Friday 12 April 2024

Pub Games (Alligata Software, 1986)

Sinclair ZX Spectrum version:
Programmed by Richard Stevenson and David Wright (as Dollarsoft)
Published by Alligata in 1986.

Commodore 64 version:
Programming by John Stevenson
Graphics by JLM (?)
Music by Ben Daglish
Published by Alligata in 1986.

Amstrad CPC version written by Nix, and published by Alligata in 1987.



Starting this year's Abominations April, FRGCB is proud to present the non-awaited comparison of Alligata's classic pile of multi-event dirt that goes by the name Pub Games. It's a game that was unfortunate enough to find its way into my collection a couple of years ago via a joblot that I purchased from eBay, after solemnly swearing that Pub Games shall not ever be part of my collection. It's also a game that is often spoken of as a joke by myself and my friend and colleague Bob (of Retrogame Talkshow), merely by mentioning the name. So, of course, Pub Games was a perfect candidate for one of the games to be featured in Abominations April.

Calling Pub Games an abomination might be a bit stretching the truth of the matter, but it's not too far off. When the best score to be found from current websites is a 6/10 from CPC Game Reviews, it sure isn't going to be anything groundbreaking. CPC-Power doesn't even have a score for it. The old archived World of Spectrum website did have a staggering 6.38 from 8 votes before the new WOS took over, and the only current Spectrum website that has user ratings, Spectrum Computing, has a score of 5.5 from only 2 votes. The C64 version seems to be the most commonly known of all three, but that one has the worst score of all: 20 Lemon64 voters have given it no more than 5.2 out of 10. When Pub Games was being advertised in magazines for its imminent release on the C64, CPC and Spectrum, the advert mentioned that the game would be available soon for the BBC Micro and MSX, neither of which (thankfully) ever came to exist. Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered with this one.



While Epyx was busy being enormously successful with their multi-event sports series (Winter Games, Summer Games, California Games etc.), not too many other publishing houses were willing to take the chance of sticking into that market. Alligata found a way to squeeze a game into a similar, if not precisely as athletic form, by the way of compiling seven games you could find to play in a pub environment. The chosen games are: Darts, Bar Billiards, Dominoes, Table Football (a.k.a. Fussball), Pontoon (a.k.a. Black Jack), Poker and Skittles.

Most of these games have better standalone examples made before and after Pub Games, but I suppose for a pub game enthusiast, it might have been a good idea to have them all featured in one neat package... if only the games were any good, that is. Personally, I have never played bar billiards or skittles - those not being particularly well known in Finland - and games that rely on physics rarely worked on any 8-bits. Bar Billiards is something that's not exactly comparable to real pool table billiards or snooker in any significant way, other than how to hit the balls. So if there is anything of worth to be taken from making this comparison here, I hope to have learned to play Bar Billiards and Skittles by the time I'm finished. Skittles, at least, seems to be some sort of a bowling game with less complex rules, so that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

As it has been probably said more often than necessary already, Pub Games is not a good game, especially not as a multi-event sports game. The main reason for this is, any of the included games here take more time to play than completing Super Mario Bros. by using all warps. Instead, what I suspect the good folks at Alligata intended with this product is, load up the game, choose one of the events and play that for a while before trying another event at a later time. If you want to complete one full run of Pub Games, it will take you over an hour just to get through the events, plus the loading times for each version. Still, I cannot honestly recommend play it, when there are better versions of all the events as standalone games easily available.



Taken into consideration what I said in the above paragraph, the C64 and Amstrad gamers were lucky to get disk versions of Pub Games, in addition to the obligatory cassette versions. Unfortunately, the Spectrum folks were not as lucky. But let's see just how unlucky were those, who had to stick with the tape versions. (Like myself.)

AMSTRAD CPC: 20 minutes 12 seconds
COMMODORE 64 - ALLIGATA: 9 minutes 56 seconds
COMMODORE 64 - PRISM LEISURE: 9 minutes 17 seconds
ZX SPECTRUM - ALLIGATA: 29 minutes 22 seconds
ZX SPECTRUM - PRISM LEISURE: 30 minutes 43 seconds

As you can see, there are some rather drastic differences between platforms and releases. When you
take the loading screens into account...

Loading screens, left to right:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC (tape version)

...the very fast turbo loading scheme in the C64 version really excuses the lack of loading screens. However, the problem with the C64 tape version is, that you need to have the exact counter digits for each event in memory, as the game asks you to fast-forward the tape for a reason. If you proceed to play the tape instead of ffwd'ing it to the prompted spot, the loader will crash upon completion of the event's loading, because it's not what it was supposed to search for. The AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions' tape loading schemes work more logically, since they use a working search function. They also have more informative loading screens for the events, and the main program loading screen is something you would likely be expecting at any rate. Despite the harsh loading times, the SPECTRUM version is rather smart, in that you don't actually need to load the main program in order to load all the events; you can load them separately, but then you're automatically in practice mode, and with randomized player names. One more thing that I noticed, that might be useful to perhaps one of you: the Alligata C64 tape releases tend to freeze on emulation, so they might not be completely working versions in reality, either. So, the Prism Leisure re-release is the more preferable choice as much in its condition as well as its slightly reduced full loading time.



