Calling All Gamers!!!

!!! I’m aware I only have about twelve readers (which is a shame because I always assumed there were more sadists in the world), and that most of you come here for my movie reviews (you should really have a hunt around at my other posts – music, TV – they’re all hilarious!) but sometimes I have the odd post about videogames. Most of my posts tend to be on the retro side, due to the following reasons – first, when a new game is released, every chump with a blog is talking about it and I have this thing about doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing, and second, I tend not to buy games as soon as they’re released anyway. With two kids and a wife and a job and a cat and a garden and various secret lives to consider, my gaming time is limited, meaning I watch the odd bit of Youtube coverage to scratch my bitch (itch). From comedy diversions such as Vanoss and his crew, to ma boi Dashie’s skits, scares, and screams, to watching all those city building games I’d love to have, it’s sometimes how I get to sleep. Wouldn’t it be great though if there were a dedicated videogame show on Youtube – one which scratches multiple itches (bitches) and caters towards my sense of humour and style of gaming? Yes…. that would be wonderful.

Enter Digitiser The Show? What is this, you may ask. It is thus, I may say. I will say it and it is thus – the brain child of one Paul Rose, aka Mr Biffo, aka, the finest videogame journo type boyo in the world. If you live anywhere outside of the UK you likely won’t know him, or his most famous previous work – Digitser. Back in the early Nineties, long before we had dial-up screeching through our phones, us pasty British and Irish types had a thing on our TVs called Teletext. BBC had Ceefax, ITV and Channel 4 had Teletext (Channel 5 had Shannon Tweed, but that’s another story). Both were essentially regularly ‘loading’ magazine pages – there were news and sports sections, holiday sections, TV guides etc. My dad especially loved the business and shares section where he would sit patiently, cracking walnuts, while page 16 of 42 rolled around so that he could see if his ‘footsy’ had gone ‘up a shilling’… I still don’t understand any of that stuff.

As has become the lore of many a thirty something Brit, a pre and indeed post school ritual was to check Digitiser for our daily Mario and Sonic info squirts. It was a videogame magazine consisting of news, reviews, charts, characters, and funnies. Ooh the characters and funnies. It was the world’s only daily gaming magazine, but it was written with an often bizarre humour which quickly enamoured readers into a cult following. A letters page helped this underground movement of weirdos to spread and soon Digitiser had an average daily readership of loads. For ten years it blazed a trail which many have emulated so varying degrees of success and copycatism. In 2003 it all ended – I was in the middle of University and failing to blaze my own trail, so it seemed fitting that all good things were coming to an end.

You can’t keep a good thing down (unless it’s pavlova – I could keep a whole one down every day) and Digitiser made a triumphant return online a few years ago. You can find it here – I implore you all to read, for non-biased gaming banter at its finest. While Biffo looks at everything from gaming ‘politics’ issues to the biggest triple ooh title, to the littlest Indie nips, he also indulges in a few helpings of retro pie. With twenty years of experience of writing on the subject, his knowledge is wide and it’s immediately clear he has a love for playing and talking about this lowliest form of entertainment. What I’m saying is that if you love gaming, you’ll enjoy Digitiser. If you enjoy humour in the vein of Reeves and Mortimer, Harry Hill, Monty Python, non-sequiturs, farce, and general nonsense, then you’ll love it.

While I would love it if his readership increased, and I hope he gets some new fans due to people stumbling on this post, what I really wanted to highlight was that Biffo has a Kickstarter set up for arguably the best thing ever. Yes, you guessed it, Biffo has taken it upon himself to create Digitiser The Show – an online series featuring some of your favourite gaming peeps – Biffo himself and a variety of his famous characters, Larry Bundy Jr, Ashens, Violet Berlin, Gameplay Jenny etc. In fact, do yourself a pleasure and read all about it in his own words at this link. The short version is that he wants to resurrect a gaming show similar to the good ones we used to have – Gamesmaster, Bad Influence, but that it will primarily deal with retro games. He has described it as like Top Gear but with games instead of cars and Clarksons. If this doesn’t sound like it’s right up your orifice, then I want nothing to do with you. If you’re intrigued, why not visit the Kickstarter page or the Digitiser2000 site and read some of his work. Even if you don’t like it… wouldn’t it be nice to have a professional, mid budget dedicated games show on Youtube? Shouldn’t we be supporting the things we love? While neither me, nor he, are begging for donations, it would be great if anyone reading this hops on over and gives some of their ill-gained moneys for the cause. The Digi shop has lots of cool stuff too (I’m writing this while wearing my Digi Sgt Pepper’s shirt), and there are a load of perks for getting involved. Any support, even if it’s just becoming a reader, would be great.

Two final spurts before I’m done; last year Biffo created another online series – not really related to gaming, but worth a watch for any fans of the aforementioned comedians – you can find Found Footage online here – you’ll get an idea of the talent involved, the cameos, and the content, though I imagine the complete buck nuts Biffo humour will be diluted, for lack of a better term, on the gaming show. Biffo raised over three times the amount he needed for his first goal within 24 hours, so it is happening – how much of it actually happens could be DOWN TO YOU! I think we all want to see a goujon being launched into Space, don’t we? Enjoy this launch trailer too. Ahoy!

 

Gauntlet – Retro Games

Greetings, Glancers! Yikes, it has been a while since my last retro gaming post, so why not take this opportunity to go a hells of a long way back and revisit the first entry in a longstanding and beloved series.

