The Snake Becomes The Key

Retro Gaming Humour

Where have we gone?

Ok, for those of you that keep returning to the site reading the updates we post, Chris and I just wanted to update you on what we’re doing now – because it’s obviously meant we don’t have the same amount of time as we used to to spend writing for SBTK.

This isn’t to say that we’re not going to keep adding to it, it’s just the last few months have been mega hectic – we finished our college course and then went out into the big wide world to get jobs.

Chris now writes for a golfing website called In Golf We Trust, here’s a link: http://www.ingolfwetrust.com

And I now write for Retro Gamer magazine, where I’m able to continue to push the greatness of the CPC but on a much bigger scale.

Anyhow, we just wanted to thank anyone who’s ever left a comment, read a post, and allowed us to be linked from their websites.

All the best

Stu and Chris

September 15, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

International Ninja Rabbits: Rabbits in a half-assed game, rabbit power!

Words:Stuart Hunt

What is it that the video-game industry has against ninjas, particularly 8-bit ones? I’m slowly realising that if an Amstrad game has the word ‘ninja’ in its title then it must be avoided like shampoo soaked contact lenses. We’ve reviewed two ninja ‘themed’ games so far on this blog: BMX NINJA and NINJA SCOOTER SIMULATOR. Both of these titles rolled with the ridiculous ninja-extreme-sports hook. However, reality sussed out that classifying these games as ‘extreme’ was like saying that a tattoo of Gene Simmons on your tongue is both tasteful and painless.

OK, so we can pretty much guess what happened here. Seeing those ‘heroes in a half shell’ and the impact they were having on the eyes and vocabulary on impressionable young minds, Microvalue felt they could achieve a similar success story. They substituted four dynamic, pizza-loving, sewer-surfing turtles, with one lethargic, carrot-chomping, hutch-dwelling rabbit and this was the less than remarkable result.

Perhaps so as not to be sued for false advertising, the creators of International Ninja Rabbits were meticulous in making sure that every word in its clusterfuck title earned the right to be there. It’s ‘international’ in that you traipse around the world. Beginning in China, the game sends you jetting across to America before taking the convoluted, fuck the planet, flight back to Japan. Cultural stereotypes proudly greet you in the airports. Touching down on American soil you’re met by graffiti-strewn walls and two buildings on loop that constantly change their signage from ‘Movie’ to ‘Food’, and the oriental-themed levels are littered with dojos and trees, giving the impression that everyone in Japan is either a karate expert or a tree surgeon. However the impact of these stereotypes is somewhat deafened by an odd yellow haze which swathes the game’s graphics. This means that if you’re more than two feet away from your monitor every stage looks like it’s taking place on the toilet floor of a nightclub, with a white bunny sloshing around like it has just contracted myxomatosis.

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Aquamarine isn’t even an official karate belt!

The ‘ninja’ aspect in the game comes from the fact that your character is wearing a baggy pair of bright white pyjamas (don’t ninjas usually wear tight black suits for concealment and agility?) He’s also wearing a headband to tie up his big floppy ears – useful hearing devices which would otherwise hinder his ability to blend into any environment other than a rabbit hutch or the Playboy mansion.

The controls and action in this game are painful – painful to watch and painful to execute. You’re given three measly moves, yet forty minutes to decide which one you want to use against an enemy coming at you with what can only be described as crippling arthritis. They waddle towards you with their robotic, two-animation movements and invoke about as much immediacy into the game as pressing the pause button in slow motion. Enemies range from bloodhounds with their cubes out, turtles that transform into crocodiles when they get hit and creatures that look like nothing your eyes have seen, or will ever see again. They are God’s creations however, so we must love them all – even if we’re eventually projecting a pixelated paw into their freaky faces.

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Wow a rabbit fighting a Rabbi, how feckin awesome is that?

To dispose of these circus freaks requires the infuriating method of pushing the joystick in a direction while simultaneously hitting the fire button. Forward, while batting fire, results in the bunny doing a kick which fells most enemies with two goes. To punch is back and fire, and usually results in your character walking backwards to the start of the level before an actual hit is achieved. Salt adding, most of the enemies will absorb a colossal six punches before they work out they’ve been hit and fairly collapse, so only the foolish Shinobi will ever opt for this ridiculous attack method. As for the jump kick, with such teeth grating collision detection, trying to land an ice-cube onto the surface of the sun while holding back an army of mountain gorillas would probably prove less taxing.

