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Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Unique Games! - Part 2

As my quest for finding good uniquely single-platform games continues, the amount of obscure machines increases as well, and with it, the amount of help I'm getting from people more directly involved in the different scenes. The games I found for this entry, however, are still mostly for very familiar machines, because I gathered up this lot almost directly after I blogged my previous entry. So, before I start with Part Two of the Unique Games special, I want to give thanks to two important sources of information to make my work much easier so far: Marko Latvanen of Atarimania's ST section (and also of N.T. Rautanen's Computer pages' Atari section) and those whoever compiled the Wikipedia sections for NES- and SNES-only titles.

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SUPER NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (SUPER FAMICOM)


1. Uniracers/Unirally (DMA Design/Nintendo, 1994)

By a request to include a section for the SNES from Ivanzx at World of Spectrum, I will place it at the top of this post. The SNES section starts with a game that came relatively late in the Super Nintendo's commercially viable life, and it happens to be one of the first games that I bought due to having experienced it through emulation. Uniracers was released for the North American market in December 1994, and was released in PAL regions later in 1995 with the title Unirally. This game is a completely unique side-scrolling stunt-racing game with a single-player career mode, and a two-player challenge mode. Although the game was released to show that the SNES could very well handle game speeds similar to Sega's Sonic titles, luckily the game itself was much more interesting than that. Your mission in the game is to race on three different types of tracks: single-lane race tracks, circuit tracks and stunt tracks. The game has a heavy emphasis on performing stunts, as you will gain extra points and speed with every successfully performed stunt, but the tracks themselves have very Trailblazer'esque style, with different graphic patterns for every type of obstacle and special effect. Since your player character is a unicycle without a rider, it can become rather difficult to see where it might be heading, but the game is so frantic anyway, you will need to learn the tracks by heart.

SNES: Uniracers/Unirally

A little grain of knowledge from Wikipedia, which I didn't know previously: DMA Design was sued by Pixar for allegedly copying the unicycle design and concept from their 1987 short film Red's Dream. Had I never played Uniracers, I would have no idea that Pixar, one of my favourite animation film studios, had made such a film, or even that they were such an old company. In this light, my respect for Pixar has diminished considerably. DMA Design lost the lawsuit, and a deal was made that Nintendo wouldn't make any more carts after the initial print, so the game only sold 300k. As expected, Uniracers is now considered to be a cult classic, and rightfully so.

2. Shadowrun (Beam Software/Data East, 1993)

The first video game adaptation of FASA's table-top role-playing game has some strange historic value, if not very significant - and this is way out of topic, but I shall document it here in any case, if only for my own amusement. Beam Software developed a highly evolved copy of Data East's Karate Champ for European market: the Way of the Exploding Fist. Of this, Data East were apparently completely unaware, so neither Melbourne House (the publisher) nor Beam Software had any troubles regarding that. However, System 3 published a slightly upgraded version of it as International Karate, and Epyx gained the distribution rights of the game for the North American market, and re-titled it to World Karate Championship. Epyx was sued by Data East for infringement of copyright, trademark and trade dress, regarding similarities to Karate Champ. Had Data East been entirely successful, Melbourne House might have easily sued System 3 and Epyx due to similarities between the Way of the Exploding Fist and International Karate, and had that happened, the gaming world as we now know it, would be something quite different.

SNES: Shadowrun

As for Shadowrun on the SNES, there was an earlier NES title called Nightshade by Beam Software, which worked as the basis for Shadowrun. Although there have been other Shadowrun-named games for other platforms since 1993, the SNES game is the first one released, and the only one to be an action-RPG with an isometric view and this particular style of control: you have a direct control over the protagonist, and you can bring up a cursor for pointing at objects and interacting with them. You also have a very RPG'ish inventory/information screen system that acts also as a pause screen. The most interesting feature in the game, however, is the dialogue system, which collects some keywords from your conversations, and add them into your word inventory, much like adventure games from Lucasfilm Games (RIP) and Sierra on the more keyboard-based machines. At certain points in the game, you will enter cyberspace, which switches the gameplay to a top-down perspective with an emphasis on fighting. The latest entry in the computerized Shadowrun series was released in 2013 for PC, Linux, Mac, iOS and Android tablets, and currently, an online-based game is in development.

3. Super Strike Eagle (Microprose, 1993)
Despite the name, which is likely to be very familiar to anyone knowing anything about Microprose, this game is unrelated to the F-15 Strike Eagle series. It has still, as expected, much to do with flying, since it's an arcade-oriented combat flight "simulator". The last time I played this was about 15 years ago, so I was surprised on reacquaintance, how much there is of everything in this rather unsimulatorish combat flight game.

Considering the game controller on the SNES, the game has been surprisingly well authored to be almost seamlessly compatible with the lacking amount of buttons. You only have buttons for throttle, brakes, vulcan cannon, chaff, missiles and flares. The Start button is for pause, as usual. The Select button has no purpose by itself, but using it simultanously with A button toggles the autopilot, and with the B button, you select the missile type.  There is a two-player mode in the game, where the second player acts as the Weapons Systems Officer, meaning that one player takes only control of the flight, while the other handles the weapons.

