Data East‘s 1982 arcade release, Bump ‘n’ Jump (aka Burnin’ Rubber in its native Japan), is a jolly, vertically-scrolling driving game with a car that can jump up into the air for a few seconds to avoid gaps in the road.
This 1989 shooter was designed by The Bitmap Brothers but programmed by The Assembly Line – a collaboration that resulted in one of the best-remembered Bitmap Brothers‘ games.
Konami‘s Salamander is a classic scrolling shooter first released into arcades in 1986. It is part of the Gradius/Nemesis series and features both side-scrolling and vertically-scrolling gameplay set over six different levels.
Unlike Gradius, Salamander has a simultaneous two-player mode. Player one controls the Vic Viper from Gradius, and player two controls a new ship called Lord British (as far as I’m aware: this has nothing to do with Richard Garriott – founder of Origin Systems – who also calls himself Lord British and has done since the late ’70s).
The progressive weapons power-up system has been simplified in Salamader (over Gradius). Now you don’t have to activate a weapons change – it happens automatically when you pick up a dropped power-up. Salamander does retain the extra firepower pods, and the speed-ups, from the first game, but expands on the weapon types.
Ask anyone who’s played Salamander and they will probably mention the fire levels as being the ones that really stand out. As you move left to right, huge solar flares blast out from the fiery surface and you have to avoid being roasted. If you’re skilled enough you might even be able to fly through them…
Salamander is fairly unremarkable at the beginning to be honest, but does improve rapidly as the graphical tricks start to show themselves. The early levels are relatively easy and – of course – the later levels truly are ‘bullet hell’.
A number of home computer and console versions have been released over the years. The Commodore 64 version, by Imagine Software, is known for being very high quality. As is the PC Engine version. More modern re-releases are mostly emulated versions of the original arcade game, so are considered authentic.
More: Salamander on Wikipedia
Namco‘s classic arcade sequel was initially released in 1987 in Japan – 1988 everywhere else – and proved a big hit with shoot ’em up fans with its fast graphics and colourful, firework-like explosions.
The original Galaga was good, but this update is something special. Features include: warping ships, colourful starfields, changing backgrounds, weird cut scenes, “That’s Galactic Dancin'” bonus sections (including a secret bonus, for not touching the controls), and even crystalline-like asteroids that release canisters which allow you to open a ‘rift’ in Space-Time, which in turn allows you to travel to higher dimensions.
This dimensional travel element really opens up the game – if you’re skilled enough to activate it. Each higher dimension reached increases the number of points you get for shooting stuff, as well as increasing the difficulty level. Once you’ve reached a higher dimension you stay there for the rest of the game (unless you go higher) – there’s no going back. Activating the dimensional rift requires you to collect two canisters during ‘normal’ stages and then survive to complete the next “Galactic Dancin'” stage. At the end of the bonus stage – if you have two canisters in your possession – they will fly up the screen, open the rift, and bump you up a dimension for the next stage. It’s quite an interesting and innovative gameplay mechanic – definitely unusual for arcade games at the time.
You still have the cool Galaga ‘ship capture’ tactic in Galaga ’88, whereby you can allow the aliens to capture your ship, only to win it back later in order to double your firepower (you can actually do it a second time to beef up your ship even more). You can even choose to start with dual ships (and lose one backup), which is generous.
Galaga ’88 is a stand-out vertical shooter from the late 1980s and is still well worth a play if you can find it now. It’s much more complex and interesting than it looks.
A faithful PC Engine conversion came out in 1989, and there were also X68000 and Sega Game Gear versions. It’s also available on Virtual Console too.
More: Galaga ’88 on Wikipedia
Crazy Climber is an early colour video game, released into arcades in 1980 by Nichibutsu. The basic premise is to climb up the face of a large building to reach the helicopter at the top.
Controlling the climber is not that straightforward though. Crazy Climber uses two joysticks and requires the player to learn a pattern of moving them upwards and downwards to make the climber actually climb. It’s not a case of simply pushing upwards to make the climber climb. Which produces a challenge whereby you’re fighting with the controls – at least initially. After some practise you’ll probably get the hang of it, if you’re determined.
