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Sunday, 22 March 2015

LED Storm (Capcom, 1988)


Planned by Piston Takashi and Tomoshi Sadamoto. Designed by Tomoshi Sadamoto. Programming by N. Kaneko, Akikoro, Ken.Ken and Maekawa. Character Design by K. Ashenden. Graphics by Puttun.midori, Inu and Innocent Saicho. Sounds by Ogeretsukun. Hardware design by Masayan.

Released into the arcades worldwide in 1988 as "LED Storm Rally 2011", and into the Japanese arcades as "Mad Gear" in 1989.

Converted for the Amstrad CPC by Software Creations: Coding by Dean Belfield, Graphics by Wayne Blake and John Tatlock, Music and sound effects by Tim Follin, Published by Go! in 1988.

Converted for the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga by Software Creations: Coding by David J. Broadhurst, Graphics by Andrew R. Threlfall, Music driver code by Mike Follin, Music and sound effects by Tim Follin, Published in the USA by Capcom and worldwide by Go! in 1988.

Converted for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum by Software Creations: Coding by Mike Follin, Graphics by John Tatlock and Andrew R. Threlfall, Music and sound effects by Tim Follin, Published by Go! in 1988.

Converted for the Commodore 64 by Software Creations: Coding by Stephen Ruddy, Graphics by Andrew R. Threlfall and Mark Wilson, Music and sound effects by Tim Follin, Published in the USA by Capcom and worldwide by Go! in 1989.

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GAME STATUS


There seems to be a focus on racing games currently on the blog, although some of it is purely coincidental. This time, the comparison stems from another request/suggestion made by slenkar at the World of Spectrum forums a few months ago, but I confess racing games usually make for easier writing, which is one of the reasons I chose to do this one now. So, hopefully this meets your approval.

LED Storm is a curious little beast. Basically, it's not much more than a glorified remake of Bump 'n' Jump, but it does have a few things going on for it, which makes it very much worth a look. First of all, it's a Capcom game, which usually means good value for money. Secondly, the Follin brothers have had their hands on most of this game's home conversions, which usually means there's great music to be heard. Third, and probably the most interestingly in terms of comparing games: the list of machines the game was ported for looks intriguing, having only our regular threesome of 8-bits and the most competitive twosome of the 16-bits along with the arcade original. This is the first game I have come across that has this sort of line-up for the conversions.

Curiously enough, LED Storm wasn't all that well received back in the day, even if Capcom games usually made a good deal of impact whatever the case. Probably because of this, it doesn't seem to be all that well-known now, resulting in small numbers of votes at our regular websites. The original arcade version doesn't seem to have any sort of scores anywhere, so it'll be even more interesting to see how it compares to the home conversions. At Lemon64, the C64 version has been rated with a score of 7.5 from a total of 75 votes. 27 World of Spectrum voters have given their version a score of 7.68. CPC Game Reviews doesn't have a review for it, but the score at CPC-Softs is 12.50 out of 20. Then we comes to our two 16-bit versions, which are a bit curious: at LemonAmiga, the game has only a score of 5.53 from 34 votes, while the ST version only has 4 votes at Atarimania, with a score of 7.5. To be honest, I don't know what to think of any of this, so we shall have to see...

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


As has been mentioned, LED Storm is basically Bump 'n' Jump pumped with steroids. The game plot is that our hero named Fred is taking a part in the "World Race 24" event, the most dangerous rally in the world. Many daredevil drivers are participating in the race to reach for the big award, which is a million U.S. dollars. The idea is to get through 9 different stages of different terrain and varying difficulty and beat the timer as well as your competition. Since the game is fast, furious and properly difficult, you need to memorize the stages to your best ability, but at least you will be able to collect different bonuses along the way, such as energy pellets and shields and whatnot. Then again, you have more obstacles and other irritating things to worry about here than in Bump 'n' Jump, which balances out all the nice stuff.

Whether you can enjoy this game or not depends quite a lot on your ability to move on with the times and difficulties. It's not an easy game to handle, nor does it offer much unique pleasures, but it's a nice option to have in the vast library of other top-down racing games. Particularly with the great soundtracks. But if Capcom made the game to have some competition for the original Bump 'n' Jump, I'm not certain at all if they have succeeded in this or not. Nor am I all that certain that it's worth the trouble of contemplating, but if you're a Bump 'n' Jump fanatic, and feel the need for a bit more challenging version of the game, this is a considerable option. For gaming history buffs, it might also be of some slight interest, that this game features one of the first examples of a race track high above a city, or even a sea, predating F-Zero in this just about a couple of years.

