Sunday, 2 November 2014

Kikstart 2 (Mastertronic, 1987)

Developed by Mr Chip Software for the Commodore 64: Coding by Shaun Southern, graphics by Andrew Morris, testing by Peter Liggett

Converted by Icon Design for the Commodore Amiga in 1987: Coding by Laurence Vanhelsuwé, graphics by Jon Brennan, music by David Whittaker

Converted by Icon Design for the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum in 1988: Coding by Paul Murray and graphics by Ed Knight



Late in the 1970's, BBC television started showing a series about motorcycle trials called Kick Start. This programme greatly inspired a young programmer by the name of Shaun Southern, who in 1985 made a computer game somewhat based on the concept, and titled it Kikstart, which eventually spawned a sequel. One might wonder, why have I chosen to write only about the sequel to one of the most important budget titles of all time. I could say that the original doesn't have as interesting conversions as this one, but my excuse is really that I never really cared for the original, and I never learned to play it properly. But since I'm not very likely to be doing a proper comparison of the original Kikstart games, I might as well write up about them as another post scriptum after the main subject.

Before we take a look at the current ratings around the web, I would like to point out that some sources list Commodore 128 to have a separate Kikstart 2 release, and it might well be true that there is one, but I have only come across a "Kickstart 2 C128" disk image on the internet that loads up a version of the first Kikstart, with some new courses and such. So, until someone points out to me a proper C128 version of Kikstart 2, the only place you will find about it here is in the "P.S." bit.

So, beginning with the original, the rating at Lemon64 is now at a round 8.0 from a total of 149 votes, and is placed at #90 in the top 100 list, based on at least 100 votes. The sister site LemonAmiga has a score of 7.03 from a total of 30 votes for the only 16-bit version available. At World of Spectrum, the score is at 7.42 from 35 votes. The Amstrad version was the only one I couldn't find any scores for, not even MobyGames had one vote for it. So, this looks to be another interesting one...



A thought occurred to me a while ago while bicycling for the first time in a long time, that Kikstart II must be the sole purpose for making me interested in later similarly themed games. And coupled with Epyx's California Games, these two left such an impression on a young northern computer game enthusiast's mind of extreme sports, that I have not had an aversion to games such as Tony Hawk's skateboarding series or Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX for PS1 - which many of my other gamer friends disliked intensely for some reason. But the Kikstart games have more in common with games like RedLynx's Trials series and Excitebike. Anyway, it would be interesting to know if this game has had a similar effect on other gamers.

Kikstart II (as much as its predecessor) is a 2D side-viewed racing game, where you ride a trials bike either against a computer opponent, against time or against another human player. The game is basically about getting as fast as possible from point A to point B on your trials bike, and naturally, various different kinds of obstacles will make your journey more difficult. You need to keep a close eye on your speedometer and what kinds of surfaces you will be riding on, and decide whether or not you are able to jump over anything successfully. Most of the time, you can go full speed ahead, but certain kinds of surfaces require you to drop your speed in order to keep yourself balanced. There are a few basic tricks which enable you to go through certain types of obstacles more easily, such as wheelieing your way up steps and jumping over muddy surfaces, but if you have yet to play Kikstart II for yourself, I will not tell you every trick in the book.

Considering this was a cheap Mastertronic release, you would have gotten more than enough game for the value back then. But in addition to the game's original form, the value of the game was increased even more by having an in-game construction set, on which you could make your own tracks and save them on tape or disk to play them later with your friends. If this wasn't an idiot-proof marketing plan, nothing would be. Sure enough, the game was a success, and is still remembered as one of the all-time great C64 classics. Today, it doesn't perhaps hold the interest for too long, considering all the modern options we have, but having a friend over for a bit of Kikstart II on a big telly still gives a hugely better kick than playing any FPS over the internet.



