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The Top 50: #5-1

#5 – Stunt Car Racer

Released: 1989
Developer: Geoff Crammond
Publisher: Microstyle
Genre: Racing

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Opening the top five is Geoff Crammond’s second game to make the list: Stunt Car Racer.

An innovative 3D racing game, Geoff’s 1989 release featured some pretty gnarly tracks. Elevated of the ground and with no barriers to stop you falling off, negotiating the eight roller-coaster style tracks successfully is often the game’s biggest challenge. Fall off and the crane will winch you back up, but very slowly allowing your opponent to build a healthy lead. You must keep your eye on the car’s condition, too; cracks slowly etching their way along the chassis with holes appearing during sufficiently violent collisions will scupper your chances of winning if not kept in check.

Each track consists of a number of jumps or moving obstacles that you must traverse: this often involves working out the optimum speed for a jump or in the case of moving sections of track, timing them perfectly. Your car comes equipped with a nitro boost, making it even more tempting to hit certain sections of the track at blistering speeds (usually resulting in hitting the ground at blistering speeds).

Single-player mode pits your driving prowess against computer-controlled opponents in a league split into four divisions. You start in division four racing against idiots on the game’s tamest tracks but by the time you reach division 1 (and beyond *hint*) things really start to toughen up.

You can also compete against a friend providing you have two STs and a null modem cable.

Featuring some smooth 3D and nice cockpit graphics where you can see the wheels testing their suspension to the limits and flames shooting out of the engine during boosts, atmospheric sound effects (hearing the crack after a hard landing when your car is almost knackered has your hair standing on end) and tense, thrilling gameplay, Stunt Car Racer goes to the top of the class (Hard Drivin’ see me later).

#4 – Kick Off 2

Released: 1990
Developer: Dino Dini
Publisher: Anco
Genre: Football Sim

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It seems like the Kick Off Vs. Sensible Soccer debate is a no-brainer for ST fans these days. Dini’s franchise has three entries in the top 50: Player Manager (no. 37), Kick Off (no. 11) and now Kick Off 2 in the top five, with Sensi no-where to be seen? Don’t count your chooks yet, there’s still three more to go!

The blistering pace, precision and kinetic energy of Kick Off has been mentioned during it’s other appearances in the top 50, and Kick Off 2 is no exception. Continuing with Extra Time’s ‘after touch’ control mechanism where swerve could be added after striking the ball, the sequel has a number of improvements: four players can play simultaneously, two on each team; you can take part in the World Cup; new pitch surfaces like plastic and soggy drastically alter the movement of the ball; change your teams kit; long throw-ins; proper free-kicks with defensive walls; and the ability to load your Player Manager team.

Mr Dini obviously believed in evolution not revolution, and in this case it was clearly the right choice. Kick Off 2 takes all the things that made Kick Off great, keeps the improvements made by the sequels and adds just the right amount of new features to make one of the best footy games ever. I lost hours and hours on this and its expansions Final Whistle and Return To Europe (ah, over-head kicks… ) which both continued to add great content to the fluid, non-stop hardcore action that is Kick Off.

#3 – Carrier Command

Released: 1988
Developer: Realtime Games
Publisher: Rainbird
Genre: Strategy/Simulation

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Back in the late eighties I had fast-paced arcade action games and I had mind-bending strategy games and never the twain met until Realtime meshed the two genres so seamlessly that it would unite fans of both genres.

Boasting colourful, smooth filled-vector graphics, Carrier Command was one of those games that, for many, defined the leap from 8 to 16-bit computers. And once you had scratched the surface, Carrier Command offered up the gameplay to match.

With all the action and decision making happening in real-time, the excellent icon driven control and multi-view layout of the screen eases you into a learning curve populated with wireframe damage screens, cargo hold inventory screens, intelligence reports and pretty soon you are whizzing around your carrier’s controls and each command needed to vanquish your enemies soon becomes second nature.

Your objective is to seize control of a group of volcanic islands from the clutches of the rebels and their ACC Omega carrier by using your ACC Epsilon carrier equipped with 8 Manta fighter planes, 8 Walrus amphibious tanks, reconnaissance drones, and laser turret.

You make your way across the islands, fighting off enemy forces and deploying ACCBs (Auto Control Centre Builder Pods – Each pod can be for Defence, Mining or production).

