Second Opinion

In this new column I'll be taking another look at some of the software that has come out over the years for the good old Sam. This month I'll start with perhaps most people's favourite style: The Shoot 'em Up.

Defenders of the Earth

Enigma Variations - Rob Holman

Sam's first ever commercial game!! Basically this is a flip-screen run around effort: Flash Gordon v Ming T. Mercyless and his cronies. Sometimes you'll come up against locked doors and holes in the floor, so there is the added complication of having to press a key to get help from the various other members of the team.

Generally competent stuff, very good for a first attempt: fast, colourful sprites; a decent title tune (but weak in-game FX) and very playable. Although the game game is quite short, the difficulty is pitched just right - you'll complete it but be prepared to put in some work first.

Overall: 8/10 Enjoyable.


Enigma Variations - Rob Holman (again!)

Simple vertical scroller. This is mode 2 (shock!) so you have large scrolling foreground blocks (which look very impressive) and white monochrome sprites (which don't. I think I might have preferred a bit of colour and some clash rather than this dull affair). All is not lost though, since things flip back into mode 4 for the end of level aliens. Sound isn't bad - a very short title tune gives way to in game music and FX. There are few bolt-on weapons: extra shots for the gun you already have, and a wierd circular thing the comes out behind you (and seems to have no effect whatsoever).

Unfortunately there are a few loose ends to have been tidied up. There are no explosions: aliens just disappear without a trace. The lives system is quite clever; ram an alien and you die, but there is also an energy bar you can demolish by hitting shots and meteorites. The thing is, you can find so much extra energy and lives that you'll finish the game in a week. Still, eh? This is playable if not addictive and the sort of thing you can just pick up and play, a game that your console owning friends will actually understand!

Overall: 7/10 Worthwhile.

Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters

Domark / Tengen / Enigma Variations - Jim Tripp / Glenn Benson

How can this be? An arcade conversion on the Sam! What is the world coming to: its senses?!? However it happened, I'm glad it did because E.F.T.P.O.T.R.M. (for short!) is a fine old game. Set in a 3d complex, you (and a friend!) can take on the evil reptilions and rescue the human slaves. Good story - you even get an illustrated into (in mode 1, ripped straight from the Spectrum but since they look quite good anyway we'll gloss over that minor point).

So much for the B-Movie title and plot, what about the game? The graphics look good, sound is reasonable, but the control takes a lot of getting used to. Rather than the ST / Amiga's sensible direction mapped option, here you need to rotate the character and push forward. Not easy, especially when you're fending off horders of the notorious "Weetabix men". Also the 3d is flip screen, so you can't see what you're coming up against; plus in a two player game you're forced to stick together leading to some very tight corners and near scrapes. Another thing is that every level looks exactly the same, so you never really feel you're getting anywhere. So: Fun again, but not that addictive.

Overall: 6/10 Okay, ish.


Fred Publishing - Balor Knight

Now this is more like it. First known as Plasmoid, you may have seen the playable demo on Newsdisk 5. Now vastly updated, this features ten levels of 12-way scrolling action: shoot the aliens, collect the crystals. You also get various weapons: shields, smart bombs, scatter fire, extra shots etc. Simple. Or is it?

This game is actually quite difficult. Once again you've got rotational control, and the ship's guns are fixed - you have to fly straight at an alien to hit it, ouch! However, once you've mastered the awkward controls you'll find a humdinger of an addictive game beneath. Some would say it is simply too difficult, but if even I can get onto level eight then it must be pitched about right. Sound and graphics are very average, but playability must be experienced to be believed: brilliant!

Overall: 9/10 Game of the month!


Fred Publishing - Neil Holmes

This is a simple horizontal scroller with a parallax starfield. And that's about it. The actual coding is well up to scratch, and there are several good ideas, but unfortunately there isn't actually a game to put them in. The main problem is that you only get one shot at a time, and of the power up icons, despite their ridiculous nomenclature (D = Smart Bomb), none will give you another. So the only way to shoot an entire wave (thus earning a bonus icon) is to get really close to the aliens and hold down fire. Which doesn't really work because they'll just shoot you with pinpoint accuracy at point blank range. You haven't a prayer of avoiding the shot: Mega frustrating.

Alternatively, it is easy enough to keep out of the way of the aliens and never shoot anything, and like this you'll complete at least the first three levels: Mega boring. The graphics are tiny, if colourful and smooth, and the music is below average (you can turn it off, not that you get any fx instead, mind you). There are other bad faults, eg collision detection is dire, so it is perfectly possible to end the game by crashing into a dead alien (or the large gap around one, come to think of it). In short, this makes a nice demo but as a game it is completely useless. Without doubt the worst full-pricer I've ever bought - Michael would only edit out the most appropriate adjectives.

Overall: 3/10 Avoid.


Apex Developments - Neil Holmes

Remember Smash TV? This is the same, only different. You (and a pal) are chucked into a room with a gun each and dozens of other wierd creatures, and left to sort it out. Shooting the enemies releases crisp packets (!) Collect five and you can go onto the next level. There are other power-ups, like better guns, extra lives and points bonuses, as well as a silly bomb icon, which turns all the enemies into some bonus. Every few levels has a big mega-baddy which fires homing missiles and takes about fifty shots to kill.

The graphics are small but well animated, Andy Monk's title tune is good but the in-game music is far more ordinary. The game can be very hard, but since almost everything happens randomly, how far you get is determined more by the power-ups you're given than how skillful you are at playing the game. Thus it can be a maddeningly frustrating game and not especially playable, but very addictive, especially with two players. It also comes on two disks - one is the fun (but easily forgettable) animated intro.

Overall: 8/10 Entertaining.

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