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Gauntlet began its life in 1985 as a hit Arcade machine. Created by Atari, and inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, this version was quickly ported to home computers, saw an expanded version with over 500 additional levels (!), and has since been re-released as recently as 2014 on Windows. The game is a top-down dungeon crawler pitting you and up to three mates against hundreds of thousands of bad guys. It mixes action, shooting, puzzle, RPG, and even a bit of survival horror, has a great soundtrack with iconic music and effects, and is played at a frantic pace. Many, if not most games from that era have dated, but while the graphics are exactly what you would expect the gameplay is still fantastic – that timeless blend of running and shooting has rarely been so perfect.

These hack’n’slash games were a dime a dozen (or ‘five lighters for a pound’ if you’re from Northern Ireland) at the time, and I had a bunch of clones and imitators at the time which ranged wildly in quality. Gauntlet had everything I needed in a game at that age – from the difficulty to the gameplay, the fact that I could play it alone or with my brother, and the fact that once you got past a certain level things began generating randomly. As a kid I loved mazes, exploration, and the idea of roaming around dungeons, fighting for you life and finding precious treasure. Movies like The Goonies, The Indiana Jones series, all those Harryhausen movies, and all the Greek and Roman myths and legends books I read all helped, but actually having control over a hero and getting thrown into the action yourself was something entirely different. Naturally, me and my school mates would spend many a lost afternoon and evening roaming the streets and fields pretending we were explorers and warriors.

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Instead of what we became

My experience of multi-player gaming was limited at the time – games were either challenge based where you took turns to get the highest score, or played in direct competition with each other. This, I think, was my first experience of working as part of a team towards a common goal. Naturally this common goal business was rarely mutually agreed, which led to fights between my brother and I almost every time we played, with someone accidentally picking up the wrong item or getting stranded behind a wall of sixty ghosts. Several times there was a last ditch communication breakdown as we frantically tried to escape with our lives, only for one of us to enter an exit without waiting for the other, or we both entered different exits (I think). Game Over. Shouts and fights. These multiplayer missions lasted for hours, and in those days there was no simple save or pause option – when you played, you played knowing that as soon as dinner or bed time came it was Game Over. We never did manage to complete it.

You see, there was one level. One level which I’ve tried to find online in Youtube videos and by googling, but one level which we could never get past. This level was basically a series of steps  – imagine viewing a long standard staircase from the side – filled with the standard series of enemies, and a few of those morph exit dealies which transferred you from one part of the level to the next. Whenever you entered one of those though, you simply got taken to another staircase and your health continued its unceasing march towards zero. We could just never work out what needed to be done, even though we could actually see the exit – there was no way to break through the wall to reach the section that the exit was on, and none of the morph transporters ever took us to that area. Still, it was great fun to play, and hope that one day that level would be skipped or we’d somehow work it out. (Note – I have since learned that there was a cheat which allowed you to walk through walls, one that was even published in Issues of Your Sinclair. So… so many hours in the bin).

But lets take a step back. When you start Gauntlet, you are hit with a character select screen, and a choice of four heroes; Thor, a Warrior – armed with sword and muscles – he is the strongest character; Questor, an Elf seemingly destined to spend his life in dungeons with a name like that – armed with a bow and arrow – the fastest character, who also looks like a cowboy; a Valkyrie whose name we could never quite work out due to pixels – she had the best defence; and Merlin – a tramp (Wizard). He was good at chucking magic. In two player we were almost always Thor and Questor, not that that helped us when it came to the stair level.

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Why can’t I be the freak in the middle?

From there, you go through the usual control scheme screen and into the first 8 levels. I still have every inch of those opening levels burned into my brain due to playing them so many times. As mentioned, I loved the fact that the levels were not all linear, and even in these opening stages there were multiple exits – some which took you to the next level, some which skipped you forward a few. Level 1 introduced you to ghost enemies and the little (what I always thought of as) fireplaces which they sprouted from. Actually no, the fireplaces were treasure chests, the bad guys came out of a bunch of bones. The enemies would keep coming unless you destroyed that source, although they only popped out at a rate of 1 every couple of seconds so it wasn’t a big deal once you had cleared the majority away. The main problem was of course that the majority was often around a hundred – even in the first level you are hit with seemingly overwhelming odds – it was like Zulu without the patriotism (racism?). Luckily you soon realise that most enemies can be defeated with a single hit or shot, and that clearing a path and then running was often a better tactic than simply blowing them all away. The enemy AI was basic, but perfect – if they saw you they would attack with no thought of their own mortality, going straight for your nuts without asking or waiting for consent.

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‘Play with us’

Here is a brief rundown of the enemies. The most common are ghosts – just like real life. They flap around, move slowly, and don’t do a lot of damage, and are only  problem due to their sheer numbers. Next up are the grunts – muscular purple freaks with no joints who strut around trying to fist you (matron), and these are followed by pigbats, or batpigs. I’m sure there is an actual name for them, but mine is better. These things are like something from Doom and then spit fire or acid or some unholy combination of both in your general direction. These bastards are annoying because they have a great aim, know how to ‘corner shoot’ (if you aim through the corner of a wall your weapon can fire through the wall) so even when you’re running away or on another screen you’re never safe.

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Ghosts, pigbats, snotballs

There are purple bearded wizard types, I was never really sure what they did aside from corner you and try to walk through you, there are cute little green children who  each have one engorged arm, and who lob snot bubbles at you accompanied by a cute noise – I love those guys. One enemy I do not love, in fact one I absolutely hate is the appropriately named Death. These hooded, transparent, Terminator fuckers will wipe you out in a matter of seconds even if you have 2000 health, and if you get a couple of them chasing you you’ll barely have time to crap your pants before they use your soul as a dildo. They charge you down, hand outstretched, and they move faster than any other enemy, reacting instantaneously to your ever move. Oh, and you can’t kill them! At least not with your standard weapon. Yes, the only way to kill these screeching harpies is to use one of your precious room clearing potions, and even then it’s touch and go.

