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

Eye of the Storm, PC

Eye of the Storm was the first game released by Rebellion Developments in 1993, and also the first video game designed by Jason Kingsley, co-founder of Rebellion and current owner of 2000AD comic.

Back in 1993 I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Rebellion, in Oxford, England, to see Eye of the Storm; to have it demo-ed to me by Jason himself, and then to take it away for review. Luckily, at the time I was working in Oxford (at Maverick Magazines), so it was only a short walk from our offices to theirs. I spent probably three or fours hours with Jason, playing the game, discussing it with him, and later being given a sneak peek of the Aliens vs. Predator game they were also working on for the Atari Jaguar… It was a memorable day.

Playing Eye of the Storm now I have the same feelings I had when I first played it back in 1993. It’s a clever, playable and absorbing game (identifying alien lifeforms for cash in the atmosphere of Jupiter and shooting down poachers); initially a little confusing (easily sorted with a little bit of effort), and it could easily be dismissed by those who just don’t ‘get’ it.

The basic premise of Eye of the Storm is that in 2124 life is discovered (by a probe) in Jupiter’s great red spot, and there’s a mad scramble by mercenaries to bring back specimens for cash. Except you’re no mercenary – you’re a representative of the Interstellar Conservation Executive (ICE) and you’re there to document these lifeforms for posterity. Not kill or catch them, but identify them. And you’ve got a small, blue spacecraft in which to do it in. And not get killed. So you’re a conservationist of the future, with homing missiles and lasers, of course. And you are encouraged to blow the poachers out of existence!

The ship’s Heads-Up Display (HUD) is nicely designed and each instrumentation module can be turned on or off using key commands. The 3D graphics are simple by today’s standards, but are fast and reasonably colourful. The 3D models are comparable to Star Fox on the SNES, which came out the same year. Not as complex, sure, but only a couple of people made this game – not a large team. The random explosions when you die are quite nice. Kinda weirdly kaleidoscopic and unique…

The mouse and keyboard controls work very well and flying around is fairly relaxing, when you get the hang of flying in a 3D space with a limited turn speed. If you want to play Eye of the Storm seriously: there is a very good game in there to be had. With missions and objectives (watch out for messages that come up). Exploring and marking landmarks will help you find your way around the seemingly featureless “gas giant” although a lot of people may be put off by the lack of ground-based landmarks. There is no ground! There is a mysterious monolith though…

Eye of the Storm is a good concept and a decent game, nicely executed, but with limited appeal. And, while I wouldn’t rate it as a “must play” game, I would recommend you try it out if you’re interested in space cockpit games that are different from the norm. Personally: I really like Eye of the Storm; I enjoyed revisiting it and remembering how to play it properly. In fact: I’d love to see Rebellion bring it back with a few new ideas and features… Extra-terrestrial conservation will be a future trend, I feel. 🙂

Eye of the Storm was released on only two platforms: on the PC, in MS-DOS (the version shown here), and also on the Amiga. I’ve actually never played the Amiga version, but aim to rectify that soon.

More: Rebellion on Wikipedia
More: Eye of the Storm on Mobygames

Because Eye of the Storm is so good, and because it may seem confusing to play for some people, I’ve written a little starter guide to help first-timers get the hang of it. Hope it helps!

Eye of the Storm (1993) by Rebellion Developments Ltd.

Mini Guide by Mallo, September 2019

The basic aim is to survive long enough to record the creatures and events in the great red spot of Jupiter. To earn money, all you have to do is fly around, observing, identifying and shooting things. First of all: don’t shoot the lifeforms. Shoot the mercenaries that are shooting at you. Of course: to spend that money you make you’ve got to make it back to base alive. To do that, simply turn towards your base (the blue doughnut-looking thing with the red stripe on the side) and fly into the black area, which is the entrance. Once you’re docked you can check your money totals and buy new things. Some upgrades will be out of your reach at the start, but you should buy a number of fuel upgrades and PODs, namely: Defence PODs and Sentinels, which you can then release in space and use as your eyes and ears. From time to time you’ll get a message to capture a certain creature for a bonus. You don’t have to do this, but it is the quickest way to get those engine and hull upgrades.

Tip #1. For your very first sortie: don’t go far, or you will probably die. Just stay out for a few minutes, then return to base. You should then have some money to use for extra fuel. Make sure you save the game every time you dock when you’re starting out.

Tip #2. Identify everything (by pointing at it and pressing ‘I’). Check your ID totals in the Player Status option in the Save/Load menu.

