Commodore_Format_PowerPack_17_1992-02The C64’s still in a good place in February 1992 (just look at the release schedule in this month’s mag), but major retailers like Boots were planning for an 8-bit free future. The SNES was due in the UK in April, and Nintendo was offering bucks to clear shelf space for its machine and the eye-wateringly expensive carts to play on them.

Boots and WH Smith’s announcement to the industry this month that it wouldn’t be stocking 8-bit cassette games after the Autumn had three effects on C64 software. It’s the reason we see a fair few hideously rushed games in this first half of ’92, for starters. It’s also why we see a wave of game cancellations. But for CF and its rival ZZAP! (later Commodore Force), there was an opportunity. By buying up the rights to bigger games and commissioning their own for their respective cover tapes, the publishers could move into a more central position in the market.

We’ll come back to that again in a few instalments’ time. For now, though, back to February ’92. Wayne’s World at the cinema. Shakespear’s Sister at number one for most of the month (their spelling of  Shakespear really sets me off – Ed). The UK release of the SNES just eight weeks away. And on the covertape, this lot.

BATTLE VALLEY

Here’s another corker from CF‘s deal with Hewson. Battle Valley originally turned up in 1988 on their Rack-It budget label for just £1.99. That’s the problem when we look retrospectively at games without seeing context, y’know: games from all price points are judged equally, which isn’t fair. For under two quid, what should we really expect?

Er – quite a lot in this case, actually. Coded by Simon Welland (who later went on to become global head of design for Reuters), Battle Valley is a real world shooter with a twist. Terrorists have captured some nuclear missiles, says the plot, and you’ve got 30 minutes to annihilate them before they annihilate you. Taking control of both a tank and helicopter you smash across the side-on,  two-way scrolling landscape trying to destroy six enemy bases and two missile dumps before the clock runs out and the world goes boom.

It quickly becomes apparent that toggling between tank and helicopter isn’t just about player preference. It serves a purpose: sure, you can fly over that broken bridge. But the tank does need to get across there too, so look around for stuff to winch over and mend it with. It’s simple stuff to pick up and very hard stuff to put down. The thirty-minute time limit isn’t necessary but is an absolutely genius move, forcing a sense of urgency and creating panic.

Battle Valley is well executed, good looking fun. It can be fiddly at times, and that leads to occasional frustration – especially when you’re trying to winch things to a time limit and you’re a pixel too few to the right. But that’s the only gripe for us: ZZAP! was on the money with its 91% back in ’88 and it’s difficult to fathom Commodore User‘s 6/10, really – especially when the game cost £1.99. Free with CF, it’s difficult to find fault at all. PACK FACT: If you’ve got a C64 Mini, you already own Battle Valley. To the carousel!

CYBERDYNE WARRIOR

This is another one that’s sitting ready to play on the C64 Mini. Cyberdyne Warrior is the first game that C64 heroes John and Steve Rowlands (RetrogradeCreatures, Mayhem) did on their own (Scorpius also had input from Delvin Sorrell). Confusingly, in spite of being their first solo outing it was released after Retrograde as part of Hewson’s 4th Dimension compilation. There’s no way to know for sure, but John and Steve think the game might have been held back to capitalise on Retrograde‘s popularity and boost 4th Dimension‘s chances.

It’s about as far from the cute ‘n’ cuddly exploits of Clyde Radcliffe’s games as you can get (ah, chainsaws. So cute! – Ed). As the Cyberdyne Warrior, you have to leap around this flick screen action adventure catching droids that have escaped from the future’s horrendously overcrowded robot prisons (could they not just take the batteries out? – Ed). There are three levels across three planets, represented by large caverns. A big range of aliens tries to stop you achieving your goal, and there’s loose change scattered across every planet. Collect enough, and you can buy bigger guns at the shop or even bag more time and energy.

It’s impossible to play this game without noticing the ground it lays for the Creatures series. There’s the look of the platforms on level one, for example, and the early inclusion of a shop (standard stuff now, but pretty unique at the time). You might recognise the  circular explosion  graphics, too. There’s amazing attention to detail like in level two’s jungle: the swooping bats, bubbling lava and swaying palm trees aren’t necessary but add a ton to your immersion in the adventure. It’s all very similar to the way the backdrops weren’t just backdrops in Creatures: there’s always something going on. And look at the way the gun’s muzzle flashes as you fire, as it would in real life! So. Deeply. Satisfying.

