Virtual Cities: an Atlas Mapping and Exploring over 40 Video Game Cities

I’m always happy to try and help a fellow gamer and retrogamer try to get a project off the ground, so I thought you might be interested in this.

Author and game designer/writer Konstantinos Dimopoulos has been in touch about his new project, Virtual Cities – the very first atlas of video game cities, being produced in conjunction with visual artist Maria Kallikaki

The book is being published by Unbound – which is where you come in. Unbound’s publishing model is essentially a crowdfunding one – when a book reaches a certain level of  pre-orders or pledges, they will go ahead and publish it. So, if you want to see Virtual Cities become a reality, Konstantinos would welcome your support.

This 200 page hardback book will provide a detailed look at  40 game cities across literary and gaming genres, including detailed entries on Half-Life 2’s City 17, Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos, Yakuza’s Kamurocho, Fallout’s New Vegas, Silent Hill, Ant Attack’s Antescher, and Shadowrun’s Hong Kong. It will feature over 40 original maps and more than 100 drawings, as well as in-depth analysis and commentary.

If you’d like a sneak preview of the book, there’s an excerpt online, along with a preview of some of the visual assets.

Head over to Unbound to find out more or to pledge your support.

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Hyper Sentinel (PC) Review

Hyper Sentinel

I have a small confession to make: despite being a dyed-in-the-wool C64 owner back in the 80s, I’ve never really played Uridium, generally recognized as one of the finest shooters the machine can offer. It’s not that I don’t like the game, it’s just that I never owned a copy and didn’t really know anyone who did.

Happily, I can now rectify that mistake with the excellent Hyper Sentinel, a Uridium-inspired game from veteran publisher Hewson Consultants/Huey Games, originally funded via KickStarter and available to buy for (via Steam), PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Android and iOS versions are coming soon.

As with Uridium, you fly a lone spacecraft over a series of huge motherships, taking out the ground installations and avoiding or shooting smaller enemy ships as they attack you. Each ship has its own boss (or Guardian) which has to be defeated before the level is complete. Temporary power-ups can be collected to boost either your ship’s arsenal or your score.

It’s fair to say that Hyper Sentinel doesn’t really offer anything new. The basic gameplay has been heavily influenced by Uridium, with additional elements borrowed from other shoot-em ups. However, when a game is this good, the lack of originality is not the stumbling block it might be in a weaker title.

The game has a pleasingly retro look. Graphics are simple and blocky, aping the pixel art of the 80s but everything has been given a lick of neon paint to give the visuals a more modern twist. They are never going to win any art competitions, but if you appreciate pixel art, the game’s look will instantly appeal. The sound also blends modern with retro. A pulsating tune accompanies each level, supplemented by some excellent 8 bit style sound effects. This is definitely a game Spinal Tap would turn up to 11.

Hyper Sentinel level

It’s the gameplay that matters, though, and it’s here that Hyper Sentinel really shines. There’s always been something pure about old-style shoot ‘em ups and the kill or be killed gameplay makes Hyper Sentinel instantly accessible – the simple controls and basic gameplay make for a great pick up and play title. And once you start playing, you won’t want to stop. The fast-paced action, the determination to beat your high score (or those on the online leaderboards) or reach the next level keeps you coming back for more. I guarantee that every time you die, you will find it hard to resist pressing “Retry”. Hyper Sentinel is the definition of a “just one more go” title.

It also has hidden depths which add to its longevity. It uses the same “flip” technique as Uridium to temporarily render you invulnerable (it’s critical to learn how to use this properly to make real progress) and introduces power-ups. The end of level bosses and different game modes (Arcade, Survival, Boss) add an extra dimension and challenge, whilst the game also features an excellent risk-reward element. Rather than a single hit destroying your ship, you have an energy bar and only die once that is empty. If you keep out of danger, the energy bar will slowly replenish, but this comes at a cost. If you want to get those really high scores, you need to keep your score multiplier high, but the only way to do this is to constantly shoot stuff; if you don’t it plummets faster than a UK entry at Eurovision. And, of course, to shoot stuff, you have to fly into the thick of the action, meaning the risk of taking further damage (and dying) is increased. This mechanism is brilliantly implemented and makes for some finely balanced gameplay.

