Monday, 30 March 2015

Rick Dangerous (Rainbird/MicroPlay, 1989)

Developed by Core Design Ltd.

Coding by Simon Phipps. Graphics by Simon Phipps and Terry Lloyd. Music and sound effects by Ben Daglish, David Pridmore, Simon Phipps and Terry Lloyd. Other miscellaneous bits by Bob Churchill, Rob Toone, Simon Phipps and Terry Lloyd.

AMSTRAD CPC conversion by David Pridmore. COMMODORE 64 conversion by Stuart Gregg with music by David Pridmore. DOS conversion by David Pridmore and Stuart Gregg, with art by Terry Lloyd. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM conversion by Terry Lloyd. Published for the European market by Firebird Software Ltd., and for the North American market by MicroPlay Software in 1989.

Unofficial conversion for the MSX2 by Paragon Productions in 1992. Another unofficial conversion for the ACORN ARCHIMEDES by The Hitmen Software in 1995. Remade for the 128k AMSTRAD CPC+ computers in 2009 by Carl-Stephane Berquez, BDC Iron and MacDeath.



One of the most important platforming games of the late 80's was born alongside the hype of what was at the time supposedly final part in the series of Indiana Jones movies - the Last Crusade. Rick Dangerous did what hadn't been properly done before: it brought the action aspect of Indiana Jones successfully into computer games - much more so than Montezuma's Revenge. All the official Indy games had been more or less half-arsed attempts, but Rick Dangerous was made as a humorous, although playable and challenging tribute to everyone's favourite archaeologist. The style of the game was familiar to most 80's gamers, of course, since most of Core Design, the team behind the game, had been former employees of Gremlin Graphics. Such a success the game turned out to be, that it spawned not only a sequel, but worked as the basic blueprint for the same company's greater success formula in Tomb Raider. But let's focus on the original, shall we.

To be honest, I was never all that good at the game, because my attention span ended half-way through level 2, where some of the traps usually become too tricky for me to bear. Only lately, I have found out that some later releases of the game featured level selections from the start, which gave me reason enough to dig out this game now. Besides, since I had already given a hint about doing this earlier in August, I might as well keep my word while I still can. (Note: Having finished writing the entry, I would like to point out that I couldn't come across any of the versions that had the level selection feature included from the start, so everything had to be played manually, or by using some sort of cheat mode.)

At the time of starting to write this entry, the scores and ratings at our favourite websites are rather interesting. At LemonAmiga, the score is 7.58 from a total of 194 votes, while its closest competitor, the ST version, has a rating of 8.1 from 77 votes at Atarimania. Curiously, Abandonia has put both Rick games in one package, so I'm not sure if the score for the DOS version there is any good, but 2061 voters there have rated it 3.1 out of 5, and the editor has given it a 4.0, which should give you some clue. The Spectrum version has been given a score of 8.32 by 86 voters so far at the World of Spectrum website; the C64 version has a score of 8.2 from 125 Lemon64 voters (placing it at #72 in the Top 100 voters list from at least 100 votes); and then there's the mess that the Amstrad versions offer us. From what I understand, the score for the original game at CPC-Softs is 18.13 out of 20.00, while the CPC 128+ remake has a full 20. At CPC Game Reviews, the scores for each game is a 9 for the original, and a full 10 for the remake. Finally, the MSX2 version by Paragon has been rated with 4.5 stars out of 5 at Generation-MSX. The Acorn Archimedes version has no ratings to be found anywhere, and the game itself seems unbotherably difficult to find, so it will not be included in this comparison. Instead, you can read something about it here.



As most of you know, there are two official Rick Dangerous games, but what you might have missed while playing, the second game's plot is continued straight from the first one. Not that most of us ever really had the chance to give much thought to the plotline, since both of the games are very difficult, and I don't think most of us have the patience to beat the game without modern aids like savestates. Regardless of the style and difficulty, it's really a fairly straightforward action/platformer with a very Indiana Jones'esque tendency to feature nazis, powerful artefacts and other references to the movies, and the game follows you from Amazon to Egypt, and further on to politically safe Europe instead of Germany, as it's obviously supposed to be.

One of the most interesting things about Rick Dangerous is, that while it's certainly a prime example of a plot-driven platformer, it's also one of the most unique ones at it as well, and more complicated to talk about than most platformers. As we're still in 1989, it's obvious that the game should still be presented in a two-dimensional sideviewed format, but the primary method of scrolling is a segmentally pushing horizontal scroll system, meaning that you're mostly going up or down in the game maps, with some rare vertical passages added in places, that switch onto the screen as if you were entering a new room. As if that weren't complicated enough, there are many sorts of things you are required to do in the game, and everything must be done with the joystick, which I will get into later on, but it's one of those games, where a joystick's full potential has been realized quite nicely.

