This time, I'm going to start with a couple of my old PC favourites, coupled with a couple of titles that are often overlooked in favour of other similar, albeit better titles.
1. Offensive (1995, Ocean of America, Inc.)
For starters, let's have a look at this relatively unknown rarity, which was released by Ocean Software's U.S. department very late in the life of the software house, before Infogrames acquired the company and eventually renamed it as Infogrames UK in 1998. Offensive is a mouse-driven isometric real-time strategy game with high emphasis on action, or perhaps the other way around... which makes it more of a Cannon Fodder derivative than a relative of the Command & Conquer series.
I learned of this game through the legendary Home of the Underdogs website, which has a short review of the game, also worth reading for some extra trivia. While the game is sadly an obscurity for good reasons, I remember having a fairly positive opinion about it when I played the game for a good few hours myself, probably because I'm not all that much of a fan of either proper RTS games or straight-on mouse-clicking action games. So, if you're like me, and want to have something exactly from between the two genres, this is your game. It may not be perfect, but it's something. Unfortunately, it's difficult to come by, but using the proper sources, you just might get lucky.
2. Interstate '76 (1997, Activision)
Back in 1996, gamers were gradually moving on to either PC or PS1 from their Amigas, Atari ST's, Super Nintendos and Sega Megadrives. Some of us had already done so a year or two before, and had learned how to deal with DOS commands and work to get that few extra kb of RAM free in order to make certain games to play. When Windows '95 came along, some of us "proper PC gamers" couldn't be bothered to switch to Win'95, because it would mean that working with DOS would become desperately restricted and challenging, and most of the good stuff at that time required a proper DOS. In 1996/97, a few games started to show up, which would severely test our religious behaviour, but one of the biggest things to make some of us convert to the Windows religion was Interstate '76.
This beast was - nay, is! - the funkiest game ever. It is set in the south-western United States of America in an altered year of 1976, during a prolonged oil crisis. You take the role of Groove Champion, who is set to revenge his sister's murder, but at the same time, help his partner Taurus to investigate an evil mastermind, who is building a private army. The game is mostly a first-person vehicular combat with some focus on racing, and all the vehicles in the game are based on actual 1970's cars, including many muscle cars of the period. As a huge bonus, to get the style of the game perfect, and imitate the style of blaxploitation movies, it also features a properly good funk soundtrack written by Arion Salazar, the bassist of Third Eye Blind, and performed by his one-off band, Bullmark.
Sure, it's severely out-dated now, 18 years later, and difficult to get to play as well as it was meant to (you'd better have a properly aged Windows 95/98 machine for that) but it still is one of the most stylish games ever made, and probably the earliest example of such attention to stylistic detail. The gameplay isn't bad either, even though the game engine is taken from MechWarrior 2, but it does require a bit of practice and getting used to, as it's not anything like a basic racing game with weapons. A friend of mine has completed this game about 30 times, and he recommends to play I76 with an old-school analog joystick. The game along with its Nitro Pack expansion is available to purchase at GOG.com, and I can only recommend it very highly for everyone. The original CD version includes the soundtrack on the CD, though, so finding that one is even more highly recommended. I76 also has a sequel called Interstate '82, which leans more towards Twisted Metal type games than Mechwarrior, but it's also a Windows PC exclusive, so it's also worth checking out - and also available at GOG.
3. Sword of the Samurai (1987, MicroProse)
I'm not entirely sure, but I might have mentioned this one earlier in some other context. Sword of the Samurai is a game that has the dubious honour of being Sid Meier's Pirates! only known spiritual successor, and it certainly feels very similar to it, with most of the gameplay mechanics being ripped straight from Samurai's predecessor. The relative lack of popular focus on this game might be related to the game not having Sid Meier's name on the cover, since he was only marginally involved in the development of the game, namely doing the game's AI and dueling bits.
It cannot be really said that the game didn't have as much press coverage, since it was received with even more enthusiasm than Pirates!, with Computer Gaming World magazine even going as far as praising Samurai's amount of content, graphics, soundtrack, near-perfect gameplay and historical accuracy. So, the only thing I can think of that made this game lesser noted, is the simple fact that it was only ever released for the IBM-PC compatibles. The idea in the game is to take the role of an unknown samurai, and raise in power, ultimately replacing Oda Nobunaga as the daimyo responsible for reunifying sengoku Japan. Most of the adventuring is done in a very similar manner to how you proceed in Pirates!, so it should be relatively comfortable for all Pirates! fans out there. Since the game is easily available at GOG.com, I can recommend it without any reservations, unless you're loath to pay for anything.
