Saturday, August 18, 2012

Amiga Games

It’s 1985 again and the home computer market is still wide-open. Commodore Business Machines, flush with lucre from the wildly successful Commodore 64, begins selling their next generation machine, the multimedia powerhouse known as the Amiga. I recently dug mine out of storage and played my way through a stack of floppies. Here are my thoughts:

Defender Of The Crown: Released in 1986 by Cinemaware , DOTC is a strategy game set in medieval England. You play as one of several Saxon kings who must defend his territory from Norman invaders. You amass armies, lay siege to castles, joust in tournament and rescue (and subsequently knock brogues with) distressed damsels. The graphics and sound are the best seen anywhere outside of an arcade in ‘86, but the game lacks depth and can be finished in one sitting—if you can get past the difficult start.

Arkanoid: A near-perfect port of the arcade game. Big plus: it’s played with the mouse, giving you much better control than the NES version. 

Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back: Another couple of arcade ports They keep the vector graphics look of the originals, but use more clear-sounding samples. Star Wars with its epic trench run sequence is the more memorable of the two.

Mindwalker: Didn’t work. Instead, I got the dreaded guru meditation. Too bad. As I recall, this game was quite fun.

It Came From The Desert: A Cinemaware adventure game, heavily influenced by 50s horror flicks; Them! in particular. You play as geologist Greg Bradley, sent to the town of Lizard Breath, Nevada to investigate the recent crash of a meteor. As meteors often do, this one has caused the local population of ants to grow to immense size and attack the local townsfolk. The game’s currency is time: Speaking with characters, investigating car crashes, fighting giant mutant ants or recovering in the hospital takes time, and you only have 15 days to mobilize the town of Lizard Breath against the insect menace. This is one of my favorite Amiga games, and I may revisit it in greater detail in the future.

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco And The Time Rippers sends Our Hero bouncing around time in an attempt to save his unborn son, as well as his planet's future from the evil Sludge Vohaul. Sure it’s a bog-standard time travel plot, but SQ4 is still pretty epic in scope compared to the previous games. It also looks much better than the previous games; a fact that’s humorously lamp-shaded when Roger revisits Space Quest 1. VGA graphics and Sound Blaster cards in PCs had really closed the multimedia gap by the time SQ4 was released, so the DOS version is the way to go.

The Three Stooges: Yet another Cinemaware game. This one features the Stooges trying to collect enough money to save an orphanage from a standard-issue evil banker.  To earn money, the Stooges work odd jobs, which are mini-games based on memorable Stooges shorts. There’s a pie fight, a boxing match, (Larry has to retrieve a radio playing that Weasel tune before Curly gets KOed) a race through a hospital in Shriner cars, a trivia contest, and others. Like DOTC, The Three Stooges looks and sounds fantastic, but it lacks depth or replay value and it’s really only fun for Stooge fans. 

Hybris: A vertical space shooter in the style of Xevious. Fun game, but on my Amiga the graphics were badly glitched. (Tee hee--glitched.) The more I played, the worse they got, to the point where the screen was just a mess of smeared colors and random blocks. 

Better Dead Than Alien: Another vertical shooter, but this one works. It plays much like Galaxian meets Space Invaders. This game’s not much of a looker, but, played with a mouse, it’s a lot of fun as your little space ship is very responsive and maneuverable. 

Shanghai: A Mahjong game. Remember when these were big?

Shufflepuck Café:  This game finally answers the age-old question “What if Mos Eisley got an air hockey table?” You must climb the Shufflepuck ranks, defeating a motley crue of aliens (and a half-naked woman, of course) to become Champion and earn the right to use the pay phone at the bar. Seriously. It’s a fun game of air hockey with smooth mouse controls and decent animations on the opponents. Though he first few opponents are easy enough, the difficulty soon ratchets up to the point where you need preternatural Jedi reflexes to win, making it an exercise in frustration. That naked chick totally cheats, too.

Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego: Not much more to say about this edu-tainment classic. In terms of looks, it sure kicks the crap out of the Apple II version I played in school.

Another World: This is it, the big mutha of Amiga games. The one that really showed what the Amiga could do. It’s an adventure game/puzzle platformer that tells the story of a particle physicist who gets zapped to another planet as the result of a botched experiment. He’s attacked and captured by a hostile alien race, and must join with another captive to escape the alien prison, the catacombs underneath, and an alien city. Other than a few words spoken in an alien language, there’s no dialog in the game. The characters’ intentions are all conveyed through their movements and facial expressions, and the plot is advanced through several very cinematic cut-scenes. It uses flat-shaded polygons and a muted color palette of blues and grays that give it a look similar to cel-shaded games like Wind Waker. The character animation is rotoscoped from live-action test footage, giving it a very fluid and realistic look. Unfortunately, as amazing as this game is to watch, it’s even more frustrating to play. This game is hard! Certain jumps require you to be in pixel-perfect alignment, otherwise you’ll miss your mark and skewer yourself on a stalagmite. There’s no guidance or handholding here, either. No flashing hotspots or magic fairies tell you that pressing the unimportant-looking button you just ran past is critical to beating an alien six screens down the road. Yep, be prepared to follow a walkthrough or backtrack a lot! It’s adventure gaming in its cruelest, most raw form, but it’s a hell of a ride.

Thanks for reading my reviews! Next week, we defend Earth from a killer planetoid in The Guardian Legend.

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