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LOADING


Having grown up with the C64 version, I had never really tried any other version before, so I found it a bit strange that both the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions had to be chopped into pieces and made as multi-loaders. Of course, this problem was fixed for the 128k versions, which could load the whole game in at once. For once, all versions are available on disk - two of them in fact are only available on disk, so there is actually some good reason to find out the loading times for even the disk versions. But let's start with the tapes, shall we...

AMSTRAD CPC, ORIG: 12 min 12 sec
AMSTRAD CPC, ERBE: 11 min 12 sec
COMMODORE 64: 4 min 8 sec
ZX SPECTRUM 48k: 7 min 17 sec
ZX SPECTRUM 128k: 7 min 35 sec
ZX SPECTRUM, Go!: 9 min 16 sec

Loading screens. Top row: Commodore Amiga (left) and Atari ST (right).
Bottom row: ZX Spectrum (left), Commodore 64 (middle) and Amstrad CPC (right).

I'm aware of there being more than just one cassette version for the Commodore 64 out there, but I couldn't find any on the internet, and the one I'm aware of exists in my collection, but has aged so badly that it will not load anymore. Also, there are other tape versions available for the Spectrum, but the ones mentioned are the opposite extremes of its loading times. Now, here are the disk loading times, at least as far as the emulators can be trusted with this...

AMSTRAD CPC: 15 seconds
ATARI ST: 35 seconds
COMMODORE 64: 1 min 12 sec
COMMODORE AMIGA: 51 seconds (cracked)
ZX SPECTRUM +3: 19 seconds

Okay, so even though the disk loading times are pretty much there, I cannot really say whether any of them are actually all that accurate for a number of reasons. I still have no real-life experience of disk loading on either the Amstrad or the Spectrum, so I can only trust the emulators. Then, the only Amiga version I could find was a cracked one, and the only C64 disk version was a patched one to make it work on the emulators. Still, whatever the case, it's still quicker to load a game from disk than from a cassette. Let this entry be a reminder of why there are less loading comparisons in the newer game comparisons.

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PLAYABILITY


On paper, LED Storm (or Mad Gear) looks like a fairly simple game to play. Just move the joystick in the proper directions to make your car move faster or slower, and left or right, and push the single designated fire button to jump. You can jump and land on other vehicles to destroy them... so as it has been mentioned before, it's basically the same as Bump 'n' Jump.

In reality, though, LED Storm has something quite a bit more vicious and demanding in it, which will require lots more of your attention and skills than Bump 'n' Jump ever could in any of its incarnations. First, and probably the most notable difference to its forefather, LED Storm's screen scrolls both vertically and horizontally. When the stage allows it, you can practically even drive your own paths, just as long as you are able to find the finish line when the time comes. Secondly, you will actually have to compete against time in this game, but although you are also given a rival at the beginning of the game, the competition is mostly just a visual gimmick and an additional annoyance in the long line of new obstacles and frankly under-developed ideas. Which brings us to our third point in evolving: much more difficult obstacles and gaps to navigate through, more badly behaving opponents, and perhaps most annoyingly, those kamikaze tailgrabbing frogs (or people in some versions) who will slow you down to about half-speed and drain your energy. Of course, to balance this out, there's the fourth thing: bonus items for energy, barrier and points. Easily the most important bonus items are those that give you more fuel, which are the jerry cans (driving over these will light up ENERGY letters, which will give you a substantial fuel bonus, once the sequence is finished), the 'E' ground symbols dropped by passing spaceships, and the energy pods floating above you on parachutes. Without fuel, your game will end, and crashing your car will eat up your fuel/energy more than regular driving. Clearly, it's not really that fair to say it's just a Bump 'n' Jump clone.

There is also one rather pivotally game-expansive feature in the original arcade game, and that is the possibility to choose to play with one of three vehicles: a convoy truck, a Porsche 959 sports car and a F-1 racer. The original game is supposed to be completed twice in a row to get the proper ending, for which you need to get better times for each track than you did with the previous vehicle. Naturally, this bit has been left out from all the home conversions, but curiously, the C64 and Amstrad versions have a rather strange feature, in which you can turn your car into a motorbike. According to the attract mode instructions in LED Storm Rally 2011, this feature should be available in that arcade version as well, but I have been unable to perform this action with the given controls, so I suppose it either wasn't properly implemented, or the ROM set for MAME is severely damaged... who knows. Anyway, on the Amstrad and C64, you can perform the transformation any time during the game by pulling the joystick back (down) and pressing the fire button simultaneously. I would imagine the purpose of this feature might be to make you fit through tighter spots in the game more easily, but I haven't been able to find any such spots. Then again, I admit being a bit rubbish at this game. Well, at least it's something more to find uses for once you have mastered the game with the car.