4. Arctic Moves (1995, Dinamic/Imagine)
This might come in as a surprise for some retrogamers, but if you remember the Moves series from Dinamic, featuring Army Moves and Navy Moves, there was a third part in the series. Arctic Moves was only ever officially released for the IBM-PC compatibles, although it was also programmed for the Atari ST. In 2001, the ST version saw daylight, but it is uncertain, whether the version in circulation is an unfinished product or not. Also, World of Spectrum lists this game as part of the Moves series, but there is no information whether or not any work was actually done for converting the game.
Naturally, Arctic Moves follows its predecessors in a particular manner: there are two distinctly different parts in the game, which along with the second half of the first part and the ending can be accessed via numeric codes, which are given to you after completing an area. Part 1 is a platforming shooter game, where you must pick up explosives and blow up radars, and part 2 is a stealth-shooter, in which you can't jump, but you are given a more powerful weapon and the ability to hide in the walls... sort of. As with the earlier titles in the series, your job is made more difficult by slightly awkward controls and a time limit. So it's not the most unique title around, but it's an officially exclusive one at least.
1. CREATURES II: Torture Trouble (1992, Thalamus)
Let's take a gentle fall back in time, rewinding only four years before the release of Arctic Moves into the time when Arctic Moves was originally supposed to have been released. Happily, while this game another sequel, it's a sequel of a slightly different manner of a game, and even more happily, it's a completely different sort of a sequel. Mind you, some people haven't seem to have been as happy as I have that Clyde Radcliffe has decided to Evaporate All The Unfriendly Repulsive Earth-Ridden Slime in a largely different manner this time.
While the original game was mostly a side-scrolling platformer with tricky gameplay mechanics and mostly overlengthy levels, Torture Trouble is more of a puzzle game with some arcadey bouncing games between the puzzle levels, although it still does retain some of its original platforming heritage. All levels are integral to your process, which could be considered both a good and bad thing, but at least it's very different from all the other games at the time. For that alone, it's well worth checking out. Sure, it was overrated at the time, and it still feels less amazing than it's been given to believe, but then again, it's not just the gameplay that brings it such a status - there's the excellent music, fluffy-yet-brutal graphics, and most of all, the humour which is even more on display here than it was in the original CREATURES game. So, it's not only exclusive for the C64, it's rather unique as well. Highly recommended, if only to see what you might have missed after switching on to the 16-bits before 1992.
2. Fast Tracks: The Computer Slot Car Construction Kit (1985, Activision)
Most of us remember Scalextric, Carrera and their clones from our childhood. There was always some kid in the area who had a set, even if it was only a small figure-of-eight track and two cars. I was one of those who never had one, but saw it often at one friend's place or another's, so I never really felt like I needed my own. Particularly since I had something to simulate the toys - two computerized versions of the said contraption.
The official Scalextric computer game wasn't really properly Scalextric-like, since the game felt more like Pitstop II with a track editor. The only game that I thought fitted the bill was Fast Tracks, and even that one was a bit stretching the requirements. What it manages to do better compared to the official Scalextric computer game, is that it actually is played on what are supposed to be slot car tracks, although the slots have been taken out. Instead, yours and your rival cars are placed on a narrow track with steep turns, narrow bits and other familiar-looking track bits, from which you can easily get yourself thrown off, much like in a proper Scalextric track. In addition to the slightly unyielding controls and the slot car track-like behaviour in general, you get a respectable number of in-built tracks and a track editor, so it should work nicely for a replacement for a few hours. Not one of Activision's most memorable titles, particularly since Racing Destruction Set already existed, and did the isometric-racing-with-track-editor thing already, and with jumps and all, but this one is faster and sort of simulates the slot car racing experience instead of off-road racing. So, it's kind of unique in a way, it's exclusive for the C64, and it's well worth a look.
3. Bath Time (1984, PSS)
One of the strangest titles on the C64 that I have only lately come to know of is Bath Time from Andromeda Software. The reason why I got intrigued about it at all was that most of the comments at Lemon64 were quite negative, and the rating is currently only 3 from 7 votes, so I wanted to find out why was it such an apparently hateful game.
To my utter surprise, I found it to be a rather interesting game, in which you need to keep the bathtub from flowing over by moving a fairy and making him/her open and close valves to keep the water in the bathtub at a good level. Your opponent will try to fill and empty the bathtub at every turn, and to help your rival's cause, a boy wearing a swimsuit will bring water to the bathtub every now and then, and also an elephant will drain some water from the bathtub as often. In other words, you need to be keeping an eye on everything happening on the screen with a constancy rarely required from a casual gamer. While it's not a particularly enjoyable game, it's an interesting idea, and with a bit of tweaking, it could have been rather good as well. I imagine with a second player, it might be more playable, but I'm not all that interested to find out. Still, put some time and practice into it, and you just might find a rather playable game. As it's only available on the C64, and just barely on that, you just might have to try to find it to play on an emulator.