I was a bit surprised to find that a budget title such as this actually had both disk and tape releases for at least C64 and Spectrum. I'm almost convinced that both were released for the Amstrad as well, but so far, only a cracked version of a disk image has surfaced. And naturally, you can only get a disk version for the Amiga, and that's the way we like it. For a change, here are the loading times from ALL the versions, as measured by converted .wav files from cassette images and timed real-time real drive emulation loading.
Loading screens. Top left: C64. Top right: Amstrad CPC.
Bottom left: ZX Spectrum. Bottom right: Commodore Amiga.

C64 Tape - 5 min 43 sec
C64 Disk - 2 min 30 sec
Amiga - 33 sec (if quick user)
SPE Tape (or.) - 3 min 41 sec
SPE Tape (Dro) - 4 min 16 sec
CPC Tape - 4 min 53 sec

Now, the loading screens in this game are an interesting lot, because none of them are in any way connected to the cover art. I happen to like it that way, because it has given all the graphic artists their own job, and the freedom to be a bit more creative. As you see, there are two different kinds of loading screens: an action-filled trial-biking shot, and a more relaxed snapshot of the driver next to his bike in front of a landscape. That one is the original, which I happen to like more, but the other one is fine too, and will likely suit some other people's tastes better.



This game can cause a lot of headache, when it comes to the controls. Playing the game is one thing, but even navigating the main menu has proven to be a challenge to some. The in-game controls for the C64 and SPECTRUM versions are similar in that the second biker can only be controlled with a joystick, while player one has the option of using a joystick or the keyboard controls. The keyboard controls for the C64 version are CTRL for decelerate, 1 for wheelie, 2 for accelerate and SPACE for jump. On the SPECTRUM version, we get a more familiar default set of Q for wheelie, O for decelerate, P for accelerate and SPACE for jump, but the keyboard controls can be redefined, rather strangely, in the Course Designer menu, or even switched to one of three joystick options. Uniquely, on the AMSTRAD, you have to define your own keys for both players right after the game has loaded in. Also uniquely, the AMIGA version allows you to choose the game to be played on a mouse or a joystick - and you can even choose to use two mice or two joysticks when two human players are in the game.

Before we get to the main course, we have an unusually complex main menu to go through. Already at this point, we can see how very different all the four versions actually are, and continue to be.

In the C64 version, you control the highlighting cursor left and right with the keyboard controls, which are CTRL for left and 2 for right, or alternatively the left/right cursor key with the SHIFT button pressed for the other function. This is so, because in the same screen, you can choose 5 tracks of your preference for the next game with the alphabets. There are 24 courses in the game, to be chosen from A to X. The letter Z in the main menu stands for a course randomizer.

On the SPECTRUM, the menu controls have been changed to 5 for left and 8 for right, to support Sinclair joysticks. On the AMSTRAD, the menu can be controlled either with a joystick or cursor keys. And uniquely on the AMIGA, the menu is controlled with a mouse. All versions, however, have the course selection bit implemented similarly.

Next, I shall explain the five buttons of the main menu. First, the GO button for starting the game. The game can be started either by pressing fire on the joystick, or RETURN or SPACE BAR on the keyboard. Second, the clock button, which gets you to the Best Times sheets. Third, the Paper-and-Pen button, which takes you to the Course Designer. More on that later on. Fourth, the one/two button is for choosing the number of human players. And finally, the fifth button gives you the option to name your player. Note that you can only name Player One, if you have the one player option chosen, and Player Two can only be named if the two player option is chosen. It's a bit tricky, I grant you, but it's surprisingly easy to get used to.

That was basically how it is on the C64 original, but let's see if there are any differences in the conversions. Starting from the SPECTRUM version again, there's a slight difference in the order of buttons in that the Course Designer button and Best Times button have switched places. And apart from being drastically less informative, the AMSTRAD version has a similar menu layout as the Spectrum. Due to the AMIGA version being able to save Best Times tables and also having the option to use a mouse for a game controller, it has two more buttons on the menu layout, making the menu into this order: 1. the GO button, 2. Best Times, 3. Save Best Times, 4. Course Designer, 5. Number of Players, 6. Enter Your Name, 7. Controls Switch.