If you’re ever find yourself hankering for a side scrolling kick-em-up with weird visuals and strange premise, that looks suspiciously like it’s been caked in rabbits piss, here’s £2.99 well spent I reckon.

August 2, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Gregory Loses His Clock; we lose our marbles

Words: Stuart Hunt

How can you not at least be a little curious at a title called Gregory Loses His Clock? We lose things every day, but the last time I misplaced my keys the resulting search wasn’t quite exciting enough to warrant a video game.

The title tells you all you need to know right there in those four words. That’s right, you play a scientist who travels back in time, hopping into degenerates’ bodies and helping them prevent those regrettable decisions in their lives. No wait, that’s Quantum Leap.

Now there is some confusion to be had immediately from Gregory Loses His Clock. One that will have many of the less thinking-out-of-the-box gamers out there scratching their heads, swearing at their CPC monitors and generally trying to determine whether the game is actually the shortest and easiest game ever created. Our hero, Gregory, blatantly starts out on his adventure with the treasured timepiece right in his hands.

Yep, it’s there for you to see, pick up, put down, pick up, put down. As Gregory’s world, at that point in time, consists of one screen, his bedroom, decorated with gaudy wallpaper of goggle eyed freaks, a single bed and a chest of drawers. It is at this point one might ask themself how Gregory could actually lose such a item, especially as it’s the size of his head…and it’s bright red.

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Gregory frets over whether his head will fit in a single bed

So with this in mind the easiest way for you to complete the game is to slot the cassette into your CPC, do the key press malarkey, wait forty minutes, hit ‘S’ to start the game, pat yourself on the back, and if you’re that way inclined; waggle your CPC by the monitor handle as if you are shaking its hand, and then turn him off.

You see, this is first of many confusing parts in Gregory Loses His Watch. You start the whole adventure from the very beginning, so it’s up to you to help the Gregmeister lose his watch before you can actually make a start on helping him reclaim it.

Does this sound pointless? Probably, but hold those horses because the pay-off is actually a pretty enjoyable experience – as far a purposely losing things and then trying to find them again go.

So after four hours of picking up the clock, putting down the clock and staring at Gregory’s perplexed yellow head for answers, I accidentally hit up on my joystick at the point he was standing in front of his drawers, sparking him to place his red timer on top of the furniture.

As I had meticulously dropped the clock onto every other conceivable pixel on the entire screen, I felt it might be worth leaving it there for a while and allow Gregory to break away from the pressures of clock carrying to stroll around his bedroom unfettered.

Realising that the only other object in Greg’s life was a bed, I thought I would investigate it and by pressing down on my joystick, without the clock in my pocket inventory, the lemon headed one hopped inside.

Now, no sooner has our poor Greg nodded off, then one of those nasty Predators sneaks into his room, using that weird transparent camouflage trick, and loots his all his stuff. He makes off with his alarm clock, his strange wallpaper, his bed and even his body, leaving his large garish dome to float down into a strange dream world were it eventually gets reunited with its old pals: neck, torso, left leg and right leg. This is where the real adventure begins.

It’s a real struggle to brand Gregory Loses His Watch with any particular game genre. The beast is certainly a puzzler but it’s also a platformer with odd shooting elements. Doing the random, the odd and basically ignoring everything your brain screams at you is usually the key to success in the game.

The underlining mission is to collect the pieces of clock, which have been smashed up and scattered around the levels, and put them back together to return to your one-screen-world. To find each part, Gregory must collect objects and place them in certain areas to open up more screens and more objects to…place in certain areas.

The enemies that Gregory faces include infinite egg-pooing birds, demonic imp-looking monkeys and crocodile pits aplenty. By way of armament, Gregory can collect power-ups, which include a sausage that blesses him with a gravity ignoring jump, and a gun which looks and fires like one of those cup and ball toys.

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Gregory waits patiently for the pipes to finish with the shower

Both of these power-ups are a puzzle in themselves. Some jumps require leaping before looking. Greg must prepare for take-off a screen before the one he wants to land on. One of the shooting tasks requires picking-off all but two hovering shurikens (if you destroy them all, they regenerate). Such things are what we at SBTK lap up; puzzles that require complete detraction from brain and just random joystick jolts, fire-button slapping and tears – yes, there must be plenty of salty tears.

Now, while this adventure may sound like the creation of a sadist, it’s actually a cracking puzzler that holds much enjoyment. Sure, nine times out of ten, progressing will be thanks to complete fluke, but hey, you never see a gutted lottery winner – even one who’s bright yellow and clockless.

