Pick six for the TRS-80. (video games) (evaluation) Owen W. Linzmayer.
Pick Six for the TRS-80
Our Favorite Games Feature Apples, Paintbrushes, Frogs, Mines, and an Outhouse
Very few computers are advertised as game machines, but we all know that more home computers are being used to battle alien forces than to balance check-books. The TRS-80, although a relatively primitive computer for game playing, has a wealth of arcade software currently available for it. Reviewed here are the six best TRS-80 games I have seen during the last month.
In Apple Panic, you play the role of a space farmer whose crop of apples has mutated and turned against him. To combat these creatures, you dig holes in the platforms that make up the screen. If an apple falls into a hole, you must bash it until it plummets to its death on the concreate below. If an apple touches you, you lose a life.
The Apple Panic packaging promises voice and sound effects. This is a bit misleading. The only time the computer speaks (through the AUX port), is when it displays the banner page. At this time, it says only two words, "Apple Panic.' Most of the other games on the market that advertise voice effects offer a much larger vocabulary.
In addition to the printed instructions, Apple Panic has thorough documentation accessible from within the program. This includes a scoring table and a review of the controls. The game can be played by one or two players with either the keyboard or a joystick.
The playscreen is divided into five platforms that are connected by ladders. The position and length of the ladders is random, allowing for an almost infinite number of board configurations.
The graphics are detailed, and the animation is very clear. When one object passes in front of another, it overlays the object in the background, rather than blocking it out.
The sound effects in Apple Panic are sparse, but come at appropriate times. The computer breaks into a rich, fullbodied musical number as an aural reward for completing a screen.
If you set a high score, you may enter your name or initials (up to 10 characters) to be added to the high score table. These names and scores are saved permanently on the disk version, and are displayed on the instruction screen.
Apple Panic from Funsoft may be well on its way to the top of the charts.
Crazy Painter brightens up a TRS-80 software library just as a fresh coat of paint brings new life to a drab room. It is, as far as I know, an original arcade game unlike any other.
Your job is to maneuver a paintbrush around the playfield, trying to "white out' the entire screen. Your mission is hindered by a group of pests that remove the paint that they walk, slither, and crawl over.
Some of the creatures that you encounter are deadly to the touch, others may be run over by your paintbrush. After you finish painting the screen, you advance to a special bonus round in which all of the monsters are vulnerable to your paintbrush. As the game progresses, the action increases as more aggressive foes attack your paint job.
Crazy Painter is a very professional program designed with user-friendliness in mind. There are three pages of internal documentation complete with animation. The game supports both one-and two-player games. If you want to skip the easy rounds of play, don't worry, there are ten selectable levels of starting difficulty. In addition to this, each player can choose his own level.
Crazy Painter is written entirely in machine language by Robert Pappas, author of Bounceoids (see review, December 1982 issue). The major attraction of this game is that instead of being represented on the screen by a little graphics character, you actually create the graphic images on the computer screen. The movement of all of the elements in Crazy Painter is remarkably smooth, even at high speeds.
I like Crazy Painter because as the game progresses in difficulty levels, different creatures are brought into play, thus adding variety to the game. The bonus rounds that you encounter after every screen break up the tension and offer a chance to augment your score considerably.
The one complaint I have with Crazy Painter is that there are very few sound effects. Additional sound effects would greatly enhance this game. It has been proven by coin-op game manufacturers that over 50% of the appeal of a game depends on the audio output. I hope more TRS-80 programmers take note of this fact.
Crazy Painter offers a refreshing break from shoot'-em-up games. The idea is novel, and Robert Pappas deserves credit for taking the time to do some innovative programming.
During the summer of 1982, the theaters were filled with horror films. When I first heard of Demon Seed, I mistakenly thought it was the title of a new "insane convict murders entire town' movie. Demon Seed is, in fact, a TRS-80 adaptation of Centuri's coin-op arcade game Phoenix.
In Demon Seed you control a lone space fighter that traverses the bottom of the computer screen. This ship is equipped with an unlimited supply of ammunition and a protective shield that can be activated for short periods of time.
The enemy takes the shape of large winged bats and demons. Each attack is made up of five separate waves. The first two attack waves consist of bats flying in formation. During the third and fourth waves, you are confronted by swooping demons that you must hit dead-center to destroy. On the fifth wave, you face the demon attack ship. Before you can shoot its pilot, you must blow a hole through both the belly of the ship and the revolving rim. After you destroy this ship, a new attack wave begins. If you survive two attack waves, you get to try your hand at a special challenge round.
Demon Seed is designed for only oneplayer. Until you become familiar with the workings of the game, it is difficult to attain high scores. If you set one of the top ten scores, you may enter your name (up to 20 characters) to be saved permanently on disk.
The ship is controlled by using the keyboard. In addition to the game controls, there are a few special keys that you should be aware of. You can pause the game at any time by pressing P. If you want to abort the game entirely, hold down both the BREAK and CLEAR keys. To turn off the sound effects, press the BREAK key. Options such as this take little time to add to a program, but they make a game much more friendly.
The animation in Demon Seed is very good. Attacking creatures flap their wings and drop bombs as they swoop down at your ship. At times, game elements flicker, thus detracting from an otherwise excellent graphic display.
Anyone who enjoys playing Phoenix will find Demon Seed a game well worth his money.
After Frogger, from Sega Electronics, proved itself in the arcades, manufacturers began clamoring for the home rights to the game. The Cornsoft Group acquired the rights to produce a TRS-80 adaptation of Frogger, and they did a great job. This licensed version is the best I have seen.
