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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.

JollyDisk – a Merry 8-Bit Christmas

JollyDisk

I spotted this little festive treat quite by chance just a few days before Christmas. It’s called ‘JollyDisk’ and is basically a series of animated Christmas cards along with some nice SID based Christmas carols. There’s also an animated Yule Log ‘Jukebox’ thrown in for good measure too.

From time of ordering to delivery from the USA to the UK took ten days. Given the time of year I thought this was pretty good. What wasn’t so good was the £13.11 customs charges I got stung for. Only £5.11 of that total was actually import duties, the other £8 was tacked on by Royal Mail for ‘handling fees’. Anyhoo… them’s the breaks as they say so I won’t hold that against it. As for the Royal Mail… you robbers…

 

JollyDisk

JollyDisk Contents

 

Anyway my JollyDisk came neatly packaged inside a ZipLock bag with a colourful card inlay showing what it’s all about. There was also a nice ‘Stirring Dragon Games’ sticker, a keyboard overlay (remember those?) and of course the actual 5.25″ JollyDisk itself!

The JollyDisk is actually double sided. The first side is devoted to the multimedia Christmas cards whilst the flip side hosts the Yule Log Jukebox.

 

Christmas Cards

 

JollyDisk Title Screen

JollyDisk Title Screen

 

After a few moments you are greeted with a nice title screen before moving on to the Christmas cards. The cards are beautifully presented in full multi-colour graphics featuring a number of animations that help bring the scene to life.

 

JollyDisk

Pay attention to this one to spot a special appearance…

 

In one scene for example, Santa’s sleigh streaks across a moonlit sky (closely following by E.T. if you pay attention!). Others feature animated animals, snow falling, twinkling lights and much more. It’s clear that a lot of love went into creating each scene.

 

JollyDisk

A fox gazes into a moonlit sky…

 

Accompanying each screen is a Christmas carol performed gracefully by the C64’s SID chip. There’s a different carol for each screen ranging from Silent Night to Deck the Halls and of course Jingle Bells is in there somewhere too!

 

JollyDisk

Winter scene featuring a deer taking a drink

 

Once each music track has finished the next scene is automatically loaded off the floppy disk.

 

JollyDisk

Traditional Christmas scene

 

Once the final Christmas Card has been displayed it loops right back to the start. This means you can leave it on for as long as you like and have it constantly cycling through different scenes and carols.

 

JollyDisk

A kid playing on a C64 in their bedroom at Christmas – something most of us can probably relate to!

 

It’s the sort of thing a computer shop in the 80’s might have left on display during the festive season.

 

JollyDisk

The last scene before looping back to the beginning

Yule Log

 

The second side of the JollyDisk features a fully animated Yule Log created entirely from PETSCII graphics. This ‘Jukebox’ is where that keyboard overlay comes in handy.

 

JollyDisk Keyboard Overlay

The keyboard Overlay in use

 

The keyboard overlay sits over the function keys and reminds you which keys do what.

  • F1 turns the sound off.
  • F3 changes the fireplace design (there are 2 to choose from).
  • F5 selects a crackling fire sound.
  • F7 skips to the next song.

The songs that play are the same Christmas carols that featured on side one. However there do seem to be a few more on offer here. I think there’s ten in total. In addition to moving sequentially through them with F7 you can also directly access each one using the number keys. Playing the songs like this causes them to play on a loop, particularly handy if you have a favourite.

 

JollyDisk

JollyDisk Yule Log menu screen

 

The crackling fire sound enabled by pressing F5 is quite effective. I assume it’s been created using various snippets of white noise but it’s pretty effective and definitely relaxing. In fact I’ve actually got it running in the background whilst I type this article!

A static photo wouldn’t have done the Yule Log justice so here’s an animated GIF…

 

Here’s an animated GIF I created of the crackling fire. You’ll just have to imagine the Christmas carols playing or the sounds of the log crackling – either that or buy a copy for yourself 🙂

 

All in all this is a delightful little product. It’s definitely something I will look forward to digging out every year to experience some 8-bit Christmas cheer.