The game was programmed by Trap Door and Popeye creator Don Priestley, who was the don when it came to big and bright graphics. Gregory Loses His Watch is no different. You should also check out Trap Door, another CPC fave of mine. Anyways, check this out, it’s an enjoyable puzzler that you should really try and make time for.

May 30, 2007 Posted by | Hall of Fame, Puzzler, Stuart Hunt | 3 Comments

Nightbreed – Might breed: confusion, pain, smashed keyboards

Words: Chris Keeley

Straight off the bat, Nightbreed does little to instil you with confidence that it’s going to be an enjoyable gaming experience. The bewildering plot, which was difficult enough to fathom when spread out over an entire film, is garbled at you in a matter of seconds before you start. Like the opening of Star Wars the prologue scrolls upward before you, only here it tracks at the speed of light. Despite this, it seems to take light years to read. Unless you’re an autistic savant, at this point I’d advise slamming your spacebar with authority. Failure to do so may result in your brain actually paining to decipher its convoluted, scatterfuck plot…and your body spontaneously combusting.

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After Rainbow, Zippy went off the rails

For those of us who haven’t succeeded in tapping that rarely used part of the brain, the ‘intricaplot cortex’, the story centres on Boone, a fugitive who you control and must lead deep into the Midian, an underground labyrinth which is home to the Nightbreed, an ancient and mystical race. This cramped, confusing, fiery hell seems a strange place to live for a bunch of immortal, shape-changers with powers beyond belief, but hey, at least the rent must be pretty good.

So anyway, Boone must venture into this hellhole/deathtrap/affordable monster living space in an attempt to protect the Nightbreed from a neo-Nazi gang, seek redemption for murders he believes he has committed, save his girlfriend from the real killer, battle berserkers, avoid getting shot, flame-throwered or crushed by boulders, duck gigantic eyes, return The One Ring etc etc etc. Perhaps most galling of all for him is the fact that he must achieve all this while riding an invisible space-hopper, or at least that’s what it looks like. The main character graphics portray a man so bow-legged that it looks like you could drive a car under his balls.

If you thought that following the storyline was a challenge, try pigeon-holing the gameplay – perhaps the World’s first avoid-em-up/insanity-simulation. Nightbreed plays like filling a wardrobe with claustrophobic wasps, necking acid and then trying to negotiate your way out of the wardrobe without screaming. Impossible, pointless and painful. Having your brain ravaged by the platoon of panicky picnic-ruiners would probably be the more enjoyable option.

The game begins in the Necropolis, the city of the dead and the gateway to the Midian. Unexplained floor flames flit around our hero’s feet, randomly deciding whether to inflict pain or not, while machine-gun toting Nazis drop from the sky showing little concern for logic or Boone’s lack of weaponry and t-shirt armour. Avoiding the fires and beating-up the free-falling Fuhrer fanciers is a painful process. Boone is generally about as easy to control as a drunken bear; he possesses a less-than-paper-bag-worrying punch and a move which looks like he’s trying to show his enemies the colour of his shoes – I later discovered that this is actually a kick.

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Oh go on, it’s only waffffer thiiin

Once inside the Midian, hordes and hordes of monsters try and thank you for your attempts to save their race. No, not ‘thank’, what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yes, ‘KILL’, that’s it. Hordes and hordes of monsters try and kill you for your attempts to save their race. Assuming you manage to avoid these ingrates, their underground lair also wants to have a go at you. Crumbling rocks fall seemingly at random but usually when you’re trying to gauge feedback from a Nightbreed on whether your black loafers would look better beneath a pair of dark grey corduroys. All in all, Boone must be wondering if it’s all worthwhile and if he wouldn’t be better off just letting his girlfriend be killed, take the blame for numerous unsolved murders and let an ancient civilisation die.

On the plus side, Nightbreed’s graphics aren’t too bad, there are quite an array of enemies all with different attacks and the game manages to stay relatively true to the film. One thing I don’t recall from the cinematic adaptation however is Boone’s duck sidekick who lurks just out of sight and quacks whenever his master jumps or lands a punch or kick on an enemy. Thankfully there are few other sound effects because judging by the ones that do befoul your speakers they were produced with the explicit intention to annoy. There is no music apart from the opening sequence but again this is a blessing in disguise. The computerised cacophony that greets you could easily be used as shock therapy for music addicts or as an alarm clock for the hearing impaired.

