Thursday, 4 September 2014

Unique Games! - Part 5

It's time for another set of exclusive, if not exactly unique games, although there are bound to be a few of those in the mix as well. At least, let's hope there are. Due to my still rather busy schedule, I had to cut it short this time and include only 6 machines to pick the games for, but that should be enough anyway, lest we run out of games in the near future... right. Note that the title says "Part 5" - this is because I sort of expected the Afterlife Games to be a one-off special episode that didn't belong to the same series as such, but who knows. Anyway, this time, we have mostly some familiar machines to go through again, but a first-timer is also in the game now: the Tangerine Oric computers, which we will start with.



1. Trouble In Store (1984, Orpheus Ltd.)

Let's start with a weird Manic Minery sort of a platformer by Geoff Phillips. Trouble In Store is certainly a mixed bag of good and bad elements, but has a unique charm to it, as well as a sorely underutilised feature in classic platforming games: you can hang onto ledges and walls in this one. Without knowing this feature, you won't be getting too far in the game, as many of the platforms are impossible to reach otherwise.

ORIC-1: Trouble In Store

Once you get comfortable with the controls, it's a fairly enjoyable game, but is still a bit spoiled by bad collision detection and the strange way you can/can't interact with the moving objects. At least you get digitized speech for all your other trouble, along with a cheerful theme tune and some fairly good graphics. As I understand, this is supposedly one of the classics in the Oric games library, and as it is an exclusive one for the machine, Oric owners probably should have one in their collection.

2. Island Of Death (1983, Ocean Software)

Here we have such a rarity in Ocean's catalogue, that even MobyGames doesn't list it (yet). Island of Death was created by a man called David Howse, of which I have no other knowledge than that of a possible connection to the MSX conversion of M.C. Lothlorien's Panzer Attack. The game does have some properly unique aspects to it, however.

ORIC-1: Island Of Death

It plays largely as a simple text adventure, but obscurely, it contains quite a lot of arcade-like minigames within its less than 48k of code. Sure, it doesn't look like much, but the combination of elements is definitely unusual if not singular. Well worth a look, and a good addition to any retro gamer's collection.

3. Playground 21 (1985, IJK Software)

What I believe is to be the first Swedish game ever to be featured on the blog, Playground 21 by Mattias Gyllerup is a fairly basic platformer, following the footsteps of such games as Miner 2049'er. Your mission is to cover every bit of floor in every level, and due to the specific nature of your character's jump and enemy behaviour, it proves to be not such an easy job after all.

ORIC-1: Playground 21
Bluntly put, it's not a very good game at all, and the annoying sounds and shoddy graphics do not add any value to it. I remember having read some reviews of it being brutally difficult, which made me dig it up in the first place, but whether or not it is so, is entirely up to each gamer to judge. It just happens to be exclusive to the Oric computers, by an early Swedish programmer, and released by a relatively unknown publisher, previously known to the blog readers from having released Krazy Kar (a Bump'n Jump clone) on the Commodore 64.

4. Doggy (1984, Loriciels)

The final entry for Oric-1 for this set is a charming little avoid'em-up, in which you control a dog. For the most part, there is not much in this game that specifically recommends itself against all other autoscrolling avoid'em-ups, but as you make progress in the game, it does become more interesting in rather unexpected ways.

ORIC-1: Doggy

Doggy was among the first games to be released by Loriciels, and one of only two games by the company to have an Oric-exclusive release. As if that weren't enough, Doggy happens to be the first published game from the same programmer, who later wrote Infernal Runner, Another World and Heart of Darkness. So, there's definitely an aspect of gaming history going on for this game, and as such, is definitely worth taking a look at.



1. Operation Secret Storm (1992, Color Dreams)

For everyone more familiar with the NES games library, this will come as no news, but Color Dreams were also known as Wisdom Tree, who released a lot of Bible-based games. This by itself would warrant an entire article, but happily, I won't have to do one, because the Angry Video Game Nerd has covered this topic pretty extensively in the past.