4. Scarabaeus (1985, Ariolasoft)
For our final C64-exclusive title for now, we have an Hungarian first person arcade/adventure. Scarabaeus was also released in the United States as "Invaders of the Lost Tomb" in 1986, with Spinnaker as the publisher, who are mostly known for their edutainment software and a few imports, such as this.
You take the role of an astronaut, who must explore an Egyptian tomb with his dog with the goal of finding the Pharaoh's Jewel by solving puzzles spread over three levels, which are linked by a lift/elevator. All three levels are of a different size and feature different hazards. In the first level, you need to catch nine ghosts, each carrying a tablet with a hieroglyph written on it. The hieroglyphs are needed on the next level, where you will find puzzles within spider-inhabited alcoves, which will feature potions of medicine or poison. In the third level, you must open your way to the center of the maze while trapping zombies and solving more puzzles. At the center of the third level, the hidden inner sanctum hides the sacred jewel Scarabaeus, which is required for winning the game.
At the time of release, the game got rave reviews, and is quite well rated even today, having 8.2 from 54 votes at Lemon64. The thing is, though, it's an impossible game to get into without proper instructions, so in case you're unfamiliar with the game, a thorough reading of this wiki page is highly recommended. Once you get in terms with the gameplay, though, it can be a very rewarding experience. I do recommend to try it, but with caution.
UPDATE, July 27th 2016: While doing some heavy browsing through the CPC-Softs archive, I came across the Amstrad conversion of Scarabaeus, which was apparently only released in Spanish regions, which is probably why the said version hasn't been documented to exist in other websites. Oh well, better late than never, I guess...
I only did one set for the arcades in the earlier entries in the series, because it's insanely difficult to find anything that is both unique and exclusive for the arcades. Happily, I did manage to find four more to add to the list, that I found worth adding.
1. Boogie Wings (1992, Data East)
Okay, so we're not starting with a particularly unique game, but it does have some interesting gameplay mechanics to it. Boogie Wings is pretty much what a horizontally scrolling shoot'em-up should be, when played on an arcade machine. It offers much to look at, a nice soundtrack and some great gimmicks. So, apart from being an arcade exclusive, does it have some actual reason to be included here?
As a matter of fact, yes. Some of you will remember Silk Worm and it's sequel of sorts, in which you could choose to cause mass destruction on a Jeep or a helicopter, or if two players are playing, one for each. Well, Boogie Wings takes the idea of multiple vehicles in a shooter a few miles further, and then some. You start off with a biplane, wielding a hook which can catch all sorts of items to roll around and cause some havoc. Fun with physics in a shoot'em-up! When your plane gets destroyed, your pilot starts running, and you can control him on the ground as well as you should ever wish to. You can then take control of any unmanned vehicle and continue destroying things. This gameplay element gives you better chances, and is a very welcome idea in an otherwise monotonous genre. Highly recommended.
2. Snacks 'n' Jaxson (1984, Bally/Sente)
I only learned of this game's existence about two days ago, and just had to include it for this list, because it's such a superbly disturbing oddball of a game. The title alone is a bit of a mess, although it's easy enough to pronounce, but once you get the game started, you're in for a real treat.
Because it's such a strange concept, it's next to impossible to try and write about the game in any way that would be as informative and proper for the game as the arcade flyer, so I'll skip being thematically correct. The game was originally played with a trackball controller, but most of you will probably be using a mouse or keyboard. The trackball would control the titular clown's face around the screen, trying to block his nose from hitting the windows at the back, while eating all the food items sent all over the screen by the miniature cook, who will also make your munching sessions more difficult by throwing bars of soap and jalapeños in the mix. Physically, the game makes no sense whatsoever, but then the game doesn't make much sense anyway, so the physics aren't much of a problem. Basically, it's a 3-dimensional variation of Pong with some other wild ideas thrown in the mix. But considering that Bally/Sente is responsible for such curious gaming classics as Hat Trick, Root Beer Tapper and Timber, I'd say it's no wonder that weirdness of this calibre comes from the same company. I might recommend this game, quite highly even, but only if you're open to some truly random stuff.
3. Nitro Ball (1992, Data East)
Data East is surprisingly well represented this time, as we take a look at another shoot'em-up from their library. Nitro Ball is basically the bastard son of Smash TV and any pinball simulator. Sounds strange? Trust me, it is.
