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Posted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 7:55 am
by Emperor Fossil
Comparison time!


Recently I decided to have a blast with this horizontal shooter from 1987... with mixed results. Read on, Macduff.


Judging by the reflections on those bubbles, this entire level is housed in a giant room.

Initially impressive, with silky movement, stylish cartoonish graphics, and cool echoey SFX, but you'll soon be wondering who the hell thought it was a good idea to send you back to the very start of the current level when you die. Got killed while battling the end of level boss? Whooooops! Back to the start of the level for you, sucka! Hardcore players might get a thrill out of the heightened fear of dying this introduces, but most mere mortals will find the frustration of dying outweighs the satisfaction of not dying. (How philosophical!)

To make matters worse, later levels (mainly level 3) suffer from bursts of sudden slowdown. Flaws like this are all the more annoying because they seem so unnecessary. I mean, the bulk of the slowdown occurs midway through level 3 when bunches of blobby enemies bound onto the screen, firing bullets aplenty, with most of them leaving behind powerups when shot. It's as if the programmer just decided to throw more sprites onto the screen than his mulitplexor could handle for no good reason. And as for the complete lack of checkpoints during each level -- well that's just a poor decision. All of this is a real shame, as in the good bits the game really shines, with fast, compelling action, and levels that vary nicely in regards to kinds of challenges you face. It's just too bad that the flaws drag it down and suck the enjoyment from the experience.

Sir! The possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field...


Never tell me the odds! ROWR!

What we have here is a very competent shooter. The graphics aren't as immediately appealing as the c64 version, with no animation for any of the objects except for the explosions, and laughably small end of level bosses that are more like junior assistants who have been thrust awkwardly into a position of responsibility (though the level 3 boss is a notable exception), yet even so, they're neat and colourful, and what colour clash there is isn't too intrusive. The scrolling and object movement are nice and smooth, and although it might slow down a little at times, it's generally consistent, with none of the sudden bursts of slowdown found in the c64 version. As for sound, the sfx are inoffensive and fit well with the action, which is good enough in my book. Crucially, this version has a decent number of checkpoints spread throughout each level, making it a more enjoyable experience than the c64 version (though admittedly a more sedate one), while still presenting a decent challenge.

Flying low over ZZ Top's secret headquarters.


I wish my homing missile (white blob) would do more homing and less aimless wandering.

While playing the c64 version, I thought it was destined to come last in this comparison. Little did I know that the Amstrad version had a few nasty surprises up its sleeve. It's not just that the scrolling and movement isn't very smooth -- I was prepared for that, and although I'd like it to be smoother, I could learn to live with it. No, the first major problem you'll encounter is the sluggish control of the ship. Like the c64 version, the ship has inertia (a bad idea in general), but the lower framerate makes it especially unresponsive when trying to move forwards or backwards (strangely, moving up and down is OK). Even after collecting a few speedups, you'll feel like you can't dodge backwards as swiftly as you'd like.

But that's just the beginning. The next problem is more damning: dodgy collision detection. I mean, really dodgy. The bottom of your wing can be five pixels away from the nearest scenery, and still you'll spontaneously combust. FIVE pixels, people! I counted them! I was so annoyed I even made an animated GIF! (See below.) On later levels you're supposed to plot a course through tight gaps in rounded, bubbly background. Navigating through these sections ends up being like trying to walk through someone else's lounge room in pitch darkness, except with more explosions and even more swearing. On top of all that, the first couple of levels seem to have no checkpoints. At least the first one doesn't. It's hard to tell with the second as it's all asteroids in empty space. Later levels seems to have one midway checkpoint, which is really too little too late.

Honestly, the more I played this game, the more I disliked it, and the fact that the later levels start to get repetitive doesn't help at all. It's a pity, as the graphics are colourful (although again devoid of animation, save for the explosions), and while the sound is a bit ugly, it does its job well enough. But I'm afraid there's just no getting past the cruddy handling and woeful collision detection. You'd have to be an extremely patient and forgiving person to overlook these faults. Or perhaps just a very determined one. Or maybe crazy.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

I can't shoot those yellow guys from here, but I'll die if I try to slip past them. Awesome.


The spectrum version wins this one, not so much by doing anything special, but by avoiding any serious blunders. It might not offer the white-knuckled thrills that the c64 version provides at times, but nor does it suffer the same hair-pulling flaws. Next comes the c64 version, being a good game pretty much sunk by poor design decisions. Finally, we have the Amstrad version. If the collision detection wasn't so borked, and if the handling was improved, and if it had more generous checkpoints, this one would have fared better. How much better? I'm not sure, but I can tell you that's a lot of ifs.

Emulators used: Spin0.61, WinAPE 2.0 Alpha12, Vice 1.21

Posted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 8:55 am
by RocketRanger
Hmm...Glad I never played the CPC version, looks like it would have made me feel ill.

