Playing Armourdillo (C64)

The planet of Mobanti was a peaceful world without words for “war” or “destruction” in their language before the human race came visiting. Now it’s peoples have to learn at least some of the ways of war in a hurry and, after sending mostly unsuccessful spies into the enemy camp, a few secrets to creating weapons were discovered that could be merged with the more organic Mobantian science to form the Armourdillo, a hybrid of mutated animal and advanced machine which potentially has the firepower to protect itself from humanity’s onslaught. Think Dalek, but significantly larger and more friendly.

The first live combat sortie for this new armoured vehicle is primarily a rescue mission where, within a given time limit, a quota of life pods containing survivors of the ongoing war must be collected from behind an energy shield at the left side of each play area and ferried across the hostile scrolling environment to the safety of an escape tunnel to the right. Horizontal controls on the joystick tell the Armourdillo which way to move while up and down rotate the gun turret between four positions, allowing it to take out ground- and air-based enemies which drain the vehicle’s shield on contact. Learning the controls and how to aim the weapon accurately are both vital survival skills on Mobanti and will take some practise to master.

Released exclusively on the C64 by the recently formed budget publishers Codemasters, this was a one person project from Giulio Zicchi – his name even appears front and centre on the cassette inlay’s artwork – who wrote the code, drew the graphics, composed the theme tune, sung the… you get the idea. It’s nothing to write home about on a technical level -scrolling a small window of that size is relatively easy and the static starfield isn’t well implemented despite Uridium having done it better the previous year – but the music is great especially the in-game tune activated by pressing F1 during play, the graphics are pretty reasonable too and the gameplay itself proves fun if challenging in part due to the way the Armourdillo itself has to be steered.

In fact I remember this being quite a contentious title within my circle of friends back in the day; I liked the unusual control scheme at the time but not everybody agreed, feeling it was clunky and unresponsive especially when changing direction. Looking at it again now it’s pretty easy to see where those opinions were coming from – despite playing it for a few days for this post I’m still getting my arse handed to me near the end of level 3 – but I still feel that the system is flawed but workable overall and makes sense in context even if I don’t feel comfortable recommending this game to shoot ’em up fans without a few caveats because of it.

Playing Lazer Force (C64)

Lazer Force is one of the myriad budget shooters which materialised in the mid 1980s on the C64, hailing from Codemasters and programmed by Gavin Raeburn who already had a couple of shoot ’em up previously distributed by Alpha Omega and the bi-directional, horizontal blaster Thunderbolt, which was distributed by Codies.

The levels are divided into four parts; a very busy vertically scrolling shooter with tons of character bullets and fast moving nasties leads into a Centipede-inspired affair which is overlaid by more of the chaotic sprite-based enemies.

These high octane battles are followed by a significantly more sedate refuelling sequence where the player’s ship must be precisely placed on the docking bay of a mothership as it drifts back and forth across the screen and, regardless of if that sequence is completed successfully, there’s also one of those tunnel navigation games where the terrain is randomly generated; the player earns more points for going faster but risks losing control and mashing the craft into a wall before the timer runs out.

Whilst the first couple of phases are simple but often frustratingly difficult fun, the latter two feel as though they were just tacked on as an afterthought. Suddenly transitioning from thumb blistering action to the slow-paced docking stage and back breaks the flow of the game up. There are going to be players who enjoy that calm between each main assault’s storm, but I’ve always felt that the long break between action sequences dragged me out of “the zone”, which is problematic in a game where fast reactions are so important to survival.

The sound is probably best described as okay – it certainly isn’t one of David Whittaker’s more memorable tracks and too “jolly” for a shoot ’em up – and, although the graphics are reasonable throughout, some of the levels are a little sparse presumably to keep the character set use down to a minimum. But, despite having some flaws, Lazer Force is still a fun budget blaster; I got my money’s worth from the couple of quid handed over all those years ago and still enjoy playing it occasionally but, as old age sets in, that high difficulty seems far harsher now than it ever did to my teenage self.