Playing Killer Cobra (Amstrad CPC)

Released in 1987 for the Amstrad CPC by budget publishers Mastertronic and written by Peter Wiseman, Killer Cobra is a horizontally scrolling shooter where the player takes control of the titular helicopter to blast their way through well-defended caverns in search of a priceless treasure and early retirement. Ah… the 1980s where video game stories were there to fill a bit of space on the cassette inlay and it really didn’t matter if you actually read them.

Killer Cobra is basically a loose clone of Konami’s coin-op Super Cobra from 1981, but played with the fast forward button permanently held down, so a background hazard can completely cross the screen in under a second. That doesn’t leave much in the way of reaction time so, to begin with at least, most players will have to work through the frustration of repeatedly slamming helicopters into walls as a result. But given some practise and most likely a little memorisation, it’s possible make some progress through the stages.

There aren’t any power-ups to worry about but the Cobra does have a fuel gauge which ticks down at an alarming rate that, for reasons lost in the mists of time or at least Konami’s design documents, can be topped up by bombing fuel dumps on the ground – labelled with the word “oil” in Killer Cobra – which are defended by ground-to-air defences, airborne nasties and other facilities which are worth blasting to smithereens for a few points as well.

The background graphics and sound are primitive especially considering the year of release – a pounding in-game tune really wouldn’t have gone amiss here – but the sprites are reasonable and the package as a whole still has a certain charm.. The perilously steep learning curve aside, it certainly gets the adrenalin going during play – this is one of those games where getting into “the zone” and flying by instict really works – and has that elusive “one more go” factor, although some players will need a bit of a lie down in a dark room with some soothing music after a couple of sorties.

Another day off… with MP3

Today’s new toy is an MP3 player shaped like an audio cassette that can be popped into an old car stereo to play music… except it’s being loaded with MP3s of games and fed to an Amstrad CPC464:

The results are surprisingly good considering the thing cost under a tenner including shipping! Amstrad CDT files are converted with TZX2WAV and then MP3 encoded with Audacity before they’re dumped onto the player’s SD card. The only problem I’ve found so far is that if there are a lot of files on the “cassette” it becomes difficult to locate the correct one; my plan to get around this is to add speech before each file which says what it is so that I can plug in headphones and skip through to the right program.

The two questions I have to answer next are if this machine will play nicely with an GBS-8220 VGA upscaler and where did I leave the MP1 modulator because it’ll make a great PSU for taking the CPC464 to events!

The game being loaded and played is Relentless by Paul Kooistra, the winner of the recent Amstrad CPC 16K competition over at CPC Wiki.

Playing Radius (CPC)

Because I’ve been asked to contribute a technical comparison of the two machines for a book (speaking of which, I really should get the final touches done to that over the weekend), this week I’ve been playing quite a large selection of games for both the C64 and Amstrad CPC. All well and good, except that for some bizarre reason the title that has grabbed the majority of my attention isn’t something decent on both machines like Mission Genocide or even on just the one…

On the C64, Radius is an almost archetypal budget label scrolling shoot ’em up; it doesn’t recycle the eight sprites at all and has some three colour scrolling trundling past in the background, all the graphics are okay but could have been better (considering one of the graphics people involved was Rob Whittaker, they’re actually on the disappointing side) and the budget didn’t quite stretch to commissioning a decent soundtrack so there’s just spot effects and the classic “hum” on the titles page. But despite not standing out from the crowd in any particular aspect and having been geared very squarely on the unforgiving side of the difficulty fence (memorising the enemy waves is an absolute must and there are some extremely cheap deaths hidden in the waves) it isn’t really a bad game as such, just rather nondescript.

And on the cosmetic level at least, Jason Falcus’s Amstrad CPC conversion of Radius looks fairly similar – the sprites are a little smaller than the C64 versions, granted, but the backgrounds are there and AY equivalents of the SID sound effects are pretty much present and correct… but then it starts to scroll and words like “jerky”, “shuddering” or even “argh, my eyes they burn make it stop” (perhaps just screaming would save time) honestly aren’t going to do this thing even the slightest amount of justice. It’s almost as though the C64 game is being emulated on the Amstrad and the result works at around one fifth of the regular speed – it’s slowed down to around the point where more attuned gamers can probably count the frames off as they’re updated. Yes, I know that horizontal scrolling isn’t exactly something the CPC is famed for of course, but even considering that the bloody thing is utterly dire… so my still playing the damned thing is probably conclusive proof that I’m a bloody masochist.