What? Only four games on this compilation? Never mind the quantity - this is a classy quartet.
Compilation tapes seem to be all the rage at the moment, and they're understandably popular with the software houses because they don't involve any development costs for new games.
For the people that buy the tapes compilations are a mixed blessing, and the value of the tape depends not so much on the games it carries but almost entirely upon how many of the games you've already bought. Obviously if you've already got some of the games included in a particular compilation then it represents less of a bargain than it would to someone who hasn't got any of them. Still, that apart, there's no denying that compilations can give very good value for money and this latest one from The Force (aka Activision) offers four very good titles at just under £2.50 each.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the first of the two tapes kicks off with an adventure, Mindshadow, a very recent release from Activision. It might seem a little odd to mix adventures and arcade games on the same compilation, but it seems like a good idea to me since that's probably the best way of getting dedicated arcade addicts to try out an adventure. And Mindshadow is a good choice because it choice because it comes complete with a tutorial program that acts as an introduction to adventure playing.
Melbourne House's contribution to Hotshots is Fighting Warrior. Released in the wake of their highly successful Exploding Fist, Warrior uts the martial arts action into an Egyptian setting. You play an Egyptian prince setting out to rescue your princess from the temple of the evil Pharoah. Rather than going through the combat bouts used in most other martial arts games, here you walk across a scrolling desert landscape in search of the temple and have to fight the demons and other creatures as they approach from the opposite direction.
You are armed with a sword but do not have as many types of movement available to fight with as in Exploding Fist. That game offered more than a dozen different types of movement, but Fighting Warrior has only seven. This might make the game seem less sophistiated than Exploding Fist, but on the other hand it also makes it easier to get to grips with the combat (I always found the variety of moves in Fist a bit confusing).
The graphics and animation are excellent, and although Exploding Fist is probably still the definitive example of martial mayhem this is a good addition to the genre.
Tape Two starts with Gyron, the 'mega-game' from Firebird. This is probably the title most likely to cause disagreement, as it was originally greeted by reviews which were either complete raves or totally damning. Gyron is set in a labyrinth which apparently contains all of Space and Time. At the heart of this maze is The Place Of Wisdom, where all the knowledge of an ancient scientist-sorcerer is hidden.
Your task is to enter the labyrinth in your craft, the Hedroid, and negotiate the maze to find that hidden knowledge. The pathways of the maze, which are drawn in 3D line graphics against a starry background, are guarded by Celestial Spheres - huge rolling spheres which wander the maze in patterns which repeat once every fifteen billion years - and towers situated above the maze which can rotate to blast you are you approach.
The animation in the game is superb and the movement of the stars and spheres is performed with incredible precision which lends a real impression of size and depth to the screen display. The problem is with the game itself. The maze is huge and finding the Place Of Wisdow is a task that probably could eep you occupied for fifteen billion years, if you felt like sticking with it.
When Gyron was first released, some of the reviews raved about the quality of the animation and the sheer wonderfulness of the maths involved in the programming techniques but others pointed out that the game was really just a variation on the old 3D maze games that have been rattling around since home computers first appeared, and that wandering around a maze for a billion years was just plain boring, regardless of how good the animation was.
Unfortunately, I fell into the latter camp, and while I appreciated the sophistication of the programming I found the game itself a bit dull. Mind you, by buying Gyron as part of this compilation you're getting it at much less than the original price, so I'm inclined to feel more generous towards it now than I did to its first release.
Wisely saving the best 'til last, the last game on the second tape is Shadowfire - the innovative icon-driven adventure from Beyond. Set in the distant future, Shadowfire puts you in command of the Enigma Team, a sort of futuristic 'A Team' made up of six beings from different worlds, and each with their own special talents.
The Enigma team's mission is to penetrate the space vessel Zoff V and rescue Ambassador Kryxix before the villainous General Zoff can get some secret plans from him. You have only one hour and forty minutes to complete this task.
The screen display is divided into two halves; the two half displays the status of all the main characters, a picture of the character that you are currently controlling, and a view screen which gives information about the location of all your characters and Zoff's forces aboard the space craft.
Below this is the area of screen which displays the icon menus for the Enigma team. Each member of the team has four associated screens: the status screen which controls that character's abilities - strength, speed, stamina and so on; the objects screen with icons for commands such as Drop, Hold and Activate which allows you to manipulate objects and finally the movement of the battle screens.
Despite the lack of conventional arcade action Shadowfire is an exciting and challenging game that looks just as advanced now as it did when first released. In addition, the Hotshots tape also includes the Shadowfire Tuner which allows you to alter the conditions of the game and the characters' abilities in order to make it either more or less difficult to complete, according to your own expertise with the game.
All together, the four games in this compilation would cost over £40 if bought separately, so the price of just under £10 represents very good value, assuming of course that you don't already have any of these titles. Although Hotshots doesn't have as many titles on it as other compilations, the average standard of these four games is much higher than on just about any other collection that I can think of.
Most compilation tapes have one or two 'highlights' while the rest of the games are often just fillers, unremarkable games that just pad it out. The four titles on Hotshots though are all good quality, highly professional titles that wouldn't disgrace anybody's software collection.
A Monster Hit.