Friday, 8 January 2021

, , , ,

Amigan's obsession with Sonic the Hedgehog

Amiga platform gaming's abiding holy grail was to trounce SEGA's blue-rinsed spiky mascot in the velocity department so we could proudly stand by our computer system of choice and declare we don't need a naff kiddie console to validate our gaming credentials. There were many plucky European contenders to Sonic's throne, yet none really captured gamers' imagination or piggy bank contents to the same extent.

Nevertheless, is it remotely feasible that one of these wannabe substitutes runs as fast, or even faster, without necessarily rivalling Sonic's allegedly unique panache?

Obviously, the only cast-iron guaranteed way to deduce the truth once and for all is to place each side by side to compare their locomotive performance scientifically using a proper formula and measuring tools, and stuff.

Methodology then. Despatch all the baddies patrolling a short, flat segment of terrain and race across it at full pelt, capturing the moment for analysis. Easier said than done when enemies respawn incessantly and creative level design aims to eliminate mundane plateaus.

Calculate the distance travelled in pixels employing a calibrated screen ruler and divide by the time taken in seconds to traverse the designated area and we arrive at the velocity in pixels per second. Compare this to our control figure (Sonic's running speed) and we can establish which platforming protagonist is the quickest.

Some of these contestants can ambulate faster still when emerging from a steep descent or loop, yet that's cheating since they're not accelerating entirely under their own steam. As such I've discounted these incidences so as to compare more fairly. Other treacle-treading entrants were included simply for contrast purposes.

So without further preambley pretentious waffle, let's acquaint ourselves with the hyperactive challengers. Those notable for their quick-footed speedy fastitude and do the maths. Ssssss.

  • Kid Chaos - Magnetic Fields/Ocean
  • Mr Nutz - Neon/Ocean Software
  • Oscar - Flair
  • Quik the Thunder Rabbit - Stywox/Titus
  • Superfrog - Team 17
  • Tearaway Thomas - Global Software (DMI)
  • Wiz 'n' Liz - Lunatic/Psygnosis
  • Zool - Gremlin
  • Zool 2 - The Warp Factory/Gremlin

And there we have it. A definitive answer to the perennial conundrum at last. Ultimately, what this demonstrates is that I need to get a life and would benefit from immediate intervention of the mental health variety.

P.S.

To further cement the point, I went to the trouble of extracting every reference made to Sonic the Hedgehog in old-school magazine reviews of the Amiga games under consideration... and then didn't use any of them in the video because surely no-one wants to read this much text via YouTube. To save it going to waste...

Zool

It is a sort of platformy thing but not, and it is a sort of collect a lot thingy, but not really. The closest thing it is, is Sonic the Spikey Haired Git of a Hedgehog, but this knocks the socks off Sonic.

Amiga Computing (issue 54, November 1992)

For an age now the Amiga world has been alight with tales of Gremlin's new Sonic-beater. Now it's here, can it outgun the blue bomber? We put it to the test...

Amiga Format (issue 39, October 1992)

Gremlin finally unleash their hedgehog-challenging ninja ant on a platform-hungry public. Can it beat the consoles at their own game?

For the last few months those nauseating little console owners have been raving about how good their machines are compared to the likes of the Amiga. You know the sort. They are all the same. Talk about games and all they can say is 'Sonic is this fast,' or 'I can do this on Mario'. These sad types who are obviously in need of a holiday in Yugoslavia can brag no more. The age of the hedgehog is over, the age of the ninja ant is here.

Amiga Power (issue 18, October 1992)

Tony Dillon checks out Gremlin's self-proclaimed Sonic beater, to see if it lives up to such claims...

We have a lot to thank the likes of Nintendo and Sega for. Although we may never experience Mario or Sonic on the Amiga, they have opened the way for a stream of highly-playable clones, such as Millennium's RoboCod or Ocean's The Addams Family. The latest of these console-esque platform extravaganzas is Zool - The Ninja Of The Nth Dimension, and, as far as I'm concerned, it's the best of the bunch.

