Sunday, 15 March 2020

TWOFER #20: Bank Panic (Sega, 1984) + West Bank (Dinamic, 1985)


Bank Panic developed by Sanritsu Denki Co., Ltd. in 1984. Originally published as an arcade game by SEGA Enterprises Ltd. for the Japanese market. Manufactured for the American market by Bally/Midway.

Converted for the MSX computers, Sega SG-1000 and Sega Master System by Sanritsu Denki Co., Ltd. // Sega SG-1000 conversion published by SEGA Enterprises in 1985. // Sega Master System conversion published by SEGA of America in 1986. // MSX conversion published by Pony Canyon, Inc. in 1986. // Sega SG-1000 version unofficially converted for the ColecoVision by Eduardo Mello; published by Team Pixelboy in 2011.

Cloned as "West Bank" for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, MSX and Sinclair ZX Spectrum by Dinamic Software. // Sinclair ZX Spectrum version programmed by Álvaro Mateos Herrera. Original Spanish version published by Dinamic Software in 1985. English translation published by Gremlin Graphics Ltd. in 1986. // Amstrad CPC version published by Gremlin Graphics Ltd. and Dinamic Software in 1986; details unknown. // Commodore 64 version programmed by Richard J. Gibbs, with music by Fred Gray. Published by Gremlin Graphics Ltd. in 1986. Spanish version published by Dinamic Software in 1987. // MSX version written by Animagic, and published by Dinamic Software in 1989.

Unofficial conversion "Gold Bank" for the Acorn BBC Micro published by Fast Access magazine in 1989. Unofficial conversion "Bang! Bank!" for the Atari 400/800 developed by OUR 5oft, and published by Mirage Software in 1992.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


After a relatively quiet month and a half - apart from the three My Nostalgia Trip Games episodes, that is - it's time for another actual comparison. Just for the heck of starting on the right foot, this entry will be listed as both Bank Panic and West Bank in the archive, because although it's roughly the same game, some people might not be aware of either the game by its original title or the unlicenced Dinamic rewrite and its conversions. Personally, I was introduced to this game as the Gremlin translation of West Bank on the C64, and only found out sometime after emulation started becoming a thing, that it was originally an arcade game called Bank Panic, all the way from 1984. This entry is dedicated to those of you, who ever were as much in the dark as I once was.

As you might have noticed, this game has an odd distinction of having not only two different versions by different developers, but the MSX has releases of both specific games, which makes this comparison particularly interesting for me to write. To make things even more confusing, some of the West Bank versions by Dinamic were also released as Bank Panic (unofficially?), although any differences between any regional versions will only be briefly mentioned. However, unlike all the other Twofer entries, this takes the form of a usual comparison for a single game.

The original Bank Panic at the Arcade Museum website has a KLOV/IAM score of 3.45/5.00 from 6 votes, and at MobyGames, the arcade version has only 5 votes with a user score of 3.3, so I suppose it isn't quite as popular among arcade enthusiasts as it is among 8-bit home computer gamers. Similarly, the Sega Master System version has a score of 3.3 from 8 voters at MobyGames, although at Guardiana, the three user votes have a combined score of 43%. The SG-1000 version doesn't seem to have much of scores or ratings lying around, but the MSX version of Bank Panic has a good 3 out of 5 stars from 9 votes at Generation-MSX.

In the case of West Bank, then, the MSX version seems to be clearly inferior to Bank Panic according to Generation-MSX voters, with only 2 stars from 5 votes. At CPC-Power, the user-voted score is currently at 15 out of 20, while the review at CPC Game Reviews has an 8 out of 10. From 90 votes, the score for the C64 version at Lemon64 is currently settled at a firm 7.6, and finally, the Spectrum version has a whopping 8.27 from 139 votes. Interesting, I'd say.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Bank Panic and West Bank are both at their most common nominators fairly simple reaction games. The basic idea is to gather money bags through all 12 doors in the bank, which you as the town sheriff, are protecting from within. You will only be able to guard three doors at once, so you have to move around as you keep guard and collect money bags. When a villain appears, you will be given a brief time slot to react to his/her drawing a weapon, and obviously, you need to shoot them before they shoot you. Just don't shoot innocent civilians. The problem is, you can never tell, who is coming from behind the doors at any given time, so you need to keep your trigger happy fingers less happy. Once all twelve doors have been cleared, you proceed to the next level; through a bonus round, in the case of West Bank.

