Lyonsden Blog

Category - Reviews

A look back at Pinball Spectacular and Raid on Fort Knox for the VIC20

Pinball Spectacular

Picked up another duo of classic VIC20 game cartridges off eBay to add to my collection this week. Pinball Spectacular and Raid on Fort Knox, both of which are in pretty good condition complete with their original boxes and instruction sheets.

As usual I spent some time scanning the boxes in and adding them to my ‘3D VIC20 Game Museum‘. It’s so much easier to do this as and when I get new games. If I leave it too long they pile up and I develop a kind of mental block that prevents me doing them!

I’ve never seen or played either of these two before so had no idea what to expect from either of them beforehand. Thought I would share my thoughts on each title in the form of some mini reviews…

 

Pinball Spectacular

I’d never even seen Pinball Spectacular for the VIC20 before so this was a particularly interesting purchase for me. The game requires the use of paddles which was another reason I was keen to pick it up. There weren’t many paddle games made for the VIC so I grab any I can find!

Once I loaded this up I quickly realised that this is not a pinball game at all. It might take a few cues from it but this is basically a version of breakout.

 

Pinball Spectacular

Pinball Spectacular Title/Player select screen

 

You control two horizontal bats that you can move left and right with the paddle. Once you launch the pinball with the fire button you need to keep batting it back up the screen to destroy the coloured blocks. This can quickly get tricky as the ball ricochets, often at high speed, at all sorts of angles due to the design of the ‘table’. The goal here is to clear all the blocks and release an alien which you then destroy by hitting it with the pinball.

So far, this has far more in common with breakout than anything else. Here’s where the the pinball elements come in to play. You can hit the ghost at the top of the screen for extra points. Likewise if you can direct the ball to hit all the little faces (turning the frowns into smiles) you can gain another bonus. Light up the letters E X T R A and unsurprisingly you earn an extra ball.

 

Pinball Spectacular

Pinball Spectacular

 

It’s a very simple game but it’s presented attractively with a great use of colour and some decent sound effects. Best of all it’s actually really good fun to play, helped in no small part by the use of paddles to control the bats. I can see myself coming back to play this often, trying to rack up higher and higher scores.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

This game has a lot in common with other games such as Pacman or Radar Rat race. The aim of the game is to steal gold bars from the vaults in Fort Knox and escape back to your hideout with them. Fort Knox is represented as a maze of corridors and for some reason there are black panthers patrolling that you must avoid. Not sure why there’s panthers around instead of guards but no matter. If one touches you,  you lose one of your three lives, lose all three and it’s game over.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

Raid on Fort Knox Title Screen

 

Whilst you are navigating through the corridors to retrieve the gold, one bar at a time, there’s no time limit. However as soon as you grab a gold bar a countdown timer bar appears at the bottom of the screen. You must get back to your hideout, whilst avoiding the panthers, before the time limit runs out. The faster you get back to your hideout, the bigger the payout. If time runs out you get nothing for your troubles. If you steal all the bars you move on to a bonus vault before moving up to the next level.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

First level of Raid on Fort Knox – on the left are the gold bars. You’re the little blue guy top right.

 

The graphics can best be described as rudimentary, as are the sound effects. If it was a budget game on cassette I’d forgive these shortcomings but for a cartridge game it’s disappointing. I reckon it was probably written in BASIC. I’m glad I was able to add it to my collection but in all honesty it’s not a title I see myself coming back to in the future.

 

Raid on Fort Knox

Raid on Fort Knox Bonus Level – avoid those black panthers.

 

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!

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. 🙂

Myst 25th Anniversary Collection Review

Myst 25th Anniversary Collection

It’s finally here, about 8 months after backing this on Kickstarter – the awesome Myst 25th Anniversary Collection animated linking book! I received the digital GOG versions of the remastered games quite some time ago and the physical DVD’s just a few weeks ago. However the linking book is what I’ve really been waiting for and it finally arrived in the post today!

 

Myst 25th Anniversary Collection

Contents

 

It’s turned out to be a lovely collectors item, just liked I’d hoped for. It really does look like a well worn antique book with the way they’ve finished it with faux cracks and worn out fabric and gilding. The linking part is something that only a video can do justice to though so here it is!