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Their motto could be ‘Touch (you) and (watch you die) go’

That takes us nicely on to the additional items you can use. The aforementioned potions come in a variety of colours and flavours – some which rid the screen entirely of enemies, others which give you a boost of strength or health, and some which poison you. You see, your health is on a counter, always counting down, so you need regular health fixes to stop you from hitting the dirt and becoming entombed with a bunch of overly familiar demons. The best way to get a big boost of health is from the giant slabs of cartoon ham strewn carelessly throughout each stage, though you can also get a small upgrade by chomping on one of the bottles of moonshine you’ll find – beware, some of these are poison. It was difficult to tell back in the day as we’re not talking even 8bit quality games here and certainly not HD TVs – if it said OXO it was good, if it said XXX it was deadly (and of course we called the deadly one ‘AIDS’). The best item though either made you invincible or invisible for a while, I can’t remember which, but it was ultra rare and looked like a flaccid yellow penis host to a bewildered face.

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Most accurate. Description. Ever.

The final item to mention is a holdover from the Arcade days – treasure! Getting treasure racks up points, killing and blowing shit up racks up points, walking racks up points. POINTS! I never cared about points, or beating my best score etc in games, which is why stuff like achievements nowadays just pisses me off. I want to play for fun, to complete the game, to finish the story, or to get out of the world and my head for a few hours. i don’t care about points. The game featured randomly generated (I think) treasure rooms where you could romp around and collect as much treasure as you wanted – pointless for me, but still a fun and brief distraction from the carnage of every other level. For the Spectrum version, I recall the treasure rooms were the only levels to actually feature music, a bleepy bloppy tune which sped up as your time ran out (the main gauntlet theme played briefly between levels). These levels were basic mazes with multiple exits so you could leave straight away without picking up any loot. In fact, the level design throughout the game is impressive – some are truly puzzling, with locked doors and red herrings, multiple keys unlocking multiple routes – in fact I think some levels were entirely made up of exits – surely a ‘lets see if we can get away with this shit’ by the Devs. It’s just one of the charming and quirky things which made the title work so well and carve a niche in my memory.

You know, I never played any of the sequels to Gauntlet, and I’m not sure why. Obviously we never bought them, but none of my mates had them either. I never loved another dungeon crawler as much as this until the DOS Hero Quest came along, a game I’ll probably cover here one day too. As always, let me know in the comments if you ever played Gauntlet in any of its forms, or any of the sequels. And of course, be sure to check the links below for more information on the game, including how to download for yourself. It’s great.

Gauntlet at Worldofspectrum.org

Lets Play video

Retro Games – ISS Deluxe!

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Football games – a staple of home and arcade games machines for as long as man or machine can remember, they have been an endless source of fun and vitriol for me since my Spectrum days. While I played a good many football games before getting a SNES, they mostly paled in comparison to that fateful day when International Superstar Soccer Deluxe arrived in the Nightman household. At this point, the only true multiplayer experiences I had had in my own house were on Super Mario Kart and Super Bomberman – both classics, and when ISS joined the drawer of games in my brother’s bedroom we had a new King.

There’s a strong case for ISS Deluxe being the best football game ever – sure it didn’t have real player names, and it obviously cannot compete with the graphics and sheer amount of options we have in the likes of Pro Ev and Fifa today, but for pure, terrifying enjoyment there is none better. With some ultra smooth, balanced gameplay, it was and is still a delight to play, without getting bogged down by all the realism and extras of today’s versions.

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As with all my gaming posts, this is part review, part personal recollection – more of why I liked it rather than why it is actually good. This was one of the many SNES games that I had immense fun playing by myself on, as well as with others and therefore have plenty of fond memories. To start with some review-ish comments, the game (as the title suggests) only features international teams meaning there was no local or national team rivalry when playing. When you’re young though you’ll find anything to be rivals over, such as who gets the pound coin from Granda, or who gets the five twenty pence pieces. I can’t recall how many teams were actually in the game, but it was at least 16 (probably more than 30), and featured all the main European and South American giants, along withe counties from Asia, Africa, and unlockable All Star teams. The teams did not feature real player names, due to licensing issue, but thanks to how much I played this game versus how much international football I watched I was probably more familiar with the invented player names than the real ones. Thanks to some graphical flourishes though, you could tell quite clearly who certain players were – Roberto Baggio had a ponytail, Ruud Gullit had a massive mop of dark weaving hair, while Chris Waddle had the uncanny ability to sky rocket every penalty.

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Boutros

Before you started your game there were a wealth of options, and before you got near those you even had a nifty title sequence followed by the eternal battle cry of ‘International, Superstar Soccer – DELUXE!’ On the main menu you had a variety of game modes – one off friendly match, short league, short cup, World Cup, World Series (ahem), penalties, training, and the ever popular Scenarios mode which saw you having to meet some explicit challenge such as winning a game with only a minute remaining and being a goal behind, to beating a vastly superior team with a vastly inferior team. These were a great, addictive extra, but I never could beat them all.