We already have six paragraphs of text, and we're just getting into the actual game. Happily for me, all four versions are so vastly different from each other that it would be useless for me to write about them intertwined and mixed up like it usually goes. So, I'll continue with the Batman method from last week, and do all versions as their own paragraph.

When you start the game, you are sent into the race with a "get ready" arpeggio sound effect. Accelerating to top speed takes 1 second and a tenth. Performing a wheelie and getting back from it happens quickly enough, much like it does in the original game, but this time the bike behaves a bit more naturally regarding gravity and more according to the player's needs at most times. You can go over single block gaps by wheelieing full speed, without a need to worry if you fall from such a trick - note that this is the only version of the game you can do this on. You can ride over any solid obstacle at certain designated speeds, but you really need to keep an eye on the speed-o-meter and listen to the engine simultaneously to keep your speeds at optimum at all times. The game offers very little impossible obstacles, although I admit still having trouble with certain levels after 27 years of casual playing, but that is because I still haven't learned all the speeds you should do on top of some obstacles. In that sense, it certainly should be challenging enough for anyone. There are only three ways you can fall during a wheelie: if you do it for too long, or if you do it in a downhill ramp, or if you do it on a wrong platform. But there are no illogical places for getting into trouble for wheelieing. Jumping is also a fairly easy thing to learn - on straight surface, it's always of a similar height, but the length of a jump changes accordingly to your speed. At best, you should be able to jump over three bunny hops or two wooden fences.

The game is on when you decide to start moving. Accelerating to top speed takes 1 second and 8 tenths, making it almost half the speed the C64 does. This is somehow balanced out with the possibility of adjusting your speed in mid-flight. The level design is completely different to the original (these levels look like most of them were made by an 8-year old gamer) and often features impossible bits, but most of all, bugs that make you fall without any apparent reason. Also, your trialist doesn't always jump properly, but instead hits his head on something unseen above his head and falls off his bike. This mostly happens when trying to jump over bunny hops. More fatal conversion faults: you can't ride over the fire "springs", making you fall instantly, but sometimes, the game insists on placing you right on them when spawning back after a fault. You also can't wheelie over two picnic tables in a row. I'm pretty sure there are even more of these, but I couldn't handle the deficiency here enough to bother with more in-depth scrutiny. I also noticed that in this version, when you have fallen down and are moving on to search for a good place to respawn onto the track, the screen moves on much slower than it does on the C64, but the timer still moves faster than it does when you are actually on your bike. But the worst of all is the inconsistency of all the new rules, which I guess were never finished properly. This is not my idea of a good conversion.

For me, probably the most irritating difference about this conversion is the fact that your bike is glued to the left end of the screen for almost the entire duration of the level, making your focused viewing field closer to the edge of the screen, thus seeing less of what is coming up from ahead. When you finally reach the end of the course, the screen stops in such a way that will leave the finish line at the right end of the screen, and you will then move across the screen to the end. The most important difference for this version, however, is the scrolling method, which is sort of block-oriented. Because of it, the sense of speed and acceleration particularly gets easily lost in the bad scrolling. Even if there was some, you wouldn't really have much use for it, since the bike jumps too quickly to be of much use even for the smallest obstacles and gaps. Although this version is quite different from the Spectrum version, it has some similar problems with how the bike handles through various obstacles and what are all the different obstacles' properties. These include faulting from a collision with the edge of certain jump ramps and blocks of land, wheelieing onto some low-height obstacles and trying to jump over a gap in the middle of a ramp. Accelerating to top speed takes two whole seconds from the speed you are spawned back on the track, which isn't even at nil. What's even worse, you can't accelerate when going up an ascending ramp. Again, the level design is different to the others, but that didn't come as much of a surprise anymore.

