1. Zox 2099 (Loriciels, 1987)
Most of the Amstrad exclusive commercial titles were made in France, so it will not come as a surprise, that all the chosen games for the machine are French - some of them decidedly so. Our first game on the list today is a multi-genre one, which are generally my favourite kinds of games regardless of their quality, because variety is always good. Zox 2099 features sections of curiously simplistic first-person space shooting and isometric arcade-adventuring.
The idea of Zox 2099 is surprisingly traditional: the evil kidnapper Zox has evilly kidnapped four inhabitants of your planet, which is called Hullm, and your mission is to rescue them from Zox's asteroid. Naturally, you must first get yourself onto the said asteroid, thus explaining the first-person space shooting bit, and then the isometric maze thing takes place in Zox's stronghold on the asteroid. It's not a particularly impressive game on the whole, but the maze bit is rather nice. Zox 2099 reminds me of Chris Gray's Infiltrator in some ways, but this is like a very light version of it, with more focus on action than stealth. Still, I guess it's somewhat unique, and just being Amstrad-exclusive makes it eligible here.
2. Asphalt (UBI Soft, 1987)
This one I almost mentioned the last time, because I was having trouble finding anything interesting, unique and exclusive, but managed to find enough to keep this one waiting. So, you can imagine my struggles this time. Apart from it being the earliest Amstrad-exclusive UBI Soft title, Asphalt offers very little in terms of uniqueness, and I can really only characterize it as boring. But that's just my opinion.
What it is, though, is a side-scrolling post-apocalyptic truck-defending shoot'em-up, if you really want to label it somehow. You are in control of a truck on a road that's practically of a similar width throughout the game, and you can only move it sideways - that means up and down the screen in this case. You are equipped with three weapons: a machine-gun with 50 bullets in a clip, a flamethrower with a few flames to throw from the sides of your cockpit, and a few land mines to drop directly behind you. Only the machine-gun is controllable by moving your controller up and down to turn is clockwise or counter-clockwise. You are being attacked from behind by small groups of vicious motorcyclists and other foes, and your mission is to destroy all these nasties before you can enter the next level. The truck has some sorts of shields, so you can withstand a certain amount of damage before you lose a life, but the attacks are mostly focused on certain parts of your truck, and you can only really properly defend your truck one direction at a time. I only got to level 2, which looked exactly the same as the first one, and because getting through level 1 was such a long chore to do, I got bored with the game pretty quickly. Perhaps some of you might enjoy this sort of a challenge, but while Asphalt is an Amstrad-exclusive, I cannot with a clear conscience recommend it to even the most hardcore Amstrad gamers.
3. Harricana - International Snowmobile Race (Loriciels, 1990)
It appears to be the French we have to thank for making the first computer game out of the rather niche form of a motor sport: snowmobile racing. This particular form of motor sport I actually have some personal connection with, since my father's coworker used to be a local snowmobile racing champion for several years, and we used to go watch some of these local races. Fun times.
Harricana delivers a surprisingly good representation of what riding a snowmobile could be like, as a general estimation. It's not a simulation as such, but you can bump into a lot of things, get stuck and even get thrown off the snowmobile if you're not careful. Happily, you can go reverse on your snowmobile here, so that's a big plus. The bad things in Harricana are unfortunately more numerous: the snowmobile can only turn in 45-degree angles, and it does so with a considerable delay from your commands; the game speed is horrible, particularly when there's more than one snowmobile on the screen at once; and the trail you're supposed to ride on is only marked with gates, which are quite far apart from each other, so it's not always easy to see where you're supposed to be going, even though the graphics are hi-res and rather pretty. Anyway, it's still worth a try, if you turn the emulation speed to about 150-200%.
UPDATE, May 11. 2016: Well, whaddya know. Harricana was actually released on Atari ST and Commodore Amiga as well, but since this wasn't mentioned at any Amstrad-related websites nor Wikipedia or MobyGames, it didn't cross my mind to check every possible source for additional versions. Which again proves my point about something I said at the bottom of this entry. Thanks to krupkaj for the correction.
4. Apocalypse (ERE Informatique, 1988)
For the fourth exclusive Amstrad title, I have chosen something that is only available in French, has a lot of text, and is a strategy game. It's also a very good-looking game, as well as one of the most interesting games I've ever tried on the Amstrad during my blogging career. I guess I'm going to have to learn French properly now - not a bad influnce from a game.
The reason this one caught my interest was, because I've always wanted to play a home conversion of that electrifying world domination game featured in that unofficial Bond movie, Never Say Never Again. ERE's Apocalypse looked like it could serve the purpose to some extent. Sure enough, it is pretty much about the same subject, but Apocalypse is more of a light strategy game, with some focus on politics and espionage. The game wasn't particularly well received by the press in 1988, so my initial reaction to the game could be off-leading, but at least it's an Amstrad-exclusive, it looks good and has speech samples. Not the worst way to end this section.
1. The Wreck (Electric Software, 1984)
I remember the Wreck being one of the first games that I ever read about in a magazine, of which I was a bit disappointed to find out that the computer I had didn't have a version of it released, so that I would ever be able to test it. One of my friends had an MSX, but only with a few Konami cartridges, and barely anything on tape. Happily, one day I found out about emulation, but it took a long time until I remembered this game again. In fact, I only got to test this one about a couple of years ago for the first time. The review I read of the game all that time ago, didn't give it much praise, but still, being a three-dimensional underwater maze game, it never ceased to intrigue me as one of the least used concepts.
Truthfully, it's not a particularly enjoyable game, which is a pity, because the idea is good. The idea is to search through a ship wreckage for treasures while avoiding and killing medusas and other little sea creatures, but since you can only move around in a similar manner to most other early maze games and shoot straight in a strange curve, the game feels very stiff and uncooperative. It doesn't help much, that getting hit by a medusa sends you off high-speed in a random direction and spinning wildly when hitting a wall, so your sense of direction is easily scrambled. At least, the Wreck has some depth: the ship has some hints scattered around the walls, with which you are able to open safes and such, and of course, there are multiple levels in the ship. The Wreck is worth having a look, but I cannot really say it's necessarily worth purchasing for your MSX game collection.