This is where you step in. As everyone must already know, the game is billed as a 'Sonic The Hedgehog Beater'. Having played both, all I can see that Zool has in common with Sonic are the huge sprites, its gaudy use of colour, and its incredible speed.

I can't say it really beats Sonic outright and The Addams Family is slightly more polished in appearance and control. However, it is definitely one of the best platform games released on the Amiga, and you'd be absolutely out of your tree to miss it.

CU Amiga (August 1992)

Well I never - Zool's very fast, dead easy to pick up and totally, totally addictive. In fact, it has a definite consoley feel to it - one might even say a certain hedgehoggy feel (if you get my drift). Through Gremlin would no doubt purport to not caring if Sonic were to end up as roadside pizza, the two games do have a similar atmosphere and that certain playable style. In fact, as well as gracing the Amiga and ST, there's a distinct possibility of Zool eventually appearing on a console near you. You jammy swine, you.

Zero (issue 35, September 1992)

Zool - Ninja of the Nth dimension, hedgehog-beater and self-proclaimed mascot for the Amiga - caused a sensation last year, hitting the charts big time and staying at number one for a Bryan-Adams-ly long time. At last, a character to give Amigans someone to champion, and supposedly one who could beat up both Sonic and Mario in a fight (if any of them actually existed).

Amiga Power (issue 24, April 1993)

Zool 2

This is really the game to make people forget about that damned hedgehog.

Amiga Format (issue 55, January 1994)

Zool has finally sold out. No longer can it be claimed that he is to the Amiga what Mario and Sonic are to the Toys 'R' Us consoles. That is right, he is appearing at a Sega and Nintendo console near you know. I do not know about you, but quite frankly I do not care what Zool chooses do. He never once said that his relationship with the Amiga was a monogamous one.

Amiga Power (issue 33, January 1994)

Tearaway Thomas

As we all know, one of the most impressive things about Sonic is its speed, and Tearaway Thomas does for the Amiga what Sonic did for the Mega Drive. This is so scorchingly fast, I hardly thought it possible.

Amiga Power (issue 22, February 1993)

Easily carrying off the award for worst title of the year is this new offering from newly-formed Global Software. Tearaway Thomas is being touted as the fastest-moving game on the Amiga and a potential Sonic beater, but you'd never guess from the title - it sounds more like a children's bed time story than a state-of-the-art home computer game.

CU Amiga (January 1993)

All Amiga programmers want to write a Sonic beater at the moment. Gremlin managed it with Zool, and now Global Software have gone for a rather shameless attempt at emulating the hedgehog in blue with Tearaway Thomas; an unspecified creature from outer space.

To be frank, Thomas wants to be Sonic. He's probably gone to Sonic classes. You can imagine him as a kid: "Mum! Mum! Can I be Sonic? Please can I?". "No! Go away and jump about a bit, you little... er... whatever you are. And stop using that blue paint, you'll poison yourself."

It's obvious from the packaging that Global Software are a low-budget outfit, but they've tried hard to come up with a credible Sonic alternative for the Amiga. It hasn't come off, because a) Zool's so much better, b) on a standard A500 it's just not fast enough and c) the game's a bit dull.

For instance, there are no continues. To complete the game, you would to play all 50 levels right through with just three lives. Not even the most rabid Sonicophile would have the time or inclination for such a gargantuan task, let alone Mr Average Punter Who Wants To Play Sonic On His Amiga.

Amiga Format (issue 44, March 1993)

Kid Chaos

He can spin and knock everything out of the way and... oh, I can't go on with this. Kid Chaos is Sonic The Hedgehog - replace the blue spiky thing with Kirk Brandon from popular Eighties rock combo Spear of Destiny, bring to the boil and simmer. A recipe for success or half-baked nonsense?

Amiga Format (issue 63, September 1994)

And yes, it does look like Sonic.

Does not just half-heartedly mimic Sonic, but manages to capture all the best bits of it. In places, it is truly uplifting as you get sucked along pipes and thrown from bumper to bumper.

