Lyonsden Blog

Category - Gaming

Tanglewood: A New Sega Mega Drive Release

Tanglewood Mega Drive

In addition to my affection for Commodore’s range of computers I also have quite a soft spot for the Sega Mega Drive. I was really excited when I discovered that ‘Big Evil Corp‘ had developed a brand new game called Tanglewood and were planning to do a proper physical release. I pre-ordered it on the spot. That was 8 months ago now though so I’d almost forgotten all about it. Almost.

On Saturday morning I received a sturdy looking cardboard box in the post with the ‘Big Evil Corp’ logo on it. I instantly knew what it was and my excitement level peaked again as I hastily ripped the packaging open to reveal the contents inside. I was not disappointed!

 

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Although I backed Xeno Crisis on Kickstarter over a year ago, that has still not materialised so this is the first brand new Mega Drive game I’ve clapped eyes on in well over 20 years. Although lacking the Sega Mega Drive logo on the cover (for legal reasons) they have otherwise captured the essence of what a Mega Drive game box should look like perfectly. Opening the case up reveals a beautifully made full colour instruction booklet (remember them?) and the cartridge in all its glory. The box even has that annoying retail hanger on the top for the ultimate in authenticity!

 

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Although I own an original Sega Mega Drive and Mega Drive II console, the console I actually use 99% of the time is an AtGames Flashback HD. I know these AtGames clones get a lot of stick online but personally I think it’s a great piece of kit for the money, especially for a casual owner like myself. It has super crisp HDMI out, wireless pads, a proper cartridge slot and it also allows game save states which are a godsend these days. I do occasionally experience the odd minor sound glitch or stutter in some games but never anything that spoils my enjoyment.

 

Tanglewood Mega Drive

Tanglewood Cartridge loaded on AtGames Flashback Console

 

Why am I mentioning this? Well I must admit I was a little nervous when I inserted the cart and switched my console on. With it being a brand new cart I was worried they might have done things a little differently causing the game to ‘break’ on my console. Would they even know about the Flashback HD and would they have tested their game with such a clone?

Happily all my concerns were completely unfounded and the cart was recognised straight away. I sank a good few hours into the game and experienced no issues with it what-so-ever. I’m enjoying the game immensely too, it looks beautiful, has some great sound effects and music and the main character is endearing and beautifully animated. It’s just an all round charming and fun game to play. I’m sure it would have featured high in the charts had it been released during the Mega Drive’s heyday.

 

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VIC20 Penultimate+ Cartridge

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Thought I’d share a little review of a new gizmo I picked up for my VIC20 recently. It’s called the ‘Penultimate+’ cartridge and it’s sold by The Future Was 8-bit.

It aims to be the only cartridge you will ever need to put in your VIC20’s expansion slot. It combines a RAM pack, various expansion carts, reset button, system diagnostics and over 70 game ROM’s into a single cartridge and all accessible through a simple and intuitive menu system.

 

What you get

The artwork on the packaging is fantastic, riffing off the original cartridge boxes to produce a product dripping with nostalgia. It’s a slip-case rather than a box though which disappointed me a little bit. Although I realise my cartridge is likely going to stay plugged in most of its life, it would have been great to have a proper box to store it in for those times when it’s not. Even if I never unplug the cartridge again, as a collector I would have appreciated a proper box to display on my shelf. With no cartridge inside the slip-case is very flimsy and could be easily squashed flat.

 

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The cartridge itself is sturdily built from brown plastic to a very high standard. It fits snugly into the VIC20’s expansion port without any issues at all. Most of Commodore’s original expansion carts were produced in a similar colour so again this is a nice nostalgic nod to the past.

On the top are two buttons. The first button on the left is an illuminated ‘menu’ button that launches the Penultimate+ Cartridge’s menu screen. The second ‘reset’ button on the right resets your VIC20 vastly reducing the need to power cycle your machine.

Given that much of the time this cart is going to be used for playing games, having joystick navigation through menus is a godsend. Simply move up and down with the stick and press fire to select a menu item or launch a game. Some frequently used options also have handy keyboard shortcuts too.

 

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The RAM Pack Function

The RAM pack behaves in much the same way as other switchable RAM packs like the Vixen one I already have. The one big difference with this one is that you can change the amount of RAM available using the on-screen menu instead of messing with DIP switches. You are able to chose from Unexpanded (no extra RAM), 3K, 8K, 24K, 32K and 35K. Strangely there’s no option to select 16K but playing 16K games with the 24K option seems to work just fine.

