Apple games: the latest and greatest. (evaluation) Steve Williams; Owen W. Linzmayer.
and Owen Linzmayer
The Apple continues to be the machine of choice for many serious gamers. For years, Apple game designers have been described as pushing the computer to its limits, but still they manage to produce better and more sophisticated games--complex arcade games, convoluted hi-res adventures, and imaginative combinations of the two. Here we take a look at some of the newest offerings for Apple gamers. Lode Runner
Loder Runner is an action game system that simulates the mission of a galactic commando deep in enemy territory. The enemy, known as the Bungeling Empire, has stolen a fortune in gold from the player's peace-loving people. The player's objective is to enter the enemy's underground treasury and recover the gold.
The treasury consists of 150 elaborate screens that resemble somewhat the digable floors and ladders of Apple Panic. Lode Runner, however, offers additional features that are uniquely its own, including undiggable floors, trap doors, and horizontal climbing bars.
The player is an animated humanoid armed with a pistol that can blast away portions of the floor, leaving holes that refill approximately ten seconds later (at normal game speed). Blasting can be used to create an exit or to trap the Bungeling guards, who can be crushed if they fall in and are unable to escape in time. While contact with a guard usually means death for the commando, he can walk freely upon trapped guards as though they were part of the floor.
Running, jumping, climbing, and avoiding enemy guards, the player msut retrieve chests of gold scattered throughout the treasury. Recovering all of the gold in a scene causes a special ladder that leads to the next level to appear.
With 150 different screens each of which requires a different strategy to complete, Lode Runner offers a seemingly endless challenge. Even when played for hours on end, dozens of scenes still remain to be explored. Moreover, a strong adiction builds in struggling to reach new screens.
This game requires more thought than the typical action game, especially at the higher levels. Some screens were so involved that I paused to examine them for nearly a minute before taking action.
The only weakness of this program is a minor one. At the start of every scene or slowly takes a circular form, closes in aperture to a central point, and then opens again. This action takes approximately ten seconds and soon becomes unpleasantly repetitive.
Lode Runner is not only a fascinating game but also a powerful game building utility. "Generator mode" allows players to create their own scenes. This involves moving the cursor to various screen positions and then designating what should occupy them. The process, which uses single keystrokes, is fast and easy to learn.
Lode Runner is demanding, addictive, flexible, and thought provoking. All in all, it is an outstanding game. The Quest
The island, a chunk of rock not a hundred yards offshore, jutted obliquely from the crashing sea. I waded closer, the water refreshing although cumbersome as it soaked through my chainmail and settled in my underquilts. The shape of the relic upon the island became clearer with every step. Reaching the base, I began to climb, scratching impatiently at the volcanic cinders. Finally I was at the summit and staring at what appeared to be a weather-beaten sign. From the faint scratches I discerned the message "Beware of Sharks."
"What sharks?" I thought to myself.
Turning once again to the sea, I noticed a dozen huge dorsal fins circling the island.
This was one situation I encountered in playing The Quest, a new graphic adventure by Penguin Software, a company long revered for its excellent graphics utilities. Set in medieval times of swords, sorcery, and dragon slaying, this game will appeal especially to those who enjoy fantasy role-playing games.
As King Galt's advisor, the player must accompany a huge swordsman named Gorn on a mission to slay a vengeful dragon that has been terrorizing people in neighboring provinces. The majority of the adventure is spent investigating the wilderness and caves of the kingdom to find clues and prepare for the ultimate battle.
The game follows commands such as "open chest," "tie rope," and "examine carpet," which may be combined in sentence form by using the conjunctions "and" or "then." Certain frequently used commands may be keyed with convenient, one-letter shorthand.
This game uses exceptional graphics with stunning detail. Over two hundred locations are vividly depicted in colorful high resolution. Considerable time and effort must have been taken in preparing each scene. The player can toggle from graphics to text mode, where he can examine visible items, possible exits, and past instructions that have scrolled up the screen. A game in progress may be saved at any point.
The Quest offers features that many graphic adventures do not. For instance, it draws visible items on the screen and erases them after they are taken. A few of the scenes are active while the game awaits input; a cat prowls across a dungeon floor, for example, Moreover, when some items are examined, the game displays an additional hi-res picture of them.