 

 

When you open it you get a fantastic fly-past of the game world along with the theme music. The image is crisp, sharp and vivid and the screen beautifully hidden behind the page. This video plays automatically so presumably there is a hidden magnetic switch somewhere that is triggered when you lift the cover.

Along the bottom and side there are magnetic flaps that open up to reveal three hidden drawers. There’s a long shallow draw that runs the full length of the spine which I assume could be used to store the pen if you purchased it (I didn’t). There are also two big drawers which open out on the right. The upper one houses the seven game DVD’s and the other is empty on mine but would probably have stored the inkwell had I been able to afford to add that to my pledge.

 

Myst 25th Anniversary Collection

Linking Book Hidden Drawers

 

Cleverly hidden away from plain sight under the little ‘stains’ and ‘marks’ on the linking screen page are a number of control buttons. These let you control the volume and allow you to switch to another video from a different game should you wish to. There’s also a button that will pause playback.

 

Myst 25th Anniversary Collection

Spot the buttons!

 

A tiny micro USB port hidden under the large flap can be used to charge up the battery for the LCD screen that’s hidden inside. Plug it into a PC and you’ll discover that the book actually has around 500MB of storage on board, most of which is used. There’s 4 folders on the device. One is used to store the actual video that plays when you open the book. The second is full of videos from the various games for you to swap in and out of the ‘play’ folder. A third folder contains a number of game screenshots and box art while the fourth is basically empty besides a readme that suggests you can store your own files in it. There’s also a handy link to re-download the video files should you ever need to.

 

 

Anyway I’m delighted with the finished product and will proudly display this on my gaming shelves for years to come.  I am a little disappointed that I couldn’t get the inkwell but it was around £80 extra and I had to draw a line somewhere!

Here’s a selection of photos from various angles showing the book and screen in more detail.

 

 

Shadow Switcher Review

Shadow Switcher

This little game arrived a few days ago in the post all the way from Germany. It’s a new indie game for the C64 called Shadow Switcher from a company called Dr. Wuro Industries. Rather than simply taking a few photos and saying what’s in the package like I usually do I thought I’d try something a little different this time. So here’s a little review of the game in case anyone else is interested in it.

 

Contents

 

The packaging is quite basic, but well presented and produced. There’s an attractive double-sided printed A5 instruction card which also serves as the front cover. The game comes on a 5.25″ floppy disk along with a postcard, some stickers and a nice little coaster/beer mat featuring the game artwork. It’s all housed in a transparent plastic wallet with a resealable flap.

 

Shadow Switcher

Shadow Switcher Contents

 

Gameplay

 

The idea of the game is simple – collect all the rings on each level to open an exit that will lead to the next level. However things are never quite that simple. In Shadow Switcher there are zombie robots homing in on your position all the time so you can’t afford to stay in any one place for long. If a robot manages to touch you then it’s instant death and you lose one of your three lives. There are also hazards and obstacles within the design of the levels themselves. For example, some rings are behind iron gates which require you to find a key elsewhere on the level to unlock them. Pulsating electric force fields will kill you if you don’t time your passage through them correctly. There are also crumbling platform segments and rings that at first glance might appear inaccessible. You character cannot jump but he doesn’t take fall damage and has some limited momentum that can allow you to reach inaccessible lower platforms if you run off the end of a higher one.

 

Shadow Switcher

Shadow Switcher Title Screen

 

The thing that really makes this game though, and where it gets the ‘Shadow Switcher’ name from, is your shadow and the ‘switching’ mechanic. When you begin a level your shadow is fixed to your starting position. During play, imminent death can be avoided by a quick press of the fire button which will send you straight back to your shadows original position. The robots are always homing in on your current location so most of the time your shadow’s position should be relatively safe. However after switching, your shadow will move to where you were when you pressed fire. It will keep moving like this every time you use the switch mechanic. It’s a great idea and really makes for some absorbing gameplay as you can use it not only to escape danger but to lure the zombie robots away from an area you need to reach.