2. Cross Blaim (dB-SOFT, 1986)
Here's another early MetroidVania-like, much in the same vein Antiriad is considered as such. If nothing else, then it's definitely a Japanese action-platformer with some elements of progression similar to Castlevania, Metroid, or perhaps more to the point, Mega Man.
I have no idea about the actual plot of this game, but I suppose it has something to do with defeating all the evil whatnots on the planet. But that's about as important as the plots in all the Mega Man games. The way the game plays is, you move your robot person around, and he/she/it can jump and shoot initially to little effect, but dead enemies often drop coins, with which you can purchase weapon and engine upgrades, which allow you to jump higher and kill more effectively, etc. You also need to find other quest items from the rather large map going both underground and far above, such as keys and special weapons. The game features several boss-type enemies and a password system. Yeah, it's not particularly unique or original, but it's a lesser-known MSX-exclusive, and a good one at that. The only sequel of sorts, Layla, is curiously an NES-exclusive.
3. Ale Hop! (Topo Soft, 1988)
This little obscure Spanish game could be described as something like a Metro-Cross variant. You take the role of a happy yellow bouncing ball, whose sole purpose in life is to travel through horizontally scrolling tunnels. These tunnels contain various kinds of hazards that I cannot possibly describe on such a short acquaintance, but take it from me - they're hazardous. Some of them make your ball severely unhappy, while others only make you jump a great height and length, often putting you in unforeseen danger.
Ale Hop! is a fun little game, only made a bit unnecessarily aggravating by not giving you more than one life. It's annoying enough to give it that necessary addicting element that arcade games often have, to make you want to have just one more go, but it's also good enough to make you want it to be a bit more fine-tuned. But for what it is, it's a good alternative to Metro-Cross, and only available on the MSX compatibles.
4. Jagur-5: Golden Triangle (Hudson Soft, 1987)
Hudson is probably best known to most of us from their Bomberman, Adventure Island and Mario Party series, but also from several hidden gems like Stop the Express, Nuts & Milk, Binary Land and Earth Light. There are some properly hidden gems, that you might have never heard about, since they were barely released for some Japanese computers and, if lucky, the MSX standard of computers. Jagur 5 is one of the more interesting ones that never got released on any other machine than the MSX. This could be explained by the fact that it was developed by Compile, who mostly focused on the MSX platform until 1987, and only published by Hudson.
It is also unfortunate, that it was only ever released in Japan, and since the game is half-action, half-RPG, there's also plenty of Japanese text in the game, and the only available translation is available only at an MSX forum you need to register into. Still, it's an interesting game - the idea, from what I could tell, is to gather up a gang of mercenaries, guide them around different areas, get some money to purchase items and upgrades, and obviously to kill a bunch of bad guys. I haven't been able to get very far in the game, mostly due to the language barrier, but a YouTube video on the MSX Channel shows that there is a lot more to this game than I can possibly divulge here. All I can say is, Jagur-5 is a unique and highly recommendable game, particularly if you don't have a problem with reading Japanese.
Although the Apple and Macintosh computers have been featured previously in one regular entry of Unique Games, this is the first time I'll be singling out one of them. Perhaps in a year or so, I might do a list of Classic Macintosh-only titles, who knows.
1. Fat City (Weekly Reader Family Software, 1983)
Apple ][ was a surprisingly productive platform for writing less usual games, but most of the good ones were converted for other machines like C64 and Atari. However, some rare exclusive gems remain in the A2 library, which should be given more publicity, if only of the belated kind. The first of these games is aimed more towards the very young gamers, but it doesn't mean that the game is any less unique or at least rarely used as a concept. At least, I cannot think of any other game, in which you control a crane, from which a wrecking ball is hanging, and your mission is to plough down ten whole cities.
The game is played from a first-person viewpoint, from inside the crane's cabin. You control the crane with the two joysticks, and you can even suspend the wrecking ball's motion if necessary. The crane has a finite amount of fuel, which can be refilled by hitting a fuel tank with the ball. If the fuel runs out, however, it's game over. Angry citizens will be throwing things at you, which will drain some of your fuel, if hit. So, while there is at least some strategy involved here, it's still a fairly repetitive game, and will likely not keep you entertained for more than a few minutes. But, at least it's rather unique and exclusive for the Apple ][, and that's all that matters. Certainly worth having a go, and might do well for the very young gamers of today.
2. Captain Goodnight and the Islands of Fear (Broderbund Software, 1985)
Oh yeah, this is really something else. Broderbund's brilliantly parodic tribute to James Bond and other agent movies is basically a side-scrolling action game, but it's a properly big one. At least for its time. The biggest thing about this game to make it worth having a look must be its extensive variety of gameplay, as there are segments, in which you are required to pilot a plane and a helicopter, control a submarine, ride a boat, drive a jeep and a tank, etc. etc.
Unfortunately, it's one of those games in which you die a lot, because the action is surprisingly realistic, and everything requires a few attempts to get yourself accustomed to how everything works. As with every proper secret agent game (and movie), there is a time limit, within which you must reach the goal before the evil mastermind blasts this world into oblivion for not getting his/her two million dollars or whatever. Anyway, it's a properly unique one, and an exclusive for the Apple ][, and I can highly recommend it, but you need to have a lot of patience with it, mostly because it's a pretty slow game due to all the detailed animations.
3. Frazzle (Muse Software, 1982)
This might seem a bit strange, but the first time I heard of Muse Software was when I found out about the origins of Wolfenstein, about halfway through the 90's. See, we didn't get their games spread that much here in Finland, for whatever reason. One of my favourite C64 games ever, Space Taxi, I had never heard of until emulation came along. So, it all began to make quite a lot of sense when I noticed that the company was based in somewhere (Baltimore, to be exact) in the United States, where most games released on disk. Doing some further research showed me that Muse Software was almost single-mindedly focused on producing games for the Apple ][ computers, apart from the few rare exceptions.
Frazzle was one such item, that was released just about halfway through Muse Software's life (1978-1986). Although it doesn't look like much, the concept is quite a unique combination of different early arcade game elements. You control a space ship inside a square-shaped energy barrier, and try to stay alive by dropping energy mines around the area to kill the beasties ramming around decisively into their designated directions. The beasties come in waves of six or more, and you need to kill quite a lot of them before you can proceed to the next level, in which more waves that move differently come in simultaneously.
