Kung-Fu Master, ZX Spectrum

This terrible Spectrum conversion of the mighty arcade game, Kung-Fu Master, was developed by Ocean and published by US Gold in 1986.

It contains none of the thrills of the original arcade game… The animated figures in the game are slow, badly-drawn and badly animated. When anyone raises a leg in the game – to make a high kick – it looks more like they are trying to squeeze out a tricky fart than kick anyone… And that includes you. The animation is pathetic. The colour clash is also bad. As is the (part-time) scrolling. The sprites have a horrible, distracting judder too. It wouldn’t have hurt to use a few different colours to differentiate the levels too – they all look the same…

The gameplay is also a pale imitation of the original, which requires precision, skill, and good timing to beat, and is fun to play. This is just a turgid shuffle through a soup of frustration and slowness.

There are some great arcade conversions on the ZX Spectrum. Kung-Fu Master isn’t one of them.

More: Kung-Fu Master on Wikipedia

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

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

Sam & Max Hit the Road, PC

Sam & Max Hit the Road, released by LucasArts in 1993, marks the video game debut of the infamous dog/rabbit crime-fighting duo.

Created by artist Steve Purcell, Sam & Max are “freelance police” and basically engage in a series of surreal mysteries involving bigfoot, and a whole host of other weird characters and strange situations.

The game begins with an animated cut scene that sets the tone, and then you have to use Sam & Max to find your way into the story. The control system is mouse-based and you use right-click to cycle through five cursor icons – walk, look, take, talk, and use. Left-clicking one of these ‘verb’ icons on a specific object or person on-screen, or in your inventory (a brown cardboard box!), will usually illicit some sort of response. The simplified control system is a joy to use, at least compared to other SCUMM games. Not having the usual verb list frees up the screen to hold more great graphics. And the graphics in Sam & Max, I think, are some of the best, most iconic, and most memorable visuals of the PC DOS era.

Like most point-and-click adventures: Hit the Road is extremely challenging. Playing is easy enough, but solving puzzles and making your way into the game is not easy. But it is very much worth it. The surreal nature of Sam & Max Hit the Road sometimes means that the nature of the puzzles is beyond anything you might have ever seen, but that’s okay. Just go with it…

My favourite parts: “Holy mackerel!” – “I’m a trout, stupid!” – “Holy trout!”, or Max retrieving the message from the cat… And my favourite character has to be the foul-mouthed, spanner-bending, turban-wearing man in the revolving restaurant. He still makes me crease up with laughter today… Sam & Max Hit the Road is packed full of wacky characters, crazy dialogue, and dangerous stunts. There are even a bunch of “minigames” hidden away in there too…

Often referred to as one of the best video games ever made, Sam & Max Hit the Road is probably the best adventure game LucasArts ever produced. It’s certainly one of funniest games I’ve ever played and will appeal to anyone with a sense of humour.

If you’re one of those with a low tolerance to frustration, play it with a walkthrough. There’s no shame in it. 🙂

U.S. Gold published the game in the UK in 1993. A number of sequels have also been released over the intervening years.

See also: Sam & Max Comics

More: Sam & Max Hit the Road on Wikipedia
Steam: Sam & Max Hit the Road on Steam
GOG.com: Sam & Max Hit the Road on GOG.com

Sam-And-Max-Clean

Chip’s Challenge, Atari ST

I have to say: I really love Chip’s Challenge, and have done ever since I first played it on its original platform: the Atari Lynx.

Converted by UK-based Images Software and published by US Gold in 1990, Chip’s Challenge is an old school maze/puzzle game, set inside a computer, and it features well-defined, cute graphics, and challenging puzzles. It has all the ingredients of a classic game.

The storyline in Chip’s Challenge is frankly ridiculous: you’re Chip, and you have to complete a series of challenges from a girl called Melinda in order to join their computer club, Bit Busters… Forget that. What’s important to know is that you simply have to collect a series of computer chips from within a maze. Although the tricky part is getting to them…

The learning curve is just about right. The first few levels are easy, and subsequent levels become more difficult as you progress.

