Most of the new Atari 2600 games have been made in relative secrecy, at least compared to developments on more mainstream retrogaming machines like the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, and when new releases get out, they're mostly physical cartridges that you need to buy for big money. Optional cartridge image files would be nice for us not-that-serious Atari gamers, but happily, there are some people who still make their games available for download as well. Here's a few good ones.
1. Ninjish Guy in Low Res World (vhzc, 2019)
We start with a game that hasn't been actually released properly yet, though it does have a release candidate from May 2019 for download at the AtariAge forums. Ninjish Guy (originally Knight Guy) is a flip-screen platformer in a similar style to games like Super Meat Boy, with some slightly modern'ish ideas implemented. I don't think it's quite perfect yet, but it's certainly better than some classic A2600 games already, and definitely worth having a go.
Ninjish Guy has a nice difficulty progression, and there are also features that have been recently wondered upon, why games like Bruce Lee on the next-gen systems didn't have, such as swimming and duck-sliding. It doesn't, however, have the most obvious modern gimmicks - wall-jumping and double-jumping, but there are plenty of small tasks you need to perform in order to get anywhere to make it feel fresh every once in a while, and the game is much longer than many earlier A2600 homebrew titles. I hope this one gets a proper release soon.
2. Amoeba Jump (Dionoid/AtariAge, 2018)
More platforming, but in a different way. During the last decade or so, endless runners and fallers have become a new often revisited genre, but not that many games do unlimited straight upwards jumping. Amoeba Jump is one of the select few that put that idea to good use.
Obviously, the screen follows you as you go up, but you can't get back down. If you drop below the screen's bottom line, it's Game Over. But as with any good never-ending subgenre, there has to be some progression to make it good. There are red nudgers scattered around on some of the platforms, which will throw you upwards some couple of hundred meters. Once you pass the 1000 meter mark, you get to pick up bonus "AMOEBA" letters, as in Bubble Bobble et al, a sequence which I have yet to complete. After 2000 meters, disappearing platforms will come into the mix, and after 3000 meters, moving platforms. So far, that's as far as I've managed to get, but it's addicting as anything, and it's great to have something more modernistic like this on the old Atari.
3. Gene Medic (Jason H. Moore, 2019)
I'll just start by saying, this is an odd game. But it's no more odd than any complex adventure/RPG that ever made its way to the A2600, only the concept is a bit unexpected, which is exactly what I'm trying to find. Gene Medic was written by a professor and director of the Institute for Biomedical Informatics at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, who just happens to also be a life-long Atari 2600 fan, so there's an interesting starting point for getting to what the game is all about.
In fact, what the game is all about is better explained on the Gene Medic website, but in case you just want to be quickly introduced to the game, you'll be disappointed. Gene Medic is an edutainment game about curing a patient by editing mutations in the patient's DNA, while not exceeding the budget. The game is fairly easy to play, since all you do is walk left and right (exit is always to the right), edit mutations by pressing the joystick down when prompted, or pressing up if you want to know more about the mutations. Again, better explanations are available at the Gene Medic website, so if you're interested in this sort of a thing, go grab it, read about it, and enjoy.
4. Drive! (Lumi/AtariAge, 2016)
The last game for the A2600 this time is the oldest of the lot, all the way from 2016. As the title suggests, it's a driving game, but more specifically, it's an avoid'em-up - a sub-genre that has been around since 1976 or thereabouts. So, I hear you asking, why is this included on a "Unique Games" list? Well, to be perfectly honest, I was asking myself that very question until I found out the reason.
There is nothing new in being a paddle-controlled driving game, nor an avoid'em-up either. You can't shoot anything either, because there's basically nothing to shoot - hence, avoid'em-up. Neither is there anything new about being able to jump with your car over any obstacles; that thing has been around since Bump 'n Jump, perhaps earlier. It also speeds up noticeably every time you reach the next level - nothing particularly new about that either. The unique thing I realized that this game has is, that you can only jump a limited amount of times, but you can also pick up items, which either give you an extra jump or the ability to jump with no worries for about 10 seconds or so. These simple power-ups make a huge deal in making Drive! the addicting beast that it is, believe it or not. This is A2600 gaming as it should be.
SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM
Spectrum's offerings were rather difficult to dig through, because the World of Spectrum archive has been rather inactive for many years now, so the majority of the Spectrum scene's newest offerings has been spread across a few different websites and boards. Aside from that, the problem with the current Spectrum game developing scene is the use of game designing software, which often results in similar games, even though most of them are definitely exclusive for the Spectrum - this I have lamented on previously. Happily, there are some exceptions, but one cannot entirely escape the construction kit -made titles.