In Frogger, you control a small frog that you must maneuver across a bustling highway and past a rushing river. You can move in any of the four compass directions using either the keyboard or a joystick. You must avoid traffic, snakes, crocodiles, and diving turtles. If you get five frogs safely onto their lilypads on the far side of the river, you advance to a more difficult level.
The sound effects of Frogger are every bit as crisp and whimsical as those found in the arcade. The program beautifully emulates frog sounds of the coin-op game.
One problem many game designers face is how to fit an arcade game onto a computer screen. Remember, most video games have screens that are longer than they are wide; the opposite is true of the TRS-80. Rather than squeeze the playfield down to size, programmer Robert Pappas simply split it in two. When a game begins, you see only the highway. If you reach the other side, the river section scrolls down into place. This is a new, effective way to handle an old problem.
This split-screen technique provides for much more detailed graphics than the versions I have seen that use only one screen. Even with the increased detail, it is easy to lose sight of your frog on the river screen, especially when you are riding on a log. If it were easier to differentiate between graphic elements, the game itself would be greatly enhanced.
One or two people can play Frogger, each chosing his own difficulty level (0-4). If a high score is set, you can enter a name or message (up to 17 characters) which will be saved on the disk.
The thing that bothers me about Frogger is that the controls aren't as responsive as I would like them to be. At times you must wait before you can move. This is maddening and results in many miscalculated jumps--usually into the grillwork of an oncoming car and flat frogs.
Frogger lives up the standard for arcade programs set by the Cornsoft Group. I have never been very fond of the coin-op Frogger, but I recommend the TRS-80 version to anyone who is.
I have heard it said that borrowing from one source is plagiarism, but borrowing from two sources is research. If this is true, then Mad Mines is an excellent piece of software research. Mad Mines combines elements of two popular Apple II computer games: Ceiling Zero and Space Eggs.
In Mad Mines, you are in charge of a small space cannon that slides along the bottom of the screen. Your mission is to survive as long as possible while eliminating the mines that infest innerspace. If you shoot a mine, its occupant bursts forth and dives down to attack you. Anything that passes below the force field is restricted to this evershrinking space. Each time you kill a flock of mines, a new group appears and the force field is lowered. As the action speeds up, your margin for error diminishes rapidly.
You face a total of four different aliens, each with its own pattern of behavior. The most dangerous of these are the ones encountered on the fourth attack wave. If you shoot an egg during the fourth wave, the creature drops straight down at you. If you don't hit the little bugger before it reaches the bottom of the screen, you are dead. This is a perfect example of a "be perfect or die' situation.
The graphics in Mad Mines are absolutely state-of-the-art. The animation of the aliens is excellent and nothing flickers, even when the screen is filled with moving elements. One thing that I do find annoying is that the stars in the background look a lot like the alien bombs. This is confusing and could be corrected by eliminating the scrolling stars.
Rather than simply switch from one screen to another, Mad Mines has a variety of transitions that dazzle the player. The graphics demonstrated during these transitions are original and accompanied by sound effects.
Yves Lempereur, author of Mad Mines, did an excellent job of creating an all-around enjoyable product. When I showed the game to my co-workers, most of them commented on how much the style resembled a Big Five program. If you know anything about the TRS-80 game world, you know how respected the Big Five name is. To have one's program compared to a Big Five game is a great compliment.
Mad Mines is one of the most professional arcade games available. It is constantly challenging because it requires both dexterity and strategy. I have a special bunch of games that I keep on-hand to show off to friends-- Mad Mines has earned its place in that limited group:
So, you have just joined the Inter-galactic Defense Force. The recruiter promised that you'd see Mars, maybe even Venus. Your orders came in today, and guess what--you've been placed in charge of defending an outhouse located somewhere in Iowa. It's a cushy job, but someone has to do it.
For some strange reason, the enemy has launched a full scale attack on the outhouse. Some of the aliens want to destroy the outhouse, others want to destroy you. All the while, vandals and squatters are trying to use up your limited supply of toilet paper.
You control, via a joystick or the keyboard, a laser-equipped fighter that can move and shoot in eight directions. Running anything, as well as being shot by an alien, causes you to lose a ship. When you run out of ships or toilet paper, the game is over.
The action starts off slow, but becomes challenging after the first three attack waves have been disposed of. As you progress, the game brings more aliens into play.
There is a total of seven different game elements that are programmed to eliminate you, each in its own special way.
Although Outhouse is actually a shoot'-em-up game, it has a strange scenario which elevates it above the usual death and destruction arcade game. Both the game concept and the graphics are original, and there is enough variety here to satisfy even the most jaded game player.
The sound effects are crisp and add much to the program. In addition to the normal complement of space war sound effects, the disk version of Outhouse is enhanced with voice effects. During the introduction and intermissions, the computer speaks through the AUX port. The voice is a bit coarse, but everything that is said is understandable.
One or two players can play Outhouse, alternating turns at the controls. If you set a high score, you are allowed to add your name to the scoreboard. There are two high score charts: all-time, and daily. The top eight all-time scores are saved to disk, whereas the daily scores disappear when the system is turned off.
If Outhouse wasn't a good program, it would at least deserve credit for being original. Luckily, it is a great program. I recommend Outhouse to anyone looking for a fresh idea in game playing, as well as the hardened arcade addict.
Products: FunSoft Inc. Apple Panic (video game)
Cornsoft Group Crazy Painter (video game)
Trend Software Demon Seed (video game)
Cornsoft Group Frogger (video game)
Funsoft Inc. Mad Mines (video game)
Soft Sector Marketing Inc. Outhouse (video game)