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

Wrangler, Atari ST

Another great “hidden gem” on the Atari STWrangler, developed by Magnetic Fields and published by Alternative Software in 1988.

Wrangler a strange isometric puzzle game, with you playing the role of a robotic cowboy called “Glint Eastwood” (groan), and who must patrol various levels, collecting a required number of coloured tiles in order to shut down some alien gates. It’s a difficult game to explain, but is quite easy to play when you get the hang of it, and also quite compelling.

As the levels increase, the traps become nastier and the challenge ever greater. The alien ‘gate-builders’ – the greatest threat to Glint Eastwood’s life – increase in frequency and start to vary more in type. All ‘gate-builders’ can be jumped over, and some types can be killed by removing the floor from under them.

If it sounds weird: that’s because it is weird. But Wrangler is one of those strange games that is actually fun to play – as well as relatively original. If you’ve never played Wrangler before I highly recommend giving it a try.

More: Wrangler on Atari Mania

Alien 8, ZX Spectrum

The original ZX Spectrum version of Alien 8 was first released in 1985, not long after Knight Lore had already blown the world away with its incredible isometric graphics and characteristic gameplay.

This game carried on the tradition of great releases from Ultimate, even though the gameplay was very similar to Knight Lore. The general consensus at the time was that the graphics and gameplay in general were an improvement over the previous game, so we shouldn’t worry too much about the similarities. Which is right.

As much as I love Knight Lore, I think Alien 8 is more straightforward (and less annoying, since it doesn’t have you transforming into a werewolf in the middle of a jump). The ultra-cute design of the main character is wonderful – it contrasts with the puzzles, which are fiendish!

Just like in Knight Lore, Alien 8 features quite a bit of slowdown when there are multiple objects moving on-screen at the same time, but it doesn’t detract too much from play. This is a classic Ultimate game that cannot be ignored.

The Amstrad CPC version of Alien 8 features more colour (and less slowdown) and is arguably better than this Spectrum original.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_8

Arac, Commodore 64

Known as “Spiderbot” in North America, Arac is an unusual and interesting platform action game where you control a spider-like robot (called Arac) who can capture enemies and adopt their characteristics.

For example: one type of creature can dig though walls, another can jump high, and so on. By capturing enemies you can augment the abilities of Arac and go on to access The Citadel, stop the impending disaster, and save the day.

Unless you know what you’re doing you’re going to have a frustrating time with Arac. A game for those with more than half a braincell only! 🙂

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arac_(video_game)

Android 2, ZX Spectrum

Android 2 is a great little maze shooter for the 48K Spectrum, designed and programmed by Salford University graduate Costa Panayi and published by Vortex Software in 1983.

It basically follows on from the first Android game (Android 1: The Reactor Run), although this time the viewpoint is isometric (instead of side-on), and in this game you have to hunt and kill five red-headed “millitoids” (read: robotic centipedes) to complete the level.

Which is not as easy as it sounds, because contact with either a patrolling robot (of which there are many) or a mine (or which there are even more), will result in the loss of a life. And, with only five lives at your disposal, finding and eliminating all the millitoids within the time limit is a serious challenge.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Android_2

Android 1: The Reactor Run, ZX Spectrum

Costa Panayi‘s 1983 release, Android 1: The Reactor Run, definitely showed the potential of the young games designer, even if the game overall is a little too short.

Panayi establishes the endearing Android character well in this game, which he takes much further in the sequel. But other than run, shoot walls and enemies, and run to the end – there’s not a great deal else to do.

Still: Android 1 is an interesting curiosity, in terms of early ZX Spectrum software releases, and publisher Vortex became a name to be reckoned with over the remainder of the Eighties.

Pssst, ZX Spectrum

Featuring a cute robot (called Robbie) whose job it is to keep the insects away from the plants.

Pssst is another cute – and excellent – arcade-style action game from Ultimate Play The Game – part of their 16K ZX Spectrum “marvels” collection from 1983.

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

Paradroid ’90, Amiga

Mmmm. Paradroid ’90 is one of those “classic” games that should have been great, but unfortunately was a big, fat missed opportunity.

Its parent – the Commodore 64 classic Paradroid, by Andrew Braybrook – is a perfect example of simple-but-amazingly-compelling gameplay.

This remake pretty much loses everything that made the original great, in spite of original author Braybrook’s involvement.

For the life of me I can’t understand why Paradroid ’90 looks so drab. The same reds and browns adorn every deck on the first level. The Amiga can certainly do better, and a more liberal use of colour I’m sure would have helped. Having the deck colour change every time you complete a level is simply not good enough. Even the Commodore 64 version made better use of colour than this!

And the blasting action feels lightweight and simplistic – not at all exhilarating. On top of that: the levels only scroll vertically (God knows why), and the ship you’re exploring generally feels empty and lifeless. The tension and excitement of the original has been completely lost. Replaced by a feeling of deep… Disappointment.

Paradroid ’90 unfortunately falls way short of what was expected and is not very interesting to play. Sorry Andrew.

More: Paradroid on Wikipedia

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, Arcade

Sega made the (frankly bonkers) arcade game Moonwalker – starring Michael Jackson – based on his 1988 film of the same name.

Moonwalker was released into arcades in 1990 to cries of derision… because it was all just so ridiculous. It’s a beat ’em up with dancing, and Jackson “saving the children”. Cheesy as hell… Like Jackson’s career had become at that point. A parody. A waft from Jarvis Cocker’s trousers. And Jackson is credited as the game’s concept designer. I can imagine the meeting where he pitched it to the execs… I bet that was interesting…

Sega did a decent job with the graphics, but as for the gameplay… Jackson turning into a giant robot whenever he touches his pet chimp Bubbles tells you all you need to know about the gameplay…

Moonwalker is fun – for up to three players simultaneously – if you just fancy a snort, a grunt, and a finger point. It doesn’t offer much more than a giggle though.

Does Twin Galaxies have people sending in scores for Moonwalker? I dunno. I can’t be bothered to check. But – knowing this crazy world that we live in – I wouldn’t be surprised if there was…

“Who’s bad?!” This game. This game is BAD.

More: Wikipedia

Xybots, Arcade

Atari GamesXybots is a two-player, third-person shooter designed by Ed Logg (co-designer of Gauntlet, Asteroids and Centipede, among others).

Xybots was first released into arcades in 1987 and the cabinet featured two joysticks (one for each player) that you could twist, to make the viewpoint turn left or right.

Each player assumes the role of either “Major Rock Hardy” or “Captain Ace Gunn” and must blast their way through corridors and rooms full of meanies. The aim being: to survive and find the exit, picking up money along the way. Between levels you can spend that money on power-ups.

Xybots is an excellent game. In some ways like a third-person perspective Gauntlet. Playing it now, with a friend, on a home system, is still a lot of fun, and a decent challenge.

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