Unfortunately, the game can be considered brutally difficult, although it's also fair in its mechanic bits and controls mostly very beautifully. Not unlike many other NES-hard games, it requires a lot of memorizing due to some nasty hidden traps, learning how to handle difficult enemies and often pixel-perfect precision in jumping and blowing things up, which can sometimes be aggravating due to the controls. But for exactly these reasons, Rick Dangerous is considered as such a classic as it is - it requires skill and dedication from the player, and has enough of humour and atmosphere in it to keep us coming back for more. It's one of the best examples of what retrogaming is all about, but I'm afraid it can also be one of those games that will not be well received by the current generation of gamers. All I can hope for is that it is given a proper attempt.



After the previous week's multi-format loading times comparison having made no impact on the credibility of this section, I shall return to my habit of doing only the cassette versions. Naturally, there are more cassette releases for these three computers out there, but for the moment, these are the only tape image files that I could find on the internet.

AMSTRAD CPC, original: 7 min 23 sec
COMMODORE 64, original: 6 min 10 sec
COMMODORE 64, Kixx: 6 min 12 sec
ZX SPECTRUM, original: 6 min 28 sec
ZX SPECTRUM, Kixx: 4 min 22 sec
ZX SPECTRUM, MCM: 4 min 11 sec

As a rule, the original tape version loads pretty slowly, which is a pity, since it's only the original boxed versions that come with a bonus poster, and not the re-releases. If you want to bypass any possibility of seeing a loading screen and waiting through any loading times, all the platforms have been blessed with disk releases as well. Since neither the C64 nor the AMSTRAD versions (except for the remake) feature a proper loading screen, you might as well go for a disk version, if you can find one, but you wouldn't really make a purchase for your collection based only on how fast the game loads or how much it has to offer during the time... would you?



Although Rick Dangerous looks like a fairly basic platformer, there are some underutilised characteristics to it, the first of which I already told you about - the mostly horizontal scrolling method. The scrolling method isn't even a constantly centering one, but instead the screen gets pushed about one third of the screen height every time you reach a certain low or high point in the screen. I'll come back to this a bit later on.

The other underutilised characteristics have to do with the controls. Your basic movements are rather obvious: left and right make you walk or climb left and right, depending where you are; up and down make you climb ladders and other similar surfaces, as well as make you jump and duck respectively, and diagonals make you jump or crouch-walk into your chosen direction. Only pressing the fire button doesn't do anything, but pushing the joystick (or other controller) left or right simultaneously makes Rick jab his stick; fire button + up makes Rick fire his gun into the direction he is facing, and fire button + down makes Rick to light and drop a stick of dynamite on the spot. Once you have dropped a dynamite, you will have a couple of seconds to move away to a safe distance. Jabbing with the stick is useful for stunning enemies for a short period of time, as well as switching triggers. Firing your gun kills enemies and fends off bats. And finally, the dynamite can remove blocks and disarm certain traps, as well as kill wandering enemies.

In case you don't have access to the instructions, here are the other controls explained: for DOS, Amstrad and Spectrum versions, the keyboard controls are Z, X, O, K and Space for fire on Amstrad and DOS, and Enter for fire on Spectrum. The Pause button is P on the Atari ST, Amiga, Spectrum and DOS, but it's Run/Stop on the C64 and H on the Amstrad. You can also quit the game to the title screen with the Escape key on the Amiga and ST versions, while the C64 version uses the up arrow key, the Spectrum and Amstrad versions use Q, and the DOS version uses E. As an extra "get me outta here" feature, the DOS version has the Escape key mapped for quitting to system. And for a semi-exclusive realistic 1945 look on the Amiga and ST, you can press the Space bar in the title screen for a black-and-white version of the game.

Controlling Rick is fairly similar in all the official versions, and even the unofficial enhanced Amstrad versions, but the MSX2 version by Paragon feels rather abominable. On every other version, the character animation is fairly smooth and Rick's movements look natural for what it is, even if there is no sense of inertia when walking. There is a sense of gravity, though, as you will fall quicker the further you fall. Happily, you won't get killed from a fall of any height. Anyway, on the MSX2, the character animation is two frames, taking half a block to move for each frame. Colliding with traps and enemies is not restricted completely to the sprite, and the field of collision is more biased to the other side. But then, the MSX game is a very different beast altogether, only resembling the original cosmetically and in some of the actions you are able to do. The game only has three levels out of four, and most of them are completely differently structured, and any scrolling is gone. The dynamite is mostly useless, and the gun needs to be used only slightly more often. Controlling Rick during jumps is impossible, and crouching has not been programmed into the game at all. It feels too basic and unpolished, and frankly, I don't really think it's worthy of the title, unless you can be happy about it for only being too damn difficult.

Most of the playability differences for all the official versions and the later Amstrad remake have to do with the amount of content instead of actual playability. Basically, the official 8-bit versions of the first three level maps are about half as long as those made for the 16-bits, and simply because of being shorter, the 8-bit versions are much easier too. The later Amstrad version features all the bits that were missing from the earlier 8-bit versions, which is remarkable really, since the official 128k Spectrum version hadn't been given much more than better sounds.