As I write this it’s still available physically for $24.99 or $14.99 digitally from Stirring Dragon Games if you are interested in getting hold of a copy yourself.

CDTV Disc Reference Guide Book Review

CDTV Disc Reference Guide

The CDTV Disc Reference Guide Book is a brand new title that has just been published by Castle Books. It’s been created by AmigaJay, the same guy who was behind the CD32 Scene magazines and ‘CD32 and Beer’ compilation CD’s.

The description on the back of the book goes as follows:

A comprehensive guide to Commodore CDTV software titles.

Over 190 titles fully catalogued, with screenshots and box-art, (over 850 images in total) with lots of other information on each disc, a perfect guide for collectors and owners alike.

Features of the book;

Each disc is catalogued into one of the six original categories, easily identifiable by the colour band on each page.

Biggest round-up of cancelled CDTV titles, over 130 in total!

New wave section, find out what new software has been available to buy for your CDTV in the last few years.

Did these games really come out in ‘Did They or Didn’t They?’

CDTV Stats

The book is A5 in size and has been produced in full colour and runs to 200 pages. The pages are thick and glossy making it around 10mm thick with quite a heft to it. It costs £19.99 plus £3.50 postage and packaging so £23.49 all in.

 

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A look inside the book

 

The book covers every single disc ever produced for the CDTV whether it be a PD release, encyclopaedia or game. All the discs are helpfully slotted into one of 6 main categories:

  • Arts and Leisure
  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Music
  • Productivity
  • Reference

 

CDTV Disc Reference Guide

List of disc categories

 

There are also a couple of other categories for ‘Cancelled Titles’ and ‘New Wave’. The latter covers present day releases for the system such as PowerGlove Reloaded.

These colour co-ordinated categories are printed across the top of each page and are visible on the fore edge of the book. Titles are also arranged in alphabetical order within each category meaning you can easily track down ‘Lemmings’ in the ‘Entertainment’ section for example. Which is just as well because there is no index included within the book.

The vast majority of CDTV releases get their own page in the book barring a few exceptions. These exceptions are mostly stuff like yearly encyclopaedia updates and PD collections which are grouped together on a single page.

 

How CDTV titles are presented

 

Barring the exceptions mentioned above, each release is presented in the same format as shown below. There’s a photo of both the front and back of the CD packaging along with another of the disc itself. There’s also a couple of screenshots, usually featuring the title screen and the game or software in action. Other information provided includes the year of release, cost, languages, whether it was exclusive to the CDTV and if not, how it differed from the stock Amiga 500 version.

 

CDTV Disc Reference Guide

Example of how each CDTV title is featured in the guide.

 

The part I found most useful was the little rating box at the end. Every release has been rated from A to F and is accompanied by what I can best describe as a ‘micro review’. It’s hardly comprehensive but it gives you a fair indication about whether a particular release is worth tracking down or not.

 

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The book contains 200 pages and as most of the 190+ titles it covers get their own page this leaves some pages free for other content. Consequently there’s a few additional sections at the end of the book, detailed below.

  • Cancelled Titles – lists all the games that never quite made it to release along with the reasons why (if known). Sadly there’s quite a lot of games in this section.
  • Did they or didn’t they? – delves into a handful of mysterious releases that were advertised but the author was unable to track down.
  • CDTV Stats – provides information such as ‘least/most expensive release’ and ‘disc with least/most amount of content on it’ amongst various other things.

 

Worth a buy?

 

As a recent buyer of a CD32 console (most CDTV titles will work on a CD32) I’ve found this book to be quite a valuable resource . By referring to this guide I’m able to quickly see what titles are available and whether they were actually any good (I only collect stuff I will actually play/use).

The included images of packaging makes it much easier to spot them when ‘shopping’ and helps ensure you don’t buy something with dodgy home-made covers for example.

Personally I would have much preferred for it to come spiral bound so the pages could be opened easier and the book laid flat. Presumably that would have added to the cost though. However that’s just a minor niggle, it’s definitely usable as it stands.

