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.

Watching Taxi

Taxi is a 1998 action comedy about a newly qualified taxi driver Daniel who has dreams of being a racing driver but instead ends up on the wrong side of the law by breaking the speed limit several times over with a copper in the back of his souped-up cab. But rather than losing his license, Daniel is instead offered a deal; he can get off the charges by helping officer Émilien capture some brazen, Mercedes-driving bank robbers, putting both his knowledge of high-performance cars and incredible driving skills to good use in the process.

The idea that Daniel likes speed is set up during the opening credits with a record-setting wild moped ride through Marseilles on his last day as a pizza delivery rider, but it’s the first outing in the heavily modified Peugeot taxi where things really take off. A desperate-looking passenger offers a wodge of cash to reach the airport in time for his flight and, after a flick of some switches and change of steering wheel, the now transformed taxi gets him there with time to spare even if his lunch barely makes it to the destination with him. The car transformation is reminiscent of Knight Rider’s later episodes when KITT switches to super pursuit mode – in fact, I think some of those same sound effects are used here too – which was always a favourite moment for me as a teen.

One of the people behind Taxi is writer Luc Besson – probably better known for his action movies such as the Transporter series, The Fifth Element and the fabulous Taken – and, although the story is more light-hearted overall than those examples, it’s also engaging, with most of the main characters either being likeable – even the bungling Émilien who is, essentially, a blackmailer although his heart isn’t really in it – or cringe-inducing like the almost constantly ridiculous Commissaire Gibert.

The DVD can be picked up cheaply since there regularly seem to be copies of the subtitled widescreen version in charity shops or second hand stores like CEX or Cash Converters for under a quid. I purchased the dubbed, 4:3 ratio version where these screen grabs came from for a paltry 50p yesterday, but after so many passes at the subtitled French original it feels a little surreal, in part because the voices have English rather than American accents I sort of expected. If anyone is tempted after reading this, it’s also worth being a little cautious when shopping for the disc since there’s an American remake starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon which copies the original film’s plot relatively closely but is nowhere near as good on the character interaction or development fronts.