Now is the time to get back to what I started with, because the only other notable point where differences can be found is the scrolling, and how it affects your gameplay. I grant you, this is a fairly small issue for the most part, but one has to be thorough when the comparison would otherwise be rather useless. As the MSX problems have been already dealt with, next up in the order of scrolling smoothness are the SPECTRUM and both AMSTRAD versions, all of which take two big nudges to reach the next playable screen. It's not too bad, but it might take your focus away from where the action is more easily than the smooth scrolling on every other version.

There is also one thing, that I'm not entirely sure, whether it is a bug on the 16-bit versions, or an intentional feature. Sometimes, Rick lands slightly just above the platform you jump on, making it possible to jump just slightly higher on the instantly consecutive jump. While playing the game with some trainers on, I found out that there are some passages that actually require this feature to be used in order to make progress. Quite possibly, because the 8-bits had shorter levels for the most part, this feature was cut off because it didn't have any use, but as I said, it might as well just be a bug. However, since it happens to be useful on a couple of occasions, I cannot really condemn the said versions as any worse than the 8-bits.

So in the end, it seems really that the better you are at playing Rick Dangerous, the higher you will value the versions with more content. And keeping that in mind, all the official versions really play as well compared to each other as possible, and therefore, I cannot really consider one version better from the other - the 2009 Amstrad remake included. The only version I think is considerably worse than the rest of them is the unofficial MSX2 conversion, which is truly horrible in every important way, as it is missing a great part of the game mechanics, and the part that has been left in has been dealt with atroceously.

As a final note before heading on to the next section, I decided to throw in all the traditional cheat codes for all you old-school gamers, wanting to relieve at least some of your frustration. For the AMIGA and ST versions, you can write "POOKY" on the high score list, although it is of no use until you complete the first level. The same word was supposed to work for the DOS version as well, according to some sources, but I couldn't get it to work, so that one is still a bit of a mystery. I remember that there was a cheat for the C64 version that went something like this: you have to reach the number one spot on the high score table, and write "BBOOIINNGG" as your name, and then you can warp your way through the game by slamming down the left half of the keyboard. It's a bit difficult to get to work, though. Once you have gotten to level 4, though, you need to play the game normally and gain enough score to get to the high score table again. Then, typing in "FLUFOMATIC" will get you to choose your starting level from all four levels. In case you can't get the earlier cheat to work, you can just play your way through at least to level 2, and do the latter cheat, which will allow you to choose the starting level from the levels you have unlocked so far. If there is one thing that the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions are a bit unfriendly at, it's this - the only known way you can cheat in either version is to type in POKE commands. But don't let it get you down, they're otherwise very much as playable as the other official versions.

2. MSX2



Contrarily to what the cover art looks like, the game's graphics look more cartoon-characterized, similarly to the artwork in the instructions manual. I always thought it a bit odd that the cover art is so different from the game's more cartoony graphics, and the first time I saw the cover art was, curiously, after I had seen all the other artwork, so the cover looks really odd in comparison, and doesn't feel like it fits in with the game that much. Montezuma's Revenge, perhaps, but not Rick Dangerous. But that's not really all that important, since it's the game itself that you're playing, and not the cover box. Since the game in its original 16-bit form does not feature an actual loading screen, we shall being with the picture that serves as the title screen for most versions, and as a loading screen for the SPECTRUM version and the 2009 AMSTRAD remake.

Loading screens and title screens. Top row, left to right: Amiga/ST coloured, Spectrum loader and title menu, C64 title.
Right end, top to bottom: DOS CGA, DOS EGA, Amstrad original.
Bottom row, left to right: Amiga/ST greyscale, MSX2 title, Amstrad 2009 loader and title menu.

The AMIGA and ATARI ST versions look very much alike, apart from having some differences in their natural palettes, so I will only include the other version's screenshots here, and instead, will be showing you the optional black-and-white screenshots to make up for the disinclusion of both coloured versions. This applies to all the other screenshots as well, at least as far as I was bothered to snap them, during which time, the point of it should be made clear. The only version that has a considerably modified version of the title screen as it is supposed to look like is the C64 one, which has a very small film frame in the middle, only showing an over-pixelated close-up of Rick. Not very good, but it's different. In this section, the MSX2 version starts to show where all the effort has been put, but the joy will not last for long. You get a separate intro sequence for the Paragon logo, which doesn't look like much, but it's an animated sequence at least; and then the title screen kicks in at some point and looks surprisingly faithful to the original, if a bit squeezed. The SPECTRUM loading screen is only shown during the tape loader, so if you really have to see it on a real machine, the cassette is where to find it. It's not much to look at though, since Rick is completely green and the simplistic use of colour is a bit depressing. The Spectrum team could have done better than this.

