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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Unique Games! - Encore (Part 11)

From what I've gathered, the Unique Games series has been one of the most popular recurring features on FRGCB, so I decided to do one more before I make my exit from the blogosphere. Happily, I still managed to find enough of unique or at least exclusive games since late September to get a good, hefty set; some platforms feature six games, some only five, sometimes for a good reason, sometimes not. As a thanks for all your support on the series, here's the last serving of Unique Games for a slightly belated Christmas present, and it's a long one! Enjoy!

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TANGERINE ORIC-1/ATMOS


1. Pasta Blasta (1983, Arcadia)
2. Don Juan (1984, No Man's Land)

UPDATE! 31st December, 2017: Well, as luck would have it, I managed to find out just a little too late, that the singular Asteroids-variant Pasta Blasta was also released for the C16/+4 and C64 of all possible machines, and it was published in 1984 by the same company. Apparently, the full title of the game is "Pasta Wars: Pasta Blasta".


Also, the obscure dating simulator Don Juan was released for the Amstrad CPC the same year as the Oric version, and two years later for the Apple II. Shows you just how difficult it is to actually find some properly unique and exclusive titles for even the more obscure machines.

Since I have to be quick about replacing the mistakenly included games here, I'll just grab the first two things that I can find that fit the bill in any possible way. Sorry about the convenience. Oddly, this has resulted in a sudden increase of animal-based games in the Oric-section...

1. Dig Dog (1983, Taskset)

Taskset will probably ring a bell in any 8-bit gamer's head, if only for their publication of the two Super Pipeline games, but Taskset is no stranger to the Unique Games series, either. This time, I picked up this ridiculous-sounding title, which is not only seriously bordering on copyright infringement, but also far enough from the arcade game it is loosely based on.

Sure enough, you take control of a dog, who has planted a bunch of bones deep underground - and I do mean, DEEP. Suddenly, a horde of violent rats start digging their way up from under the area the screen extends downwards to, and your mission is now to save your carefully hidden bones from the filthy miscreants. This is no easy job, particularly as you cannot even defend yourself against the green little beasts. Unique? Not really, but definitely exclusive.


2. Zoolympics (1984, No Man's Land)

A sports game starring zoo animals. Who'd've thunk? It's basically a decathlon-style game with a certain type of animal for each event, but there's only four events in Zoolympics, so it's just a part of a decathlon. The events are: javelin (with a gorilla), long jump (with a kangaroo), 100m running (with ostriches) and 100m swimming (with seals).

And that's a happy coincidence, since it's not a particularly playable game. In any event, the actual running bit (or swimming) is done by tapping two alternate keys furiously, and then there are a few specific keys used in specific event at specific times. D is for diving, Space is for throwing and such, and arrows are for somehow adjusting the angle for javelin. Another not-very unique game apart from the odd use of zoo animals, but it's another point for the Oric for having an odd exclusive title.


3. Tendre Poulet (1984, Sprites)

Because the Oric computers mostly gained popularity in the UK and France, some of even the better-known titles for the Oric-1, and its successor, Atmos, were French-built, and in their native language. While perhaps not the cream of the crop, Tendre Poulet was one of the more interesting and unique games I found from Oric's French titles. First off, it's not too often you get to play as a chicken or a rooster. The only other game that I've ever played with this kind of a subject is Chickin Chase (a.k.a. Cock 'in) on the C64, in which you play as a rooster, who is trying to build a family. That in itself would sort of work in the Unique Games list, if it hadn't been released for multiple platforms, including the Oric.

As for Tendre Poulet, it focuses on the chicken's part of the deal. The game starts by someone shooting at you with a shotgun a couple of times, which you need to jump over to stay alive. Once the shooting ceases (which is thankfully quickly), you need to start picking grains from the ground while watching out for the mole. If you're lucky - since the controls aren't exactly perfect - you might also get a few pecks delivered onto the surfacing mole, but he seems to be indestructible. Once you have eaten all the grains from the ground, you move on to the hen-house, where you will need to lay an egg and protect it from the rats by pecking at them. As usual, the basic idea is as short as that, but later levels add more hazards. The concept is rarely-enough used to make it worth checking out, and it's an Oric-exclusive, so it fits the bill.


4. le Trident de Neptune (1984, No Man's Land)

Despite oddly named No Man's Land's relatively small number of publications, quite a few of their games had something quite unique about them. I only chose two of them here, so you can find out for yourselves about the rest of them, and because I wanted to focus other publishers as well. This second one is one of the very rare multi-style arcade games that I have come across for the Oric so far, and it's a rather interesting one at that, although the Oric Games website says it's an adventure game. Well, I guess it's how each of us views it, but it definitely plays like an arcade game.


Although I cannot translate the French instructions to anyone's convenience, the gameplay itself is easy enough to decipher. You start off the game, and each of its four levels, by filling your space ship's tank with fuel by running across the screen while avoiding getting stomped by giant flying monsters. When the time is up, so is your chance for filling up the tank. Next, you go to a mission choosing screen, which is shown as a floor with four entrances, guarded by three whatnots going back and forth. The idea in all four different mission screens is to pick up all the tridents and return to the surface. However, all mission screens also feature a hefty amount of enemies, which you need to avoid as much as possible, since you have no way to defend yourself. Since most of the missions are easy enough, it doesn't matter that much that you only have a single life, but one of them offers a ridiculously harsh environment to get through. If it weren't for this small problem, le Trident de Neptune would be an excellent little arcade title, but as it is, it's only a nice curiosity for the Oric with a lot of potential, but that's where it ends. But it's unique and it's exclusive, and that's what counts.


5. Insect Insanity (1984/1990, Mirage/Oric User Monthly)

Another funny and unique arcade title made for the Oric is this 1984 title, originally written in 1984 by John B. Marshall, to be released by Tansoft. However, it didn't get released until Mirage Ltd. got the distribution rights for it to be published in Oric User Monthly magazine in 1990. But that's not really a reason to include the game here. Of course, it's an Oric-exclusive, so that's one thing.

It's also rather unique. The game's simple, but quirky idea goes like this: you control a boot through a maze of what looks strangely like a beehive, and your mission is to smash all the small critters crawling all over the web, and pick up the spawning eggs, while avoiding flies and such. Due to the design of the play area, you can only control your boot diagonally, so the controls can take a while to get used to, particularly if you don't redefine the keys. Highly addicting fun - easily one of the best and most original Oric titles you can find, and as good a choice as any to end this section with.


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NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM / FAMICOM


1. Moon Crystal (1992, Hect Co. Ltd.)

We begin the NES/Famicom section with a strong contender for the most impressive action-platformer for the machine, ever. Because the screenshots below will not tell you even nearly the whole truth, I'll just say this about the graphics: think of Prince of Persia -level of attention in detail to animation, and add to that a certain level of Ninja Gaiden mixed with Super Mario Bros. 3, and you'll get pretty close.

Of course, graphics aren't everything that make for an impressive game. The soundtrack is memorable from the first melody onwards, and the sound effects are just what you would expect from an NES game from 1992 at their very best, although I haven't found any sampled voice bits (yet) - but that's not really important in the grander scheme of things. Then, of course, you get the gameplay, which has been honed to be as close to perfection as it is possible to be in this type of a game. I'm talking much less aggravating than Ninja Gaiden, but more challenging than Super Mario Bros. 3, with a bit of Duck Tales-like equipment-hunting added to it all, and while the animations similar to Prince of Persia do take their time to perform, they're not nearly as intrusive to the gameplay as the animations in Prince of Persia are. Honestly, this is as close to a perfect NES action-platformer as you can get, and it's criminally overlooked due to the simple fact that it was never officially released outside of Japan. Also, it's a rare example of this type of a game, that wasn't developed by Capcom or Nintendo, who basically had a shared monopoly of the top-shelf action-platformers on the NES. I can't say it's a unique game, though, but it's a Famicom exclusive at least, and I would definitely consider this one a necessity to check out for any NES fan.


