The Amiga version probably has the best rendition – later conversions often simplified it.

More: Xenon 2 Megablast on Wikipedia

Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy, Atari Jaguar

Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy was released for the Atari Jaguar in 1993. It is a side-scrolling, ‘bullet hell’ shooter, and it is awful.

Why is it so bad? Well, firstly: the graphics are rubbish. They are unimaginative, pre-rendered, SG workstation visuals that look very dated in this day and age, and they don’t gel well together in my opinion.

Secondly: the gameplay is dull. There is actually little to make Trevor McFur stand out from the competition. The asteroids and enemies that come at you are bland. The backgrounds are bland. The music is bland. The power-ups are bland. The boss battles are bland. Even the use of animals in a planetary ‘war’ situation seems like a hackneyed attempted to copy what Nintendo did with Star Fox.

If Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy has an upside it’s that it’s inoffensive and could probably entertain a child for an hour or two. Otherwise: it’s a bit of a joke on the shooter scene. And another terrible Atari Jaguar game rushed to market, lacking detail and polish.

More: Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy on Wikipedia

Rotox, Atari ST

Rotox was published by U.S. Gold in 1990. It is an obscure-but-interesting overhead robot shooter, with flat, polygonal platforms suspended over an infinite drop. Which you must of course avoid falling into.

Your robot stays positioned in the same place on-screen as you move, with the landscape moving around it. This does restrict your view, but it doesn’t seem to hamper the game at all. Some platforms rotate, or move in other patterns, so you have to carefully time your advances to avoid falling off the edge to your doom.

Each large level is divided into nine segments and you have to explore each segment individually, blasting away at pesky enemies, and picking up power-ups and upgrades as you go. At first the segments are all visibly connected and you can attempt each one at your leisure, but later levels restrict access to some segments and force you to attempt them in a certain order, which makes the game more challenging. The platform configurations become quite complex from the second level onwards, and by the third level you’ll have to deal with crazily-animated platforms to stay in the game.

Rotox is challenging and reasonably fun for a while. It’s not a patch on something like the overhead sections in Contra on the SNES, which are very similar to this in gameplay terms, but it is a decent ‘hidden gem’ on the humble ST nonetheless.

Rotox was also released for the Amiga and PC DOS.

Final note: I read a review of this online that said the name Rotox came from the use of ‘rotoscoping’ in the game, which is complete and utter BS. There is no rotoscoping in this game. None. Whatsoever. The name Rotoxand I’m taking an educated guess here – actually comes from the rotating control method in the game. Not rotoscoping.

More: Rotox on Moby Games

Steel Alcimus, PC

Another excellent Hijong Park retro tribute game – this one possibly his best so far – Steel Alcimus is an overhead helicopter shooter with either twin-stick joypad, or keyboard and mouse controls. I played it with mouse and keys and found the control system to be really quite ingenious.

This game is a bit more complex than Park‘s other games, Rolling Bird or Frantic Dimension, so requires a number of tutorial missions be flown before you can start a campaign. Which is fine because the tutorial is well designed, fun to play, and much easier than the missions themselves!

When you finally get to some actual missions you really then start to see how good Steel Alcimus is. It’s a game that’s been made with real love and care, kept simple and playable, and polished like a game with a Nintendo Seal of Approval. Which it doesn’t have of course. But maybe should have. 🙂

Steel Alcimus – like Hijong Park‘s other games – is very interesting to play, but devilishly difficult to master. And – like his other games – it has a distinct graphical style. And it feels great to fly the helicopter around and blow stuff up. Steel Alcumus reminds me of a few good old games: Raid On Bungeling Bay, Cyclone, and Carrier Command, to name but three.

Steel Alcimus is on Steam now. There’s a free version, and also a very low-cost donationware version. If you like helicopter action games you should give it a try, and if you enjoy it you should consider buying the donation version. I did, because I like what Park‘s doing – he’s making fun games that are worth playing (he’s actually making the type of games I’d make myself if I could code). And I support that wholeheartedly.

More: PsychoFlux Entertainment on Steam
Steam: Steel Alcimus on Steam

Frantic Dimension, PC

Frantic Dimension is another great, free game, made by talented Korean Hijong Park and released on Steam in 2018.

The opening animatic in Frantic Dimension is quite funny – made even funnier by the slightly off-kilter use of English (it’s not a criticism – I like it). 🙂

Apparently you are the mighty Jason Allen and you’ve been kidnapped by alien Yadicans and must escape from their deathtrap fortress. And along the way steal a few of their treasured artefacts…

Frantic Dimension is a beautifully-presented, fast and furious ‘twin stick’ shooter (meaning: you use one joystick to move, and a second joystick to shoot in all directions), and is a wonderful love letter to classic arcade games such as BerzerkRobotron 2084, Smash TV, and Total Carnage. And it’s also seriously hardcore stuff.

