Monday, December 26, 2022

Ports of Entry: Argonaut Games

Unknown lead platform:



First released for Atari ST in October 1986

Ported to Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Commodore 64, & ZX Spectrum in 1986

Released for Amiga in 1987

Ported to PC in March 1987

Ported to Amstrad PCW in 1987


Starglider II

Released for Amiga in October 1988

Released for Atari ST in 1988

Released for Macintosh, PC, & ZX Spectrum in 1989


Days of Thunder

Released for NES in 1990 by Beam Software

Released for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum in 1990 by Tiertex

Released for PC in 1990 by Argonaut

Released for Amiga & Atari ST in 1990 by Creative Materials

To me it seems like C64 and ZX Spectrum are based on the NES version, which uses pre-rendered pseudo-3D graphics, while Amiga and Atari ST are based on the PC version, which uses polygonal 3D graphics. The Wikipedia description suggests to me that NES is the original design, having began internally at Mindscape before being outsourced to Beam to finish.



Released for PC, PS2, & XBox in October 2003

Ported to Gamecube in September 2003

Released for XBox in December 2003

Ported to Macintosh in December 2004

Interestingly, the Gamecube version has the earliest release date, but is listed as a port, credited to Coyote Developments.



First released for PC in September 2003

Released for PS2 in November 2003

Released for XBox in December 2003

Ported to Gamecube in 2003


Mobygames's original PC release is listed as Finland exclusive, which seems a little unlikely.



Released for Gamecube, PC, PS2, & XBox in September 2004


Select chronology:  

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Starglider ??? 1986-10 First released for Atari ST
Same-year ports to Amstrad CPC, Apple II, C64, & ZX Spectrum
1987 release on Amiga
1987 ports to Amstrad PCW & PC
Starglider II ??? 1988-10 Same-quarter releases on Amiga & Atari ST
1989 releases for Mac, PC, & ZX Spectrum
Days of Thunder ??? 1990 Same-year releases on Amiga, Atari ST, C64, NES, PC, & ZX Spectrum
Star Fox SNES 2/21/1993
Creature Shock DOS 1994
FX Fighter DOS 6/13/1995
Croc: Legend of the Gobbos PlayStation 9/29/1997 Same-year port to Saturn
1998 port to PC
Croc 2 PlayStation 7/28/1999 2000 port to PC
Alien: Resurrection PlayStation 10/11/2000
Independence War 2: Edge Of
Windows 6/28/2001
Bionicle ??? 9/1/2003 Same-quarter releases on PC, PS2, & Xbox
Same-quarter port to Gamecube, released before others
2004 port to Macintosh
I-Ninja ??? 9/9/2003 Same-quarter releases on PC, PS2, & Xbox
Same-year port to Gamecube
Catwoman ??? 7/20/2004 Simultaneous releases on Gamecube, PC, PS2, & Xbox

Friday, December 16, 2022

Ports of Entry: Audiogenic Software

Having little familiarity with this British software house beyond reading its Wikipedia page, it's not clear to me if I should treat this as a continuation of Supersoft, or of Audiogenic Limited, or as its own thing entirely. The early games by those entities are of zero interest to me unless they can be considered ancestors to the games on this list.

Unknown lead platform:



First released for Amiga & Atari ST in 1987

Ported to Commodore 64 in March 1988

Ported to PC in April 1988

Ported to Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Electron, & ZX Spectrum in 1988


Helter Skelter

First released for Atari ST in 1989

Same-year port to PC

Released on Amiga in 1990

Ported to Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, C64, Electron, & ZX Spectrum in 1990


Krusty's Super Fun House

First released for Genesis, NES, & SNES in 1992

Released for Amiga, Game Gear, & Sega Master System in 1993

Ported to Game Boy & PC  in 1993

Krusty's Super Fun House was originally designed as Rat Trap on the Amiga. What's not clear to me is if Rat Trap ever saw a commercial release. If it did, then the question is, was it reworked as Krusty's Super Fun House on Amiga first, or was that done on other platforms first and then ported back to Amiga?

Select chronology: 

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Graham Gooch's Test Cricket Commodore 64 1985-6 Same-year ports to various 8-bit computers
Impact ??? 1987 Same-year releases on Amiga & Atari ST
1988 ports to various 8-bit computers
Emlyn Hughes International Soccer Commodore 64 1988 1989 ports to Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum
Helter Skelter ??? 1989 1989 release on Atari ST
Same-year port to PC
1990 release on Amiga
1990 ports to various 8-bit computers
Loopz Atari ST 1990 Same-year ports to Amiga, Amstrad CPC, NES, & PC
1991 ports to Game Boy and various computers
Krusty's Super Fun House ??? 1992 Same-year releases on Genesis, NES, & SNES
1993 releases on Amiga, Game Gear, & Sega Master System
1993 ports to Game Boy & PC

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Game 349: Excitebike


The last Nintendo game I played has been considered one of the worst of the system's early Famicom era. This one, closing out their 1984 output, is considered one of the best, having been developed by Shigeru Miyamoto (who to be fair also developed the unplayable Tennis released at the year's start).


This is one that passed me by completely even though I had an NES during its glory years. Excitebike is an arcade-style motocross racer with an unusual sidescrolling perspective - something the NES is quite good at - rather than an overhead one like we've seen on Atari, or a pseudo-3D one as was trending in arcades and computers - something the NES isn't particularly good at (though clever programmers managed in years to come).

