As 2008 splutters to a close in time with the chimes of Big Ben and we all spend the next morning recovering from an ill-advised night of excess involving bottles of wine so cheap that, had it come from a horse, the animal would need putting down, the Oldschool Gaming team struggle to enable at least a couple of grey cells to produce the second annual review. To begin with, the poor Oric really seems to be left out in the cold over the past year with even the Virtual Boy or Commodore PET receiving some coder love in 2008, the former with an entire dedicated competition and the latter with Blok Copy (yes it's one of mine, but I was told to mention this, by the way...!) whilst the BBC Micro appears to be returning from the release wilderness courtesy of Retro Software who have several releases in the pipeline such as platformer Mountain Panic and the Scramble-inspired Rocket Attack amongst others apparently planned for 2009 that look very interesting.
After the bumper crop from the 2007 ABBUC competition, it does have to be said that 2008's iteration was a bit of a let down; although there were fun titles released such as the Whack-A-Mole-inspired Animal Party there wasn't a Crownland or Yoomp! this year to really stun gamers. The MSXDev 2008 competition hasn't finished at the time of writing (it rolls over to January and finishes at the end of the month) but there are some attractive titles already listed including a cover of Konami's Quarth called Qbiqs and some promising platforming action in the form of Tomb Of Genghis Khan, although there isn't a download for either available just yet.
Dragons and faces and platforms, oh my! Mariano The Dragon (Amstrad CPC)
The Amstrad CPC has seen a couple of games of note, in particular Kevin Thacker's Sudoku (also released on the Spectrum) was solidly presented version of those brain-bending puzzles. At the action end of the scale was Mariano The Dragon: Capers In Cityland (again, also released for the Spectrum) which was a highly colourful flick screen platformer from Spanish publishers CEZ Game Studio with a cute likkle dragon having to complete various tasks to free his friends from captivity. The other title worthy of note has to be Richard Wilson's port of the Spectrum classic 3D Deathchase; Wilson eschewed the opportunity to spruce the twenty five year old motorbike chase up a little but the result is just as playable as the well-known original.
The busiest platforms were probably the VIC 20, Atari 8-bits and Spectrum, in each case a good amount of high quality software was produced along with a couple of surprises. The VIC scored a series of small but nicely formed releases including strategic battling for would be emperors in the form of the 16K requiring VICToria Gold Edition, more abstract battles between humans and computers with Go-Moku (which was also released on the C64 and C16), the Game And Watch inspired Parachute and probably the most interesting story behind a 2008 release as Quikman 2008 author Robert Hurst took a game he originally wrote in the 1980s, created source code from the version stored for over twenty five years on a tape at his brother's house and proceeded to upgrade it into one of the best examples of the genre for the unexpanded machine.
For the Atari, releases included the conversion of Bomb Jack (which seems to have split opinions somewhat since it's based on the C64 game logic but still manages to be enjoyable) and the Atari did well for conversions generally in fact, GR8 Software's first release as a limited edition was Hobgoblin, a budget platformer originally published by Atlantis that they converted from the BBC Micro version and Metagalactic Llamas Battle At The Edge Of Time, based on the VIC 20 original of Jeff Minter's hardcore single screen shoot 'em up, may not have been a large, sprawling game but it racked up a lot of hours playing time nonetheless.
Jonathan Cauldwell was, as everybody pretty much expected, a game-developing factory once more and the production line pushed out several quirky and enjoyable titles, Rallybug (originally named Fusion and used along with the still incomplete Co-Axis 2189 on the C64 for the highscore competition at the Fusion '08 event) was a dash to the finishing line, clearing vast chasms in the chequered landscape and dodging all manner of obstacles along the way whilst Christmas bonus Albatrossity is a crazy golf game that makes the ones seen on the seafront look tame, giving the player a selection of different balls and placing the holes in hard to reach places at the far end of obstacle strewn fairways. And there has to be a special mention for Shoot 'Em Up Designer, not a game in its own right but a chance to liberate some otherwise dormant design talent amongst the Spectrum community in the same way Cauldwell's previous Platform Game Designer has.
Sub Hunter (C64) - hunting subs since 2008!
The C64 received a significant number of releases during 2008, although nothing was really in the same stellar league as the superb Joe Gunn; probably the best release was Sub Hunter, initially a major reworking of Mastertronic's Sub Hunt (based on the VIC 20 version rather than the poor C64 one) that was expanded into a far more rounded and indeed enjoyable game. Sadly, the other Richard Bayliss releases during the year weren't anywhere near as enjoyable, both Sub Duel and Hyper Duel were simplistic and somewhat generic two player shoot outs. One quirk for the breadbin was the number of new cartridges published; usually the preserve of the various Atari camps, 2008 first saw Simon Quernhorst's fabby Shotgate released as a limited edition (with two player shoot out Konflikt on the same ROM) and that was followed by CD-based magazine RGCD's shop stocking shiny cartridge versions of Kikstart C16, Invasive Action and just recently Block Frenzy with a promise of more titles coming soon. And although it doesn't strictly come under the Oldschool Gaming remit, the 15th Anniversary edition of the phenomenal Mayhem In Monsterland does need a mention just because it's so damned good.
AND THE WINNER IS...
During 2007 there was no outright winner for the coveted Oldschool Gaming Game Of The Year Award or indeed for the "accolade" of worst game but for 2008 there has been one title in particular that gathered more attention for each category.
This year the outright loser simply has to be Manky for the C64, written by Peter "Omega120" Vass; this game really lives up to it's name, despite being originally released a few years ago it was, along with other titles, given a major "marketing push" (which involved Vass signing up to several Commodore-related message boards and talking incessantly about it to the point where a couple of places actually banned him) and several rounds of debugging that failed to actually fix anything without breaking something else in the process. The game itself is a platformer, heavily inspired by Chuckie Egg and borrowing elements (and indeed sprite animations) from other single screen games such as Hunchback and the seminal Manic Miner but somehow it doesn't capture any of the magic of those titles and fails to gel, mainly because the control system is badly handled and the way the player's character "jumps" in particular makes an exercise in frustration.
Now the bad has been dealt with, we can turn to the best of the best for 2008 and the shiny non-existent award for the Oldschool Gaming Game Of The Year Award (perhaps we should trademark that name?) is handed to Bob Smith for SplATTER on the Spectrum and don't worry, we'll cut his microphone well before he can thank his agent or parents. For those who haven't seen it (or didn't just follow the link from this article to the review) SplATTR is a fast moving into-the-screen shoot 'em up where the player has to think and fire slightly ahead to kill things, in a similar vein to Missile Command but here the gun sight can take damage. There are a large range of attackers to either avoid or shoot depending on the stage, loads of chunky, colourful graphics splashed about the place to blow the heck out of, a decent AY soundtrack in the background and most importantly it's highly playable with a good difficulty curve that has been combined with the option to select paths through the stages. The ethos behind SplATTR was "If it moves, shoot it. If it doesn't move, shoot it anyway. If it drains your energy, move!" and we're never going to argue with that here at Oldschool Gaming towers!
Don't forget to flush with SplATTR (Spectrum)
As with the previous round up there are many more games that haven't been covered but, generally speaking, 2008 saw an increase in smaller, more casual games and the general quality threshold was maintained if not improved upon. That's what we wanted to see here at Oldschool Gaming, so hopefully 2009 should see that trend continue. Happy New Year girls and boys, pass the glasses of cheap plonk around!