Power Pack 8 from Commodore Format issue 8, May 1991. Predator 2, Mean Streak, Top Duck, Elvira 2.
- Two full games
- Two demos
- Read the mag tape pages
Commodore Format‘s eighth cassette came in the same month that Commodore tried to kill off tapes for good. Only in Britain had the breadbin remained so stubbornly tethered to spool and datasettes, and it was a problem of Commodore’s own making. In trying to remain at a competitive price with both the Amstrad and Spectrum in Blighty, they’d shied away from bundling the machine with an expensive disk drive. That was good for selling units; not so great for keeping the Commodore as “modern” as a 1982 computer could be in the ’90s. Even Commodore themselves were now publicly calling tape unreliable and slow. Find out more about how they tried and failed to move everyone to disk and cart in the UK here. Trigger warning: there’s C64GS content in that link.
Mirrorsoft wanted to get their movie tie-in seen by as many people as possible this spring, so approached Commodore Format with an offer of the entire first level for this month’s cassette. CF said yes, as long as they got the exclusive review and the non-exclusive rights for one of Mirrorsoft’s old games for the same tape. This sort of deal became common. Games publishers were happy to oblige because Format was now the UK’s biggest selling C64 mag by a long way (50k readers a month compared to ZZAP!‘s 40k).
Predator 2 is, in essence, an Operation Wolf affair. It’s got the added tension of something like Aliens, though, as you await the dreaded monster to lunge into view. You play Danny Glover’s character from the movie, Mike Harrigan, and the screen scrolls left to right in a C64 interpretation of Los Angeles. In this demo, you’ve got to shoot your way to a drug dealer’s den blasting everything except the fleeing women and amusingly obsese pensioners (they waddle, arms flailing, and it’s still LOL after nearly 30 years). The code zips along at a fair speed, though you pay for this with blocky sprites – even by Commie standards. The demo cuts before the end level baddie; unusually, the publishers were cagey about CF even showing screens of those in the review. It’s an early attempt at preventing spoilers, we’d guess, and actually not knowing what’s coming is at the heart of this rampaging shooter. Good call, really.
PACK FACT: Level 4 of the finished game sees Harrigan track down the Predator to his hideout. CF weren’t allowed to print screens of that, either – but you can see the showdown now:
This is the game Mirrosoft gave CF as part of their “payment” for the Predator 2 demo appearing on the tape: Mean Streak is their so-so 1987 bike racing shoot ’em up style of thing. It’s set in the 23rd century on the motorways of the UK: boy racers compete against each other on deadly, armed super bikes to win the ultimate motorcycle known as the Mean Streak (IT’S LIKE WHEN THEY SAY THE TITLE OF THE FILM IN A FILM! – Ed).
The best way to win is to blast your opponents out of sight, and that’s what you can do here in one or two-player mode on an isometrically scrolling screen. There’s cash to pick up for better weapons and oil slicks to avoid; a scanner letting you keep tab of your opponents is a nice touch, but when the action gets frantic it can become confusing and ultimately frustrating. Still, there’s that one-more-go factor here and Mean Streak definitely has its fans. Get past the old style visuals and you’ll find a good slab of game here.
PACK FACT: CF editor Steve Jarratt reviewed this one three years earlier as a writer on ZZAP!. It got 71%, largely because there wasn’t deemed enough to play here for ten quid. Different story on a cover tape though, eh?
Microvalue’s platform waddler really is a good laugh. Like Mean Streak, it looked a bit old hat even by 1991. It’s a sort of simplified version of the 1983 Atari arcade game, Mr. Do’s Castle. The duck hero navigates single screens made up of blocks and ladders; you’ve got to clear each level of the baddies by luring them beneath a block and then pecking on the said block to crush your enemy. Er, and that’s it. There are bonuses, like flashing blocks which kill everything on one level, and its 20 fiendish levels are a challenge to say the least. Whether that’s smart enemy AI or unforgiving difficulty is up for you to decide.
PACK FACT: The musician is Peter Clarke, of Bubble Bobble and Head over Heels fame.
ELVIRA – MISTRESS OF THE DARK
What was it we were saying about tapes being slow and restrictive up there…here’s a fine example from Newcastle’s Flair Software. This beautiful, moody, epic adventure game simply wouldn’t work on cassette with the myriad of options and paths you’re able to take – so this demo is actually just a slideshow of some of the game’s best artwork. The game proper is a point and click adventure with a really easy icon driven interface and visuals ported directly from the Atari ST. You play the saucy vamp Elvira, trying to escape the clutches of your grandmother – the evil old bag, Emelda. You do that by cracking a series of really tough puzzles which take a long form. For example, you might need to cast a spell to achieve something. That means you have to go off around the castle in which Mistress of the Dark is set to find ingredients first. Along the way, you’ll encounter heads full of maggots, a stable hand who changes into a werewolf, and, er, an angry gardener. As Sean says in the game’s full review, it’s not something to play if you want instant gratification and that was a somewhat alien concept to 8-bit gaming. It’s a slow burner, with an unusual level of thought and intellect involved, and the cinematic cutscenes combined with the grisly humour make it an essential play over a long weekend. Just don’t keep a sledgehammer too near to your C64.
PACK FACT: A sequel followed in 1992 (review here), which is considered to be one of the C64’s best ever adventures. Flair Software also squeezed in an Elvira platformer, Elvira: The Arcade Game in late ’91 too. It got the CF cover and a demo.
This isn’t the most exciting of the cover tapes at first value, but actually the two full games are ones you’ll come back to. Mean Streak can hook you in, and there’s certainly challenge to Top Duck. It blows a bit that level 1 of Predator 2 is minus the boss, but we demand to be shielded from spoilers in modern games – looking back, this is a really early example of precisely that!