Lemmings

There are few games that represent the 16-bit era as well as Lemmings. It did make a few ports over to the more popular, older, 8-bit machines, and on to games consoles of the time, but It never really translated well to keyboards, gamepads and joysticks. This is a game built for a mouse at a time when the mouse was new.

At its heart it is a fairly straight forward puzzle game. A number of rodents will appear through an entrance on one side of the screen and you need to guide them to safety through the exit on the other side of the screen. Simple enough. However these are Lemmings and any hazards between entrance and exists won’t be avoided. These critters will happily march to their death.

To avoid this you, the player, have the power to upgrade any Lemming in to a super-Lemming with a special ability. It’s the use of these special abilities that allow you to guide the little fellows away from danger and herd them to the exit. Lemmings are upgraded by selecting the required power from the menu at the bottom of the screen and then clicking on the Lemming needed to perform this task.

Improvements include climbing obsticles, parachuting (with an umbrella), bashing through rocks, digging out the ground and just stopping other Lemmings from going were they are not wanted.

There are around 100 levels in the original game at various difficulty from really easy dig a whole to highly frustrating falling to their death immediately out of the entrance, and everything in between. All levels are really well designed and the puzzles leave the player with that all important ‘one more try’ feeling as you spend most of your time learning from your failures.

As I said in the opening paragraph, this games was made for the mouse. It’s hard to think of another game that really thought about its design language and gameplay loop so well and married perfectly to a new input method. Much like Solitaire being given away by Microsoft with every copy of Windows 95.

5/5

Atic Atac

Back in the late 1980’s I only had a ZX Spectrum for a year. Even then it was only the 16K model and I only remember two main games from the time. All my ZX Spectrum experience either comes from ports for the Amstrad CPC or games I’ve found in the years since using emulation.

Atic Atac is one of the later. As far as I know this was a Speccy exclusive and never found its way to the Amstrad micros. Shame as this is easily the Stamper brothers finest moment. In the early 80’s the Stampers, through their company Ultimate Play The Game, dominated the ZX Spectrum gaming market thanks to a production quality their competitors struggled to rival.

Atic Atac offers a psuedo-3D top-down view of the action. The heart of the game is a very standard for the time maze affair. Though it is a pretty big maze set in the environs of a fairly large mansion. The maze is traversed in a typical for the era flip screen approach walking through doors to flip the action to the next room.

The object of the game is to open the main door in the lobby where you actually begin the game. You do this my finding the three parts of the main door key that spell out ACG (Ashby Computer Graphics – another company name used by the Stampers). This is made harder by random monsters appearing to drain your energy which can be fended off by pressing the fire button.

As you travel around some doorways will be blocked and can only be passed if you are holding the appropriate colour key. Adding to your difficulties is the fact you can only carry three objects at a time. So there’s an element of going back and forth, finding what you’re looking for, dropping main key parts in the opening lobby, while fending on energy sucking nasties.

Your energy also depletes while you move, but thankfully there’s plenty of food to pick up as you travel around, and three lives if you need then (hint: you will).

The only real negative I found in playing this game was the controls. Remember this game was made for a computer with rubber keys, that most would not have added a joystick to, by a company that had just recently released the brilliant Jetpac with very userfriendly keyboard perfect controls. In this game they choose to line up the movement and fire in one line – Q,W,E,R,T. Not even the horrid Speccy standard of cursor control on the number keys. Trying to get used to moving up and down in that layout is a right mindbender. Literally a game breaker. If we review the game from here, as we probably should, it falls from grace down to a 2/5 experience.

However, I can’t do that. Plug in a Kempston compatible joystick (not really that uncommon for the time) and this game easily becomes one of, if not the, best gaming experience on the Spectrum. Later Ultimate games have better looking 3D (like Knightlore) but honestly randomness hinders those games where they enhance this one.

5/5

Gunfighter

This is easily one of my favourite games from the earliest main era of video gaming. The late-70s arcade period supported by very basic home consoles like the Videopac, VCS, and Channel F but before games like Space Invaders, Pacman and Donkey Kong lifted the Atari machine above its rivals.

