|The YS Complete Guide To Shoot-'em-ups Part II|
|Published in the Aug 1990 YS56 issue|
After The War Alien Syndrome Army Moves Bionic Commando Cabal Chicago 30s Commando Dan Dare Dan Dare II Dan Dare III Forgotten Worlds Gauntlet Green Beret Ikari Warriors Moonwalker Navy Moves Nemesis The Warlock Obliterator Operation Thunderbolt Operation Wolf Platoon Predator Prohibition Rambo Rambo III Road Blasters Robocop Rolling Thunder The Real Ghostbusters The Untouchables Xybots
Well, maybe not 'complete' but at seven mega-whopping pages who's complaining? MATT BIELBY
picks up the pieces from last month (and quite a nasty little mess it was too)...
Shoot-'em-ups, eh? They get bloomin' everywhere, don't they? Every issue (just about) we seem to review two or three new ones, which we can broadly split into two categories. For a start there are the flying-along-in-a-weedy-little-spaceship-shooting-things ones (which we dealt with last month), and then, of course, there are the walking-along-shooting-things ones - the real man's games! And guess which we're looking at this ish? That's right, the real man's games!
Phew! All I can say is it's a good job we're not counting every single game with a gun in it as a shoot-'em-up or we'd be here all blooming night! Even so, there are an awful lot of them about, so we've not only a) split the thing in two (see Part 1), but we've also b) dispensed with the traditional list of 'every so-and-so ever invented' - it'd take up all the space on its own! Oh yes, and c) we've also been pretty strict about what we're counting as a shoot-'em-up.
It's a difficult division to make though - a couple of the games we're going to talk about on this page could arguably be described as arcade adventures I suppose (the line between these and shoot-'em-ups is notoriously wobbly), but on the whole I've limited things to games where the actual 'shooting up' of one or more people (or robots or aliens or whatever) is clearly the most important part of the gameplay. So does everyone understand what's going on here? (Good, 'cos I'm not sure that I do.) Let's get on with the show then, shall we?
SO WHAT'S THE BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SHOOT-'EM-UP AND AN ARCADE ADVENTURE?
Um. Ah, um... Not too clear on this one actually. With little spaceship games it's easy - just about anything with a little spaceship in it can safety be called a shoot-'em-up - but introduce people (or whatever) to the equation and things get a bit more tricky to define. I mean, take the kiwis out of The New Zealand Story, add some little Rambo types, and what does it become? (I'm not sure actually, but it's not just a cutsie platform-and-ladders game any more, even though there'd still be loads of platforms and ladders left in it of course).
I suppose then what we are talking about here are, firstly, games where the wiping-out of baddies is more or less the be-all-and-end-all of the gameplay and, secondly, games where the heroes are real Rambo types (more or less). To at least some degree it's all to do with how a game is packaged and presented - if the sprites are about six foot five, packed with muscle and hauling 16 machine guns, two rocket launchers, three flame throwers and a cuddly toy (optional) the game's going to appear much more as a 'shoot-'em-up' than if it's full of fluffy little cuddly things. (All these Schwarzenegger types though, it'd be enough to make any less macho chap feel a bit inadequate, I should think - not that I'd know of course, ho ho.)
Anyway, as with the little spaceship games, these macho things come in a handful of main types, which are listed below...
THE FIRST EVER LITTLE-MEN-SHOOTING-EACH-OTHER SHOOT-'EM-UP
Trying to suss out this one is going to be a bit of an impossible task I'm afraid. As with most of these things it's bound to have been some crappy Basic program 'heavily influenced' by an early arcade game and printed in listings form in one of the first computer mags (early '83 probably). Flipping back to the first-ever copy of Your Spectrum (Jan '84) we find Wild West Hero from long-forgotten Timescape - a tiny little cowboy wandering around the screen and blasting away as the baddy gang close in. It's a shoot-'em-up all right, and certainly looks crap enough to have been the first, but of course there's no possible way it can have been. Still, it's the first I can find so I suppose it'll do as well as anything. Yes folks, the first Sinclair Spectrum shoot-'em-up was Wild West Hero by Timescape - it's official!
Moving forward in time a bit we find another significant and historic game - yes, it's Commando, an excellent little blaster that was incredibly influential in its day and still holds up quite well. Hurrah for the great grand-daddy of the modern shoot-'em-up!
Or Operation Wolf style, as nearly everybody seems to call them these days. This is the sort of game where you view the action from a first-person perspective, as if you really were in the thick of it - you never see the hero of these games at all, because (of course) the hero is you.
