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The Top 50: #10-6

#10 – Llamatron: 2112

Released: 1991
Developer: Jeff Minter
Publisher: Llamasoft (Shareware)
Genre: Shoot ’em ‘up

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I am utterly delighted to kick off the top ten with Jeff Minter’s bonkers remake of Eugene Jarvis’ seminal Robotron.

When Eugene’s first machines hit the arcades in the early eighties punters were blown away by a torrent of light and sound paired with kinetic (and double-hard) gameplay. One of these punters was a little hairy fellow whose tag – ‘YAK’ – would dominate those scoreboards. Almost a decade later he would take advantage of the STs architecture to bring home the audio-visual spectacle of a Jarvis arcade.

While a lot more forgiving than its estranged parent (and featuring a lot more hoofed animals) Llamatron retains the survival horror pretext and its (move and shoot independently in eight directions) control mechanism. As you mow down all manner of grunts (Coke cans, Rizla packets, toilets, computer chips) you must save beasties before they are corrupted by the evil brains; mutated into Llama hating monstrosities hell-bent on destroying you.

Your ungulate is best controlled using two joysticks enabling full control of your laser llama spit. An optional drone, who acts as a second player to accompany your blasting makes Llamatron even more accessible. However, even with help, Llamatron features some harsh difficulty spikes: some levels are like a walk in the pastures, while others will happily graze on your entire stock of lives.

With tight controls, non-stop action and just the right amount of crazy, Llamatron is the finest shareware game ever released for the ST and a real high point in both the ST shooters canon and the Llamasoft back catalogue.

#9 – Elite

Released: 1988
Developer: Mr. Micro
Publisher: Firebird
Genre: Space flight simulation

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There isn’t a lot to be said about Ian Bell and David Braben’s seminal 3D space exploration/combat/trading game that hasn’t been said already. Open ended gameplay, huge galaxies to explore, immersive flight and combat system, blah, blah.

For those approaching Elite for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking “What’s all the fuss about?” for the majority of what made Elite so special in 1984 (The year it was released for Acorn’s BBC) we now take for granted, indeed demand from more modern games in the same ilk.

Cast your mind back to 1984. and you would almost certainly be playing quirky platformers and second rate conversions of arcade games. All very enjoyable but ultimately disposable experiences. Then along comes a game that creates a universe around you compels you to explore it, exploit it, experience it – any way you choose. It was the first game I ever played that I fell asleep thinking about.

The ST version, coming late to the party as all cool cats do, kicks things up a notch by offering a mouse-driven interface, quick filled vector graphics, new missions, new equipment, and radar magnification. It still isn’t considered to be the definitive version though, that accolade belongs to the Archimedes version.

A classic on any system, and worth checking out on the ST thanks to the colourful visuals and extra features.

#8 – IK+

Released: 1988
Developer: Archer Maclean
Publisher: System 3
Genre: Beat ’em ‘up

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A complete re-write of the original, IK+ offered something truly unique at the time: A third fighter! This extra dimension means that you could no longer take a moment’s breather to size up your opponent, converting the chess-like duels of Way Of The Exploding Fist into something more akin to an incredibly skilful and choreographed bar brawl. (Without the flying stools)

As you start to learn the ideal distances for punching your foes in the googlies or kicking both of your antagonists square in the face at the same time, it really does seem like an art-form. Moves begin to flow from your joystick and you can see all the heavenly glory without concentrating on the finger. Play this game for a prolonged period and see what I mean. It’s almost like a trance. You enter the zone and become untouchable. Unfortunately, it only lasts a round or two before Blue puts you on your arse again and brings you down to earth.

The bouts are decided with a simple points system. A good, clean, honourable hit is rewarded by two points, while a sneaky back-stab is worth one. The player who gets six points first is the winner. If you finish last, you are kicked out of the tournament. After each round, your master shows up to let you know how you performed. As you gain points, you progress through the belts and your opponents go from Steven Seagal to Dan Inosanto.

Very few fighters can boast the fluidity and ‘natural’ almost instinctive feel of IK+. Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur have it, Dead or Alive was oh-so close, but IK+ embodies what beat-em-ups should be all about; instinctive and accessible controls, fast action, a touch of humour, tireless multiplayer and a heady challenge. If you haven’t played this then do so right away, but if you have, join me at the altar of MacLean. Ommmmmm…

#7 – Super Sprint

Released: 1986
Developer: Electric Dreams
Publisher: Electric Dreams
Genre: Top-down racing

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Super Sprint was the first game I ever played on an Atari ST and therefore directly responsible for the ensuing 20 year (and counting) love affair with the machine. It was at a friends house where a couple of his friends had brought their STs over. I remember being wowed by link up games of Populous, the Konix Speedking, the Real Ghostbusters (I know) and a strange space shoot ’em ‘up game with millions of levels called Whirligig.

It was 3-player Super Sprint that really stuck in my mind though, and kicked of a nag campaign that would eventually see my Mum cave and buy me an Atari ST for Christmas. Super Sprint is pure, unadulterated fun and incredibly addictive.

Your car is control by three inputs alone: rotate left, rotate right, and accelerate. The simplicity of the control mechanism is matched by the gameplay: all you must do is finish the 4 laps of the track before the drone cars – fail to do this and its game over. Along the way you can pick up spanners which can later be spent on upgrading your car’s acceleration, top speed, or traction.

Things get tricky as you progress through the races, pretty soon your opponents aren’t your only worry: whirlwinds, puddles, oil slicks, cones and moving barriers populate the track, conspiring to delay and frustrate your attempts to finish before that git in the green car.

A well executed conversion of a solid design, its simplicity is Super Sprint’s main weapon, and the key to its unrivalled multiplayer experience. Grab two mates and have one of the best laughs your ST can provide (after you resolve which poor bugger gets to use the keys).

#6 – Turrican 2

Released: 1991
Developer: Factor 5
Publisher: Rainbow Arts
Genre: Platform run ‘n’ gun

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Some of us doggedly stuck with computers; determined to shun consoles, but we needed Metroid and we needed it badly. The likelihood of Nintendo converting its brilliant side-scrolling shooter to our flavour of beige box was slimmer than posh-spice, so thank god for Manfred Trenz and the boys at Factor 5 for bringing us a Tin-Man for the 90s: Turrican.

You are Commander Bren McGuire a lone gun-man (my favourite variety of gun-man) bedecked in the livery of Turrican: an experimental bionic armour and you’re out to reap revenge on a group of metal gimps known as “The Machine” who have incinerated all your army mates.

Turrican’s levels are open to exploration, and are packed with secret areas featuring extra lives and different weapons. These weapons come in many varieties, my favourite being the Ghostbuster-esque 360-degree multi-beam activated by holding the fire button: you can sweep this beam back and forth along the screen, obliterating your enemies like fag-ends in a urinal.

Unfortunately, as was becoming the trend at the time, the ST version palled in comparison to the Amiga version. The Atari version had a smaller play window, was missing the nice raster background and a lot of the sprites are not as well realised. All is not lost however, as efforts are underway to revamp ST Turrican using the STE’s capabilities. This is a massive undertaking, but a valiant and exciting one. Take a look here.

Atmospheric music, characteristic weapons, large multidirectional smooth-scrolling levels and a comprehensive challenge all add up to a great platform run ‘n’ gun experience usually only experienced by console fanatics. And I haven’t even mentioned the R-Type style horizontal shoot ’em ‘up sections or the oversized end-of-level guardians!

Run ‘n’ gun your way to the top 5! ->

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