The Rowlands’ never, ever stuck to standard and accepted ways of doing things. They never took short cuts. And they always, always found a better way. The talent, effort and love shines like a beacon from Cyberdyne Warrior. It’s easy to say “play this to see the beginnings of Creatures“, and you should – but that’s to deny this game justified high praise in its own right.

PACK FACT: The game was released with a nice little chunk missing. Brilliantly, though, you can now download and watch the intro sequence which didn’t make it to final mastering. It’s here or watch the video below, which has it bolted on to the start.

SENSITIVE

Dave Golder (yep, he of SFX legend) joined Commodore Format this month from Public Domain magazine, and his first column in CF was on that very topic. To accompany it was the stereotype busting tile puzzler Sensitive. It’s fast paced, exciting and ace in every way. You control a little blob, your task being to remove every tile on the screen. The problem is that your tiles explode seconds after touching them and you can’t go back; the puzzle element is working out a safe route to clear each tile and also get to the exit. It’s addictive stuff with a beefy soundtrack, and as it came with a trainer you could even select infinite lives. Naughty, but it did make the thing more playable!

The trainer, though, should really have alerted the CF crew to the thing that was Very Wrong Here.

Sensitive wasn’t public domain at all. It had been written in 1990 and published by German mag 64-er on their ish 79 disk (January 1991). Look, here it is:

64er_sonderheft_79_0009

From there, it seems some swine had put it into a public domain library and it innocently spread to all the other public domain libraries. By the time it reached the UK and subsequent attention of Commodore Format this would’ve been impossible to know (the world was much bigger in ’92, of course, and largely internet free). It looks like this happened to loads of German games in the ’90s. They didn’t get UK releases so dribbled in to the country via PD, with few wise to their commercial origins.

The trainer is by famed crackers Dominator, whom CF mistakenly credit as the PD library to have first published the game. This – and the fact the trainer from the game’s crack is still on there at all  – are pretty much all the proof you need of the mag’s naivety here.

Anyway. It’s a shame this has become the story of Sensitive in the UK. It’s wildly addictive, beautifully presented and has spawned a bunch of modern-day “tributes” (er, OK, they’re full on rip-offs). Easily one of the best things to ever turn up on the cover tape, this, and well worth hunting down. Psst – it is way better with that trainer.

PACK FACT: For some reason, about half the tapes that went out didn’t include the notorious trainer. If that’s one of yours, CF published a cheat to do the same thing in issue 20. It’s here. (We can stop saying trainer for a while now – Ed)

INDY HEAT

Here’s a WIP demo of Indy Heat, a convo of the 1991 arcade racer by Leland Corporation. The coin-op was dubbed Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat after the  famous driver, but dropped for rights reasons when it reached the home computers.

It retains everything else that’s authentic about these races, though, including a whole bunch of real tracks from the early ’90s season. The action takes place on a single screen, in a fashion CF‘s review calls “weird…like from a light aircraft circling 2000 feet above the track.” The cars really are the smallest of sprites, but they tear around the twelve circuits at one hell of a speed. You get $100,000 to build a car and a team, so how fast you go and how the vehicle handles is largely down to where you’ve spent your dosh; that said, you’ll also slow down and find things tougher if you keep crashing and the car’s damaged. That’s when you can head to the pits to get fixed up or refuel.

There’s a really clear reason this is one of the best top-down racers on the C64. It mashes up the arcade action and a bit of strategy perfectly. There’s the excitement and tension of knowing you have to win a race with just one credit left, but also the knowledge you can help yourself by looking at the track beforehand and build a car accordingly. Best of all, there’s a two-player option (supposedly, they experimented with the arcade’s original four but decided it would get too cramped at the C64 keyboard). That’s where the longevity is, you versus a mate, with a whole bunch of dirty tricks at your disposal. You can ram the other player off the track or take a sneaky short cut, and the “blocking” of an opponent is competitive C64 racing at its best: if you can’t win, why should your buddy?
If you really want to pick holes, it does look oddly washed out in the same way C64 Robocod does. But there’s a hell of a game here, and this single track preview was enough to hook in thousands of fans. Indy Heat became one of Storm’s biggest hits on C64.

PACK FACT: If you don’t want to mess around with building a car’s crew, tyres, engines etc you can take “Simon’s Pick – he buys the best stuff!”, a nod to the C64 coder behind the game. Er, he’s called Simon Pick (FFS – Ed)

SUMMING UP

Another tape with a legacy. There’s not a month goes by without somebody mentioning Sensitive on social media, and it’s a game  that encouraged a fair  few people to try their hand at designing games. But what’s not to like here, really? Bit of shooting, bit of driving, bit of dodgy distribution…it’s all good. Up there with the best. CF