This game, however, while has a very similar feel in gameplay to the Bible games, has an entirely different story behind it. Your job as a CIA agent is to save the oil refineries in the Gulf and halt the production of chemical weapons. To add to the already heavily political tone of the game, your agent's name is George B. (which seems to be a caricature of George H.W. Bush, the U.S. president at the time), and naturally, Saddam Hussein is the evil mastermind.

NES: Operation Secret Storm
During the game's development, Operation Secret Storm was a hot topic on the news and the developers rushed the game to release it before the conflict could end... not that it ever really ended. This, I believe, is part of the reason to the game's numerous (often ridiculous) similarities to all the
Bible games. So, as a straight-forward platforming brawler, it has nothing new to offer apart from the appearance of the two main characters. But it's fun enough for a few laughs, and only available on the NES - thankfully.

2. Bird Week (1986, Toshiba EMI)

Life simulation games are really as old as they get, having started with Conway's Game of Life in 1970. In 1986, the Famicom was given its first proper biological simulation game in the form of Lenar's Bird Week, although the simulation bit is well hidden under the core of an action game.

Nintendo Famicom: Bird Week

Your sole mission as the bird mother is to feed your offspring with butterflies, but catching them and bringing them safely to the hungry little ones can be dangerous with all the other beasts roaming around. Once the kids have literally flown out to grow up and become your extra lives, it's time for the next season, be it autumn or spring or whichever.

The game is little more than a good novelty act, and will not likely keep you interested for too long, but it is a unique early life "simulation" on the Famicom. Mind you, it doesn't differ all that much from Percy the Potty Pigeon, but Bird Week does have its own thing going for it, and I do recommend you take a look. (The only emulator I could find to make it work was FCEUX, by the way.)

3. Pinball Quest (1989, Jaleco)

Most of us think of Digital Illusions' Pinball series as the epitome of digital pinball gaming, and it may well be that - particularly Pinball Fantasies. But pinball computer/video games had been  developing in many inventive ways until that point came along, Jaleco's Pinball Quest from 1989 being one of the really inventive ones.

NES: Pinball Quest
Not only is Pinball Quest one of the first (if not THE first) pinball game to feature multiple tables to play on, but there is also a rarely featured RPG mode - or more precisely an adventure mode. You can't really mix RPG properly with pinball, but it is called an RPG mode because it was the hip thing to do back then. There are even cutscenes involved in the adventure, so it could almost be called profoundly immersive for a pinball game. So, for any pinball fanatic, this is a nice little curiosity in the sea of all the hundreds of other pinball games, but it can only be found on the 8-bit Nintendo.

4. Snake's Revenge (1990, Ultra Games/Konami)

Okay, this might be one of the less interesting entries for the Nintendo lot, because it's such a well-known game, if not exactly notorious. Snake's Revenge was one of my favourite Nintendo games back in the day when I was growing up, and held more personal significance as a console gamer than the original Metal Gear - or even the NES version of Metal Gear. I know I am in the minority here, but so it was.

What some of us learned to refer to as the sequel to Metal Gear, it turned out that it was anything but. Hideo Kojima, the designer of the original MSX game, has been known to have been unhappy with the NES conversion of Metal Gear, and having completely disowned Snake's Revenge. Well, perhaps it can be called as much of an unofficial sequel or spin-off to Metal Gear as Top Secret: Hitler no Fukkatsu is to Senjo no Okami.

NES: Snake's Revenge

The basic gameplay feels similar enough to Metal Gear, but some of the game mechanics are less sophisticated and the game feels more linear than Metal Gear. Perhaps because of this, it suits younger or less experienced stealth gamers better. I'm not sure if I should recommend Snake's Revenge, but it is an option to Metal Gear, and at least it offers an interesting, if slightly controversial piece of gaming history to the NES library.



