Back again 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…

Flicking through my Nintendo Switch wishlist the other day, I noticed Call of Cthulhu and it rang a bell – I was sure I’d seen it on my Xbox somewhere. And I had! It must have been a monthly Games With Gold freebie at some point not that long ago because it only came out in 2018, so we’re talking Xbox One rather than current-gen. It’s a Lovecraftian survival horror RPG based on Chaosium’s classic tabletop version, placing you as a private detective in 1924 Massachusetts, investigating a tragic, mysterious death on the isolated Darkwater Island, but it doesn’t take long for you to get pulled into a terrifying (albeit very predictable) world of conspiracies, cultists and cosmic horrors. I’ve enjoyed it for the first few hours too – lots of exploration of pretty atmospheric locations, lots of decent narrative and lots of dialog choices to support your investigations. And descent into madness! The presentation does look a little dated, which is a surprise given its relatively young age, but the almost point-and-click meets FPS gameplay mechanics work well and the story is well-written and engaging, if not massively scary. As a Lovecraft fan I’m happy enough still plodding along with it for a while longer, although I am glad I didn’t have to wait for a sale on Switch after all!

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned here I’d been playing the original Speedball on The Bitmap Brothers Collection 1 for Evercade, mainly because I wanted to spend some time with that one before I started on Speedball 2 on there and never looked back all over again, just like on my Atari ST in 1990! Well, I reckon I’ve now spent enough time on there to justify moving on because I’ve finally beaten its main knockout mode! That said, I could easily have justified moving on sooner because this Master System version really isn’t the one you want to be playing! Obviously, I’ve had enough fun with it to keep playing because fundamentally it’s still Speedball doing its wild futuristic football / handball / ice hockey thing but it’s buggy as hell and once you get good at it (again) the controls feel way too clunky and inconsistent for consistent decent-level play, although gameplay does eventually become a bit formulaic so it sort of balances itself out. Looks a bit crap too compared to the still excellent all-round ST and Amiga versions. The worst thing is the players (and ball) sticking to each other though, with no escape until random movement eventually frees the pixel that needs shifting. If you need to run down the clock while you’re narrowly ahead it’s not a bad tactic though! While it’s not its sequel, Speedball is still a classic in its own right. Just wish it was one of the classic versions here!

Having had to sell off (nearly!) all my VIC-20 games to help fund my Spectrum a very long time ago, it’s wonderful now when I come across games I used to own but had forgotten all about! In this case it’s a couple of budget titles from Mastertonic…. The first is Sub Hunt from 1984, and it’s a take on Seaquest, my all-time favourite Atari 2600 game! It’s a single-screen shooter, with your little sub trying to rescue your scuba diving friends while shooting the “evil fish” and submarines coming at you from all directions. Rescue six divers and get them to the surface before your oxygen runs out and you move to the next level. It’s definitely discount Seaquest – equally simple to look at but it doesn’t quite have the fluidity of control. Not bad for £1.99 though.

I was really fond of Bullet when it also came out in 1984! It starts out as a clone of the old arcade game Head On, where you’re automatically driving top-down, round and round several lanes of city streets on a single screen, collecting all the coins and avoiding the cop car travelling in the opposite direction. You can switch lanes to avoid it, and if you get all the coins you’ll move onto the next screen, where you need to rob one of four banks. You do this by travelling around the screen Snake-style, avoiding where you’ve been or you’re caught and back to chasing coins again. This was a simple but really great budget title with some classic arcade mechanics that are still fun nearly forty years later. Really glad I rediscovered this one!

I’ll finish this week by going even further back in time to Berzerk in 1980 by Stern Electronics, which is a top-down, flip-screen multidirectional shooter where your little green stick man finds himself in a simple maze-like room with electrified walls and a load of increasingly aggressive robots. Hang around too long before escaping to the next room and your nemesis, Evil Otto, will appear; he’s a bouncing smiley face that will head straight in your direction, although he’s more of a mechanic for hurrying you up than as much of a threat as the stupid robots and stupid walls! They get brutal fast, you see, but there’s no chance you’ll see that many of the 256×256 grid of rooms as the robots change colour a few times the further you go, each time indicating they can fire more bullets at once. Funny thing is, I started out with the Atari 2600 version, and as much as it annoyed me, there was something to it and I played it for way longer than I originally planned. Could be a gentler difficulty curve or possibly less twitchy controls than the arcade game it was based on, which was just plain annoying! Plenty of mad speech synthesis on that version though, and apart from Stratovox from Taito, I believe it was the first arcade game to do such a thing!

And on that bombshell that’s going to do us for this time, but if you fancy a bit more of my ramblings do check out this countdown of my top ten favourite Commodore 64 loading screens (and more besides) from last Wednesday. Loads more coming next week too, starting on Monday, which is the first day of the month so time for our regular look ahead to the mostly (but not strictly) retro-interest games releases On The Retro Radar For May! Then as usual on Wednesday we’ve got an all-new deep-dive, this time into the fantastic Shark! Shark! on Intellivision, which I’ve enjoyed for a long time on the PlayStation 2 but now also on Evercade, so we’ll look at both versions and the compilations they appear on as well. And with that, see you next time!