Switchblade: exploring the caves

Switchblade was always touted as one of the great games on the GX4000, using the power of the console over the standard CPC version and benefiting from instant loading.  Given the size of the map, that's not surprising; the disk version certainly seems to chug regularly.  Despite having owned it for many years, I've never given it a proper go beyond making sure that the cartridge worked.  Over the Christmas holidays I had some time to rectify that.


The first thing I was surprised about was the accuracy of controls. When playing many 8-bit games, there's a noticeable lag in inputs, and games are often designed to allow for this.  Some games did this better than others - Titus the Fox, for example, allowed a bit of leeway in jumping.  That's not the case here, but the response to inputs is instant, making you feel much more in control.


The second thing I noticed, after playing for a while, is how complex the game is.  It's packed with puzzles, in terms of finding new rooms, finding ways to attack enemies without taking damage, and exploration.  I originally thought that the fact that enemies can't attack you while you're standing on a crate was a limitation of the game, but in many cases it's the very basis of the puzzle.

That's not to say that the game isn't an action-based title.  I've not completed it yet, because the five lives you start with don't last long when you're being attacked.  I shall try again, though - each time I play I get a bit further.  I may need map paper soon though ...

Meanwhile, I loaded up an emulator to take some screenshots, and took the opportunity to compare the GX4000 game to the CPC version.  As I said above, the disk version seems to chug a bit more, which may be loading, but the main difference is the visuals.  Look at them, it's an astounding change.



(GX4000 is the top, standard CPC is the bottom.)

Switchblade: exploring the caves

Switchblade was always touted as one of the great games on the GX4000, using the power of the console over the standard CPC version and benefiting from instant loading.  Given the size of the map, that's not surprising; the disk version certainly seems to chug regularly.  Despite having owned it for many years, I've never given it a proper go beyond making sure that the cartridge worked.  Over the Christmas holidays I had some time to rectify that.


The first thing I was surprised about was the accuracy of controls. When playing many 8-bit games, there's a noticeable lag in inputs, and games are often designed to allow for this.  Some games did this better than others - Titus the Fox, for example, allowed a bit of leeway in jumping.  That's not the case here, but the response to inputs is instant, making you feel much more in control.


The second thing I noticed, after playing for a while, is how complex the game is.  It's packed with puzzles, in terms of finding new rooms, finding ways to attack enemies without taking damage, and exploration.  I originally thought that the fact that enemies can't attack you while you're standing on a crate was a limitation of the game, but in many cases it's the very basis of the puzzle.

That's not to say that the game isn't an action-based title.  I've not completed it yet, because the five lives you start with don't last long when you're being attacked.  I shall try again, though - each time I play I get a bit further.  I may need map paper soon though ...

Meanwhile, I loaded up an emulator to take some screenshots, and took the opportunity to compare the GX4000 game to the CPC version.  As I said above, the disk version seems to chug a bit more, which may be loading, but the main difference is the visuals.  Look at them, it's an astounding change.



(GX4000 is the top, standard CPC is the bottom.)

PLAY Margate 2015

This weekend I went to PLAY Margate, a games exhibition which is the little brother to equivalents in Manchester and Blackpool.  It was great; many different types of games all set up to be played with, random competitions, themed areas, and stalls selling stuff.  Obviously I didn't buy anything - cough - but I played plenty.

Chuckie Egg - BBC Model B

Justine's favourite game of all time, and it would have probably been great if I could find the key to go up ladders.  The joystick didn't work; I worked out that the keys V and N moved left and right, and the space bar jumped.  But standing in front of a ladder, I tried every key and none of them made me climb.   In desperation I tried every key on the keyboard, including the Break key which obviously quit the game.  I had to quickly search on the Internet how to restart it ...


Head over Heels - CPC 664

A game I've never given enough time to, but will certainly be doing so in the near future.  I started from the very beginning and realised that without graph paper I wasn't going to make a dent on the game.