You start off the game from the center of the arena, standing still, and you must accelerate (push Enter) to get yourself moving. I found it a bit odd, that you can only turn in 90-degree turns (just use left and right cursor keys), but perhaps it's exactly what makes the gameplay all the more singular. Then of course, you drop those mines with the Space bar, and you can drop them as many as you like. You will notice, though, that the more there are things on the arena, the slower the game gets. Otherwise, it's a nice and simple, yet addicting little arcade-like game, and one of the more original ones from Muse Software.
4. Arcade Boot Camp (Penguin Software, 1984)
I've mentioned this before, but I'm a sucker for multi-genre games, regardless of their quality. Arcade Boot Camp became as another nice little surprise, when I was doing research for the Apple section. Clearly another one designed with the younger gamers in mind, Arcade Boot Camp compiles a good amount of minigames under one theme, which is, as the title suggests, a bit military.
The basic idea is to just play different minigames to develop some basic skills. There's a maze game, a couple of different shooting games, a driving game and some other little things to keep your youngster occupied, and the game has the decency to actually save progress and award the player with some tags. Strange to see achievements featured here, which is something so common today, yet so rarely used in old games. Shows you how the modern game developers see the modern young gamers... but the thing is, they're right. Also, I don't think it's much of a coincidence that this game is only available for the Apple ][ - rather, a good example of how some things would turn out about 20 years later.
1. Hunter's Moon (Thalamus, 1987)
I have to admit, this was never among my favourites in the Thalamus catalogue, but the reason for it is very likely that my expectations for it were too high at the time I tried it for the first time. Until recently, I had no idea about the sheer genius of Hunter's Moon, so if you have had a similar problem with it, I urge you to give it another attempt - I shall tell you why.
The game's creator, Martin Walker, has said that Hunter's Moon was inspired by Spirograph, as weird as it sounds, but if nothing else can be witnessed from the source of inspiration, then at least the enemy movement and construction patterns. Of course you can see from the screenshots, that this is a shoot'em-up, but it's a multi-directional scroller at that - horizontal, vertical and diagonal. Your ship stays in the middle, but you can perform 45-degree turns with it. The ship controls a bit clumsily, but it's just something to get used to, because the gameplay doesn't really suffer from it. The idea is to collect all the shimmery cloud-like items from the levels, of which there are a whopping 128. Levels, not the shimmery cloud things - which are officially called star cells. All these levels are divided into 32 star systems, which need to be systematically cleaned from those shimmery cloud things, which offers a nice alternative to that old "destroy everything" theme.
There is a properly ingenius trick in the game: by collecting enough star cells within a strict time limit, it is possible to skip the remaining levels in the current star system and pass on to the next. This helps you make progress in the game a lot quicker, as you don't actually have to play all the 128 levels. As it would be insane to design 128 levels for a game that loads all at once into the C64's memory, the game uses procedural content generation, which is how games like Geoff Crammond's the Sentinel was built. Hunter's Moon might not be to everyone's tastes, but it is a rather singular game, and well worth investing time into. It's almost a pity that it was only made for the C64, as it could have felt very much at home on quite a few other machines as well.
2. Super Pipeline (Taskset, 1983)
Although the sequel to this Taskset classic was released for, from the top of my head, at least three computers, the original was curiously left a C64-exclusive. At the time, Super Pipeline, like most other Taskset games, was quite a unique concept, only to be repeated in its sequel, and even there, the concept was logically slightly altered.
Super Pipeline puts you in the shoes of a plumber, whose mission it is to keep an eye on the single winding pipeline and make sure the water (or some other liquid) is flowing into the barrel at the bottom of the screen. Keeping the water from flowing freely are clogs being dropped by little evil men that come from the ladders and drop the clogs from the top of the screen. Happily, you can shoot these little men while they're climbing the ladder. Making your life even more difficult are the various types of pests, which drop down onto the pipeline and may drop you from the pipe. To fix the clogs, you have been supplied with a handy little handyman, whom you will need to guide to the spots to be fixed, but they are also vulnerable to the pests and falling clogs. Overall, it is perhaps less balanced in gameplay than the sequel, but at least it offers a unique challenge, so it's definitely recommendable.
3. Cosmic Causeway (Gremlin Graphics, 1987)
Opposite to Super Pipeline, Cosmic Causeway was the sequel to a game that had plenty of conversions from its Commodore 16 original: Trailblazer. Shaun Southern was as much responsible for the C64-exclusive sequel, and Cosmic Causeway differs from the original game quite as much as necessary and logical. That said, the spirit of the game has been very much altered from all the changes.
Trailblazer is mostly a race against time, and if you're lucky, a race against your friend, with great emphasis put on learning the tracks filled with tricky elements. Cosmic Causeway takes much of the same concept, takes away the simultaneous two-player mode and focuses more on the action bits and giving your trailblazing spheroid plenty of extra features, which you will be needing in the later levels due to monsters you need to kills and tunnels you need to navigate. Overall, Cosmic Causeway could be described as a cross between Trailblazer and Space Harrier, and I don't know of any other game which would combine all its elements as well as this one does. Definitely a keeper for any C64 fan, but also an acquired taste.
4. Police Cadet (Artworx, 1986)
For the final C64 title here, I wanted to include something that has given me a unique sort of a personal memory. The first time I ever played this game was in our tourbus some 4 years ago, and since then, I have only played it once, although I quite liked it then. I just haven't had the time to give the game more attention until now. But it does have something to it, that I haven't seen elsewhere, at least in this particular form.
Police Cadet is basically a cross-hair shooter. Your job is to take down the bad guys, and avoid shooting bystanders. The thing is, you need eagle eyes to spot the bad guys, who look otherwise similar to the innocent bystanders, but are wielding a pistol. This would perhaps not be such a challenge otherwise, but there are often closer to a dozen little guys on the screen running around in various directions, going from and to various exits, so if you want to perform well, you really need to have your eyes focused and your finger on the trigger. If you want to catch the bad guys without actually harming them, you can shoot right next to them multiple times, and they will eventually surrender, but you might simultaneously let some other baddies slip away while at it. While this makes Police Cadet a rather unique cross-hair shooter, the game is unfortunately a bit boring, as the scenery is always the same and the forever repeating simple tune gets on your nerve. However, it's definitely worth a shot, and of course, it's only available for the C64.
NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM / FAMICOM
1. Dirty Harry (Mindscape, 1990)
Ever since having played the likes of Ghostbusters and Rambo on the C64 and Spectrum, I've been an avid fan of movie tie-in games. Sure, some of them are less than successful at being playable, but surprisingly often, game developers have managed to pop out some true gems as well, some of which I've already written about on the blog. Occasionally, though, some of the most interesting movie tie-ins are the less known ones, only found on certain platform, like Mindscape's take on Clint Eastwood's classic Dirty Harry. Interestingly, the only game ever based on the series was made a few years after the final chapter in the series was released to the theaters.
The game was designed by Chris Gray and Ed Zolnieryk of Gray Matter Inc., whose previous game Mad Max was featured in the UG series a while back, but who are better known to us C64 gamers from Techno Cop and Fiendish Freddy's Big Top O' Fun (and the pre-Gray Matter masterpiece Infiltrator). Like you would expect, it's pretty much a side-scrolling action game, but the trick here is, that the game is mapped rather nicely with alleys, insides of buildings, sewers and whatnot. Because of the complexity of the map, the controls are not as intuitive as you would hope. Then again, there are only so many buttons on the NES controller, so you'll eventually get used to jumping with A+B and drawing and aiming your Magnum .44 before actually shooting.
Dirty Harry is reported the only NES game that actually credits the composers on both manual and cover, so that's a big point for uniqueness already, even if the gameplay should give it enough credit. Also, for all you Eastwood fans out there, there are many references to other Clint's movies, such as Escape from Alcatraz, Every Which Way But Loose and Play Misty For Me, but the coolest Clint-thing in the game must be Harry's digitized speech bits. Highly recommended, but a note for other Europeans: the game was only released in North America, so you need either a modified NES or a proper NTSC one.
2. Spartan X 2 (Irem Corporation, 1991)
Most of us non-Japanese gamers know the original Spartan X game as Kung-Fu Master. In case you didn't know, Spartan X was originally released as a tie-in based on Jackie Chan's Wheels on Meals movie, although it had next to nothing in common with the movie - just a convenient marketing trick. So, what's this sequel we never got here all about, then?
Revenge, what else. Johnny Thomas, our protagonist, is a private secret agent, who earlier left the corrupt police force, who were connected to a drug syndicate who experimented some new drugs on his father, and his other immediate family were lost on the side. So there's nothing particularly unique about the plot - how about the gameplay? Well, it's a beefed up version of Spartan X. The basics are very much the same - you walk into a given direction while kicking and beating the hell out of your numerous opponents, and at the end of each level, you get to fight a boss enemy. Some of the essential mechanics have been altered slightly, though: your energy meter never gets filled up properly after a level, unless you die, but you are able to pick up some sort of energy drink bottles to give you some extra energy. Compared to the original game, you also have a couple of new moves: an uppercut and an over-the-shoulder throw, which can be often useful. Also, while the original Spartan X was set in a five-storey pagoda, all six levels of Spartan X 2 happen in clearly different locations. So, while it's not a properly unique title, it's different enough to be featured here, and of course, it's exclusive for the Nintendo FamiCom.
3. Kyatto Ninden Teyandee (Tecmo, 1991)
Some decades ago, animals made the most popular animation characters: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Biker Mice From Mars, Silver Fang and its sequel, Ginga Legend Weed... you know the drill. Well, although this one's apparently another fairly well known one, for some reason, I had never heard of Samurai Pizza Cats before, until I came across the game as a reference on some other retro gaming website. Apart from Silver Fang and its sequel, though, most of these animation series had game adaptations as well.
Samurai Pizza Cats combines some of the key elements from at least three other NES platformers, primarily Duck Tales and the first Ninja Turtles game. You get five cats from which you can switch another character at any time you wish to during the game. All five cats have their own special moves, which are helpful on different occasions. Also, you can pick up special weapons, which are changed for each cat in a similar manner as it happens in Ninja Gaiden. There are 10 regular stages in the game, as well as an obligatory final boss battle, but unfortunately, the game is a bit too easy, once you figure out, which cat does what special things.
Officially, the game was only ever released in Japan, but there are a few translated rom versions around, which should work well enough. While Kyatto Ninden Teyandee is not particularly unique, it has a good combination of elements from other high quality NES platformers, giving the game its own personality, and it is a Nintendo-exclusive, if nothing more, but I think it's a nice little alternative time-waster for any NES platforming fan.
4. Gumshoe (Nintendo of America, 1986)
Our final Nintendo entry for now is one that's played with Zapper, the light gun. There's nothing unique about that by itself, but the game is a platformer, which makes it a unique combination, so that's enough to make it eligible for this list. The fact that it's an NES-exclusive is just an extra. Now, the way it works as a light gun based platformer is, that you shoot the man to make him jump. The idea is not very important, it's really the quirky mechanics that make the game what it is, and it is surprisingly good at it.
I clearly remember this one being advertised on TV and some Nintendo magazines in 1988, so imagine my surprise to learn, that Gumshoe was originally released in North America almost two years prior to the European release. Funnily enough, the game doesn't appear to have been released in Japan, although the developer team is decidedly Japanese. Anyway, I can highly recommend it, but I'd suggest you try it out on an emulator like FCEUX first, because you might quickly develop a very sore index finger.
ACORN ELECTRON / BBC MICRO
1. 3D Dotty (Blue Ribbon, 1988)
Okay, how much less unoriginal can you get than a Pac-Man variant? I guess a Pong clone could do, but to be honest, this is not just any other Pac-Man variant. In 3D Dotty, you have to clear three floors of a stage from all the dots, before you're able to move on to the next stage. That's not the most interesting part, though. You also have no way to defend yourself, just the possibility of taking a breather by resting on the ladders between the floors. Mind you, while Dotty has an energy meter - yes, you're able to take damage in this game - the energy can not be replenished by any other way than completing a stage. Since there's quite a bit less of mileage to cover on each floor compared to Pac-Man, your fluid fungal enemies are more prone to catch you than any of the ghosts in Pac-Man.
Another old lesson revived, then: you shouldn't always trust first impressions. 3D Dotty is a surprisingly good game in its own right, and should be given a fair chance. Although you might be aware that there is another game called 3D-Dotty on the ZX Spectrum, it's not even nearly the same game, so from what I've been able to find out, this is a proper Acorn-exclusive.