 

Shadow Switcher

Shadow Switcher Level

 

Additional Features

 

There are 40 varied levels to switch your way through and if you manage to complete all of those there is also a level editor to create your own! Another feature I really appreciated is the persistent high score table. Once you obtain a score high enough to get on the ‘Hall of Fame’ you are prompted to save it to disk. Sadly you cannot save your level progression so you have to start from level one on each play through. I would have liked an option to start from the highest level I’d reached (starting with a zero score of course) so I have a fighting chance of seeing all 40 levels.

 

Shadow Switcher

Shadow Switcher High Score Save Screen

 

Graphics & Sound

 

The graphics are quite simple but they suit the game perfectly and have a charm of their own. Everything is clear and well defined. Colours are well chosen creating vibrant looking levels without any ‘fuzzy’ looking areas which can be a problem with some colour combinations on the C64. There’s no sound effects at all but there is some quite catchy music that plays throughout and it suits the game well. It certainly never annoyed me and it actually stuck in my head long after I’d finished playing.

 

Shadow Switcher

Shadow Switcher Level

 

Verdict

 

I have to say after spending some time playing Shadow Switcher I’m quite smitten with it and would highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys action/puzzle platform games. The difficulty seems to be pitched just right too and I never felt frustrated or cheated whilst playing. If you fancy giving it a go you don’t even need to purchase the physical game either, there’s a free download of it here.

Fire Breath, Little Knight Arthur & Valkyrie Trilogy – Mini Reviews

Fire Breath, Little Knight Arthur & Valkyrie Trilogy

This is a quick look at Fire Breath, Little Knight Arthur & Valkyrie Trilogy published by K&A+ Magazine for the Commodore 64. These are basically volumes #2 and #3 of a series. Volume #1 was ‘Single Button Games‘. All the games feature attractive loading screens and great music to entertain you whilst they (turbo)load.

 

Fire Breath

 

Fire Breath, Little Knight Arthur & Valkyrie Trilogy

Fire Breath

 

This is a charming little flip-screen platforming game where you control a fire breathing slug, making your way out of an underground warren of tunnels. You must avoid contact with any of the critters you meet along the way, preferably roasting them with your fiery breath and collecting points for doing so. There are power-ups to collect and rooms full of bonus items to discover. Kill all of the critters in each location to move onto the next. I found this to be a very relaxing and enjoyable little game.

 

Fire Breath, Little Knight Arthur & Valkyrie Trilogy

Fire Breath

 

Update: Since writing this I discovered the author’s website, ctrl-alt.dev.nl which provides a good history of how Fire Breath came into existence. Well worth a read.

Little Knight Arthur

 

Fire Breath, Little Knight Arthur & Valkyrie Trilogy

Little Knight Arthur

 

Little Knight Arthur appears to be a Monty Mole / Jet Set Willy style of platform game where you avoid monsters on your way to the exit. I say “appears” because I haven’t managed to get beyond the first screen yet. Either I really suck at this game or it is just brutally difficult. Or maybe both? Your character is quite a chunky little guy and there is virtually no room for error when trying to get past the monsters on the screen – their movement patterns seem to be random too so it’s really difficult to pick the correct moment to jump. The art style is great, very reminiscent of similar games from the period and the music playing throughout is pleasant enough but I just found the game frustratingly hard and gave up after a dozen or so attempts. When I’m feeling like a challenge I will definitely go back to this and try to reach the second screen!!!

 

Fire Breath, Little Knight Arthur & Valkyrie Trilogy

Little Knight Arthur

 

Valkyrie Trilogy

 

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There are 3 games included here. Side A contains ‘Night of the Valkyrie’ and ‘Valkyrie 3 – The Night Witch’. Night of the Valkyrie is a vertically scrolling WWII game where your Valkyrie character has to kill waves of Nazis as you progress up each level before facing off against a boss at the end. Your character can move and shoot in all directions and thus play feels very similar to Commando – definitely a compliment!

 

Valkyrie 3 is again a vertically scrolling shooter but this time instead of playing the Valkyrie character on foot you are in a WWII biplane flying over the landscape similar to 1942. This was a refreshing change after the other two games following a similar style and I really enjoyed playing it.

 

Side B contains ‘Valkyrie 2 – The Templar’. I was quite pleasantly surprised to discover that this game actually features an intro sequence that loads as a separate entity before the main game. It features music, some really great character graphics and explains the plot of the game. Once this is over the main game loads. I liked the fact that this game offered me the choice to play with either music, sound FX or silence on the title screen. This is another vertically scrolling ‘kill all Nazi’s’ affair where you play the Valkyrie character on foot. This time however, you start out unarmed and must quickly find a weapon in order to progress.

