Oldschool Gaming - reviewing new games on classic computers
Main review :: written by Paul 

When I first loaded up Area 51, I did notice that it was very similar to Matthew Smith's Manic Miner; I know a lot of single screen platform games can be compared in that way, but this Amstrad CPC conversion by Nicholas Campbell, based on the Spectrum original by Jonathan Cauldwell that was entered into the Minigame competition in 2004, is very similar indeed. I did have a read of the instructions before I started playing and, on reading that "contact with patrolling aliens and deadly spikes, or falling too far will cost you one of five lives, when all lives are used the game ends", I didn't realise it would be so literal; it would have been nice to at least have an indication as to the distance I could fall before losing a life, since I had to play the first level alone three or four times just in order to work out where I could drop without dying.

Area 51 has are some simple but nice graphics in the game itself and the collision detection is good, although sometimes I felt it a bit unfair; sometimes I'd be able to get past a certain place but would die during another attempt. The game could possibly have done with a border around the play area as well, since when you hit the top of the screen you just bounce back and it's hard to see where that bounce will happen. Again, it didn't help on the first few times on the first level, as you need to get used to those limits before you can fully enjoy the game. There was no title menu music but the in-game tune was okay for a few minutes before I had to mute the speakers - there doesn't appear to be a mute facility for people with real Amstrads (although they can use the built-in loudspeaker's volume control) and I think it would have been a nice feature even if it muted all the effects as well.

THERE IS NO AREA 51, THERE IS NO SPACESHIP
I'm not sure if it was the emulator or not, but the space bar sometimes didn't seem to respond fast enough to my hitting it and sometimes when attempting to jump over a baddie I was getting killed because it was taking it's time to respond. I also think during the game an energy bar might have worked. When you die, I did notice after the "game over" message, the status isn't updated so one life is still remaining on the screen but again, further comparison with it's older brother shows the Spectrum version does the same, so I'm guessing the port is being kept as close to the original as possible... then again, the first level on each is different so perhaps not!

Overall, I found it hard completing the first level since some of the jumps needed pin-point accuracy and, when I finally made it to the second level I only had one life and I don't know if it was just me (or the emulator) but level 2 seemed faster-paced. I did enjoy Area 51 and the controls and principles of the game are very easy to grasp, but level one just seemed to be geared far harder than a first level should be in my opinion. As a game of this standard, I would definitely have it in my collection, but I have to admit that, because of the level of accuracy required to progress through the levels, I don't think I'd play it that often and not every player will have the high level of patience required.

Second opinion :: written by Jason 

I'll be honest, I expected the almost mythical base at Area 51 to be just a little more... well, alien really. Granted there are strange creatures patrolling around the screen, but there aren't any Giger-esque face hugging monsters or flying saucers hovering about the place. The comparison to Manic Miner and indeed other single screen platformers from the early to mid 1980's really does have to be drawn because that's where Area 51's "heart" is (assuming it has a heart, it's an alien after all) and the feel of those games is replicated here; the pixel-perfect jumps, unforgiving but only occasionally "unfair" collisions, that relatively sedate pace that still somehow manages to get the adrenalin going... all the boxes are checked and there are even some nasty moments where the only way to complete a screen is to leave one particular object until last since the drop after collecting it is fatal!

Graphically, things are pretty sparse but I suppose that's only to be expected from a game that was evolved from a Minigame entry and what is present is at least nicely drawn and animated, if somewhat limited in colour. Sound is similarly on the simplified end of the scale since it consists of a simple tune and a couple of spot effects that play on completion of a level or death and it's quite easy to find that tune a bit grating during a prolonged game. Annoyingly, there isn't any support for joystick control either, something that a few players, myself included, will find somewhat irksome.

Area 51 is, almost in keeping with its name, very hard to get into and only gets tougher as things go on; the first level has a difficulty curve that's pretty steep and that is maintained consistently throughout so it takes a bit of sheer bloody-mindedness on the player's part to make any real headway into the game and, although the way that the player's character jumps can be learnt (although as Paul said, it's somewhat hard to judge where the top of the play area is and there really should have been a graphical surround of some kind) and the route through the screens puzzled out since there are no timers or free roaming nasties, that difficulty and the need for precise jumping is going to scare off a lot of the more casual players. The presentation is reasonable, the controls respond well but really could have done with joystick options and, as long as the player is persistent and willing to put in a lot of effort to get into the thing, it's actually quite rewarding; not everyone will find it enjoyable, but those who like titles like Manic Miner that take no prisoners should consider giving Area 51 a go.

Information

AREA 51

Format Amstrad CPC
Developer Nicholas Campbell
Released 2006
Price Free
Review Paul and Jason
Download Available
Screenshots
Titles Screen
Titles Screen
In-game Screen
In-game Screen
Scores
Graphics
Sound
Playability
Lastability
7
4
7
5
   Overall 6
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