UPDATE, July 23rd, 2016: As was only to be expected, I managed to find an earlier variant of this game. Hirise from 1986, published by Bubble Bus for the Amstrad CPC was the one I found, but I'm sure there are others on other machines if you look hard enough. 3D-Dotty does have its own very particular sort of thing going on for it, though, but I have to strip this one of its Unique badge.
2. Plan B + Plan B Part 2: Mission Unlikely (Bug-Byte/Argus Press, 1987)
I had to include both games of the Plan B series here, because I didn't know how else to deal with them. To at least most Acorn users, Plan B is a well-known flip-screen action-adventure, in which you play as a robot. Your mission is to destroy all the computers, an action which by itself is easy enough, but there are a huge number of them in a huge maze, which is inconvenienced by constantly spawning enemies. The reason why the game has such a reputation is, because you can shoot quite a lot of many things - even holes in some walls, but you can also blast useful items into oblivion with careless shooting.
Mission Unlikely doesn't feature as much of a plot, but the gameplay is otherwise practically the same. You just collect keys and other items in order to get through the game, and shoot at as many things as possible while avoiding death. The controls are sharp, but a tad unhelpful, since you can only shoot straight to the direction you're facing. Still, they're a surprisingly addictive pair of games, if not all that unique, but I'd say very peculiar for not having been made for any other machines.
3. Clogger (Impact, 1989)
The 8-bit Acorn computers have a lot of games that look almost annoyingly much like Repton, which itself looks like a Boulder Dash clone with a more zoomed in view, which is also centered on the player, rather than the way it is in Boulder Dash. Happily, there are some games that have their own, very specific style of gameplay, such as Clogger here.
Clogger is more of a slider puzzle than a proper Boulder Dash variant. The idea is to move your vaguely lawnmowerish thing around a relatively small map, find weird-looking squares that feature some big graphics that don't make much sense on their own, and push them into the center of the map in the correct order, so you can construct a coherent picture. The picture can be viewed by pressing the P button (which also shows you the current time), and the game also features a helpful map, which can be toggled by pressing M. I think this is actually one of the nicest properly unique concepts I've seen so far on the Acorn computers, and there's nothing to do but to recommend this to any puzzle fan out there.
4. Bouncing Bombs (Tynesoft, 1984)
For the last Acorn item, we have an exclusive for the Electron. At least to us C64'ers, Tynesoft has never been known to produce games of a particularly good quality, but most of their success came from releases for the 8-bit Acorns and Commodore 16 and Plus/4. Bouncing Bombs - or Bouncing Bomb Chase, as it is called in the loading screen - was one of the earliest titles from the company, which set Tynesoft on a new course away from edutainment to actual games. Apart from Stairway to Hell and some YouTube clips, I haven't found any information on this game on the major gaming websites, so I take it this is a bit of a rarity.
The concept of Bouncing Bombs is something of a cross between Frogger and Galaga or similar shooters: you control a ship from bottom to top, avoid getting hit by moving blocks, shoot enemies and destroyable obstacles and get to the exit on top of the screen. Since this is the Electron we're dealing with here, I guess it's no surprise that you can only shoot one bullet at a time, because the screen will flicker enough already as it is without needless over-exertion. Overall, it's a nice and addicting little game, which I guess can be called unique as well as exclusive. Highly recommended.
1. Captain Beeble (Inhome Software, 1983)
For anyone, who has ever been a fan of Douglas Adams, how can a title like "Captain Beeble" not be intriguing? As most of you are very likely aware, the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy was only ever made as a text-adventure, so anything vaguely resembling an action game based on anything from the said series has the enormous potential of being welcome. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any clearer reference to the titular character having any connection to the President of the Galaxy himself, Zaphod Beeblebrox, so we could always assume it's just a coincidence.
All that aside, the game is a fairly simple shoot'em-up with a mission you need to complete in each level: get a crystal from the other end of the level and bring it to the Crystal Processing Unit within the given amount of fuel. All the levels are of a labyrinthine tunnel-like design, and feature elements to watch out for, such as small blue aliens and basically everything in the same colour, but at least you can shoot the little blue aliens. All the brown things are safe to touch. A nice little obscure game, and only available for the 8-bit Ataris.
2. Dimension X (Synapse Software, 1984)
There aren't too many games in Synapse's catalogue that were exclusively released for any machine, and there are even less exclusively released games that are actually unique in any manner. Dimension X is the only title that fits the bill here, but while Synapse was known for their high quality titles and original content, how does Dimension X compare to the rest of their catalogue?
I'm sorry to say, it feels mostly like an alternative version of Paul Woakes' Encounter!, with some enhancements and some downgrades. It's just a fast three-dimensional shooter with some new ideas. You go through sector to sector, blasting alien ships, going through tunnels and avoid getting hit by enemy fire or tunnel obstacles. And that's pretty much it. The new things are the tunnel network, which can lead you back and forth between different sectors, and the wildly behaving cockpit when you get hit. There's plenty of colour and special effects added to the formula, which makes Dimension X appear to its advantage compared to Encounter!, but the gameplay is just not nearly as smooth and comfortable. However, it's worth a try, and while it's not particularly unique, it's an Atari-exclusive.
3. Despatch Rider (Mastertronic, 1986)
Well, if it isn't one of the most annoying games of all time. Anyone who has ever had their sorry hands laid on Mastertronic's exclusive Atari title, Despatch Rider, knows the amount of panic and aggravation this game has the potential to induce. Not because the game is hard as nails by its basic nature, but because the design is a bit off.
As you can see, half of the screen is taken by the not-particularly enormous map, under which we have the obligatory informational stuff, but the tiny little screen under the info panel is where all the action happens. You control a delivery person on a moped, whose field of vision is ridiculously small, and the moped is ridden like most driving games are: up and down are for speed adjustment, left and right make you turn left and right. I'm guessing the little spot you inhabit currently is connected straight to the point of your location on the map, which is why the action screen must have been made of exactly that size. The idea is to get to the flashing yellow point on the map, then play a little mini-game, in which you need to catch a falling package dropped from a high building, and then deliver it to another flashing yellow point. Your efforts are made more difficult by a timer, an emptying fuel tank and huge obstacles that will come at you when you least expect them. Basically, you would need to memorize the whole map if you wanted to be successful in this game, but it's really just not worth it. However, this all makes for a rather unique gaming experience, even if it's not a very nice one, and it's only available on the 8-bit Ataris - thank goodness.
