Time for those 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…
First up this week, I can’t resist talking about this fantastic new homebrew version of Nebulus for the modern virtual 8-bit console, PICO-8. I’ve been exploring this a bit recently, and playing a load of the fan-made demos, originals and remakes, but this is my favourite by far! Nebulus originally arrived on Commodore 64 then everything else in 1987, and to this day I reckon it’s one of the best-looking games I ever owned on the Atari ST. Also one of the hardest, with you platforming your way up a series of towers in the middle of the sea which collapse when you reach the top, then off to the next in your submarine. Real looker, but most importantly it perfectly captures the feel of the original. You can download it here.
I’m now getting a regular look at the business end of Psikyo’s 1996 horizontal shoot ‘em up Tengai after a couple of weeks’ fairly intensive play, and then I’m taking an absolute beating! I’m playing on Switch, which gives you a maximum of three continues, but I reckon I need to duck over to MAME so I get get some save states in and practice stage four”s mini-boss rush because it’s currently taking a lot of time to get there and then hit a brick wall every time!
Everyone goes a bit Star Wars mad in the first week of May, and in a roundabout way that was behind me playing a load of Atari 2600 Empire Strikes Back from 1982. We’ll come back to why in a minute, but this thing is still so impressive! It’s undeniably a bit of a Defender clone (much like Chopper Command on there, which we covered here this week), but flying back and forth over the frozen surface of Hoth and using the radar along the bottom to locate AT-AT Imperial walkers is really about as close as if gets. Here you’re protecting your power generators against their relentless march towards them, and it takes no more and no less than forty-eight shots to the head or body to bring them down! It’s a game you famously can’t win, but those walkers are just so sinister, and your snow-speeder feels just right, and it’s still just loads of fun keeping them at bay for as long as possible!
And while there was also the slightly superior Intellivision version not long after, what we got this week, almost exactly four decades after, is a brand new Commodore 64 take on the same game, Empire Strikes Back – C64 Fan Version from the Megastyle retro game development collective. It’s a stunner too! It takes the format of the original game but now its stage-based, mixing up the action to introduce AT-STs as well as the lumbering but still impressive AT-ATs, as well as a few tweaks to things like health bars, a bit more intelligence to enemy attacks and a bit of new strategy to discover too. As you can see, it looks fantastic, with incredible use of colour to create a captivating Hoth, but what you can’t see is how good it feels to play, so sort that out if you haven’t yet! There’s a full review on the way as soon as I can manage, but in the meantime it’s available now and it’s free and there’s no reason not to go here and try it out for yourself!
Would you believe there’s a third Empire Strikes Back game that I’ve been playing this week? This time it’s more of a coincidence that I’m playing around the annual Star Wars nonsense, following hot on the heels of loads of Atari’s 1983 Star Wars arcade game and the Atari ST port, both of which I’ve now finished writing about and will appear here sometime in June! And those led, quite naturally, to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, released into the arcades as a conversion kit for the original game in 1985. As such, it’s much the same vector-based format, but this time out you’re starting as Luke Skywalker on Hoth, first taking down Imperial probe droids and then taking on the terrifying might of the AT-ST and AT-AT walkers, then it’s over to Han Solo in the Millenium Falcon, where first you need to take down a load of TIE-fighters before surviving an asteroid field. It might not have the impact of the original, and some of the new speech samples don’t really come across that well, but it’s a fantastic follow-up that I’ve never really played enough of.
I’ve mentioned the score challenges I take part in every week with a group of friends on Twitter, although “score challenge” is always secondary to having a laugh! This week’s challenge spanned a bumper crop of arcade racers, with Super Hang-On, Continental Circus and Power Drift. Super Hang-On is right near the top of my all-time favourite racers list, although it saddens me that the best I can come up with now is a clear on the Africa beginner course! What did cheer me up was spending time with the unfamiliar but excellent Mega Drive version though! I’ve also always had a soft spot for Continental Circus too, although it’s nowhere like in the same league… Especially when it starts raining and you’re the only car on the track that needs to pit for wet tyres! Still one of the highlights of the Taito Legends compilation on PlayStation 2 though! Finally, Power Drift is also in my top ten racers list, and I’ve always loved the Sega 3D Classics arcade version on Nintendo 3DS – that nub is great for racing games! Another one that I’m not quite the player I once was though!
As usual, there’s been a lot more meandering around in Elden Ring, but finally this week, I’ve been playing Roland’s Rat Race on Commodore 64 for an upcoming deep dive here. Now, I’m a massive Rat-Fan, but I was never a fan of the Spectrum version, and while this is definitely the definitive way to play, there’s no escaping it’s like a rubbish version of Dizzy, it’s set in a sewer, and it’s still not very fun. Love the little Roland Rat Superstar sprite though! Yeeaahh!
And with that, just time for a quick preview of what’s to come at Retro Arcadia next week, when we’re going to be making a Boulder Dash inspired dash into unfamiliar BBC Micro territory! You can get the full story when it arrives, but it all comes from that recent look we had at our top ten ZX Spectrum loading screens… The plot thickens!