Hyper Sentinel offers a real challenge. As the levels progress, enemies get more numerous and more aggressive, and flying over the giant spaceships gets harder as impassible walls mean you have to choose your flightpath carefully. Crucially, though, the game never feels unfair. When you die, it’s usually either because you’ve done something stupid, or got so caught up in the blasting action, you’ve failed to keep an eye on your energy levels.

If I had to be hyper critical of Hyper Sentinel (see what I did there?!), some of the sprites can be a little hard to see and too easy to accidentally crash into. The biggest bugbear, though, is the way the level freezes to announce an end-of-level boss is also a touch frustrating. Time it wrong, and you have to sit and watch a load of Points pick-ups or weapon power-ups floating up the screen, whilst you are rooted to the spot, unable to collect them.

Hyper Sentinel is an excellent game. It’s fundamentally a retro game that’s been given enough modern twists to make it feel worthwhile, but not so many that they overwhelm the old school action. It’s fast, it’s frantic and, boy, it’s addictive.

I don’t normally score games on RetroReactiv8, but in keeping with the C64 inspired title, for once I’m going to score it in the style of a Zzap!64 review.

Presentation:    78%
Nothing flashy, but all the options you’d expect – online leaderboards and multiple game modes.

Graphics: 68%
It won’t win any art prizes, but graphics are pleasingly retro.

Sound: 83%
A thumping soundtrack and pleasingly retro spot effects

Hookability: 94%
Once you hit that fire button, say goodbye to your evening.

Lastability: 92%
The game offers a real challenge, whilst the different game modes and online leaderboards will keep you coming back

Value for Money: 83%
At around £12 for the Steam version and adjusted for inflation this is cheaper than a C64 game cost back in the 80s.

Overall: 93%
An excellent updating of a Commodore classic.

In Defence of… Pac-Man (Atari 2600)

An occasional series looking at providing a defence for games that all too often get a bad press…

Pac-Man 2600

There was a great article in Retro Gamer issue 179 on the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, its critical panning on release and how today, it is still widely regarded as a “bad game” and a “poor conversion” because it was so different to its arcade counterpart.

In the article, programmer Tod Frye argued that it wasn’t a bad game at all; that at the time Pac-Man was released, the now-accepted principles of a “faithful conversion” didn’t exist. And whilst Atari Pac-Man was different, it captured the spirit of it, whilst working within the technical limitations of the machine.

I have to say, I’m with Todd on this one. My friend had an Atari 2600 and the three games that we played most were Tank (still a great two player game), Space Invaders and, yes, Pac-Man. With little exposure to broader views at the time (this was long before game review mags were a common feature of newsagents’ shelves) I had no idea that many dismissed Pac-Man. All I knew was that I enjoyed playing it and I still associate it with some very happy memories.

I can remember my friend and I spending hours playing the game. It was usually the title we loaded up at the start of our gaming sessions and the one we’d go back to for one last go when we were told it was time to pack up. I can remember my friend’s dad (who didn’t usually play computer games) joining us each time the game appeared, merrily (and badly!) singing Elvis’ “Caught in a Trap” every time a ghost threatened to corner him. Even my friend’s mum (even less keen on computer games than his dad) was known to have a go.

So I guess my question is: can something that brought so much enjoyment to two 10 year olds, which unexpectedly brought the whole family together, be a “bad game”? Surely not. Sure, with the benefit of 40 years of accumulated knowledge, it might be a “poor conversion” in the now—understood sense of the term, but at the end of the day, the primary purpose of a game is to entertain; and for us, it did that in spades.

Perhaps you could argue that we were only about 10 and relatively new to computer games (so the novelty value was higher and we were likely to be more forgiving). You could rightly point out that we had only limited exposure to the arcades, so were not that familiar with “proper” Pac-Man. You could reasonably suggest that I am looking back with rose-tinted glasses and that if I played it now, the flaws would be all-too-obvious. All of those things are undoubtedly true to a greater of lesser extent, but the point is to, us at the time, Pac-Man was a good game that gave us hours of fun and entertainment. How can that be a bad thing?

