Playing Kikstart (C16)

Shaun Southern’s Kikstart on the C64 was one of the first high quality budget games I remember seeing at the time and that made quite an impression. It was based on the BBC television show Kick Start where motocross riders took on an assault course against the clock and the game shamelessly borrows many of the show’s more memorable features including the theme tune Be My Boogie Woogie Baby by Mr Walkie-Talkie. And anybody who knows the series or the game probably has that tune stuck in their head even if they didn’t click through to the video.

But that isn’t the game I want to waffle about today because, whilst there’s a straight port to the Atari 8-bit and an “enhanced” version for the C128 which added more levels, the C16 game which bears the Kikstart name is very different from the others. Yes, there’s a dirt bike and a scrolling course with hazards to manoeuvre over, but Kikstart on the C16 is more of an arcade style game than the slower, more methodical action of the C64 release it shares a name with. And that’s not a bad thing at all because it’s loads of fun to play with each stage being quite short but packed with obstacles including huge potholes, buses and trees to leap over.

Unlike the other versions, there are airborne nasties such as Shuriken-like spinning blades and clouds that occasionally darken and disgorge lightning. Timing is key to avoiding death, keeping an eye on the colour of passing clouds is a must to know when they’re about to strike and the blades need to be allowed for when using the trampolines to get airtime. There are also brightly coloured bonus balloons which, if grabbed as they float past, are worth a few extra points; there’s a rather sneaky stage where everything in the sky is red and even the pointy death stars can be collected.

I’ve already shown some C16 Kikstart love in the past by, amongst other things, disassembling the code and porting it to the C64 in 2007 and going back to it for this write up has reminded me why I put that effort into the conversion; the gameplay is enjoyable and offers a solid challenge by the later levels even if the collisions can be unfriendly at times – just have a look at the rather frustrating final death in the video whilst trying to jump onto what should have been a perfectly safe trampoline – but for a two quid game which is so entertaining to play I’m more than happy to overlook that.

Playing Attack Of The Mutant Camels (Atari 8-bit)

At the end of the 21st century the world is under attack, this time from the Zzyaxians who, rather than taking on the Earth’s plucky lone fighter with their own fleet, have instead opted for something more insidious and indeed bizarre; the alien aggressors have used genetic manipulation on otherwise friendly camels to breed them into 90 foot high, neutronium shielded, laser-spitting creatures of death. Each sector has six death camels – shown on the handy scanner at the top of the screen – stomping inexorably towards the base at the right hand edge of the play area and, if they complete that journey, the player is overrun and the game over.

Each camel takes a significant number of hits before “de-rezzing” and defends itself with the aforementioned laser-infused spittle; some of these are merely fired in a fixed direction but the nastier ones track towards the player’s jet and need some manoeuvring to avoid. Each jet gets nine shields and loses one to collisions with both bullets and camels, something that comes in handy on the later stages where it’s possible to end up accidentally pinballing back and forth between objects as the game speeds up.

When a stage has been cleared the Faster Than Light Hyperwarp drive system can be engaged in order to travel to the next; the jet starts at the right side of the screen and accelerates to the left, dodging fast-moving rockets heading in the opposite direction – smacking into one will destroy the jet so the current level needs to be played again – until the drive kicks in and it’s protected for the remainder of the journey to the next sector, where things start over but with the overall difficulty increased and new background colours.

Attack Of The Mutant Camels is early Jeff Minter at his very best, perhaps not as surreal or indeed involved as later titles like Iridis Alpha or Batalyx – which also contains a beefed up version of this game with multiple camels on the screen which can also jump – on the C64 but still fast, colourful and endlessly playable. It’s one of those games which can be picked up for a quick ten minute blast and there’s a range of difficulty settings to suit most folks – the power of the player’s bullet can be tweaked as well – although starting at the default “fer sure” setting seems to be about my speed these days even if I remember nudging it up a level or two as a teenager.

Playing Alloyrun (C64)

The C64 has been blessed with a huge number of decent scrolling shoot ’em ups over the decades , but one of note which was completed but not actually released Alloyrun by Ash & Dave who were also behind Mission Monday. There’s a far more in-depth account of why this game wasn’t released at Games That Weren’t, but the short version is that the intended publisher ran into financial difficulties before going under without a release happening. That’s something of a shame because the game itself is pretty solid with some nice if somewhat unusual parallax background scrolling, two simultaneous players flying craft that look suspiciously like the Silver-Hawk and some fantastic title and high score tunes from the Maniacs Of Noise.

There are two parts to each level, the first has scrolling backgrounds which must be avoided – easier said than done especially since there are a few “cheap” spots where a dead end doesn’t reveal itself until there’s no way out – which are inhabited by waves of swirling enemies and, once the end of the map has been reached, the action moves into deep space for more enemy waves before culminating in a boss fight which, rather unusually for this kind of game, can actually be avoided by dodging around the large craft as it crawls menacingly across the screen.

When certain enemies are downed they leave behind spheres which contain weaponry power-ups, the colours denote which option is available for collection and the game helpfully displays the weapon name on the status bar as well, although picking the item up can be tricky since they continue to follow the attack wave’s movement pattern. Trying to keep hold of the bouncing laser is sensible since it fires a couple of angled beams which rebound off the top and bottom boundaries of the playfield and pass over the landscape; these make dealing with hard to reach enemies easier – especially when paired with the front laser even if that stops at the walls – and can be used on the boss’s shields from above or below without being in the line of fire. Care needs to be taken even when fully armed though, because, although it doesn’t just leave the player with the default pea shooter, losing a life also powers down the weapons.

I’ve enjoyed playing Alloyrun ever since I received the Legend crack which was doing the rounds – since the game was never commercially released that’s pretty much how anybody would have got it – and, whilst not quite up there with C64 classics like Armalyte, Io or Enforcer, it still plays well. My only real complaints would be the one mentioned above – those unfair dead ends which have stolen my precious bouncing laser so many times over the decades – and the slightly lacklustre bosses, but they’re not deal breaking issues so I still go back to this one regularly.