Penalties mode is as you would expect, while Training allowed you to hone your skills in peace. All of this was set to some funky, jazzy, and hyper-infectious music which I’m humming out loud as I type. The meat of the game of course comes in the actual competitions, and in these you had a wealth of options I had certainly not experienced before – kit types, weather types, night versus day, stadiums to choose from, how long you wanted games to be, and even changing the skills of the team and the keeper. Before starting any game you could choose your Keeper skill out of a range of 10, from essentially a man with no limbs in goals, up to essentially a brick wall. This led to many multiplayer moments of hilarious treachery as you would switch your opponent’s keeper skill down to one when they weren’t looking and laugh as every shot you hit went sailing into the net as they screamed on helplessly confused. The outfield players skills and fitness were displayed neatly as smiling faces – pink and smiling meant they were on fire, while sagging and purple meant they were at death’s door – again you could customize these to your liking. The honest way to play in the player versus computer tournaments was of course to cope with what you were given – if your best player was purple, you had to choose to risk playing him, or dropping him for some reject on the bench who never normally got a 90 minutes.

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Your typical one-sided affair

The graphics in the game are as bright and crisp as you would expect for a SNES game, but it really shines in the little details, such as player animations, and amount of stuff happening on screen. You could have multiple players on the screen, the handy map running at the bottom, rain booming down, and there would never be a drop in rate or change in how smooth the play was. Players and their kits were instantly recognizable, and there was a large selection of hilarious animations to wade through, from goal celebrations (including the Klinsman) to tackles, step overs, headers, and shrugging innocently to the crowd after being booked for snapping someone’s legs. Tackling was one of the most fun parts of the game, made even more fun by the (under-used nowadays) shoulder charge. Sometimes you would get so infuriated by your opponent, especially if they were cackling in the room beside you, as the somehow dodged every tackle and scored every goal that you would spent an entire half shoulder charging around the screen in an attempt to injure as many of their players as possible. This led, not only to a multitude of bookings and sendings-off, but also the immortal ‘DIRTY PLAY, REF!’ as you knocked someone to the ground and got away with it. Off the ball shoulder charging was great fun, and you would not be caught for doing it. Now that I mention it, you could also choose from three referees, one strict, one lenient, and one Collina. No matter who was there, I tended to get red cards more often than not for my exuberant 100 hard dash followed by elbow in the face on screen antics.

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Wasn’t me, ref

One other fun thing to do was slide tackle the goalie when they had the ball in their hands. This also tended to lead to an immediate red card, but sometimes you could get away with it which was always hilarious. In my house the SNES belonged to my older brother and at weekends he would sometimes have friends round to play Bomberman, ISS, and Mario Kart, and I would get brought into the action. This of course meant 4 player tournaments, and the dreaded two versus two, or two versus 1 player games. I think in all the games we ever played against my brother, we never beat him in a 2 versus 1. I still have nightmares about coming so close to victory one or two times, only for some mishap to defeat us. My brother’s friend Keith and I would team up. I was okay at the game, not as good as my brother, while Keith was worse than me, but for some reason we thought 2 was better than 1. I still remember leading one game 1-0 with seconds to go on the clock when Keith dove in with a Dirty Play Ref and gave away a penalty. 1-1. Into injury time I had a chance and smashed the ball from all of 40 yards into the cross-bar. This somehow fell to my brother on the wing and he was able to dance his way past every challenge, glide into my box and slip it past the keeper 1-2. Final whistle. Some things are best left in the past.

Having friends round for a 10-9 Friday night thriller was always excellent entertainment, but when I played on my own my list-keeping self would always come out. I would set up my own extended super-leagues, and keep a pen and pencil record of goals scored and best performances by my beloved Brazil. I probably still have pages and pages stored of results and goals by Allejo, Gomez, Santoz, and all of my other ISS heroes. This was before I had any management sim – I would run a tight ship based on who made mistakes in my games versus who scored a glorious last minute winner. While I always played as Brazil my brother was occasionally England, but mostly Holland -led by the dreaded Van Wijk. The computer had five levels of difficulty, and each one seemed nicely weighted with 1 being exceedingly easy, and 5 being pant-fillingly brutal, but all the more satisfying to slaughter.

Scoring goals in the game was perfection, from leaping headers, to hoofing one into the top corner from just inside the halfway line. Free-kicks were difficult to score, but not impossible, while hat tricks were common place. If you did score a hat trick you would get a bonus animation shown on the stadium screen. Likewise, if you came from behind to lead you would get a further stadium screen animation. It’s these little touches that felt beautiful and helped you rub the shattered remains of your best friend’s dignity into their stinking faces. The commentary was good fun too, and would pervade my every day speech, from ‘IT’S A BIIIG KICK’ to ‘NO FOUL?’ It was all charming and effective, and didn’t distract. Some of the controls would occasionally distract, like when you were trying to get the ball off an opponent and repeatedly hitting the tackle button, sometimes they would lose the ball by mistake and your tackle suddenly turned into a massive ‘boot the ball out of play’ as you couldn’t cancel the action. It all added to the fun though. Adding to the fun too was the good old ‘turn the referee’ into a dog cheat – pointless, but pretty funny.

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ISS Deluxe is an immortal watershed in football games. It must be one of the few sports titles that truly stands the test of time, over 20 years after its release, and a reminder of a time when Konami was king. Did you have the game? What are your cherished memories of it, or are there moments you have tried to forget? Let us know in the comments!

Satoru Iwata – December 6, 1959 – July 11, 2015

As the gaming world becomes increasingly focused on budget and meeting releases over delivering quality, of AAA titles which feel more like interactive movies than games, of graphics over playability, of churning out yearly rehashes of the same hit formula rather than innovation, of alpha white male chauvinism and ignorance over fun, it seems like the directors and figureheads of the world’s biggest companies are looking more like Gordon Gekko, or your boss, or walking Platinum cards, than actual people with a love for entertainment. Satoru Iwata always looked like he was having fun, whether it was talking about numbers and sales figures, or unveiling a new piece of software or hardware, he looked like he relished every moment and genuinely loved the Business. The outpouring of grief and gratitude over the past week has shown the wider world that gaming isn’t all about sales, money, trolls, and young white men blowing stuff up, but that it can be about people seeing their dreams realised, and creating a brighter and better world for the rest of us.

