Lyonsden Blog

Category - Reviews

Retro Format – A Brand new Retro Computer Magazine

Retro Format

Believe it or not there is now another Retro Computing magazine on the block! It’s called Retro Format and it’s a multi-format magazine that caters for all retro 8/16/32-bit systems. Born from a successful Kickstarter campaign, this magazine is mostly focussed on games, specifically reviewing them, much like you’d imagine an all format ZZap!64 might look.

 

Retro Format

Retro Format Cover.

 

Initial impressions are very good indeed. It’s a full-size magazine, 64 pages in length (cover to cover) and all printed in full colour. There are over a dozen full reviews of games for retro systems inside. The games themselves are almost exclusively new ones created recently for retro systems. The two main exceptions to this are John Wick (a new NES styled game for modern PC’s) and Strike Commander – an old DOS game.

 

Retro Format

Retro Format Contents Page.

 

The Reviews

I really like the review style. It breaks game scores down by Graphics, Audio, Playability, Lastability and then gives an Overall score. This is how games used to be reviewed back in the day and I welcome seeing this format again.

 

Retro Format

Retro Format Game Scoring System.

 

As for the reviews, the bulk of the magazine is split almost 50/50 between Commodore and Spectrum games with the remainder made up of a handful of MSX, CPC and PC titles.

There’s also a future classics section which looks at a couple of modern games for the Vita and Playstation VR systems. I’d say the jury is out on this section though as I’m not sure I felt it was relevant.

Besides the games there was a really interesting 8-page feature on the SEGA Dreamcast system along with some of the best games available for it. I ended my SEGA experience with the Mega Drive but this definitely piqued my interest and made me think about getting one…

 

More than just games…

 

Retro Format

A look at the Christopher Reeve Superman Movies.

 

The magazine is rounded off by a classic Movie and TV section which I enjoyed a lot. It features the Christopher Reeve Superman movies and also delves into some past episodes of The Twilight Zone. As a big  Sci-Fi fan I found these articles to be right up my street.

 

The original Twilight Zone – NOT the recently re-hashed abomination.

 

Here’s a peek at some of the reviews featured in the magazine.

 

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How to get your own copy…

If you are interested in purchasing your own copy of the magazine then head on over to the Retro Format website.

The Valley – C64 Cartridge Review

The Valley Cartridge

Recently Tim Harris was kind enough to lend me a new cartridge based game called ‘The Valley’ for the Commodore 64 to try out. The cartridge arrived housed inside a sleek oversized cassette case complete with a very attractive inlay card.

 

The Valley

The Valley Game Case.

 

The rear inlay depicts the April 1982 cover of the British ‘Computing Today’ magazine (costing just 70p!) which is where ‘The Valley’ game actually originates from.

 

The Valley

Back of case.

 

Upon opening the case it becomes immediately apparent that these are no ordinary cartridges. They are little electronic works of art.

 

The Valley Cartridge

Cartridge Design 1

 

The Valley Cartridge

Cartridge Design 2

 

As you can see from the above two photos there are actually two completely different cartridges. However the difference is purely cosmetic as they both run the same game.

 

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Rather than have a traditional plastic case these cartridges have been constructed in such a way that lets your see their inner workings. One consists of a PCB sandwiched between two purple perspex layers whilst the other is a triple decker PCB stack.

 

A Closer Look at the Two Cartridges

 

The black one… this is constructed from 3 PCB’s bolted together and is my personal favourite.

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The purple one… this is made from a single PCB sandwiched between two sections of purple perspex.

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Plugging the Carts In

Here’s what they look like plugged in…

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So why exactly have the cartridges been created like this? Well part of the reason for this strange construction becomes obvious when you first plug the cartridges in and switch on the power. They light up like Christmas trees, the reason for which I will reveal shortly.

 

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The Game

This game actually has quite some history to it and it all relates to that Computing Today magazine featured on the inlay card.

Back in the early 1980’s the magazine published The Valley in the form of a listing for the 32K Commodore PET.  The listing was hundreds of lines long so it was broken down into more manageable chunks for budding adventurers to type in (and then spend hours on end bug checking).

 

The Valley Title Screen

Title Screen.

 

This also made it relatively straightforward to convert the game to run on other machines as each chunk of code was accompanied by comprehensive documentation that described exactly how everything worked. A nice bonus of typing in games like this was having the option of tweaking the game to your liking. Nasty Troll kicking your arse? Just nerf it’s physical damage stats in the code!

