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The Top 50: #35-31

#35 – Colonial Conquest

Released: 1987
Developer: Andromeda Software
Publisher: Strategic Simulations Inc.
Genre: Strategy

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This sort of game is far from my usual field of expertise. Indeed, I had not even heard of it before receiving its nominations. Oh well, join me on this little sortie out of my comfort zone…

When the game begins, you can choose your scenario (Standard game, 1880: The race for the colonies, and 1914: The brink of war) which dictates the status of each of the major powers and how many colonies they possess at the beginning of the game. Six different powers can be controlled by humans or by the ST: England, Germany, France, USA, Japan, or Russia. You can also set the length of your game, by altering the winning score: a 500 point game will typically last half an hour, but longer games are available: 1000 points, 1500 points and an unlimited game, which will presumably continue until you are the sole surviving major power.

Colonial Conquest is a turn-based strategy game, and each turn gives you the opportunity to move your army and navy around in order to invade and hopefully capture enemy territories. During the build phase you can add to your military might by building more fleets and recruiting more men.

Combat isn’t the only option available to your neighbouring territories, Subversion can be used to bribe a minor territory into joining your cause, and Aid can be given to countries in order to persuade them to resist your rivals.

These alternative approaches add much depth to the game, and it is easy to see why it occupied a lot of ST strategy fan’s time during those early years.

#34 – Xenon 2

Released: 1989
Developer: Bitmap Brothers/Assembly Line
Publisher: Image Works
Genre: Shoot-em-up

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Xenon 2 has fallen a little out of grace since software houses stopped making commercial releases for the ST. If this poll was held in the early nineties, I’m certain it would have finished much higher. So what happened?

The graphics are certainly up there with the best, scrolling is smooth featuring parallax backgrounds, and the sound (from the excellent opening tune from Bomb The Bass to the high quality spot effects) is of a high quality. Nice touches pervade the entire game. The ship and its weaponry are excellently animated, and each level and its nasties are well designed, each with a distinct theme.

Gameplay is far from lightning quick, the screen scrolls downwards quite slowly, and your ship feels sluggish, despite the two speed-ups given to you at the start of the game. When enemies are defeated they deposit bubbles which can be collected and used as cash in the shop. The power-ups are nice and varied and experimenting with different ship setups adds replay value.

Deaths are often caused by enemies’ unpredictable flight paths as opposed to their firepower, and when they appear from behind without warning, this feels a very cheap way to increase difficulty.

Overall, though, I feel that this game represents high quality vertical shoot-em-up action on the ST and the Bitmap backlash has treated it a little unfairly. Not the best shooter by some measure, but a solid, well presented game nonetheless.

#33 – Championship Manager ’93

Released: 1993
Developer: Domark/Intelek Data Research
Publisher: Domark
Genre: Football Management Sim

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I was both surprised and delighted by the position of Domark’s second game in its Championship Manager franchise (now known as Football Manager).

Criticised at the time of release for being a glorified spreadsheet due to its non-graphical nature, extensive statistics and tables of data, ’93 was the first in the series to feature real players, teams and staff (thanks to Intelek’s input). The extra realism took a very accomplished simulation and made it the most compelling, addictive and deep football management game ever made.

Up to four players can play, choosing to manage any of the league clubs in the four English divisions. Start as Premiership contenders, where both the stakes and expectations are high, or pick a lower league club and take them to glory? The choice is yours.

For me, this game represents a perfect balance; acheiving an accurate simulation without compromising on the fun. Transfers are quick and easy: just choose the amount you want to bid, highest bid wins and the player is transfered instantly, no waiting around like in later CM games. Also, you won’t be asked to micro-manage, assign training routines or any of that tiresome nonsense, just buy your players, pick the team and formation and away you go!

The games presentation may put some people off (even the original Football Manager on the Speccy rendered the highlights of each game for you to watch) and once you find a successful formation, the game can become too easy. Each new career can take up to 20 minutes to start as the ST calculates all the player data, and their are some minor bugs (my game’s player history often showed that several players had played for Aston Villa in 1900, and occasionally crashed when trying to access club history).

As is often the case with games that stretch the boundaries, there are flaws, but few games of this era had this kind of scope and depth. A must for all the Ron Managers out there.

#32 – Vroom

Released: 1991
Developer: Dan McRae
Publisher: Lankhor
Genre: Racing

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Vroom by name and Vroom by nature, the impression of speed in this Formula One racer is unrivalled by another game on the ST. Zooming through tight tunnels at top speed really gets your heart pounding. This game really needs to be seen to be believed. The screen even tilts backwards and forwards in response to your acceleration and braking!

The game comes in two flavours: Arcade and Racing. In Arcade mode, you must overtake a set number of cars before the race is over in order to qualify for the next. In Racing mode you are forced to use the mouse (ouch) which is a more precise control method, but takes a lot of getting used to. You are placed in a tournament amongst some (almost) familiar names and must earn your place on the grid with a qualifying session, then earn points according to your place at the finish line over a season of six races.

Indicator lights at the side of your cockpit will tell you the condition of your tyres and engine and a gauge at the top of the screen shows your remaining fuel. Over rev your engine, run low on fuel, or crash into the trackside objects and you may have to pit. Miss the pit at these crucial times and you can kiss the trophy goodbye.

Nice touches like the wing mirrors that actually tell you what is behind you, working speedometer, and the option to race against a friend via null modem link rounds off an exhilarating experience that must be sampled by all ST racing fans.

#31 – Typhoon Thompson

Released: 1988
Developer: Dan Gorlin
Publisher: Broderbund Software
Genre: Shoot-em-up

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Dan Gorlin (of Choplifter fame) is responsible for possibly the quirkiest game of the list so far. A transport ship has gone AWOL on a distant ocean planet leaving only a single survivor – a baby – the titular Sea Child.

All previous attempts to recover the baby have failed due to the planet’s hostile inhabitants and their determination to hold on to the baby. Here is where you, the fearless (though from the opening sequence, somewhat press-ganged) Typhoon Thompson, step in. With the help of the Spirit Guardians and the weapons they provide you in return for magical artifacts, you must take on the sea sprites.

You control your hover sled with the mouse as you scoot about the pseudo 3D environment at quite a pace. You must locate a pod and shoot it, releasing a flyer. Destroy the flyer and out pops the sprite which you must capture before he returns to the pod. When you have all of the level’s sprites on board, you can confront the King, who will give you the artifact you need.

Initially, controlling your sled is difficult and frustrating, but nicely animated comical sprites and neat gameplay elements – you can force your sled under water if the action gets a little too hot – make this curious game worth a punt if your after something a little different. 

Onward! To numbers 30 through 26! ->

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