Iwata was first and foremost a gamer, with a love of playing and creating fun experiences which anyone should be able to enjoy. Instrumental in the creation of such hits as Balloon Fight, Earthbound, Kirby, and Pokemon before he even joined Nintendo. Within two years of joining Nintendo he became the company’s first President outside of the Yamauchi family and dedicated himself to delivering new and unique experiences which other companies could not provide, leading to the creation of both the DS and Wii family of consoles. Whatever your stance on where Iwata led Nintendo in the past decade, they have nevertheless been successful and continued to release some stellar games. Dying as he started preparations to lead Nintendo into more uncharted territory, we can only hope that those who take over his position strive to fulfill his legacy, and dream that others can strive to be as dedicated a leader as he was without forgetting why they work in gaming – to make great games.

RIP

Feel free to share your thoughts and memories of Satoru Iwata in the comments below.

Retro Gaming – Daley Thompson’s Supertest

Although I am loath to begin any discussion with a story about young boys and masturbation, I understand that there is no other possible way to begin this review. You see, for all men (and ladies) out there of a certain age, you will remember the joys of the stick; to be specific, the joystick.

Fap fap fap

This phallus-shaped implement of wanton desire, this obelisk of entertainment, with its comely shape and beckoning, throbbing buttons was our training manual in the art of taking-to-bed. You kids nowadays, so sweaty and pale, so uniformed about dirty lovin and dirtier videogames – you have grown up on unrealistic porn rather than good old-fashioned, hard-working fist action and button bashing, and I can only assume you are crap at both. For a generation of youngsters, our fingers were sculpted into sleek killing machines and our biceps primed for masturbation many years before it was required, or even thought of. Meanwhile, many girl gamers of the 80s and early 90s gained invaluable expertise on the handling of stiff, yet jiggly tools which once again would make their futures considerably brighter.

It’s why your mom is so hot

 Countless hours of repetitive thrusting, poking, shaft-grasping, rhythmic pumping, and sheer dedication has meant that we are a fearless race of nymph-Gods, able to stave off such petit problems like muscle cramps, strains, exhaustion, and ultimately boredom in your quest for the orgasm goal (goalgasm? no). Not that it needs to be such a long slog, because those countless hours also taught us finesse and control, meaning we can beat one out at a moment’s notice or let it ride for a night of tantric boning the likes of which you X-BoX and Playstation youngsters will never experience. It’s our duty to give thanks; thanks for all those secret bathroom squirts, thanks to all those times a hand slipped down some pants gave you or a partner a pleasure moment, thanks for the hundreds of millions of gallons of stinky juices which have splurged out of or been slurped from your body over the last decade or so. And for all of those things, we have one person to thank:

I sense a rumbling in my groin

Even without the games he endorsed leading to unfathomable ecstasy for us, I bet a few of you out there are reaching for the tissues just by gazing upon his beauty. Those muscles. That tache. Settle down! We’re not here to talk about sex, that part is done – we’re here to talk about the classic calorie crusher that is Daley Thompson’s Supertest. Now, I’m sure a few hipsters out there are already scrambling to type a furious response about Daley Thompson’s Decathlon or Track And Field, but you’d better calm your skinny-jeaned legs and relax before you expire due to the strain of lifting your Mac-Air, strain caused by a diet rich in tofu. Firstly, I’m aware that Supertest wasn’t the first of its kind, and secondly, this is my blog so I will be talking about the games I most fondly remember. In addition, Supertest, I feel, is the superior game due to the fact that Thompson is no longer a white man as depicted confusingly in Decathlon, and that he has expanded his repertoire beyond mere running and jumping track events to disciplines like skiing, tug of war, and shooting – he truly was the greatest athlete of a generation, a titan amongst men.

But can he defeat the mighty Gus?

Before we get onto the games, I forgot to mention the delightful title screen music which you can find easily enough on Youtube – the only time Chariots Of Fire has been bearable. It plays over some lovely animation – a white, presumably Daley Thompson contradicts my earlier racial comment, and runs and runs while you decide whether to go with Kempston joystick orKeyboard. Leave this long enough and I think you are taken to a high score screen and highlights reel with some other tune playing over the top – another inspiring number if I remember correctly.

Onto the game then – here we have 12 events of an interesting variety: Rowing, Penalties, Ski Jump, Tug Of War, Triple Jump, 100 metres, Javelin, 110 metre hurdles, Shooting, Cycling, Diving, Giant Slalom. Even before you start playing, we get the title screen which shows the epic times just around the corner. It’s bright, dynamic, and depicts a jaundiced Thompson hugging his futuristic track suit in comforting fashion, lulling you into thinking this game will be a light, refreshing warm-up for any real exercise you may do later

Liar!

Speaking of fun even before you start playing, the game offers one of the most supreme Name Loading screens in videogame history – one so brilliantly awful that inputting your name (Bumface McAnusarse) becomes a Sysyphus level challenge game on its own:

Hel (l)

Thankfully you can only enter three letters, but nevertheless, wafting between these flickering neon letters is a nightmare which still haunting my sleeps 20 years after I last tried it. Those blippy bloppy nows the cursor makes as it flies to and fro past the one letter you actually want to select is the theme tune to every emotional trauma I have ever suffered. When writing my name on exam papers, these images would come crashing back and I would scream the scream of a cassette loading screen and run out of the room. Also – R = Rub? What the hell does that even mean?