Because the pictures originally known as the title screens are set as the loading screens on the SPECTRUM and the 2009 AMSTRAD versions, the said two versions, as well as the original Amstrad version, have considerably different title screens. For some reason, the DOS version doesn't have the actual title picture anywhere, much like the original Amstrad version, and instead features only the title logo and some other text. If it makes any difference, the most keen-eyed of you might have noticed that the font for CGA and EGA versions is slightly different. Happily, though, the 2009 Amstrad version features a nicely remade title logo, which fits in better with the game's theme.

The original Hall of Fame, where available. Left to right: Amiga/ST coloured/greyscale, C64, DOS CGA and EGA.

The high scores table, where available, looks pretty simple, but it's enough extra content compared to the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions to make it worth taking a look. So, there you have it - it's just a high scores table, and it looks very much the same on all the versions, apart from the names on the list. Moving on, then.

Level intro screens. Middle: ZX Spectrum. Left end: Amiga/ST coloured and greyscale. 2nd from the left: DOS CGA/EGA.
Right end: Amstrad original (top) and 2009 remake (bottom). 2nd from the right: C64 (top) and MSX2 (bottom).

Since the brief intro sequences shown before each level look similar throughout the game, I might as well show them in one big collage of screenshots. The most obvious thing that you will notice is that most of the versions feature a small animated screen inside a flickering film frame, where some very brief event happens. Again, the SPECTRUM and the original AMSTRAD versions are missing the fancy bits, but the 2009 AMSTRAD remake and the MSX2 conversion have these covered rather well, even if the MSX bits have been modified to suit the rather different overall experience better, if that is what they were aiming for.

16-bit screenshots from level 1. Top row: Commodore Amiga / Atari ST - coloured version and greyscale version.
Bottom row: DOS CGA and EGA modes alternating.

Before I start analysing the graphics, I might have to remind you about the shape of the DOS screenshots, so in case you're wondering: this is how the screenshots look when taken with the Print Screen button in DOSbox (full screen), and I don't know if I can do anything about it. It's less work that way than trying to get them into a similar shape as they look like when using the full screen mode, which is closer to the other screenshots.

The upper row is, as you might have guessed, from the AMIGA and ST versions. I dare you to guess which pictures are from the Amiga version and which from the ST. Heck, even I can't tell them apart. But this is how the game looks like at best: cartoonish, but high quality and thematically proper in colouring. Rick looks like a funny caricature of Indiana Jones, as he should, with leather outfit and all - even his skin colour is clearly caucasian. The enemies are just as much human, but with distinctive tribal features, which are of course fittingly caricatured to fit the game's overall style. Only the backgrounds are a bit boring, since they're mostly made of tiles, but there's enough of variety in all the other objects, that the somewhat repetitive backgrounds feel less irritating. Anything stone-based looks like stone, anything wooden looks wooden, and any treasure looks like an ancient artifact that belongs in a museum - exactly as it should. Although in the first level, the greyscale graphics aren't as radically different as in later levels, the 1945 version does offer unique challenge in trying to focus on the less obvious traps, such as spikes, which now blend more with the background graphics, and are more difficult to see. Hardcore Rick fans should love it.

The lower row is from the DOS versions - the CGA and EGA modes, to be more precise. The game should also have a Tandy graphics mode available, but for some reason, I haven't been able to find one, which would have the TGA code file included in the package. As most of you must be well aware, the screens more based on yellow, green and red are from the CGA mode, and the two screens that look closer to the upper pictures are from the EGA mode. Even though the EGA mode is clearly better, it still offers no competition for the Amiga and ST in the usage of shading and colour. Most notably, the naturally pink skin shade is missing, and is still as yellow as Rick's skin in the CGA mode. But considering the limitations, it's still a very good job on both accounts. As long as the animations and scrolling are fluent, and the style and most of the details are kept in tact, I'm fine with the results.

8-bit screenshots from level 1.
Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad original, Amstrad remake, ZX Spectrum, MSX2.

This set is a much more difficult lot to get through, because all five versions have their own distinctive qualities, both good and bad. More precisely, the MSX2 version doesn't have all that much in common with the other versions, and the 2009 AMSTRAD remake more to offer than the other 8-bit versions.

Let's start from the left, where we have the C64 version. First, if not the most interesting bit is the score and inventory display, which on the C64 has been set above the action screen - the only version in addition to the Amiga and ST to have it so. Not that it matters all that much in the end, but it's a stylistic thing that some people might draw attention to. Well, the MSX2 version also has it above the action screen, but there's no score display, because you get no scores there. Anyway, getting back to the C64 graphics, Rick's sprite has been built of two things: a hi-res black frame to keep the lo-res multicolour mass of Rick's body parts in a neat package. This works very well, particularly as the backgrounds are usually of a completely different monochrome pattern. All the other graphics are lo-res multicolour graphics, some of which have a slightly limited colouring, but work well enough in the mix.