There’s a couple of ways to access the extra RAM depending on what you need it for:

  1. Select one of the ‘Set RAM…’ options from the menu to have that amount of RAM allocated whilst remaining in the menu system so you can load a game ROM.
  2. Press one of the function key shortcuts at the bottom of the screen to reset your VIC20 and drop you at the BASIC screen with the extra memory allocated. This is the option you would choose if you wanted to write a program or load one off a cassette tape and needed the extra RAM to do so.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Main menu with RAM options.

 

The Games

The games are neatly arranged into 4 categories:

  • The Future Was 8-Bit Titles (exclusive new games released by TFW8b)
  • Games (this is where the vast majority of the game ROMs can be found)
  • Adventure Games (all the Scott Adams cartridge adventure games)
  • Paddle Games (all the paddle compatible games)

 

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Penultimate+ Included Games List

Adventureland AdventureMission Impossible Adventure
AEMosquito Infestation
AggressorMotocross Racer
Alien BlitzMs. Pac-Man
Alien SidestepOmega Race
AmokPac-Man
Attack of the Mutant CamelsPentagorat
AvengerPharaoh's Curse
Basic-v4Pirate's Cove Adventure
BattlezonePole Position
Bertie the BallPrincess and Frog
Black HoleQ-Bert
BolderDanRadar Rat Race
Buck RogersRaid on Fort Knox
CentipedeRiver Rescue
Cheese and OnionRoad Race
ChoplifterRobotron
CloudburstRodMan
ClownsSatellite Patrol
Cosmic JailbreakSerpentine
Crater RaiderShamus
Creepy CorridorsSkibbereen
CyclonSpaceship-1
Deadly SkiesSquishem
DefenderStar Battle
Demon AttackSub Chase
Dig DugSuper Expander
Donkey KongSuper Slot
DragonfireSuper Starship Space Attack
Fast BoyTerraguard
FroggerTetris
Future FighterThe Count Adventure
GalaxianThe Sky is Falling
Gold FeverThreshold
GorfTopper
GridrunnerTornado
Jelly MonstersTutankham
Jungle HuntTypo
KeyQuestViccyBird
K-Razy AntiksVICKIT4&5
LazerzoneVicterm 40
Lode RunnerVoodoo Castle Adventure
Mine Madness

SD2IEC Functionality

Unlike, for example, the 1541 Ultimate cartridge that you can get for the Commodore 64, the Penultimate+ Cartridge does not allow you to add any content of your own. You are stuck with the cartridges and game ROM’s that it ships with.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

SD2IEC Device

 

Thankfully however, it does provide a quick way to access any content you may have via an SD2IEC device. Selecting this option from the menu will allow you to easily browse through the content of an SD card using a joystick. For games that won’t run on an unexpanded VIC20 you can allocate the correct amount of additional RAM needed before launching a game. I found this to work really well but I do need to spend a little time organising my game collection by how much RAM each needs.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Navigating the SD2IEC menus

 

Utilities

Under this section you will find a bunch of utilities that may be of interest to the more dedicated user.

 

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Utilities

 

Vic Term

This is a terminal program but as I don’t have a suitable modem for my VIC20 I’ve been unable to try this.

Vickit

This is a high speed cassette loading system. If you load this up and re-save a program to cassette it will load back in a fraction of the time.

BASIC4

This adds a number of sorely lacking disk handling commands to the VIC20’s BASIC arsenal such as ‘DIRECTORY’ and ‘DLOAD’.

Super Expander

This is probably the most useful of the bunch and greatly increases the BASIC commands available for writing programs. It provides dedicated graphics and sound commands along with some extra RAM to create them. It also provides commands that enable you to easily read paddle and joystick inputs. If you were thinking of writing a VIC20 game then this would be a great cart to load up. The only downside to this is however is that anyone else that wanted to run your program would also need the Super Expander for it to work!

VIC20 Dead Test+

This could prove to be another really useful feature to have on board. When you load this up it will test various aspects of your VIC20’s RAM and ROM in an endless cycle. If your VIC20 ever starts behaving strangely then this would be a great tool to load up to get an idea what’s going wrong.