Speaking of which, there are more of some rather obvious differences between Bank Panic and West Bank, which I will get to in the Playability section, but at the basics, the gameplay is very much the same. Regardless of which game you play, it's only the reaction-based core gameplay, which drags you in and keeps you coming back for more, and not the fine points of either game. Bank Panic and/or West Bank, whichever you choose, is a timeless arcade classic, and deserves to be remembered as much as games like Ghosts 'n' Goblins, Spy Hunter or Commando.

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LOADING


The inclusion of this section can be explained by West Bank alone, since Bank Panic was never released on any other media for home-based gaming platforms than cartridge, unless you count the rare (unofficial?) versions of West Bank as Bank Panic as such. Due to the dubious state of the said versions, we shall skip those. Anyway, here are the loading times and screens of all tape versions of West Bank for anyone who has ever been interested in such things.

Tape loading screens from West Bank. Top right: MSX. Bottom right: Spectrum.
Top left: C64 Dinamic. Top middle: C64 Gremlin.
Bottom left: Amstrad Dinamic. Bottom middle: Amstrad Gremlin.
C64, Dinamic:
4 min 59 sec
C64, Gremlin:
3 min 36 sec
CPC, Dinamic:
4 min 44 sec
CPC, Gremlin:
5 min 43 sec
MSX, Dinamic:
3 min 45 sec
SPE, Dinamic:
4 min 47 sec
SPE, Gremlin:
2 min 47 sec
SPE, small case:
5 min 6 sec


If anything was to be judged by the quality or even the existence of loading screens, the C64 version would be looking rather bleak at this moment, since only the original Dinamic version has any such thing, and even there it's just text on a black background. The SPECTRUM and MSX versions basically share the same screen by Snatcho, albeit in different choices of colour; and of these, the MSX screen has the colouring more well thought-out. The AMSTRAD loader is the most appropriately coloured and detailed, and the game title looks more epic here than elsewhere; the Gremlin variant only adds the Gremlin logo at the bottom right corner, which makes little difference.

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PLAYABILITY


As has been pointed out already, there are a few distinct differences between Bank Panic and West Bank, which practically requires the two games to be compared in their own groups. However, for platforms that don't have the other game, the counterpart is the closest equivalent, so we're not actually putting them against each other, even in the case of the two MSX versions. However, since both games share most of the basic gameplay elements, the particular differences shall have to be dealt with in smaller doses.

Bank Panic and West Bank both put you in charge of attending 12 doors (apart from the AMSTRAD version, which only has 9 doors) in a bank in the old West, where all sorts of robbers are as usual a sight as the regular folk. The original arcade game starts by taking you automatically in front of doors 4 to 6, which gives you some advantage of being in the center of all the action, whereas West Bank will start straight from doors 1 to 3. Your movement is restricted to the space of one doorway in either direction at a time, although you can move as many times as you wish to, whenever the occasion allows.

The goal is to collect a money bag through each doorway, which are mostly brought in by regular folks, before you can move on to the next level. Shooting robbers will only give you points or bonus time, whichever the game you're playing, but shooting a robber too early (before a gun is drawn) can give you an unfairness penalty of either no bonus score in Bank Panic or a loss of your own life in West Bank. Shooting an innocent will always result in a loss of your own life in both games. Both games also feature small men or boys with lots of hats piled on top of their heads, which can contain a money bag, which can be dug out by shooting them as many times as they have hats. In West Bank, the hats might also contain a bomb, which you must take care not to shoot. Finally, both games also give you the option to start from day 1, day 3 and day 6 for a difficulty setting.


BANK PANIC

Above each door number, you can see a proximity indicator, which shows you when anybody comes near the door. If the person coming through the door is a villain, and you're not on the spot to deal with him/her, a bomb might be left hanging from the indicated door, which you need to shoot down as quickly as possible. Despite having possibly already gotten a money bag from a doorway that has been marked as such, there is still a possibility of getting it withdrawn, because of all the people still coming and going through the doors, so you really need to be vigilant at all times for the entire bank. The increase in difficulty for later levels only happens through the increase of speed and unpredictability of villains barging in through occupied doorways. One great thing about Bank Panic is, that it doesn't dwell on further random traffic after the final money bag has been obtained, but rather the level end comes exactly as soon as possible.