The original AMSTRAD version is thoroughly lo-res multicolour. While it certainly offers slightly more colourful graphics than the C64 version, the blockiness of everything takes some of the much-needed detail away from the game. Well, there is that bit of white on Rick's face, which is supposed to be his teeth showing as they do on the Amiga and ST versions, but here it looks more like a mustache of an elderly adventurer. But the rest of the details are pretty much missing. Also, the palette in use gives much more often some sharp bits of contrast in colouring, which makes the game strangely a much darker overall feel. At least the first level feels much too blue. Besides all that, some of the animations were dropped in translation (such as the big round rock at the beginning) or made slightly less complex, and you already know about the jumpy scrolling method.

For the 2009 remake, the colouring was vastly improved. Here, the natural rocks are orange for some reason, but it somehow works better. The bricks have a more naturally grey colour, compared to the original bluish grey. The background shading is much less dramatic, and is very pleasing to look at. Even the rolling rock has been made to roll again, as it should. Still, the most dramatic difference to the original AMSTRAD version is the amount of rooms in each level map, which is the same as on the 16-bits. But there are still a couple of things that I'm not all that impressed about: first, the very Comic Sans'ish score and inventory display, but that's a matter of taste and age, I suppose; and second, when you kill an enemy and he is sent off flying out of the screen, the game slows down considerably for the duration of the flight. This might have something to do with the new sounds, but it could be the graphics as well, I'm not sure.

Then there's the SPECTRUM version, which offers fairly colourful mixed hi-res monochrome graphics, if that's how you describe it. The graphics framing you within the tunnels are made of white-and-blue bricks and cyan-and-blue rocks, while the background wall is green. I found it to be a rather puzzling choice of colour, but I suppose it's because the location is somewhere in the area of Amazon, green is a colour very easily connected to jungle. The only problem is, that all the moving sprites within the green area are also green, and are sometimes a bit difficult to see. Of course, you could consider this a version of the greyscale version on the Amiga and ST, but no - Spectrum can't do enough of shades to make it work as well. At least the wooden platforms are yellow and some of the decorative elements have been made of some different colours, but most of the time, you're a little green Rick walking in a green mess, haunted by green bats, rocks and aboriginals, and you also have to watch out for green spikes. It's a pity, that although there are more here colours than in the CGA mode of the DOS version - it's CGA's 4 colours against Spectrum's six - the CGA version makes better use of the smaller amount of colours.

Finally, before we move on to level 2 and beyond, we have to take a look at all the things that the MSX2 version has wrong. At least there are some things done right, but all that can be counted with one hand's fingers. Let's see... 1) The colouring is pretty good, even rather faithful to the original 16-bits. 2) At least some effort has been put into the backgrounds. 3) Rick looks vaguely like Rick, but only vaguely. I'm really struggling to find anything good to say about this version, so I might as well move on to the bad things. 1) Rick looks only vaguely like Rick. His animation is dodgy at best, and you can never really tell where his sprite's collision boundaries are. 2) The background graphics are even more repetitive and boring here than in any other version, even if the colouring is pretty close to the originals. The lack of effort gets more and more astonishing the more you look at it. 3) Radically less animated objects in the game. 4) Radically less enemies in the game. 5) Gradually, you will notice that there are even less of decorative objects in the game. And the lack of scrolling you already knew about. All this you can notice just by playing the first level, so what can you expect from the other two levels?

16-bit screenshots from level 2. Top row: Amiga/ST coloured and greyscale versions.
Bottom row: DOS EGA and CGA modes alternated.

All these Egyptian graphics are slightly more interesting to look at than the Amazonian ones, simply due to having lots and lots of more background graphics, as well as some rare level-specific items to find, such as the big jewel thing, and the second big nod to the Indy movies - the Ark of the Covenant, or something clearly inspired by it. In a way, the focus of the localized graphics has been swapped from the frames to the back wall, although there are plenty enough of different looking tile-shaped pyramid blocks around. In particular, the hieroglyphs offer an interesting point of comparison in that the DOS graphic modes make the shadows affect the hieroglyphs in a different manner than they do in the AMIGA and ST versions. While in the top row, you can see that the shadows make everything darker that are in the shadows, the DOS version makes the hieroglyphs act in a completely opposite manner: whereas the writing is sort of black when shown in light, the shadows will make the writings red. This goes for both CGA and EGA modes. Just like in level 1, the differences in the overall colouring and shading between the top and bottom rows are just as vast as you would expect from a game of this age.

8-bit screenshots from level 2. Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad original, Amstrad remake, ZX Spectrum, MSX2.

Interestingly enough, both of the AMSTRAD conversions have the shadows effect worked out similarly to the Amiga and ST versions, while the SPECTRUM conversion completely blackens anything in the shadows, and the C64 conversion does it the same way as it appears in the DOS version. Again, the MSX2 colour scheme is the closest to the originals, but that's all the similarity you can expect from it. The level design is now completely different and the decorations are lesser in variety, and there are no shadows here.

