Opening song to the Amiga ‘s “The Halley Project: A Mission in Our Solar System”

My long search is finally over.

Ever since Amiga emulation became a real possibility, I have been trying to find a certain game or program that had a particular opening song that I remembered from back when I heard it over at my friend’s house.  All I remember is that it was from Mindscapeand we had no idea what they were singing except that it sounded somewhat like “Mindscape in the Amiga… ohhhhh”.

When browsing a list of Amiga titles today, one Mindscape title caught my eye.  I vaguely remember the title in question having something to do with space, and the name “The Halley Project – A Mission In Our Solar System” sounded about right.  And after fiddling with getting an Amiga emulator to work correctly for a little while, I finally saw the Mindscape logo come up… a moving starfield appeared… the opening text zoomed in… and the song that I remember played.

Success.

And I still can’t tell what they’re singing.  Still sounds like “Mindscape in the Amiga” to me.

Rampart (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Day for 31 May, 2016

Honestly, it doesn’t get better than this.

A game of strategy, quick building, and combat, Rampart was a very odd arcade game when it came out, but I quickly grew to love the odd ones.  The quick, mindless action of many arcade games wasn’t found here.  Instead, you placed cannons inside your castle ramparts to attack enemies coming at you, take their fire, and use various given pieces to rebuild your castle and possibly try to gain another castle to attack from in the process.

These were the kinds of arcade games back in the retro days of gaming that would suck me in more than most others — the ones barely touched back in the dark corners of the arcade, while others would play the flashy, more accessible games.  Rampart probably helped kindle my love of more complex and thoughtful strategy games, such as Civilization, and was a ton of fun in its own right.

Sadly, emulation if Rampart isn’t perfect due to its need of a trackball for quick, accurate placement of the pieces needed to quickly rebuild your castle walls; given that there’s some odd “bumping” along the grid you place them in, it seems more finicky and inaccurate using a mouse than it did using the trackball in the original game for some reason.  I tried playing with sensitivity settings with the mouse, but nothing really seemed to feel like using the trackball did.  Maybe it’s just me, or I just couldn’t get the settings right, or something.  Still, I would love to hunt down an original Rampart cabinet and give it a try again, given that most of the problems I had playing the game in the video above was due to struggling with piece placement.

Crystal Castles (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Day for 30 May, 2016

A game I haven’t played in a very long time, Crystal Castles was a trackball-controlled arcade game with a jump button that allows Bentley Bear to move around a series of castles to collect all the gems.  And while you do lose a bit of what the trackball brings to this game using a mouse via emulation (of course, ideally, you’d have an actual trackball), it’s still a pretty good representation of the game I remember.

The game plays a bit like any maze chase game, requiring the protagonist of the game to collect a bunch of gems scattered around a level that is viewed from a skewed angle to allow the viewing of several elevated (by stairs and by elevators) platforms.  Enemies that basically follow you go around and can collect the gems as well, and if they collect the final gem, the level ends as usual but without a level completion bonus.  Each level contains either a hat which makes Bentley invincible for a time or a honey pot that delays the appearance of a swarm of bees.

It’s a pretty fun little game that again takes an established game genre and adds new wrinkles to it to keep it fresh.  Certainly a difference from today’s Generic First Person Shooter That Is Exactly The Same As Every Other Except Here’s A Slightly Different Scenario.  Sheesh.

 

Ninja Gaiden (NES) is the Retro Game of the Day for 29 May, 2016

The NES had some pretty technically difficult games, such as Castlevania and Contra.  But none frustrated so many, so much, as a game that was remade and remade just as difficult in the new gaming era, Ninja Gaiden.

I’ve never played the new series, but I would hope that it, like the old version, treats death as a fair but omnipresent thing that makes the players feel like they are the one to blame, and not something inherent in the game itself that makes it unfair.  Unfortunately, so many newer games take the difficulty down this road, and I just want people and game developers to play old NES games where the difficulty was so crazy and yet so fair that people not only got mad for losing so much, they were mad at themselves.

But Ninja Gaiden did bring in the mid-level cinematic story sequences that plague games these days; fortunately, they are only mid-level, they aren’t necessary for the enjoyment of the game itself, and you can skip them.  Still, this is one of the games I do blame for planting those seeds, and as much as I enjoy the game itself, it is sad that it may have partially caused the situation we’re in today.

Still, absolutely a great game and one worth playing.  The above video was done with no practice time so I’m pretty horrible at everything, but honestly, even with practice I probably wouldn’t have done much better…

 

Mad Planets (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Day for 28 May, 2016

Sometimes I remember games I played back when I was a teenager that I think was probably just a crazy dream and they didn’t really exist anywhere but in my mind.  Oddly enough, thanks to emulation and the internet, I can prove to myself that they do, in fact, exist.

Mad Planets is one of those games, and oddly enough, Wikipedia doesn’t even have an article about the game.  It’s a pretty simple free-moving space shooter game with a metallic thumping (sometimes annoying) soundtrack that has you destroying developing planets before they become full planets with attacking moons, and then when you destroy their moons, they become the eponymous “mad planets”.  Yes, this is actually what the game was about.  You also had to watch for wandering comets attacking you and pick up lost spacemen for bonus points.

Yes, this game was quite bizarre.  Thus why I believed it only existed in my crazy head, but it, in fact, did actually exist.  And I remembered it being pretty fun, and strangely enough, it held up pretty well — I just played it a few times and found myself having a good time dodging and blasting things, though the thumping electric soundtrack was sort of jarring.

Goes to show you that even crazy games that sounded too strange to exist from the most obscure corners of 80s gaming still blows away anything today.