Even on the only 16-bit version of the game, we have yet another sort of level design and different bike behaviour model. The closest to what I can tell of the level design to compare to is the Amstrad version, but even that is a bit far fetched. Still, here the levels are the most error-free next to the C64 original. Your bike here behaves more like the one in the first C64 Kikstart game, being slightly slower to accelerate (1.3 seconds to top speed) and having a slower response speed to wheelieing and lowering down from one. Most of all, the similarity to the original Kikstart comes forth the clearest when getting down from a jump, as the bike's front drops quite drastically more and heavier than on the C64 version of Kikstart II. Realism has little to do with either way, but having a quick wheelie control is pivotal in certain bits of this particular game. Speaking of lack of realism: like on the Spectrum conversion, you can also do some mid-air speed adjusting here, although not quite as  heavily. From all the differences I found here, needing to push the fire button to start each level was the strangest one. There are some notable differences in some of the objects as well, but apart from the very different looking and differently affecting springs, there's not much worth mentioning of anything before we get to the Graphics section.

And there's still the Course Designer to consider. One would assume that because all the versions had similar enough main menus, the editor menu system wouldn't be too much different either. Well, the C64 editor has 9 buttons: 1) Back to main menu, 2/3) Save to/Load from tape, 4/5) Save to/Load from disk, 6) Save track into memory, 7) Edit an existing course or create a new one, 8) Info on track elements, 9) Print the selected object on the course. So you need to have the ninth icon (footprint) selected in order to actually edit the track. The SPECTRUM editor also has 9 buttons, but buttons 4 and 5 have been replaced with control settings: button #4 is for redefining keys, and button #5 is for changing the control method between keyboard and three different joysticks. Both the AMSTRAD and AMIGA versions have only 7 buttons in the editor menu, naturally missing the other media storage save and load options. There isn't much difference in the 8-bit versions in actually using the editor, but the AMIGA editor is quicker to handle, with mouse control and all.

Otherwise, the Course Designer is pretty simple to use: select the footprint icon to be able to edit the track, then select an object to set on the track and put it there with the ENTER key. You can delete and add small spaces with INSERT and DELETE keys, and move around with the left and right keys as instructed on the screen, or in the case of AMIGA, by mouse. You have a finite amount of space to use on the track, but since it's all flat by default, and you have the tools you have, your only limitations are your imagination and the tools you have.

Since they are all so very different, it's making my judging process much easier. Considering the C64 version is once again the point of origin, the rest of them should have been trying to emulate at least the high quality gameplay on it, if not necessarily copy it. Sure enough, there is traces of attempt in all three conversions, but the only one that could get even close to the original was the Amiga team. Even they managed to botch it up in some important ways, possibly due to concentrating their efforts on the visuals and sonics.




On the C64 and SPECTRUM, the loading screen is featured as an additional title screen before getting into the main menu, while the AMIGA and AMSTRAD versions skip this part and just stick with the main menu. For me, the chance to view the title screen every once in a while makes a lot of difference in creating a mood for the game, even on the Spectrum though the picture isn't that atmospheric. Since the pictures were already featured in the Loading section, we'll start the Graphics tour with the main menus.

Main menu screens, from left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga.

Oh my, the AMSTRAD version certainly differs from the others to the point of disadvantage here. No credits, no menu explanations, not even a proper title logo. Well, at least you can't say it is a straight port of the SPECTRUM version. Speaking of it, I think the title logo on the SPECTRUM looks the best, with that cloud thing over the Roman number 2, and the shading being simple but effective. The credits section looks the best on the C64 with it having the greatest number of colours used in the effect scroller or whatever you'd call it. Also, I think the menu buttons look the most logical and stylish on the C64, particularly due to the flashing yellow/light brown highlighter, which appears in no other version. Even though the AMIGA version does have more functions than the other versions, the menu screen has been made to look a bit cramped. The very busy-looking buttons don't help the initial state of confusion much. But the mouse cursor is nice and cartoony.

Course Designers, from left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga.