1. Nohzdyve ("Tuckersoft"/Netflix, 2018)
Not really one of the better offerings in the recent years, but definitely one of the most interesting ones. The game was released as an easter egg to accompany the instantly famous episode of Black Mirror called "Bandersnatch" - an obvious reference to the infamous unfinished mega game that practically killed Imagine Software in 1985. The official way to get to the game download was to record the loading noise at the end of the episode, open it in a Spectrum emulator and follow the QR code that would be shown, but nowadays it's easy enough to go to Tuckersoft's home page to grab the game.
The game itself, oddly titled Nohzdyve isn't much to talk about - it's one of those homebrew arcade-action games that you would have easily expected to see in 1983/84, in that particular time's style and, I daresay, quality. You play as a person that's dropped from a pipe to fall head-first for an indefinite amount of time through what looks like an alley between two apartment buildings. The sole mission here is to pop the eyeballs for score, and avoid getting hit by anything else (not counting the laundry). It's good coffee-break fun, but I wouldn't have called it a potential classic in 1985 with games like Manic Miner, JetPac and Pyjamarama already around, and it's even more particularly nothing as interesting as the real Bandersnatch. Worth a look, if only because of its origin.
2. Aliens: Neoplasma (SaNchez, 2019) - 128k only!
Aliens, particularly the kind based on the good old horror/action movie franchise with H.R. Giger's art, have always been a good idea to start a game with, but rarely has there been a game on the 8-bits that really had the proper atmosphere, combined with the right amount of action and puzzle elements to really pay proper tribute to the movies. SaNchez's entry for the ZX-Dev 2018 competition (themed M.I.A. Remakes) is one of the rare games in that theme, that I can say grabbed me and held me in that grip for a longer time than I can remember any other Aliens-themed game having done from the past 20 years at least.
That said, it's not a particularly unique game, only an exclusive for the ZX Spectrum 128k - for now. There have been talks of porting the game to the C64, if not other machines, but for now, you can only experience Aliens: Neoplasma here. It's a very Nintendo-esque game in certain ways: it's a side-viewed action game with puzzle elements, and it's more difficult than you would expect. Luckily, and very un-Nintendoishly, there is no Game Over in this game, and your progress is helped by computer stations with dialogue that act as checkpoints. The music also reminds me of some similar games on the NES/SNES in style, as do the message screens that have the text appear gradually.
You are armed with a machine gun and some grenades, which you can refill at designated stations. Similarly, you have an energy meter, which will go down upon enemy contact, but you can fix yourself up at first aid stations. There are not all that many alien types to shoot at, but then, how many alien variants did you see in the first movies? At least, the lack of variety has been balanced with having to often put some thought into how to deal with the aliens at given situations.
The one minor complaint I have with this game is, that the full game is only available for digital purchase from ZX Online - I couldn't find a physical version of it. You can try out the full game on an online emulator at the said website, though, but those of you, who would rather experience the game on proper hardware will have to buy the game and transfer it to a tape, or use an SD-card reader if you have one.
3. Manic Pietro (Cristian M. Gonzalez/Matra C.A, 2019) - 128k only!
Despite the title, we all know the deal with this one. It's Mario and Luigi in Manic Miner land. Of course, neither game can offer much of actual uniqueness to any given game, but Manic Pietro (to dodge any lawsuit regarding names) is authored with the NIRVANA+ engine, and has Rainbow Graphics, which enables multicolour graphics to not only help deal with the attribute clash more effectively, but also helps the use of more colours on practically everything on screen.
Although the basic gameplay is very Manic Minerish, in that you need to pick up all the glowing objects in each level in order to open an exit, Mario/Luigi actually jumps and moves around somewhere between the original Mario Bros., Super Mario Land and Manic Miner, and naturally closest to the latter one, but not precisely like any of those. The fun bit is in the level design, which combines graphical ideas and even actual level design from such a variety of games as the Game & Watch Donkey Kong Jr., Dr. Mario, Bruce Lee, JetPac, Pac-Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, Horace and the Spiders and The Goonies, just to name a few. And of course we still get Manic Miner featured in its entirety as an unlockable feature, and you don't have to play the actual Manic Pietro in one sitting to get there, because you also get level codes on the go. Added to all this, you get brilliant soundtrack of three different in-game tunes and some additional stuff for cutscenes and AY-based sound effects to top it all. It's easily one of the best Manic Miner clones of all time, and if you feel like supporting the scene, you might be able buy Manic Pietro on a tape at Matranet, if it's available. If not, there's always itch.io.
4. Drift! (ZOSYA Entertainment, 2019) - 128k only!
Yeah, seems like the best of the bunch lately has been made specifically for the 128k Spectrum, which is not a bad thing as such. The latest such games were made for the Yandex Retro Games Battle 2019, which produced some of the highest quality titles for the Spectrums from the last three years. ZOSYA Entertainment pushed out three great games, of which I decided to point out Drift!: a third-person, behind-viewed racing game, which has a kind of self-explanatory title, but it's also a rare specimen of a racing game on the Speccy that focuses on drifting, and probably the only such game ever on an 8-bit machine in this style.
