News Archive - 2023


We seem to be in a bit of a quality slump in the Fighting Fantasy line. Though it is not (just) the fault of the new writers. Freeway Fighter comes from series founder Ian Livingstone. His take on Mad Max has, unfortunately, not turned out as well as we could have hoped for.



Vertical shooters are considered to be a demanding genre and the modern type is overflowing with explosions and other graphical overkill. Unlike Genesis which offers a comparatively calm gameplay and allows the player advancing to later levels without breaking out into a feverish rush. The Game Boy's monochrome display is used to magically depict the gloomy surroundings.



The new decade, the 1990s, brought along a huge shift in computer gaming. Supremacy illustrates how everything suddenly tried to open up to the emerging mass market, to appeal to audiences which would not have touched a strategic wargame with a ten-foot pole in the previous decade.



Discovering foreign worlds or even distant planets has always been the kind of fascination that can be simulated especially by computer games in such an enjoyable way. On closer inspection, however, the programming of such worlds alone is worth exploring. The DOS game Joe Starman On Planet X is a short tour through some role-playing fantasy and – as it is open source – also allows a look at the QuickBasic code in the background.


It had to happen. Desperate for more material, Puffin Books started accepting outside book submissions into the Fighting Fantasy line, and here is their first definite misstep. Space Assassin used the very first book as a blueprint, not accounting for any developments since then. Worse, it is not even remotely a good imitation of the original. Don't worry, Andrew Chapman's books improved a lot later on.



Retro computers are particularly well suited to lightweight puzzle games such as Aztec Tomb on the C64, which do not drown the player at graphical fireworks and super-realistic ray tracing effects. Here you can still sit and relax with a cup of coffee in front of the computer and solve some puzzles, instead of being directly absorbed into it by the maelstrom of a psychologically sophisticated story and the accompanying moments of shock.



Here is a game none of you have ever heard of, let alone played. In spite of 1497: Five Years After not even being such a bad name. The theme is instantly set without being overly generic. It triggers the "I get this" reflex without being elitist, too clever for its own sake. Between 1996 and 1998, it went through various revisions, starting at version 0.09 and finally reaching the treasured 1.0. Let's have a look at that one.



Time flies. A Golden Wake is almost ten years old by now. For me, it is a recent acquisition. Being totally decoupled from any pressure to get something new "urgently" has its advantages. It takes a lot of pressure out of life. And it enables to simply buy on a whim when prices are down. Of course, this also leads to the infamous "piles of shame" these days. And a number of games in one's collection which honestly aren't very good.


Watch out, the ring wraiths are hot on your trail! Talisman of Death may not offer the most original sword & sorcery scenario ever, but then, this has never been the key selling point of the Fighting Fantasy line, has it? Nevertheless, there was always room for experimentation. Genre insiders will be delighted to see the origins of what later became its own line of gamebooks here.



Of Microprose's early output, there is the big question of what is their best non-airplane simulation. I'm in the Silent Service camp. The intensity of the sneaky operations simply grabs me every time. Dated graphics, almost no sound, who cares?



Since the now grown-up fans of the Amstrad CPC probably have more than a little pocket money at their disposal, the developers of Red Sunset are willing to take a rather handsome price for their work. Read here whether the money is well invested in this newly developed vertical shooter.


Welcome to the House of Hell! Towards the end of the 1980s, this one supplanted Caverns of the Snow Witch as my favourite gamebook. Why? I started to appreciate its real world setting over what I found to be rather tired sword & sorcery material found in most of the books. Indeed, it still has that going for it. But of course, upon recent replay, I did spot many other things which were not so clear to me back then…



Did Dynamix ever make a bad game? My feeling is their track record is pretty much spotless. Not only that, a large number of their works was great in their day and even holds up well today. Case in point, Project Firestart.