The colouring is again a bit different for each version, but all of them have clearly aimed for a similar result. The structural stones are mostly somewhere between orange and brown, although the 16-bits originally were quite brown overall. As it happens, neither the SPECTRUM nor the AMSTRAD machines have brown in their palettes, so the closest they could get to is dark orange and dark red. With a bit of tweaking, the 2009 Amstrad version has been managed to display something very close to brown in small amounts. The backgrounds now range from monochrome red/black through multicolour with shades of red or purple, to monochrome magenta/black. Although I think the C64 version's colours are for the most part the best compromise for this level, the 2009 Amstrad version's background fits surprisingly well, even if purple is not really a colour usually connected to stones, and all the other enhanced graphics makes it look personal and refreshing. That said, while the quality of the graphics on the original Amstrad version is basically similar to the remake, the colour scheme makes the old one look a bit messy and too much like a compromise than a carefully thought out conversion.
Screenshots from the last two levels. Leftmost 1/3: Amiga/ST. Middle 1/3: Commodore 64.
Rightmost 1/3, top: Amstrad original. Rightmost 1/3, bottom: ZX Spectrum.

I'm sorry to admit, but I had to use a heavy-duty cheat mode where available in order to get past level 2, so any more screenshots for the DOS version are now dropped, and therefore, the second half of the game's graphics will be dealt with more urgently. Some of the screenshots were taken from other sources out of necessity, so if you want to see a better collage for this bit, why not send me some good screenshots and I shall build a new one. I just can't be bothered to play the game anymore myself.

Level 3 gets Rick into infiltrating the notorious Schwarzendumpf Castle, where he must rescue a vast number of Allied prisoners. Sure enough, the place looks like a big stone castle with a bunch of wine racks and beer barrels, not to mention guard dogs that look like they've escaped from old Looney Tunes cartoons, and almost French-looking German soldiers with big noses and big guns. The final level gets you even deeper into enemy territory, and your final mission is to get through an enemy missile base, where you will be facing not only some more French/German soldiers, but some higher-ranked officers and mini rockets as well. The final screen features a machine you need to blow up in order to beat the game, which is actually a bit of a let down after all the trouble you have gone through to get there. Even by using a cheat mode.

As you would expect, a castle made of stones looks like a stone castle, when the palette allows it. The missile base has a rather strange shade of blue all over the place, apart from the back walls, which are again very grey. The C64 version stays in a grey in the front and blue in the back sort of colour scheme for both of the last two levels, while the SPECTRUM version has a rather unfitting cyan/blue with magenta mixture of the primary colours for both levels. Again, the red background in the third level of the AMSTRAD version makes it look a bit messy, but the final level looks much more fitting, and even rather good. As much as I would love to dwell on the details of all the background artwork and everything, none of the 8-bit versions really give much chance for the decorations to stand out from the already rather blocky and repetitive graphics. But I can say this: both the AMSTRAD versions have the least worst looking enemy sprites and other moving objects (other than Rick himself) from the 8-bits.

Game Over and Enter Your Name screens. Top half, left to right: Amiga/ST greyscale and coloured + Commodore 64.
Bottom half, left to right: ZX Spectrum (top), Amstrad original (bottom), DOS CGA, DOS EGA, Amstrad remake.

Just for completeness' sake, here are the screens for when your game is over and when you enter your name on the high scores list, where available. Neither of these is much to look at, and the Game Over screen is a particularly boring one, regardless of the version, but there are at least some minor differences. The most surprising thing about this bit for me was that the newer Amstrad version actually has a high score list put into it, which is just another reason to choose the remake over the original. And there is still more to come.

We all know how to start with the results, but the problem is, how to balance the rest of the scores in a fair manner. The 2009 Amstrad remake certainly deserves some proper consideration for placing at the top half, since it has all the colour issues fixed from the original Amstrad version, and then it adds quite a lot of impressive things in there, and all of it works fantastically well, even though it still suffers from a naturally Amstrad-like blockiness. I like Rick's sprite on the C64 more than on any other 8-bit, particularly as it's the only version where Rick jumps closer to the camera when he dies, but the rest of it is just about on par with the Amstrad remake. Just because there's so much more content on the Amstrad remake, I'm willing to give it the higher spot. The original Amstrad version isn't too shabby either, but suffers from some messy colour choices. The Spectrum version has higher quality sprites and other details, but the choice of colours is rather poor and often unnatural, and the monochrome graphics within the area of action makes all the finely drawn detail almost meaningless. As I said earlier, the poor colour choices on the Spectrum make it look worse than the CGA DOS version, even though it has two colours less in use. The MSX2 version comes last, because it focuses on completely wrong things. The colours are alright, but practically everything else is wrong.