For such a brave attempt at creating something thus far unheard of on an 8-bit computer, it succeeds in performing its job admirably. It starts off with an already challenging practice stage, so you can get comfortable with how the car controls. But it's not just that - there are 5 cars to drive, 6 stages, damage modeling and repair, real-life geolocation and choice between left- and right-hand drive, to mention just a few distinctive features in Drift! The faint comparison I had in my head of games like Gran Turismo was surprising, due to the gap of several generations in technology between the games, but it's surprisingly close to that. Of course, it's still an 8-bit game, but it's a really evolved one at that, and is worth checking out.
NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM
Things have been quieting down on the NES front lately, so there's not all that many completed games to dig through even after these few years, and what's available, is mostly either purchaseable but expensive, or some prototype versions of games that are supposed to come on sale soon. However, there are some developers, like the Mojon Twins, who offer their games for free downloads as well as putting them up for physical cartridges. But since most NES games are just the same old action/platformers that the system has already been inundated with, it's difficult to find anything truly interesting.
1. Chicken of the Farm (Mitch3a, 2018)
Here's a devious little platforming game that was made for the NESDev 2018 competition. Apparently, the title refers to the final boss of the game, since you control a frog, and you don't see any chickens for the most part of the game. The game is a bit odd in execution (which is always a good thing for Unique Games), since the frog hops around awkwardly and the jumping mechanics are a bit slippery. But then again, it IS a frog you're playing as. The graphics are nothing particularly special, but have a certain similar feeling to classic NES games like Ice Climber, and the music is nicely executed and catchy.
Reportedly, CotF features 23 levels, some of which only scroll horizontally, and some of which only scroll vertically, and some are single-screened, and then we have a final boss (hence my earlier assumption). The level design is constantly well thought-out, but it's very playable despite the inevitable frustration due to the frog mechanics and annoying enemy behaviour. My limit came up soon after the levels went icy, but at least there's some replay value there. Happily, you are given a fair amount of energy to waste, and you can pick up heart icons to replenish your energy. The frog's tongue is kind of short, but it's just right for the design of the game, and you can kill enemies and catch flies with it, so there's a good balance in the game in that way - you just have to have more patience than I do. If you're into this sort of action, you can download the game from NESworld.
2. RHDE: Furniture Fight (Damian Yerrick, 2014)
I had to dig a bit deeper into the recent past to find some more interesting titles that I had overlooked in previous entries in the Afterlife series. RHDE: Furniture Fight is basically a heavy modification of Atari's classic arcade battle game, Rampart, and the modification is heavy enough to call this a completely unique game.
Due to the way RHDE is designed, you need two human players to play the game properly. This game is a neighbourhood rivalry simulator, in which you compete in furnishing your houses and yards with given budget, then destroy your neighbour's setup as much as possible within the given time limit, and then fix and expand your own house with Tetris-like blocks, similarly to Rampart. The weapons come into play much later here than in Rampart, and the focus on getting your house and area look better than your neighbour's makes a huge difference in the strategy part of gameplay. The full instructions manual is included in the game ROM file itself, so there shouldn't be too much problems getting started properly. I'm not entirely sure if this game ever actually got finished, but the Day 342 release is the most complete one available at NESworld, and is highly recommendable to check out - particularly with a friend.
3. What Remains (Iodine Dynamics, 2018/2019)
More Netflix-related things here. What Remains takes some of its style and themes - most particularly the title sequence and music - from the Netflix hit series, Stranger Things. The game also takes us all the way back to the year 1986 into a small town called Sunny Peaks, and although most of the neighbourhood is clearly planted into the 80's, with the newsstand probably being the most 80's thing in town and people actually visibly reading newspapers, the discussions in the game are much more modern and serious in their themes, making the whole Stranger Things-like experience kind of inverted. Mind you, I haven't had time to progress further than the third mission in the game, so I have no idea, how twisted and weird it might get further on. I'm hoping very.
As a gaming experience, What Remains doesn't differ all that much from your regular Japan-originated NES adventure game, with most of the gameplay being just walking around in a slightly tilted top-down-viewed environment, and occasionally pushing one of the controller buttons to make dialogue happen. There are no actual RPG elements in here, so it's more like a visual novel with adventure elements. Happily, there are short segments of you getting to play an NES-game that the stumbling upon launches your adventure. It's really the thematics and the loose context to a current hit series on an 8-bit machine that's already close to being a part of the series' timeframe that makes it a unique game. You can download the game file from itch.io for "name your own price", and I can safely vouch for the experience being one that you might as well pay a little for.