 

The games backstory.

 

The object of the game is to find the Amulet of Alarian from one of the temples and also locate the 6 gem stones that slot into it. You must also reach the rank of ‘Demon Killer’ so that you can find the Helm of Evanna and return it to the castle. Only by doing this will you save The Valley from the darkness that has engulfed it. To achieve all this, you, the hero, must travel across the valley battling many monsters and raiding temples to find treasures and stones for the amulet.

In this original form the game lacked a proper ending and ‘suffered from very poor gameplay’ according to Dungeon Dwellers Inc (DDI), the makers of this new incarnation of ‘The Valley’. DDI have taken the original game and enhanced it to make it more fun to play. The enhancements don’t just concern the coding of the game either… but link directly into the design of the cartridges.

 

The Valley Cartridge

A thing of beauty!

 

The cartridges feature graphics for both the Helm of Evanna and the Amulet of Alarian etched onto the PCB. The really cool thing though is that within the graphics are a series of LED’s which depict the presence of each item within your actual in-game inventory.

There are 8 LED’s to represent the helm, amulet and each of the 6 mystic stones. When you find one of these items in the game the corresponding LED will light up! If you are lucky enough to find all the items there are LED’s on the back of the cart that will start to pulse signifying that you a nearing the games end.

A handy little extra feature is the addition of a reset button at the back of the cartridge which is itself illuminated by a red LED.

 

The Game

DDI have added a very atmospheric title screen complete with music to the start of the game that really sets the mood. However this is the only sound that you will hear from the game (unless you manage to beat it) as the game is played in complete silence. There is supposed to be an animated ending complete with sound but I’ve not come anywhere close to seeing that yet.

 

The Valley Instructions

You control the game using the numeric keys. Very strange layout at first but you get do get used to it. Shame there appears to be no joystick support though…

 

You begin the game by naming your character and choosing your class. The 5 options available are; Wizard, Ranger, Barbarian, Warrior and Cleric. The choice you make affects the in-game stats of your character, namely your Combat Strength, PSI (magic) Power and Stamina. If you ignore the choices on offer and select a different number then you are randomly assigned a class from one of 7 alternatives including: Villager, Thief, Bandit, Archer, Druid, Knight and Warlock.

 

The Valley Game Screen

The main game screen.

 

The main game screen then appears and the map of the kingdom is drawn up. The map and everything within it is generated randomly each time you start the game so no two play-throughs will ever be the same.

You will start in south west corner of the map on the safe path. So long as you stay on this path you will never be attacked. However once you stray off it it’s game on. Away from the safety of the path you can be attacked even if you are standing still so don’t wander off for a cuppa or you will likely find your hero dead when you return!

 

Combat

The Valley is a proper old school RPG that requires a healthy dose of imagination to be properly enjoyed. Other than the visual representation of where you are (Valley, Forest, Swamp, Tower etc.) there are no graphics to depict enemies or battles. All encounters are text based and the battles performed by rolls of the dice. When you encounter a foe you will be informed of their presence via text and a (semi) turn-based battle will commence. Whatever moves they make and the damage they do will be displayed on screen.

I previously described the combat as ‘semi turn-based’ and that’s because it uses a mixture of turn-based moves and real-time inputs from you during battles. When it is your turn to move a ‘Strike Quickly’ message will flash up on the screen and you literally have about half a second to press a key and select your attack. If you are too slow you miss your chance to retaliate and the monster gets another swipe at you. This is especially frustrating when you have to cast spells as you have to press ‘S’ to signify that you want to cast a spell and then press ‘1’, ‘2’ or ‘3’ to select which one. All of these key presses are subject to the same strict time restraints which can lead to frustration when you get flummoxed mid-battle.

 

Exploring a forest in The Valley

Exploring a forest in The Valley.

 

As I said combat is all a roll of the dice so both you and the enemy can and will miss and attacks will do a random amount of damage, sometimes none at all. Consequently you need to be prepared for anything. Occasionally you will surprise an enemy and get a chance at striking first or evading them – but only if you spot the opening message and press the correct key in time to take advantage of the situation.

I must admit I would have preferred a true turn based approach where you can take time to select your move and play at a relaxed pace. However this does make battles more tense, albeit at the expense of risking cramp in your hands from hovering over the keyboard like a praying mantis all the time!

