A look at Commodore Format Power Pack 7 from April 1991. Blue Max, Uridium, 5th Gear, Crystal Castles.
- Four full games
- Read the mag tape pages
The seventh Power Pack is more commonly known as The One With Four Games On. It makes April 1991’s issue of CF one of the best value computer mags of all time, frankly, because at least two of the things here are all-time classics. And there’s a lot to say about ’em. So off we go…
Blue Max. Perhaps best known – or not – for being voted the 142nd best game of all time by Computer Gaming World back in 1996. It’s a ridiculously fun shooter set during World War I. You control a Sopwith Camel biplane and have to shoot down enemy planes whilst bombing targets on a diagonally scrolling terrain. It was actually originally written for the Atari 8-bit machines by Bob Polin in 1983. He was contracted to do it for Synapse Software – for royalties only – after responding to an advert he saw in a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper. Bob was something of a whizz, having started making games in assembly language without ever really learning BASIC. “I just knew you needed something faster to make games”, says Bob. “But I never made anything so serious until Blue Max. Not a game beginning to end. I spent 4 or 5 months making it, from January to May. Day and night and night and day. I was totally addicted to it.” It was an immediate, enormous hit and converted over to the C64 later that same year, reaching the UK on the US Gold label.
The game’s divided into several areas, each one beginning and ending with a runway on which you’ve got to take off and land. You start surrounded by rivers, green and winding country roads. By the end, you’re deep in a city full of skyscrapers and bunkers. Their destruction is the game’s ultimate goal. “It was perhaps influenced by Zaxxon”, says Bob of Sega’s 1982 shooter. “I mean the diagonal scrolling. There was nothing with diagonal scrolling on the Atari at that point”.
You can shoot – and be shot at by – other biplanes, and you drop bombs on set targets marked with a flashing X. The targets could be cars, planes, buildings or bridges and to progress you’ve got to obliterate every one. Other planes can seriously hinder you, but the good thing is that you aren’t immediately killed by a single shot. You’ll have either your gun damaged, your bomb gear broken, a fuel leak or decreased maneuverability. So it gets harder, but not impossible. At least until the fifth shot, which takes you down! You’ve got to keep an eye on fuel and remember to land regularly too, because that’s the one thing that will immediately end you. Run out of gas and the biplane falls from the sky!
There’s something indescribably satisfying about Blue Max. Taking off and landing looks cool and isn’t too hard to master. Finding and taking out your targets with bombs is initially easy and eventually tough but never unfair, and nothing requires pixel perfect timing. Having to stop and refuel adds an element of planning and panic to proceedings, too. It’s an early C64 game, of course, so the graphics aren’t really what they could be – and it’s fair to say the capabilities of the SID chip hadn’t exactly been realised at this point in time. Bob Polin himself doesn’t like the C64 version: he was invited to create it, but didn’t know much about the machine and was too busy relaxing and enjoying the success of his first hit. “But I thought the Commodore version was very badly done”.
There’s probably something of him not wanting to give away his baby to other people in that statement, because C64 Blue Max is still tremendous fun and very addictive. It’s basic by more modern Commodore standards but it’s one of many CF readers’ fondest Power Pack memories and rightly considered a classic. A tip if you’re playing: stay in the far right corner. The enemies can’t touch you there (but you’ll have to move to bomb things!).
PACK FACT: There’s a sequel, Blue Max 2001, described by ZZAP! 64’s Julian Rignall as “one of the most disappointing sequels of all time. They’ve totally muffed it.”
Andrew Braybrook is C64 royalty, at least in the UK. His name is synonymous with quality and inventiveness using Not Much Memory. In the mid ’80s, Commodore owners were wowed by Andrew’s surreal action shooter/platformer Gribbly’s Day Out and stunned at the slickness of 1985’s Paradroid. By 1986, Breadbin owners were positively foaming at the mouth in anticipation of Uridium and sent into overdrive when the programmer told ZZAP! 64 magazine that he wanted the game to look like it should be in an arcade. When it dropped, it delivered. This is one of the most accomplished, playable shooters ever. And five years later, in 1991, it was free with Commodore Format 7.