The game is very simple, as they all where, and very Pong-esque. You play one of two wild west gunfighters and must simply be quicker on the draw than your rival. Known as Boot Hill in the arcades, you must guide your cowboy around the screen and quickly press the fire button when you think you’ve lines up the perfect shot on your opponent. First to 10 wins.

One nice feature of the Videopac version is the choice of opponents. The default is a straight two play match against a friend, one on each joystick. However without a friend you can use either joystick to play and the Videopac will detect the other joystick is not being used automatically and take over control of the rival gunslinger, giving you a single player computer controlled opponent.

More interestingly, start the game without touching either joystick and the Videopac will play against itself!

5/5

Alien: Isolation

There seems to be some unwritten law that when I review a First Person game I have to mention how much I generally dislike the view point and how rare it is for me to play such a title. I then go on to explain how this game is an exception to the rule and a welcome surprise.

Alien: Isolation is one of those games. And a very welcome surprise it was too. The draw is obviously the Alien franchise and the love of the first two Sigourney Weaver movies. I’m pleased to say Creative Assembly, the makers of this masterpiece, have treated this source material with nothing but the upmost respect.

The game is set upon a space station that has come in to possession of the flight recorder for Ripley’s ill-fated ship from the first movie. You play Riply’s daughter, Amanda, in search of answers to what happened to mum. You arrive on the space station only to discover a world in disarray and the possibility that more than the flight recorder has survived the Nostromo.

In moment to moment gameplay it is very, very reminiscent of Dead Space just with an Alien franchise skin applied and a switch in perspective. This of course is no bad thing.

The primary gameloop is built around stealth and crafting. Getting in to any kind of fight and/or running out of essential supplies is often very, very deadly. Each level gives you a series of puzzles to complete while you desperately avoid just about every other inhabitant of Sevastapol Station.

5/5

RISK II

Believe it or not I’d never heard of the board game RISK until I was in my early 20’s. My sister’s boyfriend of the time introduced it to us and I very quickly become addicted to it. In some ways it is a highly simplified version of Warhammer which I was vaguely aware of at the time (and still have never tried playing).

The board game offers up a simplified map of the globe for up to 6 players to battle it out. Each player controls an army and is given a mission card with an objective to complete to win the game. Examples include “Capture Africa and North America” or “Eliminate The Green Player”.

RISK II is Deep Red Games second recreation of this board game for home computers. The first game came out in 1996 with this version arriving four years later in March 2000. Out of the box it offers a very faithful and highly playable recreation of the original board game. The first noticeable bonus of computerisation comes from a worthy roster of A.I. players. Since gathering six humans for a good game has always been a challenge it’s really nice to be able to enjoy a single player match against good computer opponents or mixing some AI unpredictability for a smaller number of human opponents.

But RISK II doesn’t stop there. They actually attempted, and succeeded, to improve upon the original. As well as the classic board game there is now a “Same Time” version of the game that allows players to issue their orders simultaneously (for networked and/or AI players). This is designed to get rid of the slow pace nature of turn base gameplay and reduce the wait between play.

The other addition allows for some optional rule changes including adding some additional countries/connections to reduce the isolation of Australia and South America in particular. There’s also options for auto allocating territories at start and playing capture the capital or domination games instead of using the traditional mission cards. There are also options to alter how the reinforcements are allocated.

All in all Deep Red did a fantastic job of expanding the basic board game and providing a good amount of variety and longevity. And this is all topped by the piece de resistance – Tournament Mode. For single players there’s a 16 level ladder to complete that pits you against ever increasing difficulty in AI opponents. Each level offers a different challenge and regular mix up of the various rules and options available.

5/5

Manic Miner

This game was released in 1983. A time before game saves. You had lives. Run out of them and it’s game over – back to the very beginning to try again. How anyone ever completed all 20 levels of this game prior to the emergence of emulators on more modern hardware in the mid-90’s I’d never know. Maybe a cheat device like Romantic Robot’s Multiface to hack in infinite lives? Without that I’m sure it’s impossible, at least not without going completely insane. You see having three lives and dying on level 8 meant working flawlessly through the previous 7 levels //again// before having your next shot and working out how to beat that difficult level you’ve just encountered. Even with modern emulators allowing me to save state and instant reload at the start of the current level I bowed out at level 8 (Miner Willy Meets The Kong Beast).

