Retro Round Up Review | Micro Mart - Everygamegoing

Micro Mart

Retro Round Up
By RELEVO Videogames
Spectrum 48K/128K

Published in Micro Mart #1366: June 2015 Special

Zombies everywhere! Those damned computers from the past! They just won't die! This month's Retro Round Up goes creepy!


In last month's column, I raised a glass to celebrate archive sites. A few days after I finished that article I also had cause to celebrate again when I managed to bag an eBay auction for a collection of Dragon 32 discs (on the original 5.25" format) for £200. This might seem a rather extravagant amount to have paid for some "old discs" but it represented the best archive find for the Dragon machines in decades. There were over 100 discs; all perfectly preserved, all embossed with different stickers and all complete with their original manuals and cases.

The seller explained to me how he had acquired them: "I bought a Dragon in the early Eighties, paid a lot for it too. Looking back though, going for the Dragon was a bad decision. The machine wasn't really all that popular. DragonData had made a disc drive for it but I never saw a single disc for sale in the shops. Without any software, it seemed like a big waste of money.

However, away from the high street, I subscribed to this little User Group where some of the members wrote their own software and sold it for a few quid through a monthly newsletter. I don't know why but each time that newsletter arrived, I would scour it for any new software that I didn't have and I'd always buy it. It wasn't always to play it either - some of the discs I bought haven't even been in the disc drive. But I wanted to encourage people to write software for the machine that I'd spent my money on and it felt a bit special to be playing games that only a few people had ever seen. When others were playing Barbarian, I was trying to solve a humungous text adventure called Rally Adventure. Finally the newsletter ceased and I did upgrade to a better machine. But I could never quite let go of the discs. Probably these are some of the only copies of these games that now survive. I'm glad you might be able to preserve them for future generations. It makes me feel as if somehow there was a reason that I made that bad decision to buy a Dragon."

Just three weeks later, and with a lot of help from Roberto Gerhardt of the Dragon Archive, these discs, which contained many hundreds of long-thought-lost programs, are now taking their rightful place in cyberspace.

In the rough and tumble of reviewing "new" software released for old machines, finds such as this often get overlooked. There is little fanfare to their release, just a forum post or two, on sites that only those who once owned the computer in question are likely to frequent. Yet all of these programs were once someone's labour of love, with no less passion involved in their creation than the very games you are about to read about in this article. Some of these games are also just as advanced.

The newsletters of old, which I remember well, were the Internet of the Eighties' generation. And, as this story shows, this generation is a sentimental bunch; years later it is still programming those very machines, archiving "lost" programs it finds and even still selling the games it manages to create. Perhaps not in any great numbers, and perhaps only to those who want to collect them rather than play them, but this slightly niche, and somewhat eccentric, world continues to thrive - with collections being built up in exactly the same way as they have always been.

This month, the Retro Round Up goes creepy. It's got zombies, it's got ghosts, it's got robbers, it's got balls and it's got pussy. I beg your pardon. Yes, well, I dare you to read on...

Here Come The Zombies

Available at last, Relevo Videogames' Invasion Of The Zombie Monsters has been a whopping four years in production and has finally been released with slightly different versions for the Amstrad CPC, Spectrum and MSX. It's been reviewed elsewhere and given lavish amounts of praise. Alas, I don't like it.

You play Ned, who can run, jump, crouch and shoot in a game that is incredibly similar to the classic Ghouls 'N Ghosts. It has the difficulty level to match that game too. In fact, it's practically the same game, with exactly the same issues that plagued the original.

The three versions of it are slightly different-looking, but all do look very nice. Graphics are amazing, music is cool and character and background design is inventive. The physical versions also come supplied in a snazzy, professionally printed box with a manual and cassette/disk to match.

All seems very promising. Until, that is, you start to play it. Because Zombie Monsters is not a question of simply avoiding or shooting the numerous monsters; you must also remember the layout of the stage itself.

The game involves Ned running from left to right; the screen scrolls (jerkily) when Ned reaches the centre of it. Zombies, however, appear from the right, often on a collision course with him. If you keep Ned running, he'll collide with them faster. If you don't, then you have only a half-screen's reaction time between seeing them and needing to hit them with the release of a well-timed bullet.

If you do successfully shoot a zombie, it explodes in a ball of flames. However, some of them require more than one hit and therefore may require Ned to run away from them first and then turn around, simply to be assured of having the time to fire off the requisite number of shots.