SNES: Super Strike Eagle

Because Super Strike Eagle involves so many different kinds of playmodes, it should be thought of more as a multi-variety shoot'em-up than a simulation. The only two simulation-like bits in the game are preparations for combat, and the one where you battle other aircrafts from your cockpit. Otherwise, you either play from an overhead view from a closer range (in target shooting) and from a further point of view (the map screen), or from a slightly diagonal view for taking off and landing procedures. None of these require too much input from your controller, as opposed to so many proper flight simulators, which makes Super Strike Eagle pretty much the game that Top Gun was supposed to be. While it isn't actually a very well-received game, it certainly takes a certain place in both Microprose's catalogue and SNES's catalogue to earn a place on this list.

4. Winter Gold/FX Skiing (Funcom/Nintendo, 1996)

In 1996, the next generation of consoles was already well in the game, with Sony's first Playstation taking the lead in the new console wars. Meanwhile, Nintendo were still quietly releasing games for their previous generation console, and so they had to use as many tricks as possible to get the attention for the old hardware. Mainly written by a Norwegian team of game developers, Winter Gold was released for the European market in November, 1996. Some of us retromaniacs who like even older machinery, will be interested to know that the game features music from none other than Jeroen Tel himself, from the legendary Maniacs of Noise. The overall graphical style of Winter Gold is based on the popular Amiga demo State of the Art by Spaceballs, so this one really needed to have every bit of extra hardware Nintendo were able to provide, namely the Super FX 2 chip. The only other two released games that use the SFX2 are Doom and Yoshi's Island, so this is the sort of rarity we are dealing with here.

SNES: Winter Gold / FX Skiing

Of course, winter sports as a game concept is as old as snow, so what is there so unique about this particular game that earns its place here? Well, as if the above information weren't enough, this game features six events: slalom, stunt ski jumping (hot dog aerials?), luge, bobsled, ski jump, and a rarity at the time: snowboarding. All of these events were playable in three different locations: Salt Lake City, Albertville and Lillehammer, so there is a good amount of variation at least, which is a rare feature in any multi-event sports game. I don't know whether this is unique or not, but at least it's very rare, and since the game is only available on the SNES, the rules apply.

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ATARI ST/STe

1. Whitewater Madness (0.5 MB/STe; Atari Corp., 1989)

Being uneducated as I so far have been in the Atari ST exclusive games catalogue, I only had a few hints to start my work with. This first one was the easiest to pick up, for some reason. Although Whitewater Madness has some clear similarities with Toobin' and Dizzy Down the Rapids to name a couple, this one is insanely difficult, has lots more action going on the screen, and has some strange prehistoric theme to it. Once you do get the hang of the controls and the pacing, it's almost an enjoyable game, but mostly, it's just chaos.

Atari STe: Whitewater Madness
There have been rumours of a similarly titled game released for the Atari 2600 and the 8-bit computers, but so far, neither of them have been proven to exist. So, it appears the STe game is the only one of its kind. Well worth a try, but requires a good amount of perseverance.

2. Killdozers (0.5 MB/ST; Lankhor, 1988)

Lankhor was one of the game companies I was suggested to investigate by one of my friends, and it was a name I didn't recognize. Taking into account that I had only ever heard of Vroom from their catalogue, it wasn't much of a surprise that the company name didn't register in my head. They appear to have a fairly long list of games under their name, though, most of which were not very widely circulated around in my part of the world. Wikipedia says that Lankhor is notable for producing Mortville Manor, the first video game to feature speech synthesis during gameplay. Unfortunately, Mortville Manor was released for several computers, so I took a better look at their catalogue, and bumped into a nice-looking arcadey game called Killdozers.

Atari ST: Killdozers

Based on the screenshots I found from Atarimania, I thought it would be some sort of clone of Firepower, a brilliant strategic tank action game from MicroIllusions. No such luck. You do have four types of tanks to choose from, all with different abilities and colours. All of them have three types of ammunition, all switchable during gameplay. The problem is, the game has a very futuristic setting, so the enemies are highly imaginative in form and behaviour, and most of the time you have no idea which kind of ammo you should be using. So if you are able to handle the learning part of it, Killdozers might become a highly entertaining game. As we have to manage without any instructions, though, the game can be a bit troublesome. The game does have a construction kit, though, which can increase the replay value at least somewhat. Considering everything, it can be considered a unique sort of title, and one only available on the Atari ST.

3. Fire Rescue (0.5 MB/ST; 16-32 Diffusion, 1989)

As with Lankhor, I had never heard of this game company, but I came across this title on my own. Considering the theme of the game, it already places Fire Rescue into a minority genre, as your mission is to play as a fireman, and rescue people and furniture from a burning apartment building.