2. Challenger (1985, Hudson)

I'm assuming most of you Spectrum, MSX, C64 and Sharp X-1 gamers have at least vague memories of a game called Stop the Express. It's that old platformer in which you needed to progress through 20 train cars, reach the engine and stop the train, but there were some bandits, birds and bullets always getting in your way. Well, in case you don't know it, you might want to check it out first, because it's a fun little arcade/action/platformer. Well, Hudson Soft, who created the game, decided to remake it exclusively for the Nintendo Famicom, but then they decided to extend it, thus creating a sequel of sorts, requiring a new title.

This game is sequenced rather oddly, to put it mildly. It starts with a similar train sequence that the whole Stop the Express game was about, and you need to complete the sequence in one clean run, otherwise you will start from the beginning. In StE, you had a half-way checkpoint. The second sequence is an over-head map exploration action game, highly reminiscent of Zelda 2 and other such games, and it includes the entrances to all three variations of the third sequence, which is a single-screen cave platformer, in which you need to get an item from the other side of the room. The fourth and final sequence is another platformer, which takes place at a pyramid, at the top of which you will have the eventual boss battle. True to its name, Challenger is a very challenging, albeit a short game - thankfully. However, it is a vast extension and arguably an improvement over its point of origin, and as one of the great unknown Hudson exclusives for the Famicom, it should definitely be given some more attention.


3. Moai-kun (1990, Konami)

Platform-puzzlers have been around since probably the earlier half of the 80's, so Moai-kun doesn't necessarily offer much new. If you're looking for something unique (as I should be) here, you need not look any further than the fact that the game's protagonist is a moai, which is known as the type of statue that famously inhabits Easter Island - according to Wikipedia, there's 887 of them there. At least, I can't think of any other game that focuses on the moai in any way.

What one might compare Moai-kun even nearly directly to, could be Pengo, Lode Runner, Solomon's Key and Boulder Dash, but it just manages to find a tight spot between all those other puzzlers, and feel like an arguably unique game. The idea is to rescue all your moai friends and then make your exit through the large blue door. The first few levels act as tutorials of sorts, and the game changes slightly after every five levels, bringing new enemies and helpful items along with new background graphics. As usual with these types of games, the mental reward for figuring out puzzles is huge, and it keeps you playing for a good while once you get hooked. Again, it's a Famicom-exclusive, and since it's also an arguably unique game, and a good one at that, it deserves the inclusion here.


4. Takeshi no Chosenjo (1986, Taito Corporation)

One of the strangest games to have ever gotten an official release on the Famicom, often translated as Takeshi's Challenge, is rather unsurprisingly a platform game on the surface. Explaining the game's oddity would take some effort, due to the unorthodox and often controversial events and missions that the player might have to do in order to complete the game, but the main idea seems to be just to punch a lot of people regardless of their role in the game. You also get to use the microphone in Famicom's second controller, if you have a real, original Famicom, but the microphone bits have been substituted with a certain key combination for later versions of the Famicom. And that's just a very brief generalization of the game's proceedings - I can't really open it up further without turning this into a novel.


Another thing that makes Takeshi's Challenge such a unique game is the way it was developed. Originally, it was supposed to be a game version of Takeshi Kitano's TV show, Takeshi's Castle, but Kitano decided to have more direct input into the game's design, and it became an even bigger mess of odd ideas than it would have been. Takeshi's Challenge is often hailed as one of the worst (if not THE worst) Famicom game ever made, but my theory is, that since Nintendo games were mostly marketed to children, the absurd and cruel humour exhibited by Kitano's game design here never got played by the proper audience. Although, I have to admit, I'm not sure a proper audience even exists for this game. As such, it is a game well worth examining - you will never come across another NES/Famicom game quite like this one. Make sure you pick up a translated version, though - it's quite heavy on text, and you can't really make progress without either understanding of the Japanese language or sheer luck, and the odds are, luck will not be on anyone's side in Takeshi's Challenge.


5. Arumana no Kiseki (1987, Konami)

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and instead of an NES/Famicom game for the fifth and final game on this particular list, I had to resort to digging up an exclusive title for the Famicom Disk System. Konami's Arumana no Kiseki (which apparently translates as "The Miracle of Almana") was one such game for a long time after its original release, but was reproduced as NES cartridges in 2012, although apparently, it's missing some of the sound effects from the FDS original. In addition to that, DvD Translations released an English translation patch for the Japanese .fds image, if you want to play the game as close to the original as possible in English.


So, what the game is, is a rare example of a good Indiana Jones platformer without the Lucasfilm licences - basically a good game version of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It plays like a mixture of Roc 'n Rope, Contra, Bionic Commando and The Goonies, but has its own slightly different gameplay mechanics to make it feel like its own thing. It takes a bit of getting used to, but one should take it as a challenge instead of dismiss it having slightly "off" feel of gravity and logic. For the little known, almost lost exclusive Famicom gem that this game is, though, perhaps it deserves its status. Not because it wasn't quite up to scratch with all the other hit games at the time, but because they tried too hard to make it better than what Atari and Lucasfilm Games were offering... and succeeded. Too bad it was never officially released as an Indiana Jones game, or for that matter, outside of Japan until it was too late.


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SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM


1. Happy Hour (1984, Scorpio Gamesworld)

Also re-released as "Alky Ollie" by Firecracker Software, Barry Jones's "Happy Hour" is one of the rare games that put you into the role of an alcoholic, and quite possibly the only commercially released one on the ZX Spectrum. Granted, the idea is not particularly unique, due to at least Taskset having released Bozo's Night Out later on the C64, but Happy Hour did things a bit differently, and not quite as successfully, I have to say.


The idea here is to pick up coins from the streets, avoid getting bumped into anything, go to all twelve pubs in the town in a certain order, and drink yourself faceless. Even on the easiest of four available difficulty levels, it's harder than it sounds and looks, because the game doesn't offer much of useful instructions, so I might as well elaborate on a few things here. You have time from 6 PM to 11 PM, from the looks of it. At least, I got arrested for drinking after closing time. A pint costs half a quid, so you don't really need to focus on picking up coins as much as you need to run to the next pub. The way to eventually win this game is to draw a map for each pub location. Finally, you also need to find your way home, which hasn't been mentioned anywhere in the game, at which point do you need to go there, or even where your home is, so you need to randomly get thrown from other peoples' homes until you find yours. Not very fun, but it does make for a unique sort of a concept in the bigger picture. Happy Hour is not the greatest example of Spectrum gaming, but it does give you an idea on the benefits of having a lack of quality control compared to say, Nintendo's, and the possibility to witness the amount of imagination game developers were allowed to have back in the day.


2. Orbix the Terrorball (1986, Streetwise)

Here's a game which has a somewhat deluding name. This oblique-3D-viewed multi-scrolling shooter puts you in control of a tactical warfare craft codenamed Orbix, and I'm guessing the terror which it supposedly causes is more on your enemies' side. Already on your first try, the game does feel rather singular - it's like the illegitimate son of Wizball, Ant Attack and... oh, I don't know, Commando or something. Having a random go at it doesn't really open the game up as is required to get full enjoyment of the game, though.


Reading the instruction leaflet reveals, that you actually have a mission to rescue survivors of a spacecraft that was forced down onto the planet Horca, inhabited by hostile insectivores, who broke up the spacecraft and led its crew to flee. You also need to find and reassemble the components of the spacecraft while saving the crew and clear a way for their escape. Before you can do all this, you need to pick up a Federation Property Detector, which is shown as a white dot on your radar. Once you get used to all the different displays, necessary "grinding" of energy balls from killed enemies to refill your energy and the slightly uncomfortable steering control mechanics, Orbix the Terrorball becomes a rather nice little blaster. A different game from the norm to be sure, and one which should be given more attention.