4. The Rise of Amondus (Sly Dog Studios, 2015)
In the previous UG: Afterlife entry, I featured another Sly Dog production called The Mad Wizard, but they also released this fairly unusual shoot'em-up the same year. The Rise of Amondus takes a bit of getting used to, for many reasons.
First off, the game starts with a screen opening from the middle, so when you're playing for the first time, you have no idea about your bearings, unless you have watched some video on YouTube or other video streaming service. I lost my first life in two seconds because I didn't realize there was a barrier just behind me - at the RIGHT edge of the screen - towards which I was floating, because my character didn't keep up with the screen, but instead stayed exactly where he spawned at. Besides, I didn't know if I was controlling a human-like character or the cursor, so I was disoriented from the beginning. As it turned out, you control both the cursor AND the human-like character, who the in-built manual confirms as being Amondus. At any rate, you need to keep moving most of the time, if only to keep yourself from hitting the back wall, so to speak.
The purpose of the cursor is to target goblins, which you need to capture with a device coming from above, by pushing the A-button to enable movement for the cursor, then pushing the B-button to launch the capture device when possible. Of course, during this time, Amondus will not be able to move, so you need to be absolutely certain he's safe when the capturing happens. The B-button otherwise summons ravens for basic horizontal attacks. You also have another magical skill: by pushing the START button, you can switch between the cursor and your accomplice phoenix Charwit, who will shoot alongside with you in similar manner to any additional firepower device in games like Gradius/Nemesis and such. Amondus changes his stance and attack mode based on which part of the screen you occupy - you can shoot left from the right side of the screen, right from the left side, and in the middle parts, you can shoot four projectiles to upwards and downwards diagonals. Each level ends with a boss fight, as usual, and there are four levels to get through. Doesn't seem like much, but this is a very challenging game.
Amondus can also be played simultaneously with a second player, by pressing the SELECT key on the second controller during play to activate the second controller. In a way, this resembles the C64 classic Wizball, but in a rather evolved way due to the switchable element. Any manner you decide to have a go at the Rise of Amondus, you can be sure it's a good challenge and a peculiar experience. Highly recommended.
5. Crypto (Kabraxis, 2016)
Another itch.io finding I made recently was this Serbian (I think?) game from 2016. At first, it looks like any old Gauntlet clone, but the entire game takes place in this one crypt, and your mission is to figure out how to get out of there. You can play with a second player, which will bring considerable help to carrying stuff around, but it's playable as a single-player game as well.
There is no real mystery to this game, as you will probably notice within 20 seconds of starting to play, but the game gets more challenging, the more times you get through the "puzzle". As you are only equipped with a spear, and there are only two types of enemies that will keep on spawning and attacking until you end up dead, which isn't too far away since you only have one life, the game will soon start feeling a bit claustrophobic. Too bad there isn't any visible progression in the game, even though after the first level, the enemies start requiring more hits to be killed, but it's an interesting concept that deserves to be expanded upon.
Of all the modern retrogame developing scenes, the C64 scene is the one I'm the most familiar with, and follow with a semi-religious interest on an almost daily basis. The problem with the C64 scene is, that there's so much good stuff coming out monthly, that it's difficult to keep up with them, and then decide what to choose to put on display here. Also, while exclusive games are easy enough to find, uniqueness is not quite as easy. However, the last three years have been so productive, and there have been an extraordinary amount of games worth mentioning, that it's impossible to bring them all at once into a spotlight they deserve. Yet still, we shall have to start with a couple of obvious ones...
1. Sam's Journey (Knights of Bytes/Protovision, 2017)
Yes, it's currently in the making for the NES, but right now, it's still the most current "killer app" for the C64, as some like to put it. It's practically a Super Mario World equivalent for the C64, made possible by the recent developments in cartridge-related technology. The 7-year waiting period for the game's arrival was nothing short of unbelievable, particularly when it finally came out and was more than what we had ever hoped for.
That said, it's still just a really good platformer in the exact same way Super Mario World was, only made to fit the 8-bit architecture and the basic Atari-based controller's limitations. Sam, however, is longer than SMW, has more tricks up its sleeve, and takes a lot more patience and practice to solve than SMW does, even though it plays perfectly well. If you screw up, it's mostly your own fault for not having the brains to solve the problems.
Graphically, it's up there with the best of what the C64 ever had to offer, however: it's also so good that you kind of tend to forget it's a C64 game at all. That's something I'm not sure I'm completely happy with, but I suspect it's more of a matter of taste and preference than anything, because it really IS pushing the quality limits upwards. Sound-wise, it's fairly entertaining, but the music is a bit forgettable. Having played the game for a good 4 hours so far (not having the time to put into the game as much as I would wish to), I have yet to find myself humming any of the music from the game, but that doesn't mean it's not well-made.