The editor looks and works pretty much the same in every version, with the only differences worth mentioning being the number of buttons and their functions, which I told you about in the Playability section. Well, the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions are missing the title logo here, but it's not a very useful feature anyway in this case, so it's all the same to me.

Best Times tables, from left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga.

If we take a look at the Best Times tables before heading into the action, we can already see from the course titles, that they're all very different. But apart from the course titles, all the versions apart from the AMSTRAD (not very surprisingly) feature a colour-scroller effect in the lists. The SPECTRUM version features the least amount of colours, the C64 original only one colour more, and the AMIGA version can brass off with the amount of colours it would ever wish to. There are two sheets of Best Times, each having about half of the courses listed, and both feature slightly different colours. Admittedly, it's not a big part of the game, but it's nice to see some effort even in these sorts of areas.

Now, there are three types of levels in the game: daylight, nighttime and winter. In playability, the two former ones differ none at all, while the winter stages only cause your acceleration and deceleration to be slower. I should have probably mentioned this in the previous section, but there you have it.

Examples of a Day level, from left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga.

Easily the biggest percentage of the levels are designed for the daylight form. You even design your own levels in daylight, although you can save them as night or snow levels. Right away, we can see quite a lot of differences between all four versions.

As expected, the SPECTRUM version has the least colours, and even though it has the high-quality monochrome sprites that we have gotten used to, the relative lack of detail in all the objects is astonishing. There are even no background graphics whatsoever, probably from a lack of memory. A similar lack of graphical detail is evident on the AMSTRAD version as well, although it does have a lot more colour. Uniquely, it even has both bikers in their own differently coloured outfits, and you can see it even in the speed-o-meters. Also uniquely, the AMSTRAD version doesn't show the current level's time in the level times bar until the level has been finished. And for one more also uniquely, the AMSTRAD version has a very limited space for the level graphics - if you jump over the top border of the action screen, the player sprite will get hidden above the border until he comes back down. You can't see it happening here, but it's featured down there in the snow level screenshot.

Only the C64 and AMIGA versions have some bushes and trees in the background, and of course the AMIGA version has been upgraded to feature some sort of shading, which makes the daylight look more like early dawn. Also, the Amiga version is the only one of the four that actually has pretty realistic proportions for the bike and the rider on it. Basically, here's the deal: although the C64 version looks the most detailed and overall the nicest of the 8-bits, the AMIGA version beats it in the basic quality. It just feels a bit too stiff somehow in the animations.

I might as well mention the default fault animations here, which are a somersaulted flight far ahead of your bike, and a fall backwards. These animations are at the core of what make the game so entertaining in the first place. All the other versions handle this very nicely, but the AMSTRAD version has very few frames for these animations, and as such, feel very lazily converted.

Examples of a Night level, from left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga.

In the case of night levels, the SPECTRUM looks almost the same as the C64, only the biker doesn't have the lighter shading on the Spectrum, and then there are the obvious differences which affect all the other stages as well. The AMSTRAD version of a night stage is still quite colourful - only the background has been changed to black, and the track objects are of a slightly darker shade. Everything else looks the same as elsewhere. Again, the AMIGA version has a gradiant background, which gives it the appearance of dusk instead of a properly dark night. All the track elements have been given a new shading accordingly, and even the biker along with his bike looks a bit darker.

Examples of a Snow level, from left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga.