The idea is to explore the maze, and each floor (as much as you dare), looking for treasure. You’re constantly under attack by killer robots and must keep them at bay with your lasers. Once you’ve gathered enough treasure you can then start to think about finding the exit to the next level. The lower you go the more difficult it gets. And, by crikey, Frantic Dimension is not what you would call easy.

Most rooms are quite busy and the enemies very aggressive, so surviving is tricky. Shooting the various baddies is very satisfying, though, as they often explode in a pleasing manner. You’re given three smartbombs at the start of the game and using these makes the enemies explode like Roman candles. The onscreen carnage can at times be quite intense. Thankfully there’s a grid map in the top left of the screen, showing your position in relation to the exit.

Hang around for too long on one screen and an Evil Face will appear and start chasing you – a nice tribute to Evil Otto in Berzerk. Corner Zappers are a pain in the butt too. They sit in corners, firing diagonal lasers at you whenever you come within range. They are quite deadly and really get the heart pumping when you trigger them.

Frantic Dimension is so tough that it could tear the arm off a Wookie when it loses… It could escape the event horizon of a black hole… It could beat Vin Diesel in an arm wrestle… You get the idea… Ultimately, though, it’s great fun to play, and as you slowly improve you’ll find that there’s more to Frantic Dimension than at first meets the eye.

The game does have online global score rankings, which you can upload and contribute to after every game you play. Good luck getting anywhere near the top rankings though – the highest scores are insane!

More: http://www.psychoflux.com/
Steam: Frantic Dimension on Steam

Rolling Bird, PC

Rolling Bird is a modern tribute to the classic arcade game Rolling Thunder.

Graphically it looks a bit like an NES game, or an old arcade game. The colours are bold and the animation simple, but still excellent.

Gameplay-wise: you control a guy with a gun. He can shoot (obviously); jump forward; jump upwards (onto a higher platform), drop down (to a lower platform), and duck. And of course he can run left or right and enter doors (by pressing ‘up’ when stood in front of one). Some doors contain weapon upgrades, others: bullet refills, but most contain nothing at all – other than more enemies.

The game is basically a simple run-and-gun shooter, but is extremely challenging and really quite ingenious in its design as it uses ‘procedural generation’ to create the levels (ie. they’re different every time).

I can’t underline, though, how difficult Rolling Bird is. It’s one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played. Certainly one of the most difficult to grab… If you want to see how it should be played, watch this video.

The game’s designer, South Korean Hijong Park, has created a number of free and donationware games that are available on Steam right now. They are all well worth a play in my opinion.

See also: Golden Hornet, a great helicopter shoot ’em up by the same guy.

More: http://www.psychoflux.com/
Steam: Rolling Bird on Steam

Syd Mead’s Terraforming, PC Engine

Released on CD-ROM only for the PC Engine Duo (in Japan), and the TurboDuo (in North America), Syd Mead’s Terraforming is a side-scrolling, bullet hell shooter with graphics designed by the great futurist/industrial artist, Syd Mead.

If you don’t know who Syd Mead is: you really should, because Mead is one of the leading designers of futuristic environments and technology – both in real life, and also in the film-making business. His credits include: designing key elements of Blade Runner, TRON, Aliens, and Blade Runner 2049 (among others).

So you’d think that having Syd design some video game graphics would be a good thing… but… unfortunately… in my humble opinion… and I’m very sad to say this, but… Syd Mead’s Terraforming is a bit of a visual mess. As skilled as Mead is: he couldn’t prevent the game from looking waaaay too busy – way too crowded; and lacking the kind of subtlety that a game like this needs. For example: the backgrounds are so ‘in-your-face’ that they sometimes make it difficult to see what’s going on, on-screen. But that’s not really Syd‘s fault – it’s the fault of the game’s developer (a Japanese company called Right Stuff Corporation), for not really directing Syd properly, or not really using what they had in a more suitable manner.

The first level is okay – it has nice parallax-scrolling clouds and familiar attack wave patterns, but later levels are like playing chess on a pile of vomit… It’s difficult to make the edges of the chequerboard out…

Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh on it, but I was very disappointed with the game when I played it. I did read somewhere that it had “stellar production values”, but unfortunately it really doesn’t. Don’t believe the BS. Syd Mead’s Terraforming is unfortunately poor – even for a PC Engine shooter (and there are some great shooters on the PC Engine).

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.