The Top 50: #50-46
The first five games of the results of The Great Atari ST Game Survey of 2008.
#50 – Rainbow Islands
This sequel to the excellent Bubble Bobble ramps up the cute factor and continues the trend for arcade perfect conversion.
No longer trapped in dinosaur form, and with their girlfriends safely at home, Bub and Bob must take the fight to the enemy to rid their home – the once blissful seven rainbow islands – from the threat of the evil Shadow organisation. But how? Now that the boys are no longer bubble blowing dinos, how will they accomplish such a task? With the power of rainbows, that’s how!
A push of the fire button and a dinky rainbow sprouts forth from your diminutive avatar. Hit an enemy with it and they’re history. Trap them inside it and watch them get all steamed up – but don’t worry! – jump on the rainbow and it will crush all in its path as it falls. Each enemy destroyed will leave behind something to pick up, either for points or power-ups. Power-ups include faster or multiple rainbows, trainers for extra speed, or stars that instantly shoot out in all directions, killing all enemies in the vicinity – very handy as you make your ascent to the zenith of each level.
Each of the 7 islands is split into 4 stages, the last of which is the home of a boss that must be defeated to reach the next island. Each island is themed and features colourful backgrounds an sprites, all moving about at a nice pace. Sound is nice too, a rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow tinkles away as you attempt to climb to the top of each stage.
Almost indistinguishable from its arcade parent, Bub and Bob’s second adventure is one of the best platformers available on the ST and I’m surprised and appalled to see it poll so low. Shame on you!
#49 – Ultima V: Warriors Of Destiny
Developer: Lord British
Publisher: Origin Systems
Lord British is off galavanting again (probably on a quest for the Holy Buttered Crumpet Of Kukundu or The Sacred Cream Tea Of Nesbetaria, or something) and in his absence, an evil bod named Blackthorn has siezed the throne! So after a quick visit to the gypsy to determine your morality, you and your newly created party must endeavour to return the hapless British to the throne. You can also import old characters used in earlier Ultima games, so Griff Hornbonce, your beloved Minotaur warrior can crush orc skulls once again.
Those familiar with the prolific Ultima series will find no surprises here. Functional graphics and sound hide a deep, involving experience. You move your party around the map with the cursor keys, fighting monsters and finding towns and villages to explore, discovering helpful items and levelling up your stats.
Combat is a strategic affair, with each of your party taking it in turns to move and attack, cast spells or grab items dropped by fallen enemies.
Boasting a playing area twice the size of Ultima IV and the last game before the Ultima series adopted a truly bizarre and head spinning perspective, Ultima V’s Britannia is well worth a visit.
#48 – Super Hang-On
Developer: Software Studios
Publisher: Electric Dreams
I’m a big fan of Sega’s arcade racers; Outrun, Daytona, Virtua Racer, Sega Rally and Super Hang-On: they’re big, brash and very, very loud, taking advantage of arcade hardware technology to deliver an audio/visual assault on the senses.
As a result, the home conversions – in the 8 and 16 bit eras, at least – pale in comparison. Without steering wheels, hydraulic cabinets, booming speakers, something is lost.
That said, there is no reason (with a bit of ingenuity and hard work) for the gameplay not to make it over intact, and Super Hang-On has a really good go. In the absence of a hydraulic bike to steer, the analogue control is delivered via the mouse with the left button to accelerate and right button to brake.
The frame-rate isn’t exactly super smooth, but does not spoil the gameplay. However, longevity is an issue: there is little in the way of variety. I’m not sure how long you will be gripped by this, these days arcade racers are fleshed out with extra challenges, cars/bikes, tracks etc. but this really is just the arcade mode.
As it is, I will be playing this game, but it will only serve to punctuate my slog through the challenge mode of Outrun 2 on the XBox. Great fun in short bursts.
#47 – M1 Tank Platoon
Genre: Tank Simulator
In 1989, if you wanted to get your hands on an Abrams M1 tank, it would set you back around $2.5 million. In 1990, however all it would take was £24.99 and an ST. If only Saddam knew… I bet he’s kicking himself.
Gameplay is split between a real-time battle map, where tactics are formulated and tanks are despatched, and interior tank views, where you can control the driver, commander and gunner. You control one man and the AI sorts out the others. Initially, your comrades have all the accuracy of an A-Team villian, but when missions are completed, commendations are awarded which can be used to upgrade your troops’ skills.
All the M1’s toys are at your disposal: infra-red, smoke screens, laser detectors, laser sights, distance indicators and all the shells you’ll need to teach those pesky reds who’s boss.
As is to be expected from a Microprose simulation, attention to detail is excellent, resulting in an atmospheric experience. Visuals leave a little to be desired, the tanks themselves look fine, but the landscapes are strangely dithered, and other objects can be indescernable. As all important objects can be identified on the map, this isn’t too damaging to gameplay.
Other reputable tank sims such as Team Yankee and Pacific Islands didn’t even get within a sniff of the top 50, so M1 Tank Platoon obviously offered something special to you tank sim fans.
#46 – Auto Duel
Developer: Lord British
Publisher: Origin Systems
Based on the classic Car Wars board game, Auto Duel is based in a dystopian U.S. future where cars determine your status and driving ability is the difference between life and death.
You start the game without a vehicle and must take part in the amateur night in order to secure the funds necessary to buy one. As soon as you have a set of wheels, you can start making some serious money. Further arena events and courier missions provide the player with the opportunity to make some cash.
The game has two play areas: the city, where the player can move around, purchasing weaponry, vehicles etc., visit the pub, or visit the arena to see if there are any events to take part in; and the driving sections, which are top-down, scrolling affairs where you will either be driving between cities, or taking part in arena battles.
How you upgrade your car will influence how you play: heavily armoured tank, or a light speedy number? Place your big guns at the front for a head on assault, or at the rear for those running like a chicken moments.
Another game – like Phantasie and Ultima V – That wears its age on its sleeve, the graphics look pretty much like an Apple II game (no offence, Apple fans!) and the difficulty is sky high. Plot missions are few and far between, so there is little story driving the action along.
For all its down points, Auto Duel does offer an open-ended player led experience that was way ahead of its time, pushing the RPG into realms not seen before. An early prototype for Grand Theft Auto? Maybe…