The first bit of loading takes you to a title screen, which allows you to choose to practice one of the game's seven events, or do the entire "pub run", and play them in sequence by competing against a second player. In a similar vein to other multi-event sports games, there is a scoreboard that keeps the score for all events, and calculates the pub run's winner based on the scores. Unless you happen to play the AMSTRAD version, which displays the starting counter numbers for loading each event in the title screen, it is advisable to play the entire pub run on your first play, just to get all the counter numbers jotted down. It is a hefty process, though, which is why any possible disk version is infinitely more preferable.

As a side note, if you actually do care for this sort of a thing, the SPECTRUM and C64 versions allow for (or indeed, insist) the players to name the two participating players, when the full pub run is chosen. The AMSTRAD version only refers to the players as "Player 1" and "Player 2" from start to finish, even if you choose to play the full game. Now, let's get on with the events.

For the majority of events, the controls are simple enough: C64 uses a joystick, SPECTRUM version goes with the usual QAOP+Space, and the AMSTRAD version can be played with either the cursor keys or a joystick. Any anomalies will be mentioned as we proceed.


All three versions of the full tournament mode are played as the classic 501 game, where you must accumulate score with three darts in turns with your opponent, and try to finish the game by an exact hit of a double score or a bullseye. In practice mode, the AMSTRAD and C64 versions allow you to play a shorter version with only 301 points to score, which you must choose with the F1 key in the practice mode's title screen of the event - the SPECTRUM version only uses the 501 version. The event needs to be played three times, before you are allowed to proceed to the next event. Whoever wins more times will be declared the winner, but the game forces you to play all three matches regardless of whether you have practically already won the entire event by winning the first two matches. Annoying like crazy, and is one of those things that makes you wish there was a skip button somewhere, and makes you less likely to ever revisit the event again.

In terms of actual gameplay, there are vast differences. In the SPECTRUM version, the dart flies exactly to where your wandering cursor shows, but the cursor's movement has a pattern that is rather easy to follow. The dart's flight speed is not super quick, but fast enough not to make you wish you were playing something else during that time. Also, the entire dartboard is shown on the screen at once, which is exactly how it should be in any darts game.

For the C64 version, things are quite the opposite. Your dart can fly at a different angle the longer you keep the fire button pressed down, and by default, the dart will land some level higher on the dartboard than where your throwing hand is shown to be. The hand itself is animated to wiggle up and down maniacally, and the camera moves up and down along with the hand with such great gestures that will make you seasick in two seconds. The play area is big and zoomed in such a way, so that you can easily get lost with the first-person camera - you can see half of the dartboard at any given time at most, and you can pan the camera around to view the entire wall that the dartboard is hung on. Completely unnecessary and time consuming, but I suppose it can be considered funny. Once you have thrown a dart, your hand will move off to some direction, so you are required to find your bearings again, as if the game is supposed to somehow simulate the process of refocusing on the next dart throw. As a final nail in the coffin for this event, your dart can hit the metal structure that grids the score areas on the dartboard, and then bounce and drop off to the floor. It could have been a fun feature, but when it does that, the camera will follow the dart all the way down, after which you must move the camera back up by yourself. Supremely annoying.

If, for some unfathomable reason, you wish for a somewhat zoomed in point of view in a similar vein to the C64 version of the event, but want the camera to behave more sedately, the AMSTRAD version will bring you the solution. There is no frantic up and down movement, and the area that your camera is given to show is restricted to the immediate area of the dartboard. Surprisingly, this version of the event plays surprisingly close to Mastertronic's 180!, in which the hand moves in steep diagonals instead of natural directions, like it sort of does in the C64 and SPECTRUM versions. Only the flight angle is different, so the dart will land a lot higher than you would expect, compared to the way it does in 180!. Thankfully, the hand doesn't wander around after throwing a dart and ending a turn, so playing a round of this version happens much quicker than the C64 version.

Although the SPECTRUM version of the Darts event is definitely preferable in terms of its visual side of playability, the AMSTRAD version is more comfortable to control and quicker to be done with. The C64 version is just brutally stupid.