Manic Miner - Spectrum

I've always found it overrated, but that might be because I didn't play it at the time and only experience it after being used to the platforming on consoles.  Fixed jumping paths and overly tight timing isn't a huge amount of fun.

Mine Storm - Vectrex

I've never played on a Vectrex, and was very pleasantly surprised with this.  Graphically it looks fantastic, and the way the game expands on the Asteroids template by introducing enemies that move towards you, fire back, or move quickly around the screen.  The controls were very tight indeed, and I managed to reach the fourth level before losing my first - and indeed my last - life.



PGR4 - Xbox 360

They had a competition for the best time around a certain circuit.  I only managed to get within 5 seconds of the winning time - I need more practice!

Hang On - Master System

Talking of competitions, there was a more formal competition where you had to record high scores for three different games.  Hang On was the first; I'd been playing the 3DS version a few days before so thought I would do OK but the Master System game just felt all wrong and as a result my scores weren't great.  I still got 28th highest score of the weekend, though!


Kung Fu Master - NES

Kung Fu Master was the second game, which I did rather better on despite never having played before - 6th highest of the weekend, and setting a high score on the machine I was using.  It's a relatively simplistic game, but I quickly worked out that punching an enemy gives 200 points while kicking gives only 100 - so I was able to work through levels building up points quickly.

Pop n Pop - PlayStation

Again, I'd never played this but quickly got the idea.  Challenge mode sees you working on two sides of the screen simultaneously, firing balloons upwards to form groups of three or more.  It took a little while but I soon worked out how to set up combos, which gave many more points and extended my playtime.  In the end I came 8th on the leaderboards.

Sonic the Hedgehog - Master System

I played through the Green Hill Zone mainly to amuse a couple of toddlers who were watching, managing to get through without dying.  Some people say that this game is better than the Mega Drive games; they are wrong.  It's still good though.



Sonic & Knuckles - Mega Drive

As part of the same display as the MS game, they had Sonic 2, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic Adventure, Sonic and the Secret Rings, and Sonic Generations - representing the evolution of Sonic.   It's quite telling that the later games - other than Generations - were being less played.  I had a quick blast through the Sandopolis Zone, which is where the previous player had left off, and was reminded how much fun it was. I may need to go and play the Xbox 360 versions some more.

Street Fighter Alpha - Saturn

Similar to Sonic, there was a display showing the evolution of Street Fighter.  They didn't have a version of the original game on display, starting with SFII on the SNES, but I chose to try Alpha, a game I've not played before.  Initially I tried to play as Final Fight's Guy, before realising I didn't know any of his special moves and losing in the second fight.  I then tried Ken, and fought through four fights, before losing when the computer used the special gauge which is something I've never quite worked out.

Crazy Kong - C64

A hilarious rip-off on Donkey Kong, which basically changed the layout of some of the levels and made everything brown.  That latter bit may have been the C64 though.

Micro Machines 2 - Mega Drive

A couple of games against three random opponents in the multiplayer arena.  I won two and lost one, which felt like an achievement given that I had no idea of the courses before racing.

Defender - Arcade

I'm not sure I've played this before, actually - it was more complex than I was expecting. I'm sure I've played something very similar but without the humans to rescue, and given that that is a central mechanic, it must have been a different game.  Anyway, I played through a few levels of this before dying.

Crazy Taxi - Dreamcast

I got an A licence!  Mainly because I did a drift into a wall and sat there racking up points for 30 seconds, half way through my run.  It's amazing how much of the map I can remember, and despite the joypad having seen better days I managed a few limit cuts on the way down the hill.

Samba de Amigo - Wii

The music in the hall was too loud to be able to play this properly (or Donkey Konga, which kept hearing the clap sounds constantly), but I can't understand why they were showing the worst version of this.  Why not the arcade game, or the Dreamcast version?  And why has this never been released for Playstation Move?

Tomb Raider II - Playstation

A few minutes of exploring Venice, which took me back to the Christmas when I got my Playstation. I still prefer TRII to the first game, even if the rest of the world is the other way around.