Even for the technical achievement and the amount of game you get in Sam's Journey, the fact cannot be escaped, that for a C64 game, the price tag is harsh enough to make even the slightest doubters pull away from throwing their money at it. I admit, I didn't buy it until the last possible minute to know that it WAS actually going to happen. But if you're ever going to put £50 on a new 8-bit game, this is easily one of the best options you can put that money on. Sam's Journey is still available on disk and cartridge from Protovision - nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
2. Planet Golf (RGCD/Psytronik Software, 2017)
One of the absolutely most shining examples of how far the C64 game developers have come in the last 30 years is this extraordinary 2D golf game, that perhaps has taken some inspiration from Jonathan Cauldwell's Albatrossity on the ZX Spectrum, but trust me, this is a whole different game.
The key element in Planet Golf is hinted in the name - you play golf on different planets, which means varying settings of gravity. You get no special clubs, no special balls, just your skills and a huge deal of luck and experimentation. One might think that Earth would act as a sort of training grounds, but after the first couple of holes, you will realize you're already in for a serious ride.
From the beginning, you can access the 18-hole courses for Earth, Mars and Jupiter, and there are two other "rocks" to open. Like any good modern game, there are also achievements to unlock, and I will guarantee, they will feel like achievements here. You can also challenge a friend in a two-player game mode, if you know anyone crazy enough to take on the challenge.
The cool thing about Planet Golf is, most of its sound effects are surprisingly high quality samples, and there's very little yet enough of music. The graphics are not as simple as they look here, but rather deviously pretty. So, even though Planet Golf has "modern" written all over it in style and execution, the gameplay is very much old-school, particularly in its difficulty, and I can't think of a better platform to have it on than a C64. So far, it's the only platform you can play it on.
3. Shadow Switcher (Dr. Wuro Industries/PD, 2018)
One of my absolute favourite C64 games from 2018 was this funny little platformer from the maker of Shotgun and Frogs, that smoothly combines 1983 style with an 2018 idea. Shadow Switcher looks like most other Lode Runner clones, but the simple game mechanic of controlling two characters, who are basically the same one, but the other remains an immobile (and unharmable) shadow of its self, while the other does all the work. The switching idea turns out to be a rather genious one, since you can lure the wandering enemies to other places while trying to collect the necessary items elsewhere.
As such, Shadow Switcher would already have been a nice enough addition to the exponentially increasing modern C64 games library, but it also has a level editor, which ranks it up with classics like Boulder Dash, Rally Speedway and Mr. Robot and his Robot Factory. In my opinion, this game deserves more publicity than it currently has, so grab your copy from wherever you can (GameBase64, CSDb, Dr. Wuro) and have a go.
4. Doc Cosmos (Simon Jameson/RGCD, 2019)
The last year was such a busy one for me, that I didn't have much time to focus on checking out the newest retrogames. The only one that properly caught me for a longer period of time on the C64 was a time-bending platforming adventure called Doc Cosmos, which was developed for the 16kb RGCD Cartridge Game Development Competition. As it happens, the game has won a few awars already, so perhaps there's good reason why I also found this game the best of 2019.
Just to make it absolutely clear: the entire game takes 16kb of RAM, or less. The title screen gives you an option to have music off (sound effects only), static music or active music. Active music gives you a soundtrack that changes along with the time-shifting, and static only has the more modern sounding music. Without the time-shifting game mechanic, Doc Cosmos wouldn't really stand out that much from similar modern retro flip-screen platforming adventures like Sir Ababol or l'Abbaye des Morts, but as it happens, adding the time-shifter brings vast differences in graphics, sounds and even gameplay.
Jumping in 2019 is completely different to jumping in 1982, and you need to utilise both jumps almost equally to get through the game. Your time-shifter can only shift time three times before needing to recharge it at charging stations. This 16kb adventure is built around keys - in particular, three keys of different colours, of which you can only carry one of each at a time, so naturally, you're in for a fair deal of backtracking. Of course, having no weapons, learning enemy behaviour and how to utilise the time-shifter effectively helps a great deal.
Sure, Doc Cosmos owes a great deal to pretty much every flip-screen platformer ever made, but one good new idea helps to make things quite a bit more interesting - in any genre, really. 16kb perhaps isn't quite enough to give the game much of replay value once you have completed it, but it does make you adequately hyped for the upcoming full-blown sequel...
5. Crank Crank Revolution (Linus Åkesson/PD, 2018)
Okay, including this here is a bit of a stretch, because it's obviously based on the popular Dance Dance Revolution series of rhythm games. However, the idea of demaking that concept into rolling the crank of an organ grinder to make it sound relatively solid brings such a hilarious twist into the whole genre, that it's basically a new thing altogether.