If your VIC20 won’t even boot up then you can hold down the reset button for 10 seconds after switching it on to go straight to the dead test function. This is where ‘Dead Test’ cart actually earns its name.

I would have liked an option to buy dongles to plug into the various ports enabling a more comprehensive test but it’s still a great tool to have at your disposal. Maybe a future version will offer this feature.

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

‘Dead Test’

Verdict

If you have a VIC20 then you should seriously consider getting one of these cartridges. It successfully combines a huge number of cartridges, games and functions into a single plug and play cartridge driven by a simple and intuitive menu system.

Even if you’re like me and have an extensive collection of cartridges already I would still recommend getting this. Not only is it hugely convenient to have an entire library of titles and functions always at the ready but it saves the wear and tear of both your VIC20’s cartridge port and the individual edge connectors of your cartridges. If you add an SD2IEC reader then you can literally have everything a few stick waggles and a button press away.

Does it fulfil it’s mission to be the one and only cartridge you need? Almost, but I still have an Adman speech synthesiser cartridge that I enjoy messing about with from time to time. Maybe a future ‘Ultimate’ version will incorporate this too and then it really can remain plugged in forever!

Retrokomp – A brand new Retro Computer Magazine

Retrokomp Magazine

I originally spotted Retrokomp Magazine a few months ago. I thought it looked interesting but sadly it was only available in Polish at the time. That’s changed now though so I ordered myself a copy for €10 plus postage last week and it arrived today.

 

Retrokomp Magazine

A technical article looking at diagnosing issues with the Commodore 64

 

So what exactly is it?

Retrokomp Magazine is a brand new retro computer magazine that focuses on 8-Bit and 16-Bit machines and is published by amiga.net.pl in Poland. Although it covers other makes and models of machine there is a lot of Commodore content covering everything from the VIC20 though to the Amiga. The other machines covered include Atari, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and the old Apple computers. It’s produced in full colour to a high standard on A4 glossy paper and there are 74 pages in total.

 

Retrokomp Magazine

Detailed look at the long lost methods of interacting with 5.25″ floppies and how you can convert them to .D64’s

 

The first thing that struck me as I flicked through it is that it’s not like most of the other magazines in circulation right now. This is not a game-centric magazine, it’s very text heavy and it contains a lot of articles and information. This is a good thing in my opinion as there are plenty of other magazines that cover games already.

I’ve read a few of the articles in full and they’re well written, interesting and informative. They’re the sort of articles that I will either refer back to in the future or prompt me to start experimenting with a particular piece of kit or write a program. They remind me a little bit of the sort of articles you used to get in Amiga Shopper magazine (RIP).

 

Retrokomp Magazine

Making a VIC20 sound generator, complete with type-in listing

 

A quick run-down of the Commodore-centric articles in this issue:

  • Transferring data to the C64 (looks at converting real floppies into .D64 files)
  • Controlling the floppy disk drive (in depth look at floppy disks usage on the 64)
  • Expansion cards for the C16 – Plus/4 family (everything from adding more RAM to sound cards)
  • Diagnostic info for repairing Commodore 64’s
  • Better sound for the VIC20 (how to write your own sound generator – complete with listing to type in!!!)
  • Hardware expansions for the CD32 (looks at several devices you can get to expand the capabilities of the machine)
  • Devices supported by handlers (a look at Amiga DOS handlers and what you can do with them)
  • Tandem IDE controller (a look at the Tandem IDE CD-ROM drive controller for the Amiga)

 

 

Retrokomp Magazine

CD32 Expansions

 

Verdict

Although I’ve not read all of the magazine yet, what I have read so far impressed me. Even the non Commodore articles look interesting, so if I ever pick up one of those other machines there’s plenty to come back for.

Basically if you are interested in using your old computers for anything other than simply playing games on then I’d definitely recommend giving this magazine a try. It’s clearly targeted at hobbyists and tinkerers like myself and has plenty to offer.  If, however, you are only interested in games then this probably isn’t the magazine for you.

 

Retrokomp Magazine

Happy days – a program listing to type in! This alone made the purchase worthwhile. (yes it’s deliberately blurred)

 

Amiga Future #137

Amiga Future #137

Once again, just in time for some weekend reading, the latest issue #137 of Amiga Future was posted through my letterbox this morning. I was reassured to see that it’s packed to the gills with great content as usual with a particular focus on reviews this time.