Concerning controls in general, the game can only be played with a joystick on Commodore Amiga, Commodore 64 and Atari ST - the arcade version hardly needs to be mentioned in this context. The two other conversions allow you to use keyboard, and naturally then define your own keys if such action is deemed necessary.

The next step from controls is, naturally, the game's controllability. First, let's talk about acceleration. Frankly, I couldn't notice any difference in any of the three vehicles in the arcade game in this regard, so there has to be something to the top speed, then. Anyway, the most important thing is to compare the arcade game to the home conversions. Since the 16-bits were usually supposed to be as close to the arcades as you could get at home, it's a bit disheartening to notice that the car accelerates rather slowly on both AMIGA and ST. The slow acceleration also bothers the AMSTRAD version, but at least the SPECTRUM and C64 versions have gotten this pretty much right.

So, let's move on to the next topic, which combines horizontal scrolling and steering. In the original, you get a couple of different sharpness levels for steering, which depend entirely on your speed. Naturally, when you're going faster, the steering isn't as sharp as when you're going slower. In all the conversions, the steering always happens in a single level of sharpness, and there is no sense of actual steering, you just instantaneously change your direction slightly left or right. Well, no biggie. The big problem is really on the 16-bits, where your car isn't nearly as well able to do cornering than on either the 8-bits or the arcade, so you are more likely to be hitting walls and solid obstacles more often on the ST and AMIGA than on the other machines. Also, for some reason, both the 16-bit versions are modeled after the SPECTRUM conversion, which features a somewhat less conventional scrolling method for this sort of a game - you push the screen left and right a small notch by driving up to a certain area on the screen, so you are rarely able to get the optional view of the road on any of the three machines. In contrast, the AMSTRAD version scrolls horizontally surprisingly fine, but it goes vertically incredibly jerkily up until you reach maximum velocity - kind of like any scrolling game on the MSX, really, but while it's faster, it's also glitchier and more jerky. The C64 version is really the only one of the lot, where the scrolling has been managed to get really close to the arcade original, although it still lacks some smoothness.

We will end the controllability section with the jump mechanics, which would have been fairly easy to describe, were it not for the fact that there were two distinctly different arcade versions released. The assumedly original worldwide version of the game called LED Storm Rally 2011 featured a fairly short jump, while the second version ("Mad Gear" or simply "LED Storm" without the title-extension) features a much longer jump by default. The shorter jump was probably originally so short, because the jump ramps would make you jump much longer. Anyway, all the home conversions have the jump mechanics basically modeled after the original LED Storm Rally 2011. There is just one notable problem regarding the SPECTRUM conversion - you cannot jump over the track borders that are going straight forwards, in case there are any, as in levels 1 and 3. This makes catching bonus items nearly impossible in most occasions due to the way and timing in which they are thrown at you.

There are some notable differences in enemy behaviour, but it's too difficult for me to explain in detail, so I shall be quick about it. All enemy vehicles on the road have their own specific sort of behaviour, and there are at least two or three different sets of enemies that locate different sections in the game. This, of course, will be familiar from Bump 'n' Jump to many of you. The problem with the enemy behaviour often happens to be directly related to your car's acceleration, which might cause many unwanted crashes when starting your car after a crash, and a bunch of vehicles crash into you from behind, when playing on either of the 16-bits or the Amstrad version.

What I found to be the strangest point to compare in this game was the levels. I'm not sure if I got all of this correct, but let's start with the easy one: LED Storm Rally 2011 and Mad Gear have radically different maps, the former having longer and harder levels, and the latter being more suitable for beginners. Now, the conversions are a strange lot in this regard. I think the C64 version comes pretty close to Mad Gear in difficulty, but the levels seem to be as long as in LSR2011. The other versions seem to have even longer levels than LSR2011 or the C64 version, but it might well only feel as such, because the playability is so different on each version, and it's difficult to measure distances when the game speed isn't necessarily quite the same. Some versions even seemed to feature completely singular level designs, which might also be easily true, but I admit to having trouble keeping all the minor road differences in mind.

One of the most important things about old racing games with lots of action is that the collision detection is as spot on as you could possibly get. In the arcade game, achieving this is not much of a challenge, but on the home computers, solid objects and sprites will occasionally require more space than what they appear to take.