There are two versions of CCR, the original featuring Scott Joplin's all-time favourite, Maple Leaf Rag, and the Gubbdata special edition features Airwolf's theme tune, which loops for eternity, so there's basically no way to win the game. The ingenious idea is, that you need to get the organ grinder play the selected tune at a natural speed by circling the joystick in a steady manner, and make the monkey dance and entertain the gathering audience. You can't roll the crank too steadily, though, because the people will stay for a longer time the better you keep playing it, so you need to loosen up a bit every now and then and make the people throw money onto your plate. Occasionally, the monkey has to pick up the money by pressing the fire button, so you don't get in trouble with the law.
The funny graphics by Redcrab go extremely well together with the masterful symbiose of music and controls coded by Linus Åkesson, and Crank Crank Revolution remains one of my most revisited games from 2018. Mind you, it's only the Maple Leaf Rag version that I tend to play, obviously.
The biggest news regarding Amstrad game development has obviously been the release of a fantastically successful port of the Amiga classic, Pinball Dreams, but that's not what this list is about. Here are some of the more interesting, exclusive and in some cases, even unique games released for the Amstrad CPC since 2016.
1. Deeper Warrens (ABO Soft, 2018)
Well, you can throw that uniqueness right out of the window with this one, but at least it's exclusive. Deeper Warrens is basically a Gauntlet clone, which has the unique quality of making me interested in the game for more than one attempt. It's more suited for modern gaming sensibilities due to the power ups and slight puzzles and strategic elements, and it has more of a feel of adventure than any of your basic Gauntlet clones, with much better changing rate in scenery.
Unlike Gauntlet, though, Deeper Warrens can only be played as a solo journey. It also has a perma-death feature by default, but you can pick up extra lives on your way. The money you collect also comes useful at shops, where you can purchase various levels of better armour, which comes in very handy in later levels. All the items you can pick up are mostly helpful as well, with energy boosters, food and power-ups for your sword and whatnot. In the beginning, a sword is your only weapon, but you can pick up throwable knives and you can also use explosive barrels for your advantage. For balance, the enemies get increasingly difficult each level, and there are also lava bits you must cross even though you are bound to take damage while at it. There feels to be more of a point to this game than Gauntlet ever had, and mostly for that reason, I found myself enjoying it. It's an Amstrad exclusive, and as such, well worth checking out.
2. Taulellets (Vicente Vazquez/cpcretrodevs.byterealms, 2018)
One of the more interesting games to come out of the 2018 CPC Retro Dev competition is this nice little action/arcade/puzzler by a Spanish guy called Vicente Jimenez Vazquez. Based on the screenshots, I didn't really know what to expect, only that it looked like a colour-based puzzler, somewhat reminiscent of Amidar.
According to Google Translate, "Taulellets" is a Catalan word, and translates to "small tiles". I suppose it's as good a guess as any, because the game revolves around the movement patterns of small tiles going next to the paths you are forced to move on. You play as a small green tile, whose sole purpose in life is to paint all the red paths to yellow, but you can only carry a certain amount of yellow paint at a time. For getting more yellow paint, you must go to a place on the map, which is right next to the roaming path of the small yellow tile. Contact with anything that resembles a blue tile will result in death. That's all there is to Taulellets, but as simple as it is, it's a concept I hadn't heard of previously, and as such, counts as a unique game, and it's pretty good fun, too.
3. Bears! (Sohde, 2017) - CPC+/GX4000
Bears! is a relatively short but sweet adventure/RPG mixing the traditional Japanese RPG styles of Zelda and Final Fantasy, but is only available for the CPC+ and Amstrad's short-lived console, the GX4000. That already would almost be enough for the inclusion here, but this is the first proper adventure/RPG game that I've ever heard of, in which you play as a bear.
There are 81 screens in the game (it's a 9x9 map), some of which are secret, and most of which require some sort of abilities to get into. As the genre somewhat requires, there are turn-based one-on-one fights in the game in the style of Final Fantasy and other such games, but most of the adventuring happens in a more Zeldaesque manner, but instead of a steadily scrolling environment, the screens flip to the adjacent one. Getting into the world of bears gives such a nice charm to the game, that even having no diagonal controls didn't bother as much as it could. Besides, there are not that many diagonal passages you would need to pass through, anyway. Because of the game's relative shortness, there is no save feature as such, but you are given a few passwords during your journey, which should be enough. Bears! is highly entertaining, and gives another good reason to dig out your CPC+ or GX4000, or if you don't own either, then an emulator.
4. Ludic Break The Loop (Osmobit Games, 2019)
We end the Amstrad segment with another puzzler, because that's the genre in which most of the recent interesting ideas seem to appear. I'm not sure, what sub-genre exactly we're dealing with right here, but I suppose there's a hint in the title. Maybe. Which is precisely what draws me to it.