 

Amiga Future #137

Amiga Future Front Cover

 

There’s several game reviews including Powerglove Reloaded, The Kiwi’s Tale, Trap runner and more. A review of SMBFS which allows the Amiga to access NAS drives using the Samba File System (might do an article about setting this up in the future). There’s a great review of Amiga Forever 8 from Cloanto, latest Amiga news, Aminet uploads and plenty more to read. The coverdisk includes a full release of NemacIV plus lots of other goodies too.

I also received a notification that my 12 month subscription was about to expire, certainly doesn’t seem like 12 months since I last renewed! Anyway, at under £63 (€69) for another 12 months (including coverdisks) it was an easy decision to renew it.

Here’s a little peak at some of the pages of Amiga Future #137. If you’d like to purchase a copy then take a look here.

 

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VIC20 Keyboard Repair

VIC-20

This is just a quick post about how I was able to repair the damaged keyboard on my recently unearthed Commodore VIC20.

As I mentioned previously in my VIC20 Attic Find post, the decades of storage in my attic had taken its toll on the keyboard. The insides of the keys had become brittle and four of them had broken apart. As you can see from the following photo they were in a pretty bad shape. In this condition they just wobbled around on top of the plungers and fell straight off if the keyboard was turned upside down.

 

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

Broken and crumbling keys

 

The quick and easy solution would have been to stick some blue-tack in there but I doubt that would have been an effective bodge for long. Alternatively I could have glued them in place but then they would be permanently attached to the keyboard with no way of removing them for future cleaning or repairs. As my dad always used to say, if a job’s worth doing then it’s worth doing properly!

I did toy with the idea of replacing the whole keyboard with one from a donor machine off eBay. However that wasn’t cost effective and I really wanted to keep my VIC as original as possible.

I asked and searched around and eventually stumbled across retroleum.co.uk. They sell (amongst other spares) individual replacement Commodore 64 keys for £1 each. Luckily for me, the keyboard on my VIC20 is identical to the ones found on the original breadbin style C64’s. Not all revisions are so do check carefully before buying C64 keys if you want to fit them on a VIC20.

 

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

My new VIC20 keys!

 

Particularly useful was the fact that they sell a wide variety of keys, not just from different models of C64’s, but with different levels of yellowing too! This meant I was able to choose some that would blend in perfectly with the rest of my keyboard. In the end the keys I ordered were described as ‘Breadbin C64 – Keyboard Type 2, Grade 1.5’. A couple of days after ordering them they arrived in a neat little cardboard box.

 

VIC20 Keyboard Repair

New keys fitted – perfect match!

 

Fitting the new keys only took a few seconds and I was really pleased to see that they turned out to be a perfect match for my keyboard. My VIC20 is certainly looking a lot happier and I can actually use the keyboard now too.

Now that the keyboard is sorted I still need to look into sorting a few other things out. Next job will be to pop a few heat-sinks onto some of the more critical chips and maybe retrobrite it, if I’m feeling brave that is, (my last attempt was a disaster).

Freeze 64 Issue 25

Freeze 64 Issue 25

I have been eagerly awaiting Issue 25 of Freeze 64 for ages… I’m sure my postie must have travelled via the Bermuda Triangle to get to me!

Anyway it finally arrived today and as usual it does not disappoint. This issue’s featured game and interview is Herobotix and its’ programmer, Steven Collins. There’s also a tongue-in-cheek look at toilets that feature in C64 games, and the making of Rupert & The Toymakers Party plus all the regulars such as The Mouldy Cupboard, Secret Squirrel and much more.

 

Freeze 64 Issue 25

Freeze 64 Issue 25 pictured with this months Cheat Card (#22) and Herobotix, this months featured game.

 

This is a particularly special edition for me personally because I’m actually in it!!! Vinny (the Editor) did a little interview with me about my C64 game collection for the regular “My Commodore 64 Heaven” feature. The following copy of the article is only reproduced here with his kind permission.

 

Freeze 64 Issue 25

My Commodore 64 Heaven Interview (reproduced with permission).

 

As always, if you’d like to get your own copy (this magazine is only available in print form) then please head over to the Freeze64 website and show your support by buying a copy.

