International Karate Plus, Game Boy Advance

This handheld conversion of Archer Maclean‘s classic IK+ was published in 2002 by Ignition Entertainment and is generally quite excellent.

The only real complaint I have is that the fighters are slightly oversized (in relation to the backgrounds), although you probably wouldn’t notice unless you’d played the C64 version, or Amiga/Atari ST versions. Those of us who have played the earlier versions might be slightly irked by this scaling discrepancy, because it gives the player less room to fight in. Does this affect gameplay adversely in this GBA conversion? No, no really. Yes, there is less room to fight in, but International Karate is more about close-quarters combat, and timing your moves correctly, than jumping all over the shop like in Street Fighter II. So the oversized characters aren’t really a major problem.

This GBA conversion seems to have more responsive controls than previous versions, probably because it runs at a higher frame rate. I’m not entirely sure if that’s true of not. One thing is true: IK+ on the GBA runs at a blistering pace. Later levels require zen-like skill to beat and are often over in seconds.

IK+ is excellent on the Game Boy Advance, although does have limited appeal. It is a game you can pick up, play and enjoy at any time, though.

More: International Karate Plus on Wikipedia

Karateka, Commodore 64

Karateka was Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner‘s first published game. He programmed it (originally for the Apple II) while attending Yale University in 1984.

It’s a simple martial arts fighting game that uses rotoscoped graphics to create realistic animation. Back in 1984 they were pretty revolutionary.

The aim of Karateka is to fight your way into a guarded fortress to rescue your love interest, Mariko. Using well-timed punches and kicks you defeat waves of opponents; defeat attacking hawks; and make your way past deadly falling portcullis – until you reach the boss, Akuma. Who of course you have to fight to free Mariko.

Karateka is – I think – a better-looking game on the Commodore 64 than on the Apple II. Both versions play quite slowly (frustratingly slowly for some, although you can boost the speed in an emulator), but the underlying gameplay is still sound.

Jordan Mechner himself was involved in a 2012 remake of Karateka, released for XBox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and iOS.

More: Karateka on Wikipedia

Karnov, ZX Spectrum

The ZX Spectrum conversion of the Data East arcade game, Karnov, is a good example of a decent arcade conversion on the Spectrum.

The graphics are colourful, well-drawn, and avoid colour clash by using a black masking effect around the sprites. It’s quite a clever technique that works very well in this game.

Gameplay-wise: Karnov is an unforgiving arcade game, and this Spectrum conversion is marginally easier than its parent, helped in a perverse way by the frequent slowdown. It’s reasonable fun though and worth digging out if you like challenging platformers.

More: Karnov 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

SimCity, Super Nintendo

The 1991 Super Nintendo version of Will Wright‘s classic SimCity was developed by Nintendo themselves, so is somewhat different to previous versions. It’s actually one of the best versions of SimCity around.

SimCity is about city-building, land/power/transportation management, taxation, and dealing with natural disasters. Basically: keeping your growing (or maybe even declining) population happy.

The viewpoint is overhead, and you build your city by clearing land and laying tiles on the scrolling landscape. You build roads, rail tracks, residential areas, industrial areas, and commercial areas – not to mention your own house – and must attract people to come live with you. When you reach a certain size you can then build more advanced structures, such as airports and sports stadia. Of course, you need power stations and police departments, and maybe even a port if you’ve got some coastline.

Nintendo‘s involvement added a lot of nice touches to SimCity on the SNES that aren’t in other versions, not least of which is a Bowser attack on Tokyo! Aping the Godzilla attack of the original game… Or the golden Mario statue awarded for reaching a half million population. Or the special buildings that are awarded for reaching certain milestones, such as casinos, amusement parks, and expo centres. Some of these ideas were incorporated into SimCity 2000 later, so it was prudent of Maxis to approve Nintendo‘s own development of their precious game, in exchange for new ideas.

A regular game of SimCity is an open-ended ‘sandbox’ affair, where you choose a random map and just build on it until you run out of steam. There are also six different disaster scenarios to “beat” – earthquake, pollution, crimewave, nuclear meltdown, coastal flooding, and the aforementioned monster attack.