4. Rent Wars (prototype) (First Star, 1983)
Prototypes are always fascinating, particularly when they are of otherwise unreleased games that were meant to be published by some of the bigger game publishing companies. First Star, who were responsible for such classics as Spy vs. Spy and Boulder Dash, had their own share of unpublished or unfinished titles hidden in the closet, of which Rent Wars was leaked online about 10 years ago and finally completed and released for the Atari 5200.
As fascinating as the title sounds, Rent Wars is a collect'em-up. You compete against a friend or a computer-controlled player, and try to catch as many of all the necessary items falling from above, which are shown to you at the beginning of each stage. After a few months have passed in the game, the game shows you, how many apartments have each of the players managed to completely furnish. So, not only do you need quick reflexes, you also need a good memory to get as many apartments completed as possible, instead of just collecting random items and get little accomplished with the strategy. As a surprising feature, you can move your man's hand up and down the screen, so you have a better chance of catching items before your competitor does. Each apartment has a different set of furniture, so you need to have a sharp memory. For my money, it's a game that should have definitely been released back in 1983, but now it's just an interesting artifact, which can happily be played well enough through emulation. And perhaps some sort of a helpful device on your proper Atari.
1. Jumping Flash! (Sony, 1995)
In the mid-90's, game developers were still trying more actively to make new sorts of games, or at least combine and refine ideas if nothing else, which is probably why I still count the first PlayStation and its competitors at the time as the last real platforms for inventive game developing. Particularly the early Sony titles have a lot to offer, such as Jumping Flash!, which spawned two sequels for later PlayStations. It was developed by Ultra (known for their NES Metal Gear and Turtles games) and Exact, whose engine for an earlier Sharp X68000 game called Geograph Seal was used here.
In Jumping Flash!, you take the role of a robotic rabbit named Robbot, whose job it is to stop his planet from being destroyed by an insane astrophysicist, Baron Aloha. The basic idea is to jump around platforms, shoot enemies and collect a set number of jet pods before making your exit to the next stage. As you would expect, each area features a few stages, the last of which contains a boss battle. While the controls aren't quite as smooth as you would like, the game is still surprisingly playable for what it is: the first properly three-dimensional platformer.
A quick word about controls: the D-pad moves Robbot around, but I didn't notice there being a strafe button - left and right only turn Robbot to the said directions. The four basic symbol buttons (square, triangle, circle and cross) make Robbot shoot laser beams, shoot a special weapon, and jump (and double-jump, which makes you look down so you can aim down and land with more ease); for the triangle button I haven't found any use for as of yet. Anyway, Jumping Flash! is a properly unique game, at least for its time, and is only available for the PS1. Highly recommended.
2. Aquanaut's Holiday (Sony, 1995)
Here's one of the more Zen experiences for the PlayStation. Aquanaut's Holiday takes place underwater at some unmapped area of some great ocean, and your supposed mission is to create a new coral reef there. The game is played entirely at your own pace, and there is nothing that will harm you - just plenty of underwater area and life to explore and study.
But therein lies the problem. For anyone looking for an action-filled game with a good pace and have a really quick ride instead of taking the trouble of doing something for at least 10 minutes before saving and continuing or exiting. And making progress is really slow, because you can build the reef only for very small amounts at a time, so the game really requires a peaceful frame of mind, rather than give you such an experience. Perhaps I'm wrong, because I'm not the most peaceful sort of a person, but anyway... Aquanaut's Holiday is a singular game, if it can indeed be called a game, and can only be recommended to anyone who wants something properly different. You need to have a PS1 for it, though.
3. Koudelka (SNK/Infogrames, 1999)
While doing my research for this set of Unique Games, I thought that some of the most intriguing games for this entry would be for PlayStation. Koudelka certainly offered an intriguing development story, but the reviews haven't given much hope. According to Wikipedia, Hiroki Kikuta (who composed the music for Square's Seiken Densetsu 2 and 3) established Sacnoth in 1997 with funding from SNK, because he wanted to try his hand at creating new sorts of role-playing video games, having grown bored with the disjointed and juvenile RPG's most video game developers were doing at the time.
Well, whatever Kikuta's vision might have been for Koudelka, apparently the game didn't quite turn up like it was supposed to. The original plan was to make it more like Resident Evil with its action-based battle system, but the rest of team Sacnoth wanted to go with something more to what Square had already been making. So, because of this, Koudelka is a cross between Resident Evil and Final Fantasy-alikes, a mixture of genres that is thankfully quite rare. Having four CD's doesn't really help with the lack of comfort in gameplay. Anyway, it must have been popular enough, because it spawned a series of more traditional J-RPG's called Shadow Hearts for the PlayStation 2. If you're a fan of survival horror RPG's, particularly in the style of Resident Evil and Alone In The Dark, you might want to take a look at this one, but in all honesty, it's a bit too J-RPG'ish for my taste, with all the random enemy encounters and character development. Still, worth a look.
4. Terracon (Sony, 2000)
Fans of Simon Pick's C64 catalogue (Micro Rhythm, Star Control, Mad Nurse, Shinobi etc.) will be pleased to know that he went on to run a small development team called PictureHouse Software, who developed this little rare gem called Terracon for the PS1, before working on the unreleased Lemmings Forever for the PS2, after which we haven't heard of PictureHouse. So even if it's not necessarily a unique game, it's already exclusive for the PS1, and what's even more interesting, it's the only game ever developed by PictureHouse.
My first impressions of Terracon were not very impressive, as it reminds me heavily of games like MDK and Tomb Raider, but further playing reveals some depth to it, which reminds me of such interesting titles as Geoff Crammond's The Sentinel and some more modern open-world 3rd person building/survival games, the names of which escape me at the moment. But make no mistake, Terracon is definitely more of an action game, rather than the other genres. How much depth does it have to all its mechanics is still a bit of a mystery to me, but it looks to be an immersive game, and like most 3rd person action games with any depth, Terracon requires plenty of time and patience to get you anywhere. That doesn't mean it's not a good game.