Zombie Monsters also involves the "Rick Dangerous" style of gameplay, whereby you have to become intimately acquainted with all of its stages in order to clear them. Unless you have a photographic memory and can remember exactly which zombies are about to appear at which points of the game, you end up running away from practically every zombie that appears - then gently nudging Ned to the right rather than running.

Combining the two elements, you end up treating Zombie Monsters with too much trepidation. The easiest way of surviving is to take very small steps to the fire, whilst constantly firing in case a zombie is going to appear...!

My instinct says that this is not the game that Relevo Videogames set out to make. Because, even employing such a strategy, the game is tremendously unfair. When it knows you will be at your most distracted, i.e. busy jumping from one bridge to another, it chucks a load of ducking and diving monsters at you to make the operation as hard as possible.

There's also the "eight pixels at a time" scrolling. This is a real passion-killer, with monsters and bullets (whether fired by you or the monsters!) glitching rather than flowing across the screen. Contact with either of them leads to an inevitable death and, on many occasions, although I did hit the jump key, Ned was hit before he reacted!

When you die, you're sent all the way back to the beginning of that stage. So the sad reality of Zombie Monsters is that most people won't see further than the first stage unless they enable a cheat. A game does not need to be this challenging; if Ned could withstand three hits before dying, for example, this would have resulted in much less of my swearing and tearing out my own hair.

And finally, the manual for Zombie Monsters appears to have been translated directly from the original Spanish to English and, not for the first time, it drones on for many pages rather than just summarising the game as a run-and-gun sideways-scrolling platform game with cutscenes. In fact, the concept is so simple it really doesn't need a manual, period.

If that diatribe doesn't put you off though (And bear in mind that, according to the Internet, I'm the only person who doesn't like this game!), you can download it from Relevo Videogames' web site. The physical versions are however somewhat hidden away on but can be brought up by doing a search on "invasion".

Ghostly Goings-On

The first game this month from a Spectrum publisher we have not seen before, Yumiko In The Haunted Mansion is an overhead maze game for the Spectrum 48K. The object is to roam 36 floors of a mansion with only a candle for company. The candle casts a light in an arc around you, meaning you can gain an appreciation of all open and closed spaces. However, and as you'll see from the screenshots, the majority of the screen is completely jet black. It's dark - and you're alone.

More terrifyingly, every few moments the entire maze is temporarily lit by a flash of lightning. What's that ghostly-looking thing a few steps beyond the candle's reach? The answer is the very definition of the word eerie.

Unfortunately for a game that looks so promising, playing Yumiko is decidedly dull. Your only goal is to light each of the candles on every floor and you have a map to reference where the candles are. The ghost never actually does anything other than freak you out the first time you see it; whether it's there or not makes no difference. It never attacks, just wanders around blowing out the candles you have already lit.

The game is available from Fun Forge on original cassette at £7.99 (E-mail: whilst stocks last), or can be downloaded from World Of Spectrum. Click here to see the game in action.

The Vic-20 Revival

Commodore's Vic-20 had only 5K of memory, with only 3.5K of that being programmable. Whilst, once upon a time, this was seen as a limitation, it's now seen as a challenge. And to prove the little Vic capable of equally competing with its contemporaries, programmer Martijn Wenting has added a range of Vic-20 games to his website at, which are now available as both digital downloads or physical cassettes complete with cover art and snazzy logos.

The first of these is Down, a vertically scrolling platform game in which you must navigate a robot-looking ball through gaps in the platforms. The game is rather like a very simple mobile phone application; as the game speeds up, there is less and less time to react. On some of the platforms you'll also find a bonus which you can grab for bonus points only if there is enough time.

There's no back story to this game and, frankly, there doesn't need to be. It's so simple your grandma could probably have a fair bash at it.

The second game is Rush, which is a horizontally-scrolling game which is actually pretty much the same sort of idea. Albeit Rush features a parallax (background scrolling at a different speed to the foreground) scrolling cityscape. You are in control of a bank robber jumping across the rooftops of the city by means of the joystick and fire key. Again, the objective is simply to survive as long as possible. This means timing your jumps correctly so as not to fall between the buildings. Leftover cash can also be grabbed.

