Popeye, ZX Spectrum

DK’Tronics1985 release Popeye is notable for its use of large, colourful animated character graphics, the likes of which had not been seen before. At least not at the time of release on the humble ZX Spectrum.

These large character graphics came from Popeye‘s owner – King Features Syndicate – who wanted the characters to actually look like their comic counterparts, and not just a squishy mess of pixels.

Popeye‘s programmer, Don Priestley devised a way of creating large character graphics by bolting together lots of character graphic squares (8×8 pixels), and making them look like ‘sprites’ (although they are not actually sprites, as many seem to call them), and he first used it in this game.

The same graphical technique would later resurface in Trap Door, Benny Hill’s Madcap Chase and Flunky, all programmed by Priestley on the ZX Spectrum.

Don Priestley‘s ‘big sprite’ games on The King of Grabs:
Popeye (1985)
Benny Hill’s Madcap Chase (1985)
The Trap Door (1986)
Through The Trap Door (1987)
Flunky (1987)
Gregory Loses His Clock (1989)

Ranarama, Atari ST

Ranarama, by Steve Turner of Graftgold, originated on the ZX Spectrum in 1987, and was later converted to the Atari ST, Amiga and Amstrad CPC.

In my opinion, the Atari ST version is the best, because it has the best graphics and a nice, speedy feel to it. The Spectrum original is great, but the 16-bit versions have better use of colour and higher resolution graphics.

In Ranarama you play as a sorcerer’s apprentice, Mervyn, whose botched spell has turned him into a frog. Gameplay is viewed from an overhead perspective, and the aim is to basically hunt down a pack of evil wizards, over eight different levels of a large dungeon. Rooms only become visible once explored, and there are lots of invisible doors to contend with too.

The deeper levels have tougher monsters, and are not immediately survivable, so the idea is to build up your offensive and defensive spells before exploring them.

Ranarama successfully combines elements of Gauntlet and Paradroid, and proves quite compelling to play when you understand how to use the active spell list properly.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranarama

Populous, PC

And here is the PC MS-DOS version of Bullfrog‘s classic Populous (1989), for comparison’s sake.

Apart from the title screen, it’s pretty much identical to the Amiga version.

Personally, I think that the DOS version plays slightly better, because the mouse click response is not as sluggish as on the Amiga.

I also think that the version for sale over at GOG.com is this version, running under DOSBox. Which makes Populous perfectly playable on modern systems.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populous_(video_game)
Gog.com: https://www.gog.com/game/populous

Populous, Amiga

Bullfrog‘s classic ‘God game’, Populous, was first released on the Amiga in 1989. It broke new ground with its ingenious mix of real-time strategy and sandbox-style landscape-building.

The aim of the game is to beat a competing ‘God’ by rapidly restructuring and flattening land and allowing your population to expand onto it.

As your followers grow, so does your power, which enables you to try a few dirty tricks on your opponent (such as dropping earthquakes on them, or floods, or volcanoes), and try to gain the upper hand. When your (or his) population reaches saturation point: you can then start an ‘Armageddon’ war and slug it out to the end. And – as is usually the case in war – it’s all a numbers game. Whoever has the most followers usually wins.

Populous is still very playable and fun to play now. The rules are simple and the input responses on the mouse are just about fast enough on the Amiga to make it enjoyable.

A classic from Bullfrog and the game that really put them on the map. AND you can still buy it from GOG.com! Sweet.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populous_(video_game)
Gog.com: https://www.gog.com/game/populous

Pitstop II, Commodore 64

It might be considered primitive by today’s standards, but back in 1984 when Pitstop II was first released, it really raised the bar for arcade-style racing games. That is: racing games that are fun to play, rather than being as realistic as possible.

Pitstop II features fast, curving roads; split screen single and dual-player, AI opponents, tyre damage, six courses to race, and – of course – controllable pit stops.

Pitstop II was co-created for Epyx by Dennis Caswell, who is also known for his timeless classic platform game, Impossible Mission.

Plays okay today. Certainly has stood the test of time better than its predecessor.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitstop_II

Jet Pac, ZX Spectrum

Ultimate Play The Game‘s amazing Jet Pac is an early ZX Spectrum classic, first released onto an unsuspecting world in 1983.

And it really did blow the world away back in the early ’80s. No one had ever seen such graphics on the humble Speccy. And the whole game was squeezed into just 16K!

Jet Pac is a simple game: shoot and avoid the baddies, while grabbing parts of your spaceship and building it up, then filling it full of purple fuel, and flying it off.

But – in spite of its simplicity – Jet Pac is compelling because it is so beautifully presented and playable.

Jet Pac was definitely an indicator of greatness, and Ultimate Play The Game more than proved that with their subsequent releases.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jetpac

Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, Megadrive/Genesis

Rare‘s classic isometric action game, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, was first released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990. This Sega Megadrive/Genesis port came later, in 1993.

And it is this Sega conversion that I prefer, because the graphics are more colourful, the controls are slightly more responsive, and there’s an extra level (12 levels, instead of 11). Not that I’ve ever seen the last level…

So anyway. Yeah… Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll. It’s a fun retro game. A classic from Rare. Some say one of their best. Is it that good? Play it and see for yourself…

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_Rattle_%27n%27_Roll

Skies of Arcadia Legends, GameCube

This classic level-grinder first came out on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000 and was later remade for the Nintendo GameCube in 2002.

Skies of Arcadia Legends – as the remake is called – is a fantastic slice of traditional Japanese role-playing and story-telling, with a main character who is a young ‘air pirate’, that is: a pirate who sails ships that fly in the air. His name is Vyse, and you control him through a complex chain of events, and a procession of seemingly never-ending, Final Fantasy-style, turn-based battles.

Skies of Arcadia Legends is brilliant fun, with nice graphics and engaging gameplay. Definitely one of the best games on the GameCube.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skies_of_Arcadia

The House of the Dead III, XBox

Over-the-top, first-person, survival horror blasting action, for one or two players!

House of the Dead III first came out in arcades in 2002, followed by XBox and other home versions, in 2003.

The Xbox version features auto reloading, whereas the arcade version allowed reloading using the built-in cabinet guns, but otherwise they are the essentially same.

Although the camera motion is ‘on rails’ (ie. follows a set path), you can choose which path to take at the beginning of a level, which changes how the levels unfold, adding variety to the gameplay.

The XBox version of House of the Dead III also features a ‘Time Attack’ Mode – which is not in the arcade version – allowing play to continue only to a strict timer. Extensions to which must be won by making rated shots.

These high quality grabs were taken using a Development XBox, which allows lossless screenshot capture in hardware, over a network.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_House_of_the_Dead_III