Category: WORTH PLAYING TODAY

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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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!