Atari ST: Fire Rescue

However, as there are enough games with that theme around not to make Fire Rescue exactly singular, the unique elements are clearly elsewhere. For starters, this game has some brilliant looking graphics in an unmistakable French comic fashion, very reminiscent of Clever & Smart, Cubitus and Les Tuniques Bleues, to name a few. Then, there are all these random objects roaming around, looking as if they had escaped from an early 80's arcade game or something - a really strange combination. As the game is basically a variation on the first level of Donkey Kong, it comes as a welcome surprise that you can actually enter the building and collect some less dangerous score. If it weren't for the uncomfortable controls, Fire Rescue might have actually been a brilliant little arcade game, but now it only serves as a reminder that the Atari ST had some potential for being an exclusive gamer's machine. Hopefully, my next ST entries will represent the machine's exclusive catalogue more gracefully - for my last ST entry happens to be an unreleased gem.

4. Scavenger (0.5 MB/ST; unreleased, 1989)

This fine-looking action-adventure by John M. Phillips was supposed to be released by Hewson, but only got as far as a demo stage. You do get a good idea of what the finished game was meant to be like, since most of the game mechanics are in place. Scavenger plays something like a cross between The Chaos Engine and The Legend of Zelda, but has some of its own little quirks to make it feel more unique. It is a pity, then, that this fine piece of work never got around to being finished, but as it happens to be one of the rare Atari ST games that I could find that was only ever even possible to have had made it into commercial existence, I felt obliged to give it some belated advertisement space.

Atari ST: Scavenger (unreleased)


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COMMODORE 64

1. Katz & Maus (Matthias Unverzagt, 1985)

Yes, we have some more C64 entries, but so there are more games for the Spectrum as well, and as long as some new unique games for each machine worth mentioning come up, I will introduce them in a later part of the series. This time, the C64 section begins with a fairly unknown game, which is not really all that good one, but I happen to feel some strange sort of nostalgia towards this little game here.

Katz & Maus is (obviously) a German game, that most likely got as well known as it did through piracy. It's origins are so well hidden, that even Gamebase64 has marked the publisher with questionmarks. All that is known, is that a man named Matthias Unverzagt apparently wrote the whole thing by himself, since it's the only name you will see in the title screen. It is unknown, however, whether this was actually released through proper channels or is this an unfinished product that got leaked. I found it circulating on a lot of my friends' turbo tapes back in the day, which is where I got introduced to this little gem of sorts.

Commodore 64: Katz & Maus

The game is not really much else than a simple collect-and-avoid type of a single-screen platformer, where you, die Maus, must collect all pieces of Käse from each room, while avoiding collision with die Katze. The so-called behaviour model for the cat is almost idiotically simple, while at the same time just challenging enough due to the level designs in the game. The two most memorable things about this game are the music, which feels like an arrangement from some classical tune, and the title screen, which makes you think this is a cheap take on the old Tom & Jerry setting. Which it really is. Although I'm very sure this type of game exists on all of the old platforms, this is the only one of its kind that I can think of, that has all the elements of making a bad-yet-good hidden gem, and it's only available on the C64.

2. Project Firestart (Dynamix/Electronic Arts, 1988)

This is a classic on a completely different level, then. For some baffling reason, this game has all the potential of being an insanely good 16-bit game, but was only ever made for the Commodore 64. I would wish the reason for it to be a plan to make the aging computer more appealing once again, but the realist in me says, it just wasn't commercially viable enough to convert for better machines.

Commodore 64: Project Firestart, intro screens


See, what makes Project Firestart such an interesting piece of software, is its better-than-you attitude towards all the other representatives of the Alien-themed so-called horror games. And I'm not really sure the 16-bit audience was yet comfortable enough with having some good survival horror on their screens - it would have been probably too much. Because that is what this game really is - it's the prototype for the modern survival horror game as we know it, and to this day, it can give you some serious frights, particularly if you have no idea what you're doing.

Commodore 64: Project Firestart, in-game screens

Modern survival horror gamers are highly recommended to take a look at where it all properly began evolving. There is just nothing quite like this game out there - never before, never again. (If you are unaccustomed to switching disks, head over to the Commodore Scene Database website and find yourself an EasyFlash cartridge image file of the game.)

3. Blizzard! Part I - Commando Libya (Robert Pfitzner, 1986)

Once again, a dip into the deep end brings some hilarious results. Commando Libya, for most people I know, who know of the game, is a mysterious artefact from the past, which somehow connects to Capcom's Commando in their minds (perhaps a sequel or something?) - naturally, because of the title. Of course, this has nothing to do with THAT Commando. Nor has it anything to do with any other Commando that you can think of, because this one is a pure parody of a cross-hair shoot'em-up game.

Commodore 64: Blizzard! Part I - Commando Libya


In the main levels, your mission is to shoot as many Libyan soldiers as you possibly can, while defending yourself against dynamites and enemy gunfire. In the bonus stages, you get to shoot some innocent civilians against a non-descript grey wall to show you how fun war really is. If and when you die, you will enter your three initials on the Hall of Fame by putting three enemy heads under a guilliotine. The game's brutal animation and amount of blood and guts is staggering for its time, and understandably, Commando Libya was banned in Germany (as many less violent games were) and quite possibly still is today. Read a better review of it here at Lemon64, written by another Finnish bloke. My words seem useless this time.