3. Teladon (1988, Destiny Software)

I wanted to include Teladon this time, because it's a possible Game That Wasn't on the C64. According to World of Spectrum, it was at least advertised, and might have even been released for the C64, but any trace of such a release hasn't been found as of yet. Apparently, even the Spectrum game wasn't too well received upon release, so who knows, maybe they backed out on the C64 version because of the reception.


What Teladon is, though, is not anything very remarkable. It's an action game in two pseudo-3D sections: canyon-flying shooter segments and isometric adventure segments, which are nothing we haven't really seen before. It's really the manner in which the canyon bits are handled, which require a little bit of attention, even though it's not particularly well handled. You shoot at any on-coming items apart from boulders by using a cross-hair, which you can control with both your chosen controls and the pre-set keyboard keys O and K. Rather obviously, having a friend to control the cross-hair is the optimal way to deal with this, since you only have two hands, and the joystick cannot handle it all in quite the required manner. Flying through the canyon isn't a walk in the park, either: even though you have nine lives to start with, you will have tight passages to fly through, heat-guided missiles and boulders to dodge, bad hit detection and way too much distance to get through them all. I cannot honestly recommend this game to anyone, but it's an interesting and slightly different (albeit a horribly failed) concept that seems to remain a Spectrum-exclusive.


4. That's The Spirit (1985, The Edge)

One of the most oddly titled games ever, and it had to come from one of the most controversial game publishing companies of the 80's. You probably know all about the said controversy regarding The Edge, but I cannot imagine any of you, who might not have ever played That's The Spirit, having seen a screenshot of it and thought to yourselves, "hmm, this looks like a neat little platformer". Nope. TTS is a side-scrolling adventure, with a command for nearly each key, for which you need an overlay to keep up with what you are able to do.


Like most adventure games, That's The Spirit is all about problem-solving, but here, we have a completely unique sort of a method. And that's just the way the game plays. The idea behind TTS is as odd as it sounds: the year is 1996 (obviously, an alternate past future), and all the world is now called New York, in a way to attempt for a world-wide peace. Everything went alright, until the government put up another prohibition to allow no spirits at all. This, however, seems to be more about ghosts than alcohol, so we're in for an adventure version of ghostbusting... sort of. You think there's no logic here? Well, it's an odd concept, and I cannot help but call TTS a properly unique game. I would recommend it, but the fact that it was originally published by The Edge makes it a tad harder to come by...


5. Action Reflex (1986, Mirrorsoft)

I thought I had already featured this game a long time ago in the UG series, but happily, I checked all the previous entries in the series - just in case - and found my memory being in error. Christian Urquhart, who had his hand in creation of some of Speccy's most memorable games, such as Cavelon, Daley Thompson's Decathlon, Gunrunner, Transversion and Xecutor, also made this little unique gem for Mirrorsoft, which has become one of my absolute favourite Spectrum games in the recent years.


You control a chequered ball, which can either be rolled left and right in an adjustable speed, or bounced around with some small ability to control it left and right. The game's gravity is not a particularly realistic one, so there's a lot to come to terms with here. In addition to the odd behaviour of the ball, you also need to be aware of all sorts of traps and enemies, all of which become gradually more difficult to deal with. As if that weren't enough, you also need to pick up utilities to help you get across water hazards, through locked doors and such. Of course, all of that is what really makes Action Reflex what it is, and probably what will divide your opinions on it. The only really negative thing I have to say about it is the lack of content - there are only three levels in the game. A construction kit or a 128k version with music and additional levels would have been welcome, but as it is, Action Reflex only serves as a demonstration of a neat idea. It's a proper unique game for the ZX Spectrum, and highly recommended.


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SURPRISE BONUS:


I don't think I have ever come this kind of an odd coincidence before, but both ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 were made their own specific games about the adventure and exploration-oriented annual vehicular competition that was the CAMEL TROPHY. Both games were made and released in 1986, but each game was made by a different team, published by a different company, and even their titles are slightly different. Although this coincidence makes neither game particularly unique, the occasion of having two games about the same matter by different people for different platforms is a unique occurrence. It also gives an unexpected segue to the next actual section.

ZX SPECTRUM - Camel Trophy 86 (1986, Aquarius Edizioni)

The SPECTRUM game was published on an Italian magazine covertape, and unsurprisingly, all the messages are written in Italian. For anyone uneducated in speaking Italian, this is rather unfortunate, since the game starts off with a long series of questions with selectable answers, apparently for qualification. Happily, this can be skipped, since the actual driving part of the game can be loaded separately.


Unfortunately, it's not much easier, because you still need a great deal of perseverance getting in terms with the controls. The easiest way is to choose the Kempston joystick control, if you have access to such. Even still, you need to find the controls for using your gears and clutches and all that. This game attempts to give some sort of a driving simulation experience, and even manages to do so to some very small degree. I can't say I would recommend it to anyone, at least not without good understanding of the Italian language.

COMMODORE 64 - Camel Trophy (1986, Tequila)

As for the C64 game, it was a commercial release from a company called Tequila, who never have seemed to release anything else. This game is a much more straight-forward arcade thing, featuring five minigames (events) in one load, and there is no need for any knowledge on anything about Camel Trophy or driving. All you need to know is how to use a joystick. Thankfully.


You start by dropping a box of supplies from a passing aeroplane, and you need to guide it to the spot on the ground at the starting site. Next, you drive through a winding jungle road in a top-down perspective, similar to all the classic like Motor Mania, Spy Hunter, Le Mans and such, until you reach the end of the road. Next, you need to fuel up your Land Rover by waggling the joystick like no tomorrow. If you can't fill her up completely within the allotted time, it's game over. Fourth level feels like an event from Aztec Challenge, as you need to cross a bridge and avoid falling branches in a side-viewed screen. The last level looks like a Moon Patrol clone, but only with the pits to get in your way. It's about 15 minutes of easy going arcade fun, if you know what you're doing, but can offer a fair challenge on your first few runs, if you don't know what you're doing. Definitely more immediate fun than the Spectrum game, but then again, it's a completely different experience. Both games can be called unique and exclusive, even with their similar premises.

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COMMODORE 64


1. Autotest (1990, Byte Back)

Never has a driving test simulator been this arcadey. Daisysoft's Autotest is really one of the oddest concepts considering the subject matter - after all, there are some actual driving test simulator games with some actual simulation featured. But this is an 8-bit game, and should not be taken too seriously by any means... although you could argue that with the people who made Camel Trophy 86 for the ZX Spectrum. Consider this the Codemasters equivalent of a driving test simulator, if Codemasters had been the company behind this one. It really is the same kind of a thing.


In any case, Autotest is a proper unique game. It combines overhead arcade driving with driving around a test area for driver's licence applicants, and adds a good bit of Super Sprint into the mix. See, you don't need to worry about the clutch, the gears, or even a particularly realistic steering. You don't even need to worry about stopping the car, since it cannot be stopped once it leaves the starting area. You just select your preferred car from four possible choices, and start driving around differently set-up test halls. Once you have completed a level, you are awarded with a certain amount of money, based on how well you did. Between each level, you can use that money to purchase and install different sorts of upgrades to your chosen car, fill the tank or even bribe the judges. All in all, it's a fun attempt at creating something different, and sure enough, it's unique - and at the very least, it's exclusive for the C64.


2. the Castles of Dr. Creep (1984, Broderbund)

For all you Dr. Creep fans: believe me, I have tried to write about the Castles of Dr. Creep before, to include it into the Unique Games series, so it has been on the list for a good while, but for some reason, I always managed to find something to postpone it, so here it finally is. For those of you who have managed to live without the Castles of Dr. Creep up to this point, it's one of the best collaborative two-player games ever to have been released for the C64 - and more to the point, exclusively for the C64.


