Delving further into the video games of the past.
So here we are in part three, as I continue my look back on some of my favourite games of the past, on the various computers and consoles I owned throughout the eighties, most notably in this and upcoming parts, the Spectrum +2 128k. As I have mentioned in earlier parts, this list of games is a fair size. But I have tried to include a bit of everything from the various genres to give a good idea of all the types of games that were available back then. In this article we welcome back a character from a game in the previous part, Miner Willy, starring in his second game, some World War II nautical action, one of the first in the popular one on one fighting genre and what was one of my first experiences in multiplayer gaming on these or indeed any computer.
As I have spoken in detail about which machines I have owned in the first two parts, I thought I would write about some of the quirks of these computers before moving on to talk about the games. What I would like to talk about now is the loading of games. The days of popping a cartridge or disc into a console and hitting the power button were still a long way off and all the computers I have talked about so far from ZX81 onwards used traditional cassette tapes with programmes being saved and loaded using a tape deck. As this is about the games, i’ll go into the loading of them. What this basically involved was inserting the tape into your tape deck, hitting play and typing “load”. You then had to sit through five to twenty minutes worth of seizure inducing flashing screens and screeching sounds. All you could do was sit and wait, while hoping and praying that the load did not fail and you had to start again from the beginning. Back then, the wait was more than worth it for the hours of enjoyment that would follow. But as an eight to ten year old kid, those minutes could seem like an hour as you waited for your gaming fix. Thankfully long loading times are more or less a thing of the past with all of our modern next generation consoles and high spec gaming computers. We really donâ€™t know how good we have it, until we take the time to look back at thoseÂ computers and games.
Talking about games lets continue my look back at the gaming gems of my childhood. I am starting this little selection with a sequel to a game that I discussed previously, Manic Miner and the continuing adventures of Miner Willy.
JET SET WILLY
Jet Set Willy is the sequel to the hugely popular and iconic Manic Miner. Released in 1984 from developers Software Projects, the game follows the same basic gameplay of the previous game in the series, in that it is a side on platforming game in which Willy has to negotiate various screens by jumping platforms, avoiding creatures and traps all the while collecting objects throughout the game.
The story goes that after a huge party of mammoth proportions in his mansion, Willyâ€™s housekeeper will not let him go to his bed before tidying up. The game has sixty screens over which every single object must be collected in order for Maria the housekeeper to be happy and allow Willy to have a good nights sleep. Unlike itâ€™s predecessor, Manic Miner, the player was free to visit the rooms in any order they chose, with some of the rooms being extremely easy only for the next one to be deceptively evil, and some being purely suicidal. The one thing I can remember from certain rooms that, as a kid, infuriated me beyond belief were the rope swings. You had to time your jumps to coincide with the rope swinging towards you and if you missed it by the tiniest bit, you would plunge to your death. With only eight lives to complete the whole game, you did not want to be frittering them away. Like the previous game, there is no save feature, so if you want to complete the game you have to do so with the given lives, in one sitting. No easy task for any game, let alone one as unforgiving as Jet Set Willy.
Despite Manic Miner being the more iconic game, it was this sequel that went on to become one of the biggest selling and most recognized titles on the Spectrum and, of the series, was my personal favourite. It is hard to explain why, as the games were all pretty similar. It may have been because Willy wore a top hat in this one, compared to the miners helmet in the previous, although this is doubtful. What sounds more plausible is the fact that I enjoyed the ability to explore the game areas, rather than being confined to the single screens of Manic Miner until you had cleared them of objects. Or maybe it was just the better game.
Even now, out of all of the games that I have been playing again, Jet Set Willy still remains one of my favourites, despite the fact that nowadays I can not progress very far into the game. this says something about the challenge these games posed and the determination of kids and gamers back then.
Beach-Head, from U.S Gold, was released in 1984 and was a war game based around a beach landing. For some reason I keep thinking it was based around a World War 2 beach landing, but I donâ€™t think that this is actually confirmed or denied anywhere and so I think this was all in the mind. But I do believe I would not be the only one making this assumption upon playing the game.
Beach-Head differs from other games on these computers in that it offered six different modes of play, constantly mixing it up for the player, unlike most games of this era that had the one gameplay style throughout. Although some of the modes were pretty similar, others were distinctly different and this was a great way of keeping your interest. Some of the gameplay types were pretty simple, most notably the first one which involved the player manoeuvring a target reticule across a map and being given a choice to either meet the enemy head on, or sneak through a cave. Whichever you choose leads to the same conclusion at the end of the game, but meeting the enemy head on means playing one game type for longer, and skipping another completely. I personally think it is more fun moving your target to the cave, which leads to the next part involving the player taking control of the ten individual ships, which can be considered your lives throughout the game. The player must cross a mine filled cave, while torpedoes are fired across the cave from side to side, by accelerating decelerating and turning. Losing ships during this, or any other, stage of the game makes each subsequent stage a little tougher.
Once you have brought your fleet through the cave, you are returned to the map screen. You now move your target cursor towards the beach, near which there is another cursor representing the enemy fleet which, when approached, moves towards your own. You can try to avoid them, but no matter what you do, they always catch you. This is when the section of the game that I must fondly remember begins. The player is presented with a horizon type view with the enemy fleet in the distance, the most prominent of which is an aircraft carrier. In this part, the player controls the anti aircraft guns aboard their own ships, controlling elevation and left, right movements, which you first use to shoot down planes taking of from the carrier. Then you move onto using the same controls to bomb the ships themselves, bearing in mind that both planes and ships are firing back with a hit resulting in the loss of another of the players ships, depleting their fleet further.
