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Son of Blagger, Commodore 64

The 1984 sequel to Blagger, Son of Blagger is different to its parent in that this time the platforming is done within a large, scrolling landscape, rather than the Manic Miner-style, single screen stages of the first game. It is basically the same game engine as another Tony Crowther game: Wanted! Monty Mole.

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Tom Thumb, Commodore 16/Plus4

This 1986 release from Anirog is seen as something of a ‘killer app’ on the Commodore 16, although personally I think it’s over-rated.

Tom Thumb is a smooth-scrolling platform game with a strange jump mechanic: Tom can only jump when the run button is pressed, and when he does it’s very slowly. Thankfully you can change his direction in mid air. Not that that makes a great deal of difference, because Tom Thumb is an extremely difficult game to make progress in.

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Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Nintendo 64

Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a surprising 2001 release – on the Nintendo 64 – for British developer Rare, in collaboration with Nintendo.

What is surprising about it is that it is an “adult” game – meaning: it contains cartoon characters behaving in ways that you don’t normally see in a Nintendo game, like vomiting on people’s shoes, making sexual innuendo, and using mild swear words.

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Dungeon Master: Theron’s Quest, PC Engine

Theron’s Quest is a modified version of the incredible Dungeon Master, released for the PC Engine in Japan in 1992 and the TurboGrafx-16 in North America in 1993.

Developers FTL/Software Heaven changed the premise of the main quest (this time you specifically play a named character, called Theron, who must find seven parts of a set of knight’s armour); they also changed the layouts of all the dungeons (although some places might seem familiar to DM fans); they added cut sequences between levels (kind of unnecessary, but they don’t detract too much); they made the game easier (by reducing the frequency of monsters, and also by replacing the save option with plenty of resurrection points), and of course they also made it playable on a gamepad (for one person).

If you sit down and play Theron’s Quest intently, like I’ve done, you’ll know that “making the game easier” doesn’t necessarily equate to “making the game easy”; and even in a emulator I’d say that Theron’s Quest is a decent challenge. In fact: I rate Theron’s Quest very highly. A lot of people dismiss it as “just Dungeon Master on the PC Engine“, but it is in fact a little bit more than that – it’s a completely new Dungeon Master sequel, and (thankfully) doesn’t go in the same “ultra hard” direction as Chaos Strikes Back

Theron’s Quest does a very good job of making a brilliant game more accessible to mainstream gamers. And it also allows Dungeon Master pros to flex their muscles in an environment they love, but don’t have to commit too much time to beating. It’s a ‘win-win’ for everybody. 🙂

More: Dungeon Master: Theron’s Quest on Wikipedia

Stonekeep, PC

Stonekeep is a strange first-person Role-Playing Game, developed and published by Interplay Productions in 1995.

I say “strange” because Stonekeep comes from a time when developers were looking for any excuse to inject some full-motion video into their games, and Stonekeep uses digitised video quite a lot, and it now looks very dated. Actually, Stonekeep uses two very dated graphical techniques to create the world you’re exploring – the second technique being Silicon Graphics-rendered graphics (the first being the aforementioned digitised video technique, a la Mortal Kombat). It’s the clash of the bad graphics techniques…

The way the digitised video has been used in the game means that a lot of the characters and monsters in it look kinda like pantomime villains… Well I felt like I was playing a pantomime fantasy game with Stonekeep… The visual style of this game reminds me of that TV show, Knightmare – the one that superimposed live actors over painted fantasy backdrops… That’s what they tried to do with this game – film people in costumes and incorporate them into a Role-Playing Game… And the end result is a bit of a weird mess!

In spite of the outdated presentation Stonekeep plays excellently. Movement is quick and simple, and is tile-based. A journal keeps track of quests, items, maps, stats and available spells (which are cast using runes inscribed on wands). Combat is real-time; similar to that seen in the mighty Dungeon Master. Quests and puzzles are fairly simple – mostly unblock a route or kill a bad guy – although there are a few surprises along the way that take Stonekeep beyond the merely ‘generic’.

I wouldn’t say that Stonekeep is a ‘solid gold classic’, but I would recommend that RPG fans give it a try. Or even better: play it to the later stages at least, because that’s where it gets more interesting. That said: if you have a low tolerance for goblins, faeries, and ice queens then maybe this game isn’t for you…

Stonekeep is a game that doesn’t deserve to be forgotten and does have its moments, even though the story and setting are a little trite. Don’t let me put you off though – Stonekeep plays nicely in DOSBox and is cheap on GOG.com and is well worth adding to the collection.