It’s not something you are likely to sit down and read at length, it is a reference guide after all, but the content is interesting, useful and well presented. I’d say this was a recommended purchase for anyone who owns or is thinking about getting either a CDTV or CD32 system.

Amiga CD32 Vertical Display Stand Review

CD32 Vertical Stand

I was browsing around AmiBay one day when I stumbled across a guy selling stands/brackets that you can use to display Commodore equipment with. His stand for the CD32 caught my eye and was pretty cheap (€12.50) so I thought it was well worth a punt. The stands are made in Italy and delivery to the UK took less than a week.

The stand itself is 3D printed and is finished to a very hight standard. It’s also incredibly strong unlike many 3D printed objects thanks to some sort of exotic ‘ngen’ plastic used in its construction. The end result is a very attractive and sturdy stand that is available in three different colours. Champagne Gold, Clear Grey and my choice, Light Grey.

 

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How it fits the CD32

The stand features four prongs along the bottom that hook into the slots under the front lip of the CD32. A gently sloped back means your CD32 is held at an angle ensuring it won’t tip forward. There stand also incorporates a couple of holes so it can be mounted on a vertical surface.

 

CD32 Stand

Here are the slots that the prongs of the stand fit into.

 

CD32 Stand

Here you can see the prongs securely located into the slots.

 

Use as a Display Stand

The design of the stand allows it to be used in two different ways. The most straightforward is as a simple shelf stand to display your console on, as you can see in the photos below. This works really well and if you have the space is a great way to show off your kit.

 

CD32 ‘Display’ Stand – seen from behind.

 

CD32 ‘Display’ Stand – seen from the front. Hard to tell from the photo but it’s leaning back so there’s no danger of it falling over.

 

Use as Wall Bracket

The other way of using it, and the reason I bought it in the first place, is as a wall bracket. Used this way you can actually gain a little bit of extra space in your man cave. This is because when affixed to a wall or other vertical surface your CD32 no longer needs shelf or cupboard space. As an added bonus it looks awesome whilst stored this way too!

 

CD32 Stand

Here you can see the stand/bracket securely attached to the side of my computer desk. The curved screw slot allows easy alignment/levelling.

 

There are two screw holes used to mount the stand/bracket vertically. You put the first screw in the top hole as normal. The next screw goes through the curved slot below which allows the bracket to pivot left and right so you can align it. Get the bracket level and then tighten both screws and bob’s your uncle!

 

CD32 Stand

CD32 ‘bracket’ simultaneously displaying and storing my CD32.

 

I’ve actually owned this product for several months before getting around to producing this post. Consequently I’ve had plenty of time to test it out. I’m happy to report that it works brilliantly. I feel confident that my CD32 is held securely thanks to both the way the prongs lock into the slots and the angle it is held at. I have mine attached to the side of my desk and I walk past it several times a day. It’s never been knocked off, even when I’ve accidentally bumped into it. It has rocked forward a couple of times but the prongs prevent it from ever tipping over.

 

CD32 Stand

CD32 ‘bracket’ simultaneously displaying and storing my CD32.

 

Lifting the console off the bracket does take a little getting used to. You need to angle it just right and then pull it out and up at the same time for it to break free of the prongs. I didn’t find it a big issue though and I’d rather it was held securely than risk it falling off the bracket because it was too loose! Once you’ve done it a few times you develop a knack for it. I’ve also had it on and off the bracket dozens of times now and it is showing no signs of wear.

Verdict

Whether you want to store your own CD32 vertically or put it on display I’d happily recommend this product. It’s well made, priced fairly and does exactly what it sets out to do. The guy has a website where you can order them from here: ComputerGrafica3D. He also sells brackets for the breadbin cased Commodore 64 or VIC20 computers which I will be reviewing soon.

Trilogic 64 Doctor Diagnostic Cartridge Review

Trilogic 64 Doctor

I picked ‘Trilogic 64 Doctor’ up a little while ago as I thought it might come in handy one day. As it had been sat around on a shelf for some time I decided it was time to have a play around with it. You would be forgiven for thinking that this was new old stock given that Trilogic (as we know it) ceased to be a long time ago*. However this is actually a factory fresh product, made under licence by the prolific Tim Harris of SharewarePlus.