 

 

"Fire

Password Protected End Sequence

 

When you complete each section of the trilogy you get a password and then an ending sequence will load off the tape. I have to confess this confused me initially as I was expecting the next program on side A to be Valkyrie 3. When the password prompt appeared I just assumed the game itself was password protected. So, if you want to skip ahead to Valkyrie 3 you will need to load the end sequence for Night of the Valkyrie and then reset your C64 and continue the loading process. Thanks to Lukasz for clearing that bit of confusion up for me!

 

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Inside the inlay cover there is space provided for you to note tape counter numbers down for each game. This is actually pretty essential for this title. Here are the counter numbers I recorded on my system. Not sure if they’ll be the same for you (I use a Binatone Data Recorder).

Side A
Night of the Valkyrie
Game: 000
End: 055

Valkyrie 3: The Night Witch
Game: 097
End: 143

Side B
Valkyrie 2: The Templar
Intro: 000
Game: 049
End: 097

 

Worth a buy?

 

I’d definitely recommend Valkyrie Trilogy if you’re a fan of vertical shooters such as Commando – I’ve certainly had a lot of fun with it. Likewise Fire Breath was also very enjoyable but Little Knight Arthur just frustrated me due to it’s high difficulty. (I should point out that I’m not very patient these days!). Had these two not been bundled together I would recommend avoiding the latter but the inclusion of Fire Breath makes it a worthy purchase.

If you would like to find out more or get your own copies of the games then head on over to the K&A+ website. At the time of writing they don’t seem to be advertising them but I’m sure they’ll be added to the website soon enough.

C64 LCD Cassette Slideshow

C64 LCD Cassette Slideshow

I saw this “C64 LCD Cassette Slideshow” whilst browsing through my twitter feed one night a few weeks ago. The moment it caught my eye I knew I had to have one for my man cave. Today it finally arrived and I’m over the moon with it so thought I’d share some photos and info about it.

 

C64 LCD Cassette Slideshow

Slideshow in action – note the timings are greatly sped up in this GIF.

 

It’s made from a real cassette tape box and has a 4″ LCD panel mounted inside, framed by a Commodore styled inlay. I’m not entirely sure what is driving the screen (and I’m not going to risk breaking it by opening it up) but I suspect it’s probably a Raspberry Pi. The slideshow comes ready to go with ‘over 2500 images of nostalgic games’ according to its’ creator. Each image is on display for around 5 seconds before moving onto the next automatically (my animated GIF has sped up the timings greatly).

 

C64 LCD Cassette Slideshow

Side view

 

It’s mounted on a stylish Commodore themed perspex base that features the iconic Commodore blue and white stripes and the words ‘Commodore 64 1982-1994’. Around the back there is a decent length USB cable which provides power for the device. The cable is permanently attached and incorporates an inline power switch so it can be turned on and off without unplugging the cable which is a useful feature.

 

C64 LCD Cassette Slideshow

Rear view – note the inline power switch on the USB cable

 

The C64 LCD Cassette Slideshow is completely hand crafted to order but has been completed to a high standard. It would have been nice to have access to some sort of timer facility to have it automatically turn on and off at preset times but that probably would have added to the complexity and cost. At £80 for the 4″ version including postage it’s not a cheap item but I think it’s a very fair price for what I received. There is a 3.5″ version that is £5 cheaper but don’t know why anyone would choose that over the larger screen for the sake of saving a measly £5.

 

C64 LCD Cassette Slideshow

A closer look at the back of the device

 

The seller makes these for other systems too, not just the Commodore 64. If you are curious and would like to know where to get hold of your own slideshow then you can visit the PlayRetroDesigns Etsy shop here.

 

Finally here’s a few more photos of some cassette covers…

 

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Eight Bit Magazine

Eight Bit Magazine

In this post I’m taking a look at Eight Bit magazine, another new (to me at least) retro computer magazine. I actually ordered these 6 issues 4 months ago as part of a Kickstarter campaign but they took a fair bit longer to arrive than expected. I’ve only had time to read through the first issue so far but things are looking promising. The magazines are well written and interesting to read and feature multiple contributors rather than being written by just one person.

