Activision by P.A.W. Software (Tony Adams, Tony R. Porter)
As a 19th century scientist from a H. G. Wells novel, blending with a fantasy tale from Tolkien and such, you built a peculiar machine that somehow allows you to enter another dimension, where you ride through mazes of caves riddled with the most fantastic creatures, but not of the friendly kind. Anyway, your thirst of knowledge pushes you into exploring the caves and learn all their secrets - and you discover you can pick up coloured balls, mostly yellow or golden, which gives you some kind of energy. Some researchers think you simply turned into Pac Man. But there are no ghosts here, only Trolls, Rotoflies, Biter Birds and a HUGE DRAGON GUARDING THE EXIT OF THE CAVE. To defeat the latter, you have first to shoot some fireballs at the other creatures, until you have collected three jewels, which will disintegrate the invisible barrier protecting the dragon. Then you'll have to face the dragon in a furious duel. If you win, you'll reach the next level, more tortuous, more crowded and with new creatures. You ride your interdimensional machine from a subjective point of view, with a panel with various indicators occupying the lowest quarter of the screen. Graphics are black and white, except for the fireballs. The sprites of the creature are big and well drawn, blocky but in a nice way, and the caverns flow smoothly around you. Playability is very high, and you'll need to draw or check a map to really find your way through the mazes. I don't find it much addictive, but overall is an excellent game, technically irreproachable. Very nice three channel tune in the 128k version.
Let's entartain ourselves with this seasonal game, although the title gets me very confused about the season it's about. Anyway, today is Christmas and this is the only official commercial release with a Christmas theme from 1986. You're Santa Claus and you must deliver the presents. You start in your white grotto, as a funny shaped black sprite, you switch a lever, you pick up a gift, and you throw yourself onto some rooftops [no flying reindeers and sleigh, this time], where you turn white against the black night. Now you can wander in domestic environments searching for a sock to insert the gift in, avoiding dogs and objects, leaping all around, accompanied by an obsessive and clumsy jingle that stops only to make room for a sound effect or two. I delivered a present at the bottom of an occupied bed, and then I descended into the floor underneath because I wasn't able to go back to the rooftop, and from there to my grotto, which seems to be somewhere in the sky, in order to take another packet. Down there, once turned cyan against a blue background, I met an insomniac aunt or some acid spinster, which killed me again and again - and that's how I spent my Christmas. Whoever in 1986 received this remarkable budget game as a gift, must have passed a very memorable Christmas day, in a sense. But you're still in time to experience the thrill today. Play it now.
Alligata Software by Richard Stevenson, Nigel Speight, David Wright
At first glance, Loco looks like another adaptation of the Moon Patrol coin op, that saw so many unofficial conversions on the Spectrum, but it's got its own specifc features and differences. First of all, you control an old locomotive moving around along a close railway, and you must complete 5 "laps" to reach the next level. Furthermore, you can't accelerate or decelerate, but only switch track, when there's a chance to do it [keys for up ordown] - which will allow you to restore your fuel level, passing over certain spots of the track. These spots are invisibile on the main section of the screen, as the points where you can change track, for there is another section which shows the map of the railroad from above, and it even works as a radar. In fact, the problem in succeed in your task is the presence of bomb dropping planes and carts running at full speed against you: luckily you can defend yourself by blowing steam against the planes and their bombs, and shooting at the carts. It may sound simple, but checking at the same time the map/radar for fuel and enemies, the main section of the screen to shoot at the right time at simultaneous attacks coming from ahead and from above, and the side bar visualizing the fuel level, requires a certain coordination. It's a repetitive and simple game, but quite playable, and nicely humble - a limited but decent budget game from Alligata.