Fairly obviously a direct descendent of clay pigeon shooting or blasting away at the ducks down your local fair, the big difference between the computer version and 'real life' is that the bullets always go exactly where you place the cursor/gunsight on-screen. In other words, it's less a test of aiming at what you want to hit than of pure reactions - the winner is the guy who can move his gunsight around screen to the correct targets the quickest.
Although these games do tend to be incredibly popular - from Operation Wolf and Operation Thunderbolt to cover tape freebies such as A Nightmare On Robinson Street - they do tend to have one very slight problem (as do all shoot-'em-ups, actually). And the problem is? Well, simply that they can be very samey indeed - once you've shot one screen full of tanks, helicopters and little soldier chappies (but avoided all the nurses who'll lose you points if you don't) you've shot 'em all.
A few games (Cabal springs to mind) vary things a bit though by actually including your character on-screen (most often down at the bottom somewhere with his back to us). Not that they're that much different of course - despite their presentation the gameplay remains essentially the same.
One of the most common forms, and the one that's always getting confused with arcade adventures and so on, these little-man-running-along-blasting-things crop up all the blooming time. Occasionally one or more platform(s) will be added to make things more interesting (the game might even scroll upwards as well if this happens), or the screen will be drawn in what is referred to as 3D (though it's not really) where you can see the ground in perspective as opposed to slab-side on. (Robocop is slab-side, Predator is 3D, for those who can't tell the difference.) Otherwise things vary very little, and it's straight down to the skills of the programmer and graphic artist to make things interesting. On occasions a flip-screen version of what is essentially the same thing will crop up too (Raf Cecco's Exolon is a good example of this, but since it's reviewed elsewhere I won't dwell on it.)
Like Commando, Ikari Warriors, or Fernandez Must Die this is the third way of doing it. As you might expect, you have to wander up the screen, diving behind rocks, shooting everything that gets thrown at you and, um, that's about it really (except that your main sprite isn't very interesting because all you can generally see of him is the top of his head). Oh well.
THE 'OUTRUN-WITH-GUNS' DRIVING GAME
A bit of an oddity this - there was a rash of them last year (games like Overlander, Road Blasters and so on, as well as boat variations like Live And Let Die), but they hardly fit comfortably into either of our two main categories of little man or little aeroplane games. Still, they're definitely shoot-'em-ups, so we had to include them somewhere.
What happens is that you get your typical rolling-road race game set up (usually not a particularly good one, I regret to say) spiced up with the addition of a bit of shooting. Your central car sprite comes equipped with oodles of guns to clear the road of oncoming enemy cars (occasionally you get the chance to choose or upgrade your weapons), and then it's a case of driving straight at them Mad Max style, blasting away with both barrels. Unfortunately though the built-in weapons can usually only be brought to bear by directly pointing your car in the direction of whatever it is you want to hit, resulting in some ungainly slewing sideways across the road. Of course, some people swear by these games (and some people swear at them) but looking back on them now (nobody seems to be producing them anymore) on the whole they seem very one-note and dull.
In the great tradition of these guides... we've come up with a special, mega-macho ratings system for all these rock 'ard games. It all goes something like this...
Arguably the real biggies, this
pair more or less cleaned up over the last couple of Christmases, and
it's not too difficult to see why. (Why? Reader's voice) Well, for a
start they were based on two of the most successful coin-ops of recent
times, and, for another start, the gameplay (an update of that old
shooting gallery idea where you have to pop off anyone and everything
that appears on the screen - except for the few good guys thrown in as
red herrings) can be picked up in a jiffy by just about anyone. And for
a third and final start, the Spectrum versions were particularly
well-presented and playable. They're both in lousy monochrome, it's true
(though the big sprites mean there's little danger of anything getting
lost on-screen) and pretty repetitive (but then with this sort of game
you pretty much know what you're getting from word go anyway), but
mighty playable all the same.
Well, what can you say about
the biggest-selling Speccy game ever? It was number one for an
infeasible (and record-breaking) length of time, and is still riding
high in the charts even as I write, a good year and a half after it
first came out. Astounding.
This is more or less the sequel
to Commando, your archetypal vertically-scrolling
walk-around-the-jungle-a-bit-and-blow-people-to-pieces jobbie, packed to
the brim with action. Ikari Warriors is made up of
largely monochrome backdrops with big, cartoony sprites (more or less
the norm with this sort of thing), but the scrolling's smooth, there's a
two-player option and an agreeable pace to the action. Ambush an enemy
tank and you get to cause some extra damage for a bit (but don't try and
cross a river in one though - it'll sink!).