Here's something you don't see quite often represented in computer and video games. Bar Billiards, as it is called here, is a game you play against another player from a stationary point, which is the half-circle at the other end of the table. Unlike regular pool, snooker and other usual billiard-type games, bar billiards has a set of holes scattered around the other half of the table, instead of in the corners and the middle of each side. Each hole has its own value, ranging from 10 to 200. Additionally, there are three penalty pegs located near the four nearest holes, which either discards all the acquired score from the current break (white pegs) or loses all your points (the black peg). The idea is to first nudge the red ball somewhere on the table, then use a white ball to nudge the red ball into one of the holes, hopefully without hitting the pegs while at it. Managing to do so repeatedly will accumulate score, and failing to pot a ball into a hole will end your turn/break.

If you're like me, and you have never even heard of this specific type of billiards, then you're likely not from the U.K., inland-European or Russian. Indeed, Alligata's Pub Games is the first place where I ever came across this particular game, but it reminds me of some early pinball-like games, except you play this one with a cue.

The odd one of the group is the C64 version, which presents the event from a first-person POV, giving the table a sort of a faux-3D appearance. Both the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions have a top-down view, although the two versions have the camera flipped. The AMSTRAD version seems to use some upwards tilt to the table, and because of that, it has been given a table-width hole behind the cue area as a unique feature.

All three versions have more or less unnatural physics, with balls ricocheting to odd directions and not moving more than an inch or two after collision, and even with full power, the cue ball never moves further than the other end of the table. Honestly, I cannot really say, which version performs the least worst in this regard. Perhaps the AMSTRAD version is the least playable, because the ricocheting balls move the least, and the tilted table gives you the least chance of ever getting any balls into holes.

According to the game's instructions, there is supposed to be a time limit of 10 minutes, after which the remaining balls on the table will take turns in being the cue ball until every ball has been pocketed. In the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, the timer runs towards zero, while the C64 timer runs from zero upwards. In all versions, you can basically play the game as long as you still have balls on the table, but I'm not completely sure the C64 version works the way it's supposed to.



As there are more than one game to be played using dominoes, I had to try and find out, which game precisely is being played in Pub Games. My conclusion was, that it has to be the most common game of dominoes, which is the Block Game. I'm probably not about to explain this with the correct terms, but I suppose you'll get the idea. Each of the players are given a random set of seven dominoes, and the idea is to follow a number with its pair and continue until you run out of dominoes. If you cannot find a fitting domino in your hand, you need to use the knock function to give the other player a turn, and pick another random domino from the leftovers. The winner is the one who either loses all the dominoes first, or has the least score value (pips) in the remaining dominoes if the game ends in a standstill, where neither player is able to continue.

This is the first event that has significant differences in how long it takes for the game to actually start after loading. The AMSTRAD version is the quickest one in this regard, as it only gives you a prompt for the player to start the game. The SPECTRUM version forces you through a couple of quick enough text screens, and then a few seconds of "shuffling the deck" before the game menu appears so you can start the game. Not too bad, but still slower than the CPC. Unfortunately, the worst offender is the C64 version, which forces you to watch an animation sequence of the Alligata logo being drawn with dominoes onto a scrolling screen, and only after the logo is finished and the theme song kicks in, you are allowed to start the game by pressing the Space bar. To get to this point after the event's loading is done, takes about 22-23 seconds.

Once you find yourself able to actually play, the SPECTRUM version is kind enough to tell you all the keys in the main game screen. The domino pieces are moved with the cursor keys (5 to 8), R reveals the current player's set of dominoes, S selects the highlighted piece and takes you to the placing screen, K does the knock function if needed, H and V turn the piece to a horizontal or vertical position, and P places the domino piece to your chosen spot. This all happens in a confined single-screen environment, and the screen doesn't move anywhere unless absolutely necessary.

The AMSTRAD and C64 versions both use a piece-centered push-scrolling screen. For the AMSTRAD version, the entire event is handled with the cursor keys, Enter/Return selects and places a domino piece, Space bar swaps the H/V alignment, and if you're unable to place any piece into the domino line, F1 takes you back to the inventory screen. The C64 version is played with joysticks in both ports, as there is no computer opponent programmed into this version. Everything else is done with joystick, except F1 takes you back to the inventory, and you also need to use one of the cursor keys to swap the alignment. So, make sure your virtual joystick keys are not set for the PC's cursor keys.

Although the SPECTRUM version starts off quick enough, it is a bit cumbersome on the whole, and is slightly slower to play than the other two versions. The C64 version's letdown is really the intro animation, so the AMSTRAD version is the most optimal here.



Also known as fussball or foosball, the table football event is one of those games where you move rows of wooden players with rods sticking out from the sides of the table. One player controls rods with the red team players, and the other controls the blue ones. Because you are supposed to control four different rods on each team, playing the game on a joystick would seem rather difficult - however, what they have done quite cleverly here is give the player the control only for the rod nearest to the ball at any given time. Naturally, the team with the most goals scored within the given nine rounds wins.