Hibernated 1 – A New Text Adventure

Hibernated 1

Been waiting for this particular game to arrive for what feels like an eternity after having pre-ordered it last year. As of today that wait is finally over! Hibernated 1 – This Place is Death is now on my desk waiting to be played! 🙂

This isn’t a review as I’ve not had time to play the game yet, just a look at the physical edition and what’s inside it. Hopefully once I’ve completed it (always the optimist) I’ll write one.!

 

Hibernated 1

Amiga 3.5″ Disk & MicroSD Card

 

Which format?

I deliberated over whether to get the game on the Commodore 64 or Amiga for a while before ordering. In the end the Amiga won out due to it being able to display a greater number of characters per screen row. Given this is a text adventure I thought that was the most important consideration. However the beauty of this release is that although I chose the Amiga, this only affects the physical media the game ships with. On the MicroSD card are digital versions of ALL of the supported formats, including the Commodore 64. The other formats on the card are; Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Spectrum and IBM PC along with some bonus stuff like concept art.

Eight Feet Under

An extra bonus is that a digital copy of the spin-off game, ‘Eight Feet Under’ is included – you can download it from itch.io and again you have the same choice of formats as above. You can also choose to get Hibernated 1 digitally if you like, it’s available here and you can name your own price.

 

Hibernated 1

A look at what’s inside the box

 

Box Contents

Inside the box there are plenty of goodies to enjoy, here’s a quick rundown:

 

  • A5 full colour game manual
  • A3 full colour poster
  • Game on physical disk
  • Digital version of the game on MicroSD card (in a snazzy Hibernated case)
  • Password to download ‘Eight Feet Under’ from itch.io
  • Terran Alliance round cloth patch
  • Stickers
  • Adverts for some other poly.play games

 

Couple of screenshots

Here’a quick look at the loading screen and the opening screen to the game.

Open eyes… 😉

 

Hibernated 1

Loading Screen

 

Hibernated 1

Open eyes…….

 

Replacing Grotty Game Library Cases

Replacing Game Library Cases

Replacing your game library cases is a very quick and easy method of rejuvenating some of your old cassette games. If yours are anything like some of mine then you may have several scratched up, chipped, broken or yellowed cases skulking around in your collection. The good news is that there are still companies out there supplying replacement cassette library cases. The company I use, based in the UK, is called Tapeline but there are probably others too.

The ones I’m using here are just standard black library cases costing around 26p each at the time of writing. You can get a variety of different types and colours too, even double and triple cases should you need them.

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Standard Black Library Case

 

Once the cases arrive it’s simply a matter of removing the cassette tape and paper ‘J’ card inlay from the old case and popping it inside a nice shiny new one. Here’s a few before and after photos to show the difference they can make. I’m sure you’ll agree that after replacing the game library cases the games look infinitely better, almost like new!

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

Before

 

Replacing Game Library Cases

After

Tiny Arcade Space Invaders

Tiny Arcade Space Invaders

Rounding off this month with something a little different… I’ve seen these Tiny Arcade games around for a while now but managed to resist the temptation to buy one. At the back of my mind I was always thinking they’d just be too small to play on and just a gimmick. Well last weekend I finally caved in and bought the Space Invaders one on impulse at the checkout of my local Game store so here’s my little review of it.

 

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Contents

The packaging is all transparent plastic which allows you to see exactly what you are buying. A little cut-out in the front lets you start up a demo without opening the pack (assuming it’s not behind a locked cabinet in the shop of course). Once you’ve got it home only a couple of pieces tape need to be sliced through on the top flap and the whole package opens easily and safely.

 

Tiny Arcade Space Invaders

Size comparison with a AA battery

 

A closer look

They’re certainly not kidding about it being tiny. Once unpacked it stands just 9cm (3.5″) tall and 4cm (1.5″) wide. It’s powered by 3 AAA batteries and a set are supplied inside it. There’s an on/off switch on the rear although I won’t be using that so much myself. The device goes into sleep mode if you don’t touch it for 30 seconds and so long as you let it do this it maintains your high score. I think that’s well worth sacrificing a little battery life for.

 

Tiny Arcade Space Invaders

Back panel and battery compartment

 

What does it look like?

By default the game ships in ‘demo’ mode so you need to turn the power off and back on again when you first open it. Doing this basically resets it, something I didn’t do at first, leaving it stuck in perpetual demo mode. Chalking that one up to one of those rare occasions when it actually pays to read the manual!