Both games are written completely in assembler and, considering the miniscule amount of memory the Vic-20 has, are fairly accomplished works. With every byte being of the utmost importance, there was little room for loading screens or on-screen instructions in Vic-20 games of old, but Revival Studios has managed to include these more professional features by "shrinking" them down. Instead of a loading screen, it therefore displays a small but impressive logo of the game's title - and by redefining the character set, it manages to get its own logo and a high score feature in there too, though you may need a magnifying glass to see them!

Down has something of a stretched appearance, and the large empty blue spaces in the background don't give the game much ambiance. Despite being in exactly the same resolution, as you'll see from the screenshots, Rush clearly looks a lot better.

However, there's a big "but". Revival is currently asking £9.95 per cassette, and £3.95 per download, for Down and Rush. Put simply, unless you are a serious collector of Vic-20 titles, they're just not worth that much. After ten minutes you'll be bored by both of them.

Stupidest Title Ever For A Puzzle Game - Pussy: Love Story From Titanic

One of the many things we all learned from recent retro-gaming documentary "From Bedrooms To Billions" was that merchandising sells games. Write a game called Jungle Safari and you'll get 10% of the sales it would garner with the title Predator and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover art. Fact. Another fact: Merchandising is a double-edged sword. A brilliant game can suffer poor sales on the back of a lousy movie.

Yet never have I seen merchandising as downright weird as this month's final release. I'm about to describe a great game for the Spectrum 128K - a splendid platform-based puzzler with music, graphics and presentation that is of such high quality that, were it not for its merchandising, it could take pride of place in that collection of rare new Spectrum games you've been building. That game is called... (Drum roll please) Pussy: Love Story From Titanic.

Yes, you read that right. This game is called Pussy, with all of the connotations of that word implied by its position in the title. That has probably put off over half of its potential audience right away, leaving behind only the bewildered and the fans of Sex Olympics/Rapelay. The latter are also going to be disappointed as the game includes no pussy at all.

I therefore award Pussy a completely fictional award of "Stupidest Title Ever for a Puzzle Game" and, amazingly, it gets even worse. According to the overview, you play Leo and, in each stage, you need to rescue Kate who is entombed in a grid of blocks - yes, blocks! - that you must smash out of the way. The background shows a nice rugged mountainous terrain.

There's no seafaring, or anything water-related in this game at all! Indeed, without the inlay overview - or the badly digitised stills from the movie Titanic punctuating the action - you'd have quite simply a puzzle game. A great puzzle game, but not one illogically disconnected with a barking mad title plus an invented back story.

Sealing the puzzling deal is the boxart - where the official promotional artwork for the Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet movie Titanic is overlaid with "PUSSY" splashed across in place of the actual title. Yes, really, I'm not making this up. The whole appearance of the software looks like something you'd be offered out of a briefcase by a suspicious-looking Chinese guy outside your local Tesco!

What's so infuriating is that the game is fiendishly good. It requires swift reflexes and a great deal of thought to position Leo in the exact place he needs to bash out the blocks that solve each puzzle and allow Kate to safely drop into his arms. Even by stage four, the puzzles presented have only one simple - and not immediately obvious! - solution. The control of Leo is fluid and all the little touches make it a joy to play. Some of these touches are bouncing passwords, bonus razzmatazz and music so good that it's hard to believe it comes from a Speccy!

So, if Fun Forge stripped out the totally irrelevant Titanic cutscenes (which also weigh in at about an hour's loading time on cassette!) and changed that ridiculous title, I'd be roundly congratulating them on one of the best Spectrum games ever made. Instead though, I'm just royally confused by why it's coupled with this bizarre merchandising. I suspect Director James Cameron had zero hand in the game and so I just don't see the point.

My recommendation: By all means invest in the physical package and relegate it immediately to "that drawer" in your bedroom. But play it only via emulation, enable all tape load speedup hacks and hit space to skip every pointless cutscene. To Fun Forge I say this: Keep demos separate from games in future. To whoever thought of that title, I say simply grow up. Pussy: Love Story From Titanic can be viewed in action here.

Next Month: The Dragon Roars

Pussy rounds off a very odd selection of games indeed this month. Next month should see a fair few column inches devoted to that library of newly recovered Dragon 32 games. Can't wait that long? You can watch the archiving process as it happens over on Otherwise, same time same place for all that's new in the world of the old.

Dave E

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