You can control your Mantas and AAVs via joystick or mouse, switching between each with a click of the mouse, or you can leave them to their own devices. Some well defended islands will require a continued and well orchestrated attack to weaken defences before storming the control centre and deploying the virus bomb to infect their computers and gain control.

Utterly compelling – no two games are ever the same, and both strategic and action aspects are so well realised they could each warrant their own game. This is a must play for all ST fans.

#2 – Oids

Released: 1987
Developer: FTL Games
Publisher: FTL Games
Genre: Shoot ’em up

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Rescue the Oids from the fiendish Biocretes who are turning them into vending machines and household appliances! Fuel your Ship, charge your shields, and blast off to adventure!

At least that’s what it says on the box, but it’s just another Thrust clone, innit? I mean, rotate left, rotate right, thrust, shoot stuff, watch out for the rocks. Blah blah so much blah. But wait a minute, Thrust was bloody marvellous! And so was Gravitar before that. And so was Asteroids before that. Oids does for Thrust exactly what Gravitar does for Asteroids: Adds depth. Buckets of it. It’s evolution not revolution here, and boy, what an evolution!

Each level starts with your Mother ship dropping down into the field of play. Your V-wing fighter is deployed, fully fuelled, armed and ready to go. Using the Joystick to rotate and thrust and the button to shoot, it’s up to you to bring home the androids safe and sound.

This is not going to be as simple as picking up the kids from school in your Chelsea tractor, though. The Biocretes are quite happy with the cushy, affluent life they’ve carved out for themselves at the expense of the Oids’ freedom and dignity and they’re not about to let it slip through their wallets. So, instead of rolling out the red carpet and reserving you a prime parking space at the Convoid Inc. Robot Conversion Plant, they’ve equipped their planets with all manner of defences. Gun turrets and missile silos fire volley after destructive volley of missiles at you, and if you manage to survive that, enemy craft will pursue you to the ends of the universe.

But fear not! You are not left defenceless against this onslaught, far from it. A deft tap downwards on your flight stick encases you in a protective shield that will sustain even the toughest of blows. Be careful though, it runs out of energy quickly, and can only be recharged with the spacebar, which depletes your fuel. Rely on this too much and your demise will be a quick one. On offense, you will find the novabomb very handy when in a tight spot. Just double-tap the fire button, holding the button down on the second tap. When the bomb reaches your target, let go of fire and BLA-DOW! Instant carnage.

In this style of game, precision is key. Oids has it in spades… Very precise spades. Its physics engine (yes, old games have physics too) is perfectly balanced, as is the difficulty curve. Whenever I die, I know it was my fault and my fault alone, compelling me to try and try again until the V-wing is perfectly under my control.

#1 – Dungeon Master

Released: 1987
Developer: FTL Games
Publisher: FTL Games
Genre: RPG

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FTL did not release a great number of games, but those they did release were all well received by the press and public alike – as demonstrated by their dominance at the top of this poll. Original and trailblazing in both technical and gameplay aspects, Dungeon Master game would bring RPG to the masses, and inspire countless clones as well as legitimate sequels.

Sacred Mt. Anais is the home of the Grey Lord and the resting place of the legendary power gem that is responsible for all sentient life. The Grey Lord and Theron – his apprentice – worked tirelessly to find the gem so that they could use it to create a peaceful world where all the races could live in harmony.

On discovering the power gem, the Grey Lord began his incantation, but, making a vital error resulting in cataclysmic explosion, teared both the fabric of the universe and the Grey Lord himself. Now the Grey Lord’s good side (Lord Librasulus) is stuck in limbo and his evil side (Lord Chaos) is free to wreak havoc on mankind.

In order to defeat Chaos, you must once again enter the dungeons under Mt. Anais, find the firestaff and return it to Librasulus. To do this your newly ethereal self must enter the Hall of Champions (Chaos’ trophy room of defeated heroes) resurrect those four whom you deem most worthy, and direct their movements and actions so that they might fare better in their second attempt to defeat the sinister Chaos.