If you're like me, and got your first experience in the Castles of Dr. Creep without instructions, you probably went through the tutorial once and wondered if the game has anything more than the tutorial, and didn't touch the blasted pirated thing again for a long time. That's what happened to me, until I had my fateful second attempt with a cracked version that included instructions. Now, the key to get to the proper game is pressing RUN/STOP in the demo to get to the menu. There are 13 different castles in the game, some of which actually require a second player to collaborate with. Since the game doesn't give you much of instructions, the manual is definitely required. The Castles of Dr. Creep is a puzzle-laddermaze game of the highest order featuring plenty of highly evolved gameplay elements for 1984, such as controllable ray guns, lightning machines, matter transmitters and various kinds of door mechanisms. It might not look like all that much in the screenshots, but it's a superb example of what a two-player game can be like at best on a C64. It's exclusive, and it's a bit unique too, so it's well worth taking a look.


3. Chomp! (1989, Cosmi)

Cosmi has always been a company to release unique sorts of games, even though not all of them have been particularly good. Even so, it's always a safe bet to include one of their games onto a Unique Games list, if nothing else comes to mind. However, this time I decided to include a Cosmi game, because I felt it necessary to finally get this one included, because it's such a brilliantly strange concept.


Roberto Bonifacio is probably better known for his Atari versions of Caverns of Khafka and Aztec Challenge, but he also did Richard Petty's Talladega, Delta Man, Shirley Muldowney's Top Fuel Challenge and Professor IQ for the C64. Chomp! is probably his tour de force, though, since it represents exactly the sort of madness that Cosmi games were best known for. You start off your game as a small pet fish in a bowl, whose mission in life is to grow big and escape out of the window and into the river. In order to get to your goal, you need to eat any sort of food you can swallow, then jump over the gap to the next aquarium, and continue eating any possible stuff - and so forth. Occasionally, the pet shop keeper's hand might come to attempt to pick you up, which means an instant life loss if you get caught. Also, you need to beware other fish bigger than you. A fish's life is full of dangers, so it's best to get out to the wild, and accept your destiny therein. A properly unique game.


4. Tour de France (1985, Activision)

Yes, I'm serious. A cycling game for the Unique Games series. And one based on Tour de France, of all things - aren't there enough of cycling games, particularly based on Tour de France, not to include this one here? Well, perhaps I need to point out that this particular Tour de France is the only true joystick-waggling cycling game for the 8-bits until "Tour 91" by Topo Soft. The difference here to that one is, that you actually need to navigate through the winding roads all around France - and I do mean, ALL AROUND France.


What's decidedly odd about this game is, that it's actually rather good. You waggle your joystick left and right to gain and maintain speed, and you turn left and right by pressing down the fire button before going left or right. That's it. It's an easy concept to pick up, but difficult enough to master to keep things interesting. Add to that the changing sceneries and the slightly randomized manner in which all the courses are built, and you've got yourself an unfathomably addicting game that never seems to end. To my knowledge, Tour de France was only released on tape, which is also really odd, considering the game's structure, and the fact that it allows practicing different segments. Last but not least, the game is presented entirely in the French language... and the people who did the game are Hungarian. How's that for unique?


5. Jinn Genie: Arabia Mania (1984, Micromega)

Here's a good one to end the C64 section with, particularly as Micromega were more known for their Spectrum titles: Deathchase, Full Throttle, Jasper! and A Day In The Life, some of which have already been featured in the Unique Games series. According to MobyGames' database, Hanan Samara programmed only two games in his game developing career: a flight simulator called Jumbo Jet Pilot for the 8-bit Atari (released by Thorn EMI in 1982) and this one, an exclusive multi-genre arcade game for the C64, which deserves much better exposure than it has ever had.


Multi-genre games are great in that they can offer almost anything you can imagine, thus creating a wide range of possibilities for making unique games already on that basis. With Jinn Genie, a couple of steps were taken further in creating a unique arcade gaming experience on a home computer. The game takes place in Arabia, and is heavily inspired by their mythologies, as you might have guessed on the title alone. It starts off as a side-scrolling shooter of sorts, in which you control both a guy flying a carpet and an odd ball of magic dust or some such thing, which you must use to defend yourself from on-coming evil creatures. You need to land the carpet to a landing platform in front of one of the palaces, to get to the second phase. The second phase is a ladder-based maze section split in three parts, the first of which makes you try out several doors to get into the palace, the second one makes you light a bunch of torches, and the third one makes you capture the evil Ifreet into a Magic Jar and save the wise man. True to the arcade tradition, there is no ending to this game, but it gets progressively more difficult. Highly recommended.


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ARCADE


1. Cloak & Dagger (1984, Atari)

Trying to find unique and exclusive arcade games that didn't find their way to some obscure console or computer at this point in the series has become somewhat of a chore, so most of these are from the time when arcades were the place to be, and the proper games to play, and many arcade game developers still had some imagination. Atari's Cloak & Dagger is one such game that deserves a mention, and not only because it's an interesting game and a half, but because it was originally developed as "Agent X", unrelated to the Mastertronic game, and renamed Cloak & Dagger to coincide with the movie of the same name (based on a Cornell Woolrich novel called "The Boy Who Cried Murder"), in which an Atari 5200 game by that very name appears, even though the A5200 game was actually never finished and released, which is another story entirely. Another interesting thing about the movie is, that it was originally released as a double-feature with another classic sci-fi fantasy movie called "The Last Starfighter".


So, the arcade game Cloak & Dagger, which is actually the one that is shown in the said movie, is an early game of arcade agent action. At first look, it reminded me heavily of Robotron: 2084, but there's a good reason - it was released as a conversion kit for the Robotron cabinets. You control a spy going after some generic evil mastermind, who has a secret underground base. Every room has a massive bomb in the middle, which act as a timer for the rooms. The idea is basically to get from one lift to another, kill all the bad guys and collect as much of bonus as possible on your way, just like in Robotron, but the premise is different, which makes a lot of difference as you make progress. Also, it's an interesting arcade-exclusive, so it deserves to be on the list.


2. Disco No.1 / Sweet Heart (1982, Data East)

Around the time proper disco music had started to turn into 80's synth pop, game developers were still trying to figure out how to incorporate music into games properly. In the arcades, this was already a common occurrence, but home computers were still struggling to get more than a few odd beeps out. I'm not sure, though, whether the in-game music in Disco No.1 is arrangements of some disco tunes or not. Perhaps Sweet Heart (its title for the DECO Cassette System) is a more fitting title for this game, but whichever you want to call it, it's an odd little variation/mixture of Qix, Pac-Man and... I don't know, maybe Leisure Suit Larry?


Disco No.1 takes place in a roller rink, which is occupied by a bunch of roller-dancing girls and a few bulky-looking bad guys, and you play as a 90-pound weakling kid, who has to skate around bad guys in order to win the admiration of girls. One of the bad guys is a cleaner, who tries to clean off your skatemarks as quickly as possible, and he can whoop your weak self with no problem. The odd thing about this game's Qix-related skatemark-mechanism is that it also erases itself after you have skated the same length as the previous trail in another direction. Sounds weird, and it is weird, but it is the only real defining characteristic of this game that makes it unique. The surrounding warp-around-exits and the bonus items are familiar enough from other games of the time, but they also form their own odd combination of elements that further make Disco No.1 worth checking out, and moreover, worth including it on this list.


3. Journey (1983, Bally Midway)

Oh yeah, I bet you didn't see this one coming. Or perhaps you did, seeing as it's one of the rare unusual arcade games that I hadn't mentioned yet in the series. I mean, there's only so many types of games you can possibly expect to play in an arcade hall. In any case, Journey is a multi-style arcade game that is... hold on to yer hats... based on the band JOURNEY. It even features the faces of all the members of the band on badly drawn human-like sprites, so you get to play as each member of Journey. Those of you better initiated in all things Journey will already know that they also had themselves featured in an Atari 2600 game called Journey Escape from 1982, and both games are exclusives for their respective platforms, but this is the more interesting one.