Speaking of moves you have 6 at your disposal, 3 physical attacks and 3 magic. Physical attacks consist of Head, Body or Leg strikes with head strikes being less likely to succeed but rewarding success with more damage, whilst leg strikes are most likely to hit home but do the least amount of damage. The magic spells you can cast are Sleep, PSI Lance and Lightning however the latter two can only be cast once you reach level 8 and 16 respectively.

Damage reduces your stamina and combat strength and if either of these falls to zero your hero dies. To recover from damage you just need to move around. After every turn your stats slowly increase so it pays to keep moving although you can’t move far before you encounter another enemy to fight.

 

The Valley Lair

Inside a lair… each of those asterisks could potentially, if you are really lucky, be the amulet…

 

Occasionally you will encounter some treasure or a ‘place of ancient power’ rather than enemies with the latter granting welcome stat bonuses to aid you in your adventure.

When you venture into a swamp, forest or the Tower the upper half of the screen changes to show the map for that area. Forests have temples to explore whilst the swamps have lairs, each comprising of a single floor. The Tower is split into many floors and is the only place you are able to find the 6 stones, but only once you have located the Amulet of Alarian. If you try to enter the tower before you have located this your entry will be barred.

 

Exploring a swamp in The Valley

Exploring a swamp in The Valley

 

Progress can be saved by making your way to one of the two castles that are found at either end of the road – assuming you manage to get there in one piece! Additionally if you manage to place all six gem stones in the amulet it will grant you the power of resurrection… but only once. If you are slain and resurrected the stones disappear and you will need to find another set in the tower again!

Verdict

 

The Valley is a pretty unforgiving and difficult game I have to admit and I’m not very good at it. I was constantly either too slow pressing the keys or pressing the wrong ones in the heat of battle. Consequently I wasn’t able to get very far during the time I had the game for. However the allure of lighting up those LED’s on the cartridge was very strong indeed and it definitely had that ‘one more go’ quality about it. It’s not cheap but it’s definitely something I’d consider to be a collectors item and something I would treasure for years to come.

At the time of writing The Valley cartridges are only available from DDI. You can find their website here: sys64738. I believe the game will cost $80 plus postage to your location.

If you would like to try the game first to see if you like it before parting with a not insignificant amount of money it is also available to download from CSDB.

Vegetables Deluxe Review

Vegetables Deluxe

Vegetables Deluxe is a sequel of sorts to the Vegetables game that was released on itch.io early last year by Mike Richmond. It’s a ‘match 3’ type of game similar to Bejewelled or Candy Crush, a genre I don’t think even existed back in the 80’s. Thanks to this game that’s no longer the case and you can now enjoy this genre on both a C64 and Amiga (see end of post).

 

Physical Presentation

The game is presented in a vibrantly coloured glossy green box with some great artwork on the front. The back of the box includes some nice clear screenshots of the game in action along with a description of what it’s all about.

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Opening up the box reveals an instruction manual and the game on a 5.25″ floppy disk with a snazzy matching label.

 

Vegetables Deluxe

Vegetables Deluxe manual and Game on a 5,25″ disk

 

The instruction manual is nicely illustrated and in full colour throughout. It clearly explains how to play the game and describes the four different game modes on offer.

 

Vegetables Deluxe manual

Vegetables Deluxe manual

 

Loading up the Game

 

Upon loading the game  you are presented with a lovely title screen complete with music.  Pressing the fire button on your joystick starts a game straight away. I did find this a little odd as you’d normally expect to choose the game mode first.

 

Vegetables Deluxe title screen

Vegetables Deluxe title screen

 

To actually get to the menu screen you need to pause the game by pressing ‘P’ on the keyboard and then press ‘Q’.

 

menu screen

Vegetables Deluxe menu screen

 

From the menu screen you can choose whether to have music or just sound effects whilst playing. You can also select from one of four different gameplay modes (more about these later).

 

The Game

I’m sure most people are aware of what a ‘match 3’ game is but just in case… Basically you have a grid full of randomly coloured objects, or in this case vegetables. You must match 3 or more of the same coloured vegetables either vertically or horizontally to remove them from the screen and earn points. You do this by moving the little selection box around with a joystick, holding the fire button and then moving the stick in a direction. When a group of vegetables disappear, the ones above fall down and new ones randomly appear from the top to take their place. If you run out of matches the game will use one of your available ‘shuffles’ to randomly rearrange the vegetables on the screen so you can carry on. However, if you no longer have any shuffles remaining then the game will end.