Tip #3. If you catch a creature and there is no market for it, release it back into the wild. Make sure not to accidentally release your last fuel POD by accident, otherwise you’ll plummet into Jupiter’s core. In fact: use the ‘Release’ command as carefully as possible!

Tip #4. Getting an engine upgrade opens the game up significantly, so make that a priority. The Agile Engine is only 20,000 credits.

Tip #5. Getting a hull upgrade will mean that your ship can withstand the crushing pressures deeper down inside Jupiter’s atmosphere, where the weirder lifeforms dwell.

Tip #6. On the HUD, at the bottom are three coloured, horizontal lines. These are important. The top (yellow) line is your speed. The second (orange) line is your fuel, and the third (red) line are your shields.

Tip #7. Make sure to sell your empty fuel PODs once you get going, and to replace them with new ones.

Eye of the Storm keys:

1 – Net
2 – Release
3 – Map
5 – Homing Missile
6 – Missile
7 – Laser

I – Identify

R – Radar on/off
P – POD view on/off
M – Map on/off

B – Base (Turn toward)

Speed up/slow down – either hold right mouse button and backwards and forwards, or plus and minus on the keyboard

S – Sound on or off
G – Ground on or off

SpaceEngine, PC

Vladimir Romanyuk‘s incredible SpaceEngine is a simulation of the entire observable universe, with the goal being “scientific realism”, and to reproduce every known type of astronomical phenomenon.

It uses up-to-date data on real interstellar objects (from the Hipparcos Catalogue for stars, and the NGC and IC catalogues for galaxies), all of which can be visited and explored using the simple controls and the Heads-Up Display (the HUD, which also displays detailed properties of any object that is selected, such as mass, temperature, radius, et cetera); it uses procedural generation to fill in the gaps, and describe places we don’t yet know; and it also includes a complex space exploration element for creating relatively realistic spacecraft to travel around in. Be warned, though: SpaceEngine is not Elite Dangerous, No Man’s Sky, or any other kind of fictional space opera – this is serious, hardcore, realistic stuff. You do not go around blasting lasers at Thargoids in this…

That said: anyone with even a passing interest in astronomy, physics, or science should have a look at SpaceEngine. It’s not perfect (and is improving all the time), but it is pretty damn astounding – the level of detail, variety and beauty in the game is jaw-dropping. Just like the real universe…

The first public release of SpaceEngine was in 2010, and it has been free to download and use since then. Only recently (June 2019), with the release of version 0.990 on Steam, has SpaceEngine become a paid-for program. And at a mere £20 it’s a worthwhile investment if you’re fascinated by the cosmos and science – as everyone should be!

More: SpaceEngine on Wikipedia
Steam: SpaceEngine on Steam

More about SpaceEngine:

The software has its own built-in database which gives detailed information on all celestial objects and allows the player to create custom names and descriptions for them.

SpaceEngine has a locations database where players can save any position and time within the simulation, and can load it from that specific point.

Although objects that form part of a planetary system move, and stars rotate about their axes and orbit each other in multiple star systems, stellar “proper motion” is not simulated, and galaxies are at fixed locations and do not rotate.

Most real-world spacecraft such as Voyager 2 are not provided with SpaceEngine.

Interstellar light absorption is not modelled in SpaceEngine.

SpaceEngine is easily modifiable and supports a large variety of add-ons. The online community has created many third-party add-ons, including high-resolution textures, language localisations, spacecraft models, edited shaders, galaxy models, lens flare effects, and fictional planetary systems. Most add-ons are available via the official website forums.

In SpaceEngine‘s “beta spaceship mode”, the program simulates inertia, realistic gravity wells, and atmospheric dynamics.

Although faster-than-light travel is not currently possible, SpaceEngine implements a feasible warp drive based on the Alcubierre drive.

Relativistic effects on the speed of light are simulated, in areas such as redshifted galaxies, the gravitational redshift exerted by black holes, and the theoretical redshift produced by the above-mentioned warp drive.

Ad Astra, ZX Spectrum

This early Spectrum shooter by Gargoyle Games might look a bit archaic by today’s standards, but back in 1984 when it was first released it really set the gaming world alight. Well, the Spectrum gaming world – at least…

Playing it now you’d be forgiven for wondering what the fuss was about, because Ad Astra doesn’t have a moving starry backdrop to give the impression of speed (the stars are static); it doesn’t have the correct perspective on the craft you’re controlling (something that always bugged me, even as a kid playing it); it doesn’t have selectable difficulty levels, and it doesn’t have much in the way of excitement.

It does have large, rolling planets that come at you (impressive for the time); a blue mothership section; some nice explosions, and some TIE Fighters… Maybe that’s what impressed people back in 1984?