Bally Midway's version of a Journey game features one of those level selection screens, in which you can choose your preferred mission in any order. All the levels are somewhat modified versions of old arcade classics, in which you need to retrieve your special super-charged instrument and return it to your spaceship. In most levels, the gameplay leaves something to be desired, but the novelty of having all the band members' faces do funny stuff must have been amazing back in the day. And let's face it: this game is nothing more than a novelty. Still, I have to say, I can imagine any rock group in the early 80's having gone crazy about the possibility of seeing their faces doing silly things in an arcade game, and for the wild childish imagination of the time this game represents, it should be noticed.


4. Lucky & Wild (1993, Namco)

The only "modern" arcade game from this lot, if you really can call this modern, is a rail-shooter of sorts from Namco. Nothing unique about rail-shooters, so why this one? Well, the whole idea of Lucky & Wild is modeled after the concept of a buddy-cop duo thing, in the vein of Starsky & Hutch, Tango & Cash, Miami & Vice, etc. You know the drill. You both shoot at all sorts of things on the screen, but the trick is - the first player is also supposed to drive the car while at it. At least for what little you can actually drive the car within the allowed space.


Aside from that special feature, it's difficult to find anything particularly unique about this game, but I suppose that's enough to make it fit the list. As the Wikipedia article points out, it's really like a cross between Namco's earlier Final Lap and Steel Gunner games, but I would also like to point out a similarity to the Chase H.Q. series from Taito, in which your job was to catch a number of criminals by shooting at their vehicles. Perhaps all this is a combination also worth considering unique, and I certainly cannot think of another game combining this sort of a co-operative setup having happened again until the most recent Grand Theft Auto, and even that one did this in a different manner. Unfortunately, getting a proper Lucky & Wild experience requires finding an original cabinet, but if you can bother to tinker with MAME, it can become rather playable on your PC as well.


5. Quantum (1982, Atari)

Whenever I have tried out a game with a trackball as its controller, there has always been something that hasn't really felt right about it - and I'm not just talking about an emulated trackball, because using a mouse as a trackball replacement is often the more comfortable option. Atari's obscure 1982 game called Quantum is a rare exception in my book, and along with good gameplay, it throws a fun little curveball at you as well.


Anyway, the idea is similar to Disco No.1 and other similarly played games - you need to draw a connecting line around your enemies or collectables to capture them. The usage of a trackball is really the only real difference here, but it makes for such a nice change, and the gameplay is so well composed, that it feels like a completely different experience. I can't really say much more about the gameplay, because it's one of those "too simple, but brilliant" type games that need to be experienced to get their genius. The only properly unique thing that I can think of about Quantum is that you can write your name on the high scores list with the trackball. At least it's an arcade-exclusive, so you have some reason to dig it up.


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AMSTRAD CPC/GX4000


1. Robbbot (1986, ERE Informatique)

Again, we have plenty of French games featured in this section, for reasons you will probably already know from previous Unique Games or other knowledge. We start with an odd action/puzzler called Robbbot (with 3 b's in the name), in which you take control of three robots from a spaceship stranded on some random planet due to a shortage of fuel. Your mission is to gather the fuel from the depths of this planet, but the method of accomplishing this is singular. Happily, this game speaks English (or to be more precise, has messages written in English), so it's relatively easy to get into it, which cannot be said of all ERE Informatique's releases.


Basically, you fly around the odd planet of strangely scattered platforms and try to find platforms with fuel dispensers while shooting at irritatingly small enemies and occasionally looking at your radar map. Each robot serves a purpose: only Xor can collect the fuel, Rho is the communications center for all three robots (so you need to keep all the robots near enough to Rho at all times), and Sam is the only one that can fix the other robots - but it cannot fix itself. While the concept is interesting and unusual, particularly for its time, the planet to explore is ultimately boring and the robots are not particularly easy to control, so Robbbot can become easily rather frustrating. Still, it's an accessible, interesting and unique Amstrad-exclusive and worth a look.


2. Maracaïbo (1986, Loriciels)

Arguably one of the worst Amstrad titles ever was probably left as an Amstrad-exclusive title for a reason. But I also say "arguably" for a reason. Maracaïbo offers a somewhat confusing challenge of a simple mission: find a key and rescue a trapped "very special" agent. The thing is, the game is situated completely underwater. Even that wouldn't be too problematic, had the navigation system been made logical in any manner, but it isn't. In fact, it's the thing that entirely cripples the game from any possible enjoyment, because you have no real way of knowing where to go, where to get there from, and how to follow the given map system.


The graphics are rather pretty, and with the scarce sound effects, the game gives you the kind of claustrophobic feel that these kinds of games should. After a while, the oxygen meter starts to go down, which is how much time you have until the trapped agent's oxygen supply goes to zero. To get around this problem, you need to find oxygen bottles from inside containers you need to break with a knife you also need to pick up. But even such simple actions as these seem to appear to people in general, has been made... well, uniquely impossible, since the word needs to be included somewhere. It's a real pity, because Maracaïbo really would have had potential for being something amazing and special for the CPC. As it is, it only remains a curiosity not really worth much of anyone's time, but in case anyone picks up on this hint and manages to figure out how to actually play the game, please do throw a line in the comments section.


3. Burnin' Rubber (1990, Ocean)

Yeah, Burnin' Rubber for the GX4000 - probably the only game for the system I have ever featured in this series, and likely ever will, seeing as this is the last one I'm planning to do. The name rings a dozen bells, since it's the same title as the top-down racer from the early 80's, which has also been featured on the blog many years ago. The first time I saw screenshots of this game, I wasn't particularly impressed, as it looked only to be yet another Out Run clone. When I learned that this was the game that was bundled with ever GX4000 system didn't impress me all that much either, since bundled games rarely were impressive for the 8-bit computers. The first time I played this game, I still wasn't particularly impressed. But that was many years ago, and I have given the game a few more chances since then.

It still isn't a particularly impressive, or more importantly, unique game, but I have to admit, it is a very rare example of an 8-bit game that does all the things it does. First of all, you have to know/remember how bad Out Run was for the CPC, which apart from the loading screen was a complete letdown in all manners possible. Of course, the GX4000 had more oomph than your regular CPC 464, the lack of a keyboard and slow media drives and the NES-styled pad controller made the system more friendly for more generally console-oriented gamers. Most of GX4000's games were the usual stuff available on most other systems as well, but apart from Burnin' Rubber, only an Epyx collection of random events from their multi-event sports games was properly exclusive for the GX4000. So, this is the other, and more interesting exclusive.


What makes Burnin' Rubber so special, then, apart from the obvious? First of all, the perceived day/night-cycle, which I haven't seen in more than a handful of racing games at all, and even less in 8-bit racers. Secondly, for what is basically constructed as an arcade racer, it is singular to have the chance for a manual gearbox with five gears. Third, it has done the hilly countryside driving effect better than Gremlin's Lotus Turbo Challenge on the 8-bits. Finally, it actually feels more like a Le Mans game than any other Le Mans game before on the 8-bits (even Wec Le Mans), as it was meant to be, without mentioning it, probably due to licensing reasons. The circuit is long with 4 checkpoints, and you have four laps to get through and hopefully win the championship. It's white-knuckle ride all the way through, and you get no relief until it's over. Rarely has an 8-bit racing game managed to pull this through, and this one, rather singularly, is able to do just that, and in a surprisingly arcade-y fashion. If you have any reason to buy an Amstrad GX4000, it's probably this game, although the machine did get some other fine releases, too.