Whatever flaws it might have had, it was obviously, recognisably, a Pac-Man game. You played a circular little chap who ran around a maze eating dots and running away from (and sometimes chasing) ghosts. I know purists will argue that the colour scheme was different, the mazes changed and so on, but I agree with Todd Frye’s assessment that it captured the essence of a Pac-Man game, even if it wasn’t quite the definitive version people might have hoped for. (After all, do those same people slam the Atari Version of Space Invaders for not being a “faithful conversion” just because it included multiple options and game variants that weren’t on the original arcade game? I think not.)

Accepted wisdom, accumulated over the past 40 odd years, now means it’s almost compulsory to slam games like Pac Man or ET, but I try to judge things on their relative merits and make up my own mind. Yes, it’s a flawed conversion; yes, with the benefit of hindsight, there were some odd design decisions, but it was still fun. More importantly, it was a major part of my childhood and an early gateway to a lifetime of enjoying (sometimes enduring!) computer games. For that alone, I will defend Pac-Man against all-comers.

C64 Mini Review

Sometimes the Gaming Gods both smile on you and curse you at the same time. When I saw that the C64 Mini was due to be released on 29 March, it was great timing as far as I was concerned. I took the rebirth of my beloved C64 on the day after my birthday as an omen and dropped many *ahem* subtle hints to the lovely Mrs. RetroReactiv8, who did indeed pre-order one as a slightly delayed birthday gift.

Of course, those same Gaming Gods couldn’t bear me to be entirely happy, so whilst my C64 Mini was indeed delivered on 29 March, I wasn’t in when it arrived. Sadly, it was taken back the post office depot, where it spent a long, lonely Easter Bank Holiday weekend before I could rescue it. Four days knowing my Mini was less than a mile away, yet unobtainable, was like some sort of torture.

Happily, though, it was definitely worth the wait because one or two niggles aside, it’s easily one of my best retro gaming purchases.

C64 Mini - box

It’s clear that this product is aimed firmly at capturing that nostalgia element and boy does it succeed. The whole thing came in a great looking box with the contents well packed. It really did take me back to that Christmas in about 1983 when I first unwrapped my original C64. I felt that same tingle of excitement as I carefully unpacked all the bits and this continued when I saw the actual device. I hesitate to use the word “cute” about a piece of hardware, but there is something undeniably attractive about it. The phrase “small but perfectly formed” could have been invented for the C64 Mini. It’s a great looking device that looks perfectly at home alongside some of my larger consoles.

C64 mini - top down

From a setup point of view, it’s well designed too. Plug in the HDMI cable (supplied) and attach the USB power cable and away you go. It’s slightly odd that the device comes with a power cable but not a plug to put it in (presumably to cut costs), but most people are likely to have a plug lying around that can be used. Cables are sufficiently long so that you can attach it to your TV and sit a decent length back it (essential for my ageing gamer’s eyes!). The design has been really well thought out and it truly is plug and play – mine was up and running less than a minute after removing it from the box.

The selection screen for the games is also great, presenting them in a rotating carousel that includes the original box artwork and a brief explanation of the game’s plot/aims. It would have been nice to see the instructions for each game included on this screen rather than just on the website (particularly for the Games series, where each event has different controls) and I don’t really understand why this approach was taken, but it’s not that big a deal. You can also access BASIC from the carousel, giving you the chance to relearn your advanced programming skills by typing things like:

10 Print “Spectrum owners smell”

20 Goto 10

However nice it all looks, though, the bottom line rests on how good the included games are. Previous devices like this have had two key weaknesses: the selection of games has ranged from excellent to makeweight titles whilst the locked down systems have prevented the addition of any further titles. Not so the Mini C64.