There are sometimes two or even three ways to overcome obstacles in The Quest. This offers a challenge even after the mission has been completed for the first time, which is by no means an easy task.
Priced under $20, this game is a great value. It is superior to many adventures costing twice as much, whether graphics or text oriented.
Remarkably outstanding in graphics, story, realism, and price, The Quest will be a sure favorite of any serious adventurer. Sammy Lightfoot
Sammy Lightfoot, an aspiring young acrobat with an electric red pompadour, stands calmly upon the platform under the big top. He is about to attempt the most difficult challenge of his career; treacherous chasms, shifting floors, pounding hammers, and a trapeze over flames are only a few of the obstacles that he will face. It will require all the timing and courage that he can muster.
Sammy Lightfoot is an action game in which the player must meet Sammy's challenge in three scenarios and at twelve levels of difficulty. After three scenes pass, the sequence repeats at the next higher difficulty level.
The first scene consists of four floor levels with three trampolines and two swinging ropes. Sammy must bounce to higher floors using trampolines, cross a chasm on a swinging rope, and avoid hazardous circus balls that tumble in his path.
In the second scene, he must leap across disappearing platforms, travel atop plungers, and ride upon a flying carpet. Finally, in scene three, he faces a deadly puff ball, crashing hammers, and the trapeze over scorching flames. Frequently during the game he must avoid crazy pumpkins that scowl wickedly behind dark sunglasses.
Controlled with a joystick, Sammy jumps responsively with a push of the button and is easily directed left and right. The game can be played equally well with the Apple keyboard.
Sammy Lightfoot offers an enjoyable challenge and an addictive lure. The game advances in difficulty as the player improves, and the timely change of scenes holds the player's interest. I felt considerable satisfaction as I reached scenes at higher skill levels. Initially, I predicted that this game would be somewhat limited because it has only three main screen types. However, I soon found this assumption incorrect because new strategies are necessary to overcome the obstacles as they increase in difficulty.
This game uses imaginative, high-resolution graphics. Sammy's movements are realistically animated in walking, jumping, and swinging. His electric hair spins wildly when he is in trouble. Moreover, each scene is preceded by a short, cheerful tune.
Simply stated, Sammy Lightfoot is an excellent game. It is creative, enjoyable, and addictive. Of all action games released this year for the Apple II, it is undoubtedly one of the best. Plasmania
Remember the movie Fantastic Voyage? In that film, several scientists were injected with a serum that shrunk them to microscopic size. After being placed in a similarly diminutive space vessel, they launched into a man's blood-stream and attempted to cure his illness.
Plasmania is an arcade game based on an idea similar to that of Fantastic Voyage. As pilot of an armed "sub," the player's objective is to fight his way through twisting veins and clear a blood clot at the patient's brain. This involves blasting away harmful bacteria, avoiding blood cells, and, if necessary, destroying defense cells.
Colliding with any of the micro-organisms, allowing bacteria to pass, bumping the vein walls, or killing benign cells weakens the already debilitated patient. Strength can be restored by blasting enzymes, thereby causing them to release healing agents.
Another opponent that the player must face is not a micro-organism. It is the heart monitor, a clock that ticks down as the patient loses strength. For successful mission, the blood clot must be reached before time runs out.
With three levels of difficulty and two modes for game duration, Plasmania is a versatile game that will challenge players of virtually any ability. After a successful clearing of the clot (the mission repeats after completion) the organisms assume new arrangements within the vein, requiring the player to remain alert to shoot or avoid the correct ones.
This program sports good sound effects throughout the game, one of which is particularly noteworthy. At the start of the game, a realistic, simulated voice screams, "Sirius presents Plasmania!"
Controlled with a joystick, the sub "swims" cleanly and responsively through the hi-res vein, which is similar to the vertically winding landscape in Caverns of Mars. The keyboard may also be used, although it is somewhat clumsy.