Posted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 9:20 am
by Emperor Fossil
It was certainly a disappointment. It would be nice if someone with the skills could hack the game and reduce the player's hit area, get rid of the flawed inertia on the ship, and throw in some checkpoints, if only to restore some dignity to the game.

Posted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 3:15 pm
by ivarf
90% score Crash (ZX82)
90% score Zzap64 (C64)
83% score Amstrad Action (CPC)

Posted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 6:04 pm
by RocketRanger
Sorry to post another comparison right after Mr Fossil, but I've been working on this one for a while.


UN Squadron released in 1989 is a great arcade shooter. Based on some anime, or something, called "Area 88" (The original Japanese title) which I have never seen and is no doubt about some children who fly military planes and kill people for money and thrills. In the real world, that would probably be illegal.

There is a mighty SNES version of this game that lets you select the route ala Star-Fox and buy different planes and so forth. But we aren't interested in that, this is 8-bit comparison time. Besides, the SNES version was single player. The 8-bit conversions all featured the 2 player arcade fun of the original, or at least attempt to.


I'll have a can of coke and packet of peanuts please

I have never played the CPC version before, and I guess we should be expecting the worst. S'ralan's baby isn't the best machine for arcade shooters. Yet, I'm pleasantly surprised when this loads up. There is an okay rendition of the arcade level 1 music, some rather nice mode 0 renditions of the arcade art work and even a "Winners don't use drugs -love the FBI" just to make you feel like you're using a very expensive arcade machine and not a home micro.

William S. Sessions probably doesn't know his name appeared on a CPC

Pressing space inserts 'Credits' of which you may have up to 5 (that's probably about 50p unless you go to one of those really dodgy arcades where you have to buy tokens at 20p a pop). Start the game and you choose from one of three pilots none of whom appear to be old enough to buy beer in Tescos. The mission briefing appears complete with a dark haired rocker inexplicably placed in the background...yeah "Mission briefing" shoot everything that moves ok? , then we are taken to the shop. Just like the arcade the CPC version allows you to purchase weapon upgrades depending on the aircraft belonging to your chosen child-pilot.

What a lovely big font

The "special" weapon is fired by simply pressing the joystick button once, holding down fire lets off a continuous burst of the cannon. Unlike the arcade game, you never have to let go of the fire button until you want to fire the special weapon. It's a neat use of a single fire button control. You can also purchase an array of shieldy things that cover your plane in jelly and make you flash. I think this is to make you look cool or something.

Enough, let's play the game. Scrolling isn't great, it's not awful - and I soon found myself getting used to it. The Amstrad colour scheme lends itself quite well to the cartoony manga (cough anime') graphics, but main sprite sometimes gets obscured against the background. It's all surprisingly playable, despite the chunkiness of it all; the main sprite animates and moves quite well and there isn't an excuse for not dodging a bullet. The music is a cheerful version from the arcade, but for some reason not the excellent level-1 music used during the titles. The action does slow down a bit when the screen becomes crowded with enemy fighters and bullets, but not enough to completely spoil the fun even though this version is the most sluggish.

Wait isn't that on our side?

This is a nice conversion then, it has a colourful 'explosive' feel to it and I actually found it an enjoyable game to play. If I'd bought this in an attempt to get the arcade atmosphere at home I wouldn't have been too disappointed - the developers obviously enjoyed the arcade machine and put in the effort to replicate what was great about it. You don't usually see CPC arcade conversions of this quality.


The Spectrum version is rarer than hens teeth. Try tracking down a rom file, for some reason you can pick up the multi-thousand-pound arcade machine rom from any Tom, censored or Harry website but the Spectrum version (which was worth about £2.99 on the high street during its last release) has been virtually erased from existence due to Capcoms do-not-distribute policy. Never the less, I simply had to see it and couldn't be bothered to buy a legit copy on ebay and eventually, after some nifty Google searching, found a rom on some dodgy Spanish website.

You should see it move

This version is also a pleasant experienced, lovingly converted with all the same arcadey screens and artwork as the CPC (even 'Winners don't loose drugs') These are fine looking graphics indeed, the only flaw here of course is the lack of colour. The music and sound is pretty much the same again, but as usual 48k owners can take the machine into the library.

The same power ups are available in the same shop and the control system is the same. The attack waves are pretty much the same too.

My my, that's a big tank you have there

In fact, the difference between the Spectrum and Amstrad versions is textbook, its like the game is as good as it can really be on both systems and all you're left with is the usual weaknesses of the format (Slow and chunky on the CPC vs fast but monochrome on the Speccy). These two versions are clearly not too distant cousins who occasionally write to one another and meet up at uncomfortable family get togethers to sip bucks fizz and admire one another's respective bathrooms. The Spectrum version is faster and the high resolution graphics look great, the only niggle is that bullets can be a little difficult to see against the background because of the usual lack of colour. I got hit quite a bit by goodness knows what because I didn't see it coming. It's not a massive problem, and later levels have less busy backgrounds.

