Category Archives: platform

A screenshot from Space Panic

Space Panic: Drilling Down a Genre

I remember being fascinated with Space Panic when I first spied it in the arcades in 1980. A game genre will eventually become so ingrained over time that you lose sight of what it really meant, but the idea of platforms and ladders introduced in Universal, Ltd.’s Space Panic helped video games construct worlds that you could clamber around in, like an electronic equivalent of an Erector Set. Combine this world with an ever more difficult puzzle element where you dig holes to trap and dispatch angry aliens, sometimes requiring planning over multiple levels, and you get the perfect kind of gameplay, something that is easy to grasp but difficult to master. Added into the mix is a frenetic pace as your antagonists get more and more quick at chasing you around the screen, and a deadline to accomplish your mission as your oxygen slowly runs out.

Space Panic cleared the way for a myriad of platform games, from Donkey Kong to Dig Dug and beyond. You ever climb the side of a building and run across the rooftops in an Assassin’s Creed game? It all started here, dig it? For more information on Space Panic, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Oscar Week at TDE: Jaws (1989)

1975’s Jaws might not have been Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical film (it was his second; The Sugarland Express, released the previous year, takes that honour), but it most certainly was the first to put him on the map. The story of a resort-town police chief and his battle against a monstrous killer shark, it set the template for the movie blockbuster and kept a huge swath of the public away from their beaches, bays and bathtubs. While nominated, it didn’t swim away with Best Picture; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest flew away with all the big awards at the 1976 ceremony.

Jaws: The Computer Game was released in 1989 for the Amiga, C64, Atari ST and other systems. Made by developer Intelligent Design, Ltd. and published by Screen 7 Ltd., it is a strange mish-mash of strategy and 2-D platforming. Players take on the role of chief Martin Brody, who circles the island of Amity in his boat The Orca, following reports of shark sightings.  He can close beaches to prevent attacks, although keeping them closed too long ticks off Mayor Larry Vaughn and can lead to Brody’s dismissal. Both Hooper and Quint from the movie join Brody on his quest, along with a team of six divers who pilot a submersible vehicle into the depths around Amity.  The ultimate goal is to collect pieces of a special gun and a cache of bullets, which when assembled can be used to dispatch the fishy fiend.

Jaws: The Computer Game is actually fun to play.  Trying to guess where the shark will go lends a bit of strategy, and the underwater parts are competent if a bit draggy and frustrating at times. The colourful graphics help keep things interesting, along with John Williams’ famous main theme from the movie, which lends tension leading up to the titular fish’s occasional appearances. It’s worth going back into the water for this one.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)

Title screen to The Wizard of Oz, a video game for the SNES 1993

Oscar Week at TDE: The Wizard of Oz (1993)

The perennially movie favourite The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939, was up against some stiff competition at the 1940 Oscar ceremony.  Both Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Gone With the Wind were pegged to win big, and win they did. Nominated for what was then called Outstanding Production, Oz would lose out to Gone With the Wind for best picture. The wonderful score of the film, by Herbert Stothart, did take home a statue, along with the signature Over the Rainbow taking Best Song.

Over the Rainbow also features prominently in the SNES platform game based on the movie, developed by Manley & Associates, Inc. and released by SETA U.S.A., Inc. in 1993. The game, in fact, takes the song quite literally. There are actual lemon drops from the trees and flying bluebirds to be avoided, while journeying along the famous Yellow Brick Road. Along the way to the Emerald City, gamers will meet and control all of Dorothy’s companions from the film: the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and even little dog Toto as well.

It’s a fun little platformer, with a lot of cute touches, although the stiff control of the characters is a horse of a different colour. Still, its a fun trip down the Yellow Brick Road, even if just for this surreal experience: playing a game based on a movie on a console made  by a company who’s most famous creation was itself inspired by The Wizard of Oz: Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom owes more than just a pair of ruby slippers to the movie for its inspiration.

For more information on Mario and Nintendo, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

Screen shot from Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, a home video game by Bandai Namco 2013

The Time For Ghosts

While the little ghosts and goblins are trick-or-treating tonight for halloween, Pac-Man himself is having more trouble with ghosts in Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, released yesterday for PS3, Xbox, and Wii U. by Bandai Namco, with a 3DS version to come soon.

The game is based on the animated TV series of the same name, which premiered in June on the Disney XD channel. It is a platformer in the same vein as the earlier Pac-Man World games by Namco, where Pac roams freely around worlds haunted by his ghostly enemies. Ghostly Adventures  adds a myriad of power-ups to the formula, granting Pac some Mario-like abilities such as fire and ice throwing, but adds some new ones like turning into a long-tongued chameleon, or a giant stone ball that rolls around squashing enemies. The game also features a 4-player online component where the screen is split into quadrants, each housing a player controlling a ghost, on the hunt through the classic maze for Pac-Man.

What’s not scary is that a game from 1980 continues to have such relevance in 2013. To read the storied history of Pac-Man and his ghostly enemies, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

A Quick Look Back: The Castles of Dr. Creep

Box art

 

Playing this game again brings back a flood of memories, of me and a buddy playing hours upon hours of it on the C64 back in my high-school days, threatening each other with the laser, cheering each other wildly as we ran the last few seconds down trying to pass a ticking force-field, and racing each other to be first through each door.

Hobbs, circa 2007

The game was designed by Ed Hobbs in 1984, for Broderbund Software.  Broderbund was a powerhouse game publisher from the 80’s into the early 90’s; the list of classic hits from them would be too large to reproduce here, but some gems include Choplifter!Lode Runner and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?.  Hobbs himself did Seafox for the company, and later the combat flight simulator Operation Airstorm for Expert Software.