Once (if) you successfully navigate beyond the limbless angel above, you will be greeted with the individual game loading screen – first event – Rowing. he screen shows that you have three lives depicted by three runners – if you fail in an event, one of the runners sadly fades away. Also sad is the fact that each event only has sound effects, not music. Starting with a glitch sounding pistol explosion, you pit yourself against the computer in a novel approach to racing – your boat doesn’t actually movie, instead the targets move signifying that you are passing them before or after your competitor. It makes sense if you see it, I promise –

See? Perfect sense!

Mushy fart noises accompany your oars blasting through the water, in a stunningly life-like sound effect, while you rhythmically bash your joystick from side to side on your way to victory. This is a light enough warm-up if you qualify on your first life. On to penalties then, as Thompson channels his inner Jan Molby and sticks one in the top left. This was always one of my favourites, and to this day is ‘quotable’ for me. See, when I was young, we played this on a crappy small TV, and when you miss a penalty, the word ‘MISS’ flashes up on the screen. On my TV however, this looked like ‘HISS’. So when I’m watching footy now and someone channels their inner Chris Waddle and skies one, I usually shout ‘HISS’! to the bewilderment of everyone else watching.

Coal instead of Goal just isn’t as hilarious

The screen is quite complex here, with a number of important features – the main play action where you see a chubby Daley Dwarf defeating his white slave master, a power meter, an angle of shot giver, and a little map showing you where the goal is in case you’re a moron or an American. Like other events, the screen shows how many points you need to qualify. How the points for your goals are actually computed I have no idea – some combination of Italian flair and German composure I imagine – success or failure doesn’t seem all that important as I seem to recall getting points even when I Hissed. I also have no idea what the controls were, I can’t remember much other than mangling the joystick and trying to smash the red button at the right time, leading to a variety of Hisses. Two final things to ponder; firstly, why does Daley need a 100 metre sprint before kicking the ball, and secondly, The Gay Dan?

Next up is another complex screen and game, and one of Daley’s most famous events…. Ski Jump! Again, my memory fails me – I can’t really recall exactly how to play this, but I think it went something like – press fire button, shake stick to maintain power, press fire button to take off, and time your final fire button press to land without snapping your legs off.

Another heroic attempt ends in brughtal disaster

You need to time your landing precisely to avoid the graphic misfortune displayed above – overshoot and you end up exploding and rolling through the snow like something from a Wil E Coyote cartoon. Equally important is your take-off – mis-time and you drift peacefully off the edge and zoom serenely off the screen before the pop-up FOUL! screen brings you back to reality. As you can see, Daley really psychs himself up for this event by covering his entire body in blue war paint – it is highly recommended you do the same. The main play screen is where you should follow the important moments of the game, but once you take off, feel free to gaze freely on the other two screens – a bird’s-eye view where Daley is transformed into an X passing through a syringe, and the ever popular side view, where you get a true representation of the awe-inspiring scope of Daley’s slope and jump. At the bottom, a handy power gauge mocks your feeble biceps as you ever so gradually edge towards the required qualifying distance, always aware of the icy tundra closing in below. Three tries should be enough to get you through to the next event and quick breather.

Ready? Oh lordy, here we go. For all the hundreds of Spectrum games I played decades ago, a handful of games, or parts of games stand out as impossible. Not difficult – completely impossible. The next event, Tug Of War, is one of those. I don’t even think the rapid fire button which game with some of the fancier joysticks helped. It is still possible to beat this event, yes, but I don’t I’ve ever heard anyone claim to have beaten the freak known simply as ‘Gus’.

His head is thrice the see of Hyper Bill’s

Take a moment to look at those fuckers. On a good day I could beat Eric Von Mean, and I have a vague recollection of even defeating Curly Cobb once. But Gus (whose head is eerily similar to the giant blue fist cursor) would have your arms ripped off in a matter of moments before lunging through the screen and given you a wedgy so severe that you now have a double anus. Seriously – even the world records screen shows that he is unbeaten (The Woods too – being ‘7’ and Gus being ‘8’… again, it will make sense on the screen below). Also worthy of noting, and which may be complete balls but is how I remember it, is that snooty twat Jessie Gee would lull you into thinking you were winning before pulling it back and slaughtering you on the verge of victory.

Be safe, kids – stick with Hyper Bill

Look at the crowd watching the spectacle. For some reason they remind me of popcorn. Also, remember them, because they keep coming back in later events… in the same seats… in the same position… never moving or cheering… only emitting positive thoughts bubbles such as ‘far-out’.  In their defence, for this event they do actually make a disturbing series of pops, clicks, and buzzes if you win, like they all decided to celebrate by launching a single, timed to perfection, apocalyptic fart together. If you select Hyper Bill as your opponent, you need to rattle your joystick until you yank him over your line – apparently to win you should mimic the way your opponent is tugging, and try to out-do him, but that sounds a little too much like masturbating whilst watching someone masturbate. My advice is to do it as hard and fast as possible. Same for Tug Of War.

You should be sweating by this point in the game, and you may even have lost a life. Make sure you don’t lose anymore – you’ll need those once we get to Diving. Before that though, we have the Triple Jump. It’s another test of timing and joystick punishing – run as fast as you can by shaking the joystick, then leap through the air in a series of bounds by tapping the fire button at the precise moment. It isn’t the most exciting event, but it is memorable for some decent running animation. For reasons unknown though, before you first take off the animation has a stroke and you slide forwards and take off in one, motionless manoeuver. It is a joy to behold. Also, if you land correctly, you are rewarded by a ghost which appears and gives Daley a mouth gift.