The Spectrum and CPC have some lovely arcade artwork

All in all a fine version which I found myself enjoying very much.

Commodore 64

Mr Commodore should be looking strong for this one, hardware scrolling, hardware sprites, how can they go wrong?

Here's how....

I'm just not feeling it...

The Commodore version is like the ugly sister of a friend of a friend of the Spectrum & CPC versions. This was probably converted by some Americans or something because gone are the lovingly crafted arcadey-like screens, to be replaced with the odd crudely drawn sprite surrounded by text. There is an attempt to recreate the arcade 'take off' sequence when you select a crudely drawn character, but any feelings of encouragement will soon be very quickly diminished.

Hello, I'm a badly drawn ghostly head - how may I serve you?

Sadly somebody has killed the shop-keeper leaving only his disembodied head behind to serve you. Also, they must have stolen the excellent arcade weapons because all I seem to be able to buy is ice-cream guns (where is my super star bursty weapon thingy?)

See that ice-cream shaped thing in a box down near the bottom of the screen? I shot that I did

The cheerful version of the arcade music that plays during the intro screens is switched off in game leaving an empty silence filled only by some rather poor effects. So then, there's the hardware scrolling alright, and yes it is smooth but we seem to be moving at walking speed....weird... The main sprite looks tiny, flickers and the enemy attacks you one squadron at a time in an obvious attempt to keep the number of things on the screen to a minimum. You can hold down the fire button to unleash a volley or three bullets which have to clear the screen before any further bullets are drawn.

Tapping the fire button unleashes the special weapon, which I think is always a blob of ice cream. The really big blobs of ice-cream aren't properly masked (You can clearly see a box around them) which is just lazy and sums up this poor conversion. I'm not having any fun anymore, this might as well be a really bad SEUK game (That's shoot-em-up-construction-kit for the Commodore uninitiated). The end of level baddies look small and unimpressive (just look at that tank compared to the fine Spectrum version) and they simply shoot fast dots at you instead of homing missiles and fire volleys.

Yeah, you go tank!

It's not the machines fault, this is just a lazy dull version with none of the love and care that clearly went into the other two versions. The Spectrum and Amstrad conversions are joyous explosive affairs with cartoony graphics and lots of on screen action, the developers on this version must have looked at the arcade machine, notebook in hand, and said "Yeah, ok plane...bullets...tank...roger that lets code!".


Not the Commodore one!

Posted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 7:14 pm
by emkay
Emperor Fossil wrote:I don't think it's a pseudo colour mode (as in using interlace or what have you). I think it's done with the Atari's DLI thingummy stuff. The end result is (I think) something like what you might know as raster bars on the c64 or copper bars on the Amiga -- bands of horizontal colour. Which makes it a cool effect, but limited in application.


To compare the C64's rasters with the ATARI DLIs is odd.
The A8's DLIs are 100% cycle exact and the GTIA is able to change registers every byte.
The C64's rasters are not 100% cycle exact and you only can do changes by scanlines.

The A8's graphicsmodes are NOT limited to 4 colours... as mentioned several times before. The Bitmap is limited to four colours in colour res.
The PMg gives additional colours with up to 12 colours easily possible.

In low res, 9 colours are available by bitmap. And in low res you can either have 16 colours and/or 16 luminace steps.
That's why Koronis Rift has up to 48 real colours onscreen.


And a new game "Jetboy" shows some really not used gamestyle graphics. ...


... development seems to go on at the A8....

Posted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 7:52 pm
by oswald
here we go again \o/ :lol:
emkay wrote: The A8's DLIs are 100% cycle exact and the GTIA is able to change registers every byte.
The C64's rasters are not 100% cycle exact and you only can do changes by scanlines.

- DLIs are not 100% 'cycle exact' they use a special register which halts the cpu until a certain cycle within a scanline is reached.
- on c64 this nice mechanis does not exist, but it's possible to do it with clever programming.
- VIC II is also able to change registers every byte, just like any 8bit video hardware.


not only changing background color many times a scanline but even multiplexing sprites (the white bubbles are moving around) over it, how's that for 100% cycle exact, and changing registers every line? ;)

Posted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 9:22 pm
by Emperor Fossil
Oh crap, I summoned up emkay. I'm going to need some holy water, a crucifix, a wooden stake, some garlic, and... a hamburger, cos I'm kind of hungry too.

ivarf wrote:Zynaps
90% score Crash (ZX82)
90% score Zzap64 (C64)
83% score Amstrad Action (CPC)
hmm... I'm not quite sure what purpose posting old review scores without any further comment serves. I mean, those scores are coming from a context in which the games are only being held up against others on the same platform and from the same time or earlier. Comparing games between platforms combined with the hindsight provided by being able to look back at the full range of games they had to offer is a bit of a different kettle of fish, but anyway...