Three play modes populate the main menu as was Nintendo's custom of the day, though only one of them, Selection B, is the true Excitebike experience. Selection A is good for practicing the five courses without interference from your opponents, but it's a bit boring. Selection B adds three competing bikers, though they don't so race you so much as they just get in your way - your placing (and whether you get to continue to the next course or not) is determined entirely by time. Design mode, which I didn't really mess around with, lets you create your own course, but you're limited to a handful of prefabricated obstacles from the official tracks to place around the track at predetermined points. The options to save and load custom tracks, intended to interface with a Famicom Data Recorder tape deck, don't work on a U.S. NES console, but are still available, which must have been very confusing to players who didn't read the manual.


Controls in this race are simple and intuitive while also allowing skill, strategy, and a sense of risk and reward, well befitting a console game with arcade-style sensibilities. Up and down change lanes, 'A' accelerates, and 'B' engages a turbo boost which provides a bit more oomph but can overheat your engine with prolonged use, making it more useful for catching extra air on the ramps than it is for general speed. Forward/backward leans, which is the most demanding test of your finesse as this orients the bike while airborne, and your wheels generally has to be more or less level with the ground when you land on or else you bail.

Below is my best attempt to clear the five courses in 'B' mode. I don't quite make it.

The first course is really easy, and you can easily recover from several accidents and still qualify for first place by several seconds. But there's a big difficulty spike by the third course, as the qualifying time is now shorter than the previous course's record time and the track is longer and more difficult to boot.

Luck feels like it plays a part too, especially in 'B' mode, where obstacles can funnel you and your opponents into the same lane, forcing someone to yield or crash. Crashes can be pretty capricious too; sometimes costing your biker less than a second as he just gets up again onto his bike, sometimes hurtling him and his bike down a good stretch of the track before launching him halfway to the bleachers.

You are not recovering from that.


I never quite got good enough at Course 4 to beat it reliably, failing a few times for each success, and never managed to beat Course 5 at all, except in practice mode 'A'. But each attempt was fun, even exciting.

GAB rating: Good. This is the first original NES game that I can praise and recommend without any reservations. The racing mechanics are novel, accessible, and surprisingly deep. Excitebike doesn't always play fair, but for a game by a studio still coming out of the school of arcade design, that's to be expected, and even at its most punishing, I felt compelled to keep trying and improve.


Worth mentioning is a 1988 Japanese-exclusive release of "Vs. Excitebike" for the Famicom Disk System. Three modes are once again included, and all of them offer something worthwhile.



There's the confusingly named "Original Excite," which isn't actually the original Excitebike, but rather a port of the arcade version "Vs. Excitebike" which despite the title does not feature any two-player vs. mode. Rather, it is a remixed and expanded version of the original game, with seven new courses to race on, and a more logically structured system of progression where, upon reaching a new course, you must complete a single lap trial and make a qualifying time before entering the race in earnest.

New features include a truck-jumping bonus round, and a powerup system where sabotaging enough of your opponents turns your bike black and gains you unlimited turbo juice until you yourself crash.

"VS Excite" mode, not to be confused with the identically named arcade game, introduces a two-player race.


Finally, "VS Edit" corresponds to the original's design mode, only this time you may save and load your custom tracks to the game's disk card.

All in all, this is a late but worthy upgrade to Excitebike, though I do prefer the original's colors and sound design; the music here is particularly horrible.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Games 347-348: Pitstop & Pitstop II

The next whale, Epyx's Pitstop II, is a sequel to the less famous non-whale Pitstop from 1983. So I played both.

The Pitstops are arcade-style racing games closely modeled after Pole Position (and to a lesser extent Turbo), with the gimmick that in extended races, you'll need to enter the pits and complete a minigame to quickly refuel and replace your worn tires, and you risk running out of fuel or a disqualifying blowout by putting this off.

These came out around the time that Epyx was transitioning their focus from Atari to Commodore, and so "B" and I played Pitstop's Atari version, and Pitstop II's C64 version, which I believe reflects their respective development priorities, though both were available on either computer.


Game 347: Pitstop

Pitstop's title screen offers a few options prior to gameplay:

  • Number of drivers (1-4). Drivers race sequentially, and are ranked by finishing time once all have completed their laps (or been disqualified).
  • Number of laps (3, 6, 9).
  • Difficulty (Rookie, Semi-Pro, Pro). Harder difficulties make it more difficult to pass your opponents (who drive slower than you in any difficulty), and also cause collisions to wear out your tires quicker.
  • Race type (Single, Mini-Circuit, Grand Circuit). Single lets you select one of the six circuits for one race, mini-circuit plays through three of them, and grand circuit tours all six of them in order, displaying the drivers' cumulative scores and overall standings between races.

"B" and I decided that six laps was best, as with three laps you don't need to enter the pits at all, circumventing the game's very namesake, and with nine the race just goes on far too long. We played a few single races at each of the difficulties, and the below video showcases a six-lap race in semi-pro, and a three-lap race in pro.


The racing model here is simplistic and not very satisfying. Taking turns is trivial - this is the Pole Position model where steering means lateral movement, turns simply push your vehicle toward the curb, and here you can easily counteract this no matter how fast your vehicle is going. Turns are so barely consequential that it hardly matters what track you race on! The challenge is passing other cars, who spawn at random and as in Turbo/Pole Position serve more as obstacles than actual opponents.

Collisions aren't disastrous - they just cost you speed and some wear, which is represented by the color of your tires. Pulling into the pit lane at the start of each lap lets you replace them and refuel through a straightforward point & click interface.

The sound of passing cars reminds you of precious time spent here.

GAB rating: Below average. Pitstop is inoffensive, but too simple to be worth spending much time on. I am not surprised that it has been virtually forgotten in favor of its sequel.

