Another year passes and, for the first time, the Oldschool Gaming team have decided to take stock, to consider what has been released over the last twelve months and generally to spend time doing this sort of stuff because it’s a bit easier than writing reviews! What a busy twelve months it’s been though, especially the last quarter. The MSXdev (which is still ongoing at the time of writing with a couple of corking-looking titles still to be made available to the general public) and ABBUC competitions producing a very high standard of software, along with a plethora of mostly excellent releases for almost all of the other platforms, only the Oric machines were really “left out” this year.

A night on the tiles with Yoomp! (Atari 8-bit)
A night on the tiles with Yoomp! (Atari 8-bit)

Along with Jonathan Cauldwell’s consistently high standard releases like Egghead Round The Med, Blizzard’s Rift and the Minigame entry Big Baps (one of the few titles that really entertained from this years’ competition), there have been shovel loads of Spectrum releases during 2007 with a glut of titles near the end of the year. The titles covered pretty much the entire gamut of genres from board game simulations such as World Bar (again from the Minigame competition but also available as an enhanced title) and Lee Tonks’ On Reflection representing for text adventures through the ubiquitous puzzle game category with BeTiled and heading off into action platforming and shoot ’em up territory with The Amazing Rocketeer or the incomplete Skyway from ex Mikrogen employee Chris Smith.

Star Sabre has to be the title of note for the Amstrad CPC this year, although it wasn’t the first attempt to produce a smooth, fast shoot ’em up for the CPC but, with the highly detailed sprites and landscapes and a constant 25 frames a second refresh rate, it managed to turn quite a few heads. But along with the blasting came the puzzlers and, interestingly, a close to arcade perfect port of Frogger designed to take advantage of the CPC Plus hardware. The slightly lacklustre Magical Drop didn’t set the CPC world alight in the same way, however it’s still presentable and plays reasonably well as a two player game. The Atari 8-bit also fared very well indeed from the ABBUC competition, with both MULE Wars, a follow up to Danielle Berry’s classic trading simulation, and the final release of the gorgeous-looking horizontal scrolling platformer Crownland, but the Atari 8-bit title that really shone on a visual and indeed technical level was Yoomp!, which essentially took a Bounder-style game environment and wrapped it around the interior a fast-moving tunnel. And the Atari finally got a port of Jet Set Willy that wasn’t the appalling Tynesoft effort and played far more like the Spectrum original for it.

We were maid to do it in Elevators Amiss (Atari 2600)
We were maid to do it in Elevators Amiss (Atari 2600)

In fact, conversions proved very popular during 2007 with a lot of interest being shown in Kikstart C16; there were quite a few people confused by the title, the C16 version of Shaun Southern’s Kikstart plays very differently to the C64 original and Kikstart C16 took that code and ported it directly to the C16’s older brother. Another conversion that got a fair bit of attention was Zoo Mania, a puzzle game based on one of the many match-three-items Flash games on the web, but in this case it was one that created a lot of interest; the C64 version similarly attracted a lot of attention for all the right reasons, being well-presented and solidly written. The C64 also has the distinction of a title that was named more than any other over the past year, that game being Joe Gunn; owing something to both Montezuma’s Revenge and Rick Dangerous, this action puzzling platformer managed to get just about everybody who played it excited and quite a few weeks saw the various posters to the C64 community sites all trading hints.

Conversion mania struck the Atari 2600 as well, with Pacman 4K (again from the Minigame competition) being a successful attempt to produce a more authentic Pacman experience than the official Atari effort. Also for the 2600 was the simple but cute Elevators Amiss, where the player, dressed as a maid, had to traverse the corridors of a hotel whilst avoiding the out of control elevators – which sounds like a normal Saturday night for some of the Oldschool Gaming team…

So picking an outright favourite has proved fairly difficult since the standards have been so high, but what of the other end of the scale? Well, to be honest only four names cropped up during discussions, those four being Find Another Way Again for the Plus/4, Stash Blasta for the C64, Jetboy for the Atari 8-bit and Bag Man on the MSX. Find Another Way Again was nominated in that, whilst it’s not particularly bad as such, there isn’t a lot there after a fairly simplistic maze game with some weak graphics and choices of colour. All of that said, however, it’s positively deep and involved compared to fellow nominee Stash Blasta which forgoes anything complex like backgrounds or horizontal movement of nasties in favour of… well, nothing to be frank. The player ship sits at the bottom and fires up, the nasties trundle down the screen and, if they spawn at the right horizontal position, run straight into the bullets. Stash Blasta is like the first game that most C64 programmers write in order to learn the basics of working with the machine, reading the joystick and moving some sprites around and those games are rarely playable.