There is a key-chain on the rear of the cabinet, though why anyone would want to attach it to their keys is beyond me. Still, it doesn’t interfere with using the device and it isn’t visible when the device is on display so it’s not really an issue. If it really bothers you it could be removed easily enough by snipping through the metal attachment loop with some wire cutters.

Once it is turned on you’ll immediately notice just how good that little screen is. I’m not sure what sort of technology it is using, but whatever it is, it’s very clear and vibrant. A particularly nice feature I noticed was that the ‘Space Invaders’ sign above the screen lights up when it’s turned on. This really helps to recreate that authentic arcade cabinet appearance.

 

Tiny Arcade Space Invaders

Screen is crisp, clear and vibrant

 

What does it sound like?

The sound also impressed me too, being both loud and clear with no distortion. One small criticism is that I couldn’t find a way to alter the volume or mute it. Thankfully it’s set to a sensible level and I didn’t really feel the need to change it. It might be an issue if you wanted to play it next to someone trying to sleep or watch TV though.

 

Tiny Arcade Space Invaders

High Score is saved so long as you don’t turn the power off via the rear switch

 

How does it play?

Incredibly well actually! It’s an extremely faithful version of the game we all know and love. Despite my large hands and the tiny joystick and fire buttons I was able to control my ship and fire away without an issue. My fingers didn’t block the screen either which was another thing I was concerned about. The screen is easy to see, even for me wearing varifocal glasses. As I mentioned earlier the game saves your high score so that urge to have ‘one more go’ to get a higher one is as strong as it ever was.

 

Videos

Here’s a couple of videos of it in action. They only show the demo running but should give you a good idea of how the game plays. The funny noises at the start of the first video are just Vector chirping away to himself, nothing to do with the game!

 

 

 

 

 

Worth a buy?

Absolutely. I’m no Space Invaders aficionado by any means but to me this seems like a pretty accurate replica of both the arcade cabinet and the game itself. Space Invaders was one of the first arcade games I ever played as child alongside Asteroids and Pacman. This little package really encapsulates that early 1980’s experience perfectly for me and all within a cabinet that fit’s in the palm of my hand!

There are a lot of copycat products that offer dozens, even hundreds of games but they rarely have the official games on them and tend to be full of rubbish clones. They certainly don’t have the game specific arcade cabinet designs like the Super Impulse ones do which is quite a big deal to me.

These little arcade cabinets retail for around £25 although occasionally pop up in sales for less. I got mine from Game (a physical shop in the UK) but you can get them online from Amazon and other places too.

Whether you buy it as a cool shelf ornament or to actually play on I think it’s a terrific little device and well worth the money. In fact I’m so impressed with it that I’ll be picking up some more of the range so I can build up a mini arcade of my own!

Fusion Issue 4 has arrived

Fusion Issue 4

This morning the latest edition of Fusion magazine, issue 4, dropped onto my doormat. There’s quite a variety of interesting gaming content including a look at the Picade, PlayStation Classic and reviews of Spiderman and Hollow Night. There’s also articles about the Robocop arcade game, the history of Super Monkey Ball and even a ‘Retro Man Cave’ article looking at the Pioneer LaserActive.

There’s quite a bit more I’ve not covered too, but despite all that, I can’t help but feel short changed by the complete lack of Commodore related content this month. There’s simply nothing about my beloved machines at all. The most relevant thing I could find was an article about joysticks. Still, that’s the chance you take with any multi-format publication I guess. Hopefully in the next issue they will redress the balance!

Should any of those subject areas I’ve mentioned sound interesting then you might like to visit their website to order your own copy. However, if you’re mainly interested in reading about Commodore related stuff then I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to skip this issue.

If you’ve never heard of this magazine before then you might like to take a look at my overviews of the previous 3 issues here: Issue #1, Issue #2, Issue #3.

 

Fusion Issue 4

Interesting article about retro Joysticks

Mono Review

Mono

Mono is a brand new PAL game for the Commodore 64 created by a couple of guys in Switzerland, Clay Spoerri and Raphael Graf. It’s only available in cartridge format and costs €35 plus postage from their website. I bought this pretty much blind a few months ago as there was little information about it online. Sadly my first copy was faulty so had to be replaced (thanks Raphael) but the new one works perfectly so I thought I’d write a little review in case anyone else is interested in the game.