Finally, I have to talk about the screen size, even if we're not yet in the Graphics section. As you would perhaps expect, the arcade game has all the action shown in full screen. The SPECTRUM, AMIGA and ATARI ST versions have a sidebar, which takes slightly more than a third of the screen width, which leaves slightly less than two thirds of the screen width for the action screen. For a game that requires as much of screen width as height due to the multi-directional scrolling, it really is a huge inconvenience to have such a big and cumbersome sidebar on the side, only to show you the current score, energy (fuel) status, the distance driven so far, and the ENERGY bonus letters display. The SPECTRUM version additionally shows you a speedometer and the total time spent on the race, but it helps just as little. Still, I'm not sure if the AMSTRAD way is all that much better - no informational bits whatsoever, only the action screen. At least it's made to simulate the size of the arcade screen as closely as possible, but the lack of any information is highly annoying and unhelpful. The C64 version has all of this the right way again, and all the necessary (and unnecessary) information have been placed at the top of the screen in a nicely tight but clear manner, leaving plenty of horizontal view distance.

Depending on the madness of your skills, you might prefer LED Storm Rally 2011 to Mad Gear, so you might as well try them both. But since this comparison is mostly about the home conversions of the game, I shall have to keep Mad Gear mostly out of the equations. So, the 16-bit conversions are rather remarkably very disappointing. Perhaps you could consider them as the hard mode of the game, but I found them to be just plain wrong. The Spectrum version isn't much better, but the better steering gives it just enough of edge to the 16-bits to be called almost enjoyable. The Amstrad version is an impressive attempt at making something completely different from the other 8-bits, but ultimately fails to deliver the sense of speed that the game requires, and the lack of in-game information is really irritating. This only leaves the C64 version, which beats the home conversions bunch by a mile with its comfortably sized action screen, perfect scrolling and the bonus vehicle, which the C64 version shares with the Amstrad.

1. ARCADE
2. COMMODORE 64
3. ZX SPECTRUM / AMSTRAD CPC
4. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST

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GRAPHICS


Some of the graphical aspects of the game have already been dealt with in the previous section due to necessity: scrolling and the screen sizes, to be more precise, so I will skip all that in this section. Just for clarity's sake, I will still have to take them into account when giving scores here.

Intro sequences from the arcade versions (top row), Atari ST (bottom left) and Commodore Amiga (bottom right).


As it had become increasingly popular, both of LED Storm's arcade versions feature an intro sequence, even though it is practically of little use. You do get a hint of the upcoming choice you have to make from the three cars, but otherwise, it's not much more than a short attract mode with bits of text thrown on it. Sure, it looks as good as the game, and it's something extra compared to the home conversions, but it's a bit useless. And the text was most likely written by some Japanese bloke, judging by the grammatical errors and typos. Once the plot part of the intro sequence ends, another demo sequence kicks in. This time, a line of 6 cars is driving behind two massive tanker trucks, of which the two in the middle are your car and that of your main opponent. Soon enough, the two in the middle start driving faster and leave all the other cars behind, and then make a furious jump over the trucks, then collide in each other and explode, which results in the revealing of the game title, and effectively, the title screen.

The two 16-bit home conversions are basically very much the same, but they have some slight differences in colouring, as usual. There was just one little curious feature in the ATARI ST version, which isn't on the AMIGA version, and that is the additional start-up screen before the actual title screen comes up. The additional start-up screen is where the music kicks in, but the screen only says "Welcome to LED Storm" and "Press Space when ready" in a fairly basic font that the game uses all the time anyway. For the 16-bit versions, the main motif for the title sequence is an extreme close-up of your car passing the screen from bottom to top, and the three screens it passes (twice each) are the otherwise fairly boring title screen, the ranking list and the credits screen. This idea was actually used in one of the arcade versions, but only once during the entire loop of the attract mode, making it more effective.

Title sequences from the 8-bits: Commodore 64 (top row), Amstrad CPC (middle row) and ZX Spectrum (bottom row).


While the 8-bit versions cannot boast of a huge car scrolling through the screen, there are other nice things to look at. In the C64 version, the title logo is big and juicy, but completely different from the original, which can be seen in the loading screen. The C64 title is like a sign or a plaque, which features grey and orange vertically scrolling horizontal raster bars (if that is what they are); the letters' effect goes from bottom to top, while the background goes the other way round. A similar effect has been used for the high score table, where the effect direction has been split from the middle. The two fonts in use are thematically fitting, and the other one is fairly similar to that used primarily on the 16-bits.

The AMSTRAD version has the same fonts in use as the C64 version, but there are no particularly graphic elements to the title screens, just text. The SPECTRUM version has an additional font in use, and the use of colour is more creative than on either of the two 8-bits, but the title logo is still a bit bland, having a similar font to most of the other text bits in the title screens. Of course, there's also the constantly present sidebar, which features the proper game logo in its proper form at the top, but it's a bit small and not showy enough.

Arcade exclusive bits: intro cutscene, character introductions and vehicle selection.


