FROM OVER THE BIG WATER
By Marshal M. Rosenthal
There's an association between companies and products. Band-Aid, Xerox, they've become generic names. It hasn't quite reached that state with software, but a few names always stick out: Activision (now Mediagenic), Electronic Arts, Sierra On-line. It's that way overseas, too, and the name in Britain that falls into this category is U.S. Gold.
The "big G" used to import software from the States to distribute in England. Now that things have turned around, with stuff coming from there to here, U.S. Gold has also shifted focus slightly, bringing in software from all over Europe to the U.S. (one source here is Epyx). The result is that a lot of great ST stuff comes through their doors. Here's a selection to keep you occupied.
First up is Road Blasters. This conversion from the Atari coin-op is not only faithful to the original, it also has graphics and sound that nearly match. Your super-changed auto barrels down the road, scoring points by shooting vehicles in the way. Sort of Pole Position with a vengeance, right? Start off with a relatively simple machine blaster, but plan on upgrading to greater firepower. You see, there's this jet that circles overhead and drops packages to pick up—packages containing anything from an Uzi cannon to extra fuel to a trio of Cruise missiles.
Fuel is the big problem here. The main tank empties quickly if you sit there idling so move! Fortunately there are those green fuel balls to run over, but you have to avoid the toxic spills and mines at the same time. Meanwhile, there are darting Rat Jeeps and annoyingly small motorcylces getting in the way. So it's one eye on the road, one eye on the instrument panel, one eye scanning the skies, one eye...
Quick wits and reflexes are the rule, as each weapon has limited energy (with a power graph to monitor). The fire button is used for shooting, while pressing the button and pulling back on the stick fires a Cruise missile (should you be so lucky as to get some). These babies take out everything ahead of you, including those heavily armored Command cars. Completing a course moves you to a higher level, and there are three areas in which to race (each having its own distinct background, like Bubble City). There's a menu screen that offers choices, such as music on/off and whether to play with joystick or mouse. (Joystick, fer shur.)
Did I forget to mention that leaving the road could result in your destruction? Don't try hitting the poles or trees to find out what happens. There are also automated gun turrets that fire as you pass. Revving up the engine sends you off in a squeal of tires and a cloud of smoke, perhaps the best set of effects in the whole game. Remember to fasten your seal belt!
This conversion from the Atari coin-op is not only faithful to the original, but it also has graphics and sound that nearly match. Your supercharged auto barrels down the road, scoring points by shooting vehicles in the way.
FROM U.S. GOLD
This is an action game that delivers. Moving laterally "forces" the screen from side to side. You can't always see what you're up against until it's on top of you.
The hideous Baculaites have kidnapped Princess Sheeta. Time to grab a car and get after her. Last Duel is definitely a shoot-’em-up. The vertically moving landscape doesn't slop for your car, and the various baddies keep shooting at you regardless of what you do. Of course, what to do is keep moving, shooting them first, and picking up extra power and time by blasting the special icons. Last long enough and you reach the end of the road—meaning a bad, bad, baddie. I've yet to last that long, but should you survive, a "teaser" screen appears as Princess Sheeta begs for deliverance.
Animation is fast, though the graphics area bit crude. But who cares? This is an action game that delivers. Moving laterally "forces" the screen from side to side. You can't always see what you're up against until it's on top of you. There are bottomless pits that have to be avoided, and occasionally you're able to go through a panel that will allow limited travel on the barren landscape that flanks each side (a landscape that flashes on and off to add to the general confusion.) Later, your car will transform into a galactic Hoverplane. For the most part, though, it's business as usual: trying to survive.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
Your vehicle isn't too sturdy though. Scrape a wall or receive a hit or two, and it flames and dies. Nor can you recover from the bottomless pits (figuratively or literally); you just get a new life and car. There are blasting gun stations, mobile seeking missiles and descending bombs. The biggest troublemaker is the stationary bazooka platform (it looks more like three guys melted together wearing paint buckets). When it senses your position and rotates its big, bad barrel, plan on many direct hits before it shuts down. Which is why picking up a rapid-fire icon is sound advice. (Good sound effects here by the way; the bazooka is "pleasantly" shrill.)
With plenty of screens to cover, and random jumbling of icons and enemies, the addiction factor of Last Duel is an eight.
Journey combines strategy with arcade action: One of the first sequences requires you to dodge boulders as you direct the scientist up a steep underground cliff. Graphics and sound are digitized and combine to create a realistic mood.
U. S. GOLD
Instead of traveling in a car, Journey to the center of the Earth restores power to your feet—and oh, how they will ache before you're done. Choose one of four scientists to assist in the underground voyage, each man having special characteristics. (Sometimes this means being young and tough, but not so smart; or a tad older and wiser, but clumsy.) Journey combines strategy with arcade action: One of the first sequences requires you to dodge boulders as you direct the scientist up a steep underground cliff (expect worse before it's over). Graphics and sound are digitized and combine to create a realistic mood.JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
The control panel allows a multitude of choices. It is here that your portrait resides (which might get a bit seedy as things progress). A record of time and date is tucked in above a cutaway map of your itinerary (established during a previous expedition that must be proven out). A series of meters dots the bottom, recording the status of food and water supplies, vitality, physical and general condition. These can all be affected by obvious actions, such as sleeping or searching for water. (No water means no life.)
One of the more interesting functions is Study. This brings up screens that display the formation of the earth's crust at the present location. These screens are informative both for the game and as a source of general knowledge.
Compass arrows on the control panel move you about; digitized footsteps sound and on-screen prompts indicate what's happening. Should you become damaged (polite way of saying hurt), better go to the first-aid screen and do what you can. Other arcade sequences exist as well. There's much to Journey—some of it best left unsaid. You like surprises, don't you?
Moving over to the area of productivity gives us K-Scope and K-Spect, from Kuma Computers. It's for those who enjoy "nuts-‘n’-bolts" magazines (and taking apart alarm clocks to see how they tick). These two programs combine with a hardware interface that enables the ST to be used as an audio-frequency oscilloscope or a spectrum analyzer, respectively.
Software control over the interface's two ports activates such functions as channel selection and frequency response. Results are easily printed out. Additionally, the data can be saved for later display. We'll take a closer look at this next time. Meanwhile, hang loose, stay cool and keep computing.
- Journey to the Center of the Earth
- Last Duel
- Road Blaster
Units 2 & 3 Holford Way
Holford, Birmingham, England B6 7AX
Kuma Computers Ltd.
12 Horseshoe Park
Pangbourne, Berks, England
Marshal M. Rosenthal is a New York-based photographer and writer specializing in children's products, videographic enhancements and high-tech entertainment.