Pitstop was ported to ColecoVision, where it can be played with a steering wheel and throttle pedal.

Game 348: Pitstop II


Pitstop II's big new feature, which the box and manual remind you of no fewer than four times (auto racing is not a solo sport), is the simultaneous split-screen multiplayer option, providing active competition and not just slow-moving drones to get in your way. Racing solo? The computer will take the second screen.

"B" and I once again raced multiple times, trying each of the difficulty settings on a different track. The below video shows six laps in rookie, and three apiece in semi-pro and pro.

On paper, Pitstop II looks like a big improvement over the original. Not only is there two-player racing, but the graphics and physics have been overhauled, now better resembling Pole Position both from its smooth pseudo-3D projection and its simulation of centrifugal forces that wear out your tires while pushing you laterally. The other cars on the road, aside from player 2's, are still more obstacles to surpass than real opponents, but they come into view on the horizon as blips, giving you plenty of time to swerve and avoid slamming into them at 250mph, and generally behave just like your actual opponent, just slower and ephemeral. Turns are now a challenge to navigate, and on the harder settings you'll need to properly manage your throttle to get through them or else take excessive damage.


So why did I say on paper? Because despite the more advanced physics model, Pitstop II just doesn't feel good to play. "B" and I constantly oversteered, then understeered, then oversteered again, causing our cars to slide back and forth across the lanes, which is hardly ideal for passing the slow-moving traffic. On rookie mode, you can get away with riding the curb, but on semi-pro this will shred your tires, and on pro even a few bumps is devastating. The C64's lack of analog control options is lamentable here, and I can't imagine trying to play this on a stiff authentic joystick.

Taking the turns slowly makes controlling things a bit easier, but throttle control is janky too, with pushing up and down on the joystick directly raising or lowering your velocity like one adjusts a thermostat, and the sense of speed conveyed by the pseudo-3D view doesn't feel quite aligned with the speedometer display. The fire button activates a turbo boost, but would have been better served as a harder brake option. You don't see turns until you're already in them, you don't really know when you're about to come out of a turn either, and the minimap isn't precise enough to really show you when you're close enough to a turn to need to start decelerating. I'd often brake while already in the turn, grinding my wheels against the side until speed dropped just enough that I could instantly overcome all of the centrifugal forces and instantly zip over to the other side of the road and grind my other wheels against the other curb.

And then there's the pits. 


Your F1 team must have had a budget cut, because you've only got one tire guy now, and he controls like he's been hitting the bottle. Actions like walking around the vehicle and getting into the precise pixel needed to change a tire are just frustrating! And on a personal note, the color-coded damage stripes on the tires are less meaningful to my cone-deficient eyes than they were in the original.

"B" and I both enjoyed this less than the original Pitstop, despite the surface improvements. I did spend some time replaying alone, and I did improve a bit, but never to the point where I felt differently about its flaws on my initial impression.

GAB rating: Below average. Pitstop II is the more complete package, but it trades the flaws of the original for different flaws.

As a side-note, it's interesting to me that splitscreen multiplayer was more or less simultaneously implemented by both Spy vs. Spy and Pitstop II, and both on the C64. Is there an earlier example of this that both games might have followed?

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Ports of Entry: LucasArts

This list excludes the majority of games that LucasArts outsourced to third party studios (e.g. Star Wars: Battlefront, LEGO Star Wars, etc.). Other Ports of Entry posts will cover them later.

Unknown lead platform:


Star Wars: Rebel Assault

First released for PC & Macintosh in 1993

Released for 3DO and Sega CD in 1994


Star Wars: Rebel Assault II - The Hidden Empire

First released for DOS/Windows and Macintosh in 1995

Ported to PlayStation in 1996



Released for DOS/Windows and Macintosh in 1996



Released for Gamecube, PS2, & Xbox on October 2003


Star Wars: Republic Commando

Released for PC & Xbox on March 2005


The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

Released for PC, Xbox 360, & iPhone on July 2009


Monkey Island 2: Special Edition

Released for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, iPad, & iPhone on July 2010

Select chronology:  

Atari 8-bit era

Title Date Contemporary ports
Ballblazer 1985-4 Same-year ports to Apple II & C64
1986 ports to Amstrad CPC, Atari 5200, & ZX Spectrum
Rescue on Fractalus! 1985-4 Same-year ports to Apple II & C64
1986 ports to Amstrad CPC, Atari 5200, & ZX Spectrum
Koronis Rift 1985-10 Same-year ports to Apple II & C64
The Eidolon 1985-10 Same-quarter ports to Apple II & C64
1986 ports to Amstrad CPC, MSX, & ZX Spectrum

Commodore 64 era

Title Date Contemporary ports
Labyrinth 1986-11 Simultaneous port to Apple II
1987 ports to MSX & PC-88
Habitat 1987-1
PHM Pegasus 1987-2 Simultaneous port to Apple II
1988 ports to Amstrad CPC, PC, & ZX Spectrum
Maniac Mansion 1987-9 Simultaneous port to Apple II
1988 ports to Famicom & PC
Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders 1988-8 Same-year ports to Amiga & PC
1989 port to Atari ST