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Here’s the contents of the box. From left to right. User port dongle, test cartridge and serial port dongle.

 

Inside the box you get an instruction booklet, some flyers for other Trilogic products, the Trilogic 64 Doctor diagnostic cart itself, a user port dongle and also a serial port dongle.

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor Instructions

Here’s the instruction booklet along with some very retro looking flyers for other Trilogic stuff.

 

What does it do?

So what does the Trilogic 64 Doctor actually do? Well there is a little clue in the ‘doctor’ part of the name itself. Basically you plug it in and it will then perform a barrage of tests on your Commodore 64, from RAM chips to joystick ports.

Here’s a list of the tests it can perform:

  • Keyboard
  • Serial Port
  • Cartridge Port
  • Kernal ROM
  • Video Chip & Video Banks
  • NVI & IRQ Interrupts
  • Cassette Data
  • Joystick Port
  • User Port
  • BASIC ROM
  • CIA Chips
  • Sound Chip
  • Cassette Key Press
  • Joystick(s)

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Rear of the Commodore 64 with cartridge and both dongles inserted.

 

Keyboard Test

When you first turn your C64 on with the cartridge inserted you are presented with an on-screen keyboard. This is the keyboard test and allows you to quickly determine whether any of your keys are misbehaving. As you press each key in turn, their on-screen counterparts light up in yellow. If any don’t light up then you know there’s a problem. The restore key isn’t included in the test per se, but given it is needed to progress to the next test it will be obvious if it’s faulty!

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

The Keyboard test screen

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Successfully passing the keyboard test

 

Joystick and Joystick Port Test

The next test is for the two joystick ports and of course whatever joystick you happen to have plugged in. Simply press up, down, left, right and fire with a joystick attached (in turn) to both ports. Like with the keyboard test, an on-screen visualisation of the presses should appear if all is working correctly.

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

The joystick test screen

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Successfully passing the joystick test

 

Chip and Ports test

The final and probably most important test is that of the various chips and ports of the Commodore 64. This test includes both the User Port and Serial port so long as you have plugged in the supplied dongles. Video, SID, Kernel, CIA and several other chips are also tested too. If you need to test the cassette port then you must connect a datasette to it, after making sure you unplug the serial port dongle first.

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Successful chip tests

 

Trilogic 64 Doctor

Successful cassette deck/port test. Notice how the serial port lists a fault – this is because the serial port dongle has to be unplugged for this part of the test.

 

After the tests…

Once the tests have completed you will either be presented with a clean bill of health or a fault to fix. The included manual provides a wealth of useful information not just about faults but also how to fix them. It goes into great detail about common reasons for each fault, how to troubleshoot them and ultimately what you can do to fix them. It even goes as far as recommending other useful tools that you may need to diagnose faults or perform repairs.

 

Conclusion

With the inclusion of the two dongles this offers a very comprehensive phalanx of tests for your Commodore 64. Combined with the informative manual, whether you need to troubleshoot a faulty C64 or just want to have it ‘in reserve’ in your retro toolkit this is a recommended purchase.

If you fancy getting hold of one yourself, these are listed on the SharewarePlus eBay store for around £25 at the time of writing.

 

 

 

 

 


*Curiosity got the better of me so I did some googling. Although Trilogic Computers does still exist, it is now a PC repair business. It’s still in Bradford only located at a different address. A look through the records at Companies House indicate that they changed from their old address to their current one back in 1997. Maybe one day when I’m in the area I’ll pop in with my old Expert cart and ask them to fix it!

Three Classic VIC20 Games Remembered

Race, Skramble & Blitz

Picked up a few nice games off eBay recently for my VIC20. Although I’ve had all of them in past, this is the first time I’ve actually owned the retail releases for each game. The copies of Blitz and Race I had as a child were part of a compilation tape I got with my VIC20. I only ever had a pirated copy of Skramble so now at long last I have the original game in my collection.