Another oldie, and just about
the classic horizontally-scrolling blaster, Green Beret
is an extremely playable Rambo retread, divided into four different
sections. Armed initially with only a knife, Bert (our hero) soon
collects flame throwers, grenades, rocket launchers and so on as he
bounces along shooting people (for such a Rambo type he's a very rubbery
little chappy, this one). It's very fast, pretty tricky and has a nice
platform-and-ladders element to give it variety too - a bit of a winner
all round really.
Another US Gold Megagame from
'88, this was a largely monochrome scrolling coin-op conversion with the
action mainly taking place on two levels - the ground and an overhead
catwalk affair. The whole concept is very James Bond-ish - you play a
Rolling Thunder Undercover Police agent on a mission to penetrate the
underground fortress of arch-villain Geldra, rescue some hostages and
kill him. (All in a day's work really.) There are five basic levels,
though for some spooky reason you have to go through the whole lot twice
(with extra traps and baddies added the second time) before you reach
Geldra at the end game. The sprites are fairly small and skinny (but
well animated), controls are neat (though jumping onto platforms can be
tricky), and the whole thing is pretty bloomin' hard. I didn't like it
that much when I first saw it, but I've warmed to it since. It's
certainly made this sort of platform shoot-'em-up pretty easy to
describe - you just say the game is "Rolling Thunder-ish".
What a completely skillo trio
of games! Half shoot-'em-up, half arcade adventure, each flip-screen
extravaganza set new standards graphically for its time, and turned out
to be very playable indeed. Dan Dare III is perhaps a
little easy to complete, but the graphics are easily amongst the best
ever seen on the Speccy, with the little jet-pack-equipped Dan and giant
Mekon sprites being especially faithful to the comic originals (not so
sure about the other baddies though!). And the bouncing bombs and so on
are amongst the most spectacular and fun-to-use weapons ever too!
The big arcade hit of '85
became the big Christmas hit on the Speccy the same year, and it's a
fair measure of its popularity that people still say "that looks a
bit Commando-ish". Today the game seems simple in
the extreme. It's a big vertical scroller with tiny sprites wandering up
a yellow field littered with walls, trucks and lumps of rock to hide
behind. And that's about it - there are unlimited bullets and lots of
grenades to use, and everything is very faithful to the simple but
addictive (and very influential) original. If you don't mind all that
yellow it still holds up pretty well.
There's one thing you have to
say about Dinamic games - they're hard. Ridiculously, frustratingly
hard. Army Moves is all about driving a little jeep and
shooting things, then driving a little helicopter and shooting things,
then running around a swamp on foot shooting some more things - and it's
hard. Navy Moves (the sequel) is about driving a little
rubber dinghy and shooting things, then scuba-diving along and shooting
things, then running around a platform-and-laddery submarine shooting
things. And it's hard too. Nine out of ten people give up before they
get past the third screen, but the tenth person (who's made of sterner
stuff than the rest of us) perseveres, and usually comes out of it
saying it's the greatest game he (or she's) played in months. Which sort
Sinclair Magnum Light Phaser & Cheetah Light Gun
It makes sense really - light gun games just have to be shoot-'em-ups, don't they? There's no two ways about it. No Clay Pigeon Shooting Simulator yet to the best of our knowledge (we're still waiting), but we did get a light gun version of Operation Wolf which is the next best thing (except that it was marred by a horrible white bar flashing across the screen each time you fired, of course). Other delights given away originally with the Sinclair Magnum Light Phaser included Missile Ground Zero (a light gun version of that ancient arcade hit Missile Command, Solar Invasion (a space shoot-'em-up), Rookie (a shooting gallery game along the lines of what you've probably played at the fair), Bullseye (darts, of course) and Robot Attack (a primitive platform game).
The rival Cheetah weapon had a selection of CodeMasters goodies on show - Jungle Warfare (an Operation Wolf clone), Supercar Trans Am and Advanced Pinball Simulator (two odd games that weren't really shoot-'em-ups at all), F16 Fighting Falcon (an Afterburner clone), Bronx Street Cop and Billy The Kid. These last two are typical shooting gallery/Operation Wolf type games and work very well indeed - simple, yes, but they do exactly what they say they'll do and are about as pure shoot-'em-up as shoot-'em-ups ever get. Worth rather more than mere novelty value, I'd say.
A bit important historically
because at the time it came out (mid '89) it was the first really classy
Speccy conversion US Gold had done for ages, this fast and flashy Capcom
original converted well to our rubber-keyed chum, though perhaps not
quite as well as everybody thought it would. I still got the feeling I
was slightly out of control half the time and found the 'unusual'
control system demanded more getting used to than I was capable of.
