Month: November 2015

Firefly (1988)

Introduction
Our normal reviewer Rich is currently on holiday. Guest reviewer Chris Martin from the band Coldplay will review this game.

Hi, I’m Chris Martin from Coldplay. I am a big fan of the ZX Spectrum and actually think that many of its games are better than the latest Playstation 2 games. When Rich asked me to review Firefly – a favourite of mine – I leapt at the opportunity. Before I begin though, I want to tell everyone that there are 3 other, actually possibly 4 other people in Coldplay. I can’t remember their names just now, but the point is, that the band isn’t just me, and that some other people also contribute. I also want to let you know, just in passing, that we have a new album coming out soon. It’s called “A Storm of Innocence”. Don’t feel any pressure but please feel free to purchase it at your local music shop or on iTunes. Thank you. Love Chris x

So What is Firefly?

“Here I am being attacked by multiple alien craft. If this was real life it would go against my vegan principles to kill them. But it’s a game… so I murder them brutally while grinning.”

Firefly is a fast, abstract, ultra-slick, multi-directional shoot-em-up that was written by legendary spectrum programmer Joffa Smith. I remember playing Firefly when it was released and it seemed like a kaleidoscope of colour and weirdness all in shoot-em-up form. It was also very confusing but exciting too because it seemed like there was a lot going on in this game. It wasn’t just a shoot-em-up, there was a whole extra element to it. Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean. When you start the game you’ll see the map screen below.

“We live in beautiful worlds….”

To complete the game you need to reach the green switch on the far right side of the map. Each space on the map represents an alien world. However you can only move your Firefy past a space once it has been cleared of all alien invaders. When a world has been cleared it will then be replaced by a white circle.

How do I rid the worlds of the alien menace?

“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you…”

Upon entering a world, you’ll find yourself piloting your state-of-the-art Firefly craft which you move through an 8-directional scrolling world. You’ll notice a map screen at the bottom of your display which shows the layout of the world you are in. To clear a sector you have to take out the 4 power generators on each level. These are denoted by rapidly flashing dots on the map. Sometimes the generators will be in hard to reach areas and you’ll need to find a transporter (also marked on the map by a slower flashing dot) to take you there.

Hypnotic Bullets!

Your craft is circled by your complete bullet supply, and they move in hyponotic and beautiful patterns. The bullets aren’t active when circling your craft so unfortunately don’t act as a shield. As you fire them you’ll notice they return to you after use – much like boomerangs.

“It was all yellow…” (Still available on iTunes btw!)

Power-Ups?

The only genuine power-up is an autofire pickup, which you get from destroying a particular type of alien ship. It’s generally useless – autofiring means you run out of bullets and enemies only need to be hit once anyway – but still worth picking up for a points bonus. You can also pick up fuel cannisters, and energy-restoring drops but the best pickup by far is the energy fish which you can use to restore a big chunk of your energy. (See later in the review)

Three Moments From The Game

1. Destroying a Power Generator

You need to hack into a power generator to make it auto-destruct but before you can do this you must first collect 4 power cores. These are fired out by the generator but at the same time it’s also firing out cold metal death so you need to be careful to avoid it’s missiles. You will also be under attack from multiple flying enemies – who fire bladed weapons at you. Crazy Mo’fos! (I’m enjoying this!)

The square object with the circle in is a power-generator and that blobby shaped object is a power core.

Once inside the generator you’ll still have to take part in a simple mini game which determines whether you destroy it or not.(see below)

2. Punishing Subgames

Whenever you hack into a power generator or want to use a transporter you’ll find yourself playing a reaction-based subgame.

The first game here is the power-generator subgame, the 2nd is the one you’ll play when you enter a transporter.

With the power generator game – you’ll need stop the a rapidly moving cursor on the Thumbs-Up Icon. Fail to do so and you’ll be thrown out with a hefty energy loss. By the 3rd and fourth generator on each level the cursor moves far too fast to react to and you’ll need to aim a step or 2 steps ahead.