Interceptor Micro's by David M. Banner, Terry Greer
I've always found the apocalyptic situation inviting and desirable, especially the looting aspect of it: during the confusion and the chaos I could have assaulted a shop of Spectrum stuff. And After Shock would have been one of the games I'd grab. It's a catastrophist adventure game set in California - I think - where an earthquake, probably the Big One, has just hit. As if that wasn't enough, Fukushima-style, in the outskirts of your town there's a nuclear reactor too, damaged by the sismic event and hence ready to cause more destruction. Accidentally, you're one of the engineers that designed the reactor, and so you take it on yourself to reach the place, repair the damage and avert the danger. Here's where the first problem arises, you're at your office, in a high building on fire, stairs blocked by the flames and out of order elevators. How are you going to get out? It's an intriguing start, as the whole concept and adventure. Unluckily, you're probably going to get already stuck here, the parser seems to be slightly limited on the synonyms side, while at the same time, it requires articulated sentences with prepositions and specific terms to get past some crucial points.
If you manage to get out of the building, anyway, you can wander among the ruins and visit the local zoo too, and find many items, some of which are just random objects littered around by the disaster, and not really helpful or necessary to solve the game. If you manage to go past the pile of rubble you'll even learn that the looter's life is not much fun, when you meet troops deployed to defend the rich block. And that if you meet a gang of looters you'd better make them think that you're one of them. So, it's an intriguing adventure, with nice and vaguely literary descriptions, splendid pictures [albeit rare], but a bit too much frustrating, for this reviewer.
Ariolasoft UK by Orpheus Ltd (Andy Green, Jeff Philips, Stuart J. Ruecroft)
It's your run of the mill maze game with radioactive leaks. You're a walking and floating robot that must collect dozen of parts of a circuit that will help stop the leak, or something like that. You have a laser too, plus a very limited amount of grenades and a couple of other weapons, for the tougher droids. There are teleportation booths to reach new areas and try to complete the puzzle of circuit fragments. The game is very playable, graphics are nice, and your character is well animated. It's quite easy and not very challenging, so, lacking in variety too, can get boring very fast. It's a decent effort, anyway.
A four pocketed arcade/adventure by the author of Riddler's Den, in which you leap from room to room in the shape of a toad looking for a princess to have tadpoles with, and to feel like the charming prince you know you really are (in your dreams). Lots of items to be picked up and used in the right place and in the right way, a fastidious insect trying to drain your energy and appearing in every single screen, other quaint and lethal characters blocking various entrances or trying to steal from you: there's a lot of things to keep you occupied for a while, I even checked the animated walkthrough in the RZX Archive YT channel, and it's 37 minutes long. Only, I've no intentions to face the game again. It's frustrating and annoying. The worst feature is surely the triple exits idea: sometimes to access another room you have to choose one of three exits, two/thirds of which randomly hide lethal scorpions who will exterminate all your five lives. Not particularly enjoyable. You can, anyway, understand what's the safe exit by examining the environment: there's always a detail of the background, like the conformation of a rock, that enables you to identify the harmless passage. Besides that, I don't think the collision detection is very good, and you often have to struggle to find the right position allowing you to perform a simple task like picking up an object. The graphics are ok, although the animation is rather jerky and not very rich of frames. Every creatures seems to be pulsating as if affected by fits, spasms, retchings or some syndrome. The sound is a tendentially abominable amount of buzzes. Although in 1986 it's got decent reviews in the mags, unluckily Toadrunner is nothing to write pond about.
Thor Computer Software by Colin Grunes, Stuart James Fotheringham, Steve Parys, Barry Leitch
This is a typical case of as-a-budget-it-would-have-been-pretty-good. I.C.U.P.S., in fact, would have been a deluxe budget with its superb graphics, beautiful shadings and colours, perfectly drawn sprites, and very nice multi-channel music, but as a game, and moreover as a full price game, seems to be the scientific result of a Frankenstein operation: the union of two unfinished games in the attempt to create a whole one. The first is a sort of Spy Hunter set in space, you drive a spacecraft in a cosmic highway and you have to destroy or dodge other flying vehicles trying to crush you or shoot you. It's not bad. Once survived three sections of that, you gain access to the second, which is a very minor Nodes of Yesod style game [actually programmed by the same people of Odin Software], in which you, as a droid with vague insect-like appearance and motion, explore a starship walking and flying around flip-screens, in order to locate four bombs. There are 64 rooms only and they are all the same and slightly empty, although splendidy designed. It was quite easy finishing it, once discovered how to get the bombs. So, wonderful aesthetics thanks to Stuart James Fotheringham, but not much else - surely a disappointment for Odin fans, as Hypaball this same year but unlike Heartland.
