The Commodore 64 conversion of Defender of the Crown is a celebrated retro gaming classic. Apart from loading times, there’s little to fault about it.
Sam & Max Hit the Road, released by LucasArts in 1993, marks the video game debut of the infamous dog/rabbit crime-fighting duo.
Created by artist Steve Purcell, Sam & Max are “freelance police” and basically engage in a series of surreal mysteries involving bigfoot, and a whole host of other weird characters and strange situations.
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was initially published by LucasArts in 1992 and was immediately recognised as something rather special – at least better than what most of the competition were doing at the time.
What makes Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis so good is the melding of the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie mythos, and the great writing, art and animation talent of LucasArts.
This excellent LucasArts point-and-click adventure game was first released in 1989 (to coincide with the film of the same name) and preceded the classic Fate of Atlantis by three years.
I have to admit that this one passed me by until now, and I’m still recovering from the shock of discovering a new SCUMM adventure from the same core team who gave us Fate of Atlantis, Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, and Sam & Max…
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.
A classic, original game on the Commodore VIC-20, Chariot Race is an exhilarating and fun recreation of Roman chariot races, viewed from an overhead perspective.
The game is essentially a two-player game, with every game starting with two chariots on screen. If you don’t have a second player to race with, the other chariot soon bites the dust and you can carry on in single-player. To get the most out of Chariot Race, though, it really should be experienced with another player. Still: one or two player, Chariot Race is a lot of fun. It might look a bit basic, but the underlying game is really good.
Chariot Race was designed and programmed by the late Paul Hope and published by Micro-Antics in 1983.
Known in its native Japan as Nazo no Murasame Jō, The Mysterious Murasame Castle is an action adventure released by Nintendo for the FDS in 1986.
It came not long after the first Zelda (also released on the Famicom Disk System) and uses many Zelda gameplay elements in its design, except with a ‘Feudal Japan’ style setting.
Unfortunately the game was never released on the NES outside of Japan. An English fan translation does exist, though, and that’s the one I’ve featured here. For some reason it is called “Riddle of Murasame Castle” on the title screen.
The Mysterious Murasame Castle is a challenging action/maze game with pleasant graphics and atmospheric music. At times the game can be unforgiving, but – like all Nintendo games – there is more to The Mysterious Murasame Castle than at first meets the eye.
One of Cinemaware‘s last games, Wings was released in 1990 to critical acclaim.
It’s a First World War-based scenario, with you piloting a biplane over German lines, dogfighting enemy fighters and bombing positions on the ground.
Dogfighting uses a third-person cockpit view, with simple 3D graphics, and bombing runs use 2D bitmapped graphics (with overhead and isometric viewpoints). Cut scenes – like in all Cinemaware games – use high quality 2D graphics throughout.
As you create and lose pilots you get a great feeling of loss from the game, which is as it should be. You don’t recreate First World War battles and have everyone cracking jokes every ten minutes… The subject matter is treated with respect, and the result is: Wings is one of Cinemaware‘s (and the Amiga‘s) best games.
This 1989 release from Cinemaware is probably one of the least played Amiga games ever made.
It is based around historic (12th Century) Japanese warfare, with you playing one of two famous generals (Yoritomo or Yoshitsune) fighting to unify (pacify; subjugate) Japan under one rule.
Lords of the Rising Sun is an extremely difficult game to get into – at least initially – because the action sections are so unforgiving. Within minutes of starting a game you will almost certainly be faced with a Ninja Attack, which activates a first-person action sequence. In it you must deflect thrown shuriken with your sword for a short period of time. The problem is: doing that is nigh on impossible… I could deflect two, maybe three… but anything more always ended in my death. I tried over and over again to beat it, even using emulator quicksaves, but to no avail. Just what the game’s designers were thinking, including this scene in the game I do not know. It’s way too hard and completely ruins the game.
There is a way around this problem, though. By selecting the second of the two generals (Yoshitsune) you can play a purely strategic game. This means that the action sequences are decided in private by the computer and you’re not forced to play them yourself. It is a highly unsatisfactory solution though, because you’re not experiencing the game as it is meant to be played. Actually, Lords of the Rising Sun is a highly unsatisfactory game overall because I know that there’s a good game in there – I just can’t get to it!
The King of Chicago is a strategic gangster simulator, released by Cinemaware in 1987. And – while “gangster simulator” might sound bad – the game is full of dark humour and is something of a satire, so is not to be taken too seriously on that front.
You play a young, ambitious wiseguy in 1930s Chicago who must work his way up to the top in The Organisation. You do that by initially towing the line and doing ever-increasingly dangerous jobs for the mob, until the time is right for a bloody coup… There are cops to keep off your back, and a demanding girlfriend to appease, so other challenges to consider as you progress.
Although The King of Chicago is a very good game I have to point out that the graphics – in particular the human figures – are laughably bad in places. I guess it kinda suits the satirical nature of the game, but it is one of the few Cinemaware games that I’ve looked at and gone: “what the hell is that all about?!” Still, at least the gesticulating characters look funny…
Surviving in The King of Chicago is not easy. Most of the decision-making sequences take the form of thought bubbles that you can click on, and some are time limited, so if you ponder too long you can lose a chance at a particular moment. As always, with games like this, making the right choice at the right time is key. Also, luck plays a big part of your success – maybe too much… If you do get stuck, there are always guides.