Tag Archives: Review

Battlezone retro arcade game review

Battlezone: The Original Tank Game

Battlezone was a truly unforgettable game from the early days of the arcades, that saw you in control of a tank in a 3D battle against enemy vehicles and space ships, set in a dali-esque landscape of cubes and pyramids.

Battlezone Arcade Screenshot
Battlezone Arcade Screenshot
Battlezone used wireframe vector graphics technology, the same technology that was used in the classic Asteroids, and perfected in the original Star Wars Arcade game. Rather than using a matrix of dots on the screen to make up an image, as used in more common “raster” screen technology, vector screens drew lines directly onto the screen using the cathode ray. The phosphor on the screen glowed just long enough for the line to appear solid and the ray had a chance to redraw the next frame, hence the slight flicker associated with the technology. Due to framerate issues it was impossible to draw solid blocks of colour, hence the characteristic wireframe look to all vector games.

Whereas Asteroids was a 2D experience, Battlezone cretaed a 3D world where objects were continually redrawn based on the relative position of the tank, allowing you to drive towards and past them. Through clever use of parallax scrolling, where wireframe 3D objects in the foreground moved at different speeds to the mountains in the background, the Battlezone playfield also had a sense of depth and distance.

Battlezone Arcade Cabinet
Battlezone Arcade Cabinet

The control system was unique in that you had two parallel joysticks which controlled the two tank tracks, so pushing both forwards moved you forwards, push one to turn left or right, or opposite ways for a fast turn. The cabinet also featured a periscope-like hole through which you viewed the screen. This combined with the 3d had the effect of making the game very immersive, for a while you really were driving a tank.

The trick was to use the terrain to hide behind objects whilst waiting for the enemy to drift into your sights. To help with positioning you had a radar that showed the location of enemies, and due to the slow pace of the tanks, you often found yourself in a race with your opponent to rotate to the correct firing position and get your shot in first – too early on the trigger and you might miss, too late and you would be hit. Being shot yourself resulted in your tank being destroyed, indicated by an explosion and the screen being “cracked”, much better than just saying “game over”.

Reputedly used by the American military for tank training, this game was an instant classic and was converted into home ports for the Atari 2600 and also for PC (DOS) amongst others. I recently downloaded a great ipad port called VectorTankX which is well worth checking out.

Dec 2011 – Atari did eventually notice the similarity between Battlezone and the VectoTankX game, and have had it removed from the ipad store. Shame as this was a great app.

Gyruss arcade retro review

I found this game on holiday in Spain, around the same time that I discovered another Konami classic, Track & Field. This was in the early 80’s, a time when games arcades were massively popular and new games were launched seemingly on a weekly basis.

Gyruss arcade flyer
Gyruss arcade game flyer
Gyruss was a memorable arcade shooter for 2 main reasons, the first being the Tempest-like 3D perspective, where your ship travelled in a circle around the screen, with aliens emerging from the centre and flying out towards you. The aliens also fired various missiles as you spun around the edge of the screen, which was slightly disorientating as you looped left to right and top to bottom. Clearing each section advanced you closer to the next “planet”, flying through the solar system.

The other memorable feature for me was the fantastic music, a version of Bachs Toccata and Fugue that perfectly matched the pace of the action on screen. I would play for the music alone, which seemed to blast out of the speakers on all the cabs I played this on.

Gyruss arcade game screenshot
Gyruss arcade game screenshot

Between stages there were bonus sections, which Galaga-style allowed you to rack up points for clearing all enemies on a specific flight path. If you managed to shoot the mother ship you would pick up a “double fire” bonus that helped you clear the bonus screen more easily. This was a great risk reward mechanism, as the mother ship was well armed and defended by wingmen, and you had to work for it.

Simple in format but a great score chaser, you could play this all day and not get bored.

Apparently this was released on the NES – And here is a great review by Nintendo Legend. Gyruss was also released on the Atari 2600, which could only be a disappointment after the brilliance of the arcade original. The game even made it onto XBOX Live arcade, remastered in HD.

Moon Patrol for the Atari 2600

Moon Patrol was a classic 2600 conversion of the arcade game of the same name. Developed by Irem and launched by Williams, this side scrolling driving game was the first of its kind. The arcade version also featured parallax scrolling, a simple optical illusion where different background graphics move at different speeds to give the illusion of depth.

moon patrol marquee Atari 2600
moon patrol marquee Atari 2600

Moon Patrol Atari 2600 version

Back to the 2600 version and your mission, as pilot of the moon patrol vehicle, was to traverse the lunar surface, avoiding multiple challenges along the way, and complete the journey as quickly as possible. Sounds pretty basic, but this was an Atari 2600, and backstory was not always a huge feature of these early games!

Moon Patrol Atari 2600
Atari 2600 Moon Patrol
The classic Atari “orange button” joystick allowed you to speed up or slow down by pushing left or right, and pushing up would jump – handy for getting over the craters and also for jumping missiles or other enemy characters, rocks and landmines.

Multiple waves of enemy ships would drop missiles, which also need to be avoided, especially those that create new craters with their bombs. You also suffered ground based attacks from the rear by enemy buggys, which you had to jump to get in front of you and destroy, as well as oncoming enemy tanks. Fortunately you were armed with a laser that fired both forwards and upwards, destroying both enemy ships and obstacles. The game required careful thought as to when to shoot and when to jump, and whether a long jump could clear several obstacles at once, requiring a lot of strategy for a humble 2600 game.

Successfully clear 5 zones with increasingly agressive enemies, and more and more tricky obstacles, and you start again on a new difficulty level.