 

Vegetables Deluxe ‘Classic’ mode

 

To mix things up occasionally an immovable block will appear that impedes your progress. You can also match more than three vegetables for extra bonuses. Matching 4 in a row will cause an entire row to be removed and this is a great way to clear those immovable blocks. Matching 5 in a row will cause every matching vegetable on the screen to removed and will earn you an extra shuffle.

 

Vegetable Delxue

Watch out for the grey immovable blocks, let too many accumulate and you’ll run out of moves!

 

The screen is broken up into 3 main sections. On the left there is a kind of shopping list which either tells you how many of each vegetable you need to collect, or how many you have collected so far. (More on this later). The centre of the screen is where all the action takes place whilst on the right is where the timer, score and number of shuffles are located.

 

Vegetables Deluxe

Game Over! (This was my ‘shopping’ High Score)

 

Game Modes

 

There are 4 different modes, each catering towards a different play style.

Casual is for those that want a relaxing experience that keeps the ‘unmovable blocks’ to a minimum. The instructions reckon it’s still possible to reach a game over state in this mode. However during my time playing the game I found this to be more like an endless mode as I kept racking up extra shuffles.

Classic is the default play mode and has you battling to reach a high score whilst dealing with plenty of immovable blocks.

Shopping has you collecting the vegetables shown on the shopping list. If you manage to collect them all then you complete that level and move onto the next with a bigger shopping list.

 

Vegetables Deluxe

Shopping mode has you collecting items off the list on the left

 

Countdown is the hardest mode and has a sliding countdown timer (the coloured bar on the right). This gives you just a few seconds to make a match or you lose a shuffle.

During play if you are struggling to find a match the game will briefly highlight a potential (though not necessarily the best) move you can make. This is a great feature and is one commonly found on modern variants of the game. It’s no use in Countdown mode though, for that you really need to be on the ball!

When you are not playing in shopping mode, the list on the left works the other way round. It actually keeps a tally of what you’ve collected, up to a point anyway. You see the counters only go up to 99 and then reset back to 0. It’s not a big deal and in Casual mode where you could potentially be collecting a mountain of vegetables, entirely understandable.

 

My thoughts on the game

I tried all the game modes but found the ‘shopping’ mode the most fun. It gives you something extra to work on besides just matching vegetables. I didn’t really enjoy ‘countdown’ mode as the timer destroyed the relaxation side of things. Games started in casual mode simply lasted too long. Without a save option I was never able to actually finish one. I guess people playing it on an emulator or C64 Mini would have the option of using save states but that doesn’t fly on the real thing. Leaving my ageing C64 on until I can come back to finish a game certainly isn’t an option either!

For a game that is all about reaching and beating a high score I was disappointed that there was no way to save a high score to disk. Many C64 games offer this facility now and it’s a shame that Vegetables Deluxe hasn’t followed suit. Of course it’s not the end of the world by any means. You can write your score down (proper old-school style) or snap a pic of the screen with a smartphone. Hopefully one day this feature might be included in an updated version of the game.

The game looks terrific though and all the better for utilising high resolution mode. The vegetables are clearly defined and very colourful and the overall aesthetic is very pleasing to the eye. If you choose to play with sound effects then you won’t hear much at all, just the odd ‘plink’ when you make a match. The music however is brilliant and if you enjoy SID tunes then this is definitely the way to play. I’ve played this game for hours and never  tired of listening to the soundtrack so top marks for that.

This is a terrific little puzzle game for the Commodore 64. It looks great, sounds fantastic and is a lot of fun to play. I have no reservations at all in recommending it to anyone looking for a casual gaming experience. It’s published by Double-Sided Games in Canada on cartridge, floppy disk or digital download. There is now also a cassette tape version available from Psytronik in the UK.

 

Standard vs Deluxe Comparison

I mentioned at the start that this is an updated version of the game. Below you can see a few comparison pics between this and the earlier version. There’s a number of marked improvements over the original game. These include the addition of in-game music and three extra gameplay modes. The Deluxe version also takes advantage of the Commodore 64’s high-res capability to deliver much crisper graphics than you get with the chunkier colour mode used in the original. It actually reminds me a little of a Spectrum game in terms of presentation, especially the font used.

