Amidar, Arcade

Konami‘s 1981 arcade classic, Amidar, is a maze game with a difference.

Rather than moving through a maze (a la Pac-Man), you instead move along the edges of a series of interconnected boxes, trying to ‘paint’ them a different colour (or pick up coconuts, depending on the level). If you manage to paint around all four sides of a box it fills itself in, and the ultimate aim on each level is to fill every box on-screen. Which is not easy because there are a variety of chasing monsters and they are tricky to avoid.

The key to getting anywhere in Amidar is to learn the movement of the enemies. They move ‘deterministically’. Meaning: to set, recognisable patterns. The game calls this “Amidar movement”. Regular enemies are called “Amidar” and these move left and right, and up and down the screen. A single enemy, called a “Tracer” moves around the outside of the maze at the same time. If you watch enemy movement carefully you can avoid them and go about your painting duties. That is, however, until the Tracer has done a certain number of ‘laps’, after which point it starts to chase you.

You do have a ‘jump’ ability to help you, although pressing jump makes the enemies jump – not you. They jump, and you move underneath them. Which is weird, but it works well enough and can save your skin when in a tight corner. You start with only three jumps but can be awarded more.

Another useful thing to remember is that you can attack the Amidar if you colour all four corner boxes in the maze. The Amidar change colour and you have a short space of time in which to touch them to kill them for a bonus.

As the game gets harder the mazes become more complex, and more enemies are added. And if that wasn’t enough, the time it takes before the Tracer starts chasing you reduces – to the point where it only has to do one lap before homing in on you.

Amidar is another classic Konami arcade game that takes a simple idea and turns it into a challenging and compelling video game. And for that it should be fondly-remembered.

More: Amidar 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

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Commodore 64

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is the 1988 successor to Maniac Mansion. Successor in the sense that it uses the same game engine and gameplay style, but does not exist in the same universe.

You play a jaded reporter called Zak McKracken who wakes one day after having a surreal dream involving aliens. This dream proves to have a profound effect on Zak’s life, and he meets another person – a girl, called Annie Larris – who’s also had the same dream.

As a graphic adventure game, Zak McKracken is noticeably more refined and complex than Maniac Mansion, although it might not appear that way initially. It takes some effort to reach the part of the game where four individual characters become playable. The game also contains a few situations where – if you do the wrong thing – you can’t complete it. So can be frustrating.

That said: I think Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is brilliantly designed and great fun to play. Especially with a walkthrough, because some of the puzzles are relatively difficult to solve.

Compared to other SCUMM games Zak McKracken seems less about conversations and more about puzzles, and item and money management. And, of course, travel. You have to get used to buying plane tickets in this game – if you can first find your credit card…

Still available to buy on Steam and GOG.com today, Zak McKracken is arguably better even than Maniac Mansion. It’s all a matter of taste.

More: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders on Wikipedia
Steam: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders on Steam
GOG.com: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders on GOG.com

Zak-McKracken-Cover

Offendron Warrior, PC

Offendron Warrior is a superb retro gaming tribute to Eugene Jarvis‘s arcade classic Defender, using modern pixels and effects, by talented and prolific Korean Hijong Park. It’s currently available for free or donationware on Steam.

If you don’t know Defender – look it up, then go play it. Then come back and continue reading this.

Now… Imagine Defender, but with a few modern twists applied. Such as: homing missiles! And a transforming ship (Interceptor mode flies faster and Offender mode has rapid fire rate).

The basic premise of Offendron Warrior is the same as Defender: protect the vulnerable civilians from waves of alien Infectors, which will try to carry them away from the ground. You can shoot an Infector and it will drop the civilian, but if the civilian falls too far it will die. So you can (and should) catch them. You can catch a bunch of them and chain them up, which is neat. If you lose all your civilians it’s game over.

Holding down the transform button turns you into a mini mech, which shoots rapid, multi-coloured lasers out the front. Firing while moving up and down in mech mode creates a spread of fire, which is a good tactic for dealing with small groups of enemies. For everything else there are homing missiles. Homing missiles will take out every enemy on-screen, but are limited so must be used sparingly. The visual effect of a large group of enemies being wiped-out by homing missiles is quite amazing and really has to be seen to be believed. They are very satisfying to use!

Offendron Warrior is a simple but brilliant blaster. It’s a great tribute to Defender and a very playable and compulsive game in its own right. And – like all Hijong Park‘s games – it really is a tough challenge. It’s great fun, though. So don’t miss it!

More: PsychoFlux Entertainment on Steam
Steam: Offendron Warrior on Steam

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

Rolling Thunder 2, Arcade

Rolling Thunder 2 continues on from the classic Rolling Thunder: it’s secret agent “Albatross” against the sinister agents of “Geldra”, except this time you can play the game as the rescued Leila (from the first game) from the outset. Or, you can play two-player cooperatively with a friend, which you definitely couldn’t do in the original.

Playing Rolling Thunder 2 simultaneously with a friend is a blast, and the single-player game isn’t too bad either. The game doesn’t quite have the exceptional ‘feel’ of the original, though. Nor the same graphical style. It’s faster than the first game, but the character animation isn’t quite so good as seen previously. The colour scheme is also a bit ‘bright’ in places. It’s a pity Namco‘s developers didn’t go for a more subtle look, but it is what it is.

That said: Rolling Thunder 2 is still great fun to play – especially two-player. The time limits are quite harsh although they are designed to encourage players to put more coins into the machine, because you can continue where you left off if you have credits in. So playing it through in MAME shouldn’t be too difficult.

Rolling Thunder 2 is a decent sequel to a great arcade classic, and it’s good to see a female lead available to play alongside the usual all-male hero.

A third Rolling Thunder game was released for the Sega Megadrive in 1993.

More: Rolling Thunder 2 on Wikipedia

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