The Atari ST version of Chip’s Challenge is probably my favourite version of the game, although – in reality; other than slightly higher-res graphics – there’s little to choose between the Lynx original and this ST version. It’s smooth, playable, and attractive, and contains over 148 different levels. So plenty for puzzle fans to sink their teeth into.

More: Chip’s Challenge on Wikipedia
Steam: Chip’s Challenge (2015) on Steam

Impossible Mission, Sega Master System

The Sega Master System conversion of Dennis Caswell‘s classic Impossible Mission is pretty damn good.

Developed by US Gold – in conjunction with EpyxImpossible Mission features all the good things about the original Commodore 64 version – except for the digitised speech. The spooky metallic footstep sound effects are familiar; as are the robots, the somersaults, the puzzles, the interface, and everything else.

Graphically, it’s a little chunkier than the original, and the colours are more bold, but it’s something of an enhancement. It’s arguable, however, that the main sprite is as good as in the original. That’s probably more down to taste.

Overall, though, Sega Master System Impossible Mission is the same brilliant game as the original, and still fun to play now. Maybe even a top ten game in the entire Master System catalogue.

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

Pentagram, ZX Spectrum

By the time Pentagram came out in 1986, famous development and publishing house – Ultimate Play The Game – had been sold off to US Gold. How much of Pentagram was therefore down to Ultimate‘s designers, and how much was down to US Gold‘s programmers, is still a matter for debate. Most likely, Pentagram was a construct of US Gold, with Ultimate providing only the initial ideas, graphics and game engine (the famous Filmation Engine).

Although Pentagram is the de facto fourth instalment in the Sabreman series (after Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde, and Knight Lore), it doesn’t feel like it fits in with the other three aforementioned games. It doesn’t quite feel like Ultimate.

Unfortunately, after the purchase by US Gold, the Ultimate Play The Game label died a swift death. I don’t think people were fooled by the change of ownership and sales of the last few Ultimate games were peanuts compared to the previous releases.

As a game in its own right, Pentagram just about pushes the Filmation Engine as far as it can go on a humble Speccy. Just like in Knight Lore and Alien 8, there’s tons of slowdown when a few things are moving on-screen at the same time. And – like Knight Lore and Alien 8Pentagram is ridiculously difficult too.

More: Pentagram on Wikipedia

Spy Hunter, BBC Micro

David Hoskins made this BBC Micro conversion of Spy Hunter for Micro Power, Sega and US Gold (not to mention Bally Midway) in 1986.*

It’s a strange conversion overall. For starters: the scrolling play area is really vertical – more vertical than the arcade original – which is weird. Secondly, the roads are quite empty and there’s only one skill level (that I could find), so no way of increasing the difficulty or the amount of traffic. Thirdly, the speedboat sections come too frequently (the opposite of the arcade version, which is rare, and the NES version, which is super rare), which lessens their ‘specialness’.

Overall, the BBC Micro version of Spy Hunter is a mess. Yes, it’s slightly playable, but it isn’t much fun and it seems to be one of those conversions where the programmer didn’t care enough (or couldn’t see their mistakes) to make it a reasonable representation of the arcade game. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you that this is a good game…

* = That’s a hell of a chain of command – four major games companies and they still can’t come up with a decent game… BBC Spy Hunter should have been a lot better considering those involved.

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

Spy Hunter, ZX Spectrum

Sega did a marvellous job of converting Bally Midway‘s classic Spy Hunter onto the ZX Spectrum in 1984.

Not only is the game colourful and beautifully-adapted to Sir Clive‘s diminutive machine, but it’s also very playable, fun, and challenging.

Let’s not get too carried away: it’s nowhere near as good as the arcade original, but it is a marvellous adaptation on the Spectrum. All the cars seem to be oversized, which makes them look kinda cute.

This is another game I bought back in the 1980s and enjoyed every minute playing.

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