It is difficult to find any major flaws in Plasmania, but for me it lacks that quality of addiction that would make it truly outstanding. Although the game varies slightly from phase to phase, each part (with the exception of the clot scene) resembles the others closely enough to suppress the excitement that one might feel in striving to reach a new and different level.
Nevertheless, Plasmania is of above average quality in all other respects. It is challeging, responsive, flexible, and a fine game overall. Reach for the Starts
My home planet, a primary class satellite in the Rigel star system, shimmered like a jewel before the solar debris. Long ago and when my race lived solely upon this star, the people selected me to lead them. Since then we have prospered and become a wealthy, powerful empire. Today my territory stretches through light years of space and encompasses nearly two dozen Rigels.
Countless lives rest in my hands, as does my mighty starfleet, which has grown from a motley collection of vessels to a fighting force that can crush entire planets beneath its heels. Presently, though, most of the fleet is away on campaign, and Rigel itself, the jewel where my dreams began, is under siege. I realize that this planet is now little more than a speck in my empire, but nevertheless, I cannot let my homeland fall!
In Reach for the Stars, a strategic simulation of colonization, expansion, and conflict in a hypothetical galaxy, the player's job is to help me defend my planet. Each player must lead his people in exploring star systems, colonizing the most promising ones, and protecting them with a fleet of starships. In addition, a player may launch attacks against his opponents and attempt to conquer or destroy their territory.
Before play begins, each of the players must be designated as either human or computer controlled. A maximum of four humans may play; the remaining seats, if any, are taken and played by the Apple. This option allows solitaire as well as group play. A game can last from three to 30 hours and may be saved at any point.
The "galaxy" used in the game is represented in hi-resolution graphics and covers an extensive area of space including 54 star systems, each of which may contain up to three planets. Having their characteristics randomly determined every game, planets are classified in four main categories which describe the fitness of their environment for possible colonization: primary, secondary, tertiary, and hostile. Each planet is also rated for the maximum population, industrial capacity. and social level that it can support.
The combination of the ratings of a planet determines its productivity level and therefore the number of "resource points" it can produce. Resource points, credits which represent manpower and industry, may be allotted to the improvement of planetary characteristics, construction of planet defense systems, population service (food and necessities), technological advancement, and star fleet construction. Six types of ships may be built including explorers, transports, and starships (battle cruisers) or quality determined by the technological level.
Gameplay proceeds in turns. Production phase takes place on odd turns, during which resource points are spent. Most of the action, though, takes place in the phases that follow. In these phases, ships are moved to new star systems, convoys of starships and transports are formed, explorers are assigned to missions, and colonies are landed. Next, all combat is resolved between opposing ships. Finally, forces may attack opposing planets.
Like most games of its kind, Reach for the Stars was slightly confusing at first, an it took me nearly two hours before I fully understood the game. The player's manual is adequate, but it lacks clarity in a few places, such as its explanation of establishing colonies.
Playing by myself against three computer opponents, I found Reach for the Stars absorbing and quite enjoyable. Because it required frequent decision making, it maintained my attention and interest. My mind had little time to wander as it often does in other slow-moving strategy games. The game increases in intensity as more colonies are established and more decisions must be made, especially during movement phase. Note, however, that options are available to aid in playing, such as that for the automatic movement of explorer ships.
The game seemed somewhat sluggish when I played against a friend and two computer opponents. With the two of us at the keyboard of the Apple, each had to look away while the other keyed information that he wished to remain secret. The decision making process that satisfied me before now left me waiting anxiously for my turn. Reach for the Stars, I believe, is best when played solitaire.
As a strategy game player, I can appreciate the use of high-resolution graphics in this simulation. Several other strategy programs take the shortcut of using the text screen for the map of territory involved, reasoning that graphics are not necessary for a game of this nature.
Another feature that I liked was that the basic game can be enhanced by using any or all of the "game options." These eight additional twists to the game include the possibility of natural disasters, the solar debris effect, the formation of novas, and the intervention of irritant life forms known as xenophobes.
