I recently rescued my Dad’s old Atari ST from the roof of his garage. I used to have my own one, but it died in the 90’s and I threw it out. Seems a bit remiss now. Dad’s one was better anyway, an STE with 4MB RAM and a 40MB hard disk compared to my stock 520 STFM.
The idea behind this was to try an do some programming with it, and learn a bit of assembly language. The ST is apparently a nice machine to do this with. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened yet as the bloody thing keeps breaking itself or chewing itself up. I’ve got through two floppy drives trying to rescue software and survived a PSU exploding next to my head (KERPOW!). I’ve also cleared a large number of insect corpses from the motherboard and spent time reminiscing over dead family pets when examining the fur I found inside the case.
I have finally managed to get it working, though I’ve mostly been playing old games. It’s unlikely I’ve played many of these games since my ST broke (mid 90s-ish??), so it’s been interesting to go back through them all again. Mostly, of course, they’re pretty shit.
Unsurprisingly, the games I remember playing the most as a child I now find tedious, poorly designed or just rubbish. I’ve no idea how many hours I must have spent playing the likes of Double Dragon, Afterburner, Outrun, Last Ninja, Pit-fighter (genuinely no idea what the appeal ever might have been with that one), and countless shoddy platform games with clunky scrolling (I’m looking at you especially, terrible port of Shadow of the Beast). A special shout out goes to Cannon Fodder, which for some inexplicable reason has no horizontal scrolling when moving the mouse, but instead just flicks the screen across when your men move near the edge, making it extremely difficult to know if you’re about to get hit by an enemy and thus ruining the game. Dreadful!
Still, there have been a few that have stood the test of time a little better. I’ve also found I’ve enjoyed a lot of the games that I didn’t like so much when I was younger, such as those that were a little complicated for me back then, or those that required me to actually read the manual. I’ve also found a load of stuff that’s conceptually interesting, even if it’s not terribly well executed. I’m going to go through a few I liked playing below, though I’ll miss out any obvious stuff like Dungeon Master, Defender of the Crown, Stunt Car Racer, Carrier Command etc. as we all know they’re still good, right? Right????
I’ve added a video of each game I found on youtube.
Eye of Horus
Eye of Horus is a bit Metroidy in so far as the game is a semi-open world in which you need to explore and find stuff in order to progress to the next part of the world. What was fun about this one was it combines exploration with shooting quite well. As Horus, you have two forms to swap between, human form and bird form. In human form you are quite slow but you can collect items and use the lifts that connect the various rooms. In bird form you can fly about and shoot much quicker, though you can’t collect stuff or use lifts.
The ultimate goal is to collect the various dismembered parts of the Pharaoh, and reassemble them to gain the power to defeat Set, the Egyptian god of bad eggs. To do this you need to find the Pharaoh bits and return them to the start. This is slow and boring, but fortunately you can collect items that let you call on the help of some other Egyptian gods/goddesses that can save you a long walk. This works well as you need to work out the best way to collect the bits in order to progress quickly.
It’s a fun game and not so large that you can get too lost or confused, which is good as a lot of the rooms look fairly similar. After a few goes you get a feel for the main area you begin in (it’s like a central hub with other areas coming off it), and you can work your way through bit by bit. There’s only one gotcha I’ve found, and that is that you can end up in an un-winnable situation of you take the wrong lift in the red area, which means you can’t get one of the Pharaoh bits. Aside from that though, it’s a pretty fun game. Given that you can skip various items and still win, it’s probably a good game for speed runners.
The Egyptian theme is nice, and the music is strangely catchy.
Horse factor: 0 - No horses in this game. A wasted opportunity.
Released as Bob Morane: Ocean in France (where it came from), Operation Neptune is a quirky take on, errr.. Star Raiders??, with lots of oddly chosen action sequences and a fun cinematic opening sequence.
When the game boots up, you are thrown into a jet ski kicking competition with a baddie. Once you’ve kicked him off you get into your submarine and the credits roll up. After that, you’re put into a first person view of your submarine and you can move around a bit. Ultimately though, this view is completely useless, as you don’t need to use it at all.
If you bring up your map, you can see both friendly and enemy bases, plus you can set your auto pilot to take you wherever you like. Moving near a friendly base gives you your health and fuel back like in Star Raiders. The goal of the game is to stop the baddie from building too many bases, so you plot a course for a base or connecting wotsit, and engage the auto pilot. Once there you can don your frog man suit and kill some other frogmen, sharks and big giant octopuses as you place a bomb to destroy that base. You can also go into a Space Harrier style shooing mode to fight enemy patrols.