The three home conversions are fairly similar to each other, with, for the most part, only barely noticable differences, at least until you've played all the versions for more than two months on and off like I have. The SEGA and MSX versions are practically the same, with only the controls being specific for each machine. On the SG-1000, the game is designed to be played on a pad, with the shooting happening with up/down for the left door, the left fire button for middle and the right fire button for the right door. The MSX version has the fire buttons aligned right next to the right Shift key.

There aren't that many notable differences otherwise. Compared to the ARCADE original, the SG-1000 and MSX versions have a shorter reaction time when villains appear and draw their guns, and the SEGA MASTER SYSTEM version starts off straight from doors 1-2-3, instead of moving to doors 4-5-6 each time you start a new life/level. Also, in the MASTER SYSTEM version, the robbers cannot steal money bags that have already been delivered, as they may in the other versions; and when the villains appear at the doorways, the timer goes up instead of down. The ARCADE version is the obvious winner, but I can not come up with anything that would render any of the home conversions worse than the others. The only notable difference between the home conversions is the lack of a level selection screen in the MASTER SYSTEM version, so you need to start each game from the beginning there, which is reason enough to drop the said version to the lowest spot.

1. ARCADE
2. SEGA SG-1000 / MSX
3. SEGA MASTER SYSTEM


WEST BANK

Things are a bit simpler here, since you only need to focus on getting the money bags delivered through each door - you have no fear of getting them withdrawn, because the action never happens outside of the three doorways in your field of view. The increase in difficulty here comes with new villains that act differently, and the added randomness and speed of their actions. Also, there's a bonus game of quick draw that is played after every level, in which you can just as easily lose your own lives by shooting a villain at the wrong time, as by them shooting you, but successful bonus rounds can get you some good bonus score. According to the game manual, there are 9 days in the game, of which the last two are played during nighttime, and are "extremely dangerous", which clearly points towards the SPECTRUM version being the original version of West Bank, since it's the only one that actually has the nighttime levels.

All versions of West Bank are playable with either joystick or keyboard controls, but the redesigned firing and moving system for a single fire button joystick sets its own challenge. With the joystick, you move around the building using diagonals, and shoot by pointing at left, middle or right and bashing the fire button. Naturally, this method makes your reaction time slightly longer than when you have three different fire buttons, but only very slightly. However, even this slightness is enough to make the bonus round more difficult than you would expect. Happily, the keyboard controls are based on the original "three fire buttons" system with the keys 1, 2 and 3 for firing and O and P for moving left and right - this goes for all four versions.

For a person such as myself, who grew up with the C64 version, the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions feel a bit odd, since your movement shows a scrolling going in the opposite direction of where you're actually going, which can be disorienting, but at least you are moving in the right direction on the map. Merely a visual oddity. The MSX version goes the right way, though, and it moves around the bank a bit faster than the others, too. Having grown with the C64 version, it took me a while to even notice, that it actually has a unique feature against the other versions: you can switch directions in mid-movement. However, the left/right movement is much slower compared to the other versions, so the direction switching is a welcome addition.

A decidedly odd thing to point out for differences in gameplay is the number of hats on top of the little men's heads on each version. In the SPECTRUM and MSX versions, there are seven hats to shoot before reaching either the bomb or the money bag, and in the C64 and AMSTRAD versions, you need to shoot only four.

The AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions seem to have people flooding in at all times, making it occasionally impossible to move from door to door, often for a better half of a minute. Perhaps to make up for it, the AMSTRAD version has only 9 doors to deal with instead of the full 12, but the gameplay has been hurried up by having the doors open for a much shorter time than in the other versions, and even more oddly, you rarely get more than two doors opened simultaneously. But while this heavy traffic makes for a nice optional challenge, it is a bit too much to handle constantly, and since the original Bank Panic wasn't as heavy on the traffic either, I shall have to give the MSX and C64 versions the top spots here, and the SPECTRUM version gets the third spot for having the proper amount of doors and a more humane time for the doors to be open.