This is perhaps going to sound a bit strange, but I think the AMSTRAD winter stages work the best, being as white as possible and still lacking in background graphics. Having some slightly snow-covered trees and bushes feels a bit silly, although I do think some leafless bushes and trees along with some random mounds of snow would have been nicer to look at in this case. But I'm guessing the authors hadn't necessarily ever witnessed a proper winter, so I just might be expecting too much, particularly from a 1987 game. But even so, the SPECTRUM version here looks just like any other monochrome game, and the dark background doesn't help creating the intended illusion of winter. Sorry, but that is just not wintery enough for me. The best thing I can say about the C64 version here is the funny bluish-green biker - the colour makes it seem like he's completely frozen. Too bad most of the track objects are just different shades of grey, and covered with white. It's not as if an orange brick actually changes colour during winter in real life. Once again, the AMIGA version has another gradiant sky, which works better to its advantage this time than on the other two occasions. The cyan-to-white gradiant works fantastically well, creating a sense of intense coldness, like it was mid-February in northern Finland, with about -25°C, at around 11 a.m. The illusion is broken by the trees and bushes that have an appearance closer to being late October.

Below, we have all the track elements/objects there are in the game, as they are featured in each version of the Course Designer. Just to clear things up even more, here is a list of all the items, as they are titled in the original C64 version, along with any variations.

A - UP Mud Ramp (with four sizes)
B - DOWN Mud Ramp (with four sizes)
C - Grass Ramp UP (with four sizes)
D - Grass Ramp DOWN (with four sizes)
E - Breeze Blocks (with two sizes)
F - Fire
G - Grass (with five heights)
H - Bunny Hop
I - Picnic Table
J - Ski Jump
K - Wooden Gate
L - Wooden Log
M - Mud (with three lengths); "Muddy Ground" on AMIGA
N - Bricks (with five heights; 6 on AMIGA)
O - Barrel; "Oil Barrel" on AMIGA
P - Telephone Box
Q - Spring (with three heights)
R - Bumpy Ground (with three lengths)
S - Step (with four heights)
T - Tyres (with three lengths)
U - UP Brick Ramp (with four sizes)
V - DOWN Brick Ramp (with four sizes)
W - Water (with three lengths)
X/Z/SPACE - Space

Compiled sets of objects (click on the picture to see it bigger)
Top left: Amstrad CPC. Top right: ZX Spectrum. Bottom left: Commodore Amiga. Bottom right: Commodore 64.

As you see, any variations of item names and sizes etc., that can be found, are on the AMIGA version. For some of the items, you can't change the sizes in every version, but that's probably because you can edit the sizes easily after planting the objects on the map.

In most cases, all the items are fairly easy to recognize, but there are some differences in appearance, and even some differences in how you are supposed to get yourself over the obstacles. But I'll leave that for you all to find out. It takes some time getting used to all the different graphics in all the different versions, but you'll get the hang of it with a bit of practice. The most bothersome part of it is learning how to deal with each version's quirks and dangers regarding objects that might not be dangerous in any other version.
Graphic oddities on the ZX Spectrum version.

What makes the SPECTRUM version the most difficult to play is the green ground colour going so badly together with the cyan sky. Because the basic ground graphic is very uneven, it's insanely difficult to see any other anomalies, such as Bunny Hops or Water obstacles. Also, a couple of level design hiccups might have been made due to the badly redesigned graphic engine - take a look at this example of some rather impossible brick passages. Also, paired with it, I have included an example of how the fire spring affects the graphics. The red burst of fire requires for the area behind it featuring a red foreground against the background (or however it really goes, I'm not an expert on this matter), so the player sprite turns red when passing through the area inhabited by the Fire obstacle. The final addition to this mess is the missing spring element bug, which can be witnessed when there are more than 4 Spring objects on the screen simultaneously. It's there, but you just don't see it. Kind of embarrassing, I'd say.

C64's unique funny bits
Finally, there are two things that sets the C64 original clearly apart from the rest, and you wouldn't know them unless you played it thoroughly. First, the explosion animation resulting from a collision with fire. This should be fairly known to anyone with more than two minutes of experience with this game on the C64. Although the flying animation is funny enough and can take many repeats before getting too old, it's still a bit of a letdown not to see the explosion in any other version. The second thing is the Wile E. Coyote effect, which I'm not very sure is even meant to be a part of the game, but I remember laughing my eyes out when I first saw it. This happens, when you are doing a wheelie too fast over an obstacle such as a Wooden Gate, and your bike drops from under you. Just hilarious. It's all the humour that isn't elsewhere that make the C64 so much more fun to look at, and a good laugh gives a better impression than too much realism.