It would be way too easy to compare the nightmarish scenario on which the game is based to the experience of actually playing it, so I’ll spare you that lazy simile and just end with a succinct: “this game sucks ass.”

May 25, 2007 Posted by | Chris Keeley, Lame, Movie Tie-Ins, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The ‘Grate’ Giana Sisters

Words:Stuart Hunt

The Great Giana Sisters, CPC’s biggest letdown. Look, somebody had to come out and say it.

If you’re going to try and improve an existing computer game, the last title on Earth you should probably have a swing at is the biggest selling of all time. I’m guessing that as you’re reading this review, there’s a better than probable chance you’ve played Super Mario Bros, so the premise of The Great Giana Sisters will be familiar and relatively simple for me to sum up. Just omit the plumbers for sisters, and growth-spouting mushrooms for mullet growing circles.

After the world went Mario mad, Nintendo announced they wouldn’t be porting their portly protagonists to home computers. This created a rather attractive gap in the market for a platform game to rival Mario and Luigis’ pipe warping antics and cause the cocky pair to sob into their flat-caps.

There are many people in this world who cite The Great Giana Sisters as one of the finest home computer platform games ever created. If I’m honest, the Amiga and (it kills me to say this) C64 versions were actually pretty good games; however, for us poor CPC owners, the whole Great Giana saga was about as pleasurable as stopping a bullet train with your balls and about as pretty as the impact.

Let’s begin with the difference in the game’s loading screens. The first screen we have here is taken from the C64 version. Although the character looks a lot like Limahl in a denim skirt, I think you’ll agree it’s a billion times better than the CPC loading screen (below), which to this day still causes me to wake from sleep screaming ‘why’ at my ceiling.

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Top: A wack 80’s novelty
Bottom: See Above

I’m confused as to why any developer would select this particular image to represent their heroines, or, when I think about it logically why they would settle on two hideous harridans with sporadic hair follicles in the first place? Out of all the cool things in the world they could have chosen to play siblings, they went with two cheese-eating sisters who get warped to the weird Dream Kingdom in their sleep.

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Top: E.T and Gilbert
Bottom: See above

I guess after launching in with the visual child of garish and hideous the game’s creators felt the only foreseeable way graphically for the project would be up, even if they delegated the job of crafting the rest of the CPC conversion to a cat in a pregnancy suit – which it looks like they went and did.

When you start the game, the first thing you will notice is how unbelievably slippy your character is. You will probably spend the next 10 minutes staring at the foot of the screen trying to work out whether your character has started out in some kind of strange, frozen, orange world where snow and ice is oddly substituted with sunlight and bricks. It hasn’t, it’s just the game’s piss-poor controls introducing themselves to you.

Now, in a platform game, precision is the most important skill that must be channelled. With this in mind, making your character about as easy to control as a Mig-fighter does an enjoyable platform game not make. The sisters are blessed with the ability to jump high, ridiculously high, which the manual says has something to do with low gravity in Dream Kingdom and absolutely nothing to do with shoddy programming. In fact, the Sisters jump so high in the air that you find yourself swearing when you do it unintentionally, as you sign away another precious cheque of life-minutes to the game, minutes which could be better spent doing any number of things: writing a bestseller, teaching yourself to play the piano or licking the back of a cinema chair while you repeatedly smack the retractable part of the seat against your temple.

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On the Left is the C64 version, on the right the cat in a pregnecy suit translation

Before you begin playing The Great Giana Sisters, it’s best to make sure every electrical appliance in your house is turned off, your Amstrad leads are welded into their ports and you’re well practised in the art of seeing into the future, because the time between pressing down on your joystick’s fire button and seeing your character’s reaction shares an odd correlation to the intermittence of reported basketball-playing werewolf sightings.

This pre-empting ability will also prove invaluable to you when trying to uncover the game’s secret areas. In Mario Bros, you collected coins and 100 of these awarded Mario an extra life, making it worthwhile hopping onto a green pipe and pressing down on the D-Pad. This same extra life for coins scenario exists in The Great Giana Sisters; however, instead of coins Gianas collect gems. Instead of pressing down on green pipes the Gianas have to fall into death pits and prey that instead of a game over screen they drop into a secret area containing gem booty. Deft? No, Improving on Mario Bros? No, Idiotic? Yes.