Firstly, the included titles are very strong. You get 64 (what else?!) pre-packed games and it’s hard to spot a weak one amongst them. Sure, there are some that I like more than others and some that I’ve no doubt I’ll rarely play, but this is down to personal preference rather than quality (all the included games scored highly in various magazines in their original incarnations). There are plenty of titles fully deserving the description “classic”: Pitstop II, California/World Games/Summer Games II, Uridium, Armalyte, Monty Mole, Boulder Dash… I could go on. Indeed, I spent the first 10 minutes just scrolling and getting more and more excited at the range of games. You can argue till the cows come home that this game or that game should have been included, but at the end of the day, within the complex restrictions of licensing and rights, the developers have assembled an excellent collection.

Anyway, this is where the Mini C64’s other advantage kicks in. Unlike similar retro systems (Recreated ZX Spectrum, Mini NES/SNES), you can actually add your own games via a USB stick. Admittedly, the process for doing so is currently a little cumbersome. You can only use .d64 (disk image) files and you can only store one game on a single memory stick and need to rename it to a specific filename before the system will recognise it,. However Retro Games Ltd have promised to make this easier via a future firmware update, so hopefully this is a short term irritation, rather than a long-term problem. In any case, certain clever people have already provided information online as to how to get round this whilst you’re waiting for the fix. Essentially, though, the ability to load up games of your own opens up the system, allowing you to play pretty much any C64 game.

In my brief experience to date, emulation works well. I’ve not yet played the full range of games, so can’t say that it’s flawless, but certainly I’ve been impressed so far. I’ve seen a few complaints online that certain games run too fast or suffer from a bit of lag, but either I’ve not experienced this or am not familiar enough with the original games to spot it.

The big disappointment is the joystick included with the package. It’s modelled on the Competition Pro (nothing wrong with that) but is sadly nowhere near the same quality. It’s pretty obvious that this is where corners have been cut to reduce production costs. It’s perhaps not as bad as some people are making out online, but it’s a long (long) way from being great. For a “modern” joystick, it’s surprisingly uncomfortable to hold – after just 10 minutes my hand was aching like it used to when I played on my friend’s old Atari 2600. It’s also not as responsive as you’d hope or expect. It’s OK for some titles, but any game that requires finesse or twitch responses will be a struggle. I lost count of the number of times I lost a life on some games because it just doesn’t allow the pixel perfect positioning needed by so many old games. It’s a shame because the rest of the package is excellent, but the joystick lets it down badly.

It’s true that other USB controllers and joysticks can be attached via the in-built USB ports, but it seems to be very hit and miss as to which ones will work. I’d strongly advise you to look on the forums on the Mini C64 website for advice on compatible devices before you buy.

Joystick issues aside, though, Retro Computers Ltd have assembled a very impressive package. Most of the issues I have are minor ones that could be easily addressed through future updates. Like all these devices, you could argue that £65-£75 is a lot when you could set up an emulator on your laptop for free, but there’s definitely a greater sense of nostalgia playing the games on a replica machine. And at the end of the day, for your £65 you get 64 ready to play games, plus the option to add in others. Personally, I consider that money well spent.

Retro Games Ltd should be applauded. They have delivered a product that has appeal for both the existing C64 community and more casual gamers who want a blast from the past. As a dyed-in-the-wool C64 fan (and former owner) you could say I’m biased, but I am waaaaaaay more impressed by this device than any other similar consoles that I own. Retro Games Ltd., I salute you.

 

Recreated ZX Spectrum [Review]

RecreatedSpectrum

(image from official ZX Recreated website: https://sinclair.recreatedzxspectrum.com/)

Even as a dyed-in-the-wool C64 owner, I had to admit that the Spectrum – with its iconic shape, rainbow stripe and rubber keys – had a way cooler design. Whichever way you cut it, the functional beige breadbin Commodore was never going to win any design awards.

So when I read about the Recreated ZX Spectrum I was intrigued. Promoted as a Bluetooth keyboard for modern tablets designed to look like a full sized reproduction of the Spectrum, it had promise. The fact that veteran games company Elite was behind it was also promising – who better to understand what the Spectrum meant to the retrogaming community than one of its key game development companies from the 80s? Here at last was my chance to own a “Spectrum”, without feeling as if I’d betrayed my beloved C64.