1. Virocop (1995, Renegade) - ECS/OCS/AGA

Here is one game that you don't often hear talked of, particularly in context of its predecessors. However, Graftgold's Virocop is regarded as the third game in the Quazatron series, the second after Magnetron. Somehow, it still doesn't belong to the same series as Paradroid, even though it is clearly the point of origin.

Commodore Amiga: Virocop

Released quite late in the commercial life of the Commodore Amiga, Virocop was to be a swansong of sorts, being the final attempt at bringing life to an old fire started during their Hewson period. Things became quite desperate soon enough, and in 1998, Graftgold was put to rest. Anyhow, as a spiritual successor to the Quazatron series, it could have been a lot worse, but is happily a very cheerful and playable game with a very personal quirkness to it.

2. Ambermoon (1993, Thalion) - ECS/OCS

I have to confess to never really having any sort of experience with Thalion's games, so playing this for the first time now felt like some new world opening for me, only it felt strangely familiar and comfortable, apart from having 10 disks to switch around. Not to worry, though - an HD installer is provided on the disk for those who have a hard drive on their Amigas they can install it to. And I do seriously recommend to have one for this game, because otherwise, you will be changing disks every other nanosecond.

Commodore Amiga: Ambermoon

Ambermoon is a sequel to Thalion's previous RPG's, Dragonflight and Amberstar, but unlike the previous two games, this one was only released on the Amiga. It combines fairly effortlessly elements from Japanese (Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy etc.) and European RPG's (Ultima, Eye of the Beholder etc.) and adds something to the mix, I'm not sure what. Perhaps Warcraft? The lead development was started on the Atari ST, but then it was moved to the Amiga, and the ST version never got finished -  neither did the PC version. So, there you go, another brilliant Amiga exclusive to check out, but having patience is a requirement.

Commodore Amiga: Ebonstar
3. Ebonstar (1988, MicroIllusions) - OCS

This little often overlooked early Amiga gem by The Dreamers Guild has long been one of my favourite 2D arena shooters. In Ebonstar, your mission is to control a fleet of spacecraft around an ever-moving black hole, shooting your opponents and knocking them into the black hole to destroy them. However, the black hole also brings more opponents into the arena as well.

As many as four players can play this game simultaneously, which was quite a rare feature at the time, but it can also be played in a single player mode. Still, it is exactly the sort of game you would have to play with a bunch of friends for maximum enjoyment. It just goes to prove that the best games are not necessarily all that difficult in concept. A highly recommended Amiga exclusive.

4. Enemy: Tempest of Violence (1997, Anachronia) - OCS

While the rest of the world might have already been waiting for the first Gran Turismo or the first PS1 incarnation of Castlevania, a small group of coders were still releasing commercial Amiga games. This German title sadly came far too late to make any sort of impact, and I'm afraid it's not too unique either, being something of a half-hearted clone of Another World and Flashback, but without any of the great gimmicks. What this game does have is its very own sort of atmosphere, which gets better the more you play it.

Commodore Amiga: Enemy - Tempest of Violence

So, what we're dealing with here is a flip-screen platform/shooter/adventure in a possibly distant future, in a sci-fi setting, which will remind you a lot of the Alien movies, and Project: Firestart from the C64. Only, I can't say Enemy: Tempest of Violence really adds anything to anything, other than a fine soundtrack and a slightly obscure control method. I don't know if I should recommend it, but for a machine already quite dead at that point, it's an interesting artefact.



1. Fat Worm Blows A Sparky (1986, Durell)

I remember having seen a TV programme some time ago in which the ZX Spectrum was featured as an 80's phenomenon of sorts, and one of the commentors mentioned this game, Fat Worm Blows A Sparky, particularly for its title, and that no other computer could have had a game released bearing that sort of a name. Of course, every 8-bit computer had its fair share of strangely titled games, but I would agree that the Spectrum had a larger percentage of strangely titled games. Those were the days.