The two major factors to make or break this event are the game speed and the angles kicking the ball sends it off in. The least important factor can still affect the enjoyment of gameplay, which is the designated controls. The C64 version uses strictly joysticks, while the AMSTRAD version has player one (blue team) using the classic Q-A-O-P setup, and the second player (red team) a joystick. Not too bad there. The SPECTRUM version, however, is more than a bit awkward, as both players are forced to play on the same minuscule keyboard that the 48k ZX Spectrum has. The blue team is controlled with 1 and Q for up and down, and Caps Shift and Z for swinging the men left and right to kick. The red team uses 0 (zero) and O (the letter) for up and down, and M and comma (,) for the kicking movements. I'd say that's definitely a case against the SPECTRUM version.

Fortunately, the game speed is adequately fast for the SPECTRUM, and it plays at a solid, kind of smooth'ish speed as well. The C64 version offers the most solid and smoothest gameplay, and the action is fast enough to be considered nearest to being accurate for a fussball game. Of course, being accurate on an 8-bit computer would be impossible, so don't expect miracles. The AMSTRAD version is the most sluggish and slowest of all by far, and the animation is slightly stuttering, so it's not quite as comfortable to play in that sense.

What the AMSTRAD version excels in is the accuracy of how your kicks send the ball off. It's not 100% accurate in its angles, but it's certainly much better than the almost non-existent angles in the SPECTRUM version, and the somewhat extreme angles in the C64 version.

None of these are completely playable, however, and calling one considerably better over the other would be wishful thinking. Even though the AMSTRAD version is a bit more accurate than the others, the C64 version's game speed makes the lack of accuracy a moot point.



The name Pontoon was somewhat unfamiliar to me, as I had only ever heard the game being referred to as Black Jack (as it appears on the C64 title screen), Vingt-Un (from old British novels) and Ventti, as we call it here in Finland. Anyway, the game of Pontoon in Pub Games plays largely in the same manner as any other version of Black Jack. You start the game by having been given two cards, and you can have a maximum of five cards. The idea is to gather a score of 21, or as close to it as you have the guts to, but not exceed that limit, and hope that your opponent either draws over 21 or under yours.

This event is entirely keyboard-driven in all three versions. What differs is the set keys and the actual terms used for your actions, for whatever reason.

In the SPECTRUM version, adjusting the amount of money you place to bet happens by tapping the Space bar. If you went over the bet you wanted, the bet goes from £1 to £5 and loops back to the beginning. Press Enter when you have decided upon your bet. The other keys are shown on the screen, but H (hit) and S (stick) are to be your most utilised commands. B (burn) is used to restart your hand, if you have a hand of either 13 or 14, and Y (buy) is used to increase the bet while taking another card. No splitting of doubles is allowed. The game is over after you either lose all your money, or after 10 rounds have been played.

In the C64 version, adjusting the bet happens with F1, and is accepted with the Return key, in a similar manner to the SPECTRUM version. The commands are Stick, Twist and Buy, from which Twist specifically means to hit you with a card with the face upwards. In the original Pontoon rules, when you buy a card for an increased bet, the card is given to you faced down, although that doesn't really matter much in this game. Splitting of doubles is not allowed here, either. The same Game Over rules apply as before.

For the AMSTRAD version, they went with a more logical solution, and gave you the chance to type in your chosen amount of bet (still between £1 and £5) by using numbers. The action options are given to you according to the game's situations, and the same terms are used as in the C64 version. The artificial luck seems to favour the CPU player in this version quite often, although I'm not sure, how that works. Still, it's just about as playable as the others.

Taking a moment to re-evaluate, it appears as if the SPECTRUM version has just an inch of headway over the others, and with just one additional game command. It would have been nice - and not too uncommon - to have the split command available, but since it's not available in any version, the Burn command is what decided the winner here.



Since you obviously cannot have one card game in Pub Games without another, the only obvious second card game to be featured is poker. As poker has been the most commonly featured card game on video game systems and home computers, and has become one of the most played card games all over the world, I feel it unnecessary to go through the details here. But in case one of you cannot remember the idea for some unfathomable reason, it's that five-card game, where you try to get a certain type of a game in your hand - be it some sort of a pair or two, or something more elaborate, such as a full house (two pairs and an extra for one of the pairs) or a straight. And of course, you are only given one chance to swap some of your cards for a dealt hand. As usual, there is also betting involved.

This event plays more or less like any video poker you might have ever come across. After a hand of five cards has been dealt, push the designated buttons - here numerics 1 to 5 in all three versions - to choose which cards you want to keep in your hand, and press the deal button - Enter or Space bar, depending on the version - to switch the other cards. The C64 version plays a bit differently, since the cards you choose are the ones to be switched instead. It's something to get used to, but otherwise will not affect the gameplay.

A more tangible way to affect the gamers' enjoyment of the game is to keep them waiting for something to happen for no obvious reason. The AMSTRAD version plays the quickest of all three, but it features no animations. The C64 version of Poker uses the same animations as Pontoon, which makes you wait for a bit, but not longer than absolutely necessary. The SPECTRUM version starts slowly while the game "shuffles" the virtual deck, and it's also slow between certain actions.