Still, it's all rather impressive - you play one of two jetpack-equipped
chappies (in two-player mode, would you believe) blatting across a
crumbling post-apocalyptic landscape, passing all sorts of neat
industrial-style stuff along the way - twisted tubing, spinning cog
wheels and a bizarre dance of set-squares, protractors and so on. Handy
weapon shops crop up along the way ("a quarter-pound of your best
four-way lasers please, my good woman") and the whole thing has a
very professional feel to it. My only problem is that I often felt a bit
out of control, wacked about like a pinball on a giant table. Still, a
sterling effort, and deservedly popular.
This game isn't purely a
shoot-'em-up I suppose - like many arcade conversions it has strong
elements of a number of genres - but it's close enough to count. What we
have here is either a shoot-'em-up with an unusually large
platform-and-ladders element to it, or a very fast-playing platformer -
the choice is yours. I'm not going to go overboard talking about games
like this, but one or two of them can't really be ignored - they're
shoot-'em-ups as much as they're anything else, and besides (in this
case anyway) they're just too good.
These could hardly be anything
other than shoot-'em-ups, could they? The first (from early '86, and
based on the film Rambo - First Blood Part Two, explaining the sudden
jump to Rambo III for what was only the second game) is
very much a Commando clone, but with a bit more of a
thinking element to it. Rambo starts slower than the
Elite game, and has a bigger, more empty playing area, so the same level
of excitement just isn't quite there. Rambo III on the
other hand (a Christmas '88 release) is very different - an impressive
three parter, each section featuring some very different gameplay. The
first is a four-way overhead scroller (like a cross between Commando
and Gauntlet) with you, as Sly, dashing around a Russian
fort collecting weapons, avoiding infrared security beams, looking for
door keys and shooting guards. Part Two is another overhead scroller,
but set outside this time, and featuring grenades, more guards and a bit
more action. Finally, the third part is a pretty nifty Operation
Wolf clone with you in charge of a tank making a bid for freedom
against what looks like the entire Russian army. Nice graphics, a fair
amount of variety, lots of action - what more could you ask for? (It's
better than the film anyway.)
Calling this a shoot-'em-up
seems to be stretching the point somewhat, but then what is it? Well,
okay, I guess it's sort of a fantasy role-playing game (you get to
choose between four suitably Tolkienesque characters at the beginning),
and it's very much an arcade adventure (lots of collecting of potions
and so on), but when you actually get down to playing it (especially in
the very amusing two-player mode) what does 90% of the gameplay turn out
to involve? Yes, it's solid shoot-'em-up action all the way!
"Like a kiddies' version
of Operation Wolf," they said about Cabal,
a copycat coin-op follow-up to the original which probably ended up in
more arcades than the (dauntingly oversized) Operation
Thunderbolt cabinet - or at least, it seemed that way to me.
Yes, the game is certainty more cartoony, but for me that Bionic
Commando-type look and the generous splashings of colour added
to the game, and made it an equal to its more famous cousins. Cabal
plays a bit differently too - it's a flip-screen jobbie for a start,
with a whole screen's worth of nasties to be blasted to oblivion before
you move onto the next one, rather than the constantly-panning camera
effect of Operation Wolf. It's just as effective and
earned itself a worthy YS Megagame last Christmas. (Oh, and watch out
for Midnight Resistance too, in a very similar vein and
looking like the bee's knees.)
Almost like a giant
mega-compilation of different sorts of shoot-'em-up, The
Untouchables features six multiload levels, each one depicting a
different scene from the film. Level One has hundreds of little gangster
figures jumping around an eight-way scrolling warehouse scene - the area
is quite large (say three screens tall by eight wide) and scrolls around
at quite a lick. Level Two is more your Operation Wolf/Cabal
lookalike, with your character rolling around the bottom of the screen
trying to pick off the baddies (who are hiding behind a couple of
trucks). A couple of the other levels (such as the shoot out in the
alleyway) are quite Operation Wolf-ish too, but then
there's the vertically scrolling railway scene too, and the... But you
get the idea (there's a lot to it). The game's all in crystal-clear
monochrome and, though each section is perhaps a bit too short to get
your teeth into, as both a technical achievement and a film conversion
it's no mean feat.
Alien Syndrome/ACE Colourful but rather empty-feeling two-player blaster in the Gauntlet mould, though with much more detailed and three-dimensional sprites. (They're still tiny though.) Your job is to run around a massive lab complex collecting weapons, shooting squishy, sausage-like aliens, and rescuing trapped scientists. (All in a day's work really), though it has to be said the whole shenanakins are about three times as exciting in two-player mode.)
