Commodore_Format_PowerPack_24_1992-09

September 1992 was a tippy old time for the Commodore 64. In the back of this month’s CF, Boots began to advertise dirt cheap games as they followed WHSmith in ditching the 8-bits and clearing shelf space for stuff like the Super Nintendo. This, it’s widely accepted, killed the ageing microcomputers overnight. But there was another consequence that distorts the picture if you look  back without context: between now and the end of the year, full priced games rained down as softies raced to get games onto the high street before the December 31st cut off point. As a result, there are four – count ’em – demos on this month’s Power Pack and a surprise full game too. Let’s have a look.

COOL CROC TWINS

Everyone’s got a kink, and Daisy Crocette’s is, er, lights. Before she’ll marry you, you’ve got to prove you can turn on all the lights on every screen of this static platform game (she sounds like hard work, tbh – Ed). This demo gives you a few to try.

As either Punk or Funk the crocodile, you rush around the outside edges of the screen (you stick to the walls like a gecko). A jab of fire bounces you on to the platforms in the centre. If you hit the part with a light, it turns on: each platform’s got three to hit in a sort of traffic light formation. Trying to stop you are a bunch of environmentally friendly baddies who’ll systematically turn the lights back off unless you kill ’em by hurling yourself through the sky (don’t touch them when you’re on a platform – it’s instant death).

Things get more complicated as you wade through the mammoth ten worlds and sixty levels, with black holes to fall in and certain blocks spinning you off in hazardous directions. There’s a useful password system that makes repeated play fun rather than a chore, though, and Cool Croc Twins is full of nice little touches like that. The whole thing oozes an early ’90s “cool” aesthetic, from the baseball caps to the animated break dancing and an overuse of stuff like “dude”.

The game was originally written for the Amiga, but is the precise sort of thing that works really well on its 8-bit brother. The colourful single screens and frantic dashing sprites work to the machine’s strengths, as does the energy and urgency of the SID tunes. If you could pick something out that’s a wee bit frustrating, you’d have to say that the controls can take a while to get your head ’round. They change depending on the direction you’re facing, so you’ve got to be really mindful of where you yank your stick.

It’s not an insurmountable problem though, and it becomes intuitive after a while. Cool Croc Twins is one of those glorious outings that you can return to again and again even after you’ve finished.  There’s a two player mode to get some extra juice out of the game when you’re truly done, which sees you and a friend both having to turn on every light before levelling up. Who the lady croc picks to marry at the end of that, we’re not quite sure. Turn on your own lights, Daisy.

PACK FACT: The coders of this one also made curious mail order only Xenomorph, reviewed in the same ish as Cool Croc Twins. It’s proper spooky, much under played and the chugging 3D is easily sped up in an emulator. Worth a gander.

MATCH OF THE DAY

Tyneside budget masters Zeppelin had some serious cash to play with by the early ’90s and snapped up the rights to a bunch of BBC shows they thought would make good games for kids. There was Rainbow Islands clone Edd The Duck and a Paperboy-ish interpretation of Aussie soap Neighbours via premium offshoot Impulze; by the time Match of The Day rolled around in 1992 the label had been rebranded to Zeppelin Premium with the specific intent of confusing internet forums twenty years into the future (are we sure about this? – Ed).

The early ’90s are awash with eight-bit football games, partly because of the 1990 World Cup and also due to the excitement of the newly established Premier League. There’s also a third, most probable factor: football games always sold by the lorry load, even if the product wasn’t especially good.  Microprose Soccer aside, 11vs11 never seemed to translate particularly well to the machine and even if it did it was because the coders went full arcade on the thing.

Ominously, it’s clear from the outset that Match of the Day tries to get down to the nitty gritty of the sport. It’s a management sim’, and it’s initially quite pleasing. You’re presented with a diary for the week and you can fill it how you like. There’s the option to talk with the physio, scouts, the chairman and club doctor. You just drag and drop the icons and play through your schedule. When it gets to match day, you pick a team based on their skill ratings from the week’s training and go off to watch the “highlights”. This is where the Match of the Day license is really used, with Des Lynam and Jimmy Hill appearing in horrifying pixel form offering their (limited) thoughts on a few set pieces of action that you see overhead, Kick Off style.

The thing is, after a while you realise that MOTD lacks depth. You spend most of your time balancing books so you don’t get bollocked by the chairman and tracking who’s keeping fit (if you don’t, the computer doesn’t tell you and you can end up fielding a team of less than eleven!). But it looks nice, your favourite team will be there and the simplicity may well be the very thing that attracts you to it. It’s your only chance to see Jimmy Hill in Commodore 64 form too. Probably.

