Commodore_Format_PowerPack_4_1991-01Although it’s labelled as January, readers of old computer mags will know that these publications always lived in the future for some never adequately explained reason. Power Pack 4 was actually an early festive present, dropping onto the shelves with the mag in Christmas week 1990. You can read our full feature on issue 4 here. No mater what other games machines Santa might have been bringing, the C64 was still going great guns in the UK. That spilled on to the tape with C64 demos of Robocop 2 and Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge. These were almighty licenses bought for big bucks, and they certainly wouldn’t be risked on a machine not likely to recoup.

Offsetting the glamorous modern games were the full versions of two absolute classics, both of which had been available at full retail price not too many years earlier. To start with, something delightfully grim…

BEYOND THE FORBIDDEN FOREST

This is Paul Norman’s follow up to 1983’s Forbidden Forest. The original was one of the early, jaw-dropping classics on the Commodore 64 and is sometimes flagged up by hipsters as the original survival horror game. Cast as a lone man in the forest at dusk, you’re charged with killing the evil Demogorgon and his (actually quite big and stabby) minions. Spiders will chew your head off. Massive frogs will squash you. And skeletons will hack at you. All you have is your bow and arrow (but of course – Ed).

It looks old hat now, mainly because of the chunky graphics. But its cinematic feel was revolutionary in comparison to what we’d seen before on, say, the old Vic 20. The game changed from dusk to night to day; there was super slick parallax scrolling and enemies that actually reacted to what you did instead of just hopping around on a predictable loop. The music jabs and climaxes like a horror flick depending on the on-screen action, raising the tension. It can be, at times, utterly terrifying.

Paul’s game aesthetics have their roots in his own history. He was a movie and music fan, often playing in bands, and chanced upon a Vic 20 when out shopping for records. Unable to resist having a play, he was hooked. Fast forward a bit and Paul had found work as a programmer. One day, he was asked to make a “bow and arrow game”. He thought that was a bit dull, so let his imagination run riot. Upon showing the archer splattered to bloody death by a spider to an amazed and laughing management team, he knew he was on to something.

The only thing about the original is that it was a little easy. The follow up – Beyond The Forbidden Forest, the game here on Power Pack 4 – aimed to address that. On booting up, there’s no doubt this is a Forbidden Forest game. There are worms, scorpions, bats, bloody death sequences and another dark, looming soundtrack alongside memorable crashing lightning and changing atmospherics. There’s a new 4D sort of approach, too, so that you and your enemies can move from foreground to background.

What’s most different is that the game’s split into two. To stand any chance in the second half, you’ve got to collect loads of golden arrows in part one. That can become quite repetitive, especially if you die and lose them all. The whole process can become a desperate search for the arrows and the game loses its way a bit as a result.

But it’s an ambitious, bleak (in the best way!) game which holds true to Paul Norman’s belief that you just keep adding and tweaking until there’s no memory left.  And yes, the archer really does do a little dance when you win. PACK FACT: BTFF was remade for Windows in 2004. 

BOUNDER

Easily one of the most remembered Power Pack outings, Gremlin’s 1985 adventure casts you as a bouncing tennis ball and challenges you to navigate a series of increasingly infuriating courses. You’re viewing things from overhead here, and to bound between the perilous gaps and avoid all manner of nasties the main trick is taking into account the rhythm of the ball’s bounce. There are 174 screens divided into ten levels, each with a bonus screen at the end – so plenty to get your teeth into. It’s famously frustrating, but thoughtful boosters that teleport you past entire sections or allow you to stay airborne keep you coming back. And coming back is exactly what it’s doing in 2018 (oh come on – Ed), as we exclusively told you in October 2017. The rights to the game have been bought by Essex developer Matt Risley and it’ll be, er, bouncing back (please stop – Ed) on mobile phones pretty soon. The challenge will be to master the control system using a single finger on an iPhone screen, but Matt thinks they’ve got it sussed. Have a look at our chat with him here. Suffice to say, this is a wonderful game that was worth the £1.95 mag price alone. PACK FACT: The programmers loved the scrolling in Capcom’s Exed Exes, and having figured out how it could be done on a C64 set about the game.  