ZX Spectrum: Fat Worm Blows A Sparky

As if the title wasn't enough, the game itself is a really strange item. At first, it looks to be a 360-degree worm game, such as Pizza Worm and all those that were so hip here in Finland in the late 90's, but this is from 1986. I don't know another earlier example of this type of worm-gaming. But that's only the beginning. The game also happens to be a scrolling 3D overhead shooter of sorts, taking place inside a Sinclair Spectrum computer. Your mission is to find 50 "spindles" (the triangular rolling things) to eat, which will replenish your supply of "sparkies" (your ammunition, basically), and then find a disk drive on which to clone yourself. Sounds strange? It is, and I didn't even mention the bugs, de-buggers and "sputniks" yet. Only on the Spectrum, people.

2. Nightmare Rally (1986, Ocean)

Nightmare Rally was for a long time one of those games I had only read about and seen some screenshots, thinking, "man, that would be a fun one to try out". So eventually with emulation, at some point I found the game and after trying it out, was experiencing serious conflicts of opinion.

When the game has loaded, it states proudly "the definitive driving game". As far as the ZX Spectrum goes, this might have well been true in September 1986, when the game seems to have been released, but remember that OutRun was released the same month to the arcades, and I'd say that one would have earned the title for that month. But Nightmare Rally does have some things that OutRun doesn't.

ZX Spectrum: Nightmare Rally

The game is played from behind your car, much like OutRun, but you also have some meters and indicators in the lower part of the screen. Your mission is to drive a certain amount of miles within a time period in each stage, collecting also a certain amount of points before you are qualified for the next stage. The points are collected by going through gates and generally making progress. Unlike in OutRun, you have three whole lives to spare, and you can also take quite a bit of damage before you lose a life. Also, the stages seem to be drastically different, at least in comparison to OutRun, but whether or not that is a good thing shall be left for each gamer to decide. There is no traffic here, at least not up to the point where I got, but there is a lot more obstacles to drain your energy. Both games have the choice of a manual and an automatic gearbox, although this one also has a reverse gear.

All in all, the two games are quite different, suited for different sorts of gamers. A racing game fan shouldn't miss this piece of history, but as you might have expected, it is only available for the Spectrum.

3. All Or Nothing (1984, Abbex)

One of the rare games to be compatible with the Currah MicroSpeech unit (WoS lists 75 titles in total, which isn't a whole lot in a library of over 10,000 games), All Or Nothing by Paul Reynolds is also one of the true hidden gems in the Spectrum games library. The game's introduction goes like this: "You are an enemy spy whose mission is to obtain the plans of a secret matter transporter, held somewhere on your competitor's industrial site. As you approach the landing patch, by parachute, your watch loosens and plummets to the ground... you haven't a second to spare."

ZX Spectrum: All or Nothing

Basically, the game feels like a predecessor to Chris Gray's Infiltrator (only without the flying section). You can find and use bombs, gas, money for bribing guards - all that sort of things you would need in an infiltration mission. You can even find a gun to shoot the guards with, and get inside buildings to open safes and find all you need, but to fans of Infiltrator, it might feel a bit too unsophisticated. My only real problem is with the control system, which can be a bit uncomfortable occasionally - even with redefined keys - but all in all I think it is a damn good alternative, and definitely worth a try.

4. Alchemist (1983, Imagine)

There are several reasons to include this one on the list, but for a retrogames collector, one of the most interesting aspects of this game has to be the amount of different covers this game was released in - the gold-coloured cassette case (the cassette itself was also gold-coloured) being the most coveted one of them, particularly as it was the first computer game ever to be released in such a showy manner.

Alchemist was also the first ever arcade-adventure game from Imagine Software, and most likely the first game where you could shapeshift into something else - in this case a golden eagle. Of course, this theme would be later exploited in a much more extensive manner in Micro Power's Imogen, for example.

ZX Spectrum: Alchemist

Sure, by even 1984's standards, the game looks and feels outdated, but it certainly serves a purpose in gaming history. However, the big reason why I decided to include this game on the list was because the main developer behind the game, Ian Weatherburn, is one of the tragic stories in gaming history, and I didn't know it until now, even though he took part in converting Leaderboard for the ZX Spectrum. Ian's second published game for the ZX Spectrum was to remain his best known original game from a relatively small catalogue of games, after he committed suicide in 1989, and as such, should receive better publicity.