Early DOS era

Title Date Contemporary ports
Battlehawks 1942 1988-10 1989 ports to Amiga & Atari ST
Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain 1989-10 1990 ports to Amiga & Atari ST
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure 1989-12 Simultaneous ports to Amiga & Atari ST
1990 ports to FM Towns & Macintosh
The Secret of Monkey Island 1990-9 Same-year port to Amiga
1991 port to Atari ST
Loom 1990 Same-year ports to Amiga, Atari ST, & Macintosh
1991 port to FM Towns
Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe 1991-8
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge 1991-12 1992 ports to Amiga & Macintosh
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis 1992 Same-year ports to Amiga & Macintosh
1993 port to FM Towns
Star Wars: X-Wing 2/15/1993
Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle 1993
Sam & Max: Hit the Road 1993

Multimedia era

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Zombies Ate My Neighbors SNES 1993 Same-year port to Genesis
Star Wars: Rebel Assault ??? 1993 Same-year releases on PC & Macintosh
1994 releases on 3DO & Sega CD
Star Wars: TIE Fighter DOS 1994-7
Star Wars: X-Wing - Collector's CD-ROM DOS 1994
Full Throttle DOS 5/2/1995 1996 port to Macintosh
Star Wars: Dark Forces DOS 1995-3 Same-year port to Macintosh
1996 port to PlayStation
The Dig DOS 1995-12 1996 port to Macintosh
Star Wars: TIE Fighter - Collector's CD-ROM DOS 1995
Star Wars: Rebel Assault II - The Hidden Empire ??? 1995 Same-year releases on DOS, Windows, & Macintosh
1996 port to PlayStation
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire Nintendo 64 1996-12 1997 port to PC
Afterlife ??? 1996 Same-year releases on DOS, Windows, & Macintosh
Indiana Jones and his Desktop Adventures Windows 3.x 1996 Same-year port to Macintosh

Windows era

Title Date Contemporary ports
Outlaws 3/31/1997
Star Wars: Jedi Knight - Dark Forces II 10/9/1997
The Curse of Monkey Island 11/1/1997
Star Wars: Yoda Stories 1997
Star Wars: Jedi Knight - Mysteries of the Sith 2/17/1998
Grim Fandango 1998-10
Star Wars: Rebellion 1998
Star Wars: Episode I - Racer 1999-5 Simultaneous port to N64
2000 ports to Dreamcast & Macintosh
Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine 10/1/1999 2000 port to N64
The Curse of Monkey Island: LucasArts Archive Series 1999

Late era

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Star Wars: Episode I - Jedi Power Battles PlayStation 4/4/2000 Same-year port to Dreamcast
Escape from Monkey Island Windows 11/7/2000 2001 ports to PS2 & Macintosh
Star Wars: Starfighter PlayStation 2 2/21/2001 Same-year port to Xbox
2002 port to PC
Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds Windows 11/9/2001 2002 port to Macintosh
Gladius ??? 10/29/2003 Simultaneous releases on Gamecube, PS2, & Xbox
Star Wars: Republic Commando ??? 3/1/2005 Simultaneous releases on PC & Xbox
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Xbox 360 9/16/2008 Simultaneous port to PS3
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special
??? 7/15/2009 Same-month releases on PC, Xbox 360, & iPhone
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge -
Special Edition
??? 7/6/2010 Simultanous releases on PC, PS3, Xbox 360, iPad, & iPhone

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Ports of Entry: Titus Interactive

Unknown lead platform:


Crazy Cars

Released for Amiga, PC, & Thomston TO in 1987

Released for Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Macintosh, MSX, & ZX Spectrum in 1988

Credits and color depth of the platforms lead me to believe that the Amiga version is creator Eric Caen's original design, though I can't rule out the possibility of it being Amstrad CPC.


Crazy Cars II

First released for Amstrad CPC in 1988

Released for PC in August 1989 as F40 Pursuit Simulator

Released for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, & ZX Spectrum in 1989

If Amiga is the original platform for Crazy Cars 1, then it would seem strange for Amstrad CPC to be the original platform for the sequel, even if that was the first release of it.


Fire and Forget

Released for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, PC, & ZX Spectrum in 1988

Released for Atari ST in 1989

Fire & Forget II

Released for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, PC & Sega Master System in 1990

Released for Atari ST in 1991


The Blues Brothers

Released for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, & PC in 1991

Ported to Commodore 64 in 1991

Released for Game Boy in June 1992

Released for NES in September 1992



Released for Amstrad CPC and Atari ST in 1991

Ported to Amiga, CDTV, & PC in 1991


Amstrad CPC version credits Charles Goodwin, while the 16-bit conversions credit "Cybele" as the original designer.

Lagaf': Les Aventures de Moktar

Released for Amiga, Atari ST, & PC in 1991

Released for Amstrad CPC in 1992


Amstrad CPC version once again credits Charles Goodwin. The Amiga version has a higher color depth than Atari ST/PC (PC has enhanced colors in loading screens but only 16 in gameplay), and the PC version credits Éric Zmiro as an "IBM engineer" suggesting original Amiga design, though that version does have a version-specific credit for Carlo Perconti, rather than game designer Florent Moreau.


Titus the Fox: To Marrakech and Back

Released for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, & PC in 1992

Released for Gameboy in June 1993


This is a sprite-swapped version of Lagaf', and my notes regarding its credits and colors still apply.

Crazy Cars III

Released for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, & Atari ST in 1992

Ported to Commodore 64 & PC in in 1992

Released for SNES in 1993 as Lamborghini: American Challenge



First released for PC in April 2003

Released for Xbox in September 2003

Released for PS2 in 2003

Released for Gamecube in March 2004

This game had a very weird development and release schedule, but the Wikipedia description makes it sound like it was mainly developed on PC, with Xbox portability made a major priority and PS2 compatibility less of one.