Amiga Power (issue 41, September 1994)

So Sonic can't be done on the Amiga, eh? Since Sonic appeared on the Mega Drive it's been the bone of contention for Amiga kids, jeered at in school playgrounds by smug Mega Drive-owning peers. And seemingly every time an Amiga is mentioned in a Mega Drive magazine it's described as an 'older person's machine, with a great line in RPGs and flight sims, but no great shakes in the platform stakes'.

Kid Chaos, from Lotus creators Magnetic Fields, wields a pretty hefty club in the direction of these doubters. Technically superior to any other platform game (Sonic included) Kid combines fast, smooth-scrolling, an incredible number of parallax layers, and colours and sounds so vibrant it makes you wonder what the hell the other platform creators have been doing for the last few years.

Thankfully, as you've probably gathered by now, the stunning technicalities don't overshadow the gameplay. It makes no claim to be original; indeed, it copies (parodies?) many other games like Zool and Sonic. The Toy Factory, say, could be directly taken from Zool (or any one of a number of other platform games), while the underground rollercoaster tubes and 45-degree springs which cannon you into the air are classic Sonic features.

CU Amiga (issue September 1994)

Mr Nutz

It all bears more than a passing resemblance to Sega's Sonic, with the levels' sweeping curves and the way Nutz turns into a ball of fur when he speeds up. The map section is reminiscent of Super Mario.

Amiga Format (issue 59, May 1994)

Schizophrenia is a funny thing. (No it isn't. - Ed) Take Mr Nutz, for example. (Blimey, that's an uncharacteristically early plunge into relevance. - Concerned reader)). For one thing, he's not sure himself who he wants to be. At first, he seems to want to be Sonic The Hedgehog, but then he changes his mind and reckons he'd be better off as Super Mario. But then he has another change of heart and goes for Zelda (eponymous star of several Nintendo RPGs) instead.

The game is also structured a lot like Super Mario World (look, sorry about always bringing up this kind of thing, but it's so blatant and deliberate I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I didn't tell you about it, okay?), but the actual platform bits are (oh no, not again) the closest yet that the Amiga's come to cloning Sonic.

Amiga Power (issue 38, June 1994)

Have Ocean Software come up with their own Amiga Sonic beater? Tony Dillon isn't so sure.

CU Amiga (June 1994)

This competent platformer is let down by a complete lack of originality and a very high frustration level. Mr Nutz tries so hard to be Sonic that it hurts.

Amiga Format (issue 59, May 1994)

Quik the Thunder Rabbit

Quik: Sob. Okay, okay, so the first of the four worlds looks every such a lot like the first level of Sonic, even down to there being different ways through each level. And I do spin a lot, but whereas Sonic does it facing the direction of travel, I face out of the screen and smile at you, so that can't count, can it? (Chokes) Can it? And I'll admit that my speed power-up may look a little like the Sonic's speedy boots, but it wasn't deliberate, honest. (Blubs.)

Oh, please don't kill me, I'm just a little fluffy blue rabbit trying to make an honest living. (Begs.) Have a pity on me.

DEATH

Interviewer 3: Okay, well, I suppose I'll give you the good news first. I've checked your credentials and you're actually not at all bad. I can see that the hidden nasties that lurk behind foreground scenery are supposed to be tricky when in fact they just slow you down, but I'll let that one side.

The inherent Sonic-ness of your game's frankly a bit naff, but seeing as you're just another generic platform game, I'll drop that one too. The long and short of it Mr Quik is that I'm not going to blow you away with the shotgun.

Quik: Phew

Amiga Power (issue 40, August 1994)

Superfrog

It's a cute platformer of the Sonic clone school - lots of fast scrolling (but stupidly dead-stop obstacles) and coin collecting.

Amiga Power (issue 42, October 1994)

What ensues is one hell of a good platform game. Released at a time when the rest of the Amiga world was cloning Super Mario Brothers, Superfrog borrows more from Sonic The Hedgehog than anything else.

CU Amiga (November 1994)

Oh dear. Here it comes. Oh no! Sorry, I can't stop myself... here I go... yes, yes, yes.