Last, and as usual, not least, we have a bowling game variation called Skittles, where you throw bowling balls at a set of pins at the end of an alley, and try to knock as many of them down as possible to accumulate score. All three platforms have their own specific variations of this event, though there are similarities enough.

All three versions are played in two throw rounds - each of the players throws the ball twice before the other takes turn. All three versions can also be played by using Space bar for all your actions, although the SPECTRUM version does take any key at any prompted time, and the C64 version also accepts joystick button for throwing. All three versions also have the same basic gameplay setup: the target cursor at the end of the alley and the player sprite/cursor at the beginning of the alley move left and right at slightly different speeds, and your job is to wait enough to align them as optimally as possible and send the ball off.

After the basics, the differences are surprisingly pronounced. The cursors' moving speeds are fairly sedate in the C64 and SPECTRUM versions, while they move at an almost stupidly fast speed in the AMSTRAD version. In the C64 and SPECTRUM versions, you get only six pins to drop, while the AMSTRAD version uses ten. Reflecting that, the C64 and SPECTRUM versions reset all the pins after each throw, while the AMSTRAD version only leaves the untouched pins standing after the first throw - similarly to how it goes in normal bowling.

However, there are no complex bowling scoring rules here, nor could there be, because the game hasn't been programmed to be a simulation. None of Pub Games' versions use any realistic sort of pin-flying physics - they all just drop in place as the ball goes through them. Thus, throwing full strikes is practically impossible to accomplish, although it happens sometimes with pure luck. This I have found to be true for all three versions. So, it's just as well that the game proceeds purely by two throws for each player in turns, with no regards to how well they did.

The C64 version is played in five rounds (ten throws) and the AMSTRAD version is played in eight rounds, both with the object of accumulating as much of score in the given time as possible. The SPECTRUM version is played in six rounds, but the only scorekeeping happens within the rounds. Whoever wins more rounds in the end is declared the winner, so with six rounds, draws are very much possible.

As such, the three versions feel so different from each other, that it's impossible to put them into any particular order. They are all basically just as easy to play, since all you need is one button/key to do everything there is to do, but it's in the other details that the event feels completely different. The way the SPECTRUM version has been divided into rounds (or games, as it says) makes it a little bit slower to play than the other two, but it's inconsequential. For this one, my verdict has to be:



When the scores for each event are combined together, we actually do get rather logical results for this section already. Combined to the events, there are matters of convenience to consider, which would automatically lower the value of the SPECTRUM version quite drastically, despite its clever loading scheme. Unfortunately, if you ever wanted to play the most optimal version of Pub Games, you would have to pick certain events from all three versions.




As with practically anything else in the realm of 8-bit sport games, the Epyx multi-event sports series set an almost unreasonably high standard for all sports games to come, particularly after Winter Games (1985). So what Alligata did was do their usual half-baked graphics in the hopes that gamers would consider the cheapness charming.

Title sequences. Top row: Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
Bottom left: Amstrad CPC disk & tape versions. Bottom right: Commodore 64.

The title screen, or sequence, depending on each version, looks completely different in all versions. The SPECTRUM version starts with a message "Stop the tape" displaying, while a large Alligata logo is dragged from the right to the top of the screen, which takes about 10-15 seconds (I haven't counted). The game title appears with credits, and you are prompted to enter the names of the two participating players, which can hold five letters. Only then, you are taken to the main menu, which gives you the options to do the whole Pub Run, or enter the Practice mode, which allows you to choose one of the game's seven events. There are a few different fonts in use here, with some colour used for them as well, and none of them are the basic system font, which is always a bonus. The only other graphical element is the bluish rectangle art surrounding some of the text. There are two different menu screens for the AMSTRAD version - the disk version, which uses the loading screen, and adds instructions to the bottom of the screen, as well as a hand cursor with a pointing finger, that you can move over each event box; and the tape version, which only has a text-based menu, showing the events and their counter numbers for loading, as well as the first choice of the full Pub Run. The C64 version features a similar title screen as the AMSTRAD disk version, except it is an entirely separately drawn rendition of the same event, and has all the event boxes differently aligned, as well as the proper Alligata logo and its accompanying alligator. The only thing missing in the C64 title screen is the game title itself. If you choose the full Pub Run, you are taken to a screen where you enter your names, and where the game eventually keeps the score on a notebook. Although that's all fun and charming, the AMSTRAD title screen looks easily the most detailed and colourful.