These bits can only be found in the various arcade versions, so I compiled most of them here just to show you the stuff in a nice bundle. The most informative of the bunch is the one with the three vehicles in one screen. The vehicle selection screen also gives you some information on the capabilities of each vehicle, but to be honest, I couldn't notice much of any actual differences when driving them. But I suppose there must be something in having all three in the game, since you have to complete the game twice in order to get the real ending, and the second way through must be better than the first. Oh well. The other pictures show the characters that drive all the primary enemy cars, as well as your own character, and then some other unconnected bits not available in the home conversions.

Computer map screens, scores and messages. Top left: arcade versions. Top right: Commodore Amiga.
Bottom row, left to right: Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari ST.


One of the rare graphical differences that the arcade versions have is how the computer map screen has been dealt with. In some versions, the computer only speaks its messages, while in others, the map screen scrolls slightly off to the left, and the spoken word is also written on the screen. The Japanese version has its own bonus screen, while the American version only mentions the bonuses briefly at the top of the screen with the message.

Curiously, the only conversion that reflects the colours of the map markings from the arcade original is the C64 version, but otherwise, the amount of detail and colour is clearly the best on the 16-bits. In fact, the navigation computer itself looks otherwise better on the AMIGA and ST, apart from having no speech volume led indicator. Out of the 8-bits, the AMSTRAD navigator looks the best overall, with as much detail and colour as possible all fitted into a single screen. The SPECTRUM version looks pretty cramped and the C64 version shows no topographical graphics at all.

Starting line. Top row, left to right: Arcade (Mad Gear), Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Arcade (LSR2011).
Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.


In case anyone ever thought that the starting countdown sequence was of any importance when comparing graphics, this bit is for you. I might as well make it clear here, that on the 8-bits, the level name is displayed before the level begins, while the higher-powered versions display the level name while you are being pushed into the action. The countdown timer looks more or less different on every version - even the arcade versions seem to differ, although I'm not entirely sure whether the difference in the countdown timer is due to the other corrupt graphics that the MAME roms had or is it like that in the real arcade machine. Again, rather curiously, the C64 version has the best attempt at getting this little bit as close to the arcade version as possible. The other two 8-bits have very blocky and ugly timers, and the 16-bits have rather boring timers that have the same font that is used for the level names.

Screenshots from level 1. Top row, left to right: Arcade versions, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom left: Commodore Amiga. Bottom right: Atari ST.


If you wanted to get a proper idea of how the arcade versions, or indeed all the versions' maps differ from each other, you would have to play them all, since I have neither room nor inclination to include every necessary bit from all the versions here. For now, we shall have to make do with two screenshots per each version for each level, and I shall only be showing you shots from the first four levels, because I got too frustrated with certain versions of the game before I had beaten even level 2, and had to cheat my way up by using savestates.

Naturally, the arcade game looks fantastic, even compared to the 16-bit conversions. Not only do you get high quality sprites, scrolling and other objects, but also the backgrounds tend to change at least a couple of times during each level. One of the most interesting things to keep an eye out on are the end-level bosses, when there happen to be any. They usually look and act very different from the ones on any of the conversions, and you are guaranteed to get more action for your efforts.

Screenshots from level 2. Top row, left to right: Arcade versions, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom left: Commodore Amiga. Bottom right: Atari ST.


Of course the 16-bit conversions still look very nice, and the attention to detail can easily be seen in the relative lack of patterns in the ground and practically everything you see is nice to look at. The AMIGA and ATARI ST differ from each other mostly in palette, which is slightly darker on the ST, but there are occasionally some surprisingly drastic differences in colouring. Too bad they didn't put as much effort into the gameplay, though.

At the other end of the line, the SPECTRUM version is unsurprisingly completely monochrome, apart from the sidebar, which is colourful enough. As the Spectrum fans would undoubtedly argue, the monochrome graphics allow for higher quality in the graphics, and no attribute clash as a bonus, which is an understandable point of worry. And happily, the levels do have their own specific theme colour to try and match with the original level design as closely as possible. Still, the sideways scrolling problem is highly irritating, and all the background graphics are very much patterned, which looks a bit boring in the long run.

Screenshots from level 3. Top row, left to right: Arcade versions, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom left: Atari ST. Bottom right: Commodore Amiga.