3. AMSTRAD 128k (2009)
5. AMSTRAD original
8. MSX2



Strangely enough, the only thing that never really fit together with Rick Dangerous' otherwise Indiana Jones oriented styling, at least in my opinion, was the title theme tune. Until now, I could never really understand why they didn't write a more heroic tune as the theme song, but I guess the idea was to make it feel more cartoony, like Duck Tales or something. The whole tune is constructed to sound like a horn section playing something not completely out from the realm of nursery rhymes. Naturally, on anything but an Amiga, the horn section will sound very different, because they are not sampled. The least impressive machine in terms of music is the 128k SPECTRUM version, at least when the game actually has the original tunes. Of course you might have guessed already, that the MSX2 theme tune is completely different, as pretty much everything else about it has been so far, and sounds more like something belonging in a Puyo Puyo'esque puzzle game. It doesn't sound bad, it's just way off from the original. However, as we make progress in any of the game's proper versions, we can hear a better balance in the quality of music between all the versions, wherever available - the 48k Spectrum version, the original AMSTRAD version and the DOS version feature no music at all.

At most, there are 7 tunes in all: one intro tune for each level, two ending tunes (game over and victory) and the main theme tune. For level 1, they went for a style that is very similar to those early silent movie action sequences where a lonesome piano player works his fingers off, which works better to set the mood than the actual title tune. Come to think of it, the level 1 tune may well be a straight rip off from some silent action movie, because most of the other tunes are well known. The level 2 intro tune is an excerpt from Sol Bloom's Hootchy Kootchy Dance, the level 3 tune is a bit from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565), the level 4 tune is from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (the Montagues and Capulets segment), and the good ending features a similarly bad rendition of Rule Britannia that is featured in Henry's House. Only the intro tune and the Game Over tune feel almost completely tailormade for the game.

The sound effects are a great part of what made the game so popular in the first place. On both of the capable 16-bits, you get sampled sounds of Rick yelling "WAAAAAAH!" when he gets killed, a very nice explosion and a gunshot. All the other sound effects make use of each machine's sound chips to their best ability, which still makes the AMIGA version a couple of yards' length more advanced. I know this might come as a shocking surprise to many of you out there, but the C64 version sounds rather dull and weak compared to the ST - and even more shockingly, the 2009 AMSTRAD remake features some of the same sound samples as the 16-bits, and the rest of the sound effects aren't too shabby either. In fact, it's quite a bit better than the C64 soundtrack. Actually, even the 128k SPECTRUM version has a more fitting and powerful set of sound effects than the C64 version, and it can even play some of the effects while the level intro tunes are playing in the background. The less powerful AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM machines can only do sound effects, and even then, they suffer from a similar lack of oomph and consequence as the C64 sounds. The DOS version's sound effects are surprisingly good and forceful, coming from a single channel speaker, but they're still only in the same league as the 48k Spectrum and Amstrad versions.

But wait - I almost forgot about the MSX2 sounds! They're actually very decent, and try to mimic the original as far as possible, by having sampled sound effects for certain things, such as "AIIEE!" for Rick's death, and a nice explosion for your bombs. I'd say it's a bit controversial that the Game Over screen has a speech sample saying "Aw, sh*t", but then again, it's an unofficial conversion. Luckily. Considering everything, the sound effects are the least disappointing aspect of the MSX2 conversion. While I'm at it, I might as well say a few more words about the MSX2 version's music. For starters, there isn't much of it; in fact, there's only one intro tune, which is played for all levels. Although the music is nicely done as proper multichannel music, with drums and everything, it's a bit pitiful that all the level intro sequences have the same tune, and still each of them should be loaded separately from disk, and once you're done with it, you have to load some more to get to the actual level. So, sound-wise, it's not bad, but it's not very good either.

Deciding on whether the AMIGA or ST sound effects are better is a matter of your acquired taste, but the AMIGA is the clearly more technically advanced version, which can be noted when two sampled sound effects are played simultaneously, which the ATARI machine is unable to do. As for the 8-bits, the sound effects for each version are different enough to consider them almost equal, but again, it's a matter of taste and familiarity, which version will suit your senses the best. While the C64 version has a slightly underwhelming library of sound effects, at least they have some personality, which can be said of none of the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions. From a purely technical standpoint, the MSX2 sounds are better than those of any of the other 8-bits, but there's just too little of it, and it's too different. To me, it's just yet another proof of the Paragon team having concentrated on the wrong aspects of the game while doing the conversion.

And I still have to give the scores by balancing the quality and quantity of both sound effects and music... well, in case you haven't read all of the above, then you have no idea why the scores are given as they are, and you need to do so now. But here we go...

3. AMSTRAD 128k (2009)
6. MSX2
7. DOS
8. AMSTRAD original / ZX SPECTRUM 48k



Update, 6th of April, 2015:
Only after I had finished the next comparison, I noticed that the Gaming History Source channel on YouTube had released a Let's Compare video of Rick Dangerous, so here's the video link.