Two more little things perhaps worth pointing out for some of you detailists out there... One, the AMSTRAD version is the only one, that gets you back to the title menu after selecting the skill level (one of the starting days). All the other versions start the game from the said level as soon as you select it, so you'd better have the preferred controller chosen appropriately before you decide to select the level. Come to think of it, this automatic feature renders the "start game" feature in the main menu somewhat useless, and perhaps it would have been easier to just add the level selection screen after starting the game, like in most versions of Bank Panic. But it is what it is. And then two, all the SPECTRUM releases seem to have unreachable high score tables, which practically make them little more than a practical joke, and the AMSTRAD version doesn't fare all that much better, since the relative scoring is similarly awful compared to what's on the initial high score table. Doesn't make the game any less playable as such, but in the 1980's, it certainly might have caused some ragequits. And so we get to the scores...

1. MSX
2. COMMODORE 64
3. ZX SPECTRUM
4. AMSTRAD CPC

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GRAPHICS


Bank Panic and West Bank are at their core rather simplistic, so they needn't be all that fancy graphically, which is why some of the versions with lower graphical quality work as well as the higher ones. Nevertheless, we do need to examine the quality of each version, just to get things clearly ordered, if at all possible.


BANK PANIC

The dominant colour in the ARCADE version of Bank Panic is brown, or more precisely, different shades of it. The focus there is in the walls and floors, and the darkest brown is also used for the leather vests and cowboy hats. In the home conversions, the dominant colour is the chosen shade of prairie dust, which is either light mustard or dark orange, both of which happen to also be the colour of the walls in the bank.

Title screens and level selection screens, left to right:
Arcade, Sega SG-1000, MSX, Sega Master System.


Apart from the SEGA MASTER SYSTEM version, all official versions of Bank Panic start with the two lines of the game logo arriving from both sides of the screen, and the words flashing in red and white, before settling to the configuration seen in the picture, also featuring either a bag of glimmering coins and/or prompts for starting the game. Also, apart from the MASTER SYSTEM, all versions have a level selection screen right after starting the game.

In-game screenshots, left to right:
Arcade, Sega SG-1000, MSX, Sega Master System.


Let's talk about the details. All versions of Bank Panic contain the same graphical elements in the game. You're standing behind the bank counter, with the occasional clerk sitting in front of you, obviously facing the oncoming customers. If you compare the details for this particular section from the ARCADE original, the bars structuring the counter windows are much more stylized and unpenetrable than in the home conversions. Speaking of unpenetrable, in the MASTER SYSTEM version, the bars are actually behind the clerk, making them practically useless, but that's a graphical design error only visible to those who care to look closely.

As you can see, the MSX and SEGA SG-1000 versions look exactly the same, which makes further inclusion of both versions needless. They both favour light, pastel-like colours, and the amount of black and dark colours is as low as possible. None of the people have any dark outlines, which is not only in line with the ARCADE version's graphics, but due to the lack of detail by comparison, is also a bit hollow to look at, bordering on slightly disturbing... but perhaps that's just a matter of taste. But see, the SEGA MASTER SYSTEM clearly has better-defined people coming in through the doors, as well as a more detailed clerk sitting at the counter than in the other home versions. Then again, the SG-1000 and MSX versions have some flooring and a fence in the background, outside the doors, while the MASTER SYSTEM version only has blank, empty mustardiness there. In some ways, the doors, the floors, the people and the backgrounds look better on the SG-1000 and MSX, but the colours and the details are clearly closer to the ARCADE original in the MASTER SYSTEM version.

And the same goes for the panel above the doors: you get all the necessary information in all versions. The currently faced doors are clearly highlighted; the received cash markers and the occasional bomb hazards are clearly defined (although you can't see the bombs in other than the ARCADE screenshots), and all the other information is as clear as you would ever wish for them to be. Obviously, the chosen font can be a matter of taste, where I'm a bit against the MASTER SYSTEM version, but it's not a particularly interesting thing to worry about. The only one clearly above the rest here is the original.

Non-lethal cutscenes and the bonus counting screen.
Top left: Arcade. Top right: Sega Master System. Bottom left: Sega SG-1000. Bottom right: MSX.