This is where the game begins. In the hall are twenty-four mirrors, each one containing a character you can add to your party. You can choose from many different races: Men, Hobbits, Dwarves, Bika (dog-like humanoids), Elves, Lizard-men and more. Each character has a set of stats governing abilities like their strength, vitality and available mana and classes. The available classes and their abilities are: Fighters, inflicting damage using melee weapons; Ninjas, using ranged weapons such as bow and arrow, darts and slingshots; Wizards, using elemental magic to inflict damage on foes, or effect the environment to benefit the party; and Priests, who use their spells to heal, cure poisons, and protect the party with magical shields.

Your characters’ levels and skills improve as you use them (DM was first to introduce this style of levelling) and progress from Neophytes through Novices to Apprentices, Journeymen and beyond. Fighters improve by hitting and being hit in melee combat, Ninjas level up by throwing or shooting ranged weapons, and Wizards and Priests progress by casting their corresponding spells. Levelling up is vital if your heroes are going to survive in the tougher lower levels of the dungeon.

Combat is straightforward: click on the weapon at the right hand side of the screen and choose an option. Some options will execute a quick attack, while others will execute slower, more powerful attacks and later in the game, magical weapons will give you the option to cast a spell. As your character’s fighter skill increases, more melee attacks will become available.

This game is simply excellent. It’s like a history lesson in the development of the RPG, yet it has aged incredibly well. It is very immersive, the short story in the manual setting the scene superbly, feeding your imagination and spurring you on in this timeless adventure and before you know it you are hooked. You are gutted when a champion falls, and are quite prepared to trudge through three levels of dungeon – carrying their skeletal remains – all the way back to that Altar of Rebirth you swore you saw an hour ago.

Quite simply, you won’t want to leave this one alone until you have stared Chaos in the eyes and lived to tell the tale.

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12 comments

  1. If anyone is interested, here is my personal top 5:

    1. IK+
    2. Championship Manager ’93
    3. Frontier: Elite II
    4. Llamatron
    5. Bubble Bobble

    Almost voted for Trapped 2 which is a totally zarjaz lightcycles Tron-style shareware affair for four players. Gutted that Frontier missed the boat (by quite some distance).


  2. An excellent top 50.
    Some really amazing games in there, but not necessarily in the order I would have chosen. Non-the-less, an excellent list.

    Personally, I’d have had the top 5 like this:

    1. Gauntlet II
    2. IK+
    3. Rainbow Islands
    4. Parasol Starts (I know it didn’t make it into the list – but a fav of mine)
    5. Bubble Bobble

    But hey, it’s not up to me!

    Excellent work Stickhead!


  3. Excellent review!

    There are some wonderful games in that list that I remember playing a lot!
    Anyway here is my (variable) top 5.

    1. Kick Off 2
    2. Bubble Bobble
    3. Carrier Command
    4. Super Sprint
    5. Populous


  4. There is a new version of ‘IK+’ known as ‘IK+ Gold’ available on the c64 now. You can play 3player. THREE PLAYER!

    Also, there was a PD version of ‘Oids’ on the Amiga called ‘Starwoids’. ‘Oids’ mixed with ‘Star Wars’, including some voice samples – amazing.


    • Thanks for the heads-up, Kermy! Have a look here for more IK+ Gold details.


  5. Wonderful list! It brings back so much memories…


  6. I’m shocked that Empire is not in the top 5. I mean Dungeon Master, Oids and Empire are the top three. I didn’t think Carrier Command was all that great. There’s two more games I’m thinking of that I can’t quite remember thier names. Anybody know where you could find these games ported over to Windows.
    Email me at stoneyes@gmail.com


    • The best way to enjoy these games on the PC is via emulation. If you have Windows, then STeem is highly recommended.

      There were a lot of great games omitted from the list, but I am unfamiliar with Empire – off to Atari Legend!


  7. I’m a bit confused – i scanned the list twice and still didn’t see Sundog: Frozen Legacy, the best Atari ST game ever made.


    • Good shout, sir! Sundog is indeed a great game. FTL aren’t exactly under-represented in the list are they though?


  8. 1. Dungeon Master
    2. Elite
    3. The Sentinel

    I cant go to top 5


  9. Very nice list, brings back lots of fun memories !
    I’m quite shocked to see Sensible Soccer 1992 not even making it (it would be in my top 5). I would also have liked to see a few more adventure games selected (Maniac Mansion or Cruise for a Corpse for ex.).



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