4. Mayhem In Monsterland (Apex Computer Productions, 1993)

I know, I know. Overexposure is the word that comes first into mind when you think about any game that has been praised by the C64 community since the old machine's commercial death in 1993. But there is a reason for it, and for all the truth in the claim, most of the people still heavily involved in the retrogaming scene probably don't realize it... but a lot of casual gamers that went on with the most fashionable and latest hardware just to be on top of the food chain, never got to see this one, and is still quite unknown to gamers whose active C64 years were before 1992. A lot of these people exist, and are known to be occasionally even somewhat interested in their old computers. So, this one goes for them, even though you still most likely will enjoy your 1982 games more than this great final achievement before the C64's commercial death.

If you happened to be still in the game in the turn of the 1990's, you might be aware of games like Retrograde, Cyberdyne Warrior and Creatures. Yes, this game was also made by the ones behind those particular titles. Commodore Force magazine gave it an astounding 97% at the time of its release, and they praised the game's graphics in particular. Sure enough, for the most part, it does rival some 16-bit games in speed and graphic quality. Some of the enemy sprites, though, aren't all that pleasant to look at, but we have forgiven the Apex boys for that long ago. What the game actually is, is a sort of free-roaming side-scrolling platformer with no actual weapons, apart from yourself. Your mission is to collect a number of magic items from a greyscale world and bring them to your friendly neighbourhood dinosaur, whatever he's/she's called, so that he/she will bring the colours back to the grey place. Then, you must collect some more items from the colour version of the same area so that you can proceed to the next level. The game also features an impressive ending sequence, a rarity in 8-bit gaming in general.

Commodore 64: Mayhem in Monsterland

While Mayhem In Monsterland had every potential for a 16-bit conversion, it seemed already too late to even think about breathing some life on a machine that was already going on borrowed time at that point. So, on a bigger scale of things, this game was sadly overlooked by other than the magazines keeping the C64 alive. Of course, when the internet was made available to the masses a few years later, it took very little time for retrogamers to dedicate some websites and bringing knowledge to the people who missed this occasion the first time. Myself, for one. Actually, I managed to not notice Mayhem In Monsterland properly, until I read about it at the Lemon64 forum at around the turn of the millennium, and even after knowing about it, it took me a couple of years to even play it on a real C64. In a way, Mayhem In Monsterland is one of the reasons for me to get interested in doing some proper retrogame research, because clearly, it doesn't take much to miss some true classics.

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SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM

1. Agent X in the Brain Drain Caper (Mastertronic, 1986)

A long time ago, when my Commodore 64 was still relatively new (it must have been about 24-25 years ago), one of the first new games I got to buy from a store with some games - it was not a gamestore as such - was the sequel to this game. For some weeks, I was thinking, if this is Agent X II, where and what was Agent X the first? Somehow, I had grown to like the strange multi-loading game with three entirely different scenes, most likely due to Tim Follin's masterful soundtrack, but I could not understand the connection back then. I have to admit, it's not a particularly good game.

Many, many years later, I found out that it was only ever released for the Spectrum, and for another few years, I avoided it for some reason. About five years ago, I bought myself a new Spectrum +2, which knocked me back into digging up some of my favourites, along with long lost interests that I never got to play - Agent X being among them. To my relief, the game isn't all too bad. To my  chagrin, the music isn't nearly as listenable as the tunes on the C64 version of the sequel, even though the great Tim Follin is responsible for the tunes, and I can hear the music is actually very good. It's that internal Spectrum speaker sound of the music that just ruined the expectation period. Well, at least the game doesn't have any in-game music - the one tune is only played in the title screen.

Spectrum 48k: Agent X

The game itself is a triple-event affair, and just like the sequel, all the levels are entirely different. The first level is an avoid'em-up on a car, the second level is an over-simplified Kung-Fu Master clone, and the final level is a shooting gallery, where you shoot the "missiles" thrown by the Mad Professor with a cross-hair you control with your joystick or whatever. All in all, the first game doesn't have all that much more content or playability to it than the sequel, but it's really a matter of preference which one suits your gaming taste better. As an artifact of unconverted gaming history, this one goes nicely with the rest, and is well worth taking a look at, if only to realize you haven't missed all that much after all. Still, it's a Spectrum-exclusive game, and as such, fits this list nicely.

2. A Whole New Ball Game (Pete Cooke/Crash, 1989)

This particular game was only released on a Crash magazine covertape in 1989, so finding an original tape should prove a challenge, if you happen to be looking for one. That said, it's not the first time something truly interesting and noteworthy was released originally on a magazine cover tape, the most notable one probably being Batty, which I did a blog on some time ago.

I have no idea, whether this particular variation of collect'em-up was done before A Whole New Ball Game came along, but it happens to be a sequel of sorts to Pete Cooke's earlier hit game, Brainstorm. Whatever the case, this sure is one interesting and addicting concept. All you do in the game is move a cursor, place some corner plates and take them off. The idea is to make the constantly moving small white ball collect up all the big yellow balls from the field. As the small white ball is unable to make any turns by itself, you must guide it by using those corner plates as you deem fit. Once the area is clear of the big yellow balls, you move on to the next level.