4. Birdie (1987, ERE Informatique)

One of the most indecipherable games on the CPC is Stéphane Picq's Birdie, which literally puts you in control of a bird. I haven't managed to find out, what the game is really about, though, because there are no English instructions available. However, already after a few minutes of testing the game's physics and controls, it becomes rather clear that some actual thought and work went into creating this, although you can already see from the title screen scroller text, that it took Stéphane two years to create the game. Perhaps that already will give you some incentive to try the game out.


What I have managed to gather, is that you flap your wings by pushing the fire button and adjust your altitude with up and down, and that you need to eat butterflies to gather energy. The meters in the info panel might prove helpful to know, which are from left to right: speed, altitude, time left until night, and energy. You need to maintain a certain speed to keep you in flight. Travelling through the gateways will move on to the next level, which I gather is one of the main goals in the game, but I have yet to find out what to find out in the end. Perhaps that's one of the charms of the game - where will you find yourself when you cross the next gate. Too bad it's not a very comfortable game to play. If there's nothing more to Birdie than approximating the endless travelling life of a bird, then perhaps you could call it a small success at making art in a video game form. But that's just speculation. Whatever the case, Birdie is a rather obscure and even a fairly unique game, which was only ever released on the Amstrad.


5. Money Molch (1985, Rainbow Arts)

The last game featured for the Amstrad machines in the Unique Games series was picked out of sheer desperation. Money Molch from the early days of Rainbow Arts was the first game that fit the bill of an Amstrad-exclusive (at least from what I could find on brief googling) that wasn't French, and for its advantage, it didn't look like anything I had played on the Amstrad so far. So, what is it about, and is it any good? More to the point, is it unique?


Well, if you didn't get your fill of underwater action with Maracaïbo, Money Molch dresses you up once again into a wet suit. The game gives you a fair set of instructions, but actually playing the game isn't as simple as it's made out to be. You control three things: a submarine that moves only left and right, a net you can move up and down, and a diver that needs to pick money bags up from underwater platforms and drop them into the net, while shooting at all sorts of underwater entities. The Money Molch monster, which is an octopus with a hat, is the one you need to beware the most, since he's the most actively hunting enemy. Important element in the game is, that after picking up a money bag, you cannot swim up, and another thing you need to remember is, that the diver appears on the side of the submarine which it is heading towards. Also, nearly everything kills you on contact, so it's really as much of a puzzle game as it is an action/arcade game. It either becomes an addiction or a game you will hate for the rest of your days, but either way, it can be called a suitable item for the Unique Games list.

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ACORN ELECTRON/BBC MICRO


1. Trainiac (1984, Personal Computer News)

Naturally, the Acorn machines needed to be included into this last hoorah of Unique Games, even though finding fitting games for them required including both Electron and BBC Micro. The first game on the Acorn list was the most difficult one to locate, requiring digging up a working copy of the disk-based Electron User Group magazine's issue #70.


The concept of Trainiac is simple enough - in fact, it's so simple, it could easily have been included on one of those "50 games" tapes by Cascade, but this one differs from most of those games by being actually rather solid and addictive. Your mission is to build bridges into gaps to let a train get from the beginning to the end of the course from Tombstone to Carson. Each screen is divided into four sections, on which the train flows from left to right, and the topmost section is always clear from any gaps. The trick here is, that you need to fill the gaps from top to bottom, because you can't move your cursor up from below an already built bridge. Building a piece of a bridge automatically moves your builder cursor to the right, so it's easy to get into the game. After a few levels, though, the game becomes fast enough, and gradually, the gaps will become trickier to get into and fill up. For a simple concept as this is, it's odd that I haven't seen it before in an arcade game or even on the said Cascade 50 tapes. For now, Trainiac shall be considered as unique and borderline-exclusive for the 8-bit Acorn computers, but if anyone knows of an earlier point of origin for this exact type of game, please throw a comment.


2. Balloon Buster (1984, Blue Ribbon)

Here's an interesting arcade/puzzler that looks suspiciously like Kickman on the C64, but trust me, it plays nothing like Kickman. Balloon Buster merely takes the theme and basic layout, and then turns the idea into a puzzle game of sequential ball-popping. As far as I've managed to find out, this was an Acorn-exclusive, and as it turns out, it can also be categorized as unique.


As in Kickman, you are a clown whose job it is to pop all the balloons on the screen, but this time, the method is to throw some sort of an object directly upwards at the balloons. The correct sequence is red-green-yellow-blue, and looped in that order when possible, so already in level 2, you're going to need to think of the correct sequence from start to finish, and get it all done within the allowed time. Since your clown moves one step at a time, and rather clumsily at that, it takes a lot of effort to get things done in time even when you know the correct sequences. But since the game's creator seems to have been acutely aware of this problem, the game allows the player to continue from the last level you Game Over'd on indefinitely. Highly addictive and recommended.


3. Uggie's Garden (2003, Superior PD)

Okay, admittedly, this looks to be nothing but yet another Repton clone, that the Acorn machines are already inundated with. Granted, it looks very much like it. There are a couple of very good reasons for including Uggie's Garden on the Unique Games list, however. First, it's a split-screen two-player ONLY sort of a Boulder Dash or Repton-clone, in which you can either co-operate or make each other's lives miserable, although some puzzles actually require the help of the second player. I cannot decide, whether it's more similar to Repton or Boulder Dash, but take a look and decide for yourself. Second, in addition to 20 pre-built levels, it has an in-game level editor, which allows you to entirely re-create the game map, if you so wish. Happily, it's also superbly easy to use.


Although all of the above sounds too good to be true, you might be shocked to learn it was never commercially released - probably due to the over-abundance of Repton clones already on the Acorn market - and only found its way to Acorn users in 2003, when it was released in the Electron User Group disk magazine issue #57. This gem amongst a horde of Repton clones is certainly worth trying out, and preferably with a friend. Sure, it's not very unique, but it offers a singular challenge, and it's an Acorn-exclusive, so it's worth mentioning.


4. Gisburne's Castle (1984, Martech)

Here's an interesting take on the Robin Hood legend, with the title referring to a character called Sir Guy of Gisbourne, who according to the original legend, was hired to kill Robin Hood, and in later depictions, became Robin Hood's romantic rival for Maid Marian's love. Unfortunately for anyone expecting some kind of a deviation from the norm, you still play as Robin Hood in this game, with a mission to infiltrate Gisburne's castle and do what you do best.

The singular thing about this particular Robin Hood-themed game is, that it makes an attempt at being a Zelda-like game... before the first Legend of Zelda was made. You walk around a large map of Sherwood Forest, killing enemies with your bow and arrows, picking up helpful objects and try to find your way into the castle, which is surrounded by a moat. The action isn't particularly well executed, as the collision detection around each character is way off, and your arrows fly in awkward angles, but it's still a fair attempt at creating something bigger than Ultimate's Atic Atac and Sabre Wulf with a large inventory, projectile weapons and whatnot.


Since you're currently unlikely to find any useful help from the internet (such as a map), your best bet at getting anywhere is to draw a map yourself, like they used to do in the olden days. In the likely case that you don't have the game as an original, there are more keyboard commands in the game than the redefine option lets you know: 'P' picks up items, 'U' uses them and 'D' drops them. There might be more commands that I don't know about, but that should give you a fair chance of getting anywhere.

Gisburne's Castle is definitely an interesting relic from the often overlooked catalogue of Martech, and being an Acorn-exclusive, is no wonder that it has went with little attention this far. For all its faults, perhaps it should be laid to rest, or remade into a proper game.


5. Rig Attack (1984, Tynesoft)

The last one in this section is an Electron-exclusive called Rig Attack, which is one of Tynesoft's more light-hearted efforts. You control an helicopter that can drop bombs (straight down), which are meant to hit submarines, which shoot similar-looking projectiles at you (straight up). Again, I can't say it's a particularly unique game, but it does offer an interesting change in pace.