Back in 1986, computers still being futuristic wonder machines, it was much easier to get lost in them still. A good time to experiment with new forms of literature. Whereas numerous companies acquired big name licences to be adapted into games, and some even had the active support of the original book authors for such adaptations, there were also a few attempts to actually produce original works in computer-based formats which would fulfil literary standards. One of them was Portal.



This is the "abominable" yeti? It seems quite clear where the sympathies of the illustrator lie. Unfortunately, the text does not introduce any such doubts. There are no subtleties to be found in this adventure. Caverns of the Snow Witch starts out as a yeti hunt, then turns into a dungeon crawl and finally lets you pay a long march home. There is a good reason for its episodic nature. Of course, I only learned about that decades after first encountering it.



Did the guy on the left use this weirdly short rapier in a duel against the dead (?) guy in white and red? No visibile wound, though. St. Thomas was a short-lived Prussian colony, located in the Carribean, in the late 17th and early 18th century. Don't worry if you haven't heard of it before. After all, now that you know about this game, it is your opportunity to learn, isn't it?



Who could possibly resist this call? Released towards the tail end of the C64's lifetime, Creatures showed what could still be squeezed out of that legendary home computer. It might not have broken revolutionary new ground, but it was the result of a long optimization.


With a cover like this, you really have to ask yourself who the target audience of Scorpion Swamp was supposed to be. From the looks of this illustration, my guess is about eight-year-olds? A low difficulty level inside would confirm this theory. Is it fair, then, to judge it from an adult perspective these days? Don't worry, I'm trying my best to be fair.



Stuffy old men in suits taking decisions about our world's future from their ivory tower. Earth Command is painfully realistic, dealing with all those alarming issues of today's world. Just that it is from… 1993. Wait a minute, does this mean all this has been known for decades? Wouldn't this imply we could have done something to prevent where we are now? Unheard of! [sarcasm off]



Merchandising is not new to us, and the game Doraemon 2: Animal Planet Legend, based on the movie of (almost) the same name, appeared on what was probably the most popular handheld in the early 1990s. Although the Gameboy started its triumphal march in other parts of the globe – outside Japan – the game remained untranslated until today. Hence the attempt to close a potential knowledge gap.



I don't think much of an introduction is needed for this one. It's one of the most popular games of the homecomputer era, after all. Obviously, the difficulty with games like Turrican is always: is there anything which has not been said about it before?


Having just escaped from Deathtrap Dungeon, a well-deserved rest with our good friend Mungo seemed in order. Only that said Mungo immediately sends us on another seemingly hopeless adventure: defeating the Lizard King and freeing the enslaved humanoids from his grasp. At least he's coming along as well. Oops, maybe that wasn't the best of ideas…



One of the most beloved games on the C64, Wizball's specialty was cooperative multiplayer. Something not all that often found in games of the time. Or even today, for that matter. Which is too bad, isn't it? Why always this focus on competition?


In the mid-1990s, the website of Silicon Commander Games was one of the first I visited. I adored their three games, all shareware. Of those, Proliferation was my favourite then, and it remained at that spot. Even though the other two seemed to receive more attention from the main developer himself. The old website is gone. All the more reason to make sure those games are not forgotten.



One thing which can set good gamebooks apart is the imagination put into the situation it presents. Deathtrap Dungeon, out of the blue, presents its players with this beam of light in which disembodied laughing faces can be seen. They are given the option to step inside, upon which the faces all turn sad in dispair. Giving players a cryptic hint about something which may happen later. In gameplay terms, the same hint could have been presented as a book, as scroll or given by some old man… all those highly conventional choices would have made this a lesser, less memorable adventure.



It was time to face one of my childhood traumas. No, not my horrible school days, but rather a lie I've carried with me since then. Everyone said, at the time, that Teacher Busters was the greatest thing invented since ice cream. But I didn't even know the game! Though how could I admit that without being stamped a total loser by my nerd friends? Well, here I am, just 35 years later, making amends.



Dime City is one of the last games published by the second incarnation of Starbyte. It is incredible how in such a short lifetime, this company managed to push out so many titles which are still sort of fondly remembered! The "fondly" part may not always be justified, of course. In this case, there could even be serious doubts about the "remembering" part.