This game is perhaps a simplified version of Smash TV, but all the levels take place inside vertically scrolling arenas that have been made to look like pinball tables. In the beginning, you play as a soldier of fortune, trying to make your way through the levels in sections. Each section has something as a goal which needs to be accomplished in order to make progress, so that's where the Smash TV bit comes in. The similarites don't end there, though: you also get to collect masses of treasure drops which increase your score, and you get to pick up some special weapons as well. The pinball bit is mostly notable in the level layouts, but the idea is taken further by making you occasionally turn into a ball and make progress in that form. It's strange and wonderful, and just plain stupid that it never got ported to home consoles.
4. Frogs (1978, Sega-Gremlin)
The last one for the arcades this time is probably both the simplest and the oldest game I will have reviewed for this blog so far. Frogs from Sega-Gremlin (this Gremlin having nothing to do with the British Gremlin Graphics) is a single-player action/platform game, which can boast of being the first game to feature a jumping player character, predating Donkey Kong by three years, making this by some definitions the first platform game ever. And it's an arcade exclusive.
Back in the 70's, most arcade games were simply black and white. If there were any coloured graphics shown on the screen, it was most likely because there was a colourful overlay placed in front of the screen, so that it would appear like you were playing the game in a graphically enhanced environment. Frogs was no different in this regard, which is why when you play the game on MAME, for example, the screen is just black with white characters.
The idea in Frogs is simple - just catch as many butterflies and other insects within the given amount of time as you can, in order to set a new high score. You play as the Frog, who hops around at the bottom of the screen and jumps higher to reach the altitudes where the insects are flying. Push the fire button to use your tongue to catch the insects. That's all there is to it. Simple, but addictive. Early arcade gaming at its finest. While it's not perhaps the most unique game in existence, it's certainly an exclusive one, as well as the first of its kind. Definitely worth a look.
1. RoadKill (1994, Acid Software) - AGA/CD32
I will always connect Acid Software primarily to one game: Skidmarks. They were responsible for other rather brilliant little titles as well, though - RoadKill being one of them. Again, it's a racing game, but this time, it's an overhead racer, which combines elements from RC Pro Am, Super Cars and Smash TV, with a heavier emphasis on getting your rivals wrecked and getting bonus money than getting yourself across the finish line in the first place. As long as you're in the top three, you're fine, but destroying your opponents is where the big money is.
Any friends of Skidmarks might have already suspected that the game's presentation is fantastic overall, but does the game have any unique aspects to it? Well, the game was originally released for the CD32 machine, where your primary controller was a joypad, giving each fire button their own duty to fulfill - the other one for acceleration, and the other one for firing weapons. If you play the game on an Amiga 1200 with a joystick, you will have to fire your weapons by hitting the space bar, which can be a bit difficult, depending on your setup. Then again, if you're playing the game on a CD32 with a joystick, you will not be able to fire any weapons at all! How's that for unique? The most impressive thing about the game is its high framerate, which makes the game very quick indeed, but it also poses a potential problem regarding the playability - the screen is bigger horizontally than it is vertically, and the low visibility makes the tracks often very difficult to navigate. So, although you get a map for every track, you will need to do some heavy memorizing here. Unlike other racing games of a similarly violent nature, RoadKill features jump ramps and other fun features, which give the game its own slight edge, making it worth a look. Due to the high quality presentation and good use of an Amiga joypad, it's worth having in your Amiga collection.
2. Uridium 2 (1993, Renegade) - AGA/ECS/OCS
I've been meaning to do a comparison of the original Uridium for a while now, but it requires much more work than I first anticipated, so I'll mention the sequel first. As you might have guessed by its inclusion here, Uridium 2 was only ever released for the Commodore Amiga. It offers nothing unique about it, really, it's just an exclusive Amiga title.
To those of you who haven't played either of the Uridium games, the idea is to fly your Manta across huge dreadnoughts, shooting everything that can be shot. You can flip, twist and turn your Manta, which is helpful in getting through tight places, but your goal is just to destroy as much of enemy things as possible and reach the landing zone safely. For most of us fans of the original Uridium, the sequel never worked as well as the original due to two reasons: the graphics were too colourful and detailed, making flying through the levels and finding the landing zones a headache, and the bonus game was turned into different sort of a shooter stage with an element of gravity in it. Sure, the whole package looks great, but it's less of a pleasure to play. Still, if you're a casual shooter fan, you might enjoy it more than us old-timers.
3. Arabian Nights (1993, Krisalis) - ECS/OCS/CD32
By 1993, the platforming adventure genre had already gone through most imaginable forms, but some developers still thought it had something very much to offer. Happily, Arabian Nights proved to be just the thing the old genre was still missing. Combining games like Sonic the Hedgehog, the Super Mario Bros. series (#3 in particular), the Dizzy series, and even such out-of-genre examples as Metal Gear and Gradius to some extent, Arabian Nights - at least in my mind - brings you the best that the genre has ever had to offer: speed, upgrades, big inventory, puzzles, variety and a nice plot. To top it all, the game has brilliant graphics, great soundtrack, nice atmosphere and still only two floppy disks for the entire game. What's not to like?