There is a plot about you being some sort of a lone warrior of a dead race of aliens, who must collect some sort of energetic matter and other weird things and defeat those who destroyed your race in the first place, in order to eventually rebuild your world. Naturally, you will get plenty of cutscenes between all the intense gaming, but it's not too bad. In all honesty, I can't say it's one of the most original PS1 games ever, but it is one of the nicer exclusive ones I've played, and certainly better than MDK. Highly recommended.
SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM
1. Twister: Mother of Charlotte (System 3, 1986)
You thought I wasn't going to feature any Spectrum games this time, didn't you? Well, originally I wasn't, but I wanted to get this particular game featured on this entry. Originally, this relatively obscure Spectrum-exclusive game from System 3 was called Twister: the Mother of Harlots. For some strange reason, they were forced to change the title to something a bit less controversial.
As for the game itself, the visuals haven't really affected from the title change, but the original name might open up some of the game's mythological side. Unfortunately, it's a biblical reference to Satan and all that nonsense, which always make me yawn, so I'm not going to dig into it any further... although it does explain the mildly satanic visuals in the form of all those monsters and endless corridors and whatnot. The official title doesn't really give a good idea of what the game is actually about, but mostly, it's a three-dimensional action/platformer of sorts, with six levels of varying gameplay.
The idea is to collect various sacred symbols from throughout the game, which help you to defeat Twister (a powerful demon from Hell) at the end of the game, but you have to deal with her underlings while at it. It's not perhaps as challenging as you might think, but it is a unique game with a slightly controversial topic. For further inducement, it should be perhaps mentioned, that this game was actually developed by Sensible Software - their first commercial effort, actually, and was supposed to be also released for the C64, Amstrad CPC and Atari ST, but only appeared on the Spectrum - so it's definitely worth having a look.
2. Pud Pud (Ocean, 1984)
Yeah, I had to mention this at some point. Pud Pud is certainly a weird game, if not particularly unique. The most interesting thing about Pud Pud must be, that it was the first commercial game made by the legendary Jonathan "Joffa" Smith, who landed his job at Ocean Software with this game, because they were so impressed by some of the tricks.
Essentially, Pud Pud is a flip-screen platform-adventure somewhat in the style of Underwurlde and Starquake, but unlike the protagonists in those games, Pud Pud is able to fly. The idea is to escape the Weird World, but to make this possible, you must find and consume ten hidden puddings, which can only be found one at a time. Your energy is constantly decreasing at a slow pace, but you can refill your energy by consuming certain creatures. Eating a wrong sort of creature will eat up a big chunk of your energy, though. I think that's enough to call this one unique enough, but it's also the first time Spectrum gamers were able to see some of Joffa's trickery with graphics, such as his name written backwards (in a mirrored font), each room having a random colour scheme each time you enter the room, and plenty of funny and detailed animations. If you're into these sorts of games, Pud Pud is a nice change in pace, and for any Spectrum user, this one is a bit of a must-have in your collection.
3. Contact Sam Cruise (Microsphere, 1986)
Microsphere became known to most of us through Skool Daze, their legendary school-centered arcade-adventure, in which the game's solution lies behind a ton of mischief and mayhem. Contact Sam Cruise was the same developers' brave attempt at creating a more adult-oriented game using the same base game engine, this time in the detective/film noir setting. So, it's instantly clear that this isn't a particularly unique game, only Spectrum-exclusive.
Of course, there are some modifications made to the game engine, that make Sam Cruise very much its own thing. For one, the game world is much bigger than in the two Skool games, and you work on multiple levels - inside and outside of buildings. Also, this game is much more plot-oriented, straight from the beginning. There are also more actions you can perform here, compared to Skool Daze, such as using disguises, using the telephone and performing evasive moves from enemy attacks. The object of the game is to help Luscious Lana recover her budgie, but you have to do other jobs as you progress to make contacts and get yourself necessary clues and whatnot. Contact Sam Cruise has plenty of promise as an idea, but the clunky Skool Daze engine isn't perhaps the most natural way to go with this sort of a thing. Still, an impressive game for the 48k Spectrum, and definitely worth a go or two.
4. The Great Fire Of London (Rabbit Software, 1985)
There are two games for the Spectrum with this exact title, but the other one is a very basic action game from 1982. This one is a strategy game, more particularly a management game, in which you need to manage firefighters fight against the Great Fire of London in several methods. You have four game days to be successful in this.
In case you happen to be uneducated on the matter, the Great Fire of London was a major conflagration within the said four days in September 1666, that gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman city wall. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City's 80,000 inhabitants. As such, the topic is an interesting idea for a game, because the time period would offer its own particular sort of a challenge to the already challenging situation. The three firefighting methods you have in use are the water pump (used to extinguish fires in burning cells), the demolition gang (used to clear cells) and the gunpowder gangs (used to blow up cells that aren't burning). All of these need to be found from around the city by running frantically with your firefighter and pressing the designated fire button while pushing towards the thing you want to grab along with you. It's not perhaps the most comfortable way to deal with the quickly spreading fire, but you cannot expect to do things any quicker, considering the time period. You can vary the setting by choosing the wind type and the fire radius before you start the game, but the game is unpredictable enough to go with the least random choices.
Something of the game's obscurity can be observed from it only having 7 votes at WoS, and while it can be found often enough at ebay and other websites suitable for finding retrogames, the prices can go relatively high for such an unappreciated game. True, it's not the most comfortable strategy game to play, but it is a unique one, and although it's not all that needed, the game also offers a map editor, so you can build your own version of London. It's definitely worth a look, but requires some time to get into the rhythm of it all, and memorizing the map and learning how to use all the methods given to you.
JAPANESE COMPUTERS: SHARP, NEC, FUJITSU
Right, well... this isn't perhaps the easiest new addition to Unique Games, since it's difficult for a European with no Japanese language skills to find any information, or even game images from the internet. Still, there are plenty of great Japan-exclusive titles, that should be mentioned every now and then, if only to see if there would be anyone willing to work on translations and conversions for other machines. I might as well have included the exclusive Mario games (Super Mario Bros. Special, Mario Bros. Special, Punch Ball Mario Bros.) in here, but I'm guessing everyone who has ever been interested in finding out obscure Mario games will know of them already. So, here's our final foursome, exclusively released for Japanese computers.