Select chronology:   

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Al*berthe Alice 32/90 1985
Crazy Cars ??? 1987 Too many to fit here
Crazy Cars II
(aka F40 Pursuit Simulator)
??? 1988 Too many to fit here
Fire & Forget ??? 1988 Same-year releases on Amiga, Amstrad CPC, PC, & ZX Spectrum
1989 release on Atari ST
Fire & Forget II ??? 1990 Too many to fit here
The Blues Brothers ??? 1991 Same-year releases on Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, & PC
Same-year port to C64
1992 releases on Gameboy & NES
Prehistorik ??? 1991 Same-year releases on Amstrad CPC & Atari ST
Same-year port to Amiga, CDTV, & PC
Lagaf': Les Aventures de Moktar
??? 1991 Same-year releases on Amiga, Atari ST, & PC
1992 release on Amstrad CPC
Titus the Fox: To Marrakech and
??? 1992 Same-year releases on Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, & PC
1993 release on Gameboy
Crazy Cars III (aka Lamborghini:
American Challenge)
??? 1992 Same-year releases on Amiga, Amstrad CPC, & Atari ST
Same-year ports to C64 & PC
1993 release on SNES
Prehistorik 2 DOS 1993 Same-year port to Amstrad CPC
Superman Nintendo 64 5/29/1999
RoboCop ??? 2003 Same-year releases on PC, Xbox, & PS2
2004 release on Gamecube

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Ports of Entry: Dynamix

Unknown lead platform:


EarthSiege 2

Windows 3.x/Windows 95 release in March 1996



First released for DOS/Windows 95 in October 1996

Released for Macintosh in 1997

Rama is made with SCI 3.0, an engine which I assume targets Windows 95 as the primary software platform.


Select chronology: 

8-bit era
Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Sword of Kadash Apple II 1985 Same-year port to C64
1986 ports to Atari ST & Macintosh
Skyfox Amiga 1986-2 Initially an Apple II game by Electronic Arts
1985 port to C64 by Electronic Arts
1986 ports to Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum by Ariolasoft
1986 ports to Atari ST & Macintosh by Dynamix
Arcticfox Amiga 1986-2 Same-year ports to Apple II & C64
1987 ports to Atari ST & PC
Skyfox II: The Cygnus Conflict Commodore 64 1987-12 1988 ports to Amiga & PC
Caveman Ugh-Lympics Commodore 64 1988-11 1989 port to PC
DOS era
Title Date Contemporary ports
Ghostbusters II 1989-10
Deathtrack 1989-12
MechWarrior 1989-12
A-10 Tank Killer 1989-12
Rise of the Dragon 1990 1991 ports to Amiga & Macintosh
Stellar 7 1990 1991 port to Amiga
Red Baron 12/19/1990
The Adventures of Willy Beamish 9/25/1991 1992 ports to Amiga & Macintosh
Heart of China 1991 Same-year port to Amiga
1992 port to Macintosh
Aces of the Pacific 9/10/1992
Betrayal at Krondor 1993
The Incredible Machine 1993 1994 ports FM Towns & PC-98
The Even More Incredible Machine 1993 Same-year ports to Mac & Windows
1994 port to 3DO
Space Quest V: The Next Mutation 1993
Aces Over Europe 1993
Aces of the Deep 1994-9
MetalTech: Earthsiege 1994-10
The Incredible Machine 2 1994 Same-year port to Macintosh
1995 port to Windows
Windows era
Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
EarthSiege 2 ??? 3/19/1996 Simultaneous Windows 3.x/Win95 releases
Rama ??? 1996-10 Simultaneous DOS/Win95 releases
1997 release for Macintosh
Hunter Hunted Windows 1996-11
MissionForce: CyberStorm Windows 1996
Outpost 2: Divided Destiny Windows 10/14/1997
Starsiege: Tribes Windows 12/23/1998
Tribes 2 Windows 3/29/2001 Same-quarter port to Linux by Loki Entertainment

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Game 346: Spy vs Spy

I remember way back in 1990 renting a manualless copy of Spy vs. Spy for the NES and wondering just how you were supposed to play this weird split-screen game. I'd make my spy walk around a bunch of rooms, pushing stuff like paintings and bookcases. Sometimes he'd find a briefcase, sometimes his face would turn blue and then he'd explode, and sometimes the black spy would enter and we'd beat each other with canes. But I had no idea how to win.

Nearly a decade later, I played an expanded port on Gameboy Color, and thanks to the ingame tutorials, everything made perfect sense in retrospect - the titular spies are searching a maze-like embassy for a bunch of hidden items - the secret plans, a passport, a wad of cash, a key, and most importantly of all, a briefcase to hold them in. Since you need all of the items to win, and your rival is likely to acquire at least one thing before you do, you'll need to kill him to get it back, and this may be accomplished by strategically placing booby traps, or by simply bashing his head in. Your rival, meanwhile, will try to do the same to you.

Now, in 2022, I'm trying the original Commodore 64 version of the game, armed with knowledge of how things work. And I'm wondering just how you're supposed to play this weird split-screen game.

Typical gameplay. Icons to the right represent items located, but not necessarily items possessed, as I'm about to unpleasantly discover.


A lot of the confusion comes down to some interface quirks, most irritating of all that doing just about anything - placing traps, checking the map, searching an empty container, just pressing a button when you aren't standing on the exact pixel necessary to interact with a thing, fighting, etc. - causes whatever object(s) you are holding to be dropped and become hidden somewhere in the room. If you aren't yet used to this, you might not even realize that you dropped your briefcase some rooms back. I played a few rounds with "R," and while we eventually came to grips with the interface, we never really got a sense of how to play with strategy.