You might reflect on all that and consider this all a bad thing and feel negatively about the game, and yet somehow its not. Maybe because this was fairly unique for its time. It’s loosely based on the Atari 2600 game Miner 2049er and similar early platforming experience like Donkey Kong (the head nod being giving by the aforementioned level 8). Maybe it was the number of levels, having gone from just 4 in Donkey Kong to 10 in Miner 2049er to 20 in Manic Miner. Or maybe it’s just the addictive fairness offered by the ‘just one more go’ mentality of Matthew Smith’s fiendish level designs. The game is difficult, but it’s fun.

Each level plays out the same way, jump between platforms and collect the flashing keys to open the door and exit while avoiding just about everything else on the screen which will kill you and remove a life. With only 3 lives on offer for the whole game and plenty of pixel perfect timing to be had there’s a lot of practice needed to get even close to the half way point.

Really this game gets its much deserved reputation for a combination of era timing and presentation. A couple of years later and the graphics would be considered dated and the difficulty too hard and this game would be in the garbage pile of history. Thankfully this game along at just the right moment in time. Along with Jetpac and Attic Attac, Manic Miner makes up a trilogy of top class, unique, arcade games brought to the ZX Spectrum for the Christmas of 1983 and ushered in a new era in video gaming far removed from the basic offerings of previous systems like the Atari 2600 of VIC-20.

5/5

#Watch_Dogs

This is the very first game in Ubisoft’s Watchdogs franchise. The games are a Grand Theft Auto style fully open world spin off from their hit Assassins Creed series set in an alternative modern world where a major new big tech, Blume, has sold it’s revolutionary ctOS city control system to big cities around the globe.

Over the years I’ve played all three Watchdogs games and this was my third complete playthrough of the very first game. And I must say despite unjust bad press at the time, they got it right first time. On release Ubisoft where promising a fully interactive open world environment in which you could quickly hack various aspects of the city and the phones of passing NPC’s with your in game mobile phone.

Many expected too much from the pre-release hype and on release the game was rubbished for not offering that fully hackable experience promised. Gamers and reviewers alike where quick to complain. Having played all three games though my opinion today very much matches that on release. They nailed it. This game is far more enjoyable and lives up to the city hacker promise far better than either of the sequels did.

The first game follows the exploits of hacker Aiden Pierce and his quest for vengeance following the death of his niece following a botched hit attempt on his life after a failed robbery. The game starts in the lobby of the Merlot Hotel with Aiden hacking the cameras with his trusty hacker phone and attempting to steal some cash. This sets up the cutscene with his niece’s death and the start of the quest for revenge.

Watchdogs plays much like GTA V and Sleeping Dogs with you travelling, usually driving, around a representation of a modern US city (Chigaco) getting to the next waypoint that starts the next story mission which is the same general mix of camera hacking and cover shooting. As with any good open world games you have the ubiquous tower location to unlock map detail and plenty of optional side missions to extend game time and distract you from the task in hand.

Chigaco is a fantastic city to explore. I’ve never been there but there’s something about the high tower blocks, transit system, surrounding suburbs, and road network that just lends itself to this type of open world experience. Much like the multitude of games centred around New York. It’s certainly a far better location than San Francisco in the next game.

As you progress through the game just about everything is hackable. Every passer by has a unique bio and it’s fairly simple to steal money from their bank accounts, which you can withdraw from conveniently placed ATM’s. You can switch traffic lights, raise bridges, and explode under road steampipes. One of the best aspects is the L-Train. Chigaco’s overhead light rail system. You can catch a train and ride the L. You could use it for fast travel, you can control the trains themselves, or you can just hop on board and enjoy the ride.

This is also the only Watchdogs game with a truly engaging story. Many complained of Aiden’s character being bland or miserable. And there was the long standing disconnect in all open world games between the story narrative and player agency which results in running over civilians and firing grenade rockets at police going against the overall hacker good guy story narrative. But it’s in trying to fix these things in later games that led to the series loosing its soul and ultimately highlights how good the first game really was.

There’s a lot in the way hacking and profiling works in this game that got lost in the two sequels. The push to use non lethal weapons and over promote the toy boys – either drone or spiders. And all the locations felt different. Unlike the third game which lost its London feel to a lot of cloned cut’n’paste environments.