The transporter subgame is much harder. You have stop a spinning cursor on the blue squares and avoid the red. One wrong move – it’s very easy to hit a red square by mistake because of the speed the cursor moves! – and you’ll again be thrown out with a heavy energy loss.

99% of the times I died in the game was from failing a subgame. Their difficulty does spoil the game slightly.

3. The Energy Fish

My Firefly craft collects an energy fish, and soon drops of nourishing energy are falling from the ceiling!

The best item in the game and very much needed. Like the autofire pickup you’ll release it by destroying a particular type of enemy. Once collected, for a limited amount of time, all aliens will disappear and energy-replenishing drops will fall from the scenery. Collect as many as you can, or alternatively take advantage of the complete lack of enemies to hack into that final power generator and save the day!

Chris Martin From Coldplay’s Verdict

First impressions are that this is a very slick and fast shoot-em-up. It’s given extra depth given by the fact you have to do some exploration and that you are not just shooting enemies all the time. However 2nd impressions are not so good. You’ll notice some pretty obvious flaws in the game, which are :

– the limited view area means collisions with enemies are often almost unavoidable.
– the subgames are far too punishing – 1 or 2 mistakes and it could be game over.

I failed a subgame here rather than got shot. But the end result is the same – death.

However 3rd Impressions (hmmm I really want to write a song called “Third Impressions Count” or even “Impressions of the Third Kind”. I’m feeling quite creative!) are much better because you’ll find ways to mitigate the difficulty of the subgames. You’ll learn on the 3rd rotation of the transporter game to aim 3 squares ahead of the square you want. Similarly on the thumbs-up/thumbs-down game, when it gets ultra-fast you’ll know to aim for the thumps-up just because the cursor will take 2 further steps and be back there by the time your fingers react.

The subgames will still be hard but now that you have a chance, the game gets very addictive. Don’t play with emulator saves because it ruins it. It also takes some time to learn how to fly the craft with a good degree of skill and when this happens a lot of the viewport problems disappear, and the fun level increases.

What They Said At The Time

“Firefly is one of the best games I’ve played for a long time, though it doesn’t sound like much till you’ve tried it — the graphics are the usual high-quality shoot-’em-up stuff and the gameplay, though original, loses something in verbal description. But there’s addictiveness in oil-tankerfuls; I played Firefly solidly for four hours without wanting a break! Colour is used nicely, and the sprites are very well-designed. Forget the nit-picking; all shoot-’em-uppers should have Firefly.”

MIKE … 94%

(CRASH MAGAZINE 1988)

So How Good Are You Chris?

Well…I’m not bad. I have cleared 5 worlds and got a score of 504020 without using emulator saves! but I’m Chris Martin from Coldplay! Who are you?

Just joking! I want to make it clear that I think all of us here on planet Earth are equal.

“That was when I ruled the world….” (Almost!)

That’s me: CJM. (I’m not sure what my middle name is but it probably begins with a J)

To Sum Up

A beautifully abstract and very slick strategy shoot-em-up. It initially seems to be spoiled by the difficulty of the annoying subgames and a small view-area. However give it some time and you’ll uncover a very addictive game. I highly recommend this 7/10

Buy My New Album!

My first solo project! I showcase my guitar skills on this album in which I play 20 guitar classics including Voodoo Chile Slight Return (in an upbeat happy style), Smoke on the Water (special melancholic version) and Van Halen’s Eruption (played with a hint of sadness).

Was you being able to plug your new album part of why you agreed to write this review?

Yes, Sorry!

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Bite The Dust (1988)

Introduction

DJ Nicko (who looks a lot like Kermit the Frog) has discovered a diamond mine and must collect as many diamonds as possible for his ‘female companion’ Julie. In doing so he must avoid falling boulders, vicious spiders, killer skulls and homing omlettes(!)

These spiders must be led into webs to get diamonds.