Event #1: Darts.
Top to bottom: Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC.
Since it's easier to go through this game in order, we start again with Darts. We can see a recurring theme developing here: all three versions look completely different from each other. The SPECTRUM version uses hi-res monochrome graphics, but the colour scheme can be changed in the starting screen. It is the only version, in which we can see the players in their different outfits, but it is also the only version, in which we see the entire dartboard at once, as was mentioned earlier in the Playability section. The info panel is a bit on the arcadey side, since it's all boxes and numbers with no attempt at giving the screen a pub-like hand-built feel with hand-written numbers. The lack of a human touch in the SPECTRUM version's approach does make it feel a bit undesigned.

The C64 version is the only version to have a proper title screen for the event - another thing that we shall be seeing turning into a recurring theme as we move on. The view of the dartboard has been zoomed in so close, that you can only see about half of it, and due to the amount of wallpaper, there are places, where you cannot even see the dartboard. The info panel is slightly better here, with the small section of blackboard with wooden doors seen at the bottom of the screen, and the numbers for current score written with a more hand-written style does bring the whole event just a little bit up from its ditch. Unfortunately, the frantically moving camera that follows the stupidly moving hand makes the entire event seasickness-inducing.

The AMSTRAD version doesn't have a title screen as such, but it does have a starting prompt, where you are able to change the game type between 501 and 301. Otherwise, it's the same screen throughout the duration of the event. At the top, we can see the event's own rather surprisingly elaborate logo, featuring the actual game title. At the bottom, the score panel is a bit boringly boxed and non-stylized again, but at least we can see the scores also written on the blackboards on both sides of the dartboard, as is only proper. Clearly, some thought went into this version. Also, while the throwing hand does make some movement, the camera doesn't follow it, so you are safe from becoming seasick here. Very good, indeed.

Event #2: Bar Billiards.
Left to right: Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
I suppose the pattern is becoming clear here, right? Well, the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions look the most similar, but even they have massive differences in presentation. Most obviously, perhaps, the table is mirrored between the two, and there's a black hole at the cue end of the table that's not very long, but it takes the entire width of the table. The info panels are perhaps a bit prettier in the SPECTRUM version, but not by much. One small, but odd thing worth noting in the AMSTRAD version is, that the border is blue here - you might want to hold on to that for later.

For some reason, the C64 version uses a first-person view from the cue side of the table. It is perhaps a little bit more interesting to look at, as the event is a bit more animated from this angle, but the info panels have been reduced to just a row of text at the bottom, and a couple of text boxes at the top.

Event #3: Dominoes.
Left to right: Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
The C64 version's series of event-specific title screens continues after skipping the second event, and with Dominoes, the title screen is a ridiculously long and unnecessary animation sequence of the Alligata logo being drawn with domino blocks into a scrolling screen displaying what we will soon enough realize, is the playing board. It is a bit rough on the eyes, and the Alligata logo sequence is unskippable. The info panel displays the event title and the credits, which, in the game, will display the domino blocks themselves, and the knock-option as a separate domino block at the other end of the info panel.

Thankfully, there is no such elaborate intro in the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions, although the SPECTRUM version still has a bit of waiting to be done before the game starts. The info panel and the set of dominoes are vertical in the SPECTRUM version, which disappear when you decide to place the selected domino block. The AMSTRAD version uses a similarly scrolling zoomed-in play area as the C64 version, only without the harsh grid background, and overall, both SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions are less eye-straining. Notice the blue borders in the AMSTRAD version? It is becoming a recurring theme.

Event #4: Table Football.
Top to bottom: Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
And the CPC version's blue border theme continues here. In fact, it continues until the last event, so the Darts event was the only one without blue borders, which is odd. Once again, the AMSTRAD version has the most carefully thought-out graphics, as each of the teams have a differently coloured goalkeeper - green for the blue team, and yellow for the red team. Also, the wooden footballers' detailing is most like that of real human players, instead of coloured wooden blocks. The info panels remind me heavily of some of the early sports games by Codemasters, which isn't quite as showy as the C64's recurring info display, but it works well in the context.

What the CPC version is missing, though, which can be overlooked, is the rods sticking out from the sides of the table, which both C64 and SPECTRUM versions do have. The rod you control is highlighted in the C64 version with the team colour - all the other rods appear white. The number of balls played is displayed under the table, and the number of goals appear as a number in both top corners of the table. The SPECTRUM version has a full all-purpose info panel under the table, although the GOAL! message is displayed in the middle of the table. It also has two choosable colour schemes: coloured rods or coloured players. Oh, and the C64 version has another title screen.

Event #5: Pontoon/Blackjack.
Left to right: Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
Card games in general don't have much in terms of graphics to recommend themselves, but it is always fun to see, how accurately the game designers managed to draw the classic pictures for the Knave/Jack, Queen and King. If there happens to be any nice backside designs, that's always a bonus, as is a nice info panel, if such exists.