 

Contents

 

For your money you get a nicely designed plastic case with a cool manga inspired front cover featuring the pilot of your ship with some game screenshots and ship artwork on the back.

 

Mono

Mono Back Cover

 

Inside the case you will find a sleek black cartridge with the title of the game etched onto it. The cartridge fits into the C64’s expansion port easily, unlike some other recent cartridges that required shoehorning in! You also get an instruction sheet, mono pin badge, a sticker, postcard and a beer mat/coaster. It should be noted that the latter three items all relate to other games, only the pin badge relates to mono. It’s only a minor complaint but I would have loved to see a sticker in the box of the girl or your ship instead. Also the cartridge is loose inside the case – a foam insert would have stopped it sliding around inside.

 

Mono

Mono Game Contents

 

Gameplay

 

Mono is a vertically scrolling shoot ’em up that features a couple of fairly unique and pretty important gameplay elements that set it apart from similar games. Firstly your ship wraps around the edges of the screen. Move off the left side of the screen and you’ll reappear over on the right. Move off the top or bottom of the screen and you’ll reappear at the opposite end. Once you get used to this it’s actually a great gameplay enhancement and one that becomes essential with some of the bosses you’ll encounter later in the game. However it does take a few minutes to get used to and led to me dying on my first play-though. I kept accidentally moving off the bottom of the screen straight into the aliens spawning at the top!

The second unique feature is that your score and your ships life are one and the same. As you play you’ll notice a series of positive and negative numbers scrolling down the side of the screen. Kill an alien and a positive number will appear. Take a hit and a negative will appear instead. So long as you do more killing than getting hit you’ll be fine. However take too many hits and your score dwindles to zero leading to a ‘game over’.

Like many shoot ’em ups there are weapon power-ups to be had, but again these are linked to your score. Score well and power-ups will appear on screen for you to collect. However take some hits and you will lose your last power-up until you are back down to your standard issue guns. As soon as you start building that score back up the power-ups will start flowing again.

 

Mono

Title Screen

 

Level Design

 

There are six levels in the game, each one themed differently with it’s own colour scheme, music, background, enemies and boss. The backdrops scroll down the screen smoothly but are pretty simply affairs, based around various shapes or patterns – bubbles, lines, pyramids, blocks and even a circuit board (populated by 6510 chips!).

The alien designs are also pretty simple but they’re nice and clear and each feature unique move and firing patterns. Some of the bullets fired home in on your position too which makes for some tricky situations if you don’t take the enemies out quickly enough. There is some overlap of enemy use from one level to the next but the game adds new enemies to each new level to mix things up.

Every level culminates in a boss fight where a group of bullet sponge enemies appear for you to take down before you can progress onto the next level. I found it was during these segments of the game that the screen wrapping feature came into its own, allowing you to stay literally one step ahead of the enemy, out of their line of fire, whilst chipping away at their health.

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Game Length and Difficulty

 

You can play Mono using either the keyboard or a standard joystick which is the option I chose to go with. My thumb also appreciated the fact that your ship auto-fires. No need get cramp stabbing away at that fire button like a madman!

One thing that I have to mention here relates to the game difficulty and length. Those 6 levels are quite short, taking maybe 2-3 minutes to complete each. They’re also pretty easy to get through too as the score-life mechanic is very forgiving. To put this into perspective I was able to beat the game on my second play-though in around 15 minutes and that includes brief interludes where I was taking photos for this review!

I’m guessing that is a feature rather than an issue though. For me it seems the game is built around replaying it and trying to improve on that high score as you learn the move sets of the enemies and best ways to take them out without getting hit.

Sound

 

Mono has some great music playing throughout the game and it changes slightly for each new level. There are no sound effects at all in the game because all the SID’s voices are being utilised to produce the soundtrack. However this is no bad thing, at least to my ears as I really enjoyed the music.

 

Mono

My High Score: 181

 

Verdict

 

I realise that for some, €35 for a game that can be bested in 15 minutes may not be perceived as value for money. If so you’ll need to way up the pros and cons I’ve mentioned already in order to decide if this game is for you. Sadly there is no digital purchase available so it’s the Cartridge version or nothing I’m afraid.