There’s really only one word to describe The Castles of Dr. Creep:  diabolical.  It’s a platform game, but with a heavy puzzle element.  I’m not sure of the plot, but I think it revolves around the eponymous Dr. Creep needing to sell off his 13 castles; perhaps the electric bill for all those lightning spheres got to be too much.  At any rate, players assume the role of a hapless buyer, only out to purchase a fixer-upper with a nice view of the moors, but finding themselves in a battle to escape alive.

I’d employ a housing inspector before I signed on the dotted line

The castles are listed in the menu in order of difficulty, but even the early castles present a daunting challenge, equipped with such amenities as one-directional poles, conveyor belts, the aforementioned lightning spheres and laser guns, teleportation pods… along with the (un)dead tenants who populate the castles such as mummies and Frankenstein monsters, each of whom have different abilities in chasing you down.

Frankies go to Horrorwood

There is a single-player mode, but the game really shines when two people get in front of the computer, making their way through the castle simultaneously.  Most puzzles and traps are designed so that two people working in tandem can greatly shorten the time it takes to make it to the exit door.  What generally ends up happening is one player will man a switch that needs to stay open while the other player makes his way through the screen.  Then the second player must either run through the gauntlet alone, with his buddy cheering (or jeering) him the whole time.  Either that, or you must split up and approach the room from another entrance; in these cases, each player move through their respective rooms alternately, until meeting up again.

I Had Four Mummies

The rooms in Creep make for some hilarious moments; controlling the laser and taking pot-shots as your buddy scampers down the ladder; running like mad to slip by a force field before the timer runs out; luring the mummies towards your friend as he flails helplessly on a ledge.  The graphics are clear and bright, if perhaps a bit sparse with simply a black field as a backdrop, although this can certainly aid in the feeling of isolation the game exudes.

It’s a real testimony to the quality of a classic game when you fire it up nearly 30 years after playing it last, and you start yelling and giggling and squirming in your seat like you did as a kid.  The hallways and pathways of The Castles of Dr. Creep still hold their chilling allure decades later.

Aztec, a computer game for the Apple II

A Quick Look Back: Aztec

It’s not an overstatement to describe Aztec as graphically dazzling, an action-adventure game released originally for the Apple II  and Atari 8-bit computers in 1982, and then a couple of years later for the C64Aztec is all the more remarkable when you consider that most adventure games of the era were limited to mere text to create the atmosphere.

It was designed by Paul Stephenson and distributed by Datamost, a company that produced a few other classic gaming gems, such as Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory in 1983.  Stephenson himself also designed Swashbuckler for the company, released the same year as Aztec.

The Title Screen Sets Us Up For Something Special

A colourful (if one had a colour monitor or TV set attached to their Apple) opening title screen greets you while the game loads.  A couple of screens of white text used to set up the story fool gamers into thinking that perhaps the graphics were a big come-on and that Aztec might be just another text adventure. The text explains that apparently the famed (but unstable)  Professor Von Forster found a lost Aztec temple, but disappeared without further contact.

The player is then presented with a few options, such as choosing either to start a new game or load up a previously saved one.  A difficulty setting is then requested, ranging from 1 if you want to take things easy, all the way up to 8 if one is feeling suicidal.  Charging you with following in the Prof’s footsteps, Aztec then puts the gamer in the scuffed shoes of a fearless adventurer, cutting through all that “red line representing travelling by the air from country to country” rigamarole by opening the gameplay with you standing right outside the Aztec tomb of real-life Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl. With the tap of a key, you descend into the mysterious depths.

Indeed, I DO Dare

The game is essentially a platformer, with large sprites for the adventurer and the various creatures he must dispatch or avoid.  It’s quite a menagerie down there, with spiders, snakes, alligators, Aztec warriors and even dinosaurs calling Quetzalcoal’s tomb home.  While the animations are pretty limited, it’s the details of the artwork that really makes things pop.

There Be Dinosaurs Here

The layout of the tomb is randomized each time you play, and most of your time is spent searching for, opening and looking through boxes and piles of trash on the ground, which can contain weapons, health potions or just the scattered remains of poor Prof. Von Forster.  As you delve deeper the creatures get more dangerous, and the traps more cunning.  The end goal is to snatch a valuable jade idol that is hidden somewhere in the tomb, and then get out with your life.

Fresh Calamari For Dinner Tonight

Helping the creatures in their fight to finish you off is the game’s clunky control method.  Each action is assigned a specific key, so to walk you press “W” and then a direction key, and you’ll keep walking until you hit “S” for stop.  You can also crouch, crawl, plant dynamite, jump, run, climb… it gets to be a bit much fumbling around for each key on the keyboard, although once you get the hang on it you can navigate the tomb quickly while playing the keyboard like a virtuoso pianist. You also can enter a fight mode, where you wield either the machete or a pistol, but often it is unsure why you hit or miss something. The sound isn’t any great shakes either; just the bloops and bleeps from the Apple‘s internal speaker, but this somehow adds to the game’s spartan charms. And being able to blow your way out of a jam with a well placed stick of TNT is a play mechanic that is still fairly unmatched in adventure gaming, decades later.

My Own Remains Will Serve As a Warning To Others

I have a particularly fond memory of Aztec, because when I was going to high school the first computers we got were two Apple II‘s for the science class.  For some reason there was a copy of the game in the library of disks, so every chance I got I put that bad boy into the floppy drive and loaded it up.  After a few times of him catching me and telling me to stop playing games with the computers, the science teacher banned me from the keyboard for a week.  I learned my lesson well; when I regained computer privileges I was more careful he wasn’t around when I played.

Sure, it’s no Uncharted, but at the time, this was as close to living out the Indiana Jones dream as you could get on a computer, with Raiders of the Lost Ark having been released just the year before. Aztec, complete with all its bugs and quirks, makes for an unforgettable Apple II gaming treasure.