1. Kagirinaki Tatakai (Enix, 1983) - X1
Every modern gamer should know Enix from the Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy series, produced by the merged company known as Square Enix. Until 2003, Square and Enix were two different companies, and Enix was the lesser known one. Founded in 1975, Enix made their name producing manga, anime and video games, and their most popular game franchise is Dragon Quest.
This particular game, much like some others featured in the series, was featured as a separate article at Hardcore Gaming 101, because it has some historical meaning. While the video game crash was happening in North America, the Japanese developers were focusing mostly on their own home computer technology and how to make the most out of it, eventually coming up with the hit games for FamiCom that would give the videogame market its life back in the USA. Some games were unfortunately overlooked from being converted to bigger markets, but like Kagirinaki Tatakai here, some of them have quite a lot of groundbreaking elements that would not necessarily be featured in bigger games until very much later. KT's trick was for you to be able to destroy the landscape (in fact, it's necessary), and your mission is just to descend the tunnel as far as you can, with a little help from your jetpack with unlimited fuel.
In addition to the rather peculiar style of gameplay, at least for its time, KT also features non-mirrored sprite graphics, three different weapons, physics modeling and enemies that have a good deal of thought put into them. For a game from 1983, this is quite an impressive little game, and should be experienced by any retrogamer who wants to educate themselves.
2. Night Life (Kõei, 1982) - FM-7, PC-8801
I normally wouldn't feature games of this kind on the blog, but Koei's Night Life from 1982 has its place in the history of computer and video games: allegedly, it is the first commercially released erotic computer game, featuring sexually explicit images - which will not be featured here, due to certain Blogger rules regarding content, even if all the "explicit" pictures are basically wireframe drawings of a couple in various different poses. According to Wikipedia, Night Life was marketed as an aid for the sex life of couples, with features like a catalog of sexual positions and a schedule to determine a woman's period. This doesn't really make the game unique, but I guess it does make it the first of its kind.
|Sorry, no graphically explicit material here.|
3. Battle Gorilla (Xtalsoft, 1988) - PC-8801, X1
Yay, for a change we have a game that isn't anything like a Donkey Kong clone, although the name might perhaps suggest it. Instead, Battle Gorilla is a combat simulator of sorts. Actually, the game looks like it was heavily inspired by MicroProse's Airborne Ranger from the previous year.
Unfortunately, because the game is completely Japanese, it's impossible for me to understand much of it, but with some luck, I managed to get to walk through the first map of the eight possible ones. Using any weapons is a bit difficult, since you first need to equip your war hero in the menus before entering the map, but the menus are surprisingly easy to get the hang of even without language skills. There are still plenty of things I haven't found out about Battle Gorilla, but it sure looks and feels like a more strategic version of Commando and the likes of it. For anyone ever wishing to have an attempt at this one, there are two things to know before you can actually play this on PC88Win or XMillennium: you need to insert both disk images in both virtual drives at once, and also, at least in PC-88's case, the game only works on the V2 system. The Sharp X1 version doesn't really differ from the PC-88 version, apart from not having the publisher logo displayed before the title screen, and the music sounds a bit different, but that's it.
4. Hover Attack (Compac, 1983) - PC-8801, X1
Since Hover Attack was mentioned in HG101's article about Kagirinaki Tatakai, I thought I might as well take a look at why this one had become so much more popular. There are a few instantly noticable reasons: Hover Attack was released for the more popular NEC PC-8801, and from first impressions, it reminds me a lot of another PC-8801-originated classic: Thexder.
But as usual, first impressions can prove very much wrong. You start off descending a massive cavernous area on a strange-looking hovercraft, which is equipped with a next-to-useless phaser cannon that can only shoot two centimeters in front of itself, or the two diagonals in front of it. The hovercraft carries a robot, which can be activated by pressing the Space bar, and the robot can perform very high jumps and shoot much longer missiles in a similar manner as you do with the hovercraft. Because everything moves a full character block at a time, the game can be difficult to play because you have comparatively little room to control anything, and everything moves really fast. While Hover Attack can be considered something of a prototype for games like Thexder, it's just too damn uncomfortable to give it any considerable attempt. Still, it was only ever released for the Japanese computers, so it's sort of eligible for this list.
There you go, 10 machines (or groups of machines) with 4 games each. Of course, there are still so many wonderful unique and exclusive titles around to be featured on these lists, but honestly, I think I have done enough of these for a while now. Ten entries in a series of exclusivity is a good deal of research hours, and I just can't be bothered to do this any longer, at least for the immediately foreseeable future. If I ever get inspired for doing Unique Games lists again, it might be a long time coming.
To end this entry with something a bit different, I'm going to write about some games I would have wanted to include in the series. For one, Trashman Goes Moonlighting, the third part in the Trashman series from New Generation Software, was exclusively released for the Amstrad CPC, and apparently only in Italy, so it's not only an exclusive title, but also a rarity. Unfortunately, it was too similar to the original Trashman game, although it featured Trashman doing other jobs (moonlighting) on the side of emptying the trashcans. Some similar cases of exclusively released sequels have come up a few times (not just for CPC), but I have now forgotten about them.
Some MSX titles like the Maze of Galious and Eggerland Mystery would have been great, but Galious has a slightly differing port made for the Famicom, and Eggerland has had some new conversions for old machines lately, not to mention that it's a bit too similar with the Lolo series. Also, Maze of Galious has such a status that it doesn't necessarily need writing about, because every retrogamer is very likely already familiar with it. The same problem is with games like the Super Mario series, which are exclusive and brilliant, but everybody knows them already; Sonic the Hedgehog, Gran Turismo, System Shock 2... you know the drill.
Too often, I have found games that were reported to exist only on a certain machine, only to find sometime later on that an entire feature text I have written needs to be deleted. While the internet is an amazing source of information, when you know how to use it, there is still a serious lack of proper documentation regarding some of the lesser known old games, which makes the research a huge pain in the neck. And regardless of me having had some help this year for a few things on the blog, this is the main reason why I'm now putting the Unique Games series on hold until further notice. Perhaps if I can find a nice theme to work on, I might work on that, but for now, I hope you enjoyed the series, and thanks for reading!