 

Eight Bit Magazine

Genesis article

 

Issue one weighs in at almost 70 pages so there’s plenty to keep you occupied. As the title suggests, the content is spread across all 8-Bit formats. There’s a very interesting and in-depth look at the ‘Genesis’ of gaming. Here they delve into the history of the first arcade machines and home consoles that appeared in the 1970’s and early 80’s. This is a very long (14 pages) and text heavy article, but thankfully the font and colours used in the printing make it easy to read. Having lived through the entire period the article covers I found it to be a great trip down memory lane. I particularly enjoyed reading about long forgotten software companies such as Imagine (which was based in my home city) – as a child I used to dream of getting a job with them and razzing around in a flash car!

 

Eight Bit Magazine

Commodore 64 Collectors Guide

 

Elsewhere in the magazine the article ‘Collectors Guide: The Commodore 64’ caught my eye. This is a brief introduction to the machine, what it can do and some of the most popular peripherals available for it. I hope to see more in depth articles about the 64 in future issues as this one didn’t really tell me anything new. However I think the point of these features is to give non-owners of such systems an idea of what the machine is capable of and what is available for it. The article did hint that they would be looking at GEOS in a future issue so I’m really looking forward to that!

 

Eight Bit Magazine

Commodore 64 Collectors Guide

 

Also in issue one there is a brief (and I do mean brief) look at BASIC programming and machine code. I really hope they expand on this in future issues as I’ve got a strong hankering to get back into programming on the C64 and would love to see some proper tutorials. There’s also an extensive look at the early Apple 8-Bit computers, a quirky computer from Yugoslavia and even a couple of short game reviews. All in all I’m very pleased with this magazine and look forward to getting stuck into the other five issues. I’ll definitely be subscribing to future issues too.

If you would like to find out more information about the magazines or order your own copies then you can visit their webpage here: Eight Bit Magazine.

Single Button Games for C64 – Mini Reviews

C64 Single Button Games

Here’s a quick look at the new C64 ‘Single Button Games’ collection from K&A Plus including screenshots of each of the 5 games on the cassette.

I always enjoy getting packages in the post from foreign countries, seeing the strange looking stamps on them and of course trying to remember exactly what I’ve ordered from where to guess what may be inside! You know how it is with a lot of retro stuff – often it can be weeks or even months after you place an order before it  arrives.

Anyway, this time it was ‘Single Button Games’ from K&A Plus Magazine in Poland. As the name suggests this is a collection of games that you can play by only using your joystick fire button.

 

Single Button Games

The Cassette Case

 

Single Button Games

The Complete Package – includes some cool little stickers!

 

Amazingly there are 5 little games packed onto this cassette; 2 on side A and 3 more on side B. All of them utilise a turbo loader so you won’t have to wait too long for them to load. Even so,  they all feature loading music and loading screens to entertain you whilst you wait for the games to load – just like being back in the 80’s!.

 

Single Button Games

The Inlay Card

 

Taking a Look at the Single Button Games

As mentioned already there are five games included – let’s insert the tape and take a brief look at them all, in the order in which they appear on the cassette.

Single Button Games

Binatone Data Recorder with the Single Button Game Collection Inserted – Ready to Play!

 

SIDE A

Captain Cloudberry (Tape Counter – 000)

You control a small Bi-Plane and have to destroy weather balloons found around the screen whilst avoiding hitting the frozen clouds. The fact you can only use a single button press to control the plane ensures that this is nowhere near as easy at it sounds! Clicking the fire button causes the planes direction of flight to rotate 45′. Each subsequent press rotates it another 45′ until you have come full circle. Just imagine trying to play ‘Snake’ with just a single button to rotate the snakes head and you’ll get the idea.

 

 Single Button Games

Captain Cloudberry Loading Screen

 

Single Button Games

Captain Cloudberry Title Screen

 

Single Button Games

Captain Cloudberry Game Screen

Pixel City Skater (Tape Counter – 057)

This is a screen flipping ‘endless runner’ where you have to perform skateboard jumps over various obstacles to progress as far as you can before you inevitably collide with something and fall off.

