Monday, 31 May 2021

Motos (Namco/Dempa, 1985)

Design by T. Okada
Programming by Kosei Matz
Music by Norio Nakagata
Graphics by Satoru Chan
Engineering by SIG-EL
Debugging by M. Taguchi
Supervising by Sing Kozima
Originally released for the arcades by Namco/Dempa in 1985.

Developed for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum by Binary Design (1001 Ltd.):
Amstrad and Spectrum programming by Matthew Rhodes
C64 programming by Michael Delves
Amstrad and Spectrum graphics by Ste Pickford
C64 graphics by Lee Cawley
Music by Jason C. Brooke
Published by Mastertronic in 1987.

Converted for Sharp X68000 by Yodel, with sound by Hideya Nagata. Published by Dempa Microcomputer Software in 1989.



One thing Mastertronic never got properly recognized for was their arcade conversions, mostly because they didn't do all that many of them, and those that they did were largely made after they merged with Virgin Games in 1988. Prior to that, Motos represented one of Mastertronic's earliest ventures into arcade game licencing. This could have been one of the reasons why the eventual merging with Virgin was necessary, since Motos wasn't really one of the most celebrated arcade games in its time. Now, though, it makes an interesting study.

The unpopularity of the original arcade game can be witnessed at the Arcade Museum website, where the KLOV/IAM score of 3.68 comes from a single voter, and the game has a popularity of 2 out of 100, where 1 is the least common. In other words, barely any arcade collector has Motos in their collection. The Amstrad gamers also have only a single review to base their version's rating on, and that's 8 out of 10 at CPC Game Reviews. The more widely accepted C64 version has a score of 7.4 from 30 votes at Lemon64, while the even more widely accepted Spectrum version had a score of 8.19 out of 43 votes at the now archived original World of Spectrum website. I have yet to find a website focusing on the Sharp X68000 games, or more particularly, reviews of them, so we shall have to see that one's quality for ourselves.



Motos can be described as a futuristic bumper car arena game, if you want to oversimplificate things. The game is a single-screen bumping mayhem, in which you control a space ship with a pointy head, and your job is to bump all the other roaming entities off a large platform in order to proceed to the next level. During the game, you can pick up two kinds of help items, which are "Power Parts", which enforcen your vehicle to fight better against more powerful enemies, and "Jump Parts", which enable you to jump over any gaps in the platform. These items are to be selected for use, if available, at the beginning of a new level and when you've lost a life, and this element is what really makes Motos such a brilliant game.

Arcade flyer cover

It's one of those games that could be easily at home on any machine, if done properly, since it doesn't really require that much of power from hardware to get the basics right. But I must confess, Motos never really caught my interest until I accidentally played it on one of my wild random MAME excursions, which I do perhaps twice or thrice a year. In its original arcade form, at least, it can be a surprisingly addicting game, even though it doesn't feel like one at first. Considering the amount of votes at our favourite haunts, Motos can hardly be called a classic, or even a cult classic, but it is an interesting little title that should be given a bit more time in the spotlight.



This time, the loading section is only worth anything to the three 8-bit home computers, since the arcade version's boot-up doesn't really count as something you would be forced to wait every time you wanted to play the arcade game in an arcade hall, and the Sharp X68000 version loads from a disk, so it's not exactly comparable to the 8-bit tape loading times. But since the 8-bit versions are all released by Mastertronic, it goes together well enough with this month's theme.

Commodore 64: 3 minutes 24 seconds
Amstrad CPC original: 5 minutes 29 seconds
Amstrad CPC Dro Soft: 5 minutes 10 seconds
ZX Spectrum: 3 minutes 57 seconds

Loading screens from the Mastertronic versions, left to right:
Commodore 64 (Load'n'Play), Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum

As with the previous game (Rollaround), the C64 version features a loader game, although this time it's a Minter'esque border shooter similar to Gridrunner et al, here known as "Load'n'Play". For me, not quite as enjoyable as the Space Invaders clone, but it's an acceptable way to waste your time while the actual game is loading. The AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions have exactly the sort of loading screens you would expect this game to have, and they load slower as well. If you don't have an Amstrad version in your collection, and want one, try to hunt down the Spanish Dro Soft re-release, since it's 19 seconds faster than the original.



Playing Motos is perfectly simple. You just control your vehicle into any of the eight joystick's given directions, and force your enemies off the levels by bumping into them. When you get further in the game, you can collect Jump Parts, which enable you to jump over gaps by pushing the designated jump button. The other collectables are called Power Parts, which enhance your bumping force.