Super Mario Kart - SNES

I still prefer later games to this.  Mario Kart 8 is just so much better.  They actually had quite a few of these in a display, but I've played the others to death and have them all at home anyway.


Random shooter game - 3DO

An illustration of how far first person shooters have become.  I have no idea what this game was, and searching for screenshots has turned up nothing. 


It was just a bit dull.

Pong - Binatone

A game against a random man.  We were both hopeless and unable to control the bat.


Arkanoid - Arcade

And another game I was hopeless at, having lost my ability to control with a paddle wheel.  After losing the first game very quickly, I lasted a bit longer on my second attempt and even got onto the high score table.  The last position, but still.

PLAY Margate 2015

This weekend I went to PLAY Margate, a games exhibition which is the little brother to equivalents in Manchester and Blackpool.  It was great; many different types of games all set up to be played with, random competitions, themed areas, and stalls selling stuff.  Obviously I didn't buy anything - cough - but I played plenty.

Chuckie Egg - BBC Model B

Justine's favourite game of all time, and it would have probably been great if I could find the key to go up ladders.  The joystick didn't work; I worked out that the keys V and N moved left and right, and the space bar jumped.  But standing in front of a ladder, I tried every key and none of them made me climb.   In desperation I tried every key on the keyboard, including the Break key which obviously quit the game.  I had to quickly search on the Internet how to restart it ...


Head over Heels - CPC 664

A game I've never given enough time to, but will certainly be doing so in the near future.  I started from the very beginning and realised that without graph paper I wasn't going to make a dent on the game.

Manic Miner - Spectrum

I've always found it overrated, but that might be because I didn't play it at the time and only experience it after being used to the platforming on consoles.  Fixed jumping paths and overly tight timing isn't a huge amount of fun.

Mine Storm - Vectrex

I've never played on a Vectrex, and was very pleasantly surprised with this.  Graphically it looks fantastic, and the way the game expands on the Asteroids template by introducing enemies that move towards you, fire back, or move quickly around the screen.  The controls were very tight indeed, and I managed to reach the fourth level before losing my first - and indeed my last - life.



PGR4 - Xbox 360

They had a competition for the best time around a certain circuit.  I only managed to get within 5 seconds of the winning time - I need more practice!

Hang On - Master System

Talking of competitions, there was a more formal competition where you had to record high scores for three different games.  Hang On was the first; I'd been playing the 3DS version a few days before so thought I would do OK but the Master System game just felt all wrong and as a result my scores weren't great.  I still got 28th highest score of the weekend, though!


Kung Fu Master - NES

Kung Fu Master was the second game, which I did rather better on despite never having played before - 6th highest of the weekend, and setting a high score on the machine I was using.  It's a relatively simplistic game, but I quickly worked out that punching an enemy gives 200 points while kicking gives only 100 - so I was able to work through levels building up points quickly.

Pop n Pop - PlayStation

Again, I'd never played this but quickly got the idea.  Challenge mode sees you working on two sides of the screen simultaneously, firing balloons upwards to form groups of three or more.  It took a little while but I soon worked out how to set up combos, which gave many more points and extended my playtime.  In the end I came 8th on the leaderboards.

Sonic the Hedgehog - Master System

I played through the Green Hill Zone mainly to amuse a couple of toddlers who were watching, managing to get through without dying.  Some people say that this game is better than the Mega Drive games; they are wrong.  It's still good though.



Sonic & Knuckles - Mega Drive

As part of the same display as the MS game, they had Sonic 2, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic Adventure, Sonic and the Secret Rings, and Sonic Generations - representing the evolution of Sonic.   It's quite telling that the later games - other than Generations - were being less played.  I had a quick blast through the Sandopolis Zone, which is where the previous player had left off, and was reminded how much fun it was. I may need to go and play the Xbox 360 versions some more.