Ok, the Great Giana Sisters is by no way the worst game on the CPC, but it’s a hefty kick in my nuts when there’s a superior C64 version in existence. I remember my first play of the game on my mate’s Commodore after school. I was so impressed, I tried everything I could to get my hands on a copy for my Amstrad and when I finally got one I was giddy as Willy Wonka on Easter Sunday. I was stockpiled with so much unbridled excitement I didn’t even acknowledge its horrible loading screen and when it finally booted up I couldn’t believe I was playing the same game. When my friend came over to my house after school I made damn sure I hid the tape so he couldn’t compare graphics. I continued this odd ritual until one day I hid it, forgot about it and then lost it. Probably to my dad’s Datsun Cherry, were I imagine it now exists as a psychedelic rock compilation for long car journeys.

May 21, 2007 Posted by | Questionable Conversions, Stuart Hunt | 3 Comments

SBTK in 16-Bits. Issue 1. Prt2…Street Smart: MegaDrive.

Words:Stuart Hunt

And here’s the second part of the column:

Street Smart is what happens to a 2D beat-em-up when those two-animation video game extras, which stand behind normal characters in fighting games, jostle to get a better look at the action and start a fight.

Most of the primary characters in the game look identical to the people copied and pasted into its background. In fact, it’s best to play Street Smart with a friend, not so you can enjoy its odd Mario Bros’ style take-it-in-turn multiplayer option, but so you can ask them to kindly hold a finger against the television to help you see where your fighter is.

The game allows you to play a vast plethora of TWO characters: A wrestler called Crusher and the ridiculously named Karate Man – who looks sceptically like a cross between Street Fighter’s Ryu and Ken. With this in mind, you would hope that he would possess at least one pixel of those iconic brawlers’ fighting prowess but unfortunately, after pressing one button on your control pad, it soon becomes clear that Chun Li’s dad would probably prove a more effective fighting instrument, and he’s dead.

With only two main characters to worry about you would think that a lot of time and effort would have be spent making them look good and blessing them with an intricate fighting system offering some amazing special moves. Unfortunately, rather than a dazzling firing-uppercut or an acrobatic scorpion-kick we’re just given a few basic attacks and a lame sped-up flurry punch to yawn at.

Far more entertaining is Karate Man’s low punch, which looks a lot like he’s is trying to fondle his opponents nut sack. When doing this on the streets for real would surely get you beaten up or, at best, some funny stares, thanks to Street Smart, friends can do it in a virtual environment, in the comfort of their home and without the worry of anybody ever finding out.

With a name like Street Smart, the characters should at least look the part; unfortunately, it seems the costume department set about the streets of America to conduct attire-research and after showing people the conceptual drawings of what they were planning to create could persuade nobody to fill out their fashion suggestion questionnaire. As a result, all the people who come to watch the fights seem to have come dressed as American flags or wearing t-shirts with the words KIM on them. While this could be considered patriotic or affable to any owners of the game called Kim, to the rest of the world it just looks inanely stupid. But then, what do you expect from a crowd of onlookers who seem quite pleased to stand aside and allow young children witness a man get his face pummelled?

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You see that tram in the background? Oddly, it doesn’t travel down the track and run over all the characters. Shame.

Graphically, what can I say? It kind of looks like the night before his tournament, Karate Man slotted a quarter into the mouth of one of those wish granting Zoltar machines and asked to be small. Probably in a bid to re-live the time he could look up girls’ skirts without getting arrested, but unfortunately, failed to be precise with his wish. That idiot Zoltar managed to get the height part down but cruelly, left him with squashed, mushy, pixel-flesh explosion looks. He couldn’t get any swanky sponsorship deals, so consequently no shiny new wardrobe and was forced to make do with his now large, garish, orange outfit.

The game does offer a few interesting ideas, which in true Street Smart fashion are not realised as well as they could be. Your character is not on a fixed level, instead, like a scrolling beat-em-up, he can traipse up and down the screen and stomp around a bland fight area, which, oddly, is always positioned on a tram track, a dirt road, or any other impractical fight environment the programmers could easily draw.

However, in a cruel twist of irony, this causes all sorts of problems when it comes to that minor aspect of trying to actually fight. Because all the fighters seem to be one millimetre wide, unless you find the exact fighting plane your opponent is throwing wild jabs at you from, your attacks will miss their target.

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‘Take back my wish or i’ll break your face!’

One of the more head-scratching options in the game is the ability to bet on the outcome of your fights. Yep, this means that you can bet against yourself….But what would be the point?

In the strange instance that you bottle out of fighting a computer character that can‘t actually hurt you (well maybe your eyes) and bet your fighters booze money on your opponent winning the fight, where lies the merit? So you can stand there, watching him throw his fists into your face while you smugly shout sucker at your Mega Drive??