Then again, neither the AMSTRAD nor the C64 version has this patterning issue completely fixed altogether, although the C64 version has some less rectangular shapes in level 2 and other similar ones. Both of these two have similar enough graphics, when looking at still shots, but the AMSTRAD version has less colours in use for the entire game. I played both versions through with a cheat mode, so I'm aware of what comes next. Most of the Amstrad levels have a dark cyan or very much orange-based colouring, while the C64 version has a few brownish levels and the rest of them are very much different. Also, the lack of colour on the Amstrad can be seen in your opponent's car, which is of the same colour as yours. The final nail in the coffin, if you pardon the expression, is that the Amstrad version has no parallax scrolling for the backgrounds, which really is the whole idea of having the road going on a mile or so above the sea level. Even the Spectrum version has that thing covered, even though it isn't quite as noticable as on the C64, for example.

Screenshots from level 4. Top row, left to right: Arcade versions, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom left: Commodore Amiga. Bottom right: Atari ST.


Even though LED Storm can be considered mostly a supercharged remake of Bump 'n' Jump, there is no denying that the game features so much more to ruin your illusions as much in gameplay as in graphics. And we haven't even touched the subject of sounds yet. As so often is the case, more just happens to be more. LED Storm is one of those games that feel all too familiar at first, but get under your skin in a completely different manner than before, and still offer plenty to see years after your first attempt. Particularly the arcade versions, which really have to be played in order to see the amount of differences compared to even the best of the home conversions.

High score tables. Clockwise from the left: Arcade, Amiga/ST, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64.


We'll end this section with the screen where you enter your name onto the high score table. It's a fairly basic deal for every version, but it's always fun to figure out what the abbreviations mean, if anything. The original arcade version clearly has some machines listed, while the 16-bits and the Spectrum versions have the game's creators listed in as abbreviations. The C64 version uniquely allows you to enter 10 characters as your name, and the Amstrad version comes second with only four characters. Well anyway, it's just letters in different colours and fonts, but due to the familiar raster scroller effect, the C64 version is the nicest to look at.

But as we take a look at the graphics section in full, it becomes pretty clear what the end results will look like. You just can't beat an arcade game in anything but the loading screen, since it doesn't have one, and the 16-bits are easily the most pretty ones of the lot, and for all I care, are equally pretty. When it comes to choosing the winners from the 8-bit lot, however, it's not as easy as it looks like. Even though all three versions are very impressive on their own merits, I have to say that the best compromise was achieved in the C64 version - the scrolling, the colours, the view distance and even most of the details are the most in line with the original game. I'm not entirely sure about the other two, because while the Amstrad version looks almost as good as the C64 version in still pictures, the scrolling is often more than just a bit awkward, while the Spectrum version scrolls beautifully - at least in one direction. I'm going to have to make them share the last place.

1. ARCADE
2. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
3. COMMODORE 64
4. AMSTRAD CPC / ZX SPECTRUM

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SOUNDS


Choosing a game to write a comparison can be a bother, so often I choose my subjects with the basis on other areas of interest than the game itself. If you have been reading this blog as intensively as I have written it, you might be aware that I'm a bit of a Tim Follin fan, so a game that has a Follin soundtrack is as good an excuse to choose a game than any other good excuse... in addition to this comparison being made from a suggestion. Of course, Follin didn't do the original soundtrack; it was made by some Japanese bloke called Ogeretsukun.

The arcade game sounds very much like any Atari arcade game from the late 80's, or most of early Sega Megadrive games, if that's more familiar to you. The theme tune is at heart an easy-going guitar rock tune, which would sound brilliant on an SNES or an Amiga with sampled instruments, but the metallic synth sounds don't fit in too well with the actual composition. There is a more bass guitar oriented tune made for the character introductions sequence, which works a bit better with this hardware, but all the in-game tunes have a similar inherent tinniness to them that the main title theme has. Being a Capcom game, the music is all expectedly epic and rocking in a Japanese chiptune sort of way, but it's just the overall sound of the instrumentation that grinds my gears to the extreme. And it's the same story with all the sound effects as well: there's plenty enough of them, and they are played simultaneously on top of the music, but the quality is plastic and unspectacular. Were it not for the sounds, I dare say the arcade game would have probably been better received and remembered.

As it is, LED Storm is probably more commonly known for its Tim Follin soundtracks, which he made for all home conversions. Only the AMSTRAD version has no music at all, which is a great pity, but he did have his hands on the sound effects, so it's something at least. I suppose the Amstrad conversion team focused entirely on making the game as playable as they could in their own specific way, that there was very little memory left for any sounds in the end... which is a bit strange, really, considering that the SPECTRUM 128k version loads in the full game at once, with music and sound  effects included in the deal. Couldn't the Amstrad team have made a 128k enhanced version too? Well, at least it isn't quite as desolate from sound as the SPECTRUM 48k version, which only appears to have two sound effects - one for your crash, and one for the map screen's dots to appear.