What becomes clear very quickly is that goals revolve around who has the briefcase, as this is the only player who can hold more than one item. Have the briefcase? Then your goal is to find everything else, likely having to kill the other player for the last item. Don't have the briefcase? Then your goal is to kill the other player for it, perhaps by booby trapping an item they need.

Your arsenal of traps include bombs and springs, which are hidden inside furniture and sprung on the victim searching them, buckets of water placed on doors which fall on and electrocute (?) the spy who opens them, gun traps which are placed in furniture before being wired to a door but for all intents and purposes function as a door trap, and time bombs, which just explode and kill anyone in the room after a brief interval. Tools to bypass all of these traps except the time bomb can be found throughout the embassy, but taking one causes you to discard your inventory. Watching your opponent's screen is necessary in order to strategize, and the manual encourages this, rather than denounce it as cheating.

Black spy wiring up a gun trap

In practice, these traps didn't get used very much. The "trapulator" interface is slow and cumbersome, costing you time instead of buying it for you, and it's not made completely clear when a booby trap is set correctly, which would lead to to backfiring traps when we assumed it failed and set it again, only to discover it was set right the first time as it blew up in our faces. And if you plant a trap to create a problem for your opponent, and he doesn't spring or disarm it, then it becomes a problem for you later on, since both of you have the same goals. Victory generally came down to button mashy stick fights, initiated whenever both spies enter the same room, and I usually won, transferring ownership of the items to me.

The black spy futilely blocks my escape with a stick.

If the better stick fighter isn't you, then I'm not really sure how big brain play will help you either. Even if you manage to trick your rival into springing a trap, and manage to snatch up the items dropped during the few seconds he's out cold (itself no sure thing as dead spies respawn quickly and he might still spawn closer than you to the bounty), you're bound to cross paths again and just lose them back to him.

But let's say you are the better stick fighter, your rival knows it, and has ran away like the coward he is, turning the rooms in his wake into a funhouse of traps. You could force a win by simply waiting out the timer with the briefcase (or any other item) in hand, engaging in fights when possible to make his tick down that much faster.

I didn't get a chance to play enough two-player mode to really test this theory, but it held up in singleplayer. The AI at IQ level 4/5 is easily beaten by brute force on the most difficult maze. At IQ 5/5, it is an invincible fight master who magically knows the location of the briefcase and every item and the final exit and will take the most efficient path to hit them all without fault. He might run into your traps, or even his own, but it doesn't matter because he'll just get up a few seconds later to hunt you down and take his stuff right back from your battered corpse before fleeing the embassy.

GAB rating: Average. This is yet another good idea with a poor execution. I'm a fan of Prohías' comic, as well as his body of satire, and the game aspires to embody the spirit of his slapstick "joke and dagger" antics and even his politics to the extent that the 8-bit 64KB format allows. First Star's designer Mike Riedel could have simply gotten away with copying a tried-and-true formula, say, Donkey Kong, and inserted the Spy vs Spy characters into it, but instead he came up with an original design that aims to capture the essence of the comic and its absurdist take on cold war espionage, with all of its plotting and scheming and doublecrossing, and undercurrents of the pointlessness of it all. I wanted to like it better, and I did enjoy the GBC version, but the C64 original lacks balance and polish.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Games 344-345: Boxing & Urban Champion

Mom, can we play Street Fighter?

No, we have Street Fighter at home.

Urban Champion is among the most maligned of Nintendo's early-era Famicon games. Designed by Wild Gunman author Makoto Kano and released in the U.S. in 1986, it was, like Wild Gunman, already outdated and quickly forgotten as so many others in Nintendo's first wave of stateside launches had. I myself hadn't heard of it until it arrived on Virtual Console in 2007 and enjoyed little revived attention. Nevertheless, even a forgotten Nintendo game is still better recognized than most obscure works, and this one's infamous enough to make the 1984 whaling log.

As Urban Champion is meant to be played two-player, I had a test session with "B," but before playing it, we tried out the earlier Game & Watch: Boxing, which Wikipedia claims is an inspiration.

Game 344: Game & Watch: Boxing

One of the few Game & Watches to support two-players simultaneously, Boxing, while hardly complicated, nevertheless shows more complexity than what would be possible on the finite state machines that I once incorrectly described the Game & Watch machines as. As it turns out (revealed apparently thanks to the reverse-engineering efforts of Soviet computer scientists), these toys were running software under the hood, albeit just a few hundred bytes of embedded program ROM, and on a 32khz 4-bit Sharp CPU. You've got multi-conditional branching logic and integer accumulation governing this bout of punching, blocking, weaving, stamina, and footwork.

Of course the rules are only sophisticated in comparison to other G&W titles, and dead simplistic by any other standard. Getting punched costs you a hit block and a point of stamina. You can defend against a punch by blocking, which requires guarding the correct zone, by dodging, which requires precise timing, or by punching first. Get hit too much and you get pushed into your corner or even knocked down, costing you even more stamina. When a round ends, the fight pauses for a few seconds and then resumes in the center of the ring, giving you a bit of leeway if you found yourself in a corner prior. Run out of stamina, and your next knockdown is a K.O.

GAB rating: Below average. The Game & Watch format is meant to be a simple time waster, but it doesn't translate well to a competitive game. Simple goals with binary failstates, as in most Game & Watch titles, can be entertaining for a few minutes at a time, but when the goal is to outperform another player, you need more complexity for competition to be satisfying. Boxing doesn't succeed at this, nor does its 4-bit CPU make for an engaging opponent. "B" was a little kinder in his assessment, but I'm sure he'll be just as content as I am to never pick it up again for a rematch.