The C64 version continues to entertain us with an unnecessary title screen for the event, this time displaying two cards that count for a vingt-un, or pontoon, as it's here. When you start the game, there is an animated sequence of cards being shuffled - which in this case means laying down the cards upside down in four rows and then taking them off in one go. The cards' backside design is rather pretty, with blue, red, white and black being the used colours, and a wavy pattern going over a blocky picture that could be either a flower or a target - not really important, but at least that's something. The front-side designs work well enough, but the pictures look a bit drab with black being the primary colour.

Because the AMSTRAD version uses a fairly large title logo at the top of the screen, as well as a fairly large info panel at the bottom, the space left for the cards is considerably smaller than what they get in the C64 version, so the cards are considerably smaller also. Due to this inconvenience, they couldn't fit the defining letter into the picture cards, so you can only guess, if you have Kings, Queens or Knaves/Jacks in the row. At least the pictures are good enough for you to make them out, and the colours are more pleasant than those in the C64 version. The backside pattern is simpler, a filled red rectangle with a diagonal cross pattern, and large white edges.

Whereas in the AMSTRAD and C64 versions, the card corners are more or less rounded, the SPECTRUM version uses sharp rectangles. This design is perhaps less correct, but at least it gives more space for the card frontal designs. The backsides are similar to those in the AMSTRAD version, but the pattern inside the white edges is dotted black. The front pictures are monochrome, but highly detailed, and even the Ace of Spades has a nice large Spade on it. I'd say the SPECTRUM version wins this round.

Event #6: Poker.
Left to right: Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.

The one important difference in the Poker event to Pontoon is the inclusion of the Hold signs under each card. In the SPECTRUM version, the signs are red by default, but if you push hold under a card, the sign goes green. In the AMSTRAD version, you will see red-and-yellow "Hold" signs under the selected cards, but nothing otherwise. The C64 version goes about it in a somewhat baffling way, in both gameplay and presentation: when you select any of the cards, a white slab appears under the selected cards, but then those cards are to be discarded. Highly confusing, I'd say.

Event #7: Skittles.
Left to right: Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
Finally, we have Skittles, which is presented as a single lane bowling alley with large score displays on both sides of it in the SPECTRUM and C64 versions. The colours in both versions are awkward in different ways, but at least the C64 version is a little bit more detailed, and it features actual players, return lanes, as well as a more protruding opening into the wall. The most brilliant thing about the C64 version is the player's floating jump while shouting "Strike" when this random occurence takes place. It's still ugly, though.

The AMSTRAD version looks absolutely staggeringly good compared to the other two in this event. You are actually, visibly, in a pub - a NAMED pub no less, where the Skittles alley is placed in front of the pub counter. There is also a large black pub seat and a table in front of it, and the scoreboard on the wall just above the table. The pins are detailed and have shadows, the ball looks more like a ball-like object instead of just a filled circle, and the two players have different coloured shirts. The animation is a bit slow, but considering everything else, it's all pretty good.

Scoreboards, left to right:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
In case you were wondering, nope - there's not much more to this game, just the scoreboard displayed after each event. You have already seen the C64 version earlier in the context of the title sequence, so nothing new there. The AMSTRAD version has two different scoreboards, a plain text version for the tape release and a slightly more graphical one (the one you see here) for the disk version. The SPECTRUM version has a completely unique screen for displaying the scores between each event, which only happens during loading the next event. Not much to it, to be honest, but it is different, at least.

What comes to mind upon reflection is, that the C64 version tried too hard to entertain through tricks instead of making the game actually work through adequate and nice-looking graphics. The SPECTRUM version is rather pleasing for the most part, in all its simplicity, but the lack of design in the Skittles event and the large amount of attribute clash in the Table Football and sometimes even the Bar Billiards event do bring the whole game a bit down, to be honest. The AMSTRAD version is not exactly without its own share of problems, either, but at least there's a lot of good design in the events most requiring it.




Now, what does a pub-themed game require to bring up the mood for some pub games? Some good beer-themed music, of course! The SPECTRUM version doesn't have any, but there is some in the other two versions. The title screen features a medley of old British Music Hall songs: "Skoda Lasky (Beer Barrel Polka)", "My Old Man", "Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built For Two)" and "Down at the Old Bull and Bush", arranged to what should probably sound like an old, slightly out of tune piano.

At this point, it feels more logical to head on with the versions using an actual sound chip, so let's go with the known facts first. The great, late Ben Daglish did the soundtrack for the C64 version, and seeing as the same title screen medley is present in the AMSTRAD version as well, it is not too far-fetched to assume that Daglish was responsible for that one, too. But as there is no conclusive evidence to that, the credits at the top remain as they are.

In addition to the main title theme, which is played in four different events' title screens as well as the scoreboard screen in the C64 version, there are at least five or six different fanfares that are played in different events on different occasions. Try as I might, I couldn't really keep up with the real number of them, since some of them are played in at least two events, and the Poker title screen loops over with slapping down five cards, each with a differently pitched series of three notes, ending with a different randomly chosen fanfare.