Superfrog is (shock, horror) based on Sonic The Hedgehog. There's no getting away from the fact - you can smell traces of the spikey speed-merchant all over this latest game from Team 17. And as it turns out, this is no bad thing, for two very good reasons.

First, as anyone who owns a console toy will tell you, Sonic The Hedgehog is a very fine game indeed. It pretty much redefined what platform games were all about, but so far the bluey blur hasn't appeared on the Amiga.

But before you all start whingeing that you don't want 'Sonic The Bleedin' Hedgehog on your Amiga anyway, thank you very much, and that you'd rather have some real gameplay (something Amiga programmers have proved themselves to be really good at) as opposed to some half-baked attempts at recreating some here-today-gone-tomorrow console's fancy custom chips whizzing through their paces, here comes Good Reason Number Two...

Amiga Format (issue 47, June 1993)

Oscar

You can run but you can't hide. And there's no escaping the fact that cutesy characters sell game platforms. Sega and Nintendo would be nothing without Sonic or Mario. So it's no surprise Commodore have joined the fray by bundling Oscar with the A1200.

Amiga Format (issue 53, December 1993)

I'm going to be the Sonic for Amiga, for crying out loud, and all you can do is go on about some superficial similarities to another Flair game, damn you!

The Amiga equivalent of Sonic? Yeah, right.

Amiga Power (issue 31, November 1993)

There are loads of nasties and power-ups which add to the fun and frolics. In many respects, Oscar has all the classic features of your platformer, but for one exception - it's better, both in graphics and playability, than the likes of Mario and Sonic could ever dream of becoming.

Amiga Computing (issue 68, Christmas 1993)

Wiz 'n' Liz

Sonic watch out! Wiz goes crazy whenever he changes direction in mid-jump. It's funny but I can't remember my granny ever doing this, well maybe after a few sherries.

CU Amiga (November 1993)

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

, , , , ,

The rise and demise of a classic adventure game anti-hero

Simon the Sorcerer parts 1 and 2 constitute a treasured double act amongst fans of traditional point and click adventure games. 'Upgrading' to the 3D realm for the long-awaited third entry in the series wasn't met with quite the same degree of approval. It was tantamount to wringing the neck of Adventure Soft's prized golden goose and flushing it down the toilet. Then events really took a turn for the worse... nosedived downhill and fell off a sheer-drop cliff face. Allow me to explain. 

Friday, 6 November 2020

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why there's a stampeding rhino enemy in Ocean's Hudson Hawk Amiga/Atari ST platform game

Undoubtedly one of life's great unresolved mysteries... until now!

Stompy is present in the two 16-bit games, yet none of the five 8-bit interpretations for the home micros/consoles. FYI precisely zero rhinos feature in the 1991 movie starring Bruce Willis, Danny Aiello and Andie MacDowell. Gosh! How intriguing! Almost makes you want to delve into the article or watch the YouTube video version for a thorough explanation.

Monday, 12 October 2020

, , , , ,

Games for girls

Traditionally, video gaming was a hobby principally participated in by young boys, which from the viewpoint of capitalist-oriented publishers, left a vast portion of the potential market untapped. In 1984, Case Computer Simulations sought to remedy this by releasing a series of games aimed specifically at girls. To eliminate any shred of doubt, they coined it 'Games for Girls', in the process inciting the wrath of many gaming journalists regardless of their gender. Whether to be politically correct (even back then!) or because they were genuinely offended, many reviewers alleged it was supremely sexist to assume certain games would appeal to the fairer sex due to them being inherently wired differently. Possibly they even relished the self-perpetuating controversy.

It wasn't that the nature of the games in question was insulting, or stereotypically derogatory towards girls in any way. On the contrary, in fact, they emerged from the supposition that girls were less inclined to be motivated by violent tendencies, preferring to employ logical reasoning and negotiation techniques to solve problems rather than brute force bravado. All three titles (two action-adventure games and a show-jumping 'simulator') are driven by intelligence-based quizzes designed to engage the brain, one distinctively from a mathematical perspective. A field in which proficiency is typically associated with boys. Positive discrimination then if any at all; far from the insinuations you might have imagined given the backlash.