Moon Patrol had the kind of simple gameplay mechanic that translated well on the seminal Atari console, and this was a well executed example, and still playable today.

Amidar arcade game retro review

Apart from Amidar, in what other arcade game can you play the part of a paint roller being chased my evil pigs? None other that’s what. Just Amidar.

In 1981 Stern/Konami launched this arcade game onto a public that was recovering from Pac-Man, launched in the previous year, and Amidar featured many similarities.

Amidar Arcade Game screenshot

In the first level of Amidar you play the a plucky Gorilla who must collect coconuts dotted around random shaped tiles, whilst avoiding the tribesmen patrolling the maze. Eat all of the coconuts around a tile and the tile is coloured in. Colour in the corner tiles and (pacman style) you become invulnerable for a while. As an added defence mechanism, if you are trapped by a tribesman you can use one of three “jumps” to make him bounce over you.

On the next levels it gets more weird, with you playing a paint roller who must evade murderous porkers whilst colouring in adjacent squares. Try to stray too far from your last coloured square and the paint runs out and you have to go back. This makes these even numbered levels a lot more tricky, with careful planning required to complete the stage.

If that is not weird enough for you, in between levels there is a bonus stage which requires you to send a pig down one of a number of pathways, a bit like those kids puzzles in pizza restaurants, in order to pick up the bonus bananas and 5000 points. Why bananas? Surely this would be a bonus for a Gorilla, not a pig?

On both levels the enemy behaviour is pretty predictable, with no “homing” in on the player, except for one character who will start to chase you after a certain time period has passed. On later levels the number of enemies increases, and the time taken for the enemy to home in on you reduces, as well as the grids becoming more complex to navigate.

As well as the classic arcade version, there were home ports for the Atari 2600, and various conversions under a variety of names for the home consoles, my favourite being Crazy Tracer for the BBC Micro – Acornsoft also did versions of Pac Man, Mr Do, Galaxians, and were quite good at this.

Amidar feels like a classic, it has everything an old school arcade game should have: black background, lives and scores at the top, credits at the bottom, catchy tune and simple but colourful graphics and addictive, score chasing gameplay. Not a game that everyone raves about but in my opionion they should.

Prince of Persia for PC

Prince of Persia PC screenshot
Prince of Persia PC screenshot

Rather than attending another double-microprocessors lecture on a Friday afternoon, I would bunk off my lectures and play games on an early 386 PC that was owned by one of my housemates – this was when PC’s were not even used in the computer lab as they were deemed to be just for word processing and not serious programming machines. PC gaming was in its infancy, focused mainly on flight and other simulations, and 3rd person shooter games like Doom were still years away.

One of the exceptions of that time was Prince of Persia, a platform adventure game from Broderbund and programmer Jordan Mechner that was a landmark in computer graphics, due to its use of realistic character movement. Your hero, the Prince of the title, could run, jump, hang from ledges, climb and fight with incredible realism, as the sprites were based on video recording of real actors. Armed with a scimitar, he would stylishly fence with the various enemies encountered through the game, including skeletons, palace guards and eventually his nemesis Jaffar.  A similar approach to animation could also be found in the later Sega Megadrive game Flashback, where your character had a huge range of abilities rendered in smooth flowing graphics.

Prince of Persia was a combination of free-running and pitfall type obstacles, with many traps along the way which required careful timing to avoid, including spiked pits and collapsing walkways.  Your character had 3 lives which could fortunately be replenished by drinking potions littered around the various levels.  The ultimate objective of battling the Evil Jaffar and rescue his princess.

Originally released on the Apple II, and later systems including Megadrive and SNES, as well as sequels for the XBOX. There was also a Hollywood film, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, where the Prince was transformed into a free-running hero played by Jake Gyllenhall.

For me however it is the original game that is the stand out in the series, and it was well worth missing all those lectures for.

Pyjamarama for the ZX Spectrum

Pyjamarama was part of the series of Microgen platform games, including “Automania”, “Everyone’s a Wally”, “Herberts Dummy Run” and “3 weeks in Paradise” that starred our hero Wally Week.

Pyjamarama ZX Spectrum
Pyjamarama ZX Spectrum
Playing the part of the sleeping Wally’s “dream” alter ego, the object of the game was to explore the many rooms of Wally’s house, find a key to wind up the alarm clock and wake Wally ready for work. Each screen featured a number of platforms, allowing Wally to navigate to different locations through doors linking the various rooms.

This involved finding objects which could be used to solve puzzles, unlock rooms, and exchange objects for other objects which would eventually lead to the key. Controls were simple, just left right and jump. The player could carry up to 2 items at a time, and picked up the items by walking over them. Puzzles in Pyjamarama were solved by using the right combination of items, and therefore the game became a memory test of what items were left where.  This would necessitate manual documentation of the screen layout, something that gamers of the early 80’s will be intimately familiar with – rather than the system plotting where you have been with a helpful map screen.  This lead to pieces of a4 graph paper being taped together to recreate the map when you ran out of space, or until you bought the latest copy of CRASH! magazine which often included a handy map for games like Pyjamarama.

To complicate matters, various enemies patrolled Wally’s dream world, and contact with them drained Wally’s “snooze energy”, and ultimately lead to a loss of life. Lose 3 lives and the game was over.

I had the Spectrum version of Pyjamarama, and was blown away by the large colourful graphics that seemed to avoid the worst colour clash that the Spectrum was prone to (only having two colours in any one 8×8 pixel portion of the screen at a time).

Pyjamarama was also released on the C64 and Amstrad CPC.