Then came the price announcement: £99.95. Ouch. Way more than I was prepared to pay for the nostalgia blast and more expensive than buying a real Spectrum at the time. Still, I kept an eye on it, and when the price dropped to just under £30, I put my family on notice that it might be something for Father Christmas to stuff in his sack.

Father Christmas duly delivered and, having had a fair amount of time now to try it out, I can report that the Recreated Spectrum essentially consists of two bits. The first is the actual Bluetooth keyboard, compatible with modern devices. The second is an app that allows you to play a number of old Spectrum games for free, along with a further selection that can be purchased via in-app purchases.

Looking at the keyboard first, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to set up. Over the years I’ve had more fights than I care to remember trying to get Bluetooth devices to talk to each other, but this paired with my iPad instantly and has worked ever since. The only slight complication was that there’s a switch used to change modes, depending on whether you want to use it as a proper keyboard or play the games. Mine was initially switched to Game mode – so when I started typing, it put some very odd characters on the screen that bore no resemblance to the letters I’d actually typed! Once I realized what I needed to do (i.e. had read the instructions!), it worked with most of the apps I use with my more standard Bluetooth keyboard.

What surprised me most was how well it actually works as an actual keyboard. Anybody who ever used a Spectrum remembers how difficult it was to type properly and I was expecting this to be the same. In fact, it’s comfortable to use and pretty responsive (with less lag than my previous Bluetooth keyboard). In short, it has the look and feel of a proper Spectrum keyboard without the problems of a real Spectrum keyboard used to create. It’s not perfect – the Spectrum didn’t have all the keys expected of a modern keyboard so various key combinations have been added to give it full functionality, and these can be tricky to remember at first. It’s also not the best keyboard for very fluent typists (and definitely not touch typists because of those different key combinations). Equally, I wouldn’t want to type up long documents, but in this sense it’s no worse than my existing Bluetooth keyboard – and that cost a lot more and looked far less interesting.

Turning to the games, there’s a decent range of titles in both the free pack and the in-app purchases. Sure, there’s nothing you can’t download for free on the internet, but if you don’t own a real Spectrum, this is the closest you are going to get to recreating that full 80s experience. It’s just a shame that the choice of games is limited. The basic app comes with around 20 or so free games, with around the same number available as in-app purchase (at 79p per game). A website gives you access to a wider array of titles but sadly (as ever), there is no SD card allowing you to add more.

There were plans to develop the app and website further, encouraging more developers to make their games compatible with the keyboard, but this never happened so the device never realised its full potential.

What’s prevented this were the inevitable legal wrangles (what is it with the Spectrum and legal disputes?!) First, some developers/copyright holders claimed they were not being paid appropriate royalties and this resulted in app being pulled from the App store for quite some time. Then there was a disagreement between Elite and one of its manufacturing/distribution partners, which saw production and further development stall. By the time all this was ironed out, interest in the product had waned and the remaining units were simply sold off at a much lower price.

This lack of care and attention can be seen in the app. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much just a legacy app – no development work, updates or new games have appeared for almost three years now. What’s there is fine, but with further development it could have been so much better. Eventually both the Apple and Android versions are going to stop working as the operating systems update, and when that happens, you’ll just be left with a novelty Bluetooth keyboard.

Given the lack of development and new content, it’s a shame the creators are still choosing to charge for the additional games (adding a further outlay of around £10 if you buy them all). As a gesture of goodwill to the retrogaming community, it would have been nice to make all the games free (although in fairness, that might be tied up with the rights issue mentioned above).

The good news though, is that whilst the app does work, you can pick one of these up for about £30 – £70 less than its (rather optimistic) original RRP. At that price, it’s probably just about worth it, although I do live in fear of the day my operating system updates and the app no longer works…

[Note: since writing this review, I’ve discovered that the device is apparently compatible with the FUSE Spectrum emulator. I’ve not had chance to check it out yet, but if it is, this breaks it free from the limited number of included titles and opens up a whole new world of gaming possibilities!]

