Classic Computer Magazine Archive A.N.A.L.O.G. ISSUE 78 / NOVEMBER 1989 / PAGE 48

Game Shelf

Captain Fizz
Meets the Blaster-Trons

Psygnosis, Ltd.
Distributed by Computer Software Service
2150 Executive Drive
Addison, IL 60101
(800) 669-4912
$29.95; Color only

Reviewed by Frank Eva

Captain FizzCaptain Fizz, an arcade adventure, is another of Psygnosis' independently produced titles, released under the Psyclapse label. The single-disk program, packaged in the familiar square hard case, is accompanied by a six-page mini-manual entitled The Queen's Cloned Highlanders Regimental Handbook. The player assumes the role of a cloned soldier who must journey from level to level inside the starship Icarus with the ultimate goal of knocking out the craft's main computer. In the best tradition of HAL, the berserk computer of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the computer aboard the Icarus has gone haywire, and the ship is hurtling uncontrollably toward the sun.
    Captain Fizz is a simultaneous two-player split-screen contest. (One person can play alone, but is warned that it will be impossible to win.) The right and left sides of the screen are filled with status readouts that will be mostly gibberish until the game's learning curve has been crested. The numerical readouts at the left display the player's score, personal health, armor (how well-shielded from enemy weapons he is), damage (how destructive his blaster is), charge (how many times his ultimate weapon can be used), credit (points earned that can be exchanged for other things) and cards (keys used to unlock colorcoded doors).
    Also, a vertical meter indicates how much energy is left in the blaster. Green is the safe level, but if the power should drop into the red, Captain Fizz is in mortal danger. After his energy is completely expended, the player is virtually impotent.
    These readouts limit the size of the playfield. Consequently, the ST's animated sprites are so small that it becomes difficult for two players to sit close enough to the screen to be able to make them out. The ST can be hooked up to a television via the FIF modulator. This might be a good idea in order to keep eyestrain to a minimum.
    Because the game's sprites are so tiny and are viewed from above, there is little animation. The main characters move their arms and legs, but this can just barely be seen. With two humans connected to the computer via separate joysticks, Captain Fizz shows no tendency (except in one minor case) to bog down in its execution. With so many droids running around loose in the Icarus, it's nice to see that the game stays up to speed.
    The function keys allow for some configuration of the game. F1/F2 select player 1 or 2. F3 pauses the game. F4 is supposed to restart the game, but this does not work as most gamers would expect it to. F5/F6 allow players to commit suicide, a surefire restart function. F7/F8 detonate a smart bomb. F9/F10 are difficulty levels.
    Sound plays a major role in untangling Captain Fizz's adventuretype web. The many sound effects are easily distinguishable; however, it's quite a trick to identify an accomplished objective by audio signals alone, especially since the documentation says nothing on the matter.
    Various icons give the players extra powers. The blue icons marked with an "A" add to your personal armor. The "gun" icons increase the damage you can inflict. The dynamite icons give the player the ability to use a "blitter bomb;' which destroys all enemy weaponry on the screen.
    Not only is each game timed, but a player is allowed to continue only as long as his health readout stays above zero. In order to stay in play as long as possible, a player is allowed to exchange earned credits for improvements in personal status.
    To save you some frustration, I offer the following hint: At the right side of the screen is a four-LED readout labeled "Switches:" Each LED must be lit in order to disable a force field for a limited period of time. The player must have already destroyed all of the "L" icons (I'm still not sure what the "L" stands for). When this has been accomplished, a gong will be heard. Find the room containing four multi colored devices. Touching one of these devices while pressing the joystick button produces a sound effect and activates an LED. Repeat the procedure until all four LEDs are lit and then run for the exit. If you fail to get there in time, the whole process must begin again.
    As I said, Captain Fizz is probably too difficult to win alone. However, two players will find themselves enjoying the blasting of Blaster-Trons and solving the game's puzzles.

Twilight's Ransom

Paragon Software
Distributed by Electronic Arts
1820 Gateway Drive
San Mateo, CA 94404
$34.95; Color only