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Amiga Version

Included as a bonus at no extra charge is a complete Amiga port of the game as well! This takes the form of a digital ADF disk image that you can either use in an emulator or on a real Amiga via a GOTEK drive. (I think this bonus is exclusive to the Double-Sided Games release).

 

Amiga Vegetables Deluxe

Amiga Title Screen

 

It’s the exact same game with the same choice of game modes, optional music and so on. The music is terrific but I personally prefer the C64 tune. The title screen is also infinitely better on the C64 version with the Amiga’s being text only.

Amiga Vegetables Deluxe

Amiga Vegetables Deluxe game screen

A big benefit of the Amiga version is mouse support which feels like the natural way to play a game like this. It also benefits from the higher resolution and larger colour palette to create a more striking display. Both games are brilliant but I think the C64 version is better in the music department whilst the mouse support gives the Amiga version the edge in gameplay. If the C64 version supported the NEOS or 1351 mouse then that would make it a clear winner for me!

Even though the Amiga version is classed as a bonus addition to the C64 game I would still recommend this to Amiga only gamers as it’s a great game on either system.

Fusion 2020 Annual Review

Fusion 2020 Annual

I’ve been buying Fusion magazine since its inception over a year ago. It’s a great little magazine that covers everything from retro gaming and culture to modern day classics. A couple of months ago they launched a ‘Fusion 2020 Annual’ Kickstarter campaign which I backed without hesitation. The annual arrived fresh off the printing press a couple of days ago so here’s a quick look at what’s inside.

 

Fusion 2020 Annual

Fusion 2020 Annual Back Cover

 

The Extras

The first thing you will notice is that the annual is A5 in size rather than the more common A4 format. This is in keeping with the magazine itself which is published in this format. There were a whole bunch of stretch goals added towards the end of the campaign which means that it came packaged with a host extra goodies.

 

Fusion 2020 Annual

Fusion 2020 Annual & Extras

 

Included is an A5 calendar that unfolds to A4 and features some fantastic artwork from the magazine. There’s also a special ZX Spectrum themed edition of Fusion magazine that runs to 50 pages covering everything ‘speccy’. Finally there’s a couple of collectable art cards and two badges featuring artwork from previous magazine covers.

 

Fusion 2020 Calendar

The Fusion 2020 Calendar featuring some fantastic artwork

 

Below is a little peek at the contents pages so you can get an idea of exactly what you will find inside the annual. As you can see there’s a broad range of topics and time periods covered.

 

Fusion 2020 Annual

Fusion 2020 Annual Contents Pages

 

Taking a peek inside

 

As a huge Amiga fan I thought this interview with RJ Mical was especially interesting to read.

 

Fusion 2020 Annual

An interview with RJ Mical who was part of the team that created the Amiga 1000

 

There’s plenty of nostalgic trips down memory lane to be found in the annual. Here’s one that struck a chord with me, I’ve still got this up in the attic somewhere!

 

Fusion 2020 Annual

Frustration!

 

Another nostalgia hit, this time looking back at a particularly memorable Zzap!64 magazine cover.

 

Fusion 2020 Annual

Zzap!64 Feature

 

There’s also a feature I found particularly interesting as a retro game collector – ‘Cheaper in Japan’. This looks into sourcing games from the far east and demonstrates how much cheaper they can be than their western counterparts. Sadly this won’t help with the escalating prices of Commodore gear but something to bear in mind for Sega, Nintendo and PlayStation classics.

 

Fusion 2020 Calendar

Buying retro games cheaper from Japan

 

There’s some great modern day features too such as this look at the fantastic Logitech G920 wheel and pedal set. (I’m a big racing simulation fan when I’m not playing retro games and this is the wheel I use).

 

Fusion 2020 Annual

Logitech G920 Wheel review

 

Verdict

All in all this is a cracking addition to anyone’s book collection and I have no qualms about recommending it to people who are passionate about gaming. There’s literally something for everyone in here, especially if they’re interested in older games and systems.

If you’d like to get hold of your own copy you can buy the annual directly from the Fusion Retro Books website for the bargain price of £9.99. Please bear in mind that you won’t get all the extras described above as these were only for those who backed the Kickstarter campaign.

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.