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.

Playing Wunda Walter (VIC 20)

The planet Plato is in chaos, nasty little energy-based creatures called Fuzz Balls have invaded through a hole in time and need to be stomped on; only one creature can save the day in this manner, the loveable and rotund Wunda Walter needs to take out as many of the little… darlings as possible whilst avoiding the patrolling “manic depressive mutants practising body popping”. This was written in 1984 when video game scenarios were weird at the best of times and prolific Interceptor freelancer Keith “Howlin’ Mad” Harvey wrote the game so probably had a hand in the storyline as well.

Our hero starts each stage running along on a flat patch of ground but will need to take flight almost immediately to avoid death; this is done by holding the fire button down which causes Walter to inflate and float upwards with left and right on the joystick controlling his flight and releasing the button letting him drift downwards,. Since the majority of Plato’s surface will pop an unwary balloon-like creature, only the flat areas or Fuzz Balls should be considered safe to stand on and even then care must be taken since stepping halfway off a ledge will prove fatal.

The graphics are good but the VIC doesn’t have a hardware fine scroll register like later Commodore machines or the Atari 8-bit so the background shifts in character steps – one VIC character is about twice the width of those on the C64 for reference – with the software sprite movement being similarly chunky, but this doesn’t get in the way so Wunda Walter is still a playable if somewhat difficult game. Despite the emphasis in the storyline, splattering the Fuzz Balls is actually optional so merely avoiding the flight path of those body popping mutants and keeping clear of the landscape as it loops past a couple of times is enough to progress to the next level. There are four areas in total, each with their own distinct graphical elements and enemy attack pattern so learning both the lie of the land and how each nasty moves is essential for long-term survival.

I found out whilst writing this piece that Wunda Walter is considered a rare VIC 20 game these days, which is probably down to a combination of it arriving late in the VIC’s life cycle and requiring a 16K RAM expansion, both of which will have limited it ‘s potential audience. I still have my copy from the mid-1980s which I think was originally purchased from Interceptor themselves at a Commodore show in London, it’s currently tucked away in a storage box, sports the lurid green clamshell case and is apparently worth a few quid due to that aforementioned rarity… but don’t tell the wife, okay?

Playing Chronos (Spectrum)

Before I start there’s a little wallowing in nostalgia to get out of the way; during my “formative years” I was primarily a 6502 bunny so never actually owned a Spectrum, but I did get a chance to play on one occasionally when visiting school friends. The first time I played Chronos would have been either 1987 when it was released or perhaps 1988 at my friend Simon Probert’s house and we spent quite a while taking turns at the keyboard to work through and eventually loop it.

To use its full title for a moment, Chronos: A Tapestry Of Time is a horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up from cheap software purveyors Mastertronic, was developed by John and Steven Tatlock – who were also behind the Agent X games – and features a stunning piece of beeper-powered title music from Tim Follin. The cassette inlay also has that “edgy” cover art style that Mastertronic were going for at the time with lots of “exciting” arrows and “torn” edges which was, presumably, considered to be “down with the kids” in the mid to late 1980s.

Turning to the game, things start of relatively sedately with just two randomly spawned nasties in play that travel across the playfield horizontally at different speeds but each new stage introduces another enemy type. Some of these can be little scumbags to, especially during the parts of the map where there isn’t much room to manoeuvre; the squares and Yin-Yangs in particular can suddenly change direction and twonk the player without much warning so really need to be managed before they get the chance.

There’s also a few places where the ground defences are positioned so the player can’t destroy them, forcing some dodging between laser beams as they toggle states or randomly timed streams of bullets. Whilst that can be sometimes frustrating the game makes up for it by being generous with the extra lives and, with some practice and a few moments of blind panic, the first loop can actually be completed with relative ease as I accidentally did whilst recording the video.

I’ve got a fair bit of love for Chronos, in part because of the aforementioned nostalgia but also because it’s a fun game which is solidly written and well presented, especially with that measly £1.99 price tag. There’s an Amstrad CPC version as well which is reasonable but suffers from “Spectrum port syndrome”, having a slower refresh speed overall and omitting the Tim Follin goodness – the only sound is in-game effects which are basic AY zapping and exploding noises – so the Spectrum version as the one to play of the two.