As for the two remaining 8-bits... well, although the SPECTRUM version did quite poorly in some aspects, the AMSTRAD version is still more painful to look at due to the bad scrolling, lack of space and bad animation. Fortunately, the SPECTRUM graphics make up for the colour problems in scrolling and the high quality of the monochrome graphics. So, both the Commodores will share a spot, and both of the remaining versions share the other spot. And we're a happy family.




Before starting to write this entry, I actually had no idea at how all the versions would play or sound like. All I knew about them was through the screenshots around the internet. To my utter shock and horror, the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions have no sounds at all! ...Well, yes, the AMSTRAD version has ONE "pip" for acknowledging every defined key. I'm going to be a bit cruel here and say that it doesn't count, so I think we all know where that will get the two of them placed. And so, that leaves only the C64 and Amiga versions to be compared.

As I said, the games were based on the UK television show "Kick Start". I never knew of it until I started finding out about it for this comparison, because we didn't get that here on Finnish TV. Happily, YouTube came to save the day, and showed me the proof of the basis, and I noticed that even the happy in-game tune for the games was rearranged for the SID from the TV series. It seems that the tempo was closer to the original TV theme tune in the first game, but the new arrangement gets the harmonic structure better on display, and being slightly quicker, also feels more playful. On the C64 original, it continues to be the in-game tune, while on the AMIGA, it has switched places with the other tune. The AMIGA version also has a more rock-oriented drum beat, while the C64 version retains its comical polka-like origins.

The said other tune, which on the C64 is naturally playing in the menu screen, is not connected to the TV series in any way, at least to my knowledge. But it does fit better on the menu screen than it does as an in-game tune. It's a fairly hectic arpeggio-driven minor key tune which includes 7 chords or so, and I'm guessing the original purpose of this tune was to create a similar sense of suspense as the coda part of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" did for the 1980's F-1 broadcasts in the UK. Anyway, the AMIGA rearrangement of this tune is again more rock-oriented, so it sort of works better this way around in that version. It's not quite as fitting, perhaps, as the tunes in the C64 version, but it does give the Amiga version it's own particular feel.

Both versions feature similar amount of sound effects, but curiously, the AMIGA version has a need to toggle the music off so that you can hear the bike engine droning. On the C64, you will hear both the music AND the engine simultaneously. Of course, the AMIGA music takes up more channels, so in that way, it's understandable, but was there really a need for such an overdone soundtrack? Anyway, the sound effects that you can hear during the game in both versions are: the bike engine (depending on your sound settings), falling from your bike (low booming on the Amiga; a comical whistle of flight on the C64), reaching the goal on the Amiga (screeching brakes), and an explosion effect from colliding with fire on the C64.

I'm not sure if this is one of those "less is more" cases, since it seems to be exactly the opposite on the Amiga - "more is less". To fit more instruments into the music, you need to take off some of the sound effects. Was the rearrangement really THAT necessary? Of course, it was 1987, and it needed to be made clear, what the 16-bits were capable of doing that the 8-bit were not. And sure, the music sounds sort of better on the Amiga, when you strictly consider it in terms of the sounds. But the music doesn't really fit as well into the game that way, and I find it quite laughable that you need to toggle the music off to hear the engine droning. Clearly, the C64 version is the way to go.




To be brutally honest, it baffles me to no end, how on earth the Spectrum conversion could have gotten such a good score at World of Spectrum, or even the old magazines. It cannot have been such an achievement to actually having been able to convert this sort of a game for the Spectrum, right? The amount of bugs and inconsistencies in the game's own laws is ridiculous. At least the Amstrad gamers haven't even bothered to vote for a score or review the game, since it's such a mess. I agree that the Amiga version isn't nearly as good as it could have been, hence the low score at LemonAmiga, but it's certainly a lot better than the other two conversions. But yes, it's clear that Kikstart II is a C64 native, and proudly so.