 

 

A Guide to ZX Spectrum Games 1982-1984 [Book Review]

Spectrum games book

A Guide to ZX Spectrum Games 1982-1984 by Shaun McClure and Hilary Wells was one of the many retro gaming goodies Father Christmas brought me this year. As an active combatant in the Playground Wars of the 80s (on the side of the Mighty Commodore 64, of course), I tended not to pay much attention to the Spectrum gaming scene (unless, of course, there was a really rubbish game with which I could taunt my Spectrum owning friends). As such, I missed out on many decent Spectrum titles and was looking forward to reading this book to find out about them.

It has to be said that the book is a bit of a curate’s egg. There are some (many) great things about it… and then there were things that infuriated me. Perhaps the worst thing is that many of the things that infuriated me could easily have been fixed with just a little more care and attention.

There certainly can be no doubting the books ambition. The Spectrum was a long-lived machine and, thick though it is, this book covers just the first two years of its commercial life. It’s packed with mini reviews of over 200 titles and each game has a decent amount of space dedicated to it. Entries are typically 2-3 pages long and usually comprises of a screen shot, an overview of the game alongside the author’s opinion of how the game plays or what it looks or sounds like. It’s a shame that all the screenshots are monochrome, but given how many images there are, it’s entirely understandable that this decision was taken in order to keep the book affordable (a colour version is available, but costs twice).

One of the book’s real strengths is that it displays an impressive breadth of knowledge of the Spectrum scene. Most books of this nature tend to focus in on the usual suspects – the big name titles with which we are all familiar. And sure enough, many of those games appear. At the same time, however, so do more esoteric titles that won’t be as familiar to many readers – and these are given the same 2-3 page coverage. It’s good to see lesser-known games get their moment in the sun, and the authors should be applauded for the broad approach to selection that they have taken.

This does bring me onto Frustration Number One though: which is a long-standing complaint of mine with this type of book. How were the featured games book selected? It doesn’t appear to be an exhaustive list of every Spectrum game released in that year, nor the bestselling ones. Apart from adventure games (which are perhaps disproportionately represented, reflecting the self-confessed love of them from one of the authors), they don’t appear to be the author’s favourite games (since they freely admit to only playing some of them for the first time in order to write this book), so how was the final list arrived at? I don’t have any issue with the titles selected but it would have been nice to learn more about the thought process behind why this game was included, or that one excluded.

Alongside these mini reviews, there are also several developer interviews, which are fascinating to read. Moreover, like the games themselves, the developers themselves are not necessarily the ones you usually see interviewed and it’s good to hear some different voices from the Spectrum scene. McClure and Wells should be congratulated on producing a book that is both comfortable and familiar, yet offers something new.

The entries themselves are good to read. They are informative and often wryly amusing. It feels like the book is a collection of blog entries written by a talented amateur writer. And that is not in any way meant as a criticism: it means that the entries are easy to read and accessible and not too pretentious or academic. Whilst some of the entries might lack a little polish, the passion of the authors for their subject shines through and at the end of the day, that’s what I care about.

True, there was some repetition (I lost count of the number of times the author criticised a game for its graphics with “This is a Spectrum, not a ZX81”; and there were far too many repetitions of how the verb/noun parser of text adventures worked), but this wasn’t too annoying. It could also perhaps have done with some more careful proofreading (particularly someone who knew how to consistently and correctly deploy an apostrophe), but that’s probably just the pedant in me talking!

In fairness, some of this repetition is because it’s not really a book that’s meant to be read from cover to cover, but is better read a few entries at a time. Equally, there is genuine pleasure from taking a more serendipitous approach, just opening the book at a random page and reading whatever you find. Taking this approach makes the repetition far less noticeable (or at least more understandable, since the author doesn’t know what you have/haven’t read at any point which explains the need to describe what Scramble or Berzerk were again much more natural.)

