Month: October 2015

Amaurote (1987)

Introduction

This is an isometric arcade game set in the futuristic city of Amaurote (named after the ideal city from Sir Thomas More’s Utopia). You control a robot walker, the Arachnus-4. Your task is to clear each of Amaurote’s 25 sectors which are under attack from marauding alien insects.

Your Arachnus-4 explores Amaurote

I chose this game because I played it briefly at the time and was intrigued by it. It felt like I was controlling a powerful robot in a strange alien world. A world with fields, highways and strange buildings to explore. I imagined I could pick up more powerful weapons and fight more interesting enemies as the game went on.

Graphics

The graphics are superb for the Spectrum. The Arachnus-4 moves and animates beautifully in 4 directions. The sectors of Amaurote all look suitably alien and otherworldly with strange and intriguing free-standing structures. At the time this would have been a stunning looking game. The colours of the world change depending on which sector you are in but you can alter them yourself if you wish by pressing the ‘V’ key. The buildings and trees are also destructable but destroy too many and you’ll get into trouble and it will be game over.

Here, I am under attack from 3 enemy insects.

Gameplay

You clear each sector by killing all the enemy insects with your bouncing bombs. This is tricky because you can only fire one bomb at a time and they bounce (they can easy bounce over your target) *AND* they are slow moving so you have to time your shot perfectly. Your first task should be to destroy the queen. Once you have done this no more insects can be produced. However the queen is invulnerable to your standard bombs and you’ll need to radio in for a Supabomb – which is delivered from your mothership and arrives by parachute.

All the options the radio menu cost you money (Dosh).

Once the queen is dead you’ll have to mop up all the remaining insects to clear the sector. Sadly this is quite tedious since the alien insects become even harder to hit once the queen is destroyed. Rather than coming straight for you – which makes it easier to kill them – they now run away in unpredictable directions.

Disappointingly and contrary to my original expectations, you only really have the one weapon – your bouncing bomb – and it can’t be upgraded. Also there is only one enemy type which looks like a fly. These can fly or hover.

Sound/Music

There’s no music. There are some fairly basic sound effects when you fire a bomb or blow up the enemy insects. Nothing special.

Three Moments From The Game

1.  Kill The Queen!

The alien queen produces both drones (walking insects) and fliers (hovering insects). Kill her to stop the insects being replaced after you kill them. She can only be killed with a Supabomb.

In the above screenshots the Arachnus-4 destroys the queen using the Supabomb. You only get one chance so don’t miss!

2. Tricky Terrain

Alien insects can walk anywhere but your walker can only walk one-way down these furrowed patches (see the below screenshot). Your walker also can’t walk over the stony patches (not pictured here). This makes it even harder for you to pursue fleeing aliens.

3. Using your Radar

Your radar has 3 ‘Seek’ modes – Supabomb, Aliens, and Queen. You can flick between them to locate each respectively. The arrows show the way you should be going. Below the Arachnus-4 is searching for a recently parachuted-in Supabomb. The arrows point the way.

Interesting Fact: – the Supabomb can also be used to destroy the fence surrounding each sector but you’ll meet an invisible wall if you try to escape through the gap.

The Verdict

Amaurote seems to have reviewed very well at the time receiving 90%,92%,100% from the 3 main Spectrum magazines: Your Sinclair, Crash and Sinclair User respectively. Sadly it’s one of those games that has been fairly obviously over-rated. It was an impressive technical achievement but even at the time the gameplay wouldn’t have been much fun. The control of the spider robot combined with the awkward key-selection used for control makes it cumbersome and unresponsive. Add to this the difficulty of hitting anything with your bombs, means a game that isn’t much fun to play.

Probably the most annoying thing about the game is should your bouncing bomb miss it’s target – you’ll have to wait up to 5 long seconds until it explodes before you can fire another one. By then you’ll either be under attack yourself or your target will have escaped.

Amaurote is fun for a short period of time, but by the time you’ve managed to clear the first sector it’s unlikely you’ll want to  continue with the other 23.

How I Would Improve this Game

Well I assume there are memory issues with adding much more to the game, because it seems like the animation of the robot would have used up a fair amount of memory. But in an ideal world I would like to see more enemy types, maybe even some kind of gun emplacements that fire at you. Some moving or animated environmental hazards that you have to dodge past would also have added extra variety to the gameplay. The game also needs upgrades to your basic bomb. The Arachnus-4 could badly do with a straight firing missile, and some other weapon upgrades too, A flame-thrower would be a great short-range weapon to to torch insects with for example.