First, like in Fort Apocalypse, you need to fuel up your helicopter in order to even be able to search the submarines. Secondly, the submarines appear one at a time - you need to destroy one before the next one comes along. Third, the game takes place within a warp-around area of rigs, which not only act as fueling stations for your helicopter, but also as obstacles between you and the enemy. Each level adds to the number of submarines to be destroyed, and that's about it. For all the lack of uniqueness this combination of elements attempts to make the best of, it is an Electron-exclusive, and an enjoyable few minutes of your time, while you might think of how to improve the concept. Oh well, moving on.

UPDATE!, 24th of March, 2018: As it happens, Rig Attack was apparently also released on the Amstrad CPC and Commodore 16 computers, which was pointed out by an anonymous comment. Perhaps the corresponding game databases should be updated accordingly as well?

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COMMODORE AMIGA


1. Hillsea Lido (1995, Vulcan Software)

Most of Amiga's unique and exclusive games that have been left over from the previous entries in the series are mostly just exclusive, but I have tried to gather as much of uniqueness to this list as possible. Starting with Vulcan's Hillsea Lido (named after the actual real-life fresh water pool Hilsea Lido in Portsmouth), we get straight to an odd choice for a management-type strategy game. At least, I for one, have never heard of another managing game with a seaside amusement park being the chosen setting.


While on the face of it, Hillsea Lido has a lot of similarities with Bullfrog's much better known Theme Park, it does have its own particular thing going for it. You play it on a daily-based structure, and each day has different tasks and opportunities, which is the only major different from Theme Park. The unusual setting makes for an interesting change in style, and the gameplay is basic enough to keep a non-strategy enthusiast entertained for a good while. It's different enough, and it's an Amiga-exclusive, so it's as good an item to start with as any.


2. Globdule (1993, Psygnosis)

One of the less utilised ideas in platformers is a controlling a blob, and giving it any particular odd ability. Globdule certainly goes its own way in this regard. And for being the only game developed by a team called Ex Animo Designs (basically Ian Shaw, Stephen Kett, Lloyd Baker and Mike Clarke, most of which should be fairly familiar names from various hit games), who made the game exclusively for the Amiga, it certainly has a place on this list.


As for Globdule's uniqueness, I can only say that it has everything to do with how to control your blob. You can move the blob on any surface of practically any solid platform - this means that you can seamlessly start walking upside down from going over the ledge of a platform, is the platform offers that possibility. Jumping around in the game offers its own fair challenge, as your primary jump motion is directly into the direction you are ramped towards. But additionally, you can also steer the blob during a jump, so jumping and steering when facing up or down might mess with your head a bit. Other than the unique challenge of controlling the blob, there is no other singular thing that I can think of. It's the usual case of collecting a certain number of things from a level and going to the exit, while avoiding hazards of various sorts. But it's quite enough to put Globdule on the Unique Games list. Highly entertaining, highly recommended.


3. Impossible Mission 2025 (1994, MicroProse)

Anyone who has ever played on a Commodore 64 will likely be aware of one of its earliest smash hit games from Epyx called Impossible Mission, which shook the gaming world with its unforgettable speech samples, annoying robots, fantastic graphics and odd puzzles. They might also be aware of the much more complex, if slightly less unforgettable sequel. But from at least my personal Commodorist friends, not that many have ever even heard of a third game in the series, which was only ever released on the Commodore Amiga. In fact, almost none. But I can guarantee that Impossible Mission 2025's status is well deserved as the least memorable part of the series.

First of all, the oddly sedatedly futuristic IM2025 was developed and released by MicroProse under licence from Epyx. The game was also originally developed for the Super Nintendo and Sega Megadrive, but both original versions were cancelled due to MicroProse's financial problems before they were bought by Spectrum Holobyte. Third of all, IM2025 is thought to be an enhanced update of the original Impossible Mission, which oddly enough includes an approximation of the original C64 game as a bonus feature (classic mode), just to show how different they are, as if to say it actually isn't an upgrade at all, but a completely new game. Did anyone really have a proper idea of what this game actually tried to be?


Well, it feels very different, even though you still can feel the source material shining through. You get multiple difficulty levels to choose from, to boot, and you get 3 different agents to play as. Also, you get a huge multi-scrolling area to roam and investigate. Is it any better than the original, though? Fans of the original will not be likely to admit that, but it's an interesting alternative, to be sure. Since it was eventually released for the Amiga, and by a coincidence, it became an exclusive for the machine, it might as well be included on this list. It's probably one of the earliest self-proclaimed remakes of an old 8-bit game instead of a sequel, and added to that, it's an extremely rare example of a 16-bit game featuring the original game the new one is basing it on as a bonus feature. Worth having a look, and it's definitely an exclusive, if not entirely unique enough.


4. Pinkie (1994, Millennium)

For all the high-quality platformers and other games that Millennium managed to whip out during the early half of the 90's, they had their fair share of bombs too. If the company name doesn't say anything to you, maybe game titles like James Pond, the Adventures of Robin Hood or Cloud Kingdoms do. Anyway, Pinkie is an obscure platform-puzzler that takes elements from Super Mario World, the Dizzy and Sonic series and then some, which unfortunately tries to be more than it has any right to be, or than it possibly is even able to. To give Pinkie all its possible spotlight on the market, Millennium went so far as to arrange the novelty single Mr. Blobby to the Christmas #1 spot in the UK charts in 1993 to produce Pinkie's soundtrack and an interpretation of the game music for release as a music single. Also, they struck a deal with the developing team Data Designs for a sequel before the first game had even been properly started. What a bunch of maniacs.


The idea is to rescue three eggs from each level by carrying them to the designated spot, although you can proceed to the next level with having rescued only one. This is a good thing, because the game is incredibly difficult due to the fact that you have no way of defending yourself, and all the levels are difficult to navigate. Also, because of the number of different worlds and different sorts of enemies, it takes a lot of time to get to know each area, each level and each enemy's behaviour. Apart from the unique Monocycle that you can hop on and off, and use it in multiple ways, which is rather fun, moving around in the game is rather slow and uncomfortable, as there's a surprise around almost every corner, and it's difficult to avoid anything. You will be losing plenty of lives, but the points you gather can be used as money in the shops at the beginning of each world map to buy extra lives and upgrades. This means that the game has a high probability of getting tedious, but at least it offers a password system that you can use to continue playing after you get tired of grinding. I don't think I have ever seen such a useful use of the password feature, because the game is hard, energy-consuming and still addicting. I can't honestly say it's a good game, but it offers a unique way of playing a platformer.


5. Zarathrusta (1991, Hewson)

Unlike the Atari ST gamers, Amigists never had their official port of the cave-flying classic, Thrust. Instead, there were a few clones to choose from. One of Hewson Consultants' last releases as Hewson (before turning into 21st Century Entertainment) was this comparatively little-known Thrust sequel/remake/clone, exclusive for the Amiga, and it's the closest the Amiga ever got to having an official Thrust game. I admit, it's a cheap shot, but I'm running out of interesting, unique and/or exclusive Amiga games to talk about. One thing Zarathrusta does have that might be an important factor for a person who wants to introduce this particular genre to a new generation: the graphics are closer to being modern compared to the other two Thrust games, and the sounds are fool-proof Amiga stuff.

The gameplay is, thankfully, much as you would expect from a Thrust-like game, except the gravity has a slightly different feel than the original. As the game progresses, though, you get to see some actual new features in the game that eventually set it apart from its source material. To mention but a few, you will come across reverse gravity, all sorts of new obstacles and two new different kinds of Klystron pods you need to collect. In addition to that, those of you who never really felt comfortable with the keyboard-only controls in the original Thrust, will be relieved to know you can play Zarathrusta with a joystick if you choose to, although I have to say, the keyboard controls are what really made Thrust the game it is. Zarathrusta is probably the best Thrust-like game for the Amiga, and since it's an exclusive, it's a great (and a rare) addition to any collection.