Speaking for myself I’ve really enjoyed my time playing Mono, although the graphics are a little simplistic the gameplay is tight and rewarding and the music is terrific. The physical packaging is fantastic and looks great on my shelf. I’ll definitely be replaying it often to improve my score and it’s the perfect game to play if you’re limited on time… you know from the outset that a game will never last more than 15 minutes!

I think the price is quite fair too and on a par with the majority of other cartridge releases so all things considered it gets a recommended from me. 🙂

Six Classic VIC20 Games Added & Remembered

I received a nice package in the post this week containing half a dozen classic games for the VIC20. Four of these are actually re-acquisitions after I foolishly sold them. In my defence, at the time I believed I no longer still had my VIC20 so had little use for them. The other two (Skyhawk & Myriad) I only ever had copies copies of. I wanted to have the original games in my collection.

The Six Game Packages

 

 

All but one of the games loaded fine, though a couple needed a second try, either from the flip side of the tape or in the case of Skyhawk, the correct side of the tape! Sadly Tank Commander just didn’t load at all, it never even registered a ‘found’ on either side of the cassette so that one goes back on my shopping list…

 

They’re all in great condition and complete with their little instruction booklets. I have to admit I’ve never really been a big fan of these early plastic clam-shell cases. They often tended to have ill fitting inlays that stuck out of the top or bottom of the case leading to them becoming dog-eared or worse. Thankfully these cases have fared pretty well considering their age and still look really smart.

 

A brief look at each game together with a screenshot

 

I thought I’d honour the occasion with a screenshot of each game taken after I got them to load (or not). Maybe it will jog a few happy memories for you too. I know I had completely forgotten what a few of these looked like until loading them up. Crucially I’d forgotten what they sounded like! The woosh and thrum of my harrier jump jet loading fuel and getting ready to fly in Skyhawk instantly whisked me back to my childhood for example.

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Skyhawk by Quicksilva – needs either a 3K or 8K RAM expansion. Make sure to load the correct side or you’ll get an ‘out of memory’ error! I used to love this game, even preferring it to Falcon Patrol on the C64. It just just seemed to play and sound better to me, offering a faster paced game that was just more fun to play. Even the bright chunky graphics had a charm of their own that FP couldn’t match.

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Myriad by Rabbit Software – needs 8K RAM expansion. A brilliant little vertical shoot ’em up with colourful graphics and great sound effects. I found this pretty addictive as a child taking turns playing against my school friend to try and get the highest score. This was one of the games I copied, probably off that same friend I was playing against. I’m glad I finally own the game now.

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Submarine Commander by Creative Sparks – needs 16K RAM expansion. Not quite on a par with Silent Service on the C64 but still an engrossing sub sim on the VIC that convinced childhood me that I was the Captain of a submarine!

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Chariot Race by Micro Antics – the only game here that runs on an unexpanded machine. Amazingly this was one of the few VIC games that had a 2 player option. There was no joystick option though, you both had to use the keyboard to control your chariot. With my much larger adult hands this is probably a bit restrictive now but as a child playing against my sister (and beating her all the time) it was never a problem!

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Computer War by Creative Sparks – needs 8K RAM expansion. This was basically a game based on the movie War Games. I suppose you could describe it as a variety of mini games where you had to crack codes and shoot down missiles in order to avoid WW3! This was another game that used to keep me entertained for long periods of time!

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Tank Commander by Creative Sparks – needs 8K RAM expansion. Sadly this is as far as it got when attempting to load it 🙁 It was a great game though, you had to control your little tank within a large scrolling map, taking out enemy tanks and destroying their bases whilst hiding behind cover avoiding their attacks. Think top-down World of Tanks using just 14 kilobytes of memory! 🙂

 

All of these games were played heavily as a child, particularly those that required more RAM. The extra memory afforded improved effects and more interesting, in-depth games.  I remember being especially fond of Skyhawk, Myriad and Tank commander back in the day. This makes the fact that Tank Commander wouldn’t load all the more disappointing. However I can’t help but be amazed that the other five games still loaded perfectly, nearly 40 years after they were made on a format that was never expected to last this long.

 

Classic VIC20 Games

Looks like there’s still a couple of original games I still need to track down before I can retire this tape! Incidentally the cassette inlay was designed and printed on the VIC20 by me using the Commodore 1520 Printer Plotter and BASIC.