 

Single Button Games

Pixel City Skater – Loading Screen

 

Single Button Games

Pixel City Skater – Game Screen

 

Side B

Fire To Jump (Tape Counter – 000)

This is very similar to the previous Pixel City Skater game but features very minimalist graphics with the same principal of jumping over objects in a screen flipping ‘runner’ style game.

 

Single Button Games

Fire to Jump – Loading Screen

 

Single Button Games

Fire to Jump – Game Screen

 

Flappy Bird (Tape Counter – 059)

This game surely needs no introduction? It’s a faithful reproduction of the frustratingly addictive game that took the mobile world by storm a few years ago. This version is a perfect recreation of the game right down to the same maddeningly difficult gameplay!

 

Single Button Games

Flappy Bird – Loading Screen

 

Single Button Games

Flappy Bird – Game Over Screen – Expect to see this within seconds of loading the game!

 

Flapper (Tape Counter – 102)

The final game in the collection should really be called ‘Chopper’ as it sees you trying to control a small helicopter. You have to navigate it through a side scrolling landscape very reminiscent of the old ‘Scramble’ arcade game. The faster you press the button the faster the rotor blades spin and the more lift you get. It plays a little bit like Flappy Bird but is easier to control.

 

Single Button Games

Flapper – Game Screen

 

And that’s it – a really great little collection of games that I’m very happy to add to my C64 collection. I enjoyed all 5 games but if I had to pick a favourite it would be Captain Cloudberry which has that ‘just one more go’ quality in spades. It’s presentation is top notch too and it has a delightfully quirky little rendition of ‘Lady Madonna’ as its’ theme music which I can’t get out of my head!

 

If you would like to get hold of your own copy then you should head right on over to the K&A Plus website here. They also produce a terrific magazine that covers both the C64 and Amiga computers which is well worth taking a look at whilst you are there.

 

A Closer look at the Cassette

Just to finish I thought I’d show a few close-ups of the cover and the cassette itself which has been really well produced.

 

Single Button Games

C64 Single Button Games Cassette Case

 

Single Button Games

Side ‘A’

 

Single Button Games

Side ‘B’

Commodore 64 Video over HDMI – a Solution

Commodore 64 Video over HDMI

Having recently picked up a 2nd-hand Toshiba LCD screen to use with my Vampire equipped Amiga I found myself in the position of needing to connect my trusty 35 year old Commodore 64 video over HDMI to a modern display.

The problem, and why I needed to use HDMI

Obviously I had already exhausted all the other options before going down the HDMI route. I tried a direct composite connection, composite and S-video over SCART and of course good old RF. I even tried a custom cable off eBay with a 300ohm resistor built in that other people have had some success with. None of these options worked. The best I could achieve over RF was a vertically rolling black and white image. All the other methods resulted in nothing – just a black screen. The annoying thing is when I plugged the 64 into my brand new Panasonic 4K TV I got a perfect picture with all the cables so clearly this was just an issue with the older Toshiba panel. For reference, in case anyone is reading this who has the same issue, my Toshiba TV’s model number is ’22DV714B’.

Now I do have a Commodore 1084S but with my current set-up there is simply no room for 2 screens – I needed a single screen that could handle everything. Native Amiga 500 screen modes, 720p screen modes from the Vampire output and of course the output from my C64C. One day when I get my man cave sorted I can have each machine with their own screen but until then this is my solution…

The Commodore 64 Video over HDMI solution

Clearly whatever video signal my 64 was outputting simply wasn’t compatible with my Toshiba screen. Determined to get it working I figured it would be worth trying to convert the signal into something that would work. I had a look on Amazon and settled on the device pictured below. It claimed to do exactly what I needed and only cost £12 so it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if didn’t work.

Commodore 64 video over HDMI

Amanka RCA Composite CVBS AV to HDMI Video Audio Converter box with the mini USB power lead.

The box itself is very small, about the size of a book of matches and it came with just a short mini USB cable and some simple instructions in the box.