Reviewed by Steve Panak
Upon loading Twilight's Ransom, you assume the role of Ran Mulligan, an artist living in Liberty City. This graphicstext interactive novel opens as you arrive at your girlfriend Maria's apartment to find it ransacked. Maria is missing. A mysterious phone call from the kidnappers warns you that Maria will be killed unless you deliver the goods by sunup. Your first problem is that you have no idea just what the "goods" are.
    You begin your quest with a quick search of her room. Then you hit the streets, trying to find the clues necessary to reunite you and Maria before your time limit-and hers-runs out. By the time you rescue her, you will have visited almost 200 locations and interacted with a slew of unsavory characters, including prostitutes, con men, drug dealers and outcasts.
    Unfortunately, I was disappointed upon opening the box-a feeling that remained unchecked as I examined every aspect of the package. The three disks that contain the program, text and image files are loaded one at a time into your machine, the last two being swapped in and out when viewing the pictures-sloppy and annoying, especially when considering that all this is to facilitate the viewing of only a couple of dozen images. Further, the program never replaces the desktop with its own interface, as the Infocom and Rainbird products do. Rather, your ST appears to be running 1st Word in low resolution, with scroll bars and all. I paid 35 bucks for this?
    Despite this apparent crudity, functionally the program works, sports a large vocabulary and contains vivid descriptions of the people and places you visit on your search for your beloved Meria. As long as a disk swap is not necessary to view an image, response time is relatively quick. The only options that are supported allow you to save your game, control the amount of text displayed and turn the images on and off. The documentation contains a number of clues, but is otherwise uninspired.
    All things considered, I cannot recommend Twilight's Ransom for two reasons. First, it doesn't give me what I want to see in a piece of commercial software. I would expect to see the many shortcuts and seemingly halfway-finished aspects of this game in public-domain software. Which brings us to the second problem: the price. For two bucks, or the price of a phone call, I might like this one. But at almost $35, I can't help but feel ripped off. Steer clear of Twilight's Ransom.
Twilight Ransom



Psygnosis, Ltd.
Distributed by Computer Software Service
2150 Executive Drive
Addison, IL 60101
(800) 669-4912
$34.95; Color only

Reviewed by Frank Eva

BallistixThere seems to be an interest in sports games as of late, and Ballistix takes advantage of this by adopting features from several sources and combining them into a new genre of indoor sports contests. Play mechanics have been borrowed from hockey and pinball, the results resembling a combination of Blastaball, one of three games from the Awesome Arcade Action Pack, and Marble Madness, the first coin-operated arcade game to be programmed on a 68000-based computer.
    The action screen is actually two screens connected by a vertical scroll that is fast and as smooth as silk. The playfield is presented in simulated 3-D, with a top-down viewpoint that is angled toward the human player's goal. Surrounding the playfield is a gruesome audience and the skulls of would-be Ballistix challengers.
    At the beginning of a game, a gargoyle slips down from the top of the screen and in a resonant voice cries, "Let the game commence!" He exits the screen, and from the left, an alien referee drops the Ballistix puck into the action area.
    The contest revolves around the player's ability to direct the puck into the opponent's goal. This sounds similar to Blastaball, but the similarity ends here, for Ballistix has much more to offer than the aforementioned title. Its the variety of playfields that sets Ballistix apart from other games. In the one-player mode there are 50 playfields, and in the two-player mode, 80.
    Once the game commences, Ballistix takes on the characteristics of pinball. There are bumpers, pipes, acid pools, troughs, magnets, hyperspace tunnels, splitters and accelerators to contend with.
    The pipes are initially covered by sewer grates, but occasionally the grates pop open, and if a puck falls into the pipe (the fall is also represented in simulated 3-D), it will reappear from another pipe, located elsewhere on the playfield. The green acid pools stop the puck in its tracks, absorbing it, requiring the referee to restart the match with a new puck.
    One of the finest features of Ballistix is the program's ability to be reconfigured by the player. Because of this, a player can start out at the easiest difficulty level, slowly and gradually improving his abilities as he learns the game, while never feeling the frustration inherent in so many other sports games that have such long and baffling learning curves. Unfortunately, there is no handicapping feature. Therefore, in a two-player game, both contestants experience the same effects when changing the games configurations.
    At the Level Selection screen, many levels of progressive difficulty can be chosen. Here, also, the choice can be made to play against the computer or another human. Since this is a simultaneous two-player mode, two joysticks are required. Pressing the space bar brings you to the first Options screen.
    Some factors that can be altered include ball speed, number of balls available and auto-repeat firing level (a real thumb-saver). Pressing the space bar from the main Options screen sends the contestants to the second Options screen. (Note that at any time, an Options screen can be exited by pressing the joystick trigger.)
    At Options screen 2, the following features can be configured: ball lifespan, accelerator value, number of goals to win a game and number of games required to win a match.
    There are a number of ways for a player to improve his score. Icons randomly appear that, when hit by a ball shot by a human player, award bonus points or shields that protect the player's goal for a limited time. Letter icons can be shot, and if the word "ricochet" is spelled, 10,000 points are added to the player's total.
    But the most important characteristic of any game is its ability to hold its audience. I'm happy to report that Ballistix is a totally captivating game, and its price is money well spent.


