Gift From The Gods is a mythology-based maze game – with impressively-animated, large figures – that was only ever released for the ZX Spectrum. Its origins lie in the infamous cancelled Imagine Software game, Bandersnatch.
Mr. Wimpy is an early ZX Spectrum game from Ocean Software, first published in 1984. It is based on (and licensed from) the Wimpy chain of restaurants – in particular their mascot: Mr. Wimpy. Wimpy restaurants were more widespread in the 1980s than they are today, but this was still a surprising release from Ocean.
Denton Designs made this smart little POW game for Ocean Software in 1986.
It basically re-enacts the risky life of being a Prisoner of War during the Second World War, with a planned escape being top of the list of things to do.
Prisoners have to comply to a strict prison timetable, but can ‘go walkabout’ in-between compulsory attendances. Meaning: if you miss roll call, they’ll notice and come after you. So you have to be careful. The flagpole on the left indicates your current morale. Each time you discover a new part of the camp, or each time you find or do something useful, your morale will increase. However, getting any of your items found and confiscated, or getting locked in solitary for attempted escapes will severely damage it. When your character’s morale reaches zero you lose control of him and he then just follows routine and it’s game over.
Like most isometric action/adventure games on the Spectrum, The Great Escape is relatively slow to play, but also quite absorbing. The sparse graphics do a good job of creating a good atmosphere and the controls are responsive enough to at least give you a fighting chance. Puzzles are mostly timing, lockpicking, outfit changes, and basic item juggling problems, although there are a couple of alternative solutions to escaping.
You can play the game as a POW ‘sandbox’ game if you like, and not bother trying to escape. And if you’re really lazy you can leave the controls alone and the prisoner will just go about his daily routine! I’m not sure how far you can get doing that, but it demonstrates that Denton Designs at least tried to create a self-contained, ‘living world’ inside this little 48K prison camp.
Back in the early 1990s Ocean Software had a reputation for producing mostly movie-licensed action games, and The Addams Family on the Super Nintendo is arguably the pinnacle of that niche.
Because of the strict approval process for Super Nintendo games (basically having to demonstrate to Nintendo, well in advance, that the game was free of bugs or unplayable sequences), The Addams Family was obviously highly polished by Ocean before release. Which makes it an enjoyable game to play overall.
Based on the 1991 film of the same name, in The Addams Family you play Gomez, and you must explore the platform-based mansion – and surrounding areas – in order to rescue your family members. Each one has been kidnapped and is being held by a boss that you have to find and beat, and they can be tackled in any order.
The Addams Family owes a huge debt of gratitude to Nintendo‘s Mario games. To kill enemies you either bounce on their heads, or use any of the available weapons (which of course must be found and picked-up first), which is pure Mario. It has to be said, though, that The Addams Family is nowhere near as good as any Mario game I’ve ever played. It’s far too simple to be even in the same league.
That said: The Addams Family is still a decent game and is especially good for kids to play. Like many SNES games: it’s aged quite well.
Back in 1985 gamers were astounded to see the release of an officially-licensed game, based on the pop band Frankie Goes To Hollywood. “Whatever will they think of next?” went the chattering classes. Well, just like the records that were burning up the charts, the Frankie Goes To Hollywood video game license turned out to be ‘gold dust’ to publisher Ocean Software, and the game itself is remembered as being a pretty good one (which is rare for licensed product).
Frankie Goes To Hollywood was developed by Denton Designs and features you playing as a “nobody” who has to complete various minigames, in order to reach The Pleasuredome and become a “full person”. In order to become a full person you must collect items that fill up four attributes – sex, war, love, and faith – to 99%. These items are found by searching houses (the game’s set in Liverpool), and by unlocking the secrets in the aforementioned minigames. Oh, and there’s a murder case to be solved. So no pressure…
If you don’t know what you’re doing, you won’t get very far, and probably won’t enjoy the game much, but if you actually take the time to learn how to play it properly you’ll no doubt understand why the game was such a success. This Commodore 64 version in particular was highly praised, probably because the SID sound chip (and the Denton programmers) did such a marvellous job of translating Frankie‘s hits into ‘chiptune’ music.
This is another game I bought as a kid – being a big Frankie Goes To Hollywood fan at the time, I couldn’t resist it – although it was the ZX Spectrum version I bought. I remember the box and whole package being something special, with Bob Wakelin‘s iconic artwork shining out like the unmistakable Ocean trademark that it was.
Of all his Spectrum games, Firefly was the one that programmer Jonathan Smith said really “came together” during development.
Firefly is an eight-way scrolling shooter with light puzzle elements that was first released by Ocean Software in 1988.
Every game features a randomly-generated grid of nine by five tiles, each one representing a different sector in space that you can move to. Except that you can’t move onto tiles that are heavily defended by the enemy (the Mechanoids) – you have to sneak in to the more lightly-defended sectors and take them over by disabling the local alarm system and destroying four ‘energy points’. Yes, that is rather a lot of blather for what is essentially a lot of rotating, thrusting, and shooting, but it works as a game none the less.
Firefly was a critical and commercial hit for Special FX and Ocean, and was one of Jonathan Smith‘s last Spectrum games.
First released in 1988, Ocean Software‘s Batman: The Caped Crusader is not to be confused with Ocean‘s other Batman game, programmed by Jon Ritman. No, this one is the 2D, comic panel animated adventure programmed by Jonathan Smith.
As Batman leaves one room and enters another, the panels of a comic book are overlaid onto the screen in sequential order. A simple menu system allows you to pick up and manipulate objects. Batman can punch and kick his enemies, and can also throw his Baterang. The aim is to solve a series of simple puzzles and also defeat the henchmen, leading to the boss guy. Batman: The Caped Crusader is notable for having two independently-playable branches. The first is an episode called “A Bird In The Hand” and featuring The Penguin. The second is called “A Fete Worse Than Death” and features The Joker.
Personally, I never know what the hell I’m doing in this game and can never get my bearings. You have to be some kind of genius/masochist to make any headway in it. 🙂
Not my cup of tea, but Batman: The Caped Crusader is a bold and strikingly-different game that does seem to appeal to a lot of people. It even got a North American release on the Commodore 64, Amiga and Atari ST. Not on the Spectrum, though. Nobody had Spectrums in North America at the time.
We may never know the full version of events surrounding this notorious Ocean Software game, but legendary Spectrum programmer Jonathan Smith was almost certainly involved. It does bear a few of his hallmarks, but is a ridiculously simple and quite boring shoot ’em up.
This Subscriber Edition of Street Hawk was programmed probably far too quickly, and eventually given up on by the publisher, so was given away free to subscribers of Crash Magazine as an apology for it being… erm, a bit crap.