You can play Motos by either a joystick or pre-designated keyboard controls, which are Q, A, O and P for up, down, left and right for all three Mastertronic versions, but the fire button is 'M' for the SPECTRUM version, and Space Bar for the C64 and AMSTRAD versions. The X68000 version only supports joystick controls.

The biggest single difference you can find here is the lack of levels in the C64 version. All the others, including the original ARCADE version, have 62 levels in them, after which the game ends, while the C64 version only features 27 levels before the game loops over. Sure, it might take a while to reach even that loop point, but it's there, and makes the C64 version feel inadequate.

The second biggest differences are the amount of options available for each version. The C64 and AMSTRAD versions only allow you to change the number of players between 1 and 2, which doesn't really affect the gameplay, since Motos is not simultaneously playable by two players. The  SPECTRUM version adds options for two colour modes: multichrome and monochrome, which affects the general look of the play areas. More about that in the Graphics section. The SHARP X68000 version gives us a relatively great amount of options: the number of lives between 3, 5 and 7; three difficulty levels from easy to hard; four variations of extra lives scoring, and even two optional screen modes. That's more than what the ARCADE original allows you to change - there you only get 3 or 5 lives, two levels of difficulty, and the same four extra lives score variations. The number of lives could present a slight point of interest, though, since the C64 version has only 3 lives to start with, while the
AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions start with five, but I suppose that's because of the amount of  levels.

Considering the above, it's a wonder there aren't that many notable differences regarding the playability itself. The AMSTRAD version feels a bit choppier, and perhaps a tad slower than the other versions, but not particularly notably so; however, Motos has an invisible time limit, which seems to either be less in the AMSTRAD version than elsewhere, or perhaps it feels like the time limit reaches the point of a meteorite shower more quickly because the game actually is slower to play. Hard to tell, but the meteorite showers are definitely more probably to arrive earlier on in the AMSTRAD version of the game, than in most other versions.

Another thing perhaps worth investigating is the enemy behaviour. Because Motos is a surprisingly large game, and has plenty of enemy types spread over its vast amount of levels, it might come as no surprise, that not every behaviour model has been translated for the 8-bits perfectly, so we're going to have to go through all the enemies to see this through, or at least as far as can be bothered.

Firstly, the red and blue balls, which are the most basic enemy type in the game, are called "Pupas". They only come at you at a fairly linear manner, are notably slower than you, and don't really give much of a fight.

A "Polar" is what you call one of the black ball-creatures with small extensions all over them, and first appears in level 2. In the original ARCADE game, Pupas are controlled in groups by Polars. In the 8-bit conversions, Polars don't control Pupas in the same manner, but rather the Pupas roam around the Polars with less design.

A "Beacon" is a diamond-shaped item, which doesn't really do anything but give you 1000 points when you push one off the surface. They also appear first in level 2.

A "Navicon" first appears in level 3, and this is basically a Pupa generator. It's a large, diamond shaped object, which activates after a period of time. It is possible to complete level 3 without getting any Pupas generated by the Navicon, but you need to be very quick. I have noticed the C64 version gives you the least trouble to achieve this. If you feel like it, though, you can spend a small eternity in level 3 collecting points, but that would defeat the object of actually completing the game, unless of course you're playing the C64 version. Level 3 also introduces the Power Parts.

Level 4 introduces the "Spirus", as well as the Jump Parts. As it sounds like, a Spirus is a spider-like enemy, which groups Pupas alongside of it, and is a bit more powerful than a Polar. The 8-bit versions, again, drop the grouping act, but in all three Mastertronic versions, the Spirus is similarly powerful to its arcade counterparts, but acts more erratically, making it the first properly difficult enemy in the game.

Level 7 introduces the "Fire Bugs", which act somewhat like the spirus, but are more powerful and faster. The only real difference between the ARCADE/X68000 versions and the 8-bit versions regarding the Fire Bugs is, that you can deal with them fairly well by using two Power Parts on the 8-bits, but you need three Power Parts to get the same effect on the higher powered systems.

In level 9 you get to meet the first large enemies, which are called "Megas". A Mega is nothing more than a large Pupa, but as you would expect, a lot more difficult to push off the edge, since it takes a couple Power Parts to make them move with any significance. Due to the level's structure and difficulty, this will likely be the first occasion for the invisible time limit to run out, as the dropping meteorites will start destroying the floor piece by piece in a random order.