This picture left a strong impression on me as a child. It all seemed to be there. The impressive guard figure, looming above us due to the choice of perspective. And then, in the background, a sketchy, but alluring promise of what would await us if we managed to get past that guy. The cover of the edition I had back then even featured a die as part of the street's cobblestones. It all seemed perfect. But, of course, memories may be misleading. So let us enter the City of Thieves together.



The port of Cisco Heat to the Amstrad CPC does not have the best reputation and is sometimes even considered unplayable. This is particularly serious because its precedent on the arcade machines was a great success and Jaleco probably had to do everything right to convince home computer users of their game as well. You can find out here whether they really failed so miserably.



There is a certain perverse pleasure in looking back at those not so great games of times gone by. No, not in a "so bad it's good" way or to mock them, but rather as a reminder of the realities back then. Common retrospectives focus on the few classics, the big hits of their days. It's not like those were really played all the time. No, we also spent our time with stuff like Das Magazin. Which really raises another question. I'd be really curious to know the story of its development. Were there people behind who (at the time) thought this was good? Who really stood behind their work? Maybe, one day, we should try to research all this.


"Ouch! The evil aubergine wizard threw an aubergine at me!" That, or something like it, must have gone through the mind of the hero Pit in Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters when he turned into a defenceless waddling aubergine and set out to search the hospital room to regain his original heroic form. And this is just a small sample of the flourishing imagination that Nintendo put into this game.


For decades, where did all chess world champions come from? Correct the USSR. Yet, it seems this clean-shaven US boy wants to play the Russian chess computer for world dominance. Representing game's player. Geopolitique 1990 does not allow to take over the "other" side. Even though it should really have been possible. It is a minor oversight in a game which is full of very good ideas and paved the way for other, much more commercially successful re-interpretations.



Yes, it is the incredible John Hurt! In the 1990s, he actually appeared in several so-called FMV games. In spite of the horrible hairpiece the makers of Tender Loving Care made him wear, he graces the game with his presence. Giving it a degree of credibility it otherwise surely wouldn't have reached. You'll be remembered!



Already in the days of the home computers, smaller software houses were that extra something. The resourceful name Pandora obviously promises a big surprise when opening their products. This became a reality for me after playing Into the Eagle's Nest. Because a few years later, I had a déjà-vu as I regard the much more famous Wolfenstein 3D only its logical sequel.


It's a little bit ironic. Starship Traveller is a game with a technobabble science fiction theme. Yet, it is presented in fully analogue format itself. A Fighting Fantasy entry from Steve Jackson, be prepared for experimental gameplay…



You know what I dislike just as strongly as people dismissing anything "old" as automatically bad? Elitist retro-ists treating all kinds of later developments the same way. For instance, there are tons of people claiming "all FMV games are crap". Well, yes, ok, maybe not the greatest example. FMV games not exactly being all that recent anymore. Nevertheless, the point remains. The presentation of things does not make or break a game, unless it is an extreme case. In each format, gems can be found. "Gem" probably doesn't describe The Dame Was Loaded, but it is quite a decent game nevertheless.



Piloting a spaceship in the vastness of the universe has always stimulated the imagination of game designers. With Crazy Blaster, a Finnish programmer has also made a contribution in the spirit of this overflowing continuum of creative energy, not forgetting to aim a few completely earthly and not less satirical arrows at his (un?)beloved communist neighbouring state, which, as we know, shoots cosmonauts and not astronauts into the sky.


A roleplaying game on the Atari 2600? A real one? Featuring an overworld, including swamps, forests, wilderness and villages, as well as an underground dungeon? It may not be Ultima, but Dragonstomper comes dangerously close! If you squint your eyes, you may already be able to read its secret, of course.



Germans and their business sims… Das Haus (The House or The Building) is not even is not even about managing a department store, as the title screen may suggest, but it's literally about running a boarding house. Not the crazy type.