More: Stonekeep on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Stonekeep on GOG.com

Chip’s Challenge, Atari ST

I have to say: I really love Chip’s Challenge, and have done ever since I first played it on its original platform: the Atari Lynx.

Converted by UK-based Images Software and published by US Gold in 1990, Chip’s Challenge is an old school maze/puzzle game, set inside a computer, and it features well-defined, cute graphics, and challenging puzzles. It has all the ingredients of a classic game.

The storyline in Chip’s Challenge is frankly ridiculous: you’re Chip, and you have to complete a series of challenges from a girl called Melinda in order to join their computer club, Bit Busters… Forget that. What’s important to know is that you simply have to collect a series of computer chips from within a maze. Although the tricky part is getting to them…

The learning curve is just about right. The first few levels are easy, and subsequent levels become more difficult as you progress.

The Atari ST version of Chip’s Challenge is probably my favourite version of the game, although – in reality; other than slightly higher-res graphics – there’s little to choose between the Lynx original and this ST version. It’s smooth, playable, and attractive, and contains over 148 different levels. So plenty for puzzle fans to sink their teeth into.

More: Chip’s Challenge on Wikipedia
Steam: Chip’s Challenge (2015) on Steam

Chip’s Challenge, Atari Lynx

The Atari Lynx version was the original version of Chip’s Challenge. It was developed by Chuck Sommerville at Epyx and first released in 1989.

Sommerville – the story goes – coded a demo of Chip’s Challenge on an Apple II home computer, in order to develop the game’s logic, and also to show it to Atari execs as a pitch for a viable project. This approach worked, and the game was green-lit by the Atari bigwigs for launch on their new colour handheld console, the Lynx. And – as the Lynx was developed by EpyxSomerville and his team had a head start on the hardware.

The aim of Chip’s Challenge is simple: collect the various computer chips, hidden within a series of mazes. Getting to the chips is not straightforward, though, because they are almost always hidden behind a logic puzzle or two and you have to clear the way. How you do that differs, depending on the level, and on-screen instructions guide you as you progress. Needless to say: it starts off easy, then gets harder. By level 10 you’ll probably start to feel the pinch. Thankfully Lynx Chip’s Challenge uses level codes for access to any one of the 148 available levels, so you can play them at your leisure.

Chip’s Challenge may have tiny, titchy graphics, but they work extremely well in the context of the game, and are pretty much perfect for a Lynx-based game. It’s the captivating gameplay that rules in Chip’s Challenge though. It feels good to play; it really taxes the braincells, and it is something of a ‘killer app’ on the Atari Lynx. Whether it’s this or the later home computer versions that are the best, is debatable. In my opinion: they’re all great, and well worth a play today.

In fact: Chip’s Challenge is still available to buy, play, and enjoy today. The rights were acquired by one of the original developers, and Chip’s Challenge was re-born in 2015 on more modern formats, which is testament to the game’s greatness.

More: Chip’s Challenge on Wikipedia
Steam: Chip’s Challenge (2015) on Steam

Gauntlet II, Arcade

Gauntlet II is the 1986 sequel to the classic four-player arcade game, Gauntlet. It was made by pretty much the same Atari Games team that made the first game, so retains a lot of its qualities. Which is great, because the first Gauntlet was brilliant and fans wanted more of the same – only with enhancements. Which is exactly what they got.

There are quite a few new features in Gauntlet II. Most interesting and unique of which is the “You’re It!” addition to the gameplay. Just like the infamous schoolyard game, individual players can be made “it” by a floating ball thing that comes after you on certain levels. Whoever the ball touches becomes “it” and monsters will then gravitate towards that particular player. Not a good place to be in if you’re that player, and a ‘nice-but-evil’ addition from the dev team. 🙂

Other new features include: transportability (transporting through walls), rebounding shots, fake exits, ‘Super Shots’ (kill multiple monsters with one shot), repulsiveness potions (which cause monsters to run away, which is hilarious), stun tiles, movable blocks, poison that makes you wobble around uncontrollably, thieves who steal your food and items, plus traps, traps, and more traps! Also: each player can now choose between each of the four available characters, which you couldn’t do in the first game.

Gauntlet II has aged very well. Graphically and sonically it still looks and sounds great. If you’re looking for a good four-player party game: look no further – Gauntlet II has all you need.

More: Gauntlet II on Wikipedia