The further you get in the game, the more difficult new enemies you will come across. Level 11 brings out the "Taitorians", which are kind of space-ship-like things, and require three Power Parts to make you more powerful than them on the 8-bits, and four Power Parts in the ARCADE and X68000 versions. Mind you, whenever I mention the Arcade and Sharp X68k versions in this context, I'm talking about their Easy modes. Then you get Fire Bees in level 13 and Lady Bugs in level 17, and unless you're playing the C64 version, you will also come across such things as a Giga (level 29) and Black Pupas (level 50). I cannot really comment that far, because I only have so much time to get this finished before the end of the month, and I have only ever gotten as far as level 14 in any version of the game.

One more thing should be mentioned, and that is the selection of the Power and Jump Parts. The usual manner to go about this is to follow the direction of the Parts display to select the parts that will be installed into your Motos ship in the current level. The C64 version is the only version to display the parts only with a number of availability, so in order to install a part, you need to pull the joystick down, so the number will decrease. Push up, and the number will increase gradually up to the original available amount. Pushing the fire button will eventually confirm the amount of parts you wish to install. Oddly enough, though, it seems as if you install the parts into the level itself, because if you die during the level with your chosen parts installed, they will return to your inventory, and if you beat
the level with the chosen parts installed, they will get used from the inventory. But that's how it is in all versions of the game.

If it wasn't clear enough yet, the SHARP X68000 version is not only as good as the original ARCADE version, but since it offers more options, it has to be considered even better. As for the three 8-bit renditions, the AMSTRAD version feels a bit clunkier and more difficult than the other two, but then, it does have all 62 levels in it, unlike the C64 version. I will have to give them a tied spot.

1. SHARP X68000



At heart, Motos is a classic arcade game in many ways, which is kind of odd, since it came out during the time when arcade games were making vast steps in technology with games like Hang-On, Ghosts 'n Goblins, Space Harrier and Commando. Being a single-screen event, Motos doesn't require much of visual trickstery from any representative. That doesn't mean putting some extra effort into the visuals isn't welcome.

Title screens/sequences. Bottom row: Sharp X68000.
Top row, left to right: Arcade, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.

The original ARCADE version doesn't fool around any longer than necessary - after the garbage shown during the boot sequence (which takes less than 10 seconds), you get the classic-style title screen, as shown in the top right corner. If you wait for a few seconds, meteorites start attacking the checkered background floor behind the title logo, while the bottom half changes from the traditional copyright text to the high scores table.

The SHARP X68000 version follows the original, once it eventually gets to the actual title screen, but prior to that, you get three screens of large texts that feel a bit intrusive on the whole. As you boot up the game, the screen mode is 256x256, but you can switch it to 384x256 in the configuration screen.

In the C64 version's title screen, you see a large brown background flooring (level 4), of which the second-to-bottom row is transformed into a text scroller showing all the credits and copyrights and other traditional text scroller things. Hovering left and right over the top half of the screen is a huge Motos logo, which has a nice greyscale effect running through it from left to right; and following the logo just below it is a somewhat unnecessary set of credits for the C64 version's programmer and graphician. Approximately one third of the screen's width is taken by the score-and-info panel, which shows us the chosen number of players by flashing the number on either 1-UP or 2-UP. I have to admit, it's not a particularly pretty title screen, but it fulfills its duty.

Neither the SPECTRUM nor the AMSTRAD version tries to show off in any particular manner, which I think is perfectly acceptable on these sorts of occasions. The SPECTRUM version shows the red game logo bumping up and down inside a small checkered yellow-and-cyan area at the top left corner of the screen, and the only other animated item on the screen is the "multichrome" option, which only does so when the multichrome option is turned on - otherwise the option says "monochrome". More about that later on. The AMSTRAD version does basically the same tricks, only it doesn't feature the checkered flooring underneath the game logo, and the "multichrome" effect is replaced by a flashing effect on the programmer's credit.

Screenshots from the arcade version.

If we want to take the ARCADE original as the model after which all the other versions are approximated to, which we do, then we need to be pretty specific about what's going on here. We start with inspecting the floor paneling, which seems to alternate to some extent, though there's never anything particularly interesting to see. There are two colours at the very least, and four seems to be the maximum amount of colours used for the floors. The main colours used for the floor panels are green, light blue, purple, grey and a darker blue. Palette enthusiasts would argue there are some specific additional shades, of which I have no idea nor interest, and in any case, I will be comparing every detail as approximations, based on the limitations of the 8-bits.