The game, like Star Raiders, is ultimately pretty short but it’s fun to see how quickly you can win, or if you can destroy all the enemy bases or whatever. It’s a fun, if slightly quirky, take on Star Raiders. I prefer this to the over easy ST port of Star Raiders. Star Raiders.
Horse factor: 0 - Not even a seahorse :(
Another French game (quite a lot of my collection is French for some reason), Hostages (or Operation: Jupiter) puts you in command of a SWAT team as you try to liberate an embassy from terrorists.
You start off positioning your snipers in the streets surrounding the embassy, doing commando rolls and diving over low walls and through windows to avoid enemy searchlights. Once in position, you can scan the sides of the embassy and shoot people through the window, though you need to be fairly careful that you aren’t shooting any hostages.
When you’re happy that you’ve shot enough terrorists, you can position one of your team on the roof and abseil down the side of the building. Swing through a window and you’re into a somewhat clunky (but functional) third person mode, where you can run around the building shooting any remaining terrorists and rescue any hostages you find. At the end, you get rated in the form of a newspaper report, saying how successful the operation was, or if it was a disaster.
What’s fun about Hostages is it’s length. Essentially, it’s a time attack game and the different difficulties and missions you select at the start change things like the number of terrorists, hostages, ability to see enemy positions on the radar and the time allotted to complete the mission.
The first few missions (I should stress that they’re all the same mission, they just get more tricky) are pretty straight forward to do well in, but the hardest mission, Operation Jupiter, on the most difficult setting is still giving me grief. The 10 minute time limit doesn’t really give you as much time as you’d like in sniper mode, so you are reliant on your commando chaps to get into the building fairly quickly. The enemies are in super sneaky git mode, and hostage positions aren’t marked on the map, meaning you’ll have to get lucky and shoot all of the terrorists in time or get into every room extremely quickly.
I’ve heard people saying that in some ways this game is a little like Rainbow Six, which I guess is somewhat true although I prefer this one as you don’t need to shoot your team-mates when they’re blocking up the doors.
Hostages had a pseudo sequel called Alcatraz. It’s not as good.
Horse factor: 0 - Not a horse in sight.
Hound of Shadow
A Lovecraft inspired text adventure set in London in the 20’s. You start out visiting a seance with a friend, which goes badly wrong! Your friend then decides to investigate what happened and you set about wandering around a passably recognizable London, reading old books in the British Museum and visiting various folk before coming up to East Anglia (my neck of the woods) for the finale.
I’ll keep the story details pretty scant, as it’s not too bad a Lovecraft imitation, right down to the eponymous hound being a bit crap. The setting is fine, knowing London a little I found getting about in town fairly easy, but you can take a bus or taxi if you’re not so familiar. When in East Anglia, it was cool to see some local villages and towns mentioned, plus one of the local ales is available in the pub!
As with most text adventures, your enjoyment is heavily dictated by the parser which in this case isn’t too bad. There are still some things that work really well, and others that I found a bit confusing because the parser is trying to be too clever (sometimes you are controlling your character and other times you ARE the character, or maybe you’re always both? Who knows?!). The worst example I can think of was when I was attempting to talk to a clerk at the enquiry desk in the British Museum. Typing ‘talk to clerk’ did nothing, as did many other connotations of that phrase. I eventually worked out I needed to type simply ‘enquire’. Grrr. Mostly it’s manageable however, and I enjoyed the story enough to get through to the end.
Horse factor: 3 - it’s Twenties London. There are bound to be some!
North and South
North and South is an arcade/strategy re-telling of the American civil war and it’s really fun! It’s well presented with lots of nice animations and sound effects which give it an appropriately cartoony vibe (it’s based on a French comic).
You can play as either the Northern or southern armies by choosing a character portrait on the menu screen, each of which represent a different difficulty based on the rank of the character and the rank of the enemy character. You can further augment the difficulty by choosing a different starting year, which will give you more or less captured states to begin with. There are a few other options here as well, such as turning on Mexican or native American random attacks, tornadoes and ships that bring reinforcements to whomever occupies that state.
The main game is played on a map, where you can order around your troops and capture enemy territory. Most important are the states that have the rail road passing through, as trains supply cash and ultimately reinforcements to the occupier of those states.
