The Top 50: #40-36
The results of The Great Atari ST Game Survey continue. Here are numbers 40 through 36.
#40 – Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge
Developer: Magnetic Fields
Publisher: Gremlin Graphics
Lotus: A name synonymous with style, elegance, and speed. And the game is no exception.
There is an impressive opening sequence with a very realistically rendered Lotus flashing at you (oo-er) and a run down of the Esprit’s specifications, all the while, Ben Dalglish pours some of his aural nectar into your ear. Very nice.
Top marks for presentation then, but what’s the game like? It’s a split-screen racer in every sense of the word, as you are confined to half of the screen even in one-player mode. However, this enables the games pseudo-3D engine to belt along at break-neck speeds, and you never feel cramped when opting to play with a friend.
With you starting 20th of the 20 cars on the track, each race features plenty of overtaking. Each time you collide with a computer controlled car or track-side obstacle you slow to snail’s pace, so precision manoeuvring amongst the crowd is a must. A small gripe: even if an opponent runs into your arse, you will slow down and he will speed off, totally unaffected by the encounter.
As you race you will need to watch out for rocks and puddles, road works and tight corners on rolling hills. Also keep an eye on the fuel gauge; during longer tracks a pit-stop may be necessary.
The pit-stops, lap-based tracks and lack of time limit make this my favourite of the Lotus Turbo Challenge Series.
#39 – Speedball
Developer: Bitmap Brothers
Publisher: Image Works
Genre: Future sports sim
Kind of like a double-hard futuristic version of hand-ball, Speedball impressed many with it’s metallic sheen when released in 1988.
Whether you choose to participate in a league or knockout competition, your goal is the same: grab the ball, lob it down the pitch to your forward and chuck it into the net, nobbling as many of the opposition players as possible while doing so. The tokens strewn about the floor of the arena serve to spice things up a little. They have a variety of effects, from automatically giving you the ball to reversing your opponents controls (a personal favourite). The presentaion of the game is superb considering its age. The menu systems are adorned with tough looking blokes clad in armour accompanied by a decent Whittaker tune. The in game graphics are also superb, with some nice animation effects on the ball dispenser and pickups.
The game’s automatic player selection can be a little annoying at times, especially near your own goalmouth when it can be a little confusing as to which player/goalkeeper you are controlling. Unlike its sequel, Speedball’s playing field was only the width of a single screen and just a few screens high, resulting in a very claustrophobic pitch with nowhere to hide. This makes each match more frantic and tense than the last as your opponent’s abilities improve.
Speedball introduced the 16-bit market to the cyberpunk dystopia: a design concept which proved to have quite some mileage in the world of video games…
#38 – Nebulus
Developer: John M Phillips
Some games are easy, some are difficult. Then there are those that are so ball-crushingly double-bastard hard that it seems they were invented to punish you for daring to put it into the disk drive and having the gall to switch on your ST.
For instance, take the opening seconds of this game: upon taking your first few steps, a platform disappears below your feet; you plunge into the water and lose the first of your precious three lives. No warning; no little cracks on the platform to suggest it may disappear; no time to react and jump off. Just instant unavoidable death. JMP, you git.
And this pretty much sets you up for all that follows. You control a cute little green pug-nosed alien who must reach the top of a cylindrical tower in order to destroy it. You can climb up steps, jump over gaps, use lifts and doors to facilitate your ascent, but all kinds of nasties will attempt to obstruct your progress. Their touch is not fatal, but will send you toppling down the tower, and should you fall into the water at the bottom, or run out of time before you reach the top, you can kiss one of your lives goodbye.
As hard as Nebulus is, it’s also an absolute gem, and very, very addictive. The pleasing intro music, sound effects and pleasant cylindrical rotating tower effects central to the gameplay all add to the charm of yet another JMP classic.
#37 – Player Manager
Developer: Dino Dini
Genre: Football Sim
Anco’s Kick Off was a revelation when it was released; up until its release, football games were a ponderous affair. The injected speed of Kick Off is also present in Player Manager. This game is to Kick Off what Sensible World Of Soccer is to Sensible Soccer.
You are an ageing ex-division 1 midfield general who has taken the plunge into the high-stress world of football management. At the beginning of the game you can choose to control yourself or the whole team and change the names of your club or your rivals.
The only thing missing from this game is the ‘after-touch’ introduced in Kick Off: Extra Time. I find it really hard to make those killer through balls and clinical finishes without this touch of extra control. So while the extra depth added to a standard game of Kick Off is welcome, I would rarely choose this over a game of Kick Off 2.
#36 – Gods
Developer: Bitmap Brothers
This certainly has the mark of a Bitmap Brothers game (swish intro with tracker tune, steely blue palette, well realised sprites and backgrounds) and this will certainly divide gamers. Usual Bitmap style over substance, or the mark of maverick developers at the top of their game? I’ll let you decide.
From the off it’s clear that this isn’t a classic action platformer. The hero moves slowly, almost clumsily in his quest to earn immortality from the gods, and the time he takes to turn around is initially infuriating (not to mention his inability to fire while crouching). Your avatar’s cumbersome nature is there to be overcome, and with practice, and perseverance, navigating the sprawling levels with their switches, locked doors, booby traps and ladder after ladder will become second nature.
As you traverse through the dungeons, you will come across many power-ups that will aid you on your journey: more daggers to throw, speed-ups, extra health, or divine powers to obliterate your enemies. Keys and other items must also be obtained to enable your progress.
The graphics really are excellent, pushing the STs 16 colour palette to its limit, and the in-game sound effects are very atmospheric. Initially, play this game for eye-candy and after a while its irksome annoyances become its idiosyncratic quirks then its unique charm. Give it some time and it grows on you. Like some sort of ancient greek fungus.