Your Motos vehicle is a grey thing that's pointy at the end which goes forward, which a red stripe going lengthwise in the middle, some vehicular elements at the back, and a blue edging around the chassis. All the enemies - that is to say, all that I've seen so far - are very round in design, with various kinds of appendages befitting their names, and their colourings are mostly red and/or blue, with some black, grey and white here and there. In fact, this is the amount of colours you can expect from pretty much everything in the game.

As for the info panels, the scores are seated at the top of the screen, and the power items at the bottom of the screen in a horizontal double line-up. At the left end of the power item line-ups, you have slots that say "normal", which means that by selecting this, no power item will be used. The power item slots are only managed between levels, and selecting a power item turns the selected slots blue.

The final screen is the one where you enter your name into the high score table, if you get so lucky. Since the arcade cabinets rarely feature a keyboard, you need to use the joystick to move the cursor around the slab of alphabets, which in this game are at least presented in a more graphical manner than usual. The list of five best scores are shown below the keyboard.

Screenshots from the Sharp X68000 version.

As is clearly visible, the X68000 version looks almost exactly like the ARCADE original. The only real difference is the placement of the lives and power items indicators on the right side of the playing area instead of the bottom of the screen. As you saw from the title sequence set of pictures, though, the X68000 version has an alternative screen mode, which makes the game suitable for narrower screens, but that's the only bonus feature here, which I won't be showing any more than necessary, since it doesn't do anything other than make the graphics look wider.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.

Until I actually started comparing the C64 version to the originals, not to mention the other 8-bit versions, I hadn't really thought of how inaccurate it was, graphically. The level designs are asymmetrical mostly due to the design of the relatively large info panel on the right side of the screen, which doesn't necessarily ruin the experience as such, but it does make the game design feel a bit off.

On the plus side, there are plenty enough of colours shown here, and the designs of all the sprites are as close to the originals as you can get when using wider pixels. On the minus side, the animations are not quite up to scratch, and the background tilings are never animated to change colours. At least the side panel does change its colour. But really, the graphician should have spent a bit more time perfecting the symmetry, even if the original level design would have been approximated in a different manner.

The lack of a high score table is a common nominator for all the 8-bit versions, which is why I have chosen to use the Game Over screen here instead. The ARCADE and X68000 versions only have a basic blank screen with basic Game Over text before the high score entry screen pops up.

Screenshots from the Amstrad CPC version.

The AMSTRAD version shares the wider pixelation with the C64 version, so some things look like copy/pastes. Well, almost. But really, the CPC version is quite far from the C64 version, and the most important change is the way the screen is built. You get the score panel at the top of the screen - in the border - and the power items and lives display at the bottom - also in the border. The middle section of the screen is taken, as is only appropriate, by the action screen, which can boast of accurate level designs despite wide pixels, as well as animated floor tiles. This all comes with a price, though, as the game is animated a bit sluggishly by comparison to the C64 and SPECTRUM versions. But still, I do prefer this over the C64 look.

Screenshots from the ZX Spectrum version's monochrome mode.

To my mild astonishment, it's the SPECTRUM version that goes the furthest from the 8-bits to give you the most visually pleasing presentation. Just to be able to choose between two colour modes is enough to make this one visually more interesting than the other two 8-bit versions. The monochrome option is most likely meant to be the option for black-and-white displays, as many computer gamers still had those in the 1980's. It does offer a more solid background, which might be as good a reason as any to have that option.

But while I'm talking about lower standards, I might as well mention, that a 48k Spectrum exhibits slowdown more easily than a 128k Spectrum, when the screen gets more filled with enemies. Mind you, some slight slowdown is exhibited even by the 128k Spectrum after you get four or more enemies on the screen, but on the 48k Spectrum, the slowdown is more notable.

Screenshots from the ZX Spectrum version's multichrome mode.

Although the SPECTRUM version has a multichrome mode, it only changes the background floors into properly checkered ones, with the occasional animated tiles, as is only proper. The sprites are still completely monochrome (black), but well-enough defined not to be much of a problem. The only problem with this is, you don't get different coloured versions of the "pupa" enemy, and the fire bugs and their likes can be more difficult to tell apart from each other. But that's a small minus considering the plusses.

The SPECTRUM version's screen layout is similar to the X68000 version, the level designs are accurate, and the game speed is high enough to beat the C64 version when there's not too many enemies on the screen. Also, since you get two graphic modes for the price of one, it's hard not to consider it the best of the 8-bits.

In hindsight, I probably should have given you examples of the comets flying on the screen and gradually breaking down the floor, but blame it on my time constrictions to leave that sort of stuff to be included in the video accompaniment. Business has a way of getting in the way of pleasure. Anyway, the information above should be enough to give you a fair idea of the order in which all the versions are seated in this section. Aside from the title screen, I really am rather disappointed in the C64 version, particularly when compared to the other two 8-bits. The SPECTRUM version is really the obvious 8-bit victor here, with its alternative graphic mode and lack of slowdown in the 128k mode.