ROBOCOP 2

At Christmas 1990, Commodore UK were trying to push the elderly C64 as a cartridge machine. This was a response to a uniquely British problem. The C64 had rivals in the UK  like the Amstrad CPC and Spectrum that simply weren’t as big an issue for them in other territories.  To keep the computer at a competitive price point, Commodore had always shipped Brit C64s with a C2N datasette. Cheap, sure, but at a cost. Games became limited, loading was a pain and the Commodore just doesn’t fulfill its potential when loading from spools of tape. Even Commodore were admitting that. Yet, to bundle the C64 with a disk drive would double the unit’s price and hand customers to Amstrad. What to do?   

The famously misguided solution was to push the cartridge port which had always been on every C64 but had been very rarely used. This was part of a two pronged attack to also combat the growing popularity of the NES and Master System, which retailed at around one hundred notes compared to the C64’s £150. 

That Christmas, the C64 itself came minus a datasette, and a ridiculously pointless (and ugly) keyboardless version called the C64GS was also in the shops.

There were a lot of obvious issues with this approach, which you can read about in our chat with Mev Dinc here. But to pull it back to software, a system’s only as good as the games that come out on it and in the C64GS’s case that wasn’t very many at all. Only around 28 ever appeared, initially priced at a crazy £20+. The biggest supporter by far – some might say one of the few businesses able to afford to manufacture the carts – was Manchester publishing giant Ocean Software, and Robocop 2 was one of the first plug and plays it released.

In keeping with the console approach, this is a reworking of the NES version. The movie is ultra violent, so it’s a surprise to (instantly) load it and find a sort of gaudy platformer. The attempt to make Robocop feel like a big old machine is admirable but just makes control feel really difficult, in our opinion, though the inertia does have its fans. Commodore Format rates the game at 90% this same issue, it should be noted, though was more lukewarm to it in subsequent round-ups over the years. This month’s tape features level 1, which combined with the review was enough to send it to the top of the C64 games charts for quite a while. It’s not the slickest of adventures, but it’s definitely loved. For Ocean, at least, carts worked – and without the format, this would’ve been a hell of a multiload. PACK FACT: This was, in fact, a last minute replacement for a demo of Total Recall.   

LOTUS ESPRIT TURBO CHALLENGE

This rolling demo is what Gremlin Graphics got in return for giving CF the full version of Bounder. The full game allows you to race one of the fancy cars through a variety of landscapes, and is most famous for its options: you can change what’s on the radio, for example, and in split screen you can race against a mate (standard stuff now but the game’s unique selling point at the time). Sadly, the screen doesn’t open up when you play alone (the bottom half becoming a graphic of a car workshop) but it was all about the multiplayer and it was on those grounds the game got great reviews. Not that you could even play alone here: the demo is just a sort of looping movie, showing the game’s speed and options, and the sort of thing mags used to be sent to get early screenshots. Dare we say it, that’s essentially what this probably initially was. PACK FACT: The sequel, which appeared on the 16-bits, was actually planned for C64. Gremlin struggled to make it sufficiently different on an 8-bit machine, though, and combined with a declining market the game was canned.      

 SUMMING UP

It’s ridiculous value for money again this month, really, and you can see why software houses had started to get a bit wary of the damage covertapes could be doing to the market (by now, publishers and software houses had agreed to limit the number of full games on magazine cassettes). Bounder alone fixed to the front of a £1.95 magazine would have been amazing; that it just makes up one quarter of the line-up is staggering. There’s more than enough here to get you through the Christmas holidays. We just wonder how many of those minutes kids wasted desperately jabbing fire to try and play Lotus EspritCF

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