Thanks!

Aside from the obscenity going on, eagle-eyed glancers will notice that the triple jump is measured by degrees, with 44 being hot, and 52 being internal organ boiling. The scientists amongst you will know that the best way to reduce core body temperature is to go for a nice sprint, which leads nicely to our next event – 100 metre sprint!

Feel The Burn

Basically, you run like a bastard, but don’t stop, because next up is the Javelin where you continue to run like a bastard and eventually throw a stick. Meanwhile, your arms and hands will be weeping. What’s interesting about Javelin is that the Guses amongst you may be able to throw the javelin out of the screen –

The crowd are mystified by the vanishing act

The pain doesn’t end yet, because we’re onto the 110 hurdles now. To get this far with your arms still attached to your body is an achievement in itself. Give yourself a pat on the back. As you would expect, the hurdles is another wrist wrecker, with timed button presses to leap over the obstacles. If you succeed, you are rewarded with one of the more interesting and fun events of the game, and you can relax your arms for a few moments. This is a game of skill; this is pistol shooting

Check out those creepy dead eyes

What seems simple, is actually an extremely addictive, and frantic game. You only get a few moments to move your sights to the target, and fire, before the target vanishes – and if I remember correctly, there is no set pattern to this each time you play, so you can’t memorize which target will appear. You get thirty shots in total, so it’s easy enough to qualify, but you’ll want to keep trying to break your record, and get as many of those elusive bull’s-eyes as possible. Graphically this is pretty, Daley’s cap is rather fetching, and the lush outdoors seem like paradise, aside from all the bullets whizzing off into the horizon. Musically, we have bright, blippy sounds for the targets turning, and the good old coughing sounds for the pistol. This is one you’ll want to return to.

We’re on the home straight now, but we can’t afford to get complacent. Your fingers should be poised and primed for action, so lets give them some torture.

Cycling is a nightmare. It’s a button basher of the highest (lowest) order, and was known as the primary cause of premature arthritis in Western children through the 80s. As you would expect, you finger that red thing as fast and hard as possible until you reach victory. Just make sure you get it right first go. Once that is done, it’s on to another impossible, yet fun event – Diving. This one is again about timing, but also about flair and skill. Most of the time it’s sheer luck if you land in the pool head-first – you’ll likely be dropping in feet-first quite a few times. On the rate occasion that you do pull off a stunning combo of somersaults and enter the water correctly, the Judges will still be unbelievably harsh and score you lower than a eunuch in a fucking contest.

No surprise when the judges are your opponents from Tug Of War

No matter what you do, that hairy bastard on the left will never give you a single point. You have three dives, with a potential of 40 points per dive – a total of 120 points up for grabs, and you need a mere 65 to qualify without losing a life. I guarantee you won’t get close to 65 points. Having said that, it is a fun one to play with friends, to see which of you can get closest to qualifying. Once you’re done, dry yourself and get warm as we’re off to the slopes once again for the Giant Slalom; this one is impossible too.

And yet it looks so… simple

I like that Daley has opted for the classic wooly bobble hat, flouting international sporting safety regulations. But remember, this is Daley Thompson, more man than you’ll ever be, and one who laughs at the thought of his skull hitting snow at 40 mph. As mentioned, this one is impossible – not tough, just impossible. Not only do you need to get to the bottom within a minute, but you have to pass through various sets of flags which have been cunningly placed at the nether regions of the course, and with not enough space between each set to physically reach without coming to a complete standstill and shuffling over to. You’ll be seeing a lot of this

Again, it’s fun to try, to see how long you last, or even if you can make it to the finish line, but keep an eye on those lives. Nice detail on the graphics, but the only sound is when you crash through a flag. The controls are pretty awful too, but that adds to the challenge. And what a challenge it has been! It’s time to lick your wounds and celebrate, because that’s it folks. You took on the world and lived to tell the tale. All that is left is to watch Daley transform into a skinny white dude, stand atop of a French podium, and receive the adoration of the crowd. ‘Far Out’! ‘Not bad’! ‘etc’! As a final insult, a Giant, situated somewhere behind the crowd, rubs one off in honour of your achievement, an explosive ejaculation which goes fountaining into the air. It’s every 8 year old boy’s dream come true.

There’s nothing worse than wet popcorn

But wait – it’s not quite over. The overall champ needs to be decided, so it’s back through the events for some one – on – one challenges. Don’t worry, you won’t win – basically you keep going until you lose. And so, all you’re hard work comes to nothing, as you weep at the feet of the one true champion

Well, at least we can say we were beaten by the best, and – wait – wait a second… is that… is that Hyper Bill!!? I HATE YOU HYPER BILL!!!

Did this Pulitzer Prize quality review spark some memories in you? Feel free to share you’re happiest moments in the comments below.

World Of Spectrum page for Supertest, filled with pics, reviews, emulators, music, and more: http://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekid.cgi?id=0001222

Youtube walkthrough courtesy of ZEUZDAZ: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAVdN0u0iao

 

Retro Gaming – Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior

Before we get started, I feel like I should be setting the scene via some apt eye-sights:

For those who don’t understand, let me explain – the 80s were a different time; a stranger time. Men were MEN and women were women, and some other men were women.

Men....?
Men….?

It’s not like today. Our heroes could pull your head from your shoulders (one-handed) whilst simultaneously ravaging your wife and looting your kitchen cupboards, before taking down a military jet by throwing your decapitated head 12000 feet into the air causing catastrophic damage to the jet’s chassis. They were tough, get it? And as boys in the 80s, this is what we aspired to. If your arms weren’t the circumference of a beta-max, there was no point in living. If your hair wasn’t longer than your mum’s, you were a sissy. If you didn’t play Barbarian, you were an outcast.