A major problem with the control-method is that the walker has to walk a step in a direction before it can then fire in that direction. This seems like a pretty basic gameplay flaw that could have been easily fixed. Just overall better control of the walker would have made a big difference to make the game less frustrating. Lateral movement would also be very useful.

48K or 128K?

The 128K version gets added cut-scenes before you start a level and also when you blow up the insect queen. It’s debatable whether these are a good thing or not. Personally I prefer no cut-scenes. However the 128K version does also get a David Whittaker tune, which while not one of his best, does sound suitably mysterious and other-worldly.

Overall

It’s atmospheric and interesting and would have been graphically outstanding game for the time. However the gameplay would always have been stodgy and boring. I have to give this a disappointing. 3/10

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Goldwood (19xx)

Plot

I have no idea, the game doesn’t say. It seems to be Tolkien inspired (there is mention of hobbits: “thieving hobbits”, and there’s even a ring). You start in a wood, there’s a brook and a castle nearby. So it’s set in very traditional fantasy setting.

This was a random choice of game (see my ‘About‘ page) and I can’t find out an exact release year – so maybe it was unreleased. I do know it was ‘published’ by Xcellent Software however.

Graphics

Each location is accompanied by a colourful illustration. They are not exactly Van Gogh but are often helpful in giving you a better idea of what you might be able to do in a location.

Gameplay

This is a text adventure. Not the sophisticated variety where you can type “TAKE THE ROCK AND THROW IT AT THE WINDOW.” This is the simpler kind where you type “N, S, E, W, GET SWORD, E, N, KILL TROLL” and then rather hopefully “OPEN DOOR WITH KEY”, and it replies “I don’t know how to do that.” Then you try “UNLOCK DOOR” and it says “I don’t know how to do that.” Finally, through trial and error you realise that “OPEN DOOR” works as long as you are holding the right key in your inventory.

AARGHHH! “EXAMINE MOUND” is what I needed here.

To put it bluntly, Goldwood is very annoying in this way. Even typing “INV” instead of INVENTORY to display the contents of your pack fails. Usually part of playing these types of games, is getting inside the author’s head to understand their logic and way of thinking. However Goldwood is so unfriendly and inflexible that it makes you not want to bother.

The descriptions aren’t very helpful or detailed. You enter a hut where there is a “Long narrow hole”. I assumed this was a hole in the ground and only much later realised it was a hole you could poke a STICK into to open a secret passage. The game also doesn’t like you EXAMINE-ing anything. “Why do we have to examine everything?” Which at first seems like a bold rebellious statement against standard text adventure convention, but soon you’ll realise – by the dearth of clues, and lack of flexibility in the parser – that it’s just a lazy way of putting less content into the game.

The Verdict

I have played a few text adventures in the past. This seems like quite a small one. I managed to reach 40% completion after about 2 hours play. Most of which was spent wasting time. If I knew what I was doing, I could have reached this point in 10 minutes. After a while you do learn instinctively what you might need to type in a situation, and the game becomes a little more fun. Overall it’s still poor though.

By Spectrum adventure standards this is probably a 2/10. It has a terrible parser, it’s inflexible – you can’t “DRINK BOTTLE”, but you can “DRINK FLUID” (the fluid is in the bottle), it uses odd words for things, and besides the satisfaction you get from solving puzzles, it isn’t much fun to play.

By today’s standards this is a 1/10.

Dynamite Dan (1985)

Plot

Dastardly Dr Blitzen has locked the secret plans for his Super Psychon Mega-Ray in a safe which is hidden deep in his huge house. Arriving by Zeppelin, Dan must find 8 sticks of dynamite, blow the safe and escape with the plans.

Dan arrives on the roof of Dr Blitzen’s mansion in his zeppelin.

Graphics

The first thing you notice about this game is how bright, well-animated and colourful everything is. In fact Dynamite Dan is just generally a very slick game – everything moves smoothly and there’s often a large number of fast moving enemies on screen with you. Dan as a hero also has great appeal. He’s a nonchalant hero, whose hands never leave his pockets as he casually strolls from one screen to the next.

Gameplay

Obviously heavily inspired by the seminal Spectrum platform game Jet Set Willy (JSW). Like Willy in that game, Dan also finds himself in a huge house surrounded by surreal enemies and with flashing objects to collect. Willy was famously combining blue pills and alcohol. So I do wonder what Dan is taking? Whatever it is, it’s definitely something to avoid! Here Dan is assaulted by mini-troll dolls, floating mermaids, toy helicopters, levitating octopuses, and unicycling waiters. It might have similar gameplay to JSW but Dynamite Dan is still very much it’s own game. Dan has a mission to complete (to steal the Secret Plans) and you don’t need to collect every object in the game. The mansion here is slightly smaller at 48 screens which wrap-around. Click HERE to see the map.