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 4, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
2. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 7
3. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4
4. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3

For the first time in a very long while, I'm perfectly in agreement with my mathematically given scores. If I receive any accusations of being biased, so be it. After 25 years (or more) of getting to know the game in its original form, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that I can be very critical for any problems that the conversions might have.

Now, as promised, I shall end this entry with some not that carefully chosen words about the other Kikstart games. Enjoy it while it lasts, because there will be no comparison entry on these games.



For some reason, Shaun Southern decided - or perhaps was forced? - to make two distinctly different Kikstart games the first time around. The original was released with its full title "Kikstart - the Off-Road Simulator" on the Commodore 64 in 1985, later to be converted for the Atari 8-bits. The second game was released only for the Commodore 16, and was more of a mixture of the Atari 8-bit version of Aztec Challenge and Namco's Mappy, and had less to do with trials than jumping over things and occasionally collecting balloons.

Screenshots from the Commodore 16 version of Kikstart (left),
and its unofficial conversions for the Commodore 64 (middle) and Commodore Amiga (right).

But the thing is, this less trialsy game was the one that would prove to remain more of a fan favourite than the original Kikstart on the C64. I'm guessing it's mostly because it's so much more playable than the other game, being so drastically simplified and platformized from the original concept. Still, both games were written by Shaun Southern, and even though I'd rather consider them as completely different games, "Kikstart" is what the title screens say. The proof of the C16 game's legacy should be pretty clear now, seeing as it was ported for the C64 in 2007 by Jason (T.M.R) of Cosine Systems, and remade for the Commodore Amiga as "Super Kikstart" in 2000 by Token. It also has its very own construction kit, albeit an unofficial one, written for the C16 by Tamás Sasvari in 1988.

Screenshots from the original Kik-Start for the Commodore 64 (left) and its Atari 8-bit conversion (right).

About the original Kikstart, then... well, it's certainly a prototype of the sequel, if nothing else. It only has 8 courses to choose from, and you play each game in series of 3 courses. You play either against another human player or alone - there is no computer opponent. There is, however, a different sort of a Best Times list, which is based on the overall times of the three selected courses put together, regardless of the courses, making it kind of unreasonable. You can easily choose three times the same course as an in-built cheat of sorts, and make the highest spot that way. The reasons why I never got the hang of it were the complete absence of a speedometer, and the slowly sliding manner in which the bike accelerates and slows down on its own accord - you can't keep the speed to your liking, unless it's full speed or the lowest possible speed. No such problem in the original. This makes it insanely difficult to figure out the speeds you need to ride in on top of different things, particularly if you don't play with sounds on for some reason. At least the Atari conversion plays more naturally than the C64 version, but it's still a far cry from the playability that the game would have in the sequel.

Title screen from the C128 version of Kik-Start.
On a final note, I shall repeat myself from the beginning of this entry, and point out that the so-called C128 version of Kikstart II seems to only be an extended edition of the original C64 Kikstart game. This version features 3 sets of 8 tracks, and you can also play against a computer opponent. You can also play an entire set of 8 courses (the Grand Slam mode) in one sitting, if you wish. Other than that, it offers no real differences to the original Kikstart on the C64. This is a bit disappointing, since it has been often seen listed as Kikstart II for the Commodore 128, when it is really nothing of the sort. But the confusion clearly comes from the initial loading screen, which clearly states Kikstart 2 for C128 only.


There is a also game called Super Scramble Simulator, also by Shaun Southern, which could be called as a spiritual successor to the Kikstart series. As it is very much more trials than racing than even the two Kikstart games are, and much more complex to play, I cannot really put it in the same  list. And since it was released for five different machines, there is a good chance I might actually make a comparison of it sometime later on.

But for now, this should be enough. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!
Comments, suggestions and corrections are welcome as ever.

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