You really have to play Uridium to get it, but we’ll try and sum up the adventure for you now. The solar system is under attack, and enemy dreadnoughts (futuristic battleships, basically) have been placed on 15 planets. They’re stealing mineral resources and you can’t have that, can you? So you get into your Space Fighter and visit each planet in turn, with the task of destroying every dreadnought. But in Uridium it isn’t as straight forward as pointing and shooting. First you’ve got to destroy waves of enemy fighters protecting their dreadnought. When they’re toast, you move on to neutralise as much of the landscape as you can in order to safely dock. When “land now” appears, you can approach your target and pull out as many fuel rods as you can before flying off again onto the next planet.
The screen scrolls in both directions at incredible speed. Uniquely, and most memorably, you can flip your ship around to navigate away from danger. This neat little trick really gives Uridium an intense arcade feel. The speed never lets up even when the landscape gets tricky, so you need to acquire some really nifty joystick skills to squeeze through tight alleyways, flip around to shoot down enemies and then carry on to dock. It’s relentless, and an immense challenge. During playtesting, celebrity C64 journo (and gaming champion) Julian Rignall was invited to test the game out. When he started to repeatedly beat Uridium, Andrew wrote in what he nicknamed ‘anti Rignall routines’ to make sure there was no easy way to get through a level. It isn’t one to just pick up and play; you’ve got to spend time with this one. But they’re the most rewarding experiences, right? Right. C64 heaven, right here.
PACK FACT: Andrew got thinking about how fast a C64 game could be after realising that Jeff Minter’s Sheep In Space was scrolling at 50 frames per second.
This one could actually do with a better title, ‘cos it sounds like a bog standard racer right? And you do control a car from overhead driving to one end of the scrolling screen before turning around and coming back to the start. Except this race is illegal. Er, and you can put bombs and guns and stuff on the front of your car. Much more fun, eh? You start the game with $10,000 to equip your deathmobile, and the more you race the more lethal you can become. There’s some nice Dukes Of Hazzard style leaping over rivers but the game’s spoiled a bit by how s-l-o-w you have to go to get around some of the obstacles. Still – torching cars is great fun, and eventually you even get to try and destroy trains and helicopters. 5th Gear has its detractors, but it’s a decent effort.
PACK FACT: Unfortunately, Commodore Format readers discovered that the version on Power Pack 7 could crash if the C2N was stopped or knocked and didn’t get to enjoy the carnage until issue 28, when a fix appeared.
This is Atari’s 3D Pac Man inspired affair with extra features bolted on. The US got it in 1983, and British arcades struggled with the demand for it when it arrived the following Easter. It turned up on the Commodore 64 a year later thanks to Thundervision (in the UK, it was one of the first batch of imports published by US Gold). You take control of Bentley Bear, who has to collect gems littered over a series of 3D platforms, ramps and lifts. You know the sort of thing – pick ‘em all up to finish the level. It’s beyond Pac Man, though: there are hidden passageways, lifts and a range of power ups to help you defeat Berthilda the Witch’s minions, who litter each level and try to stop you. The longer you take, by the way, the faster and more vicious they become – so time’s of the essence. Either that, or grab the magic hat to make you invincible for a while. It’s a faultless conversion from the arcade, from a time when only the Commodore 64 could do such a thing. By 1991 and this appearance on the Power Pack, mind, it looked hopelessly dated both graphically and in terms of gameplay. The screens with lots of white backdrop set off that famed C64 hardware issue and make the TV hum wildly, too, but the simplistic fun doesn’t desert Crystal Castles even today. Worth a butchers.
PACK FACT: Bentley Bear was originally named Braveheart Bear in the released prototypes, but Atari was forced to change the name when advocates for Native Americans complained.
Class in a glass, this one. One of the all-time great covertapes, and terrific value. CF