The name Soulless doesn’t speak for itself. The piece of software, which was published about 10 years ago and fits on an old fashioned 5¼ floppy disk, contains a lot of heart and soul. The developers of Soulless have laid the foundation for a small fantasy realm. Action-oriented game principles from well-known classics of the C64 era – the soul, so to speak – were adapted and implanted into this world. With Soulless II, the first offspring appeared 2 years ago. Expectations are high to see whether the series will continue.



Done! Quaid has saved Mars! Oh, wait… Martian Memorandum is a Tex Murphy game, definitely not starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though Access Software may not have objected too strongly against false associations at the time.



The original packaging of Dominator proudly presents the logo C+VG Hit. Insiders know the British magazine Computer + Video Games and may even have read the corresponding review in the May 1989 issue. Most other magazines from other countries have actually tended more towards the Golden Raspberry with their assessment. Since the developer and publisher was the British game company System 3 you may consider: evil to him who evil thinks!



Gremlin beat their rivals from Psygnosis on the release of their "next gen" racing game by a couple of months. Slipstream 5000 focussed on the PC platform, however, instead of the trendy consoles of the time. Plus, it didn't have Sony's marketing power behind it. Guess which game is better remembered these days…


Although the earthworm has very little natural means to express its emotions, it makes many anglers and garden owners very happy. Perhaps, the eyeless and brainless worms dream at night of escaping their monotonous existence in the grainy soil, and preferably not on the hook of a fishing rod. At this point, Earthworm Jim enters the spotlight of the games industry and advances to become the figurehead of his entire species.


This being an incredibly well known game even until today, you must have recognized it already, haven't you? Heroes of Might and Magic 3 remains the highpoint of the series in popular opinion. As usual, one aspect of this is of course having been there in the right place at the right time, when the computer games market exploded in size.



The year 2023 is just young and Halloween is still a long way off. Nevertheless, the winter nights are now long, cold and dark most of the time. Therefore, much too early for this year or too late for last year, we present a game that will confront you with your own fears and teach you how to become frightened. The gun ready to fire in one hand and the torch in the other, the monster hunt can begin. Or will you experience your nightmare and be hunted down by the evil invaders of Darkland?


In this case, I found it more appropriate to show the box art here instead of an in-game screenshot. After all, in those days before specialized magazines became commonplace, this first impression was the main incentive to buy a game. And who wouldn't want to play as a cool 1920 style gangster? See? Back home, of course, the actual game may have looked "a little" less detailed, but fueled by those beautiful drawings, our imagination ran wild anyway. Enjoy Bank Heist!



Awful three-dimensionally modelled dragon about to breathe fire. We must be in the mid-90s. The rest of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2, fortunately, instead exhibits some qualities which were already broadly considered lost in the typical game designs of the time.



Hunted by faceless corporations – nothing more than an imperfection in the matrix – stripped of corporeality by rays and nanobots, I step out of my hover car and leave the Neon Noir scenario to jump back in time to 1938. With my friend Lorry, I get off the Greyhound bus at an old abandoned gas station somewhere on the road to Seattle on 30 March. A werewolf howls in the distance and we enter Hurlements.



A stylish game from today's vibrant indie development scene, Neon Noir is an entertaining diversion from our all too complex times. Go play!


Cute games are more of a niche product these days, where every new FPS game has to be even bloodier and more brutal than the previous one. In fact, even a famous plumber with a moustache can hardly keep up. But in the early days of computer history. brutality wasn't so important and you could lure children and teenagers in front of the console with a cuddly clown. Comic Circus transported the players into the exciting world of circus clowns.



A background story in the form of a thick comic book as in the Sworquest series can also be found in this early title for the Amstrad. The vivid colours of the CPC made Antiriad not only graphically a forerunner, but also in terms of the game mechanics that foreshadowed the Metroidvania genre. This made Antiriad became almost famous among the users of this home computer.


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