The reason for Jetboy being placed so badly is almost purely down to disappointment; as with the aforementioned Jet Set Willy port to the Atari 8-bit, it’s an almost masochistic conversion of the code to Ultimate’s Spectrum blaster Jetpac, but after producing an almost spot on port that played beautifully, the developers decided that they could make enhancements to a game that is widely considered a classic; the results weren’t really improvements as such and, sadly, removed the one of most enjoyable features of the original, the opportunity to hare around the screen, blazing away at the nasties with the coolest laser weapon ever!

But if Jetboy suffered from having new features added, then AG Software’s Bag Man suffered even more for having existing ones taken away. Again it was a port, this time from a relatively obscure arcade game to the MSX, but in the process of moving it over the majority of the features and all of the enemies in the original were removed. In fact, all that remained was a maze game that became a simple race against the clock to move objects from their starting points to the exit. This paring down left the game feeling painfully simplistic to say the least and, due to a series of bugs within the program and one particularly nasty example that plagued the control system, badly executed with it too.

Joe Gunn (C64) aims for our top spot
Joe Gunn (C64) aims for our top spot


Of course, we do have to choose an overall winner, selecting a game that generated more interest in 2007 than any of the others and that is a pretty tall order; in fact, rounding down to a single title has been pretty much impossible and we’re going to cheat and give two awards to games in different categories because there wasn’t much between the two as regards both their playability and the impact they had on their respective communities. First off, the best platformer of 2007 is going to have to be Joe Gunn on the C64, simply because it got more people playing it than just about any other 8-bit game this year and rightly so because it was very well thought out and had a lot of longevity. And secondly, the best racing game award goes to Yoomp! on the Atari 8-bits for taking an old but still workable concept like Bounder and taking it to new, interesting and playable places whilst being technically rather adept with it. A couple of honourable mentions have to go to Frogger ’07 for the expanded VIC 20 for being an amazingly good conversion despite the VIC’s limited screen resolution, to On Reflection for being a text adventure that not only garnered a good deal of interest from the Spectrum community, but was proud of the fact that it didn’t feature any orcs or sorcery and to Star Sabre for doing something that the CPC has been needing for a while.

Now we have to deal with the weak end of the scale and, since two games from different categories were chosen for the best games, it seems only fair that we do the same for the worst. So the first winner is Jetboy for the Atari 8-bit which, despite being very well written, simply didn’t work after the series of modifications and turned into a huge disappointment for laser-wielding Jetpac owners everywhere. And the other burning wreckage of 2007 and arguably the weaker of the two titles is the MSX release Bag Man, simply for being a “conversion” that reduced the game to a shadow of it’s former self and, despite removing all of those complexities from the game mechanic, still managed to be badly implemented. Again, some dishonourable mentions to Stash Blasta on the C64 for managing to be so bland that, despite lacking any depth whatsoever, it still didn’t get our attention enough to “win” the worst game award (although it did give me a chance to make a few Doctor Who references during the review), to Plus/4 maze romp Find Another Way Again for the hiccups in it’s difficulty curve and ACME Bricks again on the C64 for just being appallingly bad, lacking any redeeming features that Breakout clones need such as interesting ball angles and having a single character collision and removal system despite using two character wide bricks.

The absolute howlers aside though, 2007 was a bumper year for 8-bit releases and in a lot of cases the quality level has been very high indeed; in fact, this past year has demonstrated that 8-bit developers can produce some sterling software and, fingers crossed and looking at some of the previews doing the rounds, we’ve got a lot to look forward to as the calendar rolls over into 2008.