I’d love to see a future game set in New York, centred around a good story driven central character, and a return of many of the core game mechanics that made experiencing this hacker world so enjoyable for the first time.

5/5

Railroad Tycoon II

I love this game! It’s that open-ended sandbox experience offered up by the likes of SimCity and Civilization. It’s a chance to let out your inner Pete Waterman. Not all of us as the time, money and space to layout a Hornby set in our homes. Railroad Tycoon lets you live this fantasy electronically. The core fun comes from that same laying out of your own tracks and watching passenger carrying locos steam along them.

Like many of these style of games there is the option to delve in to the sandbox as deep as you want. At it’s heart it is really a business management sim like Rockstar Ate My Hamster or Theme Hospital but it’s a testament to the game design that you can delve in and out of this aspect much or little as you want. For me I was just interested in enough money to lay more track to transport more passengers. The deeper scenarios of hauling specific products between destinations and keeping an eye on competitors and stock market positions being more than I can handle.

The game does have one or two minor annoyances but again tis a testament that none of these, either individually or combined, are enough to take dull the core gameplay loop of laying track and watching trains travel between cities.

The initial menu UI is a little confused. The difference between Scenario and Campaign not being overly clear at first. Scenario being more the sandbox experience and Campaign the more mission target level design. That said true Sandbox is an extra tick box away as each of the Scenario’s, maps, have their own start date and game ending requirements.

There’s also a pretty mean challenge jump. After the first couple of Campaigns the game pushes you you juggle more factors with each level. Likewise moving up from Easy in Scenario mode quickly pushes the aggression of any computer controlled players and asks you to manage the cargo runs more closely. For me this is a game that just cries out for the player to experiment around the wide breadth of wordwide maps in Easy Scenario mode.

5/5

Jetpac

This game has a very special place in my heart. It’s probably not the very first video game I ever played, there are a couple of other good contenders for that (Galaxian, Breakout, Cruising On Broadway) but it is definitely up there. Like Cruising this was one of the very few games my Dad actually took an active interest in. It was among the three or four cassettes with a 16K Sinclair ZX Spectrum given to us by our next door neighbour when I was 9.

It was also the game that showed the most longevity and was the highest quality in visual appeal and gameplay. Other games, like Throu’ The Wall (Breakout) and Cruising On Broadway were very simple line drawn and blocky graphics reminiscent of an unknown previous era. Jetpac was a fall on arcade quality game (though I’d never seen or heard of what an arcade might be back then).

The reason for Jetpac’s high production values comes from the writers Tim and Chris Stamper. The brothers wrote the games and run the company behind the then popular Ultimate Play The Game label which later went on to produce very high quality games under the RARE label for several Nintendo consoles. Jetpac’s arcade values wasn’t by chance, Tim and Chris actually got their start porting arcade games from NTSC to PAL. Converting games from the likes of Konami and Sega gave them the grounding needed for a certain production quality that they brought to all of their ZX Spectrum games.

During a time many commercial games where being written in BASIC, Jetpac was an early poster child for pure Machine Code programming. The detail of the sprites, the use of the Spectrums colour palate and attribute system, and the speed of fluidity of the animations showed a game that could have happily succeeded next to the likes of Galaxian, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong in the arcades.

You play the eponymous Jetman character and must guide him around a simple single screen with three platforms. Your task is to build your spaceship and refuel it before taking off from the planet. While doing this you’ll be under constant attack from the locals that you’ll need to fend of the locals with your lazer fire.

The size of this game compared to anything else at the time is breath taking. There are 16 whole distinct levels before the game wrap rounds and starts again. Every fourth level (1,5,9,13) have a new spaceship design for you to build. And there are 8 different alien designs that repeat (1-8,9-16), so you need to make it back round to level 17 before you see the same spaceship and alien combination.

How they got all of this in just 16K of RAM is mind boggling. And it’s a great game to boot. At no time does the gameplay suffer for high quality of the graphics and animation. If there’s a complaint it’ that there really is only one level design, but since you have four different ship designs and each of the 8 aliens have their own unique attack patterns it really doesn’t matter. Each level has it’s own unique feel regardless.

The Stampers captured that important – just one more go – magic of the early arcades. The need to see what’s next and set the new high score.