As well as being useful, all items increase your score.

There are objects to collect that will aid you in your mission. Test tubes give you an extra life. The oxygen-canister allows Dan to survive a fall into the river. The deodorant will make Dan temporarily invulnerable and is similar to a power pill in Pac Man – it allows you to permanently kill any enemies you come into contact with. Dan also gets hungry fast and will lose energy as he starts to starve so collect as much food as possible!

Sound

There’s a tune on the title screen but no music in game. There are great sound effects however. When you pick up an item a little tune with often play. Which is almost a reward in itself. Falling into the river will play a sea shanty, and picking up a credit card will produce a long sound effect that rises in volume as your score increases. Very satisfying.

Three Moments From the Game

1. Transporters

Hop into one of these to re-appear in another transporter somewhere else in the house.

That’s a transporter on the bottom-left.

2. The Cheese in the Bath (!)

One of the hardest objects to collect in the game if approaching from above, and a good test of your timing skills. Here’s how it’s done. The arrows show the enemy paths.

Hmm this could be tricky…

Notice how Dan’s leap must be timed to avoid both the horizontally-moving green robot and the 3 rapidly vertically-moving er..spinning things. Even then Dan survives *literally* by a pixel on either side.

Dan’s quiff is just one pixel away from getting him killed.

3. The Underground River

Dan isn’t fixed to the boat – so you’ll have to keep walking to stay out of the water. The boat is always moving and you’ll need pixel perfect positioning and jumping skills to get far on this river – often you’ll have to move Dan to the edge of one side of the boat and have to keep walking very slowly just to maintain that position to avoid a rapidly moving enemy.

Dan is attacked by dragonflies and evil spiders, while doing his best to stay on the boat.

The Verdict

Amazingly – considering how slick and well executed everything is – this was Rod Bowkett’s first game after transitioning from the music industry. He would write only one more game, the sequel Dynamite Dan II, which in my opinion isn’t as good. It’s larger, less focused and has randomly spawning enemies.

Dan has just 3 moves: walk left, walk right, and a fixed jump. But full use is made of them by the level design. The fixed jump may seem like a handicap to anyone used to being able to change direction in the air (Hello Mario!) but it’s actually essential to this type of game. It also means you’ll need to plan your route carefully through each screen.

This is a fun game, it’s bright, vibrant and has pixel-perfect collision detection. The controls are responsive and it’s addictive trying to beat your score, number of rooms visited and number of sticks of dynamite collected each game.

Is It Better Than Jet Set Willy?

In some ways yes – this is slicker, faster, better-looking and feels like the next stage of evolution on from that game. It also plays a better game in some respects. But overall I would say it isn’t quite as good. The house that Dan explores is less interesting. Every room is just crammed full of monsters and platforms. Which means there’s less room for the distinct character of each room to emerge. There’s also none of the clever pop-references that JSW crams in.

Is Dynamite Dan Worth Playing Today?

The short answer is Yes. It’s the kind of game that you don’t really find anymore. A computer game as opposed to a console game. Most platform games now have console-stylings – with smooth learning curves and no rough edges. Dynamite Dan however has brutal difficulty. It takes pixel perfect jumps and timing to the extreme. Sometimes you’ll execute an amazingly accurate leap only to have to keep moving and produce two more just as good to avoid losing a life (Dan starts with 10 but it’s still not enough). There are a number of games around now which make a selling point of how difficult they are: Dark Souls, Super Meat Boy, The Impossible Game etc. Dynamite Dan fits in nicely alongside these.

Should you get inside the safe, Donna, Dr Blitzen’s assistant awaits…

What’s Bad About It?

Sadly you’ll find it’s less fun once you reach a certain standard. You’ll play a superb game at some point and get maybe 5 or 6 (out of 8) dynamite sticks, but also realise that to progress any further would require a huge commitment with little in the way of reward to pay you back (there’s a lot of trial and error deaths). This is where most players will give up, and rightly so. Even hard games should stay fun. There’s also the slight nagging feeling that some of the rooms have been put together in a rush without much thought and that a load of monsters have been thrown in to finish them off. This is rare though.

Also terrible trampoline-physics: Dan doesn’t quite bounce on the trampolines the way you expect. What seemed good at the time now feels quite ‘wrong’. Still, you get used to it.

Overall

A great game even today. It’s not perfect but so far I have spent more time on Dynamite Dan than any modern 2D platform game. They don’t make them like they used to. 7/10

The End!