Road Blasters/US Gold For some reason there was a rash of these gun-equipped car jobbies in the first half of last year, and to be honest none of them were much cop. US Gold put you up against mines, roadside bunkers and oodles of enemy cars in its effort (pretty much as you'd expect), though the fixed cannon means you have to point your car directly at anything you want to hit - not the easiest of tasks. Pretty simple, pretty uninspiring really. Ho hum.
Obliterator/Psygnosis Giant, highly mappable runaround that looks better than it plays. You have to lollop along the corridors of a dying spaceship looking for spare parts with which to fix your shuttle (and thus escape) while taking on oodles of impressive-looking but hardly-animated-at-all aliens. An unusual icon-controlled control system works well, but generally it's pretty repetitive stuff.
Chicago 30s/US Gold An interesting little item, predating The Untouchables by a good six months, this little run-around, jump-on-crates, dodge-cars gangster epic is brilliantly presented (everything takes place on a cinema screen framed by curtains, and as you lose lives members of the audience walk out of the cinema in disgust until there are none left!) but ultimately it's pretty thin and samey. A bit of an oddity really.
Xybots/Domark One of the first of Domark's Tengen conversions (and the first good one, ho, ho), Xybots is one of those unpretentious two-player runaround jobbies, almost like Gauntlet, but viewed very differently - the top half of the screen contains a map and the bottom divides into two windows through which each player sees his view of the action. No spectacular graphics (3D monochrome with very small windows) but it's very playable nonetheless.
After The War/Dinamic Another Dinamic shoot-'em-up with massive sprites and typically detailed graphics (in mono this time though), the main difference being that it's less difficult to complete. Notable for some particularly violent action featuring ceiling-crawling robots, ED 209 lookalikes (from Robocop) and the biggest handgun this side of Aliens. Rather snazzy, all in all.
Moonwalker/US Gold Not a great game by any means (but then, not half as bad as it could have been), this is included mainly because it shows how even the most ludicrously inappropriate licence can be made to work - by simply turning it into a shoot-'em-up! A multi-level, multiload extravaganza, it features a remarkable degree of violence for squeaky-clean Michael, with eight-way scrolling Gauntletesque levels where you look down at the action, and horizontal scrollers slightly more in the Operation Wolf mode. Weird.
Predator/Activision Great graphics and a nice pre-game animation sequence, but this combined beat-'em-up/shoot-'em-up can be very tricky to get to grips with. You play a neat Arnie sprite, yomping around a horizontally-scrolling jungle, wasting oodles of enemy soldiers and confronting the occasional giant space alien, as in the film. The only problem is sometimes you seem to do well, other times you die almost immediately, and there's zilch you can do about it. An odd experience.
Platoon/Ocean Now this is really odd - a largely shoot-'em-up conversion of a film which (unlike say Robocop) doesn't really lend itself to this treatment. In six multiload sections, incorporating many different types of gameplay (for instance, Level Three with the Vietcong tunnels is a split-screen jobbie with a map to find your way about!), you get to encounter almost every possible Vietnam scenario, from jungle firefights to napalm attacks. Unfortunately it all tends to glorify what the film seemed to condemn, and as such is a bit of a disappointment, especially since the dark graphics often make it fairly tricky to work out just what's going on.
The Real Ghostbusters/Activision The YS crew's Saturday morning TV treat (though, of course, it's not as good as Trap Door, The Real Ghostbusters hit the Speccy in the summer of '89. Okay, so the game (a two-player, four-way scrolling blaster using brassy, multicoloured sprites and lumbered with a particularly unweidly control system) didn't exactly set the world alight, but at least it was (arguably) some improvement on the best-selling, but primitive, original.
Nemesis The Warlock/Martech Based on the famous 2000AD character (of course), Nemesis was a platform-and-ladders shoot-'em-up (with a bit of slash-'em-up thrown in), drawn in particularly glorious monochrome. It was also a Megagame (surely the only time in Martech's history, ho, ho) and captured the feeling of the original strip very well, from the gothic-style screen surrounds to the very accurate little sprites themselves. A bit of a corker in fact.
Prohibition/Infogrames Set in 1930s Chicago, this Operation Wolf lookalike from the days before they were actually called 'Operation Wolf lookalikes' still plays fairly well. It's largely monochrome, and the scrolling's fairly jerky, but things are kept moving at quite a brisk pace, and it holds a genuine feeling of tension you don't really get in Op Wolf, as you search around each building against the clock, looking for the gunman who's after your blood. Simple but entertaining, and a bit of a winner.
It's easy peasy pie, really it is. All you have to do is bear firmly in mind the essential main
ingredients, and not worry too much about missing out the non-essential stuff. Like so...
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