Well, there's always something, isn't there? The problem with Arabian Nights is, unfortunately, the shoot'em-up levels, which are stupidly difficult due to their unpredictable nature and the lack of memorizable background graphics. Otherwise, the game would be utterly brilliant at what it is, but the attempted variety ruins it a bit. Still, even with the negative aspects of it, Arabian Nights offers some of the best combinations of gameplay elements that haven't been seen similarly elsewhere, and for the most part, is a very good game. So, if you're an Amiga gamer, and looking for something exclusive and potentially brilliant, try this one.
4. Apidya (1992, Blue Byte) - OCS/ECS
Since I'm struggling to find anything properly unique to end this one with, the last one for the Amiga section has to be another side-scrolling shooter. Happily, Blue Byte's Apidya isn't exactly yet another shooter among shooters - and although there was an Atari ST version in the making, it was never finished, so it's an Amiga exclusive, which is enough for now.
Many Amiga gamers have mentioned Apidya as a prime example of a shoot'em-up game, and for good reasons. The playability is spot on, the graphics are colourful and the soundtrack is brilliant. On the whole, the game feels exactly like a Japanese shoot'em-up with a quirky personality, which is what the developer team Kaiko most likely tried to achieve. The thing is, Kaiko was a German team, and some of the Japanese influences are just there for the heck of it, and don't really mean anything specific. But the style is there, and it's brilliant and different.
According to the story, you play as the shapeshifting magician Ikuro, whose wife Yuri has been poisoned by Hexaae, and your job is to find an antidote and seek revenge as a deadly bee. Your bee can shoot a number of different kinds of projectiles and launch a build-up sort of a weapon, similarly to Gradius and R-Type. The game follows Ikuro's travels as a bee across five connected areas: a meadow, a pond, a sewer, a bio-technological machine and a final battle with five final bosses. Each area is divided into a number of stages, and usually feature hidden bonus levels. Following the Japanese shoot-em'up tradition, Apidya is hard as nails already on the normal level, and cannot be fully completed on the easiest level.
All in all, it's a very stylish shoot'em-up that has a nicely different theme, and which can give a proper challenge, but it's still just a shooter. But it's a good one, and it can only be found on the Amiga, and it's worth a look.
Just like the C64, the ZX Spectrum is an easy machine to find unique and/or exclusive games for, since the games library consists of thousands and thousands of titles, of which at least 1% is at least exclusive. Whether the found games are worth mentioning is another matter altogether, which is why this sort of work needs to be done for both machines. This time, the Spectrum list features mostly strange games with strange titles, but I'd say all of them are characteristically Spectrum'esque.
1. My Name Is Uncle Groucho... You Win A Fat Cigar (1983, Automata UK)
Trying to build a computer game around comedy acts has always been difficult, particularly if the humour is absurd. To prove this point, you only need to look at Cinemaware's take on the Three Stooges or Virgin's take on Monty Python's Flying Circus. Even Charlie Chaplin earned his own game, but the results were mostly awkward. This obsession for trying to create a good comedy game probably started with this Automata's rather curiously titled game with one of the Marx brothers as the main character.
This piece of work is a graphic adventure game, which means that you type in all your actions, and above the action prompt, you will see a fairly basic picture of the main street of your simulated Hollywood, or one of the establishments you might find yourself in. The game seems to work entirely on cigars, since it's the currency in the game, and everything you do will either cost you some cigars, or earn some, if you make winnings at the casino. I'd say it's one of the strangest graphic text adventures I have ever played, and not necessarily in a positive way. If the game wasn't such a painfully slow one to play, due to all the unnecessary music bits which makes the game pause for the duration of each tune, it might be even a somewhat interesting one, but as it is, it's just plain irritating. It's a Spectrum exclusive, and yes, even a bit unique, but for Marx's sakes, stay the heck off of this one.
2. Cosmic Wartoad (1985, Ocean Software/Denton Designs)
Of all the elaborately rephrased game plotlines where your mission is simply to destroy all your enemies and rescue the damsel in distress, Cosmic Wartoad has probably the most ridiculously modified version of the story. But nevermind that, because the game itself is more like an early blueprint for both Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Firefly, although Firefly wasn't made by Denton Designs.
You play as the titular amphibian, whose mission is to find and retrieve eight pieces of equipment before attacking the centerpiece of the gridmap, destroy all the enemies and rescue the Queen of the Wartoads, and effectively become her spouse. Most of the game is an endless button-mashing shooter with various different settings and levels. Whether the goal is worth all the trouble is for the player to decide, but I'd say it's an interesting title from an interesting game developing team, and certainly worth a look. Since it also happens to be published by Ocean, it will look good in your collection, but it can only be found for the Spectrum.