Tutankham (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Day for 27 May, 2016

A little known gem that is part maze chase, part shooter, Tutankham has a grave-robbing explorer braving mazes of tombs trying to find various treasures while evading a host of mean little creatures out to end his life.  He can defend himself with a laser and a screen clearing “flash bomb”, but the laser only fires left and right.  The goal on each level is to collect enough keys to open the final chamber and retrieve the level’s treasure, but only one key can be carried at a time so you have to backtrack through the maze if there is more than one lock.

Sure, the gameplay seems limiting, but this creates a real challenge for players, as many times the game is a test of patience and endurance to find openings in waves of enemies to proceed to a new safe spot.  It is this sort of limiting play that creates such a great game, something lost on many games that try to do too much and end up harming basic gameplay.

There has been stories told about the game’s title that it was shortened from the full name of Tutankhamen, the pharaoh the game was name after, but the full name was too long for the arcade cabinet.  There has been no indication of whether this is actually true or not, but it’s such a widely circulated story that its truth is uncertain.  I honestly believe that if they wanted to shorten it, they would have just called it King Tut or something similar and that Tutankham was a deliberate naming choice, but I could be wrong.

Kung Fu (NES) is the Retro Game of the Day for 26 May, 2016

Just a quick one today, an NES game that is very difficult to master and yet so fun to play.  Horizontally scrolling beat-em-up that features a bunch of enemies thrown at you that you have to deftly avoid while still avoiding others also still coming at you.  Trying to avoid the knife-throwing guy?  Watch out for the short guy that can jump onto your head coming from the other direction.

I never completed this game, but I’ve come close, and honestly, it just keeps getting meaner and meaner while still being very fair and making you feel like a moron for messing up.  Mark of a good game, vs. modern games where all you do is curse the game itself for being evil.

 

Missile Command (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Day for 25 May, 2016

It was the 1980s, and the Cold War was still going on.  The United States and Russia (the USSR) had nuclear missiles pointed at each other, and we were all afraid of that day that the news told us to kiss our butts goodbye when those nukes finally got launched.

It never happened, of course, given that the fact that we’re all still here and our countries are not a nuclear post-apocalyptic wasteland.  But it seemed nearly a foregone conclusion at the time, at least if popular culture was to be believed.  We were, according to our culture at the time, one failed negotiation or one misunderstanding away from nuclear annihilation.

So let’s make a videogame about it, because why not.

Missile Command was you against nuclear missiles, represented by simple descending line strokes created by a single point heading towards a line of cities you must protect with three bunkers filled with defensive missiles that will knock out the warheads.  If one of the nuclear missiles hits your bunker, you lose the missiles in that bunker for the rest of the round (you had three buttons to select which bunker you wanted to fire from); if one hit a city, you lost that city (you can score enough points to gain one back at a time, sort of like getting extra lives in other games).  Lose all your cities, and it’s game over.  Helping the enemy attackers are ships that fly across and can launch additional missiles, and other types of attacks such as one that can evade your defensive missiles.  Helping is the fact that the explosion of enemy attacks can cause a chain reaction to destroy other enemy attacks, making positioning of your defensive explosions critical.

The game is really fun to play, even back when it seemed like the “game over” scenario might be all too real.  What is missing in most emulation setups these days is the large-ish trackball controls that allow quick and precise movement of the targeting cursor; a mouse, however, is a very acceptable substitute, making the game very much playable with any decent computer emulation configuration.

And heck, if the young John Conner could play it in the movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day when faced with the very real and seemingly unavoidable situation of being wiped out by a nuclear attack, it has to be good, right?

Tecmo Bowl (NES) is the Retro Game of the Day for 24 May, 2016

Though I’m not a huge fan of American Football (or “handegg”, as I like to call it, because you mostly don’t use your feet to manipulate the ball, and the “ball” looks more like an egg), you have to love oversimplified, arcadey versions of sports games (see also: NBA Jam).  Tecmo Bowl is one of the few American Football games I enjoy exactly because of this simplification to the point of it being just a pure game without all of the strange rules (onside kicks?  really?) and head trauma of the real thing.

And also, you get to hear the game say “Hut” over and over and over… and over… and over… and over…

Archon (Commodore 64) is the Retro Game of the Day for 23 May, 2016

Years before Battle Chess gave us baked in battle animations to liven up a game of chess, Archon: The Light and the Dark gave us a true battle chess variant that featured all sorts of fantasy creatures on a chess-like board where squares shift between light and dark, giving creatures of that alignment bonuses in an actual battle that you get to control to gain victory over a contested square.  In other words, just because you attack a square, unlike chess, it doesn’t mean you are going to win it — you will have to fight for it with abilities unique to whatever character you control.  Some use melee attacks, some area of effect attacks, and many use ranged attacks, be it magical or weapon-based.  Each side also has a spellcaster that is able to cast various spells that affect the game, such as summoning a temporary creature to fight for them and resurrecting a defeated creature. Victory comes whenever you completely wipe out the other side or gain control of all five power points, one on each side taken by each side’s spellcaster and three in the middle column.

It’s not only a very fun board game but a very fun action game as well, given that it takes more than strategy to win the game, but good reflexes as well.  It also helps knowing which pieces attack which way and which enemies they are best at defeating — a creature with an area-based attack may be able to easily defeat melee characters, but might have more of a problem against ranged attacks where they can be baited into attacking and are vulnerable for a short time to the other player (each attack has a short cooldown before that attack can be done again).

A fairly decent update, Archon Classic, is available on Steam, and does fairly well at imitating the original, but if you need a true Archon fix, fire up the Commodore 64 and fight.