Next on the agenda is actually getting to the top of the building. Again: not easy. There are falling items that – if they hit you – will knock you down to the start. Windows open and close too, so you have to avoid being located on a window when it opens fully, or you’ll also take a tumble. Thankfully the windows open slowly, so you’ve at least got a chance of moving when you see one opening. From time to time you’ll also get more interesting hazards, like a King Kong-like monster that tries to knock you off the building, or balloons which will do the same if they hit you.
If and when you do eventually reach the top of the building you then have to grab the helicopter with your outstretched hand. Again: not that easy to do, because it’s constantly moving around, and you have a time limit before it leaves. Grabbing it is more luck than judgement.
Crazy Climber is an interesting game though. The gameplay is a bit archaic, but the underlying double joystick game mechanic is fun. For a while.
A conversion of the superb Nichibutsu arcade game, programmed by the late Jonathan Smith and published by Imagine Software in 1986.
Considering the Spectrum‘s limitations: Terra Cresta isn’t a bad vertical shooter at all. The play window is very small, but the scrolling is smooth, and programmer Smith made sure he got the scale right, which is very important.
Terra Cresta is not the best vertical shooter on the Spectrum, but is a quality attempt at an arcade conversion that many would have thought be out of the Spectrum‘s range.
LISTS/\ as decided by The King of Grabs, in order of greatness:
These are just an opinion, but please do feel free to comment with your opinions. Unless you’re a spammer. In which case: do feel free to f*ck off.
Bally Midway‘s classic Spy Hunter is a brilliant overhead race game with guns and bumping cars and speed boats and chasing helicopters, and general high-speed excitement. It is such a good game that it has been converted to pretty much every gaming system known to man.
Here’s our rundown of the top 10 Spy Hunter conversions…
1. Nintendo Entertainment System < Probably the most fun
2. Atari 800 << Better than most
3. Commodore 64 <<< Entertaining
4. ZX Spectrum <<<< A fun conversion
5. ColecoVision <<<<< Pretty good
6. Amstrad CPC <<<<<< Reasonable
7. Atari 2600 <<<<<<< Basic
8. BBC Micro <<<<<<<< Forgettable
9. Apple II <<<<<<<< Rubbish
10. PC MS-DOS <<<<<<<<< Utterly terrible
And, of course, not forgetting the utterly brilliant arcade original.
You’d expect the Atari 2600 version of Spy Hunter to be the runt of the litter, and… it’s actually not too bad.
It’s certainly more playable than the DOS version, and more colourful too. Unfortunately the graphics are very basic. The car sprites are pretty good, and recognisable, but the backdrops are plain and empty with hardly a tree in sight. There are some weird glitches onscreen too, characteristic of certain Atari 2600 games.
Gameplay-wise, there is some fun to be had here. Bumping other cars off the road is satisfying, and quite easy to do. The speedboat section is in there, but – like the flawed Apple II conversion – it’s compulsory. Also: I’m not sure if there are any helicopters. I certainly didn’t see any.
Unsurprisingly, this is a pretty pathetic excuse for Spy Hunter, only really to be played out of curiosity or blind fanaticism.
David Hoskins made this BBC Micro conversion of Spy Hunter for Micro Power, Sega and US Gold (not to mention Bally Midway) in 1986.*
It’s a strange conversion overall. For starters: the scrolling play area is really vertical – more vertical than the arcade original – which is weird. Secondly, the roads are quite empty and there’s only one skill level (that I could find), so no way of increasing the difficulty or the amount of traffic. Thirdly, the speedboat sections come too frequently (the opposite of the arcade version, which is rare, and the NES version, which is super rare), which lessens their ‘specialness’.
Overall, the BBC Micro version of Spy Hunter is a mess. Yes, it’s slightly playable, but it isn’t much fun and it seems to be one of those conversions where the programmer didn’t care enough (or couldn’t see their mistakes) to make it a reasonable representation of the arcade game. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you that this is a good game…
* = That’s a hell of a chain of command – four major games companies and they still can’t come up with a decent game… BBC Spy Hunter should have been a lot better considering those involved.