3. Corridors of Genon (1983, New Generation Software)
Malcolm Evans' Corridors of Genon is another New Generation Software title that takes an old concept and tweaks it around just enough to give it some new energy. Basically, it's not much more than a maze game, where your goal is to find the exit before your enemies capture you, although in this case, the enemy is a strange black creature called Bogul that looks a bit like Q*Bert, and the maze in this case is circular throughout, and you need to find the center of it.
The maze has 30 corridors, all of which have automatically opening and closing doors, but which mostly work to the evil Genon's advantage. Once you get to the center, you have to break the code of Genon's computer and then get back to the outmost corridor. As usual, the game is much more difficult than it sounds on paper, and like all the other games in this section, Corridors of Genon has a certain quality to it that can only be found in early Spectrum games. Very addicting, very aggravating, very recommendable... but not all that unique. Exclusive for the Spectrum it is, though.
4. Benny Hill's Madcap Chase! (1985, DK'Tronics)
We end the current Spectrum set on the same theme we started with: a game based on a comedy act. Benny Hill's Madcap Chase is happily an arcade/action title with some nice graphic comedy put into it, which works brilliantly for such an old game.
There is a rather nice and simple plotline in the game: Benny has volunteered to help his neighbours to pick up things and bring them to their designated places. In the first level, your mission is to fill the laundry basket at the left end of the map with the laundry hanging on the lines at the right end of the map, and all the clothes have to be carried one by one. To make things more difficult, you can hit all sorts of street items, which will cost you time, and any members of the public who notice you doing your job will assume that you are performing a robbery or something, so they will chase after you, and if you get caught, you will be dealt with, and the item you might be carrying at the time will be returned to its former place. Also, the local council can't make up its mind where the lamp posts and everything should be placed, so they are often moved to different spots, making your journey back and forth more bothersome. There are two more jobs in the game, which can only be accessed by successfully completing the previous.
Simply put, Benny Hill's Madcap Chase! is one of the most successful attempts at making a comedy game that I have ever seen - it plays rather well, it looks nice enough, and it has got a good amount of humour in it. It's a bit of a shame, really, that it can only be found on the ZX Spectrum, and even more of a shame, that the game is now a collector's item of sorts, and will often get bid good money on eBay. Happily, there's always emulation you can turn to. Very recommended.
1. Dragonstomper (1982, Starpath Corporation)
Almost each time there's something unique or exclusive on the Atari 2600, you can be pretty sure it's something that was done for the first time. Starpath was known for doing some of the most innovative games of the time, particularly when you consider that they were made for a home console, and not a computer as we know them. Dragonstomper, also known as Excalibur, was arguably the first home console RPG, and the truest RPG for the Atari 2600. Strangely enough, you need to have a Starpath Supercharger in order to play this game, which is basically a cassette drive - something rather strange considering the hardware.
The most likely reason why Dragonstomper needed to be distributed on a cassette tape was because the game is rather large, and requires lots of memory due to the information the machine needs to deal with. See, Dragonstomper is presented in three segments. The first segment is where you roam around in the Wilderness, killing all sorts of enemies and collecting money and helpful items, and eventually finding an identification paper, which needs to be shown to the bridge guard before entering the second segment. Once across the bridge, you enter a village, where you can buy and sell items, and even enroll the three roaming village guards by bribing them. Finally, you enter the Dragon's Cave, which you must get through in order to face the dragon, which you must defeat in order to get to an amulet, which is really the goal of the game.
Dragonstomper is an early example of a progressive, plot-driven role-playing game, which is a very impressive thing for the Atari 2600. Sure, it's not as immersive or complex as the Ultima series, which was launched even earlier, but for a keyboardless gaming console from the 1970's, this is as close as you will ever be able to get, unless someone decides to code an even more impressive Dragonstomper-alike. For Atari enthusiasts, this should be one of the most collectable games, but considering the need for a Starpath Supercharger, the game's value might be quite high.
2. Survival Island (1983, Starpath Corporation)
Since the first Starpath game for this entry was such a good idea, I decided to continue with the same publisher. For their second title, I chose Survival Island, which sounded like another potentially early innovation. Well, I wasn't completely wrong, but it wasn't exactly what I was hoping for.