Not In A Cool Way Though

Barbarian was probably the first one on one beat-em-up I ever played, long before Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. It doesn’t have the rosters of any of the 8-16bit console fighters, featuring instead the same pair of fighters in every fight, but it did have a variety of attacks, a sick sense of humour, and it was pretty vicious – that head-chopping spin move was an instant win – you didn’t have to wait until a certain amount of damage had been delivered, you could just whip it out at a moment’s notice. This of course led to a Peace Treaty between those who played the game – that this decapitation move was a War Atrocity and must never be used, or at least could only be employed once both fighters had lost a certain amount of energy – but, unfortunately this Treaty was frequently mocked and many heads were removed from shoulders in a moment of hilarity and tears. In a case of life imitating art, many real life fights erupted because of this, and a few times we received a beating from the parents due to screaming at each other.

There was a single player game on one side of the cassette, and the 2 player on the other side. If I’m honest, I really don’t remember playing the single player myself, and only have vague memories of my brother playing it. Looking at Wikipedia and World Of Spectrum I can see the plot saw a nameless Barbarian rampaging through a series of battles before facing the evil Wizard Drax in order to save a prehistoric page 3 model

Behold, my huge, thirsting...sword
Behold, my huge, thirsting…sword

Naturally, if you are going to go pouring through a Wasteland relieving swordsmen of their heads, you want to do it for a good reason – looking at the cover above, it seems there are two. Sorry. But the game was a huge success for Palace Software, and I’m guessing a lot of the success was down to the artwork for each system.

An 80s Miley Cyrus

Before Barbarian, most game artwork featured in game-esque graphics, wacky writing fonts, or bizarre blocks zooming about. With Barbarian, artist Steve Brown basically said ‘lets tits this thing up’ and lo and behold, Maria Whittaker gave a legion of gamers their first power-up (erection) and Palace Software a tonne of money. Not that this was only a case of clever advertising, but the game itself garnered mostly positive reviews and remains a revered title to this day. It’s still fun to play over 20 years later. The movements of the fighters are smooth, the fighting is suitably ugly, the effects and music are great, and there is a heap of gore. The backgrounds are one of my favourite things about the game, eerie, freak show coloured wastes, like a wreath of corruption has fallen over a land, giving the sense of anything which lives in this place being sickly, dying, or outlandish. As previously mentioned, the humour gets high marks – my favourite moment being the little goblin creature who comes out to kick away a beheaded fighters skull and retrieve the carcass for Lord only knows what purpose.

So there you have it – one of the first and finest beat-em ups to grace the Spectrum. I’ll close by saying that I would highly recommend the game to any retro fiends, and give you a few links where better people than me give better information:

World Of Spectrum Barbarian Page with emulators, pics, and sounds galore: http://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekid.cgi?id=0000407

Youtube walk-through: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHHKDdrrfQ8

Youtube Title Music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-IlYYYQtgQ

Retro Gaming

Let me take you back; hold on tight – nostalgic rides are often the most bumpy. Imagine the 1980s, yourself as a child. Endless summer afternoons and sunsets which clung onto the last shards of day like slime on Man-E-Faces many faces.

And the smell still lingers in my nostrils
And the smell still lingers in my nostrils

Every Sunday evening you were guaranteed to catch The Goonies, one of the Karate Kid movies, or Temple Of Doom between episodes of Blockbusters and Bullseye. Those were family moments, sitting down on the bean-bag and imagining you could swing your legs like Short-Round and Daniel-san, and knowing that the following day after school you would be trying to swing between branches like Indiana Jones with a whip fashioned from your friend’s sister’s skipping rope.

But the 80s wasn’t all about emulating your big screen idols by barreling down hills on your skateboard/bmx, taking out countless baddies like Commando, or convincing your friend’s sister to steal pic’n’mix from Woolworth’s for you. No, the 80s was also the decade when everyone’s favourite wife-avoiding past-time of today was truly born – video games. Arcades sprung up like a Piranha Plant from a pipe, and slots were filled like a Shannon Tweed movie. Everyone I knew had a Master System or a NES, but most of my friends also had an Amiga, an Amstrad, an Atari, a Commodore 64. I had a Spectrum. A Spectrum +3 128k to be precise.

This Guy
This Guy

Or more accurately, my older brother had one. I was allowed to watch, and help out with the 2 player games. Over time I worked out how to switch the thing on myself, and entered a world of a thousand games, a million dreams, and a billion loading-failed nightmares. Rainy weekends were spent in front of this thing, experimenting with primitive programming, cursing the unforgiving loading times and difficulty of some games, and playing hour after hour of games both wonderful and awful. Waiting for the new edition of Crash or Your Sinclair to see what free games were included, heading down to the Saturday Market to hunt through the cardboard boxes of 2nd hand Spectrum Cassettes,  or screaming until Daddy drove you over to the next town where they had an actual ‘Computer Games Shop’ to pick up some of the newer releases. All you Call Of Duty, High Definiton, online-gaming chumps of today don’t know what you’re missing.

Over the next few weeks, months, and years, I’m going to ‘review’ some of my most fondly related Spectrum experiences and hopefully will spark a few memories in some of you. And for the younger reader, I’m also going to cover all the other consoles of my youth from 8-bit era to today. Feel free to share your gaming memories, whether they be about the games themselves, or even your memories of buying them, sharing them, talking about them.