Spectrum 48k: A Whole New Ball Game

Once again, another part of another series of game that has had at least one conversion, but this part of the series only exists on one machine, and this time it's the ZX Spectrum. And I happen to prefer this game over Brainstorm.

3. I, Of The Mask (Electric Dreams, 1985)

Another title that I only came across LONG after I had started my re-education through emulation, Sandy White's final masterpiece should be considered an underrated classic. This early example of filled vector graphics is basically another maze game, but with a unique point-of-view at the time: a 3rd person camera, from behind your character. This would only become popular with games like Tomb Raider and MDK in the latter half of the 1990's.

Spectrum 48k: I, of the Mask
The basic idea of the game is to collect part of a robot and build one in order to escape from the maze, but you have to collect the parts in order. You need to defend yourself on your way, though, and you are armed with a laser gun for such occasions. Of course, the manual (which is also in some form available at the World of Spectrum website) will tell you the complete story behind this mysterious game and how to get around in the maze.

I, Of The Mask was supposed to be released for the Commodore 64 and the Amstrad CPC as well, but the existence of each of those versions is currently in question. So, the only way you can now enjoy this rare and singular game is to hunt it down from the depths of internet or buy yourself a copy from eBay or a retro gaming store of your choice, if they happen to have it.

4. Technician Ted - The Megamix (128k only; Hewson Consultants Ltd., 1986)

Granted, this is not really a unique game as such, but this is an "extended" version of the original Technician Ted, only released on the 128k Spectrum, unlike the other two Ted games. This extended edition has gotten a better score at WoS than the original, so I suppose there must be something to it. By the time of writing this fourth game for this month's Spectrum section here, I was unable to come up with anything better, but it's something, right?

Spectrum 128k: Technician Ted - The Megamix

Anyway, in case you happen to be unaware of what Technician Ted is, and what it is famous for: it's a collect'em-up/platformer type of affair, quite similar to Jet Set Willy et al, but it has a more puzzle/mission-based gameplay. The most famous bit is probably the animated loading screen with a bunch of Teds walking in different speeds. For the Megamix version, the loading sequence has been turned into an opening credits thing, which gives the game a strange movie-like quality. After a bit more examination, the Megamix is actually a more player-friendly game than either of the previous Technician Ted games, with less extremely difficult obstacles and missions, so in case you have not introduced yourself to this game series, I would recommend the Megamix as the least overwhelming point of entrance.

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ATARI 8-BIT COMPUTERS

1. A-Zone (B.Ware, 1989)

Let's start the Atari 400/800 XE/XL etc/etc section with a bit of a downer: this game is a rarity of the highest order. So, here's a free advice to those of you who have no need for such an item: if you happen to own a pristine copy of the original, you might be able to get quite a lot of money from it by selling it to a collector with a tape imaging device. For those of you who want to have a look at the game itself, Atarimania has an ATR-image to download and play on your favourite emulator.

Atari 8-bit: A-Zone
Dax Programmes have certainly created an interesting little platformer-type of a maze game here. The game has an enormous map, apparently something in the vein of Jet Set Willy, although I can't really tell, as I only recently have found this game. Although you have three lives, every time you die, you will have to start from the original spawn point, which can become an annoyance because of the size of the map and your slow walking speed, although it's not really much different from Jet Set Willy. The wow-factor in the game, however, lies in the atmosphere created mostly by the sounds. The A-Zone is a very unsettling place to be in, and it is highly recommended you play it first with mapping materials by your side and the volume turned off, until you feel you have done enough mapping. While it's certainly a rarity, it feels like an essential part of 8-bit Atari gaming history, and is definitely a worthy title for the uniques list.

2. Lifespan (Roklan, 1983)

This one is a bit too mysterious for me, but I will add it to the list, in case someone enjoys this sort of material. Lifespan seems to be a variation on the Game of Life in some peculiar way, but although you can control a character in it and do something, I have been so far unable to achieve any sort of score in the game.

Atari 8-bit: Lifespan
It looks sort of appealing, though, and consists of four different mini-games, which can only add to the strange appeal of this particular genre. As far as I know, Lifespan only made it for the 8-bit Atari computers, so if you enjoy these sorts of games, you should take a look into this one.

3. Getaway! (Atari Program Exchange, 1982)

Here is probably the earliest known ancestor to the Grand Theft Auto series, even though it isn't exactly thought of as such. Although Mark Reid's Getaway! is among the most well known games  that came out through the Atari Program Exchange (it even won the Atari Star Award in 1982, worth $25,000, which must have been quite a lot of money back then), it is a very rare game to find as an original these days.

Atari 8-bit: Getaway!
In this game, you control the green car, driving around the great closed-up city map. Initially, you are quite safe from all harm, but once you knock down a white van, the law will suddenly take an interest in you, and will chase you in flashing cars. The more you knock down white vans and collect dollar signs and other required objects, the more will have trouble with the police. When you feel like you want some time to breathe safely, you can drop off your loot to your hideout, marked with an H. Another problem you have is with a limited amount of fuel. You can fill up your tank at gas stations, marked with a G. Rather spectacularly for its time, the game has a timer that switches the game eventually between daytime and nighttime. The more time you spend in one session, the more difficult the game will get with stop signs and roadblocks. Due to the unusually large map for the time, you are definitely encouraged to print out the map available at Atarimania, if you haven't found an original by some miracle. Of course, you can learn the map by heart as well. If all that failed to convince you of Getaway!'s special status, it's still an Atari 8-bit-exclusive.