5/5

Resogun

Save all the humans! For the first two or three years, while the gaming community awaited Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War, there was a running joke of this being the best game on the PlayStation 4 platform. While not really true the tongue in cheek humour does betray how good this reimagining of the 80’s classic Defender arcade really is.

I first come across Defender in the mid-90’s although I didn’t realise exactly what it was at the time. Public Domain libraries were a really big thing on the Amiga and it was common to send off a few Pounds in Postal Orders and get some high quality software through the post. There was a series of games disks called The Assassin’s collection and it was on one of those I got one of my favourite games – Oblivion, a spot on Defender clone.

Resogun was a launch title for the PS4, alongside Assassin’s Creed IV, so it was an important and much played title when the console first came out.

Housemarque did quite a bit more than merely remake a beloved arcade classic. They totally modernised and updated the experience for the modern era. If seaside arcades where still destination locations for the latest gaming experiences then this is exactly the type of game you’d want to play there. It’s a very pure arcade experience.

The game is a twin-stick shooter with your left-analogue stick controlling the player ship flying around a circular/donut hub planet, and the right-analogue stick controlling the direction of fire. If you’ve played any big 80’s shooter like R-Type, Scramble, Gradius or Xenon 2, then you’ll know what to expect with waves of enemy aliens spawning and flying around the screen in tight attack patterns while you dodge their hellfire of bullet storm and pick them off.

While all this is going on you need to protect the humans from being picked of. Those that are released from their boxes need picking up and carrying to safety before the enemies can abduct them and carry them off screen. Much like the original Defender. It’s this combination of classic Defender saving the humans and their take on how that games play area also rotated around, mixed with a modern update of the twin stick firing system and a more traditional SHEMUP waves of alien attack that comes together to produce a modern day classic.

The game also really shows off the power of this new generation of games machine. There’s a lot happening on screen, the (3D model) sprite count seems insane. And as the bullets hit the particle physics is just plane bonkers. You’d expect lesser machines to slow to a pedestrian crawl with all this happening at once, the PS4 merrily continues on at a leisurely 60fps.

And the new speaker built in to the Dual Shock 4 controller is amazing. It really pulls you into the action hearing constant action updates being given in this way. It’s a real shame more games never utilised the speaker to enhance the overall atmosphere. Even on the more modern Series X the speaker is something noticeably missing from the XBox platform that really should have become an industry standard by now.

5/5

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

The game to buy (I bought) a PS4 for! Often wonder about peoples eye-sights when they talk about “diminishing returns” when talking about video game graphics. Coming from The Last Of Us and Grand Theft Auto V on the PlayStation 3 this was amazing, the cost of a brand new generation games console and a suitable plasma 1080p television to go with being more than worth entry fee for experiencing this Assassin’s Creed in name only in it’s best available rendition.

It’s possibly the least “Assassin’s Creed” of the franchise and widely regarded as the pinnacle entry. You play Edward Kenway, a pirate and accidental assassin roaming the waters of the Caribbean Sea. It’s the full on pirate life of plunder and the whole sailing experience marks the cornerstone the rest of the game is built around. So much could have gone wrong, especially with the combat, but Ubisoft truly aced it here.

Navel combat is a treat. Simple enough to grasp and get the hang of, but complex enough for skill, options and strategy to come to the fore. Circle your quarry trading cannon fire until you have them by the gang plank. Once you’ve hammered them to submission it’s time to swing over and board their vessel taking for your fleet or repairs to your own Jackdaw (name of your pirate ship).

On land this is pretty much regular Assassin’s Creed fare with the standard range of targets, synchronisation towers, loot boxes, and tailing missions. What’s cool is the seamless transitions from ship to shore. For the size of the map and the number of islands to discover it’s a wonder how you are almost never barred by artificial barriers (only used for current mission ringfencing reasons) and won’t see any obvious loading screens or transitions.

Black Flag is a huge open world experience that is just plain fun to play. This is the game where you want to go off story and just bum about with the side stuff, and there’s plenty of it. The variety of island locations really helps keep the necessary cookie cutter nature of the activities fresh. It’s fun to sail between islands, pick off a few ships, and then disembark to liberate another plantation or solve a Mayan puzzle before jumping aboard ship and setting off for the next dot on a map.