Not as boring as it looks, SimCity is a classic SNES game and still a lot of fun to play.

More: SimCity 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

H.E.R.O., ColecoVision

The ColecoVision version of the classic rescue game, H.E.R.O., looks quite similar to the Commodore 64 version, in that: the graphics are a little rough around the edges.

This being a game from 1984 (and originating on the Atari 2600), the graphic artists can be forgiven for wanting to use every colour on-screen at once. Often, home video game consoles back then had limited palettes and resolutions, and the ColecoVision was something of a leap forward in terms of graphical capabilities, so the guys at The Softworks (who converted this for Activision) tried to “sex-up” the graphics with more ‘textures’ and colours. And the result is a bit of a mess… At least by modern standards.

But don’t let that put you off, because H.E.R.O. on the ColecoVision is arguably the best version of the game around. It feels good, in terms of controls, and is relatively absorbing – even though any appeal will be limited.

More: H.E.R.O. on Wikipedia

Chip’s Challenge, Atari ST

I have to say: I really love Chip’s Challenge, and have done ever since I first played it on its original platform: the Atari Lynx.

Converted by UK-based Images Software and published by US Gold in 1990, Chip’s Challenge is an old school maze/puzzle game, set inside a computer, and it features well-defined, cute graphics, and challenging puzzles. It has all the ingredients of a classic game.

The storyline in Chip’s Challenge is frankly ridiculous: you’re Chip, and you have to complete a series of challenges from a girl called Melinda in order to join their computer club, Bit Busters… Forget that. What’s important to know is that you simply have to collect a series of computer chips from within a maze. Although the tricky part is getting to them…

The learning curve is just about right. The first few levels are easy, and subsequent levels become more difficult as you progress.

The Atari ST version of Chip’s Challenge is probably my favourite version of the game, although – in reality; other than slightly higher-res graphics – there’s little to choose between the Lynx original and this ST version. It’s smooth, playable, and attractive, and contains over 148 different levels. So plenty for puzzle fans to sink their teeth into.

More: Chip’s Challenge on Wikipedia
Steam: Chip’s Challenge (2015) on Steam

Raffles, Atari ST

Known as Inside Outing on 8-bit home computers, and Raffles on 16-bit computers, this excellent isometric platform game translates very well to the Atari ST.

The name change was because someone at publisher The Edge obviously thought that it would be a good idea to name the central character (he didn’t have a name in the original game), so they called him “Raffles” and the rest is history. Except it isn’t. US publisher Epyx later changed the name again, to the ludicrous “Debon Aire in the Hidden Diamond Caper“, when releasing in North America.

The name confusion is a pity because Inside Outing/Raffles – whatever you want to call it – is a brilliant little self-contained adventure game. The aim is find 16 jewels hidden inside a big house, and return them one at a time to a woman who resides in a particular room in the mansion.

A lot of the puzzles in Raffles are physics-based, or involve stacking items to reach higher places, but the extra ‘pull’ mechanic really brings the game to life, allowing you to completely rearrange the furniture in most rooms.

It has to be said, though, that Raffles has some of the most annoying enemies of all time… Usually either innocent-looking mice or birds. But both can move furniture and items and deplete you of your energy if they touch you. So you have to avoid them. But that’s easier said than done when you’re trying to move a load of furniture away from a blocked doorway. You can lose a couple of lives easily by being harassed by a single bird. Thankfully some rooms don’t have any enemies in them so you can grab a breather and think.

The Atari ST version of Raffles has extra rooms, and extra diamonds to collect, compared to the original 8-bit versions. The pool table room, for example, now has a door in the top right hand corner, leading to a series of new rooms. And – thank God – this time you get three (count ’em!) whole lives to play around with, instead of the single one you got in the original. How generous.

Note: One thing I didn’t like about this (and the Amiga) version: candlesticks now hurt you when you stand on them. Whichever ‘genius’ decided that was a good idea deserves their qualification for video game development revoking! 🙂

More: Raffles on Wikipedia