Blizzard's Rift is a new release for the Spectrum 128K and it has been released as the main game on a double-sided cassette by Cronosoft. The flipside contains a second game, Kuiper Pursuit. Both games are somewhat similar in style and, as per most of Cronosoft's catalogue, are written by Jonathan Cauldwell.
Blizzard's Rift could be summed up as "Elite with the space-trading replaced with Thrust-style caverns" which is both a compliment and, regrettably, an admission as to its lack of originality.
You begin each game by paging through star charts and choosing a "destination planet". Confirming this engages your ion drive and pits you in a cockpit-based first person shooter in deep space. You can bank anticlockwise and clockwise, climb and fire. Intermittent alien ships appear and must be manoeuvred into the centre of your cockpit view before you press the fire button. A stream of bullets then stream towards where you were aiming.
As you would expect from a craft journeying through space, scattered dots around the playing area provide the impression of movement. Curiously though, these dots move slowly; in fact, I found myself thinking my craft was stationary and started looking for a non-existent accelerate control!
Deep space is home to other ships apart from yours but, weirdly for a game of this type, you don't actually have to shoot these marauders out of the sky. They, according to the instructions, "pose no threat to you" so the only reason for destroying them is to increase your score. Shooting is not instantaneous either; releasing lasers at your foes simply releases more dots into the playing area. Indeed, pressing fire is like releasing a stream of "dot-missiles" that glide toward their targets. As they move further into the distance, it is difficult to distinguish the missiles from the dots of deep space.
When journeying to your destination, note that it takes longer to travel to a distant planet than a local one. However long it takes, the game changes entirely on arrival and becomes a side-on Thrust challenge of craft control. You see, littering each planet's surface is an assortment of treasures. Each treasure can be collected by flying into it. However, the gun turrets firing at you, and the treacherous cavern walls that require traversing, make such planet-pillaging extremely difficult. It is presumably the caverns rather than the cockpit-dogfighting game that restrict Blizzard to the 128K Spectrum; each planet has its own unique layout, and the planet's proximity to your start position is in no way commensurate with its difficulty level.
The pace of the game and, as you pick your nemeses off, the satisfaction of them exploding into dust (more dots!) are good things about Blizzard. Unfortunately, these do not offset its frustrations. Firstly, even with the Elite-style ability to upgrade your ship, making gamers journey through a pretty dull deep-space adventure just to play Thrust is rather a dubious premise. Most players are hopeless at Thrust anyway - the finite angling and nudging of controls required seems them loopy in five minutes flat! Finally, if you consider that, when you crash in the Thrust style game, you are returned all the way back to the planet's surface again (no matter how far you had progressed) it doesn't sound too good, does it?
On then, to Kuiper Pursuit, and those of you of a certain age (Mine!) may remember the TV programme Red Dwarf and Commander Ace Rimmer, deep space adventurer extraordinaire, who announced each mission with the phrase "Smoke me a kipper. I'll be back for breakfast." Kuiper Pursuit, has an early nod to Ace, with the on-board cockpit-computer scrolling "Smoke me a Kuiper".
The aim, as you might have gathered, is to shoot down enemy ships. However, Kuiper's deep space is significantly more challenging as it is peppered by flying asteroids. You must try to avoid these and shoot down as many kuipers as you can before your own seven shields run out. Your on-board computer spits out "Shield Down" each time one is wiped out, and encouraging compliments like "Bullseye! He's bought it!" when your bullets find their quarry.
Nice though this is, you actually miss the majority of these comments though, because the game demands your unwavering attention. Avoiding a screen full of asteroids is hard enough to begin with, but the game's dynamics are such that you are "hit" by an asteroid if it reaches a certain size and is somewhere in the middle of the screen. Unlike in other deep space shoot-a-thons, this certain size is woefully small; an asteroid never even reaches the size that it obscures anything else at all. This can be rather confusing as the computer can be ratcheting up the "Shield Down" messages for a good while before you get the hang of exactly how this part of the game works. When you are hit, the action slows down so that you can correct your position. During the entire playing time of Kuiper, the Spectrum emits a rather piercing stream of white noise, which is only interrupted by the sound of your lasers firing off. Firing is the same dot-missile effect as in Blizzard, and you dive as well as climb here. However, there's no option to upgrade your firepower and there's little "hook" factor to Kuiper Pursuit. A typical bout lasts about two minutes, which will land you a place in the high score table too.
The only other point to make is that if you're a fan of Yerzmyey, the Spectrum music coder, Kuiper Pursuit contains a digitised musical intro by him.
It's easy to think that the 128K Blizzard's Rift is the main attraction of this compilation, with 48K Kuiper Pursuit just thrown in as a bonus game. However, that's not really the case. The two games were written years apart and as separate professional titles in their own right. For £2 a game, and considering the whole package comes on cassette with some splendid cover art, I really cannot criticize them too harshly. If you're a fan of deep space shooters, and have played Elite to death, then what are you waiting for? Visit cronosoft.orgfree.com now!