Street Fighter Alpha - Saturn

Similar to Sonic, there was a display showing the evolution of Street Fighter.  They didn't have a version of the original game on display, starting with SFII on the SNES, but I chose to try Alpha, a game I've not played before.  Initially I tried to play as Final Fight's Guy, before realising I didn't know any of his special moves and losing in the second fight.  I then tried Ken, and fought through four fights, before losing when the computer used the special gauge which is something I've never quite worked out.

Crazy Kong - C64

A hilarious rip-off on Donkey Kong, which basically changed the layout of some of the levels and made everything brown.  That latter bit may have been the C64 though.

Micro Machines 2 - Mega Drive

A couple of games against three random opponents in the multiplayer arena.  I won two and lost one, which felt like an achievement given that I had no idea of the courses before racing.

Defender - Arcade

I'm not sure I've played this before, actually - it was more complex than I was expecting. I'm sure I've played something very similar but without the humans to rescue, and given that that is a central mechanic, it must have been a different game.  Anyway, I played through a few levels of this before dying.

Crazy Taxi - Dreamcast

I got an A licence!  Mainly because I did a drift into a wall and sat there racking up points for 30 seconds, half way through my run.  It's amazing how much of the map I can remember, and despite the joypad having seen better days I managed a few limit cuts on the way down the hill.

Samba de Amigo - Wii

The music in the hall was too loud to be able to play this properly (or Donkey Konga, which kept hearing the clap sounds constantly), but I can't understand why they were showing the worst version of this.  Why not the arcade game, or the Dreamcast version?  And why has this never been released for Playstation Move?

Tomb Raider II - Playstation

A few minutes of exploring Venice, which took me back to the Christmas when I got my Playstation. I still prefer TRII to the first game, even if the rest of the world is the other way around.

Super Mario Kart - SNES

I still prefer later games to this.  Mario Kart 8 is just so much better.  They actually had quite a few of these in a display, but I've played the others to death and have them all at home anyway.


Random shooter game - 3DO

An illustration of how far first person shooters have become.  I have no idea what this game was, and searching for screenshots has turned up nothing. 


It was just a bit dull.

Pong - Binatone

A game against a random man.  We were both hopeless and unable to control the bat.


Arkanoid - Arcade

And another game I was hopeless at, having lost my ability to control with a paddle wheel.  After losing the first game very quickly, I lasted a bit longer on my second attempt and even got onto the high score table.  The last position, but still.

Crazy Golf: crazy as in idiotic

When looking back at the 8-bit consoles, there is a natural tendency to think of them as home to many stone-cold classics, games that stand the test of time and are replayable even now, after countless refinements to gameplay have been developed.  What we don't tend to remember is the dross that got pumped out.  Dross like Crazy Golf.



Golf is a precision sport, and it's important that you can easily judge angles and distances.  But this is crazy golf, so let's stick it in Mode 0 where the pixels are rectangles, not squares, and even better let's make it so you can only hit the ball at twelve predetermined angles.  Oh, but let's make sure the angle the ball travels at isn't actually the same as the indicator used to aim.



This is the second hole.  It took me ages to get here, mainly because of an inability to work out the controls.  It turns out that despite pressing space on the title screen, in-game the only keys which do anything are the cursor keys for aiming and power, Q for quitting to the title screen, and space skips to the next hole.  On WinAPE, the emulator I used, you need to enable a virtual joystick, turning Num Lock off on the PC keyboard, and use the 5 on the keypad as a fire button.

Having finally worked this out, the first hole was cleared using a sort of 'maximum power and hope' strategy.  It was a number of straight vertical walls, and the ball bounced around like a mad thing before finally entering the hole, just one over par.

So, the second hole.  No matter what angle I hit the ball at, it kept going back to the start (which was just below the aiming indicator top-left). I had to reduce power a lot and inch the ball down bit by bit.  It took a while to work out that the power works on the number of pixels, and so you need twice as much power to go down the screen as you do to go across it.

I finally got around the bottom, and over to the right of the screen.  Amazing I was able to bounce straight through the pink wall at the bottom, but ended up along the top.


