Hidden Gems: Commodore Amiga.
When it was launched in 1987 little did we know that the Commodore Amiga was in fact a 16-bit angel of death ready to usher out the 8-bit era. This was at a time when 8-bit developers were really beginning to the get the most of out of machines like the Spectrum and Commodore 64 and the popularity of these systems seemed so overwhelmingly powerful that you never thought they’d die out.
At first it seemed like an overpriced monstrosity and the Speccy owners amongst us frankly wouldn’t grope up Cybil Shepard’s tits if she had Commodore written on her bra but slowly it began to gain in respectability and before long was the popular choice of people who weren’t quite ready to jump into the mascot-driven Japanese madness of the late 80s console wars.
Twenty years later and the Amiga is fondly remembered by gamers around the world and tribute is still being paid in the form of SWOS and remakes of the likes of Worms, Cannon Fodder and a host of other stone cold classics.
Of course, everyone knows the classics and if you’ve found your way here then you’re probably well aware of the triple-A titles that found a home on the Amiga but here’s a few hidden gems that you may have missed the first time around.
This 1994 Gremlin Games effort was an RTS with a difference. Instead of being a race to build a load of tanks and rush them across a giant battlefield, K240 was based around the colonisation of asteroids floating around in space.
The limitations of being stuck on rocks meant that you had to develop your colonies properly before you could even think about offence and the different types of ore available meant that you had to explore as certain ships and weapons required some of the game’s rarer materials.
The blackness of space also meant that you never quite knew where the bastard aliens were and what they were up to. Combine that with the care and attention you put into building your colonies and every alien attack becomes terrifying and dramatic.
Whilst the game offered plenty of research options it left the micromanagement at the door and was a far more accessible game than the RTS games that proceeded it. Once you got your defences sorted and had a substantial airforce orbiting your home rock the game starts to mix strategy and action in the same way that made the Command and Conquer games such accessible mainstream hits.
No not the Jean-Claude Van Damme film but a side scrolling action adventure game that plays as Rastan does in our nostalgic memories rather than the constantly respawing monster rope timing mess it is today. From the stunning introduction through to a dragon riding, shoot ’em up section and countless levels of hack and slash adventure.
Now this game looks beautiful, not just for the time but still today. We all know the Amiga is king of copper banding effects (gradual shifts in colour brightness and shading used primarily for backgrounds) Here along with some other graphical tricks it squeezes every colour possible from the Amiga and some that are not by flashing two colours so quick your brain is fooled. Any of developer Thalion games needs playing but it wins over other games like Amberstar or No Second Prize thanks to its shear beauty and balls to the walls action.
After Tetris single-handedly sold about a billion Gameboys literally everyone tried to rip it off with their own variations and clones of what was essentially quite a dull game (give me Klax, Meteos or Super Foul Egg over Tetris any day).
Tetris Pro was a freebie that was given away with Amiga Power and whilst it didn’t add too much to the formula the game clicked with Amiga owners and became something of a cult classic.
It may have been the level structure, where each row cleared revealed part of a picture in the background, or the fantastic music but compared to the greyathon that was the Gameboy version this was a relaxing, but challenging, game and the best variation on the formula.
Long before Nintendo cornered the market in simple but fun games, the Amiga 500 had this. Played by thrusting and waggling your mouse to move a paddle and strike or deflect a slippery puck that you have to put into your opponents goal, sounds simple doesn’t it. Well when your opponents in the cafÃ© range from an alcoholic lizard man, telekinetic witch and a biker with a giant eyeball in his stomach it gets harder to beat them all as each has their own tactics (read: cheats)
Aside from the pure gameplay and weird setting the one thing that endears this game is its sense of humour. I am not talking about ‘look! a three-headed monkey’ kind of humour more a crass Naked Gun type of humour with Lexan passing out drunk when you beat him or Nerual giving you a peek inside his cloak. The humour along with the great title screen music (that was used to advertise the Amiga to C64 owners) still give Shufflepuck CafÃ© a unique felling even today.
Lamborghini American Challenge
The third game in the otherwise awful Crazy Cars series was a fantastically arcadey racer which saw you racing in many events across the USA whilst trying to raise money for upgrades to your car. Whilst winning events was the easiest way to make cash you could also bet on yourself which made the outcome of the races a lot more important.
The addicting mix of upgrading and unlocking new events always kept the game interesting and the real world races, which included civilian cars and angry cops who’d try to ram you off the road, made this a spiritual predecessor to those horrible Need For Speed games EA inflict on us every year but without all the ‘Pimp My Twatty Car’ posturing.