Ah ha! I may have wasted a life but shrewdly I have walked away with some digitised money which I can spend on…hang on a second…let me flip open the manual…Mmm…absolutely nothing? Idiotically, there’s no section in this game that allows you spend a solitary dime of your fight purse, now were lies the street smarts in that?

April 12, 2007 Posted by | SBTK in 16-Bits, Stuart Hunt | 7 Comments

SBTK in 16-Bits. Issue 1. Prt1…Revolution X: MegaDrive.

Words:Stuart Hunt

Ok, here’s the first part of our 16-bit column. Aerosmith fans, turn away now…

Set in a dystopian 1996, you must overthrow an evil Aerosmith hating government by ridding the world of one black and yellow solider who has the power to clone himself over and over and over again. It might sound like an election winning mandate to you and me, but back then it seems people actually paid money to save Steve Tyler…it’s amazing how much the world can change in 11 years.

Revolution X is the video game equivalent of a coconut shy, in that you’re given one brainless object to shoot at over and over again. Actually, on reflection, that statement is doing coconuts a great injustice because they actually prove a more enthusiastic to wave a gun at. The soldier you must continually destroy has been blessed with the ability to stand motionless, as he waits to get sapped, and lie on the floor smiling, knowing another forty copies of himself will pop up on the screen before his flashing corpse vanishes.

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An exclusive image of the game’s lost level

Now I don’t know if this is intentional but strangely the game gives you infinite continues from the point you die, yet it will still take you a few months to complete…it’s not because it’s a long game, it’s just that the human brain is incapable of enduring such a long drawn out repetitive experience in one sitting. The furthest point I have ever sucessfuly reached in one day is the games convoluted helicopter boss, which somehow manages to absorb an absurd amount of firepower and patience before it finally decides to play fair and blow up.

To play Revolution X through to its end, it’s best to finish a level, pause the game, and then return to it after a week – by that time I find its groundhog-day gameplay just begining to wear off.

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Possibly the scariest thing ever written

During the game Aerosmith will appear and continually remind you why you’ve put 50p into the arcade machine, or, if you forked out the money for the console version, why you should dry your tears and get on with the mission at hand. The game is ungraciously pleased of its use of ‘music as a weapon‘, a feature which is more perplexing than inspired.

Your primary weapon in this game is blatantly a gun, your secondary option, a compact disc. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble here but I went to the trouble of picking up a dictionary and looking up the definition of music, just to be sure I hadn’t been fed a cruel lie over the years.

Music: The sounds of voices or instruments arranged in a pleasing way.

Strangely, when I put the radio on in my car I never notice my ears being repeatedly ambushed by a flurry of red bullets or CD’s being tossed at my head from my CD player, maybe things were a little different state side in 1996?

In its rawest form, Revolution X is simply an exercise of holding down a button and moving a cursor around a screen. Sending a text message while waving your phone in the air proves to be equally as entertaining – at least you can listen to your own music and not Feed the Rage on loop!

April 12, 2007 Posted by | SBTK in 16-Bits, Stuart Hunt | Leave a comment

WTF! SBTK in 16 bits…

Words:Stuart Hunt

Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts recently. I’ve been working away this week and Chris has been sent into space, with a vat of emulsion, to try and re-whiten the moon. It’s a lame excuse for our laxness, I know, but we will make an conscious effort to pull our digits out and get things rolling faster with this blog again.

When Chris and I began SBTK we had plans to expand it with diverse articles running alongside the main CPC content. The SBTKPLAYOFF, introduced in our last post, is one such column that will run occasionally and SBTK in 16 Bits is another.

This 16-bit column won’t feature frequently but it will become a solid section of the blog. So here’s is our first bumper issue of SBTK in 16 Bits (in 2 parts).

April 12, 2007 Posted by | SBTK in 16-Bits | Leave a comment

Ikari Warriors Vs Gauntlet, the ultimate top-down show down.

Words:StuartHunt

So Chris recently opened up, bared his soul, and let you all in on his favourite top-down multiplayer scroller of all time, Gauntlet. I felt it only fair that I write a post about mine – the amazingly addictive, remarkably ridiculous Ikari Warriors.

We decided we would make this and our last post (Gauntlet) a bit of a playoff and ask you guys to decide which game you think was the better top-down shooter; in our first (and possibly last, if we get no interest) SBTK CPC PLAYOFF CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS 2007, OF CATEGORY:TOP DOWN SHOOTER. Exciting? Yes. Pointless? Probably.