'Games for Girls' was intended to be an ongoing series, yet in light of its acrimonious reception, terminated at just three titles. All a bit silly seeing as the games were seemingly released with the best of intentions and selected for the brand rather than being designed from the ground up to compliment proposed interests and aptitudes of girls. Had they been unveiled minus such new-wave headlines, the mediocre games would likely have flown under the radar with little fanfare, before rapidly fading into obscurity. Cynics amongst could claim that the whole episode was a rouse to profit from games so dull they weren't worth the tapes they were recorded on. And who knows, they might be right? Certainly no-one is recording playthroughs of them for YouTube, and it's only myself talking about them. I haven't even offered to identify the titles yet: Hicksted, Diamond Quest and Jungle Adventure. There, fixed.

In the ensuing years, rarely has a publisher made similar inflammatory declarations regarding the envisioned audience of their wares, while today gender engagement more closely approximates equilibrium. Games for girls (without the capital letters) are produced, marketed and retailed now by default, often the epitome of sexism. Far more so than CCS were admonished for supposedly being back in the '80s. What has changed is that they're sold without the superfluous gender banner; no-one needs to be informed that Barbie the computer game, for instance, is aimed at prepubescent girls, it speaks for itself… and also, I'd imagine, features little in the way of educational value.

Without the labels, few sane people campaign against the existence of patently gender-biased computer games today, finally mirroring the general acceptance of toys that have targeted boys or girls for as long as they've existed. Had they too been outlawed, Argos and Toys R Us would have been strung up for segregating their departments or catalogues from day one. Making it all the more curious that computer games were scrutinised under an entirely different rubric, as though held responsible for being the gatekeepers of child-rearing morality.

, , ,

Teen reacts to the Amiga 500

I'm not quite sure how old he is actually. He looks like he's in his late teens - certainly too young to have experienced the Amiga when it was current anyway, and that's the point.

The title of Ryan Smith's YouTube, hardware tear-down video, 'Why not to buy an Amiga in 2016', should give you a clue as to his verdict. It's not even a question... with a question mark. Instead one of those statementy things. To be fair to the system, he's bought an "untested, sold-as-seen" bit of vintage tech, and the battered example that arrived hardly does it justice.

Illustration for the purpose of deceptive exaggeration only, this isn't the Amiga in question. Yes, I'm a dirty, rotten scoundrel and was probably a journalist (or politician) in another life.

We interrupt this transmission to inject a dollop of sagaciously cunning retro hardware-purchasing advice...

I find that eBay sellers who describe retro consoles and computers as "untested", tend to fall into one of several categories...

  • They regularly sell this type of hardware, have thoroughly tested it and found it to be completely knackered, but don't want to admit it because it will inevitably slash the final sale price.
  • They honestly don't know what state of functionality it's in because they haven't got the knowledge or equipment to put it through its paces.
  • They know how to check the system, yet don't have the time or inclination to bother. Some people will genuinely be having a loft clear-out and just want to get shut of everything ASAP, or are selling gear on behalf of friends or family so the history of the items is vague. 

One way to help you decide if they're on the level is by checking their sales history, or taking a look at the other items they have on offer to establish whether they're a dealer or not.

...as you were...

Ryan is a network administrator from Sheffield, and while he's clued up about computers in general, he's quite misinformed about the limitations and expandability of the Amiga 500. Also, it's not clear what he'd like to do with it that aren't possible. How can you tell if a system needs upgrading at all if you've never even flicked its power button on before? An unpimped 500 with half a meg of RAM will play hundreds of classic games, and after all, that's the 'meat and potatoes' of this base model, to colloquialise the scenario.

Nevertheless, we all make stupid mistakes and he's clearly got the bug now as he went on to have another dabble with an Amiga 1200, with which he was evidently much more enamoured.

It's certainly refreshing to see someone wanting to learn about the Amiga who appreciates its charm, yet has no nostalgic bias towards the platform. That's rarer than hen's teeth embedded in rocking horse dung... under the light of a blue moon.