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.
One of my favourite Cinemaware games, It Came From The Desert is a satirical detective story based on 1950s sci-fi B-movies about giant ants.
In it you play Dr. Greg Bradley, a geologist arriving in the desert town of Lizard Breath in order to study the site of a recent meteor crash. Unfortunately radiation from the meteor has caused the local ant population to mutate and grow in size – to gigantic proportions. Which you (as Dr. Greg) discover early on in the game.
Initially none of the local residents or law enforcement take you seriously and your job is to convince them and organise a fightback. The game is played in realtime and you have a limited time (15 days) in which to defeat the giant ants before they start breeding and become unstoppable. You explore the local town and its many locations via an overhead map, plus you can use the telephone to speak to people in a hurry. Conversations with locals often reveal clues, some of which will lead to an encounter with a giant ant.
One-on-one you have a chance to defeat an ant by shooting its antenna, which you must do with the first one you encounter, but in large groups there’s not much you can do but run, which happens via an overhead scrolling section with you represented as a titchy character in the middle of the screen. If you get stranded in the desert you will pass out, but are always rescued and wake up in hospital.
It Came From The Desert is a fun and imaginative game. Many of the characters are distinctive and humorous. The game mechanics are easy to understand. There are also driving sections and flying sections. It’s a game that has aged well, is still fun to play, and is fairly beatable.
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 original Amiga version of Cinemaware‘s The Three Stooges was released in 1987.
With ‘mini games’ inspired by classic Three Stooges films, it features Larry, Moe and Curly on a quest to save an orphanage from an evil landlord.
The intro boasts of an ‘interactive movie’ (as is often the case in Cinemaware games), but in my opinion this is one of their least cinematic games.
Not that it’s bad – it isn’t – but it plays more like a regular game than something like The King of Chicago or Rocket Ranger, which have a lot of cut scenes. This game seems to centre around the animated sprites of the three main characters, rather than rely on a lot of cut scenes. Which is fine by me.
Playing The Three Stooges feels a bit like a board game, which is how the game was designed. Every move is decided by a button press, then the characters move and a mini game is played. The problem with this is that there are mousetraps on the board which will snap your finger if you point at them. Get caught six times and it’s game over.
The Three Stooges is not my favourite Cinemaware game, but is reasonable fun nonetheless. If you’re a Three Stooges fan you probably already know about it. 🙂
The Commodore 64 version of Cinemaware‘s Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon is the version to play in my opinion – the earlier Amiga version of this excellent fantasy adventure game is uncharacteristically poor in terms of presentation.
Sinbad is a disk only release and succeeds in bringing the swashbuckling adventures of Baghdad’s favourite sailor, complete with monsters, magic, platforming sections, and sword fighting.
At the core of the game is an open-ended world map which you can travel around, exploring places and talking to people. Random action sequences intersperse the story, bringing various challenges. There’s sword fighting; ship sailing (avoiding rocks), side-scrolling platform running and jumping and rope climbing, and even a Cyclops boss battle!
Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon is classic Cinemaware. Graphically, the Commodore 64 version is top quality (unlike the Amiga original). Gameplay wise it’s excellent too. It is an intriguing love letter to Ray Harryhausen films, and of adventure stories in general, and it works extremely well.
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.
S.D.I. (Strategic Defence Initiative) is a 1986 release from legendary American games company Cinemaware.
Set in a Cold War type scenario, S.D.I. pits East against West in a fight for dominance in space. You play the American commander of an SDI system of 12 anti-missile satellites whose job it is to protect them from attack by rogue KGB agents.
You start off in a command room and can check on various status screens, although ultimately you have to personally jump into a cockpit and go out into space. While you’re out there you can blast enemy attackers and repair broken satellites. When you’re done you can then re-dock with the space station and carry on your war from the safety of your viewing platform.
S.D.I. is a mixture of Star Raiders and a ‘regular’ Cinemaware game. It has pleasant cut sequences and detailed information screens and a pretty good core game, although it isn’t quite up to the standard of some of their other releases. It’s still a decent game overall though, which just goes to show the general high quality of Cinemaware‘s releases in the games market.
Cinemaware‘s Rocket Ranger was first released in 1988 to much critical acclaim.