4. Zone X (Gremlin Graphics, 1985)

This time, our final 8-bit Atari-exclusive entry is a rarity from Gremlin Graphics. Zone X by Derek Johnston is a puzzling collect'em-up type of a maze game, something in the style of Saracen but not even close. Your mission is to collect pieces of plutonium and take them to radiation-safe containers from each of the 12 zones in the game, while looking out for laser doors and robots. Your protecive suit only lasts for a limited amount of time, so you need to be quick about carrying the plutonium bits. Once you have replaced all the plutonium bits into a container, you must find an exit door to enter the next level, much like in Boulder Dash or Saracen.

Atari 8-bit: Zone X

It's certainly a nice tweak of a familiar concept, and a welcome title to bring some more variety into the Gremlin catalogue. Too bad it's only available on the Atari, but at least it gives this list another nice title.

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AMSTRAD CPC

Try as I might, I failed to find much of Amstrad-exclusive titles from the classic era, and even browsing through some what I suppose to be expert forums, I only could come up with four games, so I might as well feature them all right here and now. Unless any of you readers can come up with more games with proof that they did not exist on ANY other machine, I suppose this is the only time we have an Amstrad section on this series, unless I take a look at NEW exclusive games later on.

Even these four games are sort of in the grey area, whether any of them could or should be counted as unique, but since I have given a bit of freedom in terms of categories before, let's not worry about that now. Some games known to be originated on the Amstrad, such as Get Dexter (originally Crafton & Xunk) or Skweek or Eden Blues - all of them are very nice games indeed, but have been released on other computers (Eden Blues on DOS and the other two on Atari ST), so I really cannot include them here, as much as I would wish to. So, as far as I have come to know, it seems as if the Amstrad really had very little exclusive titles worth mentioning, and even the hardcore users seem to have very little idea concerning what titles actually are completely unique for the CPC.

1. Death Pit (Durell Software, 1985)

Better known for not having been released for the ZX Spectrum, as it was originally intended, Death Pit was written by none other than Clive Townsend of Saboteur fame. Naturally, the Amstrad conversion was made by someone else, namely Simon Francis, who is also known for making Critical Mass, Roland Goes Square Bashing and Space Hawks for the Amstrad.

For those of you who have no knowledge of this game at all, Death Pit is a platform-maze game, taking place under the ground. Your mission is to collect 20 gold bars and one diamond, hidden deep in the mines, and take them back to your tent. If you get killed while carrying the diamond, it gets returned to its original location.

Amstrad CPC 464: Death Pit

Although two other versions were considered to be released for the Commodore 64 and BBC Micro in addition to the original ZX Spectrum version, only the Amstrad CPC version was eventually released, as far as I am able to tell. A development version of the Spectrum original was recovered in 2007, but the fact remains, the Amstrad version is the only one you can find as an original for sale.

2. Campeones (Indescomp, 1985)

This is what we might call a nice try. On the outset, Campeones looks like it could have been a fair contender for games like Rally Speedway or Micro Machines later on, since the track layouts have more sophisticated corners and other elements, and the car's handling seems sort of fine on the outset.

Amstrad CPC 464: Campeones

Unfortunately, the game is let down by its massively disappointing scroll routine, which really shines with its absence. Indeed, what we have here is a flippy-screen racer, which is what I am truly hoping to be a rare breed, because the flip-screen routine makes some of the corners completely unexpected and stupidly difficult to go around, particularly as the steering is more than a bit awkward once you actually get around a few corners. I tried to see if the game handles any different on different emulators, which is why there is a screenshot of a darker palette - and the result was that it doesn't. Other than that, you can race against as many as seven other human drivers (if I understood correctly), which is quite a lot for a game of this kind. If some programmer wanted to get inspired to remake something old, perhaps for another computer, why not choose this one, and make it finally into a more playable form.

3. Xyphoes Fantasy (Silmarils, 1991)

The French really had it going for the Amstrad - most of the rare unique games for the machine were made by French companies. Most of the exclusive Amstrad games came in the early 90's, when most of the game industry were already focusing on the 16-bits, so I imagine not that many people know of these games.


Amstrad CPC 6128: Xyphoes Fantasy


What is to be expected, perhaps, is that being a game released quite late in the Amstrad's commercial life, Xyphoes Fantasy requires a machine equipped with a disk drive and 128k of RAM. That said, the game does have clearly more going on for it than a 64k game. With some of the best graphics and most content I have ever seen in an Amstrad game, it certainly seems to require every bit of extra power it can get its hands on. As do many of my favourite games, this rather Conan the Barbarian themed fantasy action game is a mixture of different genres: shoot'em up, one-on-one sword-fighting and some platforming, if you want to call it that. A highly recommended Amstrad-exclusive, but a rare one.