PACK FACT: This demo is a weird ‘un. The elements that let you prepare and play a match don’t work, so all you can do is fill up the diary and admire the graphics. Which are nice tbf.

match of the day review
No videos of MOTD on YouTube, and our copy crashes when we try to make one. But you can read the review here. A 70%-er, which seems fair. 

UGH!

There’s a really neat and very early Commodore 64 game called Space Taxi. You drive a flying cab in the 23rd Century, earning money by hopping passengers to platforms and conveyor belts on a series of screens. You’ve got to steer carefully, not land too hard and avoid stuff like comets. It’s platform hopping essentially, and once you’ve successfully dropped somebody off they wang you some credits. It’s worth some time, especially for the early use of sampled speech on the Commie (“hey, Taxi!”).

Fast foward eight years and Germany’s Ego Software cloned Space Taxi for the Amiga, dragging the story back to the stone age. A C64 conversion was coded by Hans Ippisch (Rock N’ Roll, Street Cat).

Ugh! is both the name of the game and our hero. He’s just got married and is finding setting up a  home expensive. Unable to afford the latest dino skin rug, Ugh takes on a job as a pedal powered helicopter pilot. We’re back to where we came in: you’re an airborne taxi driver.

Each of the 69 levels is single screen. You sit in your prehistoric chopper until a cave person appears. Fly over to them by pushing up then gently landing and a speech bubble with a number will appear. You fly over to the corresponding platform and get paid (if you’re especially smooth or quick, you even get tipped). All this takes energy, so you can also pick up boulders to drop from trees and then eat the fruit it dislodges.

As you progress through the screens, the difficulty increases. On the third stage you’re introduced to water which rises really quickly: if you don’t pick up your passengers in time, they can drown. Indeed, beautifully animated and shimmery as it might be you’ll find water can be your biggest enemy in this game. Land too hard or collide with a passenger, and you can knock ’em in.

The few levels of this demo are pretty representative of the game: it’s very brown, to the point that seeing your sprite can be difficult. There are also some niggly bugs identified skilfully by Ian Osbourne in this Commodore Force review.

But Ugh! has something about it, and while CF‘s 92% seems a bit high it’s good if not great. And that’s a shame, because with more time in the oven it could’ve been. Still worth a load, mind.

PACK FACT: The level passwords for the game are taken directly from the song titles of goth bands Christian Death and Current 93.

FUZZBALL

In this much treasured multi-level demo you’re the Fuzzball of the title, turned so by an evil wizard. You navigate platforms bi-directionally, collecting diamonds and killing other fuzzballs across 50 levels in your quest to be turned back into a human.

CF‘s ish 24 preview notes that it’s about more than merely shooting at your fellow fuzzies. Once you’ve killed a critter, they turn into a bouncing ball. You’ve got a limited time to collide with it or the fuzz regenerates. So there’s timing and planning involved here; a bit of depth beyond your usual running and shooting.

Sadly, the game was never released and this tape preview is almost all we have of Fuzz.

One thing is for sure: Fuzzball for the Commodore 64 was definitely as good as finished. The official line from System 3 was that they were spooked at the prospect of manufacturing a C64 cassette game just as WHSmith and Boots were clearing 8-bit titles from the shelves. That’s not all there is to the story, though. It’s long been rumoured programmer Miles Barry wasn’t paid for Fuzzball and put on to coding SNES Putty Squad to make up for the fact. That’s actually not true: in fact, Miles had also been working at the time on Football Manager 3 for Prism and was being threatened with legal action if he didn’t come back and finish it. The programming was then picked up by Jed Adams. But Fuzzball still faced a delay until the other side of the lucrative Christmas period as a result – and with more C64 owners set to swap their Commie for a more powerful machine in that time, it’s possible this is what sealed Fuzzball’s fate.

PACK FACT: Bedroom enthusiasts have rummaged around CF’s two-level demo code and found traces of every stage up to number 17 – and at one point, around 2012, it seemed as if a sort-of version of Fuzzball might be unofficially released using what was there. Alas, that’s not happened yet – but that’s not stopping anybody else having a go. Could you?

FAMOUS FIVE: FIVE ON A TREASURE ISLAND

This text adventure set in a ’40s England that probably never existed was a real surprise. It was presented on this month’s tape in full, just seven months after Commodore Format had reviewed it at the full price of £10.99. It became massively popular as a result, and there’s a lot to say about this quirky romp across suspiciously sun soaked countryside, beaches and train stations. We’ve done a full feature on Famous Five here.

SUMMING UP

Famous Five made this tape a total barg at the time, and editor Trenton Webb tells us that they were inundated with calls for help with the game from the very day the magazine went on sale. In modern times, Power Pack 24 has become important for a different reason. Collectors snap it up ‘cos it’s the only place you’ll find working code for Fuzzball. If you’ve got one, hold it tight.