Time for our regular quick-fire reviews and impressions of what’s been under the spotlight at Retro Arcadia this week, old and new and a bit of both… And having spent the week off work with COVID’s full works, there’s a bit more than usual too!

My planned month or so of focus on Capcom’s bullet-hell horizontal shoot ‘em up Progear has been well and truly hijacked by Psiyko’s slightly less frantic 1996 effort Tengai, which I’ve now bought on Nintendo Switch and really can’t get enough of! I’ve settled on a favourite character style and totally clicked with its random opening levels, but there’s still way more to come. It’s definitely not feeling as relentlessly challenging as Progear, although it is even more masterful in the way it draws you in to completely avoidable death. A classic that I’m so glad I’m finally discovering!

On a similar note, SNK’s 1988 Blazing Star for Neo-Geo provided this week’s new regular Wednesday score challenge with my retro-gaming Twitter friends. This one’s an old favourite, and it wasn’t long before I’d worked out its scoring mechanics again and was consistently beating the stage two boss… then getting battered on the third, just like old times! Still a beautiful looking game though, and the soundtrack is still among my favourites.

Way more old-school, we also went right back to 1982 for another score challenge on Konami’s Time Pilot, which sees you kind of top-down but in all directions taking down biplanes in 1910 then travelling through five time periods to 2001 with its UFOs. Not sure I’d ever got past 1982 and its jet planes before, but I got on a roll and made it right to the last one this time, and it was a blast! Addictive as hell, especially with high scores to drag you along. Classic.

And speaking of classic, from a year later but still the most exhilarating arcade experience I’ve ever experienced, Atari’s Star Wars! This time I’ve been playing on Atari ST though, which was actually the very first game I bought on there and is still one of my favourites. It nails the timeless vector graphics, the speed and might even improve on the punchiness of the sound effects and sampled speech, but apart from mixing up the way it uses music, this is pretty much that holy grail of an arcade perfect conversion! And we’re going to be looking at that, as well as the original, in way more depth here soon.

Also for an upcoming post, I’ve been playing a load of Capcom’s 1994 side-scrolling beat ‘em up Alien vs. Predator because as well as needing to, it’s also rather marvellous! Actually, I’d even say it’s one of the great movie tie-ins, although the movie it was supposed to tie-in to ended up not appearing for another ten years! We’ll call it a comic book adaptation instead, and it’s so much chaotic fun, with you playing either Arnie’s Dutch character from Predator, a cyborg lady or a choice of actual Predators as you wipe out ridiculous hordes of Aliens and the villains that unleashed them. Still such a blast, and one of my favourites in the genre.

Would you believe that Zool has a second set of levels? I’d only ever seen pictures of the sweets ones before, but I’ve spent a load more time on the Amiga A500 Mini version and I’m now beyond sweets and exploring the very late eighties-infused notes of the The Music World! I’m not sure I’ll ever see the rest of them, but I’m really glad this turned out to be my first proper stop-off on this fantastic little system.

There was more on there too, and once again I have my friend Nick Jenkin to thank for introducing me to Qwak on the Amiga, which he recently reviewed on his YouTube channel, and which immediately looked like my cup of tea! This was originally a BBC Micro and Acorn Electron puzzle-platformer from 1989, which then ended up getting a lick of 16-bit paint and released as an Amiga budget game in 1993. It’s a series of single-screen platforming levels, and your little duck is collecting gold and silver keys, fruit, gems and power ups to get you to the next one while shooting or avoiding enemies. There’s a real Bubble Bobble or Rodland or Flicky kind of vibe, and while it doesn’t quite reach any of those heights, that doesn’t stop it being a fun time all the same!

Finally on the Amiga Mini thingy, a game called Arkanoid that needs no such introduction! I played a lot of this on the Spectrum and Atari ST, and the Amiga version feels just as good with a mouse, as well as being as polished as you could wish for. Lovely preview of what’s to come on my trackball add-on for the Taito Egret II mini whenever that turns up too!

There was, as usual, also more Elden Ring, but we’ll finish off this week with something to celebrate the ZX Spectrum’s 40th anniversary, even though I did always consider Beach Head more of a Commodore 64 game! Anyway, while I might be rubbish at most games, some old habits die hard, and it wasn’t long before I was taking down that huge gun at the end again! All the same, the damage limitation of the iconic first-person first level, with the planes flying over the warships from across the sea towards you before unleashing a terrifying spray of bullets remains its highlight. What a masterpiece that game was!

And with that, just a quick preview of what’s to come here next week, when we’re swapping planes for helicopters and heading back to the Atari 2600 to rediscover one of its more successful takes on the Defender formula, Chopper Command! And in case you missed either, don’t forget that earlier this week we also did a countdown of our top ten loading screens as part of the Spectrum’s anniversary celebrations, as well as having a look at what’s on the Retro Arcadia radar to be released in May. Enjoy!