What Bank Panic has in advantage over West Bank in graphical terms is more cutscenes and bonus screens. The game starts with an animation showing our hero - that's you, the player, obviously - whirling his gun around, shooting it a few times, and then shoving it back into the holster. Then a text flashes above you, saying "HERO!", except in the MASTER SYSTEM version. The MSX and SG-1000 versions have only blackness as your background, whereas the other two have you standing behind the counter, between the vault doors and a desk and/or a painting.

Reaching the end of a level results in opening all the doors and showing a large crowd in the background cheering for your victory. There are some obvious differences in detail and colouring, as before, but the MASTER SYSTEM version probably has the worst design here, with all the people half-blocked by the large blue horizontal bar.

Another thing missing from West Bank is the bonus counter screen, which counts all your collected money bags, fair averages and extra time left. Again, the MSX and SG-1000 versions have the least colour here, but this has become obvious at this point.

Screenshots of lethal cutscenes, left to right: Arcade, Sega SG-1000/MSX, Sega Master System.


Taking a hit results in a funny cutscene, where you are pinned against the wall, and a series of gunshots are shot around you, before you collapse on the floor in a daze. The ARCADE and SEGA MASTER SYSTEM versions are obviously the more colourful ones, but they also have slightly funnier animations as well.

Another cutscene related to losing a life is when you fail to defuse a bomb and it explodes. The ARCADE original makes a proper spectacle out of it, while the MSX/SG-1000 pair only shake the screen as you still face the doors; the SEGA MASTER SYSTEM style of choice is somewhere in between, and works almost as well as the original.

Screenshots from the Game Over screens, left to right: Arcade, Sega SG-1000/MSX, Sega Master System.


In all versions of Bank Panic, the Game Over screen is somehow animated, but it differs for all three noted different styles. For the ARCADE original, you get something that looks like a scroll opening and closing repeatedly, which says Game Over in big flashing letters, and when the animation happens, the text squeezes in and spreads out accordingly. For the SEGA MASTER SYSTEM version, we get plain and simple letters getting shot onto the screen, one by one. The MSX/SG-1000 style is to have the text large and red in the middle, opening and closing repeatedly like an accordion. It's actually a fair enough representation of how it is in the original, but in some ways, even better.

There is only one obvious conclusion for this lot. There's no question about where the original fits, but regardless of the few things missing from the SEGA MASTER SYSTEM version, it is overall just that little bit closer to the ARCADE original than the other two versions, due to the colouring and clearly defined characteristics of every human representative, as well as the mostly better animated cutscenes.

1. ARCADE
2. SEGA MASTER SYSTEM
3. MSX / SEGA SG-1000


WEST BANK

In West Bank, the title screens are just about as unspectacular, and the level selection screens even more so. The background is unmovingly black, and there is no more attention given to the game title than to all the other text in the title screen. All the text uses the same font, although the colours differ to give some separation to the title, the menu items and the credits and copyrights. The AMSTRAD version is the only one of the lot to have a wider western font, which is single-coloured. The C64 version is the only one to not feature the pictures of the most basic villain in the game on both sides of the menu.

Titles and level selection screens, left to right: ZX Spectrum, MSX, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.


The level selection screen's texts seem to have no real attention to getting it similar for each version, although that's not really important; only the MSX version retains the copyright at the bottom. Perhaps more importantly, you can already see some differences in each version's graphics - both the backgrounds and the villains (apart from the very first type) are notably different for each version.

In-game screenshots, left to right: ZX Spectrum, MSX, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.


Interior design has never been an area in which I excel or even focus on too much at all, but you cannot escape the necessity of doing the comparisons here. Compared to the bank's interior design in Bank Panic, West Bank's wallpapers, door panel designs and even the counter designs are much more imaginative and colourful. In all four versions, the counter has a fairly uniform design, more or less copied from the original ARCADE version of Bank Panic, apart from the C64 version, which has gone for a more rectangular look. Not that it matters too much, but it sort of looks like the graphic designer in the C64 version wasn't completely sure of what the lowest part of the screen was supposed to be. In contrast, the AMSTRAD version doesn't have the money bags, piles of paper and quills at all, as the graphics are too big to accommodate the actual counter - just the bars and the windows' top halves.