Game 345: Urban Champion


In the above video, I play the J.D. on the left, "B" on the right.

Wikipedia wasn't wrong in suggesting Boxing as an ancestor to Urban Champion. It's practically a beat for beat remake, but with an inner city theme. There are a few rule changes that improve the flow and help make the fight feel more like a contest of skill than of button mashing, but nothing so significant as to change the fact that this is a very simplistic fighting game without much substance or replay value.

We both enjoyed the sense of character and humor, such as peevish citizens that drop flower pots on you from overhead windows, the manhole knockouts, and how the cops sometimes drive by, causing both fighters to stop fighting and retreat into their corners to act suspiciously nonchalant, and will eventually arrest the more poorly performing player, serving the exact same functions as Boxing's referee.

Like in Boxing, you still advance toward victory by punching high when your opponent blocks low, and low when he blocks high, but two tweaks discourage you from just constantly flailing without regard for defense - punching now drains your own stamina, and after getting blocked, your next punch will come out just a bit slower, giving your opponent an edge if they counter-punch with the right timing. Stamina plays a different role too - rather than winning by depleting the opponent's, now the winner becomes the first player to knock down the other three times, and stamina for both players refills after each knockdown, instead of depleting for the victim. Running out is uncommon, but the consequence is that the exhausted player becomes fatigued and fights ineffectively.

GAB rating: Below average. Urban Champion is an improvement over Boxing, reasonably well polished and balanced, and we even had fun playing it. Nevertheless, this is a game that Nintendo once thought was worth paying $30 to own, and I feel I have to judge it by that standard. I don't hate it, but this is a dumb, one-note game whose novelty would wear off before the afternoon was over. Had I been evaluating as an arcade game, and indeed, it had been converted to Nintendo's "Vs." coin-op format as its first stateside release, I'd be more lenient, but couldn't rate it higher than average.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Ports of Entry: Tynesoft

Unknown lead platform:


Auf Wiedersehen Pet

Released for Commodore 64 & ZX Spectrum in 1984

Super Gran

First released for ZX Spectrum in June 1985

Released for Amstrad CPC, Commodore 16, & Commodore 64 in 1985

Mouse Trap

Released for Amiga, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, & Commodore 64 in 1987

Winter Challenge: World Class Competition

First released for Commodore 64 in March 1988

Released for Amiga, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Electron, PC, & ZX Spectrum in 1988

Circus Games

First released for Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Electron, & ZX Spectrum in 1988

Released for Amiga & Atari ST in 1989

Superman: The Man of Steel

Released for Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Electron, MSX, & PC in 1989

Ported to Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum in 1989

Beverly Hills Cop

Released for Amiga, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, & PC in 1990

Ported to Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum in 1990

Select chronology: 

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Auf Wiedersehen Pet ??? 1984 Same-year releases for C64 & ZX Spectrum
Rig Attack Commodore 16 1984 1985 ports to Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, & Electron
Super Gran ??? 1985-6 Same-year releases for Amstrad CPC, C16, C64, & ZX Spectrum
Mouse Trap ??? 1987 Same-year releases for Amiga, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, & C64
Winter Challenge: World Class
??? 1988-3 Same-year releases for various computers
Circus Games ??? 1988 Same-year releases for various 8-bit computers
1989 releases for Amiga & Atari ST
Superman: The Man of Steel ??? 1989 Same-year releases for various computers
Same-year ports to Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum
Beverly Hills Cop ??? 1990 Same-year releases for Amiga, Atari ST, BBC Micro, C64, & PC
Same-year ports to Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Ports of Entry: Realtime Games Software

Unknown lead platform:


Carrier Command

First released for Amiga in July 1988

Released for Atari ST in 1988

Released for PC in October 1989

Released for Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum in 1989

Ported to Commodore 64 in 1989


Battle Command

First released for Amiga, Atari ST, & PC in 1990

Released for Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, & ZX Spectrum in 1991


Select chronology: 

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
3D Tank Duel ZX Spectrum 1984
3D Starstrike ZX Spectrum 1984 1985 ports to Amstrad CPC & Enterprise
Carrier Command ??? 1988-7 Same-year releases on Amiga & Atari ST
1989 releases on Amstrad CPC, PC, & ZX Spectrum
1989 port to C64
Battle Command ??? 1990 Same-year releases on Amiga, Atari ST, & PC
1991 releases on Amstrad CPC, C64, & ZX Spectrum
Elite Plus DOS 1991 1992 port to PC-98

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Game 343: Karateka

"Karotica?" Is that like erotic karate? - "D"

Jordan Mechner's journals portray himself as a computer nerd, an appreciator of classical music, a college slacker, and with a level of interest perhaps second only to his zeal for programming, a cinephile with an eye for authorial touch. It could hardly seem more appropriate that his 1989 opus Prince of Persia, a 2D platformer with realistically proportioned and animated characters, actions and physics based on plausible human athleticism, and a focus on puzzles, set pieces, and use of cinema grammar to advance the plot visually, would retrospectively be labeled a cinematic platform game and considered the precursor to that subgenre of games with such design goals.

Mechner's road begins in 1982, though, and his first commercial product Karateka, though it isn't a platformer, and it ultimately didn't enjoy the enduring success of his later smash hit, a lot of the ambition and style comes through here, in this unassuming little beat'em up adventure from 1984.

