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

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

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. ūüôā

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

Salamander, Arcade

Konami‘s Salamander is a classic scrolling shooter first released into arcades in 1986. It is part of the Gradius/Nemesis series and features both side-scrolling and vertically-scrolling gameplay set over six different levels.

Unlike Gradius, Salamander has a simultaneous two-player mode. Player one controls the Vic Viper from Gradius, and player two controls a new ship called Lord British (as far as I’m aware: this has nothing to do with Richard Garriott – founder of Origin Systems – who also calls himself Lord British and has done since the late ’70s).

The progressive weapons power-up system has been simplified in Salamader (over Gradius). Now you don’t have to activate a weapons change – it happens automatically when you pick up a dropped power-up. Salamander does retain the extra firepower pods, and the speed-ups, from the first game, but expands on the weapon types.

Ask anyone who’s played Salamander and they will probably mention the fire levels as being the ones that really stand out. As you move left to right, huge solar flares blast out from the fiery surface and you have to avoid being roasted. If you’re skilled enough you might even be able to fly through them…

Salamander is fairly unremarkable at the beginning to be honest, but does improve rapidly as the graphical tricks start to show themselves. The early levels are relatively easy and – of course – the later levels truly are ‘bullet hell’.

A number of home computer and console versions have been released over the years. The Commodore 64 version, by Imagine Software, is known for being very high quality. As is the PC Engine version. More modern re-releases are mostly emulated versions of the original arcade game, so are considered authentic.

More: Salamander on Wikipedia

Hunter’s Moon, Commodore 64

Hunter’s Moon is a¬†multi-directional scrolling shooter by Martin Walker, published by Thalamus for the Commodore 64 in 1987.

The basic aim is to fly around various two-dimensional cities, collecting ‘star cells’ as you discover them. When you have enough you can warp to the next level. Skilled players who collect the cells within a strict time limit can warp further forward, skipping the remaining levels in a system and advancing through the game quicker.

Designer Walker has said that the children’s gear-based drawing game, ‘Spirograph’, was the main inspiration behind Hunter’s Moon, and with its mesmerising, kaleidoscopic sprite patterns the link is fairly obvious.

As a shooter, it’s more of a thinking-man’s game than an out-and-out blaster, but Hunter’s Moon is atmospheric, engrossing, beautifully-presented, and still worth a look now.

More: Hunter’s Moon on Wikipedia

Lunar Jetman, BBC Micro

The BBC Micro conversion of Ultimate‘s classic Lunar Jetman is a very good one, using a high res display mode for the graphics, which are mostly monochrome (just like the Spectrum original).

It plays just as well as the original too, and this results in a very challenging, but very playable game. And let’s face it: the original is a very difficult game.

The task in hand: to collect a bomb and drive it to the enemy base, before picking it up and dropping it on an enemy missile launcher, is much easier said than done. Predominantly because there’s a time limit, and random alien sprites keep getting in the way, and holes in the ground impede your vehicle so must be covered with girders. Again: easier said than done. Completing the level by destroying the enemy base is possible (I’ve done it myself on occasion), which means doing it again at a higher difficulty level the next time.

More: Lunar Jetman on Wikipedia