The entrance area boasts of two different wall papers, which naturally differs more or less for each version. The SPECTRUM and MSX versions look sort of alike, apart from the obvious palette differences, which also reduces the number of colours in the area in the MSX version to four from the SPECTRUM's six. Then again, the MSX version has more colour elsewhere on the screen, but who's counting? Through the doorways, you can only see hi-res monochrome animated drawings of the customers and villains, and the background is blank cyan, apart from the shadows underneath the people. In the AMSTRAD version, the usage of black has been reduced to the absolute necessary, but it's still very tasteful. The colours are very well chosen for the most part, and the people and wallpapers have enough details to forgive the lack of a higher resolution. I have a niggle about the small guy, or the boy, that he's not really small enough, when compared to all the other versions - including Bank Panic. The entrance area in the C64 version has a similar style in graphics overall as the AMSTRAD version, but the chosen colours feel more earthy and vastly different from all the other versions of West Bank. The backgrounds out through the doors are similarly coloured for both AMSTRAD and C64, everything else feels a bit different. Not better or worse, really, just more suited for the C64's palette.

And then we have the top area of the screen, with the doorways numbered (except in the AMSTRAD version), underneath of which we have the slots waiting for the dollar signs to appear. Since West Bank has no explosives that the villains can install to doors, the dollar signs is all you can expect to appear in the slots. Not sure if this has any real purpose, but the SPECTRUM, MSX and AMSTRAD versions all have blue slots, while the C64 version has red ones. The doorways which you occupy are highlighted with a red block crossing the numbers in the SPECTRUM and MSX versions; the white numbers are turned green on the C64, and the AMSTRAD version has the blue slots turned red as you occupy them.

Screenshots from the bonus shoot-out level, left to right: ZX Spectrum, MSX, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.


As it happens, the bonus rounds look very much like the level selection screen. Only here, you get to see all villains fall as you shoot them, accompanied with a number of points given for successful, and fair shooting in good time. The SPECTRUM version is the most generous one at giving room for the shooting window, and the C64 version the least. Then again, the given scores are shown within the shooting window in the SPECTRUM version, and all the other versions show the scores under or above the window. Also, the AMSTRAD version doesn't have the score-and-lives panel featured at all during the bonus shooting screen.

Screenshots of the animations of getting shot and detonating a bomb, left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, MSX, ZX Spectrum.


In addition to the method of losing a life by the error of shooting an innocent, or a villain without his gun drawn, you can also get shot by a villain or accidentally shoot a bomb on top of a small person's head. The error method offers no additional graphical content, but when you get shot, the screen goes black, and the word "BANG" gets shown in red letters, which then quickly drain off. The bomb method makes the screen flicker in various styles: the SPECTRUM version's entrance area goes rapidly black and white; the AMSTRAD version has all the black elements on the screen flash rapidly in white; the MSX version only has the screen borders flashing white; and the C64 version has all the screen's black areas flashing in a few select colours - you see the two browns just switching in the screenshot above, for instance.

High score tables and name entrance screens where possible. Left end: MSX. Right end: Commodore 64.
Top middle: ZX Spectrum. Bottom middle: Amstrad CPC.


West Bank has no actual Game Over screen, but instead, after you have lost your last life, you are taken straight to type in your name on the high score table, provided you did well enough. If not, you get the high score table shown instead. Getting your name on the high score table in the SPECTRUM version is practically impossible, unless you are a super-human player, which is why I have only included a screenshot of the table itself. Also, by some basic calculations, the AMSTRAD version seems to require you to reach at least the 14th level to get more than 4000 points, which would get you to the lowest spot on the table, so I haven't bothered to try to get that far. As for the others: the MSX version adds ten more entries into the table, with the last few practically impossible not to beat, so you will definitely have a chance to get your name there. The choice of font and colouring is just what you would expect them to be. The C64 version's high score table feels the most naturally arranged of the lot, and has the least typos, but it has no numbering - not that it's particularly needed.

Overall, I would say the AMSTRAD and C64 versions look the most cartoony, and therefore, the most fitting as counterparts for the original Bank Panic. However, the C64 version seems to have a bit more to it in terms of detail, as well as the amount of villain characters coming through the doors, as far as I'm aware at least. The SPECTRUM and MSX versions look alright for their own specific style, but the higher resolution monochrome people lack the much needed cartoony aspect. I'm putting the MSX version above the SPECTRUM version because of the correct scrolling direction and the slightly more interesting use of colour.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. AMSTRAD CPC
3. MSX
4. ZX SPECTRUM

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SOUNDS


Games that take place in the Old West usually have a thematic soundtrack, and in the cases of Bank Panic and, to a much lesser degree, West Bank, the theme is certainly evident, although not all music is actually traditional Old West material. As far as the sound effects go, there's not much you can do to go wrong, but let's see.