At first, Ludic looks like it's a fairly simple movement puzzle, in which you need to move your character within small rooms and find the exit. The rooms have increasingly alterating elements within, which can either block you, kill you, slow you down, bounce you or aid you somehow. In some rooms, your antagonist will give you a companion (or several), which you must take control over as instructed, and get them all into any exit in order to proceed to the next level. Considering the forced sliding movement that the game exhibits to the point of annoyance, you can imagine how difficult the game will get before the end. At least there are only 16 levels in Ludic, but after the halfway point, you will notice it's plenty enough. It's another great and inventive puzzle, even though most of it feels eerily familiar, but at least it's another good exclusive title for the Amstrad CPC, if not necessarily particularly unique.
For some reason, the earlier two Afterlife entries had not featured much of games from the MSX developing scene. So, I shall have to make up for that overlook by throwing in four games from that hardly sleeping community from the last five years.
1. Tales of Popolon (Brain Games, 2017-18)
If there's any particular group of people who would remember a character called Popolon, it's the MSX gamers. One of the most classic MSX game franchises, Knightmare (with the sequels Maze of Galious and Shalom), starred this very knight in three different genres: a forced-scrolling vertical shooter, a flip-screen action/platforming adventure, and a relatively pure-blooded role-playing game. Brain Games wrote another sequel as a tribute, once again in a different genre: a behind-viewed 3D action-adventure.
To be sure, it's not the prettiest nor the fastest game of its kind, even on the 8-bits, but at least it's a rare example of such a thing, and being an unofficial sequel based on Knightmare, the pedestrian speed is only fitting. True to its other roots in Japanese console RPG/adventure games, Tales of Popolon is big enough to warrant a traditionally hideous password system. I haven't had the time to actually get very far in the game, but every time I decide to play it, I get hooked and continue until I find I no longer have time to play. If you've seen the first MSX episode in My Nostalgia Trip Games video series, I talk about having a love/hate-relationship with Knightmare, and I find it rather amazing that this game manages to give me that exact feeling. It's a true enough sequel, and I heartily recommend it.
2. Buddhagillie (GW's Workshop, 2018)
The most recent MSX game developing contest was held in 2018, and produced quite a few astonishingly good new games for the MSX/MSX2 computers. After some good amount of testing, one of my favourites from MSXdev'18 was Buddhagillie, a forced-scrolling horizontal sh... wait, I always mix this up - see, it's not actually a shooter. It's a magical/mythical sword-hack'n'slash type of a game hidden behind a shoot'em-up mask.
Aside from the fact that you don't really shoot much here, what I like the most about Buddhagillie is that it doesn't try to paint a pretty picture with alien structures or pretty sceneries - it relies more on a shifting camera angle gimmick, which is perfectly okay when getting attacked by enemies such as Birth, Aging, Sickness, Death and Karma. And yes, you play as Buddha himself, and the game puts you travel through six harsh realms: Hell, Hunger, Animals, Asuras, Humans, Gods and Nirvana. How's that for an underutilised premise? For doubters, you'll be delighted to know this game isn't as simple as it may look, so consult the manual provided with the download. And do give it a proper try.
3. Ninja Savior (Relevo Videogames, 2015)
If I remember correctly, there has been no one-button games featured anywhere in the blog, aside from the Modern Ports & Demakes article. In a way, this game should probably be featured in such an article, but I haven't seen anything quite like Ninja Savior prior to 2015, so correct me if I'm wrong and I'll try to find another game to take its place here. But I wanted to include this one here because it's my favourite one-button game so far, and it's an MSX-exclusive... I think.
The name of the specific genre that Ninja Savior represents escapes me right now, but the idea is to jump between two building walls, while collecting two different types of spell scrolls - obviously, the bigger ones are more powerful; and you also need to avoid touching enemies. After each jump, the scrolls and the enemies change places randomly within the jumping area, so it's not always even possible to get to the scrolls. Instead of the usual instadeath, you have an energy balance meter, which determines whether you win or lose the match; getting hit by an enemy will drain your energy and catching a spell will get you closer to defeating the monster. There are 7 main monsters in the game, which take four levels to kill, each one slightly more powerful and devious than the prior ones, but it's not a particularly difficult game to beat. However, due to its random nature, it's always a fun game to get back to every once in a while. Easily one of my current MSX-exclusive favourites from the last 10 years, although this might not be too long so, since it's been in the making for the Nintendo Game Boy recently.
4. Bumper Ship Racing (Uninteresting, 2018)
Alright, I actually don't really like this game, but it's also something that I never really expected to see as a full-blown concept. Racing single-screen tracks a la Super Sprint with vehicles that have been chosen to call bumper ships is, bluntly put, a pain in the arse. I mean, these are practically small
hovercrafts that have way more power than maneouverability.