4. Doors of Doom (Gem Software/Amsoft, 1985)

For the last Amstrad entry, we have another old one, and as a rare treat, for once it is an interesting title released through Amsoft: Doors of Doom, developed by Gem Software. Along with Death Pit, it's also one of the more easily acquirable games on the Amstrad exclusives list.

Amstrad CPC 464: Doors of Doom

The game places you on the planet of Doom, where your mission is to defeat the guarding robots around the planet and collect the pieces of The Door that will free you from your imprisonment. You are given a weapon system, which requires collecting modules around the planet in order to get to use most of its features, such as teleporting and floating, but at least you can jump around and shoot as much as you like. Unlike most other platformers, you can jump almost anywhere with some sort of texture, giving you an immense amount of freedom. You only have one life, though, which makes the game difficult to complete. At least you have an energy bar, which depletes by contact with enemy sprites and dangerous objects, but you can replenish it by picking up cups of tea, or coffee, if you prefer to think so. It's a nice change into the overdone side-scrolling platformer concept, but the difficulty level is a bit harsh. Adding some replay value to the game is the possibility to design your own maps and loading them up, but there is enough work to be done in the main game itself.

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ACORN BBC MICRO / ELECTRON

Because Acorn's BBC Micro (originally known as the Proton) and the Electron are both such unknown machines in my country, and have a thing or two in common, I decided to put the two together here. Most games that were either BBC Micro or Electron originals, were most likely ported to the other in no time. But it is a bit more difficult to find games that were only ever released on these two machines.

1. Citadel (Superior Software, 1985)

Superior Software's Citadel is one such case. Hailed as one of the best BBC/Electron games of all time, technically as well as gameplay-wise, I had no option but to see it for myself. Citadel is an interesting combination of platform and puzzle, with some sense of adventuring thrown in as well. As in many early platformers, most enemies can not be killed, but instead of them killing you instantly in contact, you have an energy indicator, which is depleted through contact, and you can replenish your energy by collecting bottle-shaped objects. Your quest is to find five crystals from scattered around the 100 screens in the game and returning them to their rightful place, and then teleport to a different set of locations to complete the game. Once you have done so, you are free to roam the castle in order to finally gather up enough points (99) to really complete the game.

Acorn: Citadel
Citadel has some unusual-for-the-time sound features, such as splashing water sounds and speech - even before loading the main game. Due to the many advancements in coding presented by the game, the engine was blatantly copied to many subsequent games, such as Palace of Magic, Camelot and Ricochet. The game did have an official sequel as late as in 1993, so understandably, that one is rather unknown as well outside of the BBC & Electron fandom. If you are interested in unique games, only released for certain machines, do yourself a favour and take a look at this one at least, if not the next two.

2. Imogen (Micro Power, 1986)

Originally only released for the BBC Micro, Imogen is another puzzle-platformer, but has some very unique aspects to it. First of all, you are able to turn your titular wizard into a cat, a monkey or a bird (although the bird is only available on one of the levels), all of which have different abilities necessary for the completion of the game. Although you cannot actually die in the game, you have only 150 times you can transform during the game, and if you use all the 150 transformations before you have completed the game, you are most likely unable to complete it anymore.

Acorn: Imogen

Imogen also features sixteen levels, which are always played in a random order, which is another quite a rare feature in such a game, or any game for that matter. To complete a level, you must get to a warp crystal, which are always placed somewhere seemingly inaccessible place. I would certainly call the combination of these elements very unique, especially for a game of this age. Two years later, though, it ceased to be such a unique game, as it was released for the Electron, which still makes it safe for this section. However, there are rumours of a C64 conversion being currently in the works...

3. Perplexity (Superior Software/Acornsoft, 1990)

Something a bit more different for the final BBC/Electron entry then: instead of a puzzle-platformer, this one is a pseudo-3D maze-puzzler. You will most likely think instantly of two games: Pac-Mania and Sokoban, and you would be right there. The pseudo-3D view of the play area is very much like what you see in Pac-Mania, the game has a more puzzle-oriented pacing, and in many ways, the mechanics remind you of Sokoban. As such, you could also call it a 3D-version of Repton, and you wouldn't be far off.

Acorn: Perplexity

As the game came out so late in the two computer's commercial life, it is a very little known gem. As such, is a very unique combination of many fine elements, and certainly worth seeking out for your collection, or at least try it out on an emulator. Make sure you have a joystick at hand, though, because I for one was unable to find all the required keys to get anywhere in the game.

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COLECOVISION

UPDATE, February 5th 2014, 00:15 Finnish time:
Turned out the Coleco entries were not as unique as I thought they would - check Atari Frog's comment below the actual post. I will leave them here regardless of the mistake, because I have no other options at the moment. Does anyone have any better suggestions for Colecovision?

1. Illusions (Nice Ideas/Coleco, 1984)

We end this month's entry for the Unique Games series with three Colecovision games. First off, one
of the most interesting puzzle titles I have ever seen by a developer team called Nice Ideas.