BANK PANIC

In true ARCADE style, the first sound you are likely to hear in the original game is a simulated calling whistle in three almost adjacent pitches, as you insert a coin in the machine. There aren't all that many other sound effects, though: there's the gunfire sound, which you get introduced to in the opening cutscene introducing our hero; the repeated simulated clinginging sound of coins as you gather money bags; and then there's the ticking time bomb and its explosion.

The music featured in the original game is unreported, apart from the looping "Dixie" by Daniel Decatur Emmett (1859) played during the action, so I'm guessing the rest of it is custom made for the game, with the intention of getting the style and feel of the time's music close enough. Just for clarity's sake, there are three other tunes here: the intro cutscene tune, the level completion tune and the Game Over tune, all of which are rather short. Also, if you count a minor key version of "Dixie", which plays when you get shot, as another, that's the fifth one in the soundtrack, then.

The SEGA SG-1000 and MSX versions both utilise all the same tunes as the ARCADE version, and also add a rendition of "Marching Through Georgia" by Henry Clay Work to be played in the title screen. The included sound effects are very much the same as in the original, but obviously less refined.

In the MASTER SYSTEM version, the soundtrack is basically the same as in the ARCADE original, but you get no music in the Game Over screen, making it two tunes poorer than the SG-1000 version. Also, sometimes, you can hear some slightly odd harmonics throughout this version's soundtrack, although it's barely noticeable. At least the sound effects have a little more oomph to them, but it's a bit too little too late.

1. ARCADE
2. SEGA SG-1000 / MSX
3. SEGA MASTER SYSTEM


WEST BANK

This part of the West Bank comparison will certainly appear brutal at best, for good reasons. See, both the SPECTRUM and MSX version have no music at all in them, and unless you count intended or unintended variations of the same sound effects, you will only get two of those for the entire game. That's not to say the "schput" for shooting and "blu'ip" for receiving a money bag aren't effective in their simplicity - I rather like them for what they are, but you can hardly call this package a particularly entertaining set of sounds. The MSX version sort of wins the SPECTRUM by having a differently pitched "schput" effect for shooting at each doorway (on the screen), while the "schput" effects on the SPECTRUM are mostly the same, and sometimes they have a flam effect (when you get shot) and rarely a different pitch (which seems random).

As much as in terms of graphics, the AMSTRAD and C64 versions are closer to each other in sounds than to the other two. They both feature three notable tunes, two of which are shared. "Something Doing", written by Scott Joplin and Scott Hayden, is played as the in-game tune on the C64, and "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling)", written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, is played in the title screen. Mind you, this version of "High Noon" is more of an approximation of it than a straight chiptune transcription. And for some unexplicable reason, the tunes are oppositely placed in the AMSTRAD version. The third tune in the C64 version is a small excerpt from Ennio Morricone's classic main theme from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", which is played in the bonus shooting screen. In the AMSTRAD version, the third song is another classic, "Oh! Susanna", written by Stephen Foster, which is played when you finally manage to complete the game - I had to actually look this up on YouTube. And as you might have guessed by that, "High Noon" is played on repeat throughout the game, even during the shoot-out bonus screens. It gets pretty maudlin that way, I have to say. But that's not all: the C64 version also has a fourth tune for typing in your name for the high score table, which is an odd mutation of the main melody of "High Noon" that has been turned to go in 5/4 rhythm. Very peculiar, but somehow I always felt it fitting, even though it doesn't feel very Old Westerny.

What about the sound effects, then? Well, the AMSTRAD version has an oddly faint "tschup" for shooting, and a simple "ding" for receiving a money bag, and nothing else. But of course, you wouldn't expect any more, since the SPECTRUM and MSX versions have nothing more. The shooting noise has more body and echo in it on the C64, and the "ding" for receiving a money bag sounds like an approximation of pulling a higher-pitched string on a guitar and smothering it quickly.