Before working on Karateka, Mechner programmed and submitted Deathbounce, a crummy Asteroids Deluxe clone with twitchy keyboard controls and excessively slidey physics. It's not the worst Asteroids clone I've seen, but it isn't fun or very playable, and I don't feel extended analysis would enhance our understanding of Mechner's career.

Mechner would submit the game to Broderbund, and was personally advised by Doug Carlston to improve on certain aspects, and even sent him a free joystick and a copy of Choplifter! for inspiration. Blown away by its smooth animations, original gameplay design, and most of all, its sales volume, Mechner put Deathbounce on permanent hold in favor of a something much more ambitious that had been floating in his mind - an adventure with a martial arts film-inspired presentation, and an elaborate fighting control system.

Two years later, Karateka hit shelves.


Karateka opens with some silent film inspired storytelling techniques. Title cards, theatrical gesturing (made more fluid and realistic with rotoscoping), expressionistic use of light and shadow, and even three dimensional blocking to an extent. It's simple, but feels more modernly cinematic in style than anything we've looked at yet, or indeed anything predating Prince of Persia, and many things since, for that matter.

You begin ascending a cliffside, and soon encounter the first of Akuma's guards, and begin your first of many fist fights throughout Karateka's brief runtime. Sadly, Mechner's elaborate dual-fisted fighting system never came to fruition, and the full extent of its gameplay possibilities - and technical issues - are already seen by the time this fight is over. For instance, the gameplay speed is overall quite slow, and the presence of doorways and arches really exacerbates the problem, leading to lag and dropped inputs. Thankfully, the fight mechanics are quite forgiving, except in one regard - if you get hit even once while not in a fighting stance, you die. Apart from that, you're much more likely to be killed through your own impatience than by mistimed moves.

You have three kicks and three punches, low, medium, and high variations on each, but you can get by almost entirely on your medium kick. Walking is slow, and kicks just have better range than punches. You're basically invulnerable so long as you stand still and wait for your opponent to step within your kicking range before you let loose with your mighty foot - worst case scenario is that the first blow knocks him out of range, best case scenario is that he starts flailing with his fists uselessly while you land in multiple kicks.

Against these early starting enemies, though, you can walk right up to them and just pummel them to death with rapid-fire fists. There's a knack to doing this without getting kicked yourself while approaching, but it's not difficult.

After your first victory, more filmic techniques heighten the drama without too much gameplay interference. Tracking shots with parallax effects on Mt. Fuji follow your assault. Cross-cut shots transition in with wipes to show Akuma sending reinforcements your way, or the princess stirring in her cell.

The enemies don't fight much better just yet, but they start to have more health than you, making it unwise to trade blows too aggressively.

Enemies' kicks also outrange your punches.

Once you make it to the palace, enemies start fighting more defensively. Patience is key, but you also can't just depend on outlasting them through attrition - health regenerates, and if all you can do is land the occasional defensive kick, you'll just be at a standoff as that tick of damage keeps regenerating faster than you can deplete any more of them. Enemies love to kick the air in front of you, but if you can slip in between kick animations, or coax them into stepping within range of your own kicks, you can pretty easily hit them more often than they hit you.

Falcon PUNCH!

You'll have to deal with Akuma's falcon too, and this is the only place where high and low punches serve any purpose. A well timed and aimed swat gets it out of your face. A miss means you get clawed up a bit and have to fight the next guy with a bit less health. Not a big deal, really, unless you get taken by surprise and get falconed in the running stance. That means you die.

The final screen is protected by a guard with similar tactics and lots of health, and a nasty portcullis trap that will probably kill you the first time you encounter it.

The final area is the prison, where all of the guards have more health than you and fight defensively with greater speed and effectiveness, but once again, patience prevails. All those doors will slow things down terribly, but mistakes typically cost you one hit - a hit you can quickly regenerate back - and successfully stepping in range usually let you hit back multiple times.

Kick down the penultimate door, and you're in for a nasty surprise.

That damn bird! Timing your punches to actually land is tricky, and even unfair with how laggy the controls are, but on the other hand, it only has five hitpoints and doesn't regenerate. I have never lost this fight, to be honest.

Only Akuma remains, and the tactics that got you here will defeat him too. Like everyone else, other than the falcon, he simply can't harm you as long as you allow him to approach first. He'll stand just outside your kick range, starting at you for ages before approaching, but this can be a good thing if you need time to regenerate. I lost to him once, mainly because I got impatient and got in close too soon to trade punches while his own health was up, but after than I beat him down without a problem. It just took awhile - about two minutes.

Obligatory note - approach Mariko in your fighting stance, and she KO's you with a single hook kick.

Makes you wonder why she needed rescuing.

GAB rating: Average. Karateka's authorial style is visionary - apparently Mechner spent nearly two years making it - but the gameplay is kind of shallow and repetitive, even for the era, and it's all over in about twenty minutes, which would be too short if the gameplay weren't shallow and repetitive. But there's a forward-thinking elegance to its cinematic inspiration that you don't see in its contemporaries. Every scene and every room, despite the Apple II's cripplingly limited palette, is aesthetically pleasing, never seeming too cluttered, too busy, or out of place for the setting. King's Quest, another game with cinematic influence and where every "room" is artfully constructed, feels flat and garish in comparison. Thirty years later, Mechner would be involved in remaking Karateka for mobile devices, but even its visual style misses the mark, I feel, constantly bombarding the player with tutorials, flashing icons, and "gamey" touches like combo counters, chi-meters, and scoring bonuses and extra lives when the original was over that, even forgoing the concept of points when seemingly nobody else realized you could make a video game without them.

Further obligatory note - inserting the disk upside down causes the game to load and play upside down.

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