It's been 15-16 years since I first got my VIC 20, enjoying the various classics of its era, but sadly due to the lack of new titles, it eventually got packed away. If someone told me a few years ago that that I could be playing a brand new VIC 20 game today, i'd have told them to take their medication. Well it seems its me taking the medication now! The truth is that the C64's big brother has seen a slight revival of late. With a handful of talented programmers coming back to the machine they first fell in love with, there has been a flourish of fresh and stunning titles.
Dragonwing is one of those new titles, written by Aleksi Eeben for the unexpanded VIC 20 and is a very fast and frantic space game with a little hint of Scramble in there. There is no plot to the game, just load it up and whack F1 to start. I deliberately called this game a "space game" and not a "space SEU" title, as you don't blast a soul in it. Nope, this game is about reaction, skill and careful navigation of your ship through a very tight landscape, so if you're expecting R-Type, then i'll get your coat. But if you're still here, then don't be too put off by the lack of blasting as here is a marvel of a game waiting to be discovered.
You must control your chunky ship at scarily fast speeds though a large cavern, avoiding the ceiling and floor as you go. The problem is, your ship has a limited fuel load and to progress further into the cave, you must pick up various fuel pods on your travels. This is not an easy process, and by missing a fuel pod when attempting to collect can cause a devastating outcome. The longer you survive with more fuel, the narrower the cave becomes as you progress through the levels. You'll know when you need to be that little bit more cautious, as the background changes colour as you hit a new part of the cavern.
What takes a little bit of time is the sensitivity of the controls, with your first go most likely ending up with a premature death. With a few goes however, you'll soon get the hang of it and will be gliding your way through the game, or should I say bouncing? The funny thing about this game, is that your ship seems to "bounce" its way through the caverns, and literally does when you collect a fuel pod. Hey, maybe I should stop drinking?
What seems to be the most amazing feature of this game is the Graphics and the Music. One thing I have never seen in a VIC 20 game before is the use of proper multicolour shading and decent music, something i've only really been accustomed to with C64 games. Aleksi has really grabbed the unexpanded VIC 20 by the balls and squeezed out the very best. Graphics are chunky, and typical of a VIC 20 and your main ship is awesome and well shaded, looking rather like a horizontally expanded C64 sprite, but hey a VIC 20 is always a VIC 20!. The cavern is well created with a simple set of rock based character graphics with multicolour shading and the map seems to be randomly produced. All of this scrolls along at a very smooth and fast pace, the fastest i've seen a VIC 20 scroll in a game.
Sonically the game is nothing short of amazing. Well, you haven't quite got the output of a SID chip, but when you are faced with pretty much a sound cut down of what you'd get in a 128K spectrum or Gameboy, to make a VIC 20 sound like this game does is something to be applauded. Even though the title tune is a little too short and repetitive, you have a thumping in-game techno tune which sounds miles better than the chunky bleeps and burps of the VIC 20 of old.
Presentation is limited, but excellent nonetheless, with what seems to be a simple title screen, but nothing like ever seen on a VIC 20 before with rasterbar style shading on a large font and a title tune playing away. There is no game over or get ready screens, but the main elements are all there and all without any memory expansion carts. You will seriously be amazed with this game, especially if like me are already well acquainted with the VIC 20 because this is unlike any other VIC 20 game you will ever play. Apart from looking and sounding stylish, its actually also a really simple and addictive game. Overall a technical masterpiece from Aleksi, and who knows what can be done with more memory...?