I've wondered in the past how zzap could justify scoring it so highly. I'm pretty sure the slowdown isn't an emulation issue. And the zzap guys seem very forgiving of the fact that you get sent back to the start of every level when you die (only Julian bothers to mention it). Later they re-reviewed it in the Def Guide to Shmups and admitted that this made it too frustrating to be very addictive, but they still gave it 80% (Oddly, they originally awarded Delta 74%, yet bumped it up to 92% in the Def Guide.)

The Amstrad Action score is even more baffling. I just don't see how anyone can give 83% to a game with broken collision detection, particularly given the need to be able to navigate through narrow gaps. Level 3 is just an exercise in frustration.

If I had to apply scores, I'd go something like:

82% - Spectrum
68% - c64
56% - Amstrad
RocketRanger wrote:Sorry to post another comparison right after Mr Fossil, but I've been working on this one for a while.
The more the better, I reckon. Nice comparison too! I particularly liked this conclusion:
RocketRanger wrote:...the developers on this version must have looked at the arcade machine, notebook in hand, and said "Yeah, ok plane...bullets...tank...roger that lets code!".
:lol: Summed it up nicely.

Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 4:25 am
by CraigGrannell
The 'getting sent back to the start' thing was an irritation, but not entirely uncommon in those days, which is probably why it didn't affect the score more dramatically. Zzap! also seemed somewhat lenient on shoot 'em ups, for some reason (apart from Delta, which got hammered, due to Gary Penn disliking it—although I personally think Zzap! still over-rated it).

Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 4:47 am
by revgiblet
Two excellent comparisons there EmpFos and RocketRanger.

Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 7:16 am
by mikeb
Two good games, nice choices.

Havnt played Zynaps in years but remember enjoying it a lot, much more than Io, Sanxion or Delta. Agree it's flawed though on the 64. Nice to learn a bit about the other versions.

Only really played the Amiga version of UN Squadron much back in the day, but I think the SNES is by far the best version with its added 'Jet Strike' style bonus missions. Good to see some of the 8-bits though. Damn that 64 version looks ugly..

Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 8:22 am
by RocketRanger
mikeb wrote:Good to see some of the 8-bits though. Damn that 64 version looks ugly..
...When I finally did get to the second level on the C64 there was some improvement, things looked a little better and there was an atmospheric lightning effect (flashing!), but the homing missiles were completely missing spoiling it completely. The forest mission (level 3) was as bad as the first level and they didn't even bother with exploding trees.

One of my favourite SNES games ever, shame that it lacks the all important 2-player mode.

Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 12:02 pm
by oswald
emkay wrote: I only corrected some mistaken statements.
Then that "Oswald" guy comes up, comparing apples with pears again.
the exact opposite dear emkay. you turned down someone for comparing a technique - timed video chip register manipulation - between machines atari c64 and amiga. then _you_ made same false statements about the c64 which I corrected.

Posted: Sat Oct 06, 2007 5:28 am
by Emperor Fossil
mikeb wrote:Havnt played Zynaps in years but remember enjoying it a lot, much more than Io, Sanxion or Delta. Agree it's flawed though on the 64. Nice to learn a bit about the other versions.
Yeah, the fact that there's still a fair bit of fun to be had despite the flaws is a testament to how good certain elements of the game are. One of the things the c64 version in particular does well is the way it forces you to master the art of pulling off arsey dodges. The asteroid field on level is a good example, being faster and more hectic than the other versions. The slow homing enemy bullets worked well too, as the slick collision detection is forgiving enough to let you weave through a cluster of them and emerge unscathed and looking cool.

Looking back on it, I think it was a bit of an overstatement to say the game is 'pretty much sunk by poor design decisions.' 'Significantly hindered' by them would be a fairer way of putting it.

Posted: Sat Oct 06, 2007 5:45 am
by emkay
oswald wrote: the exact opposite dear emkay. you turned down someone for comparing a technique - timed video chip register manipulation - between machines atari c64 and amiga. then _you_ made same false statements about the c64 which I corrected.

discorrected... yes. VIC 2 cannot do midline changes neither use a sprite again at the same scanline. Perhaps it is possible to switch the display off, using sprites and use the "border" for midline changes.
On the ATARI you have both at the "almost" same time because it has two graphics chips. ANTIC handles DMA, GTIA handles the colours.

The ridiculous thing here is that you come in with an argue that is self talking.
The VIC2 can have the 16 colours and has the 8 sprites, which can be re uses every "next" Scanline and it has the Colour RAM. So in theory there is no need for midline changes. Even if it was used, you wouldn't see it. On the A8 you can build up to 96 colours per scanline and you can see them.

End of discussion.