Followers of strategy board games such as Avalon Hill's Third Reich and Metagaming's Stellar Conquest will reconize familiar traits in this simulation. The ideas of resource points, production, development, and conquest have succeeded before. They offer the basis for exciting and satisfying games. Reach for the Stars is a stimulating program written in the fine tradition of these simulations. Buzzard Bait
On the planet Earth, humans sometimes scatter bird seed on their lawns to attract their feathered friends. Imagine, instead, a world where carnivorous birds gather their own living food--a morbid scene in which humans are snatched from the ground by huge buzzards and fed whole to their babies. No, this ghoulish world does not exist in the Twilight Zone, but rather, in Buzzard Bait, a new game from Sirius Software.
Designed on the Apple by Mike Ryeburn, Buzzard Bait is also available for the IBM-PC. This 48K game can be played with either a set of paddles, the keyboard, a joystick, or an Atari joystick in conjunction with the Sirius Joyport. My preference is a potentiometer joystick.
You begin each game with three ships at your disposal. To defend against the egg-dropping birds, your ship fires bursts of two shots in rapid succession. This is comforting, because after the three pairs of birds are finished making whoopie in the nests above, they waste no time in attacking the helpless humans on the ground. After a buzzard wraps its talons around a human, it soars back to its nest to place the tasty morsel in the open mouth of its young. In this manner, the baby bird grows strong enough to leave its nest and join the hunt.
Not only must you dodge the rotten eggs that are hurled at your ship, but you must avoid any contact with the buzzards themselves. Some of these guys are actually bigger than your whole fighter! Quick, somebody notify the Audubon Society.
Aiding the flock of buzzards are green and white penguins which have a nasty habit of flying too close to the ground. Penguins can be shot, but since they carry no point value, they are strictly a nuisance. Instead of shooting a penguin, you may opt to leap over it when it threatens you. Pressing the second control button propels your ship high into the air. Sometimes this feature allows you to escape certain death, while at other times it sends you crashing into an attacking buzzard.
Every now and then, after you destroy an attack wave, you are given a chance to earn an extra ship. A space scene fills the screen and your ship is cast among a group of harmless penguins. The object here is to gather the three missing pieces of your ship without running into any of the explosive mines left behind by a thoughtless space traveler. This task is complicated by the penguins which cause you to bounce wildly if you bang into them accidentally.
Buzzard Bait features beautifully executed animation complemented by well done sound effects. Even when the entire screen is alive with flying buzzards and running humans, none of the elements appears to flicker. While the graphics are not earth shattering, they are certainly top notch.
by no means your ordinary shoot-'em-up game, Buzzard Bait requires both a quick trigger finger and the ability to make split-second decisions. This program is a must for anyone who has ever had nightmares after watching a late night showing of The Birds. Mission: Escape
Mission: Escape is an Apple version of Lunar Rescue, an old arcade game in which you pilot a shuttlecraft to the planet surface below and pick up stranded astronauts. Mission: Escape runs on any 64K Apple-compatible machine and is brought to you from MicroSparc, a New England-based software company.
The object of Mission: Escape is two-fold. First, you must descend through a belt of slowly moving meteors and safely reach a designated landing pad in the lunar crater at the bottom of the screen. Once done, an astronaut hops aboard, and your job is to bring him back to the mothership that hovers above. Careful though, simply touching an asteroid spells the doom of your mission. On your ascent, you can fire missiles at the scrolling meteors to clear a path for your craft.
After all of the astronauts are either dead or safe in the hull of the mothership, points are awarded for completing the mission. If you finish a round with no fatilities, you earn a special bonus. Each subsequent round brings with it new and increasingly difficult hazards.
The documentation provided with Mission: Escape states that the game can be played either on the keyboard or with a paddle. I find, however, that a switch-type joystick works best.
As i play Mission: escape, I am reminded of Meteor Mission, a fine TRS-80 game from Big Five Software that I reviewed well over two years ago--both are based on the same video game. It is a shame to see a skillful programmer like Tom Schumann put so much effort into mimicking an antiquated game. I hope that he chooses a more exciting medium for his next offering. The talent is definitely there; only originality is lacking.
Products: Lode Runner (video game)
The Quest (video game)
Sammy Lightfoot (video game)
Plasmania (video game)
Reach for the Stars (video game)
Buzzard Bait (video game)
Mission: Escape (video game)