I last played this game about a year or so back. On that playthrough I was mostly running fast through the story missions. This left me with a somewhat underpowered ship at the start of the final mission. I quit the game there rather than grind out the necessary upgrades. This time I loaded up that old game save and had a whale of a time grinding through a few fortress take overs, assassination missions and general pirating to gain the money needed to refit the Jackdaw and finally complete the game (again).

On a side not this does show the importance of reliable game save backup’s availability. I’d switched from my old PlayStation 4 (where I was playing the last story run) to a new PlayStation 4 Pro (where I enjoyably grinded to the ending). This, for me, vindicates my choice of XBox Series X over PlayStation 5 for the next generation. While both consoles now force you to use their own cloud servers for backing up game saves, at least on XBox it’s a free service (PS5 requiring a Plus subscription).

5/5

Hitman: Blood Money

The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. This was to be an XBox 360 version review but alas I’ve been defeated by modernity! A modern TV and an ‘E’ version of the console do not make a good combination for one of the very few early 360 titles that struggle to auto-switch into PAL60 mode over HDMI. It’s an annoyance rather than an issue. Easily fixable with the right cable (not to hand) but anyway the game is on the Series X backwards compatibility list so there’s a better long term solution. Anyway I actually completed the game last on the PlayStation 2 around a year a go so I feel safe going off that playthrough and a YouTube 360 walkthrough as a memory refresher.

I actually first played this game back around 2012/3 time when I first got back into videogaming as a hobby. The Hitman Trilogy on the original XBox were part of a key group of games I was playing and discovering retroactively on that system. It’s one of the games that showed me what I had been missing out on a decade earlier. All three games are among the best gaming experiences on offer and Blood Money, the third game, is the absolute pinnacle of that era.

While there is a story being played out through intermission cutscenes, something about the CIA trying to hunt down 47, but honestly I’ve always found the back story best ignored in these games. Just give me a target list and let me loose!

And this is were, frankly, all the Hitman games excel. You are given a pretty wide openworld sandbox to explore and reek whatever mayhem takes your fancy. You play follicly challenged Agent 47, an assassin for higher. Played in the third person you are given one or more targets and objectives to complete and are left to get on with it.

Here is were the real genius of the series comes in. There’s no right or wrong way to play, no correct answer. Every level, every kill, every target, has multiple options for you to discover in completing the mission. The fun of the game is in the trial and error. Watch timings of this NPC, try that disguise, experiment with a kill style. Doesn’t go the way you plan? reload a previous save point and try again, alter your tactics slightly. And once you’ve completed any level go back, replay, and try a different assassination method.

You can go in guns blazing and clear out every level pretty quickly using a machine gun and rapid fire – but were is the fun in that? The first game wasn’t called Stealth Assassin for nothing. A lot of the game is about waiting, hiding, sneaking, getting the right disguise, getting in to position, creating an accident, administering some poison, garrotting, or pushing over a ledge.

Every level is Blood Money is well designed, huge in scale, and almost always very rememberable years after playing. Flock of Birds with the unique carnival costumes and impressive NPC density, the maze of Curtains Down, rolling down the Mississippi on a steam liner.

Finally, based of some YouTube footage and a year old memory from the PS2 version, I’d say the 360 does have a noticeable graphical uplift over the two previous generation consoles. Much as you’d expect. It is the exact same game in every detail, you’re not really gaining anything material, but the resolution is noticeably sharper, the environments seem a little more detailed and the lighting is improved.

5/5

Tomb Raider

Going back 25 years later and there’s a lot not to like about this seminal classic. Being the first of its kind there’s a lot of rough edges that stand out today in a way they didn’t way back then. For this reason we need to take care how we judge games like this. It is an early PlayStation 1 classic and everything that goes with that after all.

Importantly Tomb Raider really was the first of its kind and set the ground work for everything that has come since. 3D games existed way back before the early ZX Spectrum days. Machines like the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC where pioneering this kind of solid 3D rendering in the mid-late 80’s. But it’s very difficult to think of another game that offered this kind of third person action-adventure platforming prior. A couple of contemporaries, Die Hard Trilogy and Fade To Black, come close but it was Tomb Raider that defined the language of 3D third person gameplay that game makers would spend the PlayStation 2 era perfecting.

