Time for our regular roundup of quick-fire reviews and impressions of everything under the spotlight at Retro Arcadia this week, old and new and a bit of both…

Last week here we started with a book, and this week we’re starting with some new magazines. From 1985! I started buying Computer & Video Games in April that year and soon carried every month on well into the nineties but have been looking to push my collection back a bit further over the last few months – not going crazy (because the prices of these things really can be crazy!) but just on the lookout for what I’m missing from 1985 for now. It’s been a slow process but I did pick up the May issue I was missing a while back, and this week I added both the January and February issues, albeit not for anywhere near the 95p it says on the cover! Elsewhere on the covers though, we’ve got Doomdark’s Revenge dominating one and a fantastic original Gremlins image on the other. I love the focus on competitions and type-in listings on them too, which clearly sold magazines back in the mid-eighties. Actually, type-ins definitely did do it for me!

The real thrills are to be found inside these things though, especially January’s Game of the Month – and what turned out to be a game of several decades for me – Ghostbusters on the Commodore 64! Never was a game so deserving of a 10/10 score for sound than that one, and it’s still one of the great movie tie-ins. And as strange as it sounds (and similar for Gremlins), also being told to go and see this new film as well as play the game is such a nostalgia trip in 2023! Ghostbusters ended up riding high in the Christmas charts, as reported in the February issue (which, of course, came out in January), just behind Daley Thompson’s Decathlon at number one and ahead of Knight Lore and Elite. So cool! Knight Lore, as well as Underworlde, get the big scoring review treatment too, and some very nice double-page adverts; I love seeing the adverts in these things, and I loved the Zaxxon one here way more than the game, although I’ll always be even more suspicious of hand-drawn screenshots than I am of C64 ones on a Spectrum box! I could go on all day about these but I’ve probably spent enough time on two nearly forty year-old magazines now, so let’s talk games, and as a contrast we’ll start with a newish one…

When the Sonic Frontiers demo made its way west from the Japanese Nintendo eShop last week, I was initially a bit taken aback when it told me I only had fifteen minutes to play, but I needn’t have worried – it was deleted well before that, including time to watch the various cutscenes! I actually enjoyed the initial 3D sprint, and in retrospect would gladly have spent all of my time trying to speed-run that bit, but instead I carried on into the first open world area where things got incoherent and frequently janky. I didn’t really know why I was doing anything – running about, jumping on stuff, collecting bunches of rings, looking for the next bunch, virtually auto-beating some mindless enemies in a nondescript environment full of tearing and texture popping. It’s probably not terrible, but all this demo did was confirm my decision not to buy it!

Next up I want to mention Scramble, Skramble! and Skramble, with the first being the influential Konami arcade original from 1981 and the other two a couple of clones I used to play on the VIC-20 in the Wild West days. They’re all the same horizontal shoot ‘em up one way or the other though, with different stages demanding shooting or dodging or making your way through an utterly brutal tunnel stage before a short but even more cruel final boss bombing run! The arcade version is great, and full of so many genre foundations, but try as I might I still can’t nail the pixel-perfect aggression needed in those tunnels, hence jumping to the VIC-20 ones instead… Skramble! with an exclamation mark is by Rabbit Software, and it’s the one my best friend owned, and I can’t tell you about the tunnel section because I think there’s a game-breaking bug just before it, which I ended up using save states just to make sure wasn’t just me being rubbish in the same place over and over! No save states needed with Skramble (without an exclamation mark) though. This is a 16K expanded VIC-20 version by Anirog, it’s the one I owned, and it’s an authentic (kind of) and very impressive take on the original, apart from being pretty easy – in no small part thanks to some very suspect collision detection in that dreaded tunnel section, and a far more forgiving final bomb drop! Good times all over though.

Very similar story with Rygar on the Atari Lynx, so we’ll go there next. It’s definitely Rygar, with the familiar fantasy hack and slash side-scrolling action mostly all present and correct, but it’s definitely a Lynx port too! It’s far too easy, especially when you consider how tough the arcade original gets a few stages in, and it’s also a bit on the short side as a result, although any longer and I’d be complaining about it being repetitive too! Actually, the lack of challenge for such a long time does start to get tedious before you’re anywhere near losing all your lives, but the graphics are atmospheric (also in a very Lynx way), and the soundtrack strangely hypnotic, so we’ll say it’s happily average overall… Something else anyone familiar with the platform will also be familiar with!

The Pawn on Amiga is going great so far! It’s a graphical text adventure from the Magnetic Scrolls team and Rainbird Software in 1986, although it had previously been out on the Sinclair QL as text-only a year earlier. That’s where its strength still lies too, despite some of those graphics you remember being blown away by in magazines as the 16-bit machines started marching over the horizon! It’s complex, well-written, full of atmosphere, often funny when you’re least expecting it and usually a bit strange – and I’m not just talking about the weird roller-blind thing you have to pull down from the top with the right mouse button to actually see the cool graphics! Totally insane encrypted hint system too, and about fifty pages of novella to fill you in on the backstory as well as make sure you’re not playing a pirate copy! No idea how long this is but I’m a good few hours in so far, and assuming I eventually get to the end I’m going to get a deep-dive done on it here too. I’ll report back on that here next week!

I have been playing a fair bit of Sonic Advance 3 on the Game Boy Advance too but I think we’ve seen enough more than enough Sonic for this week, so I’ll see if I can finish it and let you know my final thoughts on where it sits versus the previous two entries next time! In the meantime, in case you missed it last Wednesday, be sure to check out one of my famous book reviews on The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games from Bitmap Books! And next Wednesday, to coincide with the belated UK release of Rob Zombie’s The Munsters, we’re deep-diving into the game of the same name on Atari ST, as well as the original TV show and the new movie too. See you then!