Category: Shoot-em-up

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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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