Coded by Simon Pick – who is probably better known for various C64 outings such as Star Control, Nemesis – The Final Challenge or digital drum kit Microrhythm – and published in 1986 by Gremlin, Planet Search is a shoot ’em up for the C16. Despite that title the action is more about fighting for survival in hostile alien environments, although I suppose it could be said that the player is searching the planet for threats to destroy before being allowed to move onwards to the next.
The gameplay has, as might be apparent from the images and video, been inspired by Williams’ classic Defender but also heavily simplified; the only objective is destroying all instances of the level’s single enemy type and there aren’t humanoids to… well, defend. A scanner in the status area keeps an eye on active enemies – although it does fail if the ship’s shields are getting low – and there’s a twist, the nasties lay “eggs” either over time or when blown up that must also be dealt with by flying over them – presumably poaching them in the process with the ship’s engine – otherwise they hatch and release another nasty into the playfield.
There’s also a bonus stage where the scrolling changes to fixed speed and the craft needs to be guided through a warp tunnel to the next planet; breaking the warp field isn’t fatal despite what the manual might imply, but does send the player hurtling back to the last world which will need clearing again before the next attempt at leaving can be made. The tunnels appear to be randomly generated which means there’s no consistency in the difficulty level for this part of the game and, because the collision detection is overly sensitive and has accuracy issues, the first warp can repeatedly be brutally hard whilst the ride to the third or fourth level ends up being a piece of cake.
From what I can gather, Gremlin didn’t sell Planet Search as a stand-alone, instead shipping it with the solid C16 conversion of Bounder and that’s fair enough to my mind because, whilst it’d make a reasonable budget title, there simply there isn’t enough meat on this particular bone to warrant a solo, full price release. It’s still mindless blasting fun to hammer around the landscape whilst blowing things away with the ship’s cool-looking laser though, and repeatedly crashing out of warp and being stuck on one world doesn’t really get in the way of that.
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.