Commodore 64 video over HDMI

Amanka RCA Composite CVBS AV to HDMI Video Audio Converter – Composite and Left/Right Audio inputs

Commodore 64 video over HDMI

Amanka RCA Composite CVBS AV to HDMI Video Audio Converter – HDMI Out port

Commodore 64 video over HDMI

Amanka RCA Composite CVBS AV to HDMI Video Audio Converter – Mini USB socket for power and 720p/1080p output selector switch

Setting it all up

In addition to an HDMI cable and a USB charger (to plug the mini USB power cable into) you will also need a Commodore 64 Composite video cable like the one pictured below. If you don’t already have one they are readily available on Amazon for about £7 (link below).

 

 

Setting it up was really straightforward, I just needed to provide a 5v USB charger for the power lead and then hook up an HDMI cable and the composite video and audio connections from the C64 A/V port using the above type of cable.

Commodore 64 video over HDMI

Amanka RCA Composite CVBS AV to HDMI Video Audio Converter – With power, composite video, audio and HDMI cables all connected

The Amanka box can output at both 720p and 1080p. My LCD is only 720p so I selected that option and then powered everything on. I have to admit I wasn’t overly optimistic about my chances of this working given the failure of everything else I’d already tried. However I was ecstatic when I saw that familiar blue “Commodore 64 Basic V2” screen again! The C64 sound is also passed through HDMI so it would seem to be a complete solution for both video and audio!

Commodore 64 Video over HDMI

Success – Commodore 64 video over HDMI on my Toshiba 22DV714B LCD TV

So another success story – I would consider the Amanke device a permanent solution and am very pleased with both the cost and the end result.

There are are links to the exact box I bought in the article if you would like to make sure you get the same one that worked for me – I will get a few pennies to help pay for my hosting costs but you will pay the exact same price as you would if you went to Amazon to purchase one – win win! If you would like to know anything else about the above setup then just drop me a quick message and I’ll do my best to help you out.

 

Moga Pro Review – PS Vita killer?

Moga Pro Review

Today I finally received my Moga Pro pre-order from Game and I’m very happy to say it was worth the wait!

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro Box

Just in case you’re not aware of what one is – it’s a bluetooth hardware gamepad that works with Android phones and tablets to give you a more ‘console like’ experience and overcome the problems of using touch screens to play.

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro Box (flap open)

The devices retails for £40 and comes in a very attractive retail box with a fold out magnetic front flap that shows the device in action with phones, tablets and even a TV. Inside the box you get the pad itself, a plastic tablet stand, USB charging cable, instruction booklet, quick-start guide, QR code to download the driver for your device and a code to download a free copy of N.O.V.A. 3 from the Gameloft’s own store.

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro Box (back)

 

First thing you need to do is charge the pad up as it is powered by an internal rechargeable battery. An LED flashes yellow to indicate the unit is charging and extinguishes when fully charged. While the pad is charging you can scan the QR code with your phone which will take you straight to the MOGA Pivot app which you need to install on your phone or tablet.

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro Gamepad

Once the gamepad is fully charged you can move onto the next stage which just involves running the Pivot app and following the simple on-screen instructions to pair the pad with your phone. It will also give you an opportunity to get a free copy of Pacman*, redeem your Nova 3* game code and register for updates. I received an email a few minutes after registering with instruction on how to actually get the game. The whole process couldn’t be simpler and my pad paired and worked first time with no issues at all. As well as letting you setup your pad the Pivot app also acts as a central hub where you can see all of your installed Moga Pro compatible games and also browse and download new ones.

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro Box Contents

*In order to install both of these games you have to allow installs from Unknown sources on your phone. The option can be found in Settings>Security>Unknown sources. This is because the apps are being downloaded from outside the Google Play store.

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro with Galaxy Note 2

 

The build quality seems to be first-rate and the design has clearly been based on the XBox 360 pad as the dimensions, stick layouts, triggers and buttons are all virtually identical, even the XYAB letters on the buttons are same! This is fine by me – the 360 pad is by far the best I’ve ever used on any system and the Moga Pro is just as comfortable and precise to use. Where it differs from the 360 pad is that it incorporates a flip out spring-loaded arm which holds your phone in place securely while you game. The arm dimensions are extremely generous so don’t worry about your phone fitting – I have a Galaxy Note 2 and it fitted comfortably even with the phone in a Spigen case! It feels perfectly balanced once the phone is in place and very little effort is required to hold the whole thing steady. It could easily have been top-heavy and tiring to hold but it’s obvious a fair bit of thought gone in to the placement of the arm and it works well.