I guess the results are rather obvious, but I'm willing to give the MSX and SPECTRUM versions a shared spot, because there's so very little differences between them, and what there is, is insignificant. From the other two, the C64 version gets the top spot, because it puts you in the mood for action, and the sections are more clearly defined.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. AMSTRAD CPC
3. MSX / ZX SPECTRUM

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COMPANION VIDEO


As usual of late, I have compiled a companion video to exhibit all the versions of both games, since there seemed to be no earlier such comparison videos available on YouTube. Let's hope this serves at least some purpose.



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OVERALL


I used to think, rather off-handedly, that Bank Panic and West Bank were the same game, only differently titled for different regions, because I hadn't bothered to actually look deeper than some screenshots online. Had I actually bothered to examine the screenshots properly, I would have noticed some notable differences already, but it took me around 20 years to actually get down and actually do a real in-depth comparison of the two games, and I can now say, without any doubt whatsoever, that while they share certain similarities - after all, West Bank WAS cloned from Bank Panic - they are two games different enough not worth comparing that closely against each other, at least as a competition. It just wouldn't make sense.

Bank Panic has those elements, which so clearly belong in the realm of arcade games, which West Bank has compensated with something very different; yet this exact difference is what makes both games work so well on their respective platforms. Oddly enough, both games being available on the MSX computers, I can say that West Bank is the one that works better on that machine. At least for me. I guess it might have something to do with the preset keyboard and joystick controls, which has been made slightly more comfortable in West Bank, but at any rate, they're both very good. Bank Panic is the more entertaining one with the music and colourful graphics inherited from the SG-1000 version, but West Bank feels better to play.

Alas, we still need to get through the somewhat unnecessary total scores that are given in an odd mathematical method, which have many times proven to be useless in these comparisons, but traditions must be followed.

BANK PANIC

1. ARCADE: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
2. SEGA SG-1000: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5
2. MSX: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5
3. SEGA MASTER SYSTEM: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4

WEST BANK

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
2. MSX: Playability 4, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 7
3. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
4. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4

The scores in the case of Bank Panic are pretty much self-explanatory, but I was intrigued by how the quality in the versions of West Bank changes so much for each version. It's as if after the original had been written and released, the creators then realized they messed some things up, and would enhance it a bit and worked on it for the subsequent versions, thus the C64 version became the most fine-tuned overall. The MSX port of the SPECTRUM version must have come as an afterthought, but they just fixed the scrolling direction, enhanced the little sounds they could and made the high score table reachable. It's a great pity that the MSX version isn't more entertaining on the whole, because it is the best one of the lot to play, and as such, my current favourite. The C64 soundtrack is too good to pass, though. If you have something to complain about the scores, perhaps you should actually read the article first.

For those of you who did, you're probably still waiting for some brief inclusion of the two unofficial conversions mentioned in the first section, and time for such action is exactly now.

Screenshots from Bank Bang! (Mirage Software, 1992; Atari 8-bit)

BANK BANG! from Mirage Software is a fair representation of West Bank on the 8-bit Atari. I mention West Bank because the graphics are mostly ripped from the C64 version of West Bank, and made less colourful. But the gameplay is made simpler for a joystick: pulling the stick left, up and right shoots in appropriate directions, and pulling left and right while pressing the fire button moves you left and right. The simplicity also shows in having no bonus shoot-out levels. Concerning the audio-visuals, the game has no sound effects, only one tune that keeps playing continuously - but at least it's a good one that fits the game's genre quite well, even if it's not a traditional Old West tune.

Screenshots from Gold Bank (Fast Access, 1989; Acorn Electron/BBC Micro)
A fairly playable, if hilariously ugly version can be found on the Acorn Electron/BBC Micro. You have to understand, though: GOLD BANK was released in a magazine called Fast Access, and considering it was an amateur effort, it is a rather good one at that. You get the basic five keys on the keyboard for movement and proper shooting, and the game plays surprisingly smoothly for such a basic-looking and -sounding thing. There's no music, and the sound effects are passable, but if you happen to be a fan of West Bank and/or Bank Panic, and you have an 8-bit Acorn in your possession, it could be a lot worse than this.

So that's it then, another one bites the dust, as they say. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed the long and arduous rant. Until next time, cheers and yee-haw!

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