Now, what do you think would happen if I fired off a shot now?  Oh, note that the indicator is showing the direction the club comes from, not the way the ball goes.  I know, that got me as well.  You'd expect it to bounce off the lower green wall, up to the upper green wall, and then back.  But, oh no.  Angled walls don't affect the ball.  It bounces straight back along the same path.  It's basically reacting to the pixel it hits, not the slope of the wall. That doesn't matter on this stage so much because obviously (almost) all the 45-degree angles come in pairs.  But ...


This stage is begging you to start off by bouncing the ball straight down and off that angled wall at the bottom left.  If you do that, the ball goes straight back up!  You actually have to bounce the ball off the left wall yourself, then slowly along the bottom until you get to the bottom-right corner.  And then it's just a case of hitting it up the passageway, bouncing it off the flat wall, and up to the flag.

Oh, no.  The angle of the passageway does not correspond to an angle that you can set the ball at - neither in terms of the indicator at the top right, or the path which the ball goes along (did I mention that they're not the same?)  That wouldn't be a problem if the ball could bounce off the walls on the way up, but remember that the angle it bounces off is due to the pixel sides, not the overall wall, so you are likely to see the ball bouncing backwards down the path.

But look at the screenshot again.  Not only have I managed to get the ball to bounce backwards off one wall, it's gone straight through another into an area with no gap to escape.  I had to fire off random shots for five minutes until the ball glitched through a different wall; which of course was the bottom side of the triangle, meaning I had to work my way up around the path again.

But all that effort was worthwhile.



Because I was tired of being able to see colours and was looking for a solution to make me blind.  I mean, what is this meant to be?  It's actually a far easier hole than the last one, because all the angles are straight, but of course it's still a nightmare due to the use of Mode 0.


And then you come to this.  Again, the angle of the walls isn't matched by a shot angle, so you have the pain of getting the ball down to the bottom and ten through that tiny gap where the green and red walls join.  Remember that the top-right angled wall won't bounce your ball towards the flag as you go up.  After dealing with the horrendous comb at the bottom and the tiny gap, you have to make it through a set of pixels which are pretty much random, and of ocurse affect your ball in random ways, until you get to the flag.

There are more, but they don't get any better.  The entire game is an exercise in frustration, mostly cased by the limited number of angles your ball can travel at.  This is all the more frustrating because the Amstrad is capable of so much more; even in BASIC I wrote a program a few years ago which drew a ball moving at a defined angle, and then bouncing off walls and even being affected by gravity spots on the screen.  Had it even just been in Mode 1, everything would have been much better defined, easier to calculate, and probably less garish.

Seymour: Take One: completed!

I'm pretty sure I completed this at the time, back in 1991, but I couldn't remember it and felt it was the perfect test for installing a CPC emulator.  It doesn't take long to play through, after all.


The secretary being called Pippa still amuses me.



It took me a couple of attempts to complete the game because the timing of the last sequence is trial and error (spoilers: you need to load the film into the camera, tie Faye down, then start the train, run to start the camera, run back and cut the rope, then run back to the camera before you get squished).  But complete it I did, without abusing save states!

Gaming moments: G

Gauntlet (CPC)

Andrew and I realised that as long as we could keep one of us alive at any one time, we could have effectively infinite lives, moving through levels forever.  We played for about five hours until Death attacked us both at the same time and we both died.  We both stared at the screen for a good minute then shouted "bastard!" together.

Geometry Wars Galaxies (DS)

One of the later levels had a stupidly high score for the silver medal, and enemies spawned all around my ship constantly. I seem to recall the level was shaped like a star. I finally beat it, sitting on the train, hiding in one of the points of the star and setting the drone to be a turret rather than my usual bait type.  I almost missed my stop.

Grand Theft Auto (PS)

I vividly remember completing the Liberty City missions, not knowing that there were two more worlds to unlock.  I also remember the soundtrack with the lyric "Grand Theft Auto" in one of the songs, which I thought was incredibly clever the first time I heard it.