Revolution, ZX Spectrum

Costa Panayi‘s Revolution was published by U.S. Gold in 1986. It is an isometric puzzle/action game with well-designed, monochrome graphics and a bouncing ball that you control around a series of rooms, levels, and puzzles.

Holding down the fire button makes the ball bounce higher and you must manoeuvre it towards a series of black cubes in order to touch them. Touching these cubes turns them white temporarily, and you have to keep touching them until they turn white simultaneously. Each puzzle has two associated cubes and each level has a number of different puzzles. When you complete every puzzle on a level you ascend to the next level, and there are nine levels in total.

You start with five lives and lose one if you fall off the edge into the abyss, or hit a spiked ball, or any of the other nasties trying to thwart your progress. You’re also up against a time limit.

Revolution is typical Costa Panayi – beautifully-designed, simple, but interesting and playable. It won’t appeal to everyone, but if you like unusual puzzle/action games then there’s some mileage to be had with this classic ZX Spectrum game.

More: Revolution 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

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
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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.

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

General Chaos, Megadrive/Genesis

General Chaos is a memorable multiplayer strategy/action game, developed by Game Refuge Inc. and published for the Sega Megadrive by Electronic Arts in 1993.

The game is basically a real-time, single-screen tactical action game, with two teams of soldiers fighting it out for overall domination. You can either take on the computer AI, or another person, and must capture your opponent’s base to win the game.

General Chaos is a cartoony depiction of war, so is satirical rather than bloody. Graphically, the soldiers are well-animated and have character, and gameplay-wise the game has a lot going for it. Up to four players can play simultaneously against the computer – if you have the correct adaptor – which is brilliant fun. I actually got the opportunity to play this with three other people on a real Megadrive, back in 1993, although I had no idea what I was doing… Playing it now brings back a lot of good memories, although General Chaos is definitely more than just good nostalgia – it’s a great game that has stood the test of time well!

More: General Chaos on Wikipedia

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

Inside Outing, ZX Spectrum

The ZX Spectrum conversion of Michael St. Aubyn‘s Inside Outing was programmed by Pamela Roberts with graphics by Mike Smith.

It has to be said that this version lacks the visual appeal of the Amstrad original. In fact: it’s quite ugly. The lack of colour doesn’t help. Also: the main character is drawn quite strangely, and the perspective on some of the furniture looks wrong.

Gameplay is relatively intact – you’re still a thief, searching a big mansion for 12 gems while avoiding all the mice and birds that sap your strength. You only get one life, so keeping that life bar topped-up is imperative.

Given the choice, I would play the Amstrad or C64 versions of Inside Outing, over this one. It’s just not as appealing as the other 8-bit versions.

More: Inside Outing on Wikipedia

Inside Outing, Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 version of Inside Outing features graphics by the game’s original designer – Michael St. Aubyn – although the coding itself was done by Timedata/Pamela Roberts.

Gameplay is identical to the Amstrad original. You play a thief exploring a big mansion, looking for 12 hidden jewels. Finding them is not entirely straightforward as some of them are hidden in nefarious ways. For example: in the pool table room you must ‘pot’ (ie. kick) the balls into the pockets in the right order to make the jewel appear, and even then it materialises under the table so is hard to spot.

Isometric action/adventures are not particularly fashionable on the Commodore 64, but Inside Outing is an example of one that works. Granted: the enemies are extremely annoying, but otherwise the game is very good.

More: Inside Outing on Wikipedia

Inside Outing, Amstrad CPC

Inside Outing is an interesting isometric action/adventure game initially published by The Edge in 1988. It was designed by Michael St. Aubyn and converted to a number of different platforms, with this Amstrad version being the original.

The story is: an eccentric millionaire has died without leaving a will and has hidden 12 gems in strange places around his large house. The millionaire’s widow has hired a professional thief (you), to explore the house and find the fortune. Unfortunately the millionaire’s pets have now overrun the mansion and are waiting to attack any intruders, so it won’t be straightforward.

The gameplay in Inside Outing is fairly simple exploration, object manipulation, jumping, puzzles, and the game of ‘fetch’. Of course it owes a debt of gratitude to Knight Lore (as every other isometric action game does), but in general it’s reasonably original, and – in places – quite surprising. For example: in this game you can pull objects, as well as push them. Which might seem quite minor, but Inside Outing was one of the first games of its type to actually allow that. It actually makes it seem more natural to play than something like Knight Lore or Batman.

I love the colouring and design of the Amstrad graphics in this game. They’re chunky, but beautifully-drawn. And the rudimentary physics in the game give Ultimate a run for their money. Overall: the presentation is top class, and the gameplay isn’t bad either, in spite of the annoying enemies. Inside Outing is a classic Amstrad game and still deserves to be played now.

Inside Outing was also converted to the C64 and ZX Spectrum, and later appeared on the Amiga and Atari ST under the name “Raffles“.

Note: in the USA the game was published by Epyx under the frankly horrendous title of “Devon Aire in the Hidden Diamond Caper“.

More: Inside Outing on Wikipedia