So, how does the 128k version sound like, then? For starters, the main theme tune kicks in the instant the game has loaded in, and it is a marvellous little tune, instantly recognizable as a Tim Follin piece. Although it starts off as something akin to what you would expect from a game like Wizball, after the first few chord arpeggios have passed, the tune switches its mode to a highly energetic, up-tempo piece that makes the AY chip sound almost like the tune was produced with a SID chip. Although the melody for the most part isn't much more than climbing scales up and down in a back-and-forth manner, it is still recognizable and uplifting enough to fit right in with the game. Perhaps even better so than the original theme tune.

There is only one other tune in the 128k Spectrum version, which is played over the computer navigator screen. The tune feels a bit like something from an L.A. based jazz/rock fusion band with a bit of heavy drumming added into the mix. The same tune has been translated for every other home conversion, apart from the Amstrad of course, but some of the versions of this tune are in a different key, and then there are the obvious machine-specific sound differences, but that's not really much of an issue here. The 128k Spectrum version also has quite a few more sound effects in its library as well, which bring it some much needed additional atmosphere that the 48k version was a bit lacking in. The effects also manage to beat the Amstrad version, but only by an inch.

Both the 16-bit versions start off with a longer version of the same theme tune as is on the 128k Spectrum, but while the ATARI ST again sounds more like the 128k Spectrum, the AMIGA version utilises a good deal of samples, but manages to still maintain a nice feel of an early techno tune. It will not come as much of a surprise, but the Amiga soundtrack is more heavily rock-influenced, while the ST soundtrack leans more towards synth pop/rock. Both versions feature nice sound effects as well as at least 3 in-game tunes that couldn't be fitted into the Spectrum version, so both 16-bits will clearly win the 128k Spectrum in this regard. Also, the Game Over tune is now completely different, a rather moody shuffle-rock styled tune, which fits the occasion nicely.

For a long time, my only experience with LED Storm was the C64 version, so I had grown quite fond of the soundtrack. But as I grew older, the curious musical quote from Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" as the intro for the C64 theme tune started to irritate me to no end, mostly because the said song is fairly high on the list of most frequently played songs by coverbands. Without the intro, though, the otherwise exclusive theme tune is an interesting deviation from the form, and features melodies mostly played in dorian mode with some small bits in blues scale, and the song is a fairly uptempo latin-disco thing. While it still sounds very much Tim Follin, and goes well together with the completely different sort of title screen, it doesn't really fit in nearly as well as the original Tim Follin theme tune. Happily, the rest of the C64 soundtrack is excellent. For the entire soundtrack, which is mostly similar to the Atari ST soundtrack, Follin has somehow managed to get a full band out of the SID chip: you get a drumset (hi-hat, snare, bass drum and a crash cymbal), a bass guitar/synth, a lead guitar/synth and some arpeggiator to play the chords. And even still, you get  some sound effects to play when needed, although they will replace the required channels from the background music. Still, very impressive. Again, as on the 16-bits, I managed to come across 3 different in-game tunes (one of which is completely exclusive for the C64 in addition to the new theme tune), and then there's the Game Over tune that has been taken from the 16-bits, all of which are in a completely different tempo to make the game seem less monotonic than it actually is. So, apart from the main title tune, the C64 soundtrack is on par with the 16-bits, if not better.

Allowing for each individual's musical taste, the C64, Amiga and Atari ST versions are pretty close to each other, but dissimilar enough to make them as good as equal. If you can enjoy the tinny plastic noises of the arcade original, then it can be counted with the other three as well. However, I cannot give the scores simply based on the music and sound effects, because they are so different on all six versions. So I have to base my scores on something additional, which this time has to be something fairly complex and overanalytic - the sound of music, and how it manages to convey the feel of the game, as well as how do the synthesized instruments fit in with the music written for each game. It's quite obvious that the 48k SPECTRUM version will lose in any case, only just topped by the AMSTRAD version. Of course, the 128k SPECTRUM version beats those two, but not much more due to the lack of in-game tunes. Now, what I'm about to say might be a bit controversial: I think the AMIGA version has the worst-fitting music for the game, at least when considering only the in-game tunes. The theme tune, the map tune and the Game Over tune are nice, but most of the in-game tunes have that "too much effort" tag on them, with less actual result. Still, all of it sounds brilliant on their own, out of context. The ATARI ST version doesn't sound nearly as good, but it has better in-game tunes. Then again, they have that slightly undeveloped sound to them, in contrast to the high-quality Amiga sounds. Kind of like how the arcade versions sound like in comparison to the Amiga - it's Sega Megadrive vs. synth samples. It's just too bad that the arcade sounds like it does, because the music is really good and potentially epic. It's just ruined by the bad synth sounds. And finally, there's the C64 version, which shows its late release date with much more effort in every aspect. Sound-wise, it still isn't quite as impressive as the Amiga version, but considering the hardware, it's absolutely fantastic. Follin certainly knew the best what he was doing on the SID chip, because he got as much sounds out of it simultaneously than from the Atari ST, but with more powerful results. Also, the music simply works so much better in the context than either of the 16-bit tunes do, that I'm going to have to give it the top spot.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
3. ARCADE
4. ZX SPECTRUM 128k
5. AMSTRAD CPC
6. ZX SPECTRUM 48k

