Do you like big blocky pixels? Do you like garish colours? Do you like weak space-bars? If the answer to these three questions is yes, then boy do I have the microcomputer for you! Welcome dear friends to the wonder that is the Amstrad CPC 464.
While I was tapping away at my Acorn Electron’s oh-so-tactile keys, my uncle was beating the crap out of his Amstrad. He broke the space bar during one particularly infuriating game of Emlyn Hughes’ International Soccer – it still worked if you pushed it in the right way, but it didn’t sit right and couldn’t be relied on in a crisis. After a while, he moved on to pastures 16-bit, and he called me up and offered me his old Amstrad CPC. His offer was met with tears of joy (that’s right Speccy/C64 fans, TEARS OF JOY) and an emphatic yes.
I also inherited a big box of games (mostly originals if I remember correctly, piracy fans) and in amongst that box were a number of gems. Here are a few of my favourites:
Let’s face it, this was a schoolboy’s dream when it came out: naughty box-art courtesy of page 3 model Maria Whittaker and all the blood and guts the 8-bit micros could handle. I’ll never forget the first time I saw my uncle hack a guys head off, giggling with delight at the goblin that comes on to drag away the corpse and boot the head off-screen. Pure gaming gold.
This game should have been great in two-player. Unfortunately, in the absence of a no roll treaty, every match would descend into a gymnastics display as both players constantly gambol across the screen in order to avoid the inconvenience of actually hitting each other. This game was obviously designed well before the word ‘balancing’ was introduced into a developer’s vocabulary. Who in their right mind would make a game where rolling and kicking are the players most useful techniques? It’s testament to what Barbarian does right that such a glaring flaw can be overlooked.
Barry McGuigan’s World Championship Boxing
This is my favourite Amstrad game by some distance. I like it so much that every time I hear the music a sloppy grin plasters itself all over my mug. Creating a boxer and marshalling his meteoric rise through the ranks was compelling and rewarding, well ahead of its time. You could define your boxer’s style (dancer, slugger, bulldog etc.) and then refine his abilities by training in different areas between bouts.
The fighting itself is quite strategic; it’s very easy to punch yourself out early, depleting your endurance and causing your boxer to become sluggish and start using his face to soak up your opponent’s blows like a sponge. Instead, if you read your opponent and only throw punches when they are guaranteed to land, you will make short work of the early boxers. Defeating the champ himself is another matter entirely.
Rampage‘s premise is brilliant in its simplicity. Turning the standard good vs. evil plot on its head by casting you as the rampaging monster, you score points by destroying as many cities and eating as many humans as you possibly can. Featuring superb co-operative game play, the Amstrad version loses out a little in its execution (I actually preferred my friend’s ZX Spectrum version), but is still great fun. Like all good co-op games (see Double Dragon, or Gauntlet on a stun level), it’s only a matter of time before you are duking it out with each other for the rights to grab the best pick-ups (or juiciest humans).
Out of all these games, West Bank‘s gameplay – lifted wholesale from the coin-op Bank Panic – is easily the most timeless. You are a bank teller faced with three doors, as they open, you could be greeted by one of three different people: a robber, a civilian, or a fellow with a predilection for hats. Game play is simple: shoot the robbers, shoot the hats (shoot them all and you will reveal a bonus or a bomb – no prizes for guessing which you should shoot here) and protect the civilians and their money. Once you have received a deposit from each of the twelve doors it’s on to the next level.
Incidentally, West Bank recently received an iPhone/iPod Touch update in the form of West Bang (see what they did there?).
Match Day 2
Match Day 2 and Emlyn Hughes International Soccer served as catalysts for my burgeoning passion for football during the late eighties. Despite Emlyn’s ability to edit player names, its Ritman and Drummond’s vision of the beautiful game that graces this list thanks to its introduction of ball physics (I kid you not) to the genre.
The game had a unique system that would enable the ball to bounce off of players depending on the ball’s direction and the players momentum. It doesn’t sound like much, but it really added to the experience. It was now possible to chest the ball to control it, or put your striker through on goal with a glancing header, or bobble the ball over the goal-line with your scrotum Lineker-style.
Going back to it now with rose-tinted spectacles holstered, reveals a game that feels sluggish, and the constantly fluctuating power bar seems archaic, but my fond memories of being huddled over the amstrads cursor keys remain.
I was obsessed with my friend’s Spectrum version of the original Renegade - after all, kicking dudes off their bikes will always be awesome – and this Amstrad conversion of the sequel gave me a way of indulging that obsession in the comfort of my own bedroom. It never felt as action-packed, but at least you could hit people with hammers.
Games are great when it’s fun to control the protagonist, and one of the most fun to control has to Bomb Jack. Shooting around the screen, desperately trying to collect the lit bombs for extra points while avoiding all manner of nasties is incredibly empowering (when it all goes right). I’ve played Bomb Jack on many systems, and never failed to have fun, and this is where it all started.
There were a great many games I enjoyed on the Amstrad (Jack the Nipper, Robocop, Batman The Movie, Skate Crazy, Green Beret… I could go on), so many fond memories that I picked up another Amstrad CPC 464 from a local car boot some time ago (my original CPC was passed down to my cousin). Bizarrely, the space-bar was broken in exactly the same manner.