In Tomb Raider you play Indiana Jones-like adventurer Lara Croft on a mission to locate the missing pieces of the Scion. A quest taking you to fully realised 3D worlds set in caves and tombs around Puru, Greece, Egypt and Atlantis. The majority of the gameplay involves platforming climbing, swimming and leaver pulling to solve a variety of puzzles impeding your progress. This is interspersed with a touch of quick gunfire to ward of dangerous critters and the old rival adventurer.

Looking back from a modern perspective the low screen resolution, minimal texture detail and flat 2D sprites in place of 3D objects do stand out but all were incredibly impressive to gamers at the time coming from, at best, flat shaded 3D models on earlier 16-bit machines.

Likeways the tank controls can be a trial. Being used to modern dual analogue thumb controls with control over camera positioning. Tomb Raider hails from an era where the venerable D-pad was the only option. Still once you get used to the controller layout it is an incredibly responsive and fluid game to play.

One area where Tom Raider really excels over modern games is in it’s level and puzzle design. It’s the Goldilocks design of puzzle platforming. Modern games tend to be a little to hand-holdy. Earlier puzzle platformers could be a little obtuse in their solutions (get jerry can and take to Fred fill with spring water before pouring on magic bean to grow beanstalk to climb!?!). Tomb Raiders puzzles revolve mostly around finding the platform path, pulling the right leavers, and locating fairly obvious keys.

All in all the game still stands up. It’s a little clunky today but once you get used to the controls the revolution gameplay design shines through and remains every bit as enjoyable and challenging as when it first hit the shelves.

5/5

Spectrum Cross

Another classic staple of the Arcade scene expertly brought to the home TV screen. Frogger follows in the steps of Pong, Breakout, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man in providing unique, simple, addictive gameplay. All you need to do is guide the frog across the road and in to one of the free home squares at the top of the screen.

Spectrum Cross is not on only an unofficial port from the Arcade but a magazine type-in listing written in BASIC. Even so the few issue that arise because of this are entirely forgivable because the resulting game is a nigh perfect port. The frog flashes a little too much, the movement is a tad slow, as is user input in the game loop, but nothing to a point were the game is broken.

Graphically the game looks very good when looking at what was being sold commercially just a year or two earlier, even the original official Frogger, on machines like the Atari 2600. The programmer making very good use of the Spectrums bright colour palette and higher screen resolution.

5/5

Tennis

There’s at least one older video game (Space War) and certainly a fair few older computer games (OXO and Nim simulations dating back to the 1950’s) but this, Pong, is widely considered the grandaddy of modern video gaming. The game itself has its roots in an early proto-home console released in 1972 called the Magnavox Odyssey and developed by Ralph Bear during the late 1960’s. The Tennis game on the Odyssey (not quite Pong) was seen by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell who later, as the story goes, described it to Atari engineer Al Alcorn as a learning project. Al’s resulting game, Pong, was considered so good it was released as Atari’s first official arcade cabinet in 1972.

Home versions of Pong have their roots around 1974 in popular electronics magazines giving circuit diagrams for make your own systems to circumvent Atari’s pricy arcade licensing. Following lawsuits between Magnavox and Atari, and the development of silicon chip technologies, the Pong craze exploded between 1975 and 1977 with thousands of companies get in on the act. Most of which were built around General Instruments AY-3-8500 series ‘Pong-on-a-chip’.

That’s the history, but what of the game. Well, it is, was, and remains a classic for a reason. It’s not so much it being the first but how it’s shear simplicity fully and perfectly encapsulates everything it is to be a video game. Every video game since, at it’s core, has been trying to dial into to that inherent gameplay addiction that was perfected here.

The game it self is a very rudimentary visualisation of Tennis. A player bat on either side of the screen and a (square) ball bouncing between them. Your task as a gamer is merely to return the shot and maintain the volley. Miss the ball and your opponent scores a point. First to 15 wins.

Ultimately, one you master the analogue movement of the controls (just up and down), get two good players together who can maintain a some good volleying and the result is still some of the best and most addictive gameplay you’re likely to experience anywhere. It’s just pure fun.

5/5