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…

I used to get a VIC-20 mail order catalogue in the post; don’t think the games in it ever changed much, but I’d always look forward to it arriving and I’d always look longingly at its blurry screenshot of Shadowfax! These were some serious graphics, hyped up to photo-realism by the accompanying description of this 1982 Lord of the Rings horsey shoot ‘em up! It has you playing as Gandalf riding on Shadowfax, shooting magic at oncoming Nazgul, although if there’d been as many ring wraiths on the prowl in the book as there was here then Frodo wouldn’t have got very far! Anyway, as much as I always wanted it, I never played it until this week. And it turns out I made the right choice spending my pocket money on Gridrunner and Jet-Pac instead!

We covered three different Empire Strikes Back games here last week, so this week I decided to move on to the 1984 Return of the Jedi arcade game, and it’s been a very long time since I had a go on that. After the two previous vector-based 3D movie shooters, this outing went for isometric raster graphics, with gameplay that feels like Zaxxon meets Spy Hunter as you fly through the forests of Endor on a speeder bike before switching to the Millennium Falcon to take down a reactor, before then alternating between that and an AT-ST back on the ground to take down an Imperial cruiser. It looks alright and there’s some great speech and sound effects, but I’ve always found the gameplay to be a bit clumsy. Nice to go back to again all the same.

After playing through a season of the first game the other week, I’ve moved on F-1 World Grand Prix II on Nintendo 64. Two things noticeably set this one apart from its predecessor: first, the corners aren’t all corners anymore, but more realistic turns; and secondly, there’s a much improved flow to the racing, and it’s all far more competitive. Apart from that, we’re now part of the full roster of Formula One’s 1998 season, there’s huge depth if you want it but it’s also fine to leave if not, and above all I was impressed by the dynamic weather, which really threw up some interesting decisions as it changed over the course of a single race. I love the F1 games of this period, and this one has been a real find so far!

I’ve also been playing a bit of arcade R-Type this week. Not my favourite horizontal shooter, but I’ve been dabbling for years, and I do like the Switch version’s ability to switch between original and remastered graphics and audio with a press of the Y button. Got to stage 4 for the first time ever too! I also decided to do the rounds on a few of the conversions… The Commodore 64 port has great music but the bullet behaviour is a bit too wild for serious progress! Atari ST flickers a lot and the big explosions that possibly compensate for no sound effects get right in the way seeing enemy bullets. The Amiga version, on the other hand, is as close to the arcade version as you could ever hope for. I’d never really noticed the way the PC-Engine version scrolls up and down slightly to make the vertical play-field bigger, which starts out quite jarring on the back of playing loads of the other versions but it soon feels just about perfect, and the CD version’s additional cutscenes and soundtrack are phenomenal! Finally, goes without saying that the Spectrum version is a thing of beauty – still one of the most impressive things I ever saw over there!

And changing orientation, Taito’s 1988 vertical shoot ‘em up Fighting Hawk recently arrived on Nintendo Switch, care of Hamster’s Arcade Archives series, and it’s fantastic! Okay, it doesn’t do anything that Flying Shark didn’t do two years previously (apart from being a bit more forgiving on my colourblind eyes), but it’s full of its own character, has some great backdrops and is just a load of fun. Lovely soundtrack too!

Next up, would you believe it turns out that Xbox Games With Gold can still deliver? Occasionally! This month we got Hydro Thunder Hurricane, bombastic sequel to an old favourite powerboat racing arcade game. This one is very Xbox 360, but the water still feels great and some of the courses are totally bonkers! Loads of fun, and it doesn’t stop there on this arguably redundant service this month either – really looking forward to finally having a go at Yoku’s Island Express too!

Finally this week, I’ve been playing (and finished) the brand new Cotton Fantasy on PS4 for a review that you’ll find at Retro Arcadia just before its official release next Friday, as well as one for the new Empire Strikes Back – C64 Fan Remake a couple of days earlier that we had some first impressions of here last week, but you’ll have to be patient for more on those. See you then!