There are plenty enough of sound effects on the C64, even though the game feels awfully quiet most of the time. That has more to do with the pacing of the game, than the amount of sound effects, though. Darts, in particular, is slow to play, because the time between actions is long thanks to the awkward controls, but it does feature high-pitched beeps for starting a turn, short swooshes for throwing, loud thumps for the darts hitting the dartboard, a funny imitation of the speech pattern of "One hundred and eighty!" programmed to be played with an instrument instead of a speech sample, and a special sequence of sound effects involving clings and a long descending whistle when a dart hits metal and drops down to the floor. Bar Billiards is the most quiet event on the C64, featuring only low thuds for hitting the cue ball. Dominoes has some beeps and a sturdy three-knock-sequence for the knock option. Table Football only features a muffled dunk for kicking the ball in addition to a goal fanfare. Pontoon uses muffled beeps for dealing cards and two different fanfares for winning and losing. Poker uses the same sounds, along with an additional "shtump" noise for laying down cards. Finally, Skittles features ascending and descending white noises for the ball going in different directions, and a set of different rhythmic tap-sequences for pins dropping.

If the C64 version felt awfully quiet, I've got news for you: it's the most vocal version of the three. In the AMSTRAD version, the amount of sounds put together from all events is much smaller, although they still do their job well enough. Darts only features a low "bup" when a dart hits the board, and a short jingle when a game is finished. Bar Billiards also features a similar low "bup" for when balls collide, and there's also a low "ding dong" on a foul stroke. Dominoes also has a low "ding dong" used for the knocking option, and the only other sound is a short ascending dual-note beep when you place a domino piece. Table Football has swooshing noises for kicking and a quick fanfare for making a goal. Pontoon reutilises the dual-note beeps from Dominoes and adds the "Charge!" melody for winning a hand, and Poker continues in the same manner. Skittles only features splashing noises for taking down pins, and there's another different sort of a fanfare that plays when the game is finished. So, rich enough, but recycles sound effects a lot more than the C64 version.

What about the SPECTRUM version, then? With no music, and no hopes for an exceptional set of sound effects, there is really no hope for it, is there? To be blunt, no. The title screen only features a weird "tschewp" sound effect for entering a letter for the players' names, and when you're done, a quick "pip" sound prompts you to start loading from the tape. Darts only has a beep for starting the game, and a "thup" when the dart hits the board. Bar Billiards has nothing more than a "blip" when any ball collider with another, but that's hardly worse than what you get on the C64. Dominoes uses another "tschuwp" sound for when the game starts and for placing a domino block; but there's also a "boop boop" signal for the knocking feature, a "blip" for any other action, and when the game is finished, you will hear a staccato ascending melody and a "ding dong". Table Football has an infuriatingly long "BEEEEEEEP" to start and end the game, and a muted "blip" for any contact with the ball. Pontoon and Poker make do with a couple of different "bup" sounds, and Skittles has no sounds whatsoever. So, while there are some sound effects to ease the eerie silence, the SPECTRUM version doesn't really have a chance against the other two.




After that ordeal, I have come to agree with the general ratings of the game on all systems. The most criminally horrible thing in the C64 version is the Darts event, which takes forever to play and causes seasickness, so the only way to enjoy the C64 version is to play a disk version in practice mode, choosing your own events. The SPECTRUM version's events work not too shabbily, but the tape-only loading times are painful, and Table Football is basically unplayable. The only version not to screw up any event too badly is the AMSTRAD version, but even that one should be played from disk, not just for the speed, but also to get the most out of it.

1. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
2. COMMODORE 64: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 6
3. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4

And as usual, here's the accompanying video, this time built a bit differently - each event in groups, so it all makes more sense.

On a final note, there are screenshots of unreleased versions of Pub Games in the back covers of the Amstrad and Spectrum releases. To me, it looks as though the Skittles, Pontoon and Bar Billiards screens might be from the MSX version, and Darts from the BBC Micro version, but it's hard to tell. Even with such a largely unpleasant game, it would be interesting to see, how the unreleased versions would have turned out.

Screenshots from unreleased versions, printed to the back cover of the Spectrum and Amstrad versions,
including Skittles, Pontoon, Bar Billiards and Darts.
That should be it for now, unless someone actually digs up the unreleased versions from some ungodly ditch. I will try to get another April Abomination comparison out around the end of the month, and it's going to be a lot of work, so wish me luck!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this comprehensive retro game comparison review of "Pub Games" is incredibly thorough! From the game loading, gameplay, to graphics and sound, every detail has been meticulously covered. Although "Pub Games" may seem a bit dated today, the dedication and love for retro games that went into writing this piece are palpable. For nostalgia enthusiasts, the detailed analysis across these three platforms is a valuable resource.