Tantalus is a colourful maze game in which you explore a huge set of alien infested flip-screens while desperately looking for a gameplay. Paul Hargreaves seems to be a great programmer, but a poor game designer. The movement of the sprites is amazingly smooth, the graphics are flashy and psychedelics, your manoeuvrability is excellent, everything looks good and works fine: it's like a beautiful and bright palace with nothing inside. The programmer worked on the size and on the extras of the game, producing a 1000 screens maze [or at least that's what we can read in the mags], five or six different kind shootings for you character, more than 40 different aliens moving in 16 different patterns, but forgot about the substance: so the dynamic of the gameplay is reduced to an endless wandering in very similar rooms, chased by aliens, in a map so huge that it's very rare to find the elements that would allow you to end the game [32 locks to be destroyed to reach and kill a hidden deviant]. In other words, it's almost like opening a series of boxes without ever finding a content. In fact, it's so dull that this review has become a whiny bore. So, anyway, thanks to the technical prowess in display, the smoothness of it all, and the superficial playability, overall it's a
A leaping cute little thing solving puzzles in a 3D environment annoyed by silly aliens that enjoy sitting on his head, in a nutshell, that's what Kirel is. The aim is to pick up the bomb and get to the door to the next level before it explodes, so your mind has to race against time trying to find the best and shortest way to achieve your task. It's, in fact, as usuale, easier to say than to do, and the screens are increasingly tricky, the 3D perspective will hide things from your eyes, but you can change it pressing 1, 2, 3 and you must learn the nature and the use of the objects that you will find. For example, the aliens, which drain your energy when they climb on your head, can be defeated using nothing but pieces of cake, you start with a good amount of them, but soon you will have to pick more of them. But your main and fundamental skill is picking up slabs of the irregular and orographic "chessboard" you're playing on, and repositioning it elsewhere, in order to reach secluded spots, or reach some item. The break key will be very helpful too: it freezes the game and removes the obstacles that are hiding your sprite and/or important objects, so that you can understand where you are and where you must go. Another great feature I've discovered reading a review or two [distractedly, I didn't notice the instructions for Kirel in the WoS archive] is the possibility of building a bridge between two equally tall points by simply pressing B [I've found the key at the first attempt, I can proudly claim], which can save a lot of time. It's a really different isometric 3D game, with almost no animation, just puzzles in single screen levels and no exploration at all, and it's very original and addictive indeed: a fabulous and neglected little game from 1986.
Electric Dreams by The RamJam Corporation (Simon Dunstan)
I sang in my mind The Kinks' omonimous song for all the time I've been playing Dandy, which luckily distracted me from the strident sound effects of the game - but it doesn't matter: a game awarded with a Your Sinclair Megagame, a Sinclair User Classic, a C+VG Hit! and with general very good ratings and reviews must be excellent! Well, not really. I think it's just good, maybe very good, and far from being the best Gauntlet inspired effort. It's playable as much as monotonous and lacking variety. Destroying a whole army of [creepy, well-animated, disquieting] spiders and, returning back to the same room, find it all again alive and ready to kill you is a bit tiring and demoralizing. Although, to be fair, there are a few spells scattered around which help to improve the flow of the action, and in some rooms you can destroy the lair of the spiders - chests full of bones - making them disappear forever. Still, I'm not captivated, engaged or intrigued. Nice and colourful backgrounds, sprites are often a bit confusing though. P.s. you can trade the treasures for energy.