So decide who puts up the best case for their chosen game, send us your votes via comments, and we shall declare the winner in a few weeks.

Imagine what might have happened if Mario and Luigi had been drafted into the army during the ‘80s and the plug was pulled from their aspirations of world plumber domination. What if, instead of getting warped into Mushroom Kingdom, they were mistakenly transported to an SAS training camp, pumped with muscle budding steroids, forced to train as mercenaries, and sent on a kamikaze mission to defeat an army of idiots. Well, thanks to the guys at SNK, for a jaw-dropping price, affluent NeoGeo owners could find out. For a far more modest £2.99, CPC owners were able to get quite a nice peek at the action too…

Ikari Warriors was a top down shooter that played out very similar to Capcom/Elites classic god-perspective war game, Commando. There were a plethora of inferior imitations doing the rounds after Commando’s release but Ikari Warriors improved on the formula. It had a fantastic two-player mode and a nifty variable control system which allowed your character to either fire in the direction he was walking or statically shoot in one direction while strafing in another. It was also the first game (I can remember) that allowed you to drive vehicles, and the earliest to give us THE ultimate gift from the god of power-ups: the tank; it might have looked like a bowling ball firing grey square but when it first encroached onto the screen, the firing and strafing soon became neglected for a mad dash to reach it, jump inside, and mow down militia. When inside, the play changed into a frantic plight to hold onto it for as long as possible by avoiding stray enemy grenades and filling up its moped sized fuel gauge, while trying to find the power-up to change its ammunition from bowling balls to explosive cigars.

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The fireworks display went down well with the pygmy policemen.

The Ikari twins weren’t the sharpest soldiers to ever grace a battlefield and ‘strategy’ is a word I wouldn’t advise using in their presence. I can visualize one of them would keep you talking, while the other started a war, commandeered a tank, won the campaign and then hastily raced back to repeatedly drive over your head for containing such a sissy brain. It seems all the pages containing the words tactics, fear, and bullet-proof vest, were ripped from the Ikari Art of War and burned from the heat generated from the brothers anger. When facing a 1000 mile barricade of missile launching, ninja-attired soldiers, land mines, grenades and tanks, their plan of attack is simple: stroll right through the middle of them, armed with a shaved chest and ONE gun.

To be fair, their blue enemies were never going to win the Nobel Anti-Peace Prize and should know better than to leave the keys inside a squadron of infinite missile loaded tanks, whose turrets are irresponsibly pointing in their direction. Your brain deficient foes seem to display the same bizarre attraction for tank treads as flies do for halogen light bulbs, appearing quite content to run under your tank like passive suicide bombers. They are also quite the performers; whether it be taking a bullet to the crotch or heading a lobbed grenade, their immediate reaction isn’t to scream in agony, flash, or annoyingly regenerate, but rather keep morale levels elevated with an entertaining pirouette for their band of brothers.

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The world’s largest staple brought a lot of tourism to the jungle.

The game had two main power ups: one increased the reach of your gun and the other the number of grenades in your inventory. These could be found by taking out an enemy building using a well-aimed grenade or callously shooting the poor green soldiers thrown into the battle without any weapons. These green berets were always surrounded by an entourage of blue soldier jerks, presenting them to the player like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter, circling him like a highlighter pen or a neat human dart board and making it easy to sap the poor sapper.

Many will argue that Ikari Warriors was simply a game of mindless violence that invoked tank kidnapping and bandana wearing. The bandana wearing I can’t excuse, there really is no defence for donning such stupid head attire – even if you can single handily win a war – but mindless violence! I don‘t agree. As I close this article however, my split personality is putting the finishing touches to a Nintendo Wii tank, which through arm jolts, hand waves, and somersaults, I hope to run over Gauntlets big wizardly head and win this war.

So the question we are debating here is whether Ikari Warriors is a better game than Gauntlet? Ikari had guns, tanks and ammunition-dumps loaded with playability. Gauntlet was a great game and the CPC conversion was awesome but you can’t deny it was like playing out the dream of a Dungeon and Dragons geek – without the hassle of changing soiled sheets… that sentence will sound harsh, especially to many Gauntlet lovers (Chris), but I’m taking no prisoners and backing Ikari all the way in this, our first, SBTK CPC PLAYOFF CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS 2007, OF CATEGORY: TOP DOWN SHOOTER.