1. ARCADE / SHARP X68000



Like so many other classic arcade games, the original Motos starts off rather quietly. The first sounds you hear in the ARCADE version are likely to be the comets crashing into the background flooring behind the game logo, which sounds like a clean mechanic whistle followed by a very metallic splash. In the odd case of extreme quickness, your inserting a coin into the machine might produce the optional first sound effect, which is... difficult to explain in words, but certainly a very arcadey "insert coin" type of a sound effect. All the other sound effects in the game are oddly metallic, yet bouncy and spacey at the same time. As I said, it's all a bit difficult to explain, but you can hear plenty enough of examples in the accompanying video.

Starting a new game will immediately play the first short jingle of many featured in the game. Although the game doesn't visually mention it, the first short jingle is basically your "Get Ready" screen equivalent, which plays only after you have selected your power items, if available; if not, it plays after the obligatory level number screen shown prior to actually entering the level. The other short jingles that you will likely get to hear are the "Level Complete" jingle, the "Bonus Life" jingle and the "Game Over" jingle, all of which sound purpose-built and oddly ordinary, yet having a certain character to them that feel completely unique to Motos. There is only one in-level tune, though, which is a bit disappointing, but it offers enough of odd time signatures and melodies to give you something to chew on for a while.

The SHARP X68000 version starts off with a unique intro tune, but the rest of the game can be heard in its original form, as well as in the rearranged form. The original form doesn't sound 100% exactly like the original, but only a well-trained ear will hear any differences. That said, there are a few more tunes in the X68000 soundtrack, which already gives the game more longevity than in its original arcade form. The rearranged soundtrack adds still more longevity, since all the music has now been supercharged with synthesized drums and better instruments overall, giving the game a sense of toughness through instrumental heavy metal. Some of the sound effects have also been upgraded to go together better with the rearranged soundtrack. For any fans of the Motos soundtrack, the X68000 version also features a sound test screen, which allows you to play all the music and sound effects without the trouble of having to play through the game.

Now we have the 8-bit sounds left to ponder on, and this time we really have a curious bunch, since the soundtracks for all three machines were made by the same man, Jason C. Brooke. As you would expect, the 48k SPECTRUM soundtrack doesn't really offer much - there is no music at all here, and the sound effects are your usual beeper-based farts and bleeps, but which fit this game perfectly. Happily, the Speccy version has a 128k mode, which includes all the music from the original ARCADE version, as well as the beeper-based sound effects.

Since all the 8-bit soundtracks were written by the same man, it's no wonder all the versions' music sounds as close to each other as humanly possible, considering each machine's different sound chips. It's really the sound effects where the main differences lie. The AMSTRAD version only utilizes square waves, so you don't get any white noise -type effects, eliminating the option to have proper crash noises. Other than that, the CPC sound effects are made well enough. The C64 version follows this form, so it's only real advantage over the AMSTRAD version is the slightly more sophisticated use of filters. However, the AMSTRAD version, much like the 128k SPECTRUM version, can be heard in stereo with the correct cables, which the C64 cannot do. I'd say the AMSTRAD and C64 versions are on equal footing here. In the end, though, the 8-bit results favour the AY-chips.

1. SHARP X68000



For quite possibly the first time ever in the blog's history, an arcade game doesn't finish first. The X68000's hardware enables nearly arcade-perfect experience, at least with this particular game, and it adds so many optional enhancements, that you can't but give the X68000 the top spot here. The 8-bits are their own area, really, and for a change, the C64 takes the bottom spot. Not that it's a particularly horrible conversion - just that it's clearly worse than the other two. The 128k Spectrum version offers the best overall 8-bit rendition of the game in all areas.

1. SHARP X68000: Playability 4, Graphics 4, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 13
2. ARCADE: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
3. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8
4. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 6
5. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5
6. COMMODORE 64: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 4

To fill up the blanks, here's the often mentioned video accompaniment, which should also prove many points from the above.

That's it for this year's Mastertronic May, I hope you enjoyed it despite the relative obscurity of the included games! Having said that, I might go for a different publisher theme next year, because Mastertronic's catalogue is running out of good candidates for writing comparisons of. But whatever happens in the future is yet to be written, and until we see the future, let's keep on revisiting the past by retrogaming! Thanks for reading, see you next time!

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