1. Mancopter (1984, Datasoft)

Although it feels like another one of those Datasoft games that would feel right at home on an Atari or an Apple ][ computer, Mancopter has the distinct honour of only having been released on the C64. Lucky for us.

Commodore 64: Mancopter

If I were to compare this game to any other game, I would say Balloon Fight for the NES would be pretty close, but only as far as the Trip mode goes. Even that is a bit far fetched. You are the pilot of a man-powered pedicopter in a competition to get over an endless sea. You can bump your competitors down by dropping on them from above (like in Balloon Fight), but it is not advised, since you can only get bonus time and points by passing them. If you happen to get dropped into the water, you can summon a friendly whale to help you up, but you need to have fish for that. For this, you need to look out for thieving pelicans. There are numerous other dangers ahead, but I'll let you all find them out. Being a push-scrolled aerial racing game, it's a genre obscurity already, and as a C64 exclusive, it's very highly recommended.

2. Parallax (1986, Ocean/Sensible Software)

Here we have the first collaboration from one of C64's dream teams - Chris Yates, Jon Hare and Martin Galway. Sure, Sensible Software did one game before this one, which was the forgettable Galaxibirds, but Galway's input here certainly paved some way for some more superb collaborations, such as Wizball and Microprose Soccer.

The concept is rather generic sci-fi oddness, but the style and execution is state-of-the-art for its time. There are six levels of difficult terrain to fly around in, each controlled by a super computer called "The Big One". You can only proceed to the next level with a password, which you need to input into a computer, and you will need a scientist for it, who you can drug and extract information from. So, it's certainly not your average run-of-the-mill shooter affair.

Commodore 64: Parallax

As the name suggests, there is some lovely parallax scrolling in the background (which was not very utilised up to that point), and the screen is always busy with some roaming enemies and sci-fi lighting effects in the terrain. And that music... hypnotic, relaxing and strangely ominous all at the same time. Some SID musicians know how to make the C64 sound modern and advanced, while some SID musicians are masters at getting emotions out of the machine. Galway is one of those. For a quality C64-exclusive gaming session, you can't do much better than this. Be warned, though - it's bloody difficult.

3. Zig-Zag (1987, Mirrorsoft)

Apparently based on a novel by David Bishop, who also co-designed the game, Zig-Zag is one of the legendary Antony Crowther's most dazzling creations for the Commodore 64. I can't imagine what kind of a novel this game would be based on, since the game itself offers little explanation. Gameplay-wise, it's an isometric 3D maze/space shooter/puzzler with very strange elements all over the place, so one can only wonder.

According to MobyGames' description, you take the role of a star pilot, whose goal is to maneuver your star fighter through the narrow passageways of Matrix of Zog somewhere in the 12th dimension, and locate the eight Crystals of Zog, while fighting off Zog's underlings or whatever. There are also three special zones in the game to help you or harm you on your way: Save Zone (allows you to save the game using a password system), Death Zone (instant death) and Shop Zone (where you can purchase items such as maps and shields).

Commodore 64: Zig-Zag
It is a difficult game to describe properly, so I can only recommend everyone to try it out, if you haven't done so already. Zig-Zag will most likely divide opinions, but I'm somewhere in the middle, not knowing whether I like it or not. It's a strange game, and one of C64's relatively hidden gems.

4. Bigtop Barney (1984, Interceptor Software)

I might have mentioned earlier that I'm a big fan of circus games. Bigtop Barney was my first entreƩ into circus-related video/computer gaming, and I still happen to think it's better than Circus Charlie.
Of course, I could explain why in depth, but that would become boring quickly.

