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The Top 50: #25-21

#25 – Bubble Bobble

Released: 1987
Developer: Software Creations
Publisher: Firebird Software
Genre: Arcade Platformer

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Bub and Bob’s first adventure is a high quality arcade conversion (like Rainbow Islands, its younger brother) that did an excellent job of bringing all the cutesy fun home to your beige (and definitely not cute) box.

The hokey plot takes a backseat in this platform cute-em-up, the play mechanic is what shines here. Baron Von Blubba has turned you into a dinosaur and your chosen method of violence is the ability to blow bubbles encasing your enemy, and then popping them. Simple, and ingenious.

Augmenting this simple combination of bubble blowing, baddie popping and platform hopping is some seriously deep gameplay. Everything you do in the game has influence on what is going on: the amount of running and jumping you do, the amount of bubbles you blow, how quickly (or slowly) you complete a stage all have an influence on what happens next.

The physics behind the scenes really add to the experience: some stages are ‘bubble stages’ that convert all loose bubbles into collectables when the last nasty is dispatched, each level has its own convection currents that push the bubbles around the screen, a bubble burst whilst touching another will burst that bubble and so on, there are so many nifty features.

The pick-ups are great too: Fruit gives points (the more baddies popped together, the higher the available points), sweets upgrade your bubbles (faster, longer higher rate of fire), running shoes increase speed, candy canes offer big end of level bonuses, umbrellas skip levels, the list goes on and on.

There are so many subtle nuances and tricks to learn that this game is still showing me new things today, and I’ve been obsessed about it for over 20 years!

#24 – Buggy Boy

Released: 1988
Developer: Tatsumi Electronics Co.
Publisher: Elite Systems Ltd.
Genre: Racing

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Racing games can often be accused of taking themselves far to seriously. Not so Buggy Boy – It’s ridiculous and down right silly. Race against the clock as you collect flags in the right sequence, pass through gates that give you points or more time, boot footballs, jump off logs over gates and trees, avoid barrels and boulders, speed through tunnels and over bridges.

With five courses to choose from, you must reach the goal via five legs of varying terrain using your two speed Baja buggy. Only the later courses will offer a challenge to complete, but as you learn how to exploit each course for points, the urge to return and improve scores will provide replay value.

Graphics are not mind-blowing but clean and clear – not without charm. Sound is minimal: whiny engine, spot effects for collisions, flags, gates etc. and the odd bit of music.

Buggy Boy is fun, and one of the few racing games that works brilliantly as a score attack game.

#23 – Time Bandit

Released: 1985
Developer: Bill Dunlevy
Publisher: Michtron
Genre: Action Adventure

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Time Bandit is often described as a Gauntlet clone, which is a little unfair, seeing as the original Time Bandit appeared on the TRS-80 in ’83 way before Gauntlet saw the light of day.

As the bandit, you are tasked with travelling through time to 16 different levels separated into 6 eras, defeating their guardians, collecting treasure and recovering artefacts. You control the bandit with the joystick, limited to just four directions, using the fire button to shoot the guardians. The top-down viewpoint scrolls around to reveal mazes and puzzles of the ‘find-the-key-to-the-door’ variety.

The two-player mode adds extra interest, and you can choose to play cooperatively or to blast your pal into next week and keep the artefacts all to yourself.

Retro gamers will delight in the discovery of the Pac-Man level, Centipede pastiche and surprising text adventure elements.

Time Bandit is certainly showing its age, but in 1985 it was groundbreaking, offering both fast paced action and a sprawling world with levels which could be tackled in any order the player wished.

#22 – Lemmings

Released: 1991
Developer: DMA Design
Publisher: Psygnosis
Genre: Puzzle

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Original concepts don’t come along very often in video games. Even at the tender age of eleven, the first time I played Lemmings I knew I was witnessing something special.

Like most truly great ideas, the premise is very simple: guide your band of hapless rodents across some tricky terrain to the exit by issuing them with a stock of eight orders. You could order lemmings to climb, float, explode, block, build, bash (horizontally), dig (diagonally down), and tunnel (vertically).

Cunning level design had you using combinations of these orders (sometimes restricted in availability) in order to succeed, many levels having multiple solutions. Later levels will be seemingly impossible until a new technique is learned or new implementation of an old one realised.

Lemmings’ visual appeal is timeless: Expertly animated little sprites against well drawn backgrounds. I’m currently playing the homebrew conversion of Lemmings on my DS and it still looks fresh. Hilariously appropriate children’s nursery rhymes and other familiar melodies accompany your rescue efforts along with the occasional splat or pop.

After developing the excellent shooters Menace and Blood Money, Lemmings would shoot DMA design (now known as Rockstar North) to super-stardom, giving them the scope and financial backing needed to produce their seminal Grand Theft Auto franchise.

#21 – Microprose Formula One Grand Prix

Released: 1992
Developer: Geoff Crammond
Publisher: Microprose Software
Genre: Racing

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Time – perhaps more accurately, emulation – has been very kind to Geoff Crammond’s Formula One Grand Prix. While offering the first truly immersive F1 experience with practice, qualifying, racing and car tweaking all deeply involving; the slow frame rate shatters my rosy memories. The 3D engine was truly breath-taking at the time, but when I return to it now I find it very difficult to enjoy.

Never fear, this is where the excellent Steem emulator steps in. Under the ‘Machine’ tab in the options menu you can set the CPU speed of the emulated Motorola 68000 CPU from 8Mhz all the way up to 128Mhz. A little experimenting with this to find the optimum speed, and a smooth racing experience is yours!

This is the closest the ST gets to an accurate racing sim, but still manages to be accessible. When first learning the game, the game has many assists turned on: auto braking, gears, visible racing line, no damage etc. and as you begin to learn the accurately modelled tracks you can switch them off one by one until you are in full control. Incidentally, I was playing Forza motorsport on XBox earlier today that has a very similar assist related difficulty setting. F1GP was obviously very influential.

Real driver names and teams are not featured (this game did not acquire the FIA licence) but a nifty edit feature means that you can keep everything up to date. Personally, I just like to put Schumacher in so I can repeatedly run him off the road.

Full seasons, lots of cars on track, Working mirrors, realistic collisions with flying debris, weather conditions, car tuning and replays with multiple camera angles all added to this superbly definitive F1 driving experience.

Race on to the next five! (#20-16) ->

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