Colecovision: Illusions

Illusions places a team of blobs (or Gleebs, as the manual puts) in optical illusion-based map screens, and your mission is to control these blobs simultaneously and combine them into one, or opposedly keep them separated, depending on the level. Too bad there only appear to be two levels, for the idea would certainly have allowed for more illusions to make an appearance. As you might have noticed from the screenshots collage, I took the screenshot for level 2 from a YouTube video. I couldn't wrap my head around even the first level yet, but when you try it out for the first time, you will see that it's not such an easy task controlling the blobs, even though you are only able to change their direction to going up or down, and there are only a few places the blobs can perform jump to different areas of the maze. The game doesn't appear to have appeared on any other gaming device, so it definitely gets a place on this list, both for being a unique concept, and for being a Coleco exclusive.

2. Rocky Super Action Boxing (Coleco, 1983)

Boxing as a video game genre is one of the oldest ones in existence. On the top of my head, probably the earliest boxing video games ever was Activision's Boxing for the Atari 2600 in 1980. This, however, is the first boxing game based on the famous Sylvester Stallone movie series, and only available on the Colecovision.

Colecovision: Rocky Super-Action Boxing

The game is based on Rocky III, which means you can play as either Rocky Balboa or Clubber Lang, but no other character. Considering the hardware, and especially the controls, the game isn't all that bad. The inclusion of Bill Conti's famous "Gonna Fly Now" as the soundtrack and some funny graphics make the game worth seeing - at least for a few laughs if nothing else. The game does have 5 difficulty levels, so it has at least some replay value. Other than being an artifact of ancient fighting games, and being the first Rocky based video game, it really offers little else for uniqueness. But it's quite enough.

3. Brain Strainers (Carousel Software, 1984)


Colecovision: Brain Strainers, start-up screens
Our final entry this time is a twofer cartridge called Brain Strainers by Carousel Software. While it doesn't have anything very sophisticated in terms of anything, really, the fact that it's actually a cartridge featuring two games on the Colecovision is a rarity in itself. Not only that, but both of the games can be considered useful in music education, which I might highly approve, were they not so unfocused on the educating part.


The first game is Follow The Leader, which is based on the board game called Simon. The difference here is that the game can be played without looking at the screen, because every colour has a different tone, so the most useful thing you can do with this game is to hold your fingers on the required controls, and play according to the musical notes. The game has 40 different difficulty levels, each number representing the amount of orders to follow in a session, so there should be quite enough of challenge for even those of you, who claim to have an excellent memory. The only bit where the screen looks a bit different is when you make a mistake, as pictured above.

The second game is called Clef Climber, which makes you seek the pitch the computer is staying on by making you climb up and down with your chosen pitch. As a nice graphic pointer, you get to see the note on a notation staff climbing up and down, but if you were actually in need of some pitch recognition practice, looking at the screen should be off-limits. Fortunately, this game has some nice options available: you get to choose whether you will see the original pitch or not; you get to practice without a timer, or play a timed game with three difficulties; you have three options for how will you hear the original pitch versus yours - continuous, alternating in tempo or only as a starting reference; you can choose to hear a continuous tune from a simulated loudspeaker or a rhythmic plonking of the piano; and you can choose to play it alone or against a friend.

For a person with a fine-tuned hearing ability, this will not offer much of anything other than a curious piece of computerized edutainment from history. For a person with not as well-trained hearing, this might be surprisingly useful. Granted, this sort of software has not been unique at all for ages, but taking into account that this is a Colecovision exclusive release, it certainly is as rare an occurrence as any.

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That's it for now, more uniqueness coming up next month!
Suggestions, corrections and other comments are as welcome as ever!
Thanks for reading, and see you next time with something less irregular. =)

6 comments:

  1. I can confirm that the rumours of a c64 conversion of Imogen in progress are true although the ETA for this is some months away, good progress is being made...

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  2. Illusions is on the MSX and Commodore 64 as well.

    Brain Strainers was first released on the Atari and Commodore 64.

    Perplexity got converted to the Atari just a few weeks ago ;-)

    Absolutely love your blog, it's fantastically well written!

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    1. Aw, dammit, how did I miss those? =( Oh well, thanks for the correction, I'll update the info in a few minutes. Thanks for the comment as well, it's always nice to hear people enjoy it... even with the occasional mistakes here and there. =D

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  3. I just remembered another CPC-Exclusive while reading this post. It’s called Mega Blasters (a Bomberman/DynaBlasters clone). It started as a Homebrew Game created by OdieSoft, but it actually received a commercial release in 1993/94 (distributed by Radical Software in UK and AFC in France; ). It’s a really good game.

    http://www.cpc-power.com/index.php?page=detail&num=81

    paperinik

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    1. Yeah, I actually came across that while doing the research for this entry. At this point in the series, I was only trying to look for some truly unique (as well as exclusive) games instead of just exclusive, and Mega Blasters didn't qualify because it's not interesting. Of course, it's a good game, much like Bomberland is on the C64, but neither of them really qualify for being anything other than a Bomberman clone. Actually, now that we're talking of Bomberman, I might as well do an article on Bomberman clones later on, similar to what I did on Paratroopers some months ago... we'll see. =)

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