The end of the world has already happened and what remains of humanity ekes out an existence in fallout shelters, biding their time by monitoring the environment and, in one particular case, tearing apart a car and modifying it for this new, radiation-soaked world. The day finally comes when this supercharged and heavily shielded vehicle rumbles out into the post nuclear wilderness to explore and perhaps track down survivors, only to be surprised by an alarm going off on the dashboard signalling that a delayed nuclear strike is on its way. For any other car the journey back to the Undercity and on to the safety of the Sci-Base would be impossible… but this is The Last V8.
David Darling‘s Mad Max-inspired, post-apocalyptic driving game is divided into two parts, the first is a manic race through twisting countryside back to the relative safety of the underground city before the incoming nuke hits – the car’s shields are good but won’t withstand a full-on nuclear blast – requiring the V8 to be driven as close to the edge as possible despite hairpin bends in the road and fatal to the touch surrounding foliage. Once underground the pace settles down a little as the player manoeuvres through the tight, maze-like passageways to the Sci-Base’s entrance, avoiding collisions and trying not to dwell too long in the invisible but deadly radioactive zones which are a result of that recent detonation.
The Last V8 has always divided opinion in part because the difficulty is deliberately and frustratingly high, presumably to draw things out since a seasoned player can complete the entire thing in under three minutes. Meeting that challenge starts with learning how to properly control the V8, practicing until able to clear the first level consistently or at least knowing where the short cuts are – I’ve included the most common one as a bonus in the video after the main playthrough is done, along with the rarer second option that I tended to use personally – and then working out the path through the Undercity which had the least radioactive zones. Making the levels punishingly hard in this way is a cheap design choice, especially since there would have been more space for maps if the two low quality but reasonably long chunks of sampled speech hadn’t been included.
Despite the unforgiving difficulty I’ve always been fond of The Last V8 personally, absolutely loving the in-game soundtrack whilst playing it extensively on both the C64 and Atari 8-bit back in the day – the Amstrad CPC version is a bit of a car crash, if you’ll excuse the “pun” – and managing to complete the entire game on countless occasions despite claims of it being declared “impossible” online. I think there was actually a time in the late 1990s where the only map of the Undercity was one I made in ASCII and posted to Comp.Sys.CBM on USENet, although I sadly can’t find it now. This game does stir a few other childhood memories of living through the cold war with that imminent threat of nuclear death hanging over all of our heads that the game’s scenario is based around, although I’m not sure those are strictly speaking good memories…
Published by Firebird’s Silverbird label for a couple of quid, Matta Blatta is a horizontally scrolling blaster for the Atari 8-bit from developer Shahid Ahmad who previously coded Chimera on a range of platforms. It was released in 1988, which was quite late in the day for the Atari’s market here in the UK so quite a few fans of the machine or indeed shoot ’em ups may not be aware of it; I missed out personally because most of the local shops had already stopped selling Atari 8-bit games by that point and the lack of new releases meant I’d already been enticed away by the C64, copious amounts of new releases and a larger library of software overall.
Matta Blatta is also a surprisingly simple game as well, each level is populated by just one type of enemy with a fixed movement pattern and the player merely has to survive through each onslaught to progress to the next, although actually making it through a wave is tricky though, since the speed of enemy movement doesn’t leave much in the way of reaction time. The collision detection is definitely on the side of the invading forces as well with little mercy being shown to the player’s craft when it gets too close to the enemies or their bullets, something that other games in the genre tend to be far more generous about.
That stinginess means Matta Blatta can often be irritatingly tough, but at the same time it’s not ridiculously difficult in the way that something like Firefleet is. There isn’t much variety to the gameplay – not necessarily a problem to my mind, but that can sometimes be off-putting for others – but, along with existing games already doing the same sort of thing better, Zeppelin’s Zybex came out the same year and offers far more meat on the bone for just a quid extra. Matta Blatta probably won’t be anybody’s first choice when thinking of something to destroy on the Atari 8-bit, but there is still some fun to be had from the frantic manoeuvring and wanton, sometimes desperate blasting it offers.
1990 was a superb year for Mega Drive owning shoot ’em up fans and is pretty much when I personally jumped aboard that particular bandwagon with an imported Japanese unit. Games like Sagaia, Thunderforce 3 and Whip Rush were released for example, all being highly playable and demonstrating just how good Sega’s hardware was for this genre whilst hinting at what was yet to come. Sadly, X-Dazedly-Ray from UNIPACC really doesn’t fall into that camp and, when thinking back, there was for the longest time a small part of me which wondered why I handed over £24.99 for it back in the day.
The first games in the Gradius and Darius series seem to have been an inspiration for XDR‘s developers both from a gameplay standpoint and the visuals – the shield is very Darius-like with the options being more similar to Gradius except they can soak up bullets – although it’s nowhere near the standard of either Konami or Taito’s game. It does suffer badly from “Gradius syndrome” as well so, while it takes the entire first level to get some decent firepower together from the icons left behind by blasting certain enemies, everything is lost on dying and recovering from that situation with the now painfully underpowered ship ranks somewhere between frustratingly difficult and simply impossible.
XDR isn’t exactly a popular game, there’s a scathing GameFAQs user review which pretty much rips it to shreds and I’ve previously seen it described it as one of the worst Mega Drive games ever released during forum discussions. That’s being rather harsh on something that is essentially just mediocre though, and it’s not even the worst shoot ’em up for the platform either with titles like Curse, Xenon 2: Megablast or Divine Sealing being more aesthetically distinctive but, to my mind at least, less enjoyable to play.
So it’s not a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but still offers some entertainment; if the cost of cartridge publishing hadn’t meant there couldn’t be a home computer style budget range for Mega Drive games that’s where X-Dazedly-Ray would have fit in perfectly, not quite keeping up with the full-pricers for spectacle but still reasonably solid. For those wanting to give it a blast, go into the start menu to enable auto firing – because trying to constantly hammer two buttons for the main guns and missiles at a decent rate is something of an ask – and perhaps dial the difficulty down to “easy” before starting.