Hello everybody, my name is Jason and I have an almost crippling addiction to Moon Patrol on the Atari 8-bit. I’ve had this addiction for quite a while now, but was only playing with an emulator and telling myself it wasn’t the same as the hard stuff, that I could stop at any time… and then a parcel arrived on Saturday morning containing an actual cartridge and I was hooked!
In fact I’ve wantedMoon Patrol for my Atari 8-bit for a while, although it didn’t occur to me to actually look for one on eBay until R3PLAY where there was an XE Games Machine and a box of cartridges to choose from. Just nine English pounds got me unboxed cartridge without manual (that did include the shipping from America) and after a little digging around through storage boxes, out came the (t)rusty Atari 800XL and power supply. The C64’s Zipstik was borrowed and several hours of diligently patrolling the moon followed.
The sprites might be a little chunky and the otherwise nicely defined backgrounds could possibly have done with a little more variety of colour between stages considering the Atari 8-bit’s large palette, but Moon Patrol‘s gameplay is absolutely spot on and, after a day and a bit of playing with a decent joystick on the big telly in the front room, getting through the first loop without dying is tantalisingly close to being a reality and my final life is usually lost about halfway through the second. And that tune has been indelibly burnt into my bloody brain and I’ll no doubt be humming it all week!
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.
Back in the 1980’s when I was pretending to grow up, television was almost saturated with imported American action series and kids my age lapped the lot up; playground arguments would revolve around which would come out better in a fight between the Knight Industries 2000 and Airwolf, if the A Team could build Blue Thunder from an old tractor and some tubular steel or which kid would get to be Colt Seavers and who would have to take the role of Howie Munson.
And being fairly avid gamers, we all wanted to re-enact our favourite telly shows in game form… and that was something of a shame really since the majority of those games were rather rough! But surprisingly, one exception was based incredibly loosely on the one season wonder Street Hawk (where a cop injured in the line of duty becomes the rider of a super-secret, heavily armed… erm, motorbike) and the “Subscriber’s Edition” under consideration here was rather cobbled together to get something released on a promise – and surprisingly, that quick and dirty development cycle appears to be the reason it came out as playable as it did!
Y’see, Street Hawk SE (my contraction rather than Ocean’s, but it’s already growing on me) is pretty much based on Defender and was presumably built rather hastily around an existing game; yes, the Street Hawk itself has been grafted in and some almost lunar gravity added presumably because even that particular superbike didn’t fly for extended periods, but it’s been equipped with a classic Defender laser and the primary objective is to hammer around the bi-directional scrolling landscape whilst twonking the enemies and rescuing the people who get blown clear of the explosions during the “rescue” stages of the game.
It really is simple but enjoyable stuff (as was the programme itself to be honest) in a way that the “full” Street Hawk, a vertically scrolling shooter released a year later where the player is actively discouraged from shooting most things, simply wasn’t. It won’t win a single prize for originality (although the minigame where the bike’s battery is charged before each stage might get a special mention during the awards ceremony) and there’s very little variety in the long term, but it’s a far more accurate representation of the programme. All its lacking is a cover of the awesome Tangerine Dream tune used on the show.