Again, the game is played in three different parts from a cassette tape, but this time, all three parts are distinctly different. In the first level, you find yourself floating on a raft in the middle of an ocean, having survived a plane crash or something, and you need to get yourself to the island far ahead in the horizon. While at it, you need to collect supplies and watch out for all sorts of underwater wildlife. If you're not careful, you might lose your raft, or even worse, your life. Without a raft, though, you cannot collect any supplies, but you can wait for another raft to appear. Once you have managed to find dry land, you need to find your way through the jungle, and eventually reach the temple. To get there, you have to bribe some guards with money and collect some useful items, so it's not as straight-forward as it may seem at first. The final level takes place inside the temple, which has seven areas, all requiring some sort of a key in order to pass on to the next area. The temple is played from a first person view, and plays like Dungeon Master's grandfather, without any actual dangers, but even so, it is as vast a game as the previous Starpath title here. One of the more innovative concepts in the game is the passcode system, which is similar to those used by too many NES titles, but for all I know, this is the earliest example of one.
Judging by the name, I was hoping for something with a less defined idea, the main idea being just survival, instead of hunting for yet another treasure, but then I suppose open-ended games were not that much in vogue in 1983. Still, Survival Island offers even more of variety than Dragonstomper, is a rather unique combination of genres, and it can only be found for the Atari 2600 with the Starpath Supercharger.
3. Snoopy and the Red Baron (1983, Atari Inc.)
And here we have yet another game in the series of not very unique, but exclusive for the machine. Snoopy and the Red Baron has the peculiar honour of being not only the first Peanuts-themed video game ever, but also the winner of a play test between the first ever Bugs Bunny game, which was shelved in favour of this one. The Bugs Bunny game is available as a prototype on the internet, if you care to find it, but let's concentrate on this one.
Snoopy and the Red Baron is not much more than a scrolling version of the biplane duel game from Intellivision's Triple Action. You control Snoopy and his doghouse plane over a never-ending landscape, where you engage the Red Baron in an endless stream of air battles. Well, not as much endless as groups of four red planes against the number that you have of yours, and as far as I know, the game has no ending. Your mission is to shoot down the Red Baron as often as you can, and collect bonus items that he drops occasionally. Since you can both only shoot straight ahead of you, and the Red Baron can fly above your maximum altitude level, the levels can often take quite a while to end. It's not a particularly interesting game on the long run, but it has a certain charm to it, and Snoopy and his doghouse look nice enough to make the game worth trying. Again, it's an A2600 exclusive, and happily, it's not a bad one either.
4. Pressure Cooker (1983, Activision)
Activision was one of the publishers that began their life on the Atari 2600, and so it's no wonder that you might find quite a few exclusive titles for it. However, there aren't that many games in Activision's library that can also be called somewhat unique as well as exclusive, since most of them are either clones of something, or have been later on cloned to some other machines with slight modifications and released with a different title. Pressure Cooker happens to be one of the rare Activision titles that are both exclusive for the Atari 2600, and even somewhat unique while at it.
Your job in the game is not to adjust valves, but instead you have the high-pressure job of making hamburgers. The play area is divided into two rooms: the assembly line and the wrapping area. You start by putting hamburger ingredients onto hamburger bun halves that arrive on conveyor belts from the top of the screen, and you need to keep an eye on what sort of hamburgers have been ordered so that you can assemble them correctly. The random nature of the ingredients being thrown at you from the right side of the screen helps very little in the process, but there you go - that's pressure for you. Once an order has been assembled, you need to take it into the wrapping room, located below the assembly room, and then drop the hamburger down the assignated hatch. That's all it is, but it's certainly a tough job. It's a small miracle that this game was never converted for any other machine, as it is a very good one, so here's a good addition to anyone's Atari collection. Highly recommended.
Yes, it's the good old PS1 that recently reached its 20th birthday - how the time flies, eh? Well, in belated honour of the occasion, I will throw in four rather unique and/or exclusive games for the machine, and see where that gets us.
1. Apocalypse (1998, Activision)
You might remember this one as being another run-of-the-mill 3rd person action-platformer title with its only special feature being Bruce Willis in a strictly game-exclusive starring role. It's the first original game by Neversoft, who went on to launch the Tony Hawk skateboarding game franchise, and as a PlayStation exclusive, we have enough reason for including it here!
Apocalypse is primarily a (mostly) linear 3D platformer, but combines the action style from games like Robotron and Smash TV - lots of multi-directional shooting and explosions. As with most of other third person shooters and platformers, the camera angle is never good, but at least you're not required to move it around - the game does it by itself whenever necessary, so what you see is what you get. It tries to be another Duke Nukem in terms of futuristic action and one-liner humour, but because it's Bruce Willis, it doesn't really work all that well. The plotline has something to do with religion and science, but I never cared enough to diligently watch all the cutscenes, so I'm guessing your mission is to kill all the bad guys and save the world. I can't say it's a good start for this particular list, but hey, it's Bruce Willis.