This video includes most of the official versions, missing only the DOS version in CGA mode and the 48k Spectrum version for some reason. Also, it's missing the 2009 Amstrad remake and the MSX2 version from the unofficials, but then it features footage from the unfinished Game Boy Advance remake and a Shockwave Flash remake, which I was unaware of until now. And here's the link for the said Flash remake.



Mostly due to its all around quality control concerning gameplay, this game has to be given its scores in a slightly different manner. I have decided to give all the other versions a full 8 in playability, except for the MSX2 version, which will be given half of it. This might not be the ideal solution, but it's the one I shall be using for this particular occasion.

1. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 8, Graphics 8, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 24
2. ATARI ST: Playability 8, Graphics 8, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 23
3. AMSTRAD 128k (2009): Playability 8, Graphics 6, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 20
4. COMMODORE 64: Playability 8, Graphics 5, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 17
4. DOS, EGA mode: Playability 8, Graphics 7, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 17
5. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 8, Graphics 2, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 15
6. AMSTRAD original: Playability 8, Graphics 4, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 13
6. DOS, CGA mode: Playability 8, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 13
7. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 8, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 11
8. MSX2: Playability 4, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8

I suppose it could be worse. Basically, I'd say that if you have never tried to play Rick Dangerous in your life, any of the version from the 128k Spectrum upwards are easily worth consideration. But if you don't like difficult games, you might as well stay far away from this one, because it's mostly unfair and frustrating for even us old folks.

For the old fans, though, there are some nice remakes out there well worth checking out. My current favourite is the homebrew Nintendo Wii version, since it offers a nice update instead of just a pure reproduction, but of course, if you would rather play a PC version that is as close as possible to the original Amiga and ST versions, there's always Xrick, for example. Then, of course, if you're fed up with the original Rick Dangerous game, you can always take a look at the sequel, also originally released for all the same machines that the original game was.

That's it for now, hope you enjoyed it! Next time, to keep my sanity, I shall be doing something less troublesome. In the meantime, why not drop a word below - suggestions, corrections and other comments are as welcome as ever.


  1. Another interesting comparison, thanks!

    I've never understood the appeal of this game, to be honest. To me it was a test of memory more than a game, and was no fun to play. Still, it seemed to please a lot of people, so perhaps I'm in the minority here?

    1. Thanks for the comment! My guess is, the appeal had about 80% to do with all the Indiana Jones references and 20% with the good graphics and sound effects where such were available. Can't really tell if you're in the minority, or if most people put more weight on everything else but gameplay, but I do agree with you in that it's not all that much fun to play.

  2. Hi... thx for all the praises on the Amstrad 128PLUS upgraded version.
    >> the brown on the first level is because "this is earth, not rocks". Also some pillars have a different southern american design. I wanted to keep the CPC style but with some added things, the 16bits are too brown&grey and actually too grey and monocolour to my taste.

    >> second level's Purple background : because it was the best looking hue, a nod to speccy version, else it would have looked too reddish and too monocolour.

    Basically i could have used the exact same palette as Atari ST... or Amiga. I tried to get the backgrounds colours being used only by background, to get different layers of colours very distinct.

    >> the slowdowns are a remnant of the CPC version's engine, the sound samples don't help... let's say it is cinematic bullet time effect.

    >> sadly no pictures of 3rd and 4th levels on Amstrad 128PLUS version... the ones i'm the most proud of.

    3rd level : kept the "red bricks" but could add more greys.
    4th level : really somewhat same as 16bits in colours.
    Also the Nazies sprites are quite better than old CPC version.

    Else got to know Amstrad CPC only has one Grey (medium) and somewhat no "browns" beside dark Red and Orange, this explains the colour choices in many ways. The blocky pixels elements were somewhat ported from the C64 version (recoloured of course), just that C64 can mix wide and square pixels.
    Amstrad PLUS/GX4000 can choose from the same 4096 colours as Amiga/STe, but was plagued by straight Amstrad CPC games cartridges.


    1. Oh, thanks for the comment! Always nice to hear from developers themselves, and interesting because you guys always have some information to offer that I could not be aware of, or might have missed while testing the game myself. =) Sorry about not getting screenshots of every level in the CPC+ version, but I can only say, very good work on the remake!

  3. Also a pleasure to discover your blog, very nice.
    I know you may not have time to update older reviews so don't worry about my comments about "missing things". ;-)

    keep on the good work dude.

  4. Nice review, but I have to make a statement the MSX2 version was made using basic, so the game isn´t that bad when you realise it was done in purely msx basic.

    1. Considering it was made in basic, then I agree, it's a pretty good job. But considering it's supposed to be Rick Dangerous, compared to the original the MSX2 version is bad, so I'm still pondering, why not go all the way and make it like it's supposed to be?