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro phone holder arm

 

I tested the game with a copy of Gameloft’s Modern Warfare Combat 4: Zero Hour. This is a Moga Pro enhanced game which basically means it fully supports all the features of the Gamepad. The Modern Combat games have always looked and sounded the part but been seriously let down in the control department with the virtual sticks and touch screen controls being awkward at best and a downright hindrance at worst. Not to mention that you’ve got your thumbs obscuring a good chunk of the screen. The Moga Pro was a revelation – before I knew it an hour had passed and I was really enjoying myself. The sticks are really responsive, dead-zones almost non-existent and lining up head shots quickly became second nature. Familiar Call of Duty console button configurations also helped too, with bumpers launching grenades, X to reload, Y to switch weapons and so on.

I have a Playstation Vita which is a really great handheld system, the best I have ever owned in fact. However having experienced the Moga Pro coupled with my Galaxy Note 2 I’d have to say it’s a better gaming experience than the Vita. The screen is bigger, the whole thing is easier and much more comfortable to hold and the full-size pad and analogue sticks really are of console quality. The final kicker is that at just £4.99 the Gameloft COD clone is a darn sight cheaper than Black Ops DeClassified too!

Some more images…

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro with Galaxy Note 2 – close-up of phone holding grip

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pivot app – viewing installed games

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pivot app – Congratulations!

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro & XBox 360 Gamepad Comparison

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pivot app – browsing for new games

 

Moga Pro Review

Moga Pro – Modern Combat Control Layout

Sennheiser RS130 Wireless Headphones Review

Received a pair of these bad boys yesterday so thought I’d share my findings for the benefit of anyone else that might be interested.

 

Sennheiser RS130 Wireless Headphones

Sennheiser RS130’s

 

Included in the box with your headphones is the transmitter/charger base, two AAA rechargeable batteries, a 1/8”->1/4” stereo jack adaptor, small power brick (similar size to a mobile phone charger) and a small multi-lingual manual.

Setup was a breeze, just power up the transmitter/charging station and hook up to your audio source. It will automatically turn itself on when it detects an incoming audio signal and off shortly after it ceases. Then you just need to open up one side of the headphones and slot in the two AAA’s. You switch the headphones on using a small on/off switch on the rear of one of the ear cups. They automatically tune themselves into the FM signal from the base, although you can also select 3 different “channels” on the base and initiate an auto-tune from a small button on the ‘phones themselves if you need to. It recommends you charge the batteries for 16 hours before first use – you do this simply by hanging the ‘phones on the charging stand. There are two metal strips in the headband that pickup the charging current from the metal stand… when it detects that the battery is charged it automatically switches to trickle-charging so no need to worry about over-charging. Being impatient I threw in a couple of Duracell’s so I could play with them right away…

The headphones themselves are well designed and constructed, lightweight for their size and extremely comfortable. The headband is well padded and has the usual vertical adjustment, the ear cups also pivot horizontally as well as vertically so you are assured of a snug fit. They are also well padded and have been covered in a suede type of material rather than vinyl which makes them very soft and comfortable and also less likely to make you sweat whilst wearing them for long periods. I was able to walk around the entire ground floor of our house without any loss of signal so you shouldn’t have a problem whilst sat on the sofa in front of your TV.

Sound quality wise I couldn’t fault them – the volume is controlled by a small thumb-wheel on the right ear cup and goes up far enough for you to be deafened by explosions in COD3 if you really want! There is plenty of bass on offer and I experienced no distortion in the sound and all dialogue and effects were crystal clear. There is a slight hiss when the volume is cranked up high during periods of silence but this is never noticeable otherwise. A welcome addition is a surround sound option you can enable – just don’t expect 5.1 effects from it… it basically seems to widen the field of sound so that you feel like the sound is coming from all around rather than just from your left and right. They do leak a bit of sound so no good for watching movies in bed, but for playing games late at night in your living room they are perfect.

I would definitely recommend these Sennheiser RS130 Wireless Headphones for those of you who are annoying your partner/parents/neighbours/pets with noisy late-night gaming sessions!