This is a mix-up of Boulderdash (the basic concept and small graphics) and Repton on the BBC (the extra features like spirits/spiders and cages/webs and the more thoughtful and stategic gameplay). It’s pretty good too, especially considering it was given away as a free game on a 1988 Crash Magazine Tape.

Graphics

There’s nothing spectacular here in terms of graphics, they are very basic. The main character DJ Nicko has some charm in the way he flops rather than runs around the levels. As I mentioned earlier he looks a bit like a baby Kermit or even Crazy Frog (perhaps betraying his Euro-dance origins!). This makes him rather charming. Considering this is the Spectrum it’s also nice that the display scrolls. It’s not the smoothest scrolling ever but still, it’s nice to have.

DJ Nicko must collect the diamonds without crushing himself.

Sound

Fairly basic sound effects but there’s an upbeat tune that plays the whole time. I can’t quite figure out what it is but it’s similar to The Entertainer (which was used in Repton) It’s a little bit slow and plinky and it can interfere with your concentration a bit – especially when you have to plan your route through a particularly complex arrangement of boulders and diamonds.

Gameplay

It’s the standard Boulderdash gameplay- Collect all the diamonds on the level within the time limit, but avoid being crushed by boulders or touched by enemies. You learn the rules pretty fast: Boulders will fall if 1. Unsupported 2. On top of a diamond/boulder/slope that has no objects directly to one side. You often have to make boulders fall to clear your way to the diamonds.You must also be careful not to trap or crush yourself. As the game’s complexity ramps up, you’ll really need to think 3 or 4 moves ahead. There’s a time limit so think fast!

Level Design is both clever and sensible – basic techniques are introduced early in the game by giving player simple puzzles to solve that require their use. This means you’ll always have a good idea of what to do when the puzzles get more complicated and taxing.

It is possible to get stuck in the game – usually trapped by surrounding boulders. If this happens you’ll have to wait until the clock runs down and are whisked back to a restart point. However accidentally trap some diamonds with boulders and then walk through a restart point – and you’ll then have no chance of completing the level. Your only option will be to start again. Thankfully you are given a password each time you complete a level, so you can restart again on the last level you reached,


There is also a nice addition to the game in the form of an editor that allows you to make your own levels and save them.

Three Moments From The Game

Unlocking The Safes (be careful!)

Collecting a key turns all safes into diamonds. But be careful – unsupported boulders on top of the safes will fall!

Crushing an Omelette(!)

Omelettes hatch from eggs which will home in on your position. This may seem a bit weird but in Repton monsters hatch from eggs, so the author has had to change things a bit. You need to crush the omelettes with a boulder because doing so will give you a diamond, and you always need to collect every diamond possible before you can move on to the next level.

In the above sequence of screens, DJ Nicko lures a homing omelette into a boulder-trap and then brutally murders him. All for a diamond!

Pon De Restart

Having played a lot of Repton in my youth I assumed these were transporters but they are actually restart points. They are often handily positioned so that you will walk-through one after solving a particularly tricky puzzle.

The Verdict

While this is an addictive game but I wouldn’t always describe it as fun. You get satisfaction from solving puzzles and it’s addictive trying to get further in the game. The controls are responsive although you don’t really have that much chance out-manoeuvering a homing enemy when it gets close.

What I would Change

The graphics – they are very simple and functional. Apart from the way DJ Nicko moves, there’s no real charm or artistry to them at all. Plus the basic concept could have done with a refresh, this is basically a copy of Repton with smaller graphics and no new ideas. I would have liked to have seen things shaken up a bit. Set it in a new location e.g. space, a city (perhaps use a digger for the main character) and have different objects with different rules. I personally need something fresh to get me excited about another Boulderdash/Repton style game.

The Final Score

A simple game, that’s well-executed and borrows all of it’s gameplay from other games but does it well and is addictive. Only really worth playing if you love this kind of game because the original games that this is based on are much better. 5/10