Horace and the Spiders, ZX Spectrum

The third and final Horace game on the ZX Spectrum, written by William Tang and published by Sinclair/Psion in 1983.

Horace and the Spiders is yet another ‘clone’ game, this time copying Space Panic and also elements of Pitfall.

The game is split into two distinct stages. The first one sees Horace walking along a side-scrolling cavern and jumping over spiders that come his way, then climbing moving spider silk strands to cross a ravine. The second stage is a single screen platforms and ladders game where Horace must stomp holes in the web platforms so that spiders fall into them, and when they do he must stomp them again to kill them.

Like Hungry Horace and Horace Goes Skiing, Horace and the Spiders is a game that many see through rose-tinted spectacles – the memory of playing it as a kid is stronger than the game itself. In truth: it hasn’t aged well, and isn’t much fun to play nowadays.

But at least Horace himself has become iconic among Spectrum fans.

A further ‘official’ Horace game, called Horace in the Mystic Woods, was released for the Psion 3-Series palmtop range in 1995, but it wasn’t written by William Tang. Further to that, a ZX Spectrum conversion of Horace in the Mystic Woods was released by indie coder Bob Smith in 2010. Other fan-made Horace games exist too, including Horace Goes to The Tower, released in 2011. It seems that our love for Horace continues ever onwards, in spite of his rather chequered past…

More: Horace and the Spiders 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

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

The Evil Dead, Commodore 64

Another great film turned into video game kitty litter! This one in 1984, by Palace Software.

The interpretation is as an overhead survival game, with you playing Ash (spelled incorrectly in the game – slap on the wrist to the programmer!) who is besieged by Kandarian demons inside a remote log cabin. You can close the doors and windows to stop the demons getting in, and must also kill any that make it into the cabin. To kill them you must first find a weapon (randomly located around the cabin, or outside), and then use it on them. Whether it’s an axe, a sword, or a shovel – it makes no real difference – the effect is the same. Eventually, when you’ve killed enough demons, the ancient Book of the Dead will appear and you have to throw it into the fire to triumph.

As a huge fan of the 1981 film I’ve always thought that this game was total and utter rubbish. I remember as a young gamer hoping that it would be good enough to buy, but I read the reviews and thought “there’s no way I’m buying that!”. And I was right. The graphics are pathetic, the cabin is tiny, and the gameplay is clumsy and repetitive. There’s no escaping the fact that The Evil Deadthis Evil Dead (there are others) – is both a missed opportunity, and a steaming pile of crap.

Are there any positives about the game? The intro sequence and tune are quite nice. The scrolly text message at the bottom of the screen describes the monsters as “mutants”, which is sure to piss off any die-hard Evil Dead fan who reads it. Other than those like me who don’t really give a toss.

A BBC Micro version of The Evil Dead was also released by Palace. A ZX Spectrum version was developed and completed, but was never released as a stand-alone game. It later appeared as a freebie on the b-side of another Palace release: Cauldron, so eventually made it out.

More: The Evil Dead on Wikipedia

Cap’n’ Carnage, Atari ST

Cap’n’ Carnage is so bad that the programmer hasn’t even spelled the word “captain” correctly in the game itself… When you see a mistake like that you know you’re playing a low quality piece of software. Professionals do not make that kind of mistake on commercial releases. Oh dear me, this game is bad…

It’s a side-scrolling shoot ’em up – of sorts – except the controls are sluggish; the action is boring, and the graphics are truly terrible.

There’s so little of value in Cap’n’ Carnage that all I can say is: I played it, so you don’t have to. And even then I only played it once…

If I had to sum up the game in one word (without swearing) I’d have to say “moribund”. And – as Alan Partridge knows full well – that means “dead or dying”. Cap’n’ Carnage is really only worth loading if you like bad games, or are a masochist. Which pretty much equate to the same thing.

Cap’n’ Carnage was developed by Golden Sector Design, and published by Energize in 1991 (a British/German co-production I believe). I think they’ll probably all want to forget it ever existed… As do I, to be honest.

More: Cap’n’ Carnage on Atari Mania

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

Labyrinth, Commodore 64

The actual, full title of this 1986 adventure game from Lucasfilm Games is Labyrinth: The Computer Game, but I’ll refer to it from now on as Labyrinth.

Labyrinth was the very first Lucasfilm Games adventure game and is based on the fantasy film of the same name – the one written by Terry Jones, directed by Jim Henson, and starring David Bowie in a big white wig.

Labyrinth is a fairly simple character-based adventure with puzzles, and mostly involves walking around talking to the various ‘beings’ that you meet, trying to solve various problems and unlocking the route forward.

It doesn’t have any of the complex puzzles or character interactions we see in later LucasArts adventures although it does establish a basic graphical style for the point-and-click genre to come. It also has a rudimentary menu system that feels a bit like an early prototype of SCUMM.

Playing the game now, it’s obviously not one of Lucasfilm Games‘ best, even though it was quite innovative for the time. Unless you’re a big fan of the film, or are interested in the evolution of LucasArts adventures, Labyrinth probably won’t hold a great deal of interest for you.

More: Labyrinth: The Computer Game on Wikipedia

Labyrinth-Poster

Raid on Bungeling Bay, Commodore 64

Raid on Bungeling Bay was Will Wright‘s first ever video game and it was released for the Commodore 64 by Brøderbund in 1984. Will Wright – in case you didn’t know – was a co-founder of Maxis and also designer of SimCity and The Sims.

Raid on Bungeling Bay is an overhead helicopter shooter and the basic aim is to set off from your aircraft carrier to bomb six enemy factories found located among a chain of islands. They’re of course heavily defended, and they also ‘develop’ as the game unfolds, giving you a time limit to stop them from taking over the world.

You have a front-mounted cannon which can blast boats, ground emplacements, aircraft, and other ground vehicles, but you need to drop bombs on the factories to destroy them. The process is to find a factory, clear the area of enemy defensive positions, then place yourself carefully over the top of a factory, before dropping your bombs. You can hold nine bombs per sortie and each factory pretty much takes a full payload of nine to destroy. Landing back on the aircraft carrier will replenish your bombs.

Other things to watch out for: enemy aircraft attacking your carrier (you have to go and fight them off), and an enemy battleship that is gradually built, before setting off to intercept your carrier. The battleship resents your presence and will fire homing missiles at you if you are within range.

I have a soft spot for this game, even though it looks quite dated now. I played it for hours as a kid. I just loved the feel of flying around in the chopper – viewed from overhead – blasting stuff on the ground. And it still feels good to play now… I picked it up and played it recently and almost completed it. It’s a nice little self-contained action game with some interesting mechanics and a wonderful control system.

MSX and NES versions of Raid on Bungeling Bay exist, but – rather strangely – none anywhere else. I say “rather strangely” because Bungeling Bay is a great game and would probably have worked well on other platforms.

More: Raid On Bungeling Bay on Wikipedia

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