Commodore 64: Bigtop Barney

Barney offers four different stages, of which two are completely different to what Circus Charlie has to offer (platforming stage and a trampolines puzzle), and one is a unicycle jumping stage with some deviously challenging gameplay mechanics. You could read a more in-depth review of the game at Lemon64, but I would suggest everyone to download or buy the game from wherever it is available, and try it out for yourselves. As far as C64-exclusives go, this is one of my favourites.

CORRECTION, 1.1.2016 -  I have only recently found out that Bigtop Barney was also released for the Amstrad CPC, so I'm probably going to do a Format Wars article of it for the RESET magazine at some point... but you're going to have to wait a long while for that to happen. Anyway, this item on the list has now been proven wrong, hence the correction. Nevertheless, the above bit shall remain here for posterity. Deal with it. =P



1. Volcano (1983, Acornsoft)

Let's start with simple. Volcano has one of the simplest game concepts I have seen in a long time, even by 1983's standards. But it doesn't mean that the game is any less enjoyable, nor tricky to actually play, much less master.

Acorn Electron/BBC: Volcano

Your mission is to save some people from the other side of an erupting volcano with your helicopter. The volcano happens to be spewing an immense amount of lava blobs high into the air, which make  your short journey to each side an Herculean feat. At least you are armed with a gun, which will help you through the cloud of lava.

Strange, that although this is such a simple and addicting concept, I haven't seen any traces of it being ported to any other computer. Hopefully someone will catch the hint from here.

2. Boffin (1985, Addictive Games)

Acorn Electron/BBC: Boffin
Because this section started so nicely, let's continue with simple. Boffin is a nice and simple platformer, in which your mission is to collect and destroy all the upside-down horseshoes and proceed to touch the owl, who will take you to the next screen. Although you can't jump very far, you can drop from any height by using your umbrella, which slows your descent enough to keep you alive. Because of this game mechanism, the levels usually are played from top to bottom.

Although none of this could be called unique, the umbrella mechanic was new at the time, and for that reason, this game has some minor historic value. Happily, it looks rather nice as a bonus. Since it can only be found on the Acorn computers, it has a sure place on this list.

Acorn Electron: Spaceman Sid

3. Spaceman Sid (1984, English Software)

Only ever released on the Acorn Electron, Spaceman Sid is also the only game from English Software to be released only on an Acorn computer. Unfortunately, this game is not much more than a Moon Patrol clone, but it has some small unique aspects to it.

For one, the game is made more difficult than most Moon Patrol clones by having a smaller jump, and more obstacles by a mile. Secondly, the game's title theme tune is that music from Star Wars Episode IV that the band (whose name I actually had to look up for this: Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes) in the Mos Eisley bar is playing. It's the first I've heard of such use for the song.

4. Wizadore (1985, Imagine)

Ending this entry in the series with an Imagine title only ever released on the Acorn computers might not be a very grand finale, but it has to end somewhere. Luckily, Wizadore happens to have some actual merit as being something properly interesting as well: the first commercially sold game from Chris Roberts, who would go on to write Stryker's Run (another Acorn exclusive), Times of Lore and the Wing Commander series years later.

Acorn BBC Micro: Wizadore

This is a devilishly difficult side-scrolling platformer, which adopts some of the style from Ghosts 'n Goblins, but has some fairly rare features for its time, such as scrolling both left and right by your choice, and having some puzzle elements, which would feel more at home in games like Flimbo's  Quest and the Dizzy adventure series. Your mission is to collect 3 parts of a magical sword to slay the evil dragon Smaun (how unique!), but you need some scrolls and tools as well to get further in the game. You are often required to perform some very difficult jumps, and the map layout may baffle many new players at first, so emulation and savestates is definitely the preferred way to go. However, it still remains a highly collectable and exclusive Acorn title.


That's it for now, hope you enjoyed it!
Next time, back to regular service.
Comments, corrections and suggestions are still welcome! =)


  1. This is really tremendous that the way you desceibe. This information is so much more than I needed!keep it up .
    Secret Hitler

    1. Thanks for the kind comment! And inadvertently, you made me notice a falsehood in this article, so I had to update it, so thanks for that as well. =D