March 27, 2007 Posted by | shoot-em up, Stuart Hunt | 3 Comments

Gauntlet: Dungeons, Demons, DEATH and Divorce

Words:Chris Keeley

Gauntlet didn’t just cement my love of games; it scrawled its name in the wet pug with a gleaming broadsword. Battered yet still legible, I can still make out that cracked old signature whenever I catch a glimpse of an elf, warrior, valkyrie or a top down multiplayer videogame. My brother, my next door neighbour and I spent most of the 80’s huddled round a crowded keyboard, casting spells and throwing axes in my dad’s freezing cold study. Homework, Funhouse and the fall of the Berlin Wall all passed unnoticed, drowned out by cries of “Don’t shoot my food” and desperate pleas for covering fire as you neared death and faced the indignity of being turned into a ghost.

The format of the game is simple; Gauntlet plays like a 2D version of a football riot – manic, adrenaline-fuelled mayhem. Instead of fists, bike chains and rabid Stoke fans we have axes, magic, and fire-spitting demons. DEATH, clad all in black, an unstoppable law unto himself, represents a force stronger than an army of riot police made up of Ultimate Fighting Champions. Labyrinthine dungeons and armies of darkness stand between your hero and the exit and you must battle your way through the hordes, collecting keys and power-ups in order to escape. In a way, Doom has a lot to thank Gauntlet for, the premise is the same but the presentation is very different. Like the original, birds-eye view Grand Theft Auto compared to the virtual tour of violence that is San Andreas.

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Wogan watched Denmark’s Eurovision entry from the safety of the wall

Of course, there were similar dungeon based games around at the time but Gauntlet had two main features separating it from the herd. Firstly, a multi-player option so engaging that ‘Gauntlet widows’ began citing the game in divorce proceedings. Secondly, a terrifying variety of enemies each with individual traits. Researchers recently concluded that record y-front sales posted by underwear manufacturers at the time can be directly correlated to demon and DEATH related soilings.

Offering the chance for friends to become enemies and enemies to become friends, the multiplayer option allowed for up to four heroes to venture into the dungeons – shoulder to shoulder, squashed into a tiny area, two joysticks, two on the keyboard. Typically, an air of tension grew as you progressed. Your life force continually ticking down, each potion and portion of food becoming more and more important. Could Gauntlet be completed? To this day I’m still not sure and so the focus was on getting to the furthest level possible while amassing more points than your fellow adventurers.

The enemy/friend dynamic came into question depending on the way that you chose to play. You may have wished to unselfishly guard food for a sickly partner, maybe even provide a human shield or fight a path to it for them. Alternatively you could shoot it for a laugh, watch them die and then rob their dead bodies. Of course in the long run this sort of behaviour was never going to help you progress, but it was still undeniably enjoyable. Nowhere was this unchivalrous attitude more fun than in the treasure-room bonus levels, the aim of which was to run around a dungeon littered with treasure and power-ups and collect as much as possible in an allotted time. Pushing your unsuspecting partner into an exit and out of the room allowed you unfettered access to the goodies and also, most likely, a dead-arm. Totally worth it.

Standard sword and sorcery theory dictated the characters you could choose, the Arnie-esque Barbarian, the chick with the metal bra, the predictable old wizard and the sprite-ly young elf. Finding your player on screen was often the Amstrad equivalent of Where’s Wally, minus the stripy jumpered jerk. Grunts, lobbers, wizards, ghosts, demons and the occasional DEATH flooded the monitor, grunts intent on bashing you, lobbers – chucking stuff at you, wizards – using their powers to turn invisible and sneak up on you, ghosts – to provide an annoyance not unlike a swarm of wasps, demons – to look and act much like a Doom cacodemon and DEATH who instilled the fear of God into you and the kind of panic usually associated with getting your head stuck in something. If reading that last sentence was a struggle, imagine seeing that whole lot on screen, surrounding you, closing in on you and generally proving quite detrimental to successful dungeon navigation. Luckily, screen-clearing potions were at hand. At the touch of a button, a screen could be cleared with a satisfying flash in much the same way that a different kind of flash might clear a Girl Guides meeting.

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The quarterback was up against it

To continue the cement-aphor started in the first paragraph, Gauntlet not only left it’s mark on me, it also laid some pretty strong foundations for many games to come. If there were a gaming equivalent of the Hollywood walk of fame, Gauntlet’s star would feature prominently. Around it, four sets of handprints all vying for space.

March 22, 2007 Posted by | Chris Keeley, Hall of Fame | 3 Comments

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