Sinking the enemy fleet allows the player to move their fleet up to the beach. This is where the player begins his beach landing and is also where you realize that keeping as many of your ships as possible on the previous levels could lead to either succeeding or failing in the games end goal, as it equates to how many tanks you have managed to land on the beach. One by one, they start constantly moving forward along the beach, with the player steering up and down the screen to avoid obstacles and firing to destroy gun emplacements and enemy tanks. The end goal is a huge gun emplacement at the other end of the beach, which when each tank reaches it the gun slowly rotates towards your tank before firing and killing you with one shot. During the time the gun rotates, the player has to shoot numerous illuminated targets on the emplacement which, once appropriate number of targets have been hit, explodes the turret. As the turret kills each tank, the player has to then bring the next along the beach, therefore the more tanks you have to begin with the easier it is to achieve the goal.
Both the graphics and sound for this game were pretty impressive considering what they were running on. The varying styles of gameplay that make up the game helped to keep it fresh and enjoyable.
WAY OF THE EXPLODING FIST
Way Of The Exploding Fist, from Melbourne House, was released in 1985 and was one of the first one on one fighting games to be released. Admittedly, I have never been a fan of these fighting games. Even today I take a pass on games such as Street Fighter and Tekken, in favour of a racing or shooting game, and it was the same back then. However, I did own, and enjoy, Way Of The Exploding Fist. Like most games of this type, you started by fighting a relatively easy opponent and then progressing on through increasingly difficult fighters, although all of your opponents do look kind of similar.
The gameplay is completely different to most other fighting games. It takes a more literal look at competitive karate contests and therefore the fighters do not have the traditional fighting game health bar and a single hit can end the bout. The game has a simple punch and kick system with the direction pressed being the direction of the strike and high, mid or low. With all of the combinations, the player had around sixteen fighting moves at their fingertips which was pretty impressive for a game back then. The real skill in playing this game came from blocking your opponents strikes, while trying to land your own, leading to some technical fights. Scoring a hit, instead of depleting a health bar, earns the striking player sections of a Yin-yang symbol, with the first player to acquire two full symbols being named the winner of the current fight.
Way Of The Exploding Fist, like many other fighting games of this kind, was also a two player game and was great for playing after school with friends. Sure, multiplayer games were a long way off, the one hundred plus online that we are used to nowadays. But fighting games like this have generally always been two player affairs. These games were played on a single computer, sharing the same keyboard and could get just as competitive as modern day fare. Again, the graphics were pretty good for what the developers were working with and the backdrops accompanying the fights were some of the most realistic to date. The sound was basic but, for a fighting game such as this, it did not really require much other than what it delivers, a satisfying thump sound when you land or block a blow.
Although this game opened the doors to multiplayer gaming for me, it was the next title in my list that initially brought huge enjoyment from the playing of games with others.
SPY VS SPY
Spy Vs Spy, released in 1985 by developers First Star Software, came with both a single player and multiplayer mode. The single player mode I rarely, if ever, played as I couldnâ€™t remember much about it, although I would imagine it to be pretty much the same playing against the computer. But for myself, family and friends, this was all about competing with each other. The aim of Spy vs. Spy was to guide your spy out of a building consisting of a series of interconnecting rooms and make a getaway on a plane. The number of rooms depended on the difficulty level of the game. Stopping you from escaping was the other spy, controlled by your opponent, who was also trying to escape. Instead of just running for the exit, you also had to try and stop the other player and, to do so, you had to search the various rooms for items to set traps on objects and doors, or for the appropriate items that would disable the same traps set by the opposing player.
What made the multiplayer aspect all the more fun was the fact that you were playing in a split screen view, like in some modern day games. In Spy vs. spy you were constantly out to kill each other by setting traps and so, by watching your opponents half of the screen, you could see exactly what they were up to, where they were and, most importantly, where they were setting their traps. This meant that you had the foreknowledge of where the traps were set and, if you needed to be there, you had to find the appropriate item to disarm that trap. The spies could also get into hand to hand combat should they end up in the same room. When I say combat, what it really involved was both players standing next to each other and randomly tapping up, down, left and right until the winner was decided.
Each spy has a time limit within which they must escape the building and, to make it a little more interesting, each time a spy dies their timer is reduced by thirty seconds, making it not only important to escape first, but also to slow down, by any means, the other spy.
The experience of playing this game with friends was always undeniably fun, whether we were laughing at the madness of it all or swearing and cussing at each other over a fiendishly placed trap allowing one spy to escape and take off in a plane, while the other ran after him sporting a rather fetching pair of angel wings. Spy Vs Spy gave way to two just as fun sequels, vol. II: The Island Caper and vol. III: Arctic Antics, both of which used the same basic gameplay and both being just as much fun as the original. The sad thing is that playing this again was not quite as fun as revisiting the others and I am pretty sure I can put this down to the fact I was playing against the computer and not another player, although I did find myself thinking this would be a great game to see brought up to date as a PSN and Xbox Live Download title. It would be a definite purchase for me at least.
And with that I bring to an end part three of my ongoing look back at some of the more memorable games of my past. But there are still many more I would like to talk about and will do so in part four. I will discuss the world of game piracy in the eighties, which was rife and much harder than it is today to control, and also my first peripheral for the Spectrum computers, and why certain games led to these being replaced more than a few times. All of this and more to come in the following parts of this ever expanding article, which I hope you are all enjoying reading as much as I am writing it. I also encourage you all to share your own memories here on the site using the forum or the comments below, as I am sure there are a lot of games that others remember as well as I do, which I have not included in my list. So, until next time, keep on gaming and always have fun.