However, there are gameplay options enough to warrant some more research into what makes Bumper Ship Racing tick. You get three modes to start with: Cup race, Single race and Time trial. Within those, you will find three different classes to race in: Super-, Hyper- and Megaclass, which basically determine how fast the racing bumper ships are. If you have decided to go in the Cup mode, you will also choose one of four Cups, all of which feature sets of five different tracks. Finally, you get to choose your ship type from three options, which are balanced differently in turning speed and acceleration. Otherwise, it's Super Sprint as usual, but with heavy emphasis on learning to use the rebound to your advantage. And that's what makes this a pretty unique game. Naturally, it's exclusive on the MSX, too.
Most other retro platforms haven't had as rich past few years in terms of new game releases, and even fewer have had any proper original and interesting titles. We end with three single choices for a select few retro platforms.
Atari 400/800/XL/XE/etc.: Gravity Worms (PD, 2019)
Released in the Silly Venture 2019 competition just about a month ago, Gravity Worms is more of a puzzle game than a proper worm game. It takes the basic idea of any regular worm game - eat food items to gain length - and turns that into a puzzle-solving element. Because it's a puzzle game, though, the movement is thankfully not automatic, as it is in normal worm games.
For once, you move around in a two-dimensional environment, where up and down actually are up and down, due to gravity, obviously. The way gravity works in this game is, as long as a part of the worm is solidly on top of a platform, that's where your point of gravity is, so you can keep moving on emptiness as long as one block of the worm is on a solid platform. This rule becomes even more intriguing once the game throws a second worm into the game for you to control.
In addition to the odd sense of gravity, the game also has elements from Boulder Dash: there are items you can push around that are also affected by the same gravity, and "sand" which you can plough through to make pathways. Finally, having munched all the food items from a level, an exit opens, which you must go through.
There are seven planets to wiggle your way through, each of which has a number of levels to solve. Come to think of it, it would have been neat for the game to have different rules of gravity for each planet, but changing the rules to an otherwise working concept just to get more realism into the concept through such a method. Be that as it may, Gravity Worms gives you an odd concept to chew on and puzzle out, and as far as I know, it's only available on the 8-bit Atari computers, and I highly recommend it.
Sega Megadrive/Genesis: Misplaced (RetroSouls, 2019)
Timetravel has become a rather fashionable concept for retrogaming use lately. Denis Grachev, whom you might know from earlier modern retrogame classics such as Alter Ego, Lirus and Twinlight, has given the 16-bit Sega fans a brilliant, exclusive meditative puzzler with - that's right, you guessed it - timetravel elements featured in it. In Misplaced, you're given the ability to exploit timeloops.
Like every proper modern game, though, Misplaced gives you a tutorial period at the beginning of the game, which, for once, is actually a very useful guide, since the gameplay here isn't nearly all the same song and dance as games of this style usually are. The main idea is to pick up red crystals and place them onto altars, which will eventually generate a key you need to touch to enter the next level. The gimmick is to record a short clip of yourself and play it from different places in order to access areas otherwise inaccessible, but the gimmick is actually multi-dimensional in a way, because you can interact with the world while playback. Oops, I might have spoiled the surprise right there, but perhaps you will forgive me getting carried away, for it is such a novel experience. You can find Misplaced from Retrosouls' itch.io page, if you're interested in having a go.
Acorn BBC Master: Planet Nubium (Andrew Waite/PD, 2019)
The first game I've ever even noticed being an exclusive for the BBC Master comes from a bloke called Andrew Waite, who made this neat little single-screen platformer that looked suspiciously like yet another one of those Manic Miner-clones. Happily, it has a couple of surprises up its sleeve.
First off, your small Miner Willy wanna-be is wearing a jetpack, which has a finite amount of fuel for each level. Second, some surfaces kill you, and the platforms you can walk on are also pass-through from below. As with Manic Miner, your job is to collect all the similar-looking collectables from each level before exiting through the designated exit, which in this case is a small spacecraft. Judging by the title screen options, Planet Nubium has 32 levels to plough through, and you can select your starting level from any of those, unlike in Manic Miner and many of its kind. Also, you have the option to toggle fall damage from any height, which adds nice variety to difficulty. For sounds, you are able to select sound effects, music or no sounds at all, and the soundtrack has been credited as having been ripped from the Sega Master System version of Lemmings - with credits mentioned as proper. Planet Nubium is good entertainment, and a nice surprise. Highly recommendable.
UPDATE, 19th of March, 2020: Earlier this year, the game had a sequel, rather unfathomably called Planet Nubium Two. It's basically the same old thing with new levels, making even the smallest uniqueness of the original game nullified by getting more of it. But hey, it's still a nice sequel.
Phew, I think that's enough for now. Maybe there will be more someday, but for now, it seems like I have exhausted the more unique portions of new games from some platforms. Of course there's always the option of reviving the proper Unique Games series, but let's see. Next time, it's back to regular business, and remember to also check out the Videos page for more My Nostalgia Trip Games and possibly other content as well, if I get around to shifting gears a bit.
Thanks for reading, ciao!