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OVERALL


LED Storm can be called many things, but unfortunately, original isn't one of them - at least in any other sense than bringing the racing genre far above the city. And I'm not even entirely sure if this truly is the first occasion for such. It is no wonder that it is one of the least well known games from Capcom, at least in its original form. Also, it doesn't help that most of the home conversions were a bit rubbish in one way or another. But at its best, the game does offer some nice graphics, a great soundtrack and a good challenge. For the perfect combination, you would have to combine the original LED Storm Rally 2011 arcade machine with the theme tune from the 128k Spectrum conversion and the rest of the tunes from the C64 conversion. Gets a bit difficult, really. Well, here are the mathematical results...

1. ARCADE: Playability 4, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 12
2. COMMODORE 64:
Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 11
3. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST:
Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 9
4. ZX SPECTRUM 128k:
Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 6
5. AMSTRAD CPC:
Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5
6. ZX SPECTRUM 48k:
Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4


You could, of course, argue much about each part of the game, but playability is where things matter the most, particularly when you have to compare the home conversions against the arcade originals. As such, I would happily place the Spectrum and Amstrad versions just below the C64 version, but the final product must have an overall presentable feel to them. The Amstrad version is glitchy and only gives the illusion of being more advanced than it truly is, and even the 128k Spectrum version feels a bit unfinished due to the relative lack of music and the horrible sideways scrolling. The 16-bit versions are all sounds and visuals with the worst gameplay I have had the displeasure of encountering in a long while. So, the results are what they are.

If you feel like something's completely amiss, or want to share some of your opinions, do leave a comment. Meanwhile, I'll be trying to finish another entry for this month while doing about two million other things on the side. But hey, thanks for reading again - see you next time!

7 comments:

  1. I might have missed it in the review but arcade "LED Storm" and "LED Storm Rally 2011" are two different games: Rally 2011 is the prototype futuristic version which the home versions are based on, and the non-rally version is the released version. The Rally 2011 -version is REALLY rare - unfortunately - as it is far more stylish game than the final non-prototype version.

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    1. Strange. I've never seen or read about any non-futuristic version, and all the screenshots and videos I've seen of the arcade game are from the futuristic LED Storm, or the Japanese version called Mad Gear. I even had various versions of the game on MAME and elsewhere to test. If you can throw in some links with material to prove your claim, then I'll be happy to include this information in the article.

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    2. This is the regular Led Storm version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYMm4Ie_6cE and is very cheap as it is extremely common (I own one). They regularly sell on, for example, ebay.

      If you can somehow find a Led Storm Rally 2011 arcade board, put it on ebay as it is easily worth couple hundred euros as they are very very VERY rare. I have been collectiong arcade games for 20 years and haven't been able to ever seen one for sale.

      More info:
      http://blog.system11.org/?p=1306
      https://tcrf.net/LED_Storm_(Arcade) (not even a single mention about the futuristic version)
      http://forums.lostlevels.org/viewtopic.php?p=34756&sid=9b8a4f1be1abf1df9b01485be1b64c5f

      It is misleading to base one's assumptions about game rarity on how easy it is to download the ROM from internet...

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    3. http://blog.system11.org/?p=1306

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    4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYMm4Ie_6cE&feature=youtu.be&t=28

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  2. If you have the LED Storm Rally 2011 version PCB, anyone will give you couple hundred euros and a regular "non-futuristic" LED Storm PCB in exchange for it.

    Just because game's MAME ROMs are easily downloaded from the web does not mean that the game is not rare.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, well... not sure if you're the same anonymous who commented the first time around, but I'm going to assume you are. As I said earlier, I haven't seen anything of a NON-futuristic version of LED Storm. The actual PCB's rarity has never been my concern, just the knowledge that there are vastly different versions, and I don't see any vastness in the differences between Mad Gear and LED Storm Rally 2011. What I wanted was some proof that the more common LED Storm is actually notably less futuristic, and I don't think I still have it. Perhaps it's just my faulty perception, but to me, all the downloadable versions look pretty futuristic to me. But anyway, I shall fix the release details as soon as I'm able to determine, how.

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