When fighting a battle, hijacking a train or capturing an enemy fort, the game changes to an arcade style challenge that you need to complete. These are fine, but are in my opinion the worst part of the game. While the side scrolling sections for capturing the forts and taking command of the train are passable, the battle screens are pretty limp. You can only control one unit at a time (unlike the computer player) and the controls are sluggish. Plus the enemies have an annoying habit of retreating with a single man left standing which means they can still capture states. Grrrr.
Fortunately, you can turn off the arcade bits and let the computer decide what happens. This works much better, and you can concentrate more on capturing key states.
It’s actually a fairly easy game, and can be completed in about 15 minutes given the right start. Having the different years to start with mean you can make things more tricky for yourself. I’ve still yet to win when starting as the southern army in the final year.
There’s a two player option, and I expect that played this way the arcade sections make more sense. I’ve not tried it myself, but I can imagine the battles being quite competitive with two people playing.
Horse factor: 8 - There’s plenty of horses in this game, some even have a man on top.
Safari Guns is a little bit like Operation Wolf, only it’s rubbish. I say a little like, because you aren’t just shooting baddies but trying to take photographs of the wildlife in the area you are in. The only things you appear to need to shoot are the poachers that pop up now and again. The game constantly scrolls to the right, so I assume you are meant to be in a vehicle.
Despite the ST having a perfectly good two button mouse, Safari Guns insists on making you click on a camera or rifle icon to swap between shooting modes, which is both annoying and RSI inducing.
At the end of each level, you are awarded points bases on how many animal photos you have taken. Score enough and you’re onto the next stage.
As I mentioned at the start, the game is pretty rotten, but I do like the concept. Driving around taking wildlife photos and shooting baddies would, I think, make for a fun game. Imagine a 3d national park or savanna with various ranger stations to refuel/restock at, animal and poacher sightings coming through over your car radio, or tracking poachers by following a trial left near a dead animal and predicting possible locations on a map. Sounds fun to me!
Horse factor: 4 - Not a horse as such, but a stripy relative.
A curious space adventure, with an odd take on 3D. After a fairly long and annoyingly un-skippable intro animation, you find yourself piloting a little ship sprite. You can fly around collecting crystals, shooting baddies and using your radar to locate star bases that are dotted around. The ultimate goal is to find some kind of alien mothership/base and blow it up. I haven’t quite managed to do this yet though.
Once docked in a star base, you can save your game, look at a map and, most importantly contact aliens who you can interact with to some degree. Mostly they’ll just let you know the locations of other star bases, or tell you to talk to another alien somewhere else, but there are a few who you can type in a subject and they’ll give you an answer if they know it. Essentially you need to go around talking to different aliens until you can put together the location of the enemy base. Or at least that’s what I’ve worked out so far.
The actual combat in the game isn’t particularly great, and the ‘3D’ stuff is a bit like in, say, Space Harrier where every thing scales in/out, though here you can rotate 360 degrees. There are a few stunt manurers you can pull off, such as loops, u-turns and boosts to help you evade enemies, electrical storms or the super annoying black holes. As I say, the combat section isn’t that great, and crashing into the crystals and shooting asteroids is made more difficult by the game not being truly 3D, but it serves it’s purpose I suppose.
Interest is mostly held by the prospect of finding more aliens and bases. I guess it’s a bit like Captain Blood in a way, with you needing to talk to people in order to discover where your target(s) lie. It’s not something that I’ve found myself playing compulsively, but the allure of discovering new aliens and bases has made me go back quite a few times.
Horse factor: 0 - No horses here, but an intergalactic space horse would have been a welcome addition to this game.
An absolutely bastard hard action/strategy platform game, though it’s much heavier on the action. Super colourful, with so much going on on screen it’s amazing! Full marks for the super massive explosions. Just look at it! It’s also really noisy!
While it’s relatively repetitive in terms of levels, the different enemy types make you think a bit more about how to approach each one, and/or which levels to avoid on the map.
I’m not sure this is a brilliant game or not really but I keep playing it, so it must be doing something right. I’ve got as far as having conquered just over a quarter of the map on my best try.
There’s a Mega Drive version of this game, but the graphics have been redone and it looks worse.
Horse factor: 2000000 - The ability to generate infinite horses on certain levels by standing still is this game’s greatest quality.
That’ll do for now. Should I feel particularly motivated I may write some more. If you know any good games to try, let me know!