The game follows the format of most Cinemaware games, with cut scenes interspersed between planning screens and action screens.
Rocket Ranger is set in a fictional Second World War scenario with the Nazis trying to take over the world, having discovered a new fuel source called ‘Lunarium’. It’s called Lunarium because it comes from the moon (so is it really Helium 3?), and somehow the Nazis have found a way to bring it to earth and use it to their advantage. And of course you have to find out how they’re doing that and put a stop to it.
You play a US Army scientist who has a very handy jet pack at his disposal and you must fly around the world, rescuing scientists, shooting down fighters, finding clues, and doing everything possible to stop the Nazi advance.
Rocket Ranger is not an easy game to get into, but is well worth taking the effort to master. Taking off with the jet pack usually defeats most players, but with patience and a bit of practise (and maybe emulator quicksaves) it can be executed correctly.
A War Room gives you access to a world map where you can read intelligence reports and assign agents to infiltrate various countries. Your first order of business is to locate the Nazi base and infiltrate it, which ensures you have a steady supply of fuel for your rocket pack. Then you must find five parts of a rocket which you hope will take you to the moon…
Rocket Ranger is classic Cinemaware, with beautiful graphics, great sound and enthralling gameplay. It’s like King of the Rocket Men against the Nazis…
Note: There are two different versions of Rocket Ranger – one without any reference to the Nazis at all (they have been changed to aliens). This is because the game was released in Germany, where symbolism and reference to Nazism is outlawed.
Rocket Ranger Takeoff Tips:
Taking off in Rocket Ranger is one of the trickiest parts of the game – until you get used to it. A lot of people give up trying (and failing) to take off. Here’s what I do – it works most of the time…
Rather than press the fire button on every step RR takes, press and hold the button for his first two steps, then release and press again repeatedly. If you get the rhythm right RR will move further to the right of the screen and a beep will sound – then press/push up for RR to take off.
This week I’m going to be featuring grabs from the classic games of legendary American developer Cinemaware.
Founded by husband and wife team Robert and Phyllis Jacob in 1985, Cinemaware produced a series of unique and involving games throughout the late Eighties and early Nineties, across a number of different platforms.
Cinemaware‘s first game was the classic Defender of the Crown – which I’ve already featured – followed by the infamous Rocket Ranger and many others.
Unfortunately Cinemaware went bankrupt in 1991 (existing for only seven years) and the games dried-up. Since then, the Cinemaware back catalogue (and Intellectual Property) has been sold on at least twice, and various remakes and re-releases have been put out on a variety of systems.
Here’s what we published during Cinemaware Week:
Rocket Ranger, Amiga (1986)
S.D.I., Amiga (1986)
The King of Chicago, Amiga (1987)
Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon, Commodore 64 (1987)
The Three Stooges, Amiga (1987)
Lords of the Rising Sun, Amiga (1988)
It Came from the Desert, Amiga (1989)
Wings, Amiga (1990)
The King of Grabs
The Amiga version of Cinemaware‘s classic Defender of the Crown is both beautiful to look at, and great fun to play. Actually, pretty much every version of Defender of the Crown I’ve played has been great, but the Amiga version is probably the most well-remembered. It was also the very first version of Defender of the Crown too – all the other versions followed later.
Defender of the Crown is very much like the timeless classic boardgame Risk, but with ‘knight-based’ mini games interspersed throughout to keep things interesting. You start off as a land-owning Saxon Lord, with one county to your name, and must expand your land ownership through combat, or knight’s tournaments. Taking over land is done via an expeditionary force, which must be assembled beforehand. Pillaging castles or rescuing maidens is done differently, with you simply piling in as an individual (with a few helpful allies) and hacking away with your sword. If you lose the sword fights you either get locked-up and have to pay for freedom, or you’re killed.
Tournaments are a little less fatal, but just as physically demanding. Getting a jousting pole to the shield, or face, or anywhere else for that matter, will not only lose you the bout, but also lose you some land. Or win you some – depending on how well you do.
Defender of the Crown is a timeless classic and plays just as well now as it did over thirty years ago when it was first released (1986), so is well worth tracking down if you fancy playing a simple-but-effective turn-based historical combat/strategy game with lovely graphics and no magic spells!
Also on The King of Grabs: Cinemaware Week