Ad Astra is a game that has dated quite badly over the years. It’s simple enough to play, but is from a time when video games were usually very primitive, and – as shooters go – this one is a bit of a throwback.

More: Ad Astra on World of Spectrum

Galaga ’88, Arcade

Namco‘s classic arcade sequel was initially released in 1987 in Japan – 1988 everywhere else – and proved a big hit with shoot ’em up fans with its fast graphics and colourful, firework-like explosions.

The original Galaga was good, but this update is something special. Features include: warping ships, colourful starfields, changing backgrounds, weird cut scenes, “That’s Galactic Dancin'” bonus sections (including a secret bonus, for not touching the controls), and even crystalline-like asteroids that release canisters which allow you to open a ‘rift’ in Space-Time, which in turn allows you to travel to higher dimensions.

This dimensional travel element really opens up the game – if you’re skilled enough to activate it. Each higher dimension reached increases the number of points you get for shooting stuff, as well as increasing the difficulty level. Once you’ve reached a higher dimension you stay there for the rest of the game (unless you go higher) – there’s no going back. Activating the dimensional rift requires you to collect two canisters during ‘normal’ stages and then survive to complete the next “Galactic Dancin'” stage. At the end of the bonus stage – if you have two canisters in your possession – they will fly up the screen, open the rift, and bump you up a dimension for the next stage. It’s quite an interesting and innovative gameplay mechanic – definitely unusual for arcade games at the time.

You still have the cool Galaga ‘ship capture’ tactic in Galaga ’88, whereby you can allow the aliens to capture your ship, only to win it back later in order to double your firepower (you can actually do it a second time to beef up your ship even more). You can even choose to start with dual ships (and lose one backup), which is generous.

Galaga ’88 is a stand-out vertical shooter from the late 1980s and is still well worth a play if you can find it now. It’s much more complex and interesting than it looks.

A faithful PC Engine conversion came out in 1989, and there were also X68000 and Sega Game Gear versions. It’s also available on Virtual Console too.

More: Galaga ’88 on Wikipedia

Top Gear 3000, Super Nintendo

An old-school 2D racer, developed and published for the Super Nintendo by a British company (Gremlin Graphics), way back in 1995.

Top Gear 3000 is a futuristic race game with tracks set on various different planets, with you driving fairly standard-looking sports cars.

What makes the game so good are the different split-screen modes – not only do you have two-player split-screen, but this was also one of the first SNES games to feature four-player split-screen (with the aid of a Multitap – a device that increased the number of gamepad ports). And – having had the pleasure of playing this four-player, with three other human opponents – I can confirm that Top Gear 3000 in four-player mode is superb fun. The tiny play window doesn’t really matter when you’re sucked into the race.

Top Gear 3000 is the third (and final) game in the Top Gear series, and definitely the best. In fact: it’s one of the best 2D racers around. Give it a spin if you can find a copy.

Note: in Japan Top Gear 3000 was released under the slightly awkward title of: “The Planet’s Champ TG 3000“. My guess is that we have Japanese publisher KEMCO to blame for that. It’s a terrible name.

More: Top Gear 3000 on Wikipedia

Phantasy Star II, Megadrive/Genesis

Released in 1989 for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis, Phantasy Star II is a pioneering RPG for its time. It’s a sequel, obviously; to the classic Sega Master System release of 1987, Phantasy Star.

Phantasy Star II was the first RPG released for the Sega Megadrive, and pre-dates the release of Final Fantasy on the NESin the USA, that is. Both Phantasy Star II and the long-awaited English translation of Final Fantasy helped popularise RPGs in the USA and Europe in the ’90s.

Set some one thousand years after the events of the first game, Phantasy Star II is another sci-fi-based level-grinder with a party system and turn-based combat.

Graphically – and in terms of user interface – the game is a nice ‘step up’ from the original. The graphics are less cartoony and better-defined. In this sequel you can also now see all your party members above their associated info panels during combat, and they animate depending on what they’re doing. Which is neat.

The first-person sections seen in the first game have been dropped, and Phantasy Star II is played almost entirely with separate ‘overworld’ and dungeon sections, shown from an overhead perspective.

There are also fewer abbreviated names in the game, compared to the original, which is good although the names of items and magic and stuff in this are still pretty weird. We can at least thank Sega for trying to do something different with the genre with this weirdness.

As far as gameplay goes: Phantasy Star II is fast and slick, and the timing of all the different processes is pretty much perfect. It’s very easy to get sucked-in to the hypnotic gameplay of this classic level-grinder, but the experience is worth it.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantasy_Star_II