2. Tobal No. 1 (1996, Square)
To us Europeans, Square became first known from developing Rad Racer for the NES, but the bulk of their games that reached us were J-PRG's, such as Secret of Evermore, Secret of Mana and later on, the Final Fantasy series. For some reason, the Final Fantasy games never got to us until the Gameboy and PS1 games, although some people did get them as imports for both NES and SNES. Naturally, these gamers were considered hardcore J-RPG fans, and the rest of us were happy with our Zeldas, Ultimas and Dungeon Master variants. Simultaneously, during the mid-90's, fighting games were experiencing a resurgence of sorts with the Tekken and Virtua Fighter series making the close contact sports into a vogue thing, even attracting gamers who were not so much into gaming as such. It's just that much fun kicking your friends' arses, right?
Tobal No. 1 was a game that simultaneously was only to be expected to come out of Japan, but still none of us would have guessed that would ever happen: a game combining RPG-based adventuring with one-on-one beat'em-up action. A friend of mine had somehow gotten a hold of this game, and at the time, I thought it was one of the most interesting games I had ever played. In fact, I still think it's one of the best ideas that came out during the first PlayStation's prime time.
Unfortunately, the Quest mode, which really is the crux of the biscuit here, is not a particularly comfortable mode to play. Your ability to move around is perhaps too varied, or maybe just badly optimised, since you can only either sneak around really slowly, or jog or run in a rather strangely restricting manner, where you can only steer your character in a certain large angle. Strafing is only allowed when not moving in any other manner. Turning your character is really slow and cumbersome by default, which is why they included two instant turning movements - a 90-degree and a 180-degree turn. You can also pick up and use things, as well as throw and drop them, but all of this and more are instructed to you at the Practice dungeon before the actual Quest mode begins. With lots of practice and a proper PS controller, you can get into the rhythm of Tobal, but if you're not too happy about the Quest mode, there's always the all too familiar Tournament and Versus modes, which is pretty much the same stuff that all the other 3D fighting games offer. For RPG fanatics, though, I can easily recommend this just for the sake of variety. Who knows, you might even enjoy it. There is also a sequel, Tobal no. 2, but it was never released outside of Japan.
3. The Note (1997, SunSoft)
Survival horror is a genre that has probably been attempted to reinvent more times than any other genre, because it's the most difficult one to get right. Even when you get it right once, you still need to reinvent it in order to get some element of surprise into the experience. When SunSoft released The Note in 1997, survival horror had already been done in a good number of ways, although the term "survival horror" had only been coined a year earlier by Capcom with their global hit, Resident Evil. Of course, with the success of Resident Evil, the genre became a fashion of sorts, resulting in a relatively huge number of other survival horror titles, most of them Japanese.
The Note is one of the rare survival horror games that are played in a first person mode, although it also incorporates gameplay elements from Japanese RPG's, such as the rather cumbersome action menus. What can be considered unique about this game, is that it concentrates on solving puzzles instead of mindless hacking, slashing and blasting. You are given very little idea of what to do in the game, apart from the intro video and the other rarely featured cutscenes, so you really need to find everything out for yourself. This could be a good thing, if it weren't for the bad controls. At least you have the option of assigning specific commands or actions to the controller's shoulder buttons, which is very recommendable, if you ever get the inspiration to try this game out. It's not the most interesting of games, but it has its own peculiar charm. If you're a U.S. gamer, you might not have heard of this game before, since it was never released there, but it's not one that you should be bothered about anyway. It just happens to be a PS1 exclusive, and a rather peculiar one at that.
4. Skullmonkeys (1998, DreamWorks Interactive)
To end this entry with a bang, I tried to find something completely unexpected. Well, I found something, which was at least very unexpected for myself - a sequel for the famously wax-animated adventure game, Neverhood. Skullmonkeys takes the characters from Neverhood and places them in a fantastically strange platformer, which I have seen compared to games like Earthworm Jim.
The idea is to dethrone the self-appointed King of the Skullmonkeys (Klogg from the previous game), and restore peace to the planet Idznak. The game plays very much like Donkey Kong Country and the likes of it, and features a password system to keep it from being unreasonably difficult. So, while it's not a unique game as such, it's an interesting and certainly an unexpected type of a sequel to a unique point-and-click adventure game, and has an equal amount of personality to it as the original Neverhood game. If you're not a platformer fan, it's hard one to recommend, but if you enjoy great artwork and music in games, Skullmonkeys is definitely worth having a go. Too bad it's only available for the PS1, and even more so that it's a rarity nowadays, and difficult to obtain for any reasonable sort of a price.
There's still a lot more in store, but that's it for now, hope you enjoyed it! Oh, and also: the Music games special has been updated with a few titles, so you might want to check that one out as well. Next time, back to regular service. Suggestions, corrections and other comments are still welcome!