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IBM-PC COMPATIBLES (DOS/WIN)


1. Unnatural Selection (1993, Maxis)

As we get into our final section of the very-likely-to-be final Unique Games entry ever, it's clear that we're digging the bottom muds of the ocean here. Maxis got known for the series of management simulation games started by SimCity, but they did a few occasional oddities between. Unnatural Selection represents Maxis at their most creative and quirky.


The game has two phases: strategic section, in which you breed and mutate animals, and the battle section, in which your animals fight against other such beings made by other rogue scientists. There are various types of origin animals you can work on, various ways you can manipulate the breeding process of the animals, and many different battlegrounds you can put your mutations to battle on and follow the process. By no means I can call it a simple game, and in the true manner of old strategy-simulations, you can't really do anything without consulting the manual, which is thankfully as easy to find from the internet as the game itself. The effort does pay off eventually, though, and the game can hook you rather violently, if you do trouble yourself with taking the time. If you're into this sort of a thing, Unnatural Selection will be well worth knowing, but for modern gamers, the relative lack of in-game instructions can really turn you off. In its own genre, it's also a truly unique experience, and it's a DOS-exclusive game, so it's a good place to start.


2. Freakin' Funky Fuzzballs (1990, Sir-Tech Software)

Another oddity is this arcade-puzzler from a company known for doing primarily top-level role-playing games (including the Wizardry-series), and from what I've gathered, it was also rather a successful departure from form as well. If that means commercial success, I have nothing but other articles on the internet to read and perhaps trust, since finding this game while doing research for this Unique Games entry was the first I ever heard of it.


The problem with FFF is, that it's difficult to locate a fully working version of it on the net. At best, I could get to level 5 before the game kicks you out back to DOS prompt, complaining something about failing an Eye-Exam, which is likely a copy-protection system. In any case, you get the basic idea within those first few levels, no matter which version you happen to find, but if you're lucky enough to locate a fully working version, congratulations. The gameplay is about jumping over as many tiles as necessary to locate keys to get through the also hidden doorway to the next level, while avoiding contact with the single enemy the game has. If you conveniently have a friend to play with, your friend can play as the said enemy to attempt to end your journey. You have an energy meter, which goes down every time you get hit by your enemy, but collecting food items will make it go up. You can also find magic wands to help you defend yourself better. All the tiles can only be jumped over twice before they disappear, and leave a hole you can fall into. Nothing you haven't seen before, really, but the two-player possibility makes for an interesting change in the gameplay style, and all the special items added to the mix make it a slightly more special game. At least it's a DOS-exclusive.


3. Shawl (1986, Alexey Pajitnov/AcademySoft)

Everybody knows Tetris, and most people who like Tetris know, who originally made it. Alexey Pajitnov hasn't been sitting on his belated fame and fortune idle, and his first game after designing and programming Tetris was this sorely unnoticed DOS-exclusive game, which is a mixture of arcade, strategy and platforming. Already based on the mixture of genres, we can tell that this is another very special game indeed, and as it's a DOS-exclusive, it's a no-brainer to include it on the list.


The title of the game doesn't really tell you much. Based on the screenshots, you would probably think it's somewhat of a Qix-clone, which it exactly isn't. You control the bundle of sticks (what I guess is the Shawl) that move around diagonally within the rectangle-shaped game arena. The goal is to collect only unique suits to compose a four-suit set. Collecting a suit that you already have in your collected set will eliminate all the other suits collected so far, and too many such missteps will lead to Game Over. Unfortunately, that's all that's at all clear about this game - there are also some sorts of rules about the colourings of the suit-bubbles affecting your own colour, and how to deal with them to your advantage, but I haven't figured them out yet. Even so, Shawl definitely feels unique, and well worth exploring, even though you're going to need to run DOSbox at a certain speed, or better yet, play the game on a proper old DOS-PC from 1986.


4. Adventures of Beetlejuice: Skeletons in the Closet (1990, Hi-Tech Expressions)

First of all, Hi-Tech Expressions is a game publishing company that often gets mixed up with another called Hi-Tec Software, a problem which isn't helped by the fact that both companies published a lot of juvenile-oriented action/arcade-type games, and that they existed around the same time. Perhaps it's easier to remember, that Hi-Tec focused on the 8-bit home computer scene (C64, Spectrum, Amstrad etc.), while Hi-Tech focused on consoles and IBM-PC compatibles, and also that Hi-Tec was the one that mostly did games about Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Sorry for the slightly off-topic introduction, but it had to be done as a reminder to myself and I suppose some others suffering from the same mixing-up problem.

Anyway, what we have here is a rare example of a game featuring the titular character from Tim Burton's movie Beetlejuice from 1988. The other two games were made for the NES and Game Boy, both of which are unsurprisingly platformers, although the Game Boy version is more puzzle-oriented. In defence of the NES game, it's the only one of the three which is based more directly on the movie.


Skeletons in the Closet takes place in what I can only suppose is Tim Burton's version of Saturn from the movie, and different areas of it. The action is viewed from a skewed top-down/isometric angle, and the levels have the appearance of a chessboard mixed with terrain altitude changes similar to those in David Braben's Conqueror and Virus. Already we're going weird, and we haven't even gotten into the actual gameplay. You move around in the given area, shooting skeletons, eating critters and avoiding the Worm. Lydia is there to vacuum the remnants of the skeletons you kill, and a level is completed when all the skeletons from the screen are gone. The dead skeletons drop different weapons you can use, which is where the game really takes off. Regardless of its quirkiness, it's a simple and potentially addicting game with lots of odd features, and it's a DOS-exclusive. Recommendable, but only due to its unique status of being a non-platforming Beetlejuice game.


5. Coaster (1989, Disney)

My old friend and occasional blog-collaborator SJ introduced me to this game sometime between the releases of Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon, and to me, Coaster was exactly the sort of thing missing from both those games: a rollercoaster editor included with first-person ride. Oddly enough, this magical game was made by Disney of all companies.


Although Coaster has an actual strategic plot to it, the meat of it is just to be able to do your own rollercoasters and ride them in first-person view. The actual plot of the game is to design a rollercoaster, which will be rated by six amusement park goers, so you need to focus on getting a good average for each preference. Overall, it's a nice and unique alternative to all those other amusement park tycoon games that don't really give you a chance to focus on your preferred things as much as you would ever want to. For me, at least, Coaster is still the number one choice whenever I feel the need to design a rollercoaster. And of course, it's only available on DOS-PC's. On another note, I could have just as easily chosen Disney's other classic DOS-exclusive, Stunt Island, which is a flight stunt designer with a recording feature, but Coaster was my favourite of the two. Both highly recommended, though.

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Not quite as balanced as the earlier entries, perhaps, but should be enough to leave some resemblance of a good taste as this series ends for good here. As I have said before, there are still numerous unique and/or exclusive games worth finding out on some of these machines, but for me, the research is just not worth the time taken anymore, when there's so much other things to do. But I do hope this reprise entry was enjoyable enough, so thanks again to all the kind comments which prompted me to do this. See you next time with another regular entry, but until then:

Merry belated Christmas and best wishes for the year 2018!

3 comments:

  1. The Rig Attack is not a unique game.
    http://plus4world.powweb.com/software/Rig_Attack
    http://www.stairwaytohell.com/games/t/Tynesoft-RigAttack.html
    http://cpc-power.com/index.php?page=detail&num=1803

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    Replies
    1. Okay, thanks for the info. Definitely not exclusive, either. It's difficult enough finding out about these sorts of things through websites that actually have links to other versions, so when there are three versions of a game like Rig Attack, when only one of the corresponding databases actually says as much (and obviously, not the one I found the game on), it's impossible to make guesses regarding any possible conversions. Oh well, I'll just update the info regarding that game, but I don't have the time or the energy to find a replacement anymore.

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  2. Huh, cool, I wonder if Robbbot was an inspiration for The Lost Vikings

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