4165 Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Westlake Village,
CA 91362
(805) 495-6515
$39.95; Color only

 Reviewed by Frank Eva

SpeedballSpeedball is a futuristic combination of several popular sports. The game is held on a steel playfield with a goal at each end and a warp tunnel in each side wall. The ball launcher rises up from under the floor, rotates, and then shoots out the ball - a solid, stainless-steel riveted affair weighing five pounds - in a random direction, after which any player can retrieve it and put it into play.
    Wearing armored uniforms (covered with razor-sharp spikes), two five-man teams compete with the intent of scoring as many points as possible (while maiming their opponents), using a combination of speed, muscle and strategic employment of power tokens/ tiles.
    The players can carry the ball or shoot it anywhere on the playfield. A fast click of the trigger button causes a straight shot from the hip, while a longer click results in an alley-oop.
    The two-player mode requires two joysticks. However, a single player can engage in league competition, and opposing teams are drawn randomly by the computer.
    The playfield is smoothly scrolled vertically. Each player-a larger than usual, outfitted human sprite-is viewed semi-topdown, allowing superb animation.
    The controllable players are identified by a cursor-type pointer. The player controlling the ball is identified by arrows that point toward it from each corner of the cursor. It is not difficult to identify the sprites that are being controlled.
    If your player does not have possession of the ball, but is near it, pressing the trigger button will cause him to jump and attempt to catch it. If the button is pressed while the sprite is not capable of gaining possession of the ball, he will attempt to tackle the player facing him. This is not quite like football, since there are no fouls and no rules; just down-and-dirty fun.
    Tackling is an important game dynamic. A successful tackle will result in taking control of the ball. The stronger the team, the more stamina they have against their opponents' tackling. When all else fails, you can use tokens to cheat by bribing the official, the timer, the trainer or the referee to gain an advantage over your opponent.
    Speedball is superbly programmed. The animation and game play are astounding, and the variations in game mechanics and the league options all point to a high level of addiction.
    Buy it.

Batman, The Caped Crusader

Data East
470 Needles Drive
San Jose, CA 95112
$39.95; Color only

Reviewed by Steve Panak

BatmanBy the time you read this, the nation will have been swept away in a wave of Bat-mania. In fact, just today I read about the slew of merchandising products poised to feed parasitically on the movie's release. Batman, The Caped Crusader from Data East is the first (but probably not the last) computer product based on the Dark Knight to cross my desk.
    Batman resides on two disks, each containing a classic confrontation between the caped crusader and one of his arch-criminal rivals. Choose disk one to battle the Penguin, disk two to match wits with the Joker. Regardless which opponent you choose, the rules of play and goals are fixed. Batman moves about the city, collecting items he needs to quash his adversary, all the while fighting a time limit. At various points in the game, you will be challenged by henchmen or diabolical traps set by the master criminal. Play gets progressively more difficult as you wind your way through a maze of rooms on your way to the final confrontation between you and your arch nemesis.
    The command interface is a little difficult to master, but performs nicely once learned. While you are on the main screen, which shows Batman in his current location, the joystick controls movement along all three possible axes. Holding the button while moving the stick allows you to attack with high and low kicks and punches. Holding the button and pulling back on the stick accesses the status screen, which displays your lifeline, your inventory, and allows you to turn off the Batman theme music and restart the game. It is also through this screen that you get, use and drop objects.
    The graphics can't be described as anything less than superb. The cartoonlike images are mesmerizing to watch, with successive windows opening as you wind through the various rooms. Unfortunately, I found the puzzles to be less of a challenge than was the need to complete them in a limited timespan.
    One example of a puzzle is the necessity of a light to enter a dark room. Tougher puzzles are usually accompanied by a short clue, which helps you hone in on the correct strategy. Once the puzzles are solved, the rest of the strategy revolves around two rules. The first rule to learn is that picking up and eating food increases your energy; the second is that a good kick to the head or a deftly thrown batarang disposes of troublesome hoods. In the end, careful conservation and timely use of the food pellets spell the difference between a victorious Batman and a dead bird.
    The six-page manual provides the basics, although you'll suffer from confusion in your first few attempts as you struggle to decide what to do. Actually, the worst aspect of Batman is that its two single-minded scenarios limit playability, which I put at only a couple of weeks.
    Overall, Batman has merit. Its comic book-like graphics do justice to the legendary caped crusader and it is enjoyable to play. The main problem is that once you're done with the two scenarios, you'll be longing, with nowhere to turn, to play Batman again. Oh, well; there's always the sequel....

   Steve Pana k has written more game
reviews for ANALOG Computing than
anyone on the face of the earth. He lives
in Ohio, where he plays games on his ST
and, with the time remaining, practices law.

    In addition to being fascinated by computers,
Frank Eva is an avid Star Trek fan. He has
been interested in computer games ever since
the release of Pong and has written several text
adventures, as well as some educational game software.