Despite these various gripes, this was a book I enjoyed reading. I learned about many games I’d never played (indeed, often never heard of) and it’s a brave and impressive undertaking with far more to like than dislike. I’m assuming that there will be more volumes covering the Spectrum’s later years and, having read this, I’m certainly looking forward to the next instalment and will be buying it once it’s available.

Top Ten Tunes in Games – Part 2

After last time’s sequence of audio delights, it’s time for Part 2 of my Top 10 Tunes in computer games. If you want to remind yourself of the rules for selection, then take a look back at Part 1. Otherwise, let’s just get straight on with it.

6. The Last Ninja (Commodore 64)

[Full RetroReactiv8 review here]

The Last Ninja game was a revolution in itself, graphically light years ahead of anything else available at the time, and a good game to boot. The music certainly didn’t let the side down either. Each level had its own music, as did the inter-level loading screens. That’s a lot of tunes – all the more impressive when you consider there wasn’t a bad one amongst them. However, the one that always comes to my mind when I think of this game is the opening level – the Wastelands. Well-paced, perfectly suited to the game and exciting, it underlined what a truly special game The Last Ninja was.

7. Loco (Commodore 64)

Tony Crowther’s train-based game featured a cracking tune from Ben Daglish that made the game almost worth buying just for the music. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized this wasn’t an original composition, but was taken from a Jean-Michelle Jarre album. Indeed, when I heard it performed by him, I wondered why he was playing the Loco tune! Either way, it’s a great tune and this was a great adaptation.

8. Parallax (Commodore 64)

Like many of his contemporaries, Martin Galway produced some amazing sounds on the Commodore 64 and one of his best was the title music for Sensible Software’s first proper title. It’s incredibly atmospheric: the ominous start sets the tone and the reverse arpeggios build on it, with layer upon layer slowly being added to create a complex, overlapping tune. This was a stunning achievement, even with the C64’s renowned SID chip.

9. Rainbow Islands (Amiga)

[Full RetroReactiv8 review here]

Heavily inspired by “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, Steve Turner’s chirpy, jolly tune perfectly suited the cutesy look and feel of Bub and Bob’s second game. The only downside it was pretty short and looped endlessly, so some people found it slightly annoying during longer gaming sessions. Not me; I loved it!

10. Thing on a Spring (Commodore 64)

As Catflap rightly pointed out in his comment on Part 1, it would have been a crime if a Rob Hubbard tune hadn’t featured, but I bet I had you worried for a minute, didn’t I? Out of all his great compositions, Thing on a Spring is the one I’ve gone for. Whilst I never really got into the game itself, it was always worth loading up just to listen to that jolly, bouncy tune which never got old. Of course these days, thanks to the joys of YouTube, you don’t have to wait 20 minutes for the game to load and can listen to it pretty much any time!

The Also-Rans

As I pointed out in the introduction to Part 1, whittling this list down to just 10 entries was an incredibly difficult task – I could easily have done a top 50 or even a Top 100. Eventually, what guided me to my final selection was trying to include a range of composers, rather than having too many compositions by a single person. This meant that some great music didn’t quite make the final cut for a variety of reasons, including:

Commando – another Rob Hubbard classic. It was really tough to leave this one out, as I love it and it’s probably the one I immediately think of when someone mentions Rob Hubbard’s name. At the end of the day, though, Thing on a Spring got the nod because it’s just so goddamn jolly!

Head Over Heels (Commodore 64) – A great piece of music that was mainly disqualified on the grounds that it wasn’t an original piece, with Peter Clarke ripping off Mozart for the main tune. Since I’d already included Loco and wanted to focus more on original music in this feature, Head over Heels had to go.

Trap Door (Commodore 64) – I’ve already mentioned the great music in my full review of this game. It fell victim to the chop mainly because it’s pretty short and most of the game didn’t have much music. Still a great adaptation of the theme tune, though.

Toonstruck (PC). This point and click adventure was filled with great tunes, and few were better than the opening title screen. It mainly lost its place due to my decision to exclude CD-based tunes and only include those from the 8 and 16 bit eras. Unlucky, Flux Wildly!