Although the cassette tapes and ‘J’ card inlays were in terrific shape, the boxes on all three were extremely tatty and well worn. The very first thing I did was replace them with new ones and as you can see the games all look as good as new now.

 

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Like many people I got my copy of ‘Blitz’ and ‘Race’ on a compilation tape that came with my VIC20 computer.  I still have this tape (pictured below) of course but thought it would be cool to own the original, stand alone copies of the games too.  It’s holding up pretty well considering it’s now 37 years old!

 

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A brief look at each game

 

As I’ve done on previous occasions,  I’ve taken some screenshots of each game and written little mini reviews of each. Part of the fun of getting hold of these old games is to relive the whole experience of loading them and seeing if I even remember what they used to look like correctly after all this time.

 

Race

 

Despite some horrendous squeaking noises this loaded after a few tries. It’s a pretty spartan game with a brief text introduction and then on to the game. Despite the name and screenshot on the front of the cassette case this is not a racing game. No, this is a dodging game. Move your bike left and right to avoid the other bikes scrolling up the screen. The are four difficultly levels and it gets faster as you progress until you either reach the end or crash. Needless to say it’s not a very entertaining game, and probably never really was. The whole thing is very rudimentary, but then again it looks like it was written in BASIC so you can’t expect too much. Still, it’s a nice little bit of VIC20 history.

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Blitz

This is also a 3.5K game written in BASIC for an expanded VIC20. However this one manages to have a lot of charm and character and is quite fun to play.

The idea is simple, fly your little bi-plane across a randomly generated city as you bomb it into oblivion so you can land. Every time you reach the edge of the screen your plane drops down a row, getting ever closer to the skyscrapers below. You can only drop a single bomb at a time so there is an element of strategy (and luck) to it if you want to succeed. If you time it well you can often drop two or more bombs in one pass which is crucial to clearing the city. Fail to bomb even the smallest bit of rubble away and you’ll crash into it and it’s game over.

I played this quite a lot as a child, the graphics are really pretty good for what it is and the sound effects  work really well too. It’s still actually fun now and a worthy addition to my collection.

 

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Skramble

 

I thought this tape was faulty at first as every time I tried to load it I was getting an ‘out of memory’ error. After a spot of RTFM I tried just typing ‘LOAD’ instead of the customary ‘SHIFT & RUN/STOP’ as it suggested. Hey presto – it worked! The screen turned white and the text red and several minutes later the game greeted me with a very colourful  title screen.

I have to say this is by far the best game of the bunch, the extra 16K of RAM really allows the VIC20 to show what it is capable of. Fantastic, colourful graphics, slick side scrolling and punchy sound effects made this one of the best Skramble clones you could play at the time and it still looks great even now. It’s definitely the best version of Skramble you could play on the VIC. Just a shame so few games actually took advantage of the 16K RAM expansion back in the day as the VIC20 was capable of running some great games if given the chance.

It’s was very difficult trying to play this whilst reaching for the phone camera, games back then didn’t have a ‘pause’ feature! I’m looking forward to playing this a lot more now and reaching the end. If my memory is correct there were 6 levels in all with the final one being pretty torturous. I completed it many times over as a child and won’t rest until I do the same now as an older and wiser, albeit probably slower adult!

 

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VIC20 Penultimate+ Cartridge

Penultimate+ Cartridge

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

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

 

What you get

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

 

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

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

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

 

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The RAM Pack Function

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

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

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

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Main menu with RAM options.

 

The Games

The games are neatly arranged into 4 categories:

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

 

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Penultimate+ Included Games List

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

SD2IEC Functionality

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

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

SD2IEC Device

 

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

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Navigating the SD2IEC menus

 

Utilities

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

 

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

Utilities

 

Vic Term

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

Vickit

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

BASIC4

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

Super Expander

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

VIC20 Dead Test+

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

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

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

 

Penultimate+ Cartridge

‘Dead Test’

Verdict

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

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

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

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.