Offering some of the fastest and most exciting racing on the Amiga, and indeed any 16-bit machine, this game still stands up today. You could even look for the bizarre SNES port which offered light gun and mouse support!
Such a shame that Titus went on to make Superman 64 and now reside in the Peoww Hall of Piss.
Long before the creation of Worms for a magazine competition, (it lost); there was Scorched Tanks. A four-player strategy game that requires you to shoot the other players using different weapons all of which are affected by the constantly shifting winds in an environment of destructible scenery. Sound familiar? At a glance it may look like a poor man’s Worms with its simple sounds and graphics coded in Amos but ‘Tanks plays a very different game. Before each round, you purchase weapons and equipment from destructive nukes to bouncing bombs or gadgets like shields or dirt bombs for constructing make shift bunkers.
Unlike Worms, you cannot move except to teleport (and those are very expensive). The scenery reacts to gravity and will reform and settle after explosions so if you just miss an enemy tank they might be caught at the edge of the crater and then slip into it taking damage as they go or even end up plummeting off a precipice taking even more damage if they did not purchase some parachutes. This along with your lack of mobility discourages players ‘digging in’ as many have in Worms and along with the huge variety of weapons and equipment makes it a much more personal battle as everyone develops their own tactics rather than abusing ninja ropes and jetpacks like its more famous cousin.
Well, it’s your basic RPG/turn-based strategy title but crucially it isn’t horrible. There are no tank-rushes, no hexagonal recreations of historic battles, no random battles and it doesn’t ask you to play akin to the level of a Russian master.
The plot is some cack about a king, a dragon and 16 pieces of a broken sceptre that blah blahs on about blah blah blah. This translates to you on a horse, riding about four continents full of all manner of beasties that you can recruit in order to kill more beasties.
When you encounter an enemy the screen switches to a nice battle screen where you battle it out on a 5 by 6 grid. The subtlety and variety here is immense. Do you go with powerful melee characters? Do you mix it up and throw in some archers? Or some flying monsters? Or hold back and pick them off with magic? You could even teleport a bunch of near-indestructible trolls right into the face of those pricks! HA! In your face like a can of mace, baby.
The game did find its way onto the Megadrive and had a 3D makeover (but with no gameplay changes) on the PS2 (but I’d avoid that like I’d avoid ‘bum games’ with Mick Hucknall). Pocket PC owners can treat themselves to a free port of the game that basically improves the interface 100% and makes that the essential version to own (and is thusly my favourite game of all time).
Now we have the first of two of my nominations made by Australian coders Acid Software. Acid are creators of many great Amiga games and the Blitz Basic programming language that is still in use today. When Woody’s World was released back in ’93, it came and went with very little fuss, which is a shame as it looks and plays a great 2D platformer that mixes Mario style jumping with a dash of Sonic’s speed and its own train riding mini sections and a multitude of hidden areas across an expansive world map.
Woody himself handles as you would want with very little momentum or skidding (unlike many platform games of the time) and has a genuine naive charm about him when compared to cynical mass marketing in disguise characters like Zool.
After much careful deliberation I’ve decided that Rodland gets my final slot despite being an arcade game which was ported to several formats. The reason I’ve allowed this and picked it over other potentials (Super Foul Egg, Hostages, Apidya and Sabre Team spring to mind) is that it just feels at home on the Amiga and is a ridiculously good game.
Rodland takes the familiar two-player platforming formula seen in Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands and marries it to some great gameplay and some uniquely charming graphics. Whilst the game may initially appear to follow the trend of 90s platformers all having sickly-sweet graphics, the game’s two cute protagonists are able to dish out some ridiculously overkill violence with explosive power-ups such as bombs and missiles being available for players to dish out the hurt with.
The excellent risk vs reward gameplay (do you risk a life to go for the EXTRA lives?) really makes the game and it’s even better when played with a mate. The boss battles, like every other example of the genre, sap some of the fun out of the game and usual chew up a few lives but overall this is probably the best game of its type.
Roadkill is a top down viewed racer but do not think for a moment that is a dry driving simulation that encourages you to buy new tyres or an exhaust from a garage. Roadkill is more Death Race meets Welcome to the Terrordome with enough heavy weapons to fill and Jayne’s catalogue. Choosing from one of nine cars, all with their own characteristics all driven by a lunatic with a terminator fixation you drive around a track very fast avoiding all manors of dangers and collecting the odd bonus or power up.
These range from nitro speed-ups to rockets, homing missiles and proximity mines or even extra money along with any you earn for finishing a race or destroying opposing drivers. Released near the end of the Amiga’s natural lifespan much like the earlier Woody’s World had very little fan fair or hype but like all the games featured here are truly hidden gems.