Don’t I treat you well, readers? Instead of another long ramble about how Judge Dredd is actually pretty good or how Batman Vs Superman will be terrible, I’m giving you some of my light and fluffy nostalgia two days in a row. In actually, I’m sick today, and this is much more soothing to write than some element of pop culture that’s making me cross. This is a special Nostalgia Time though, because I’m not talking about TV today. (Though, I can’t wait to start blubbing about how much I loved The Racoons.) No, instead I’m going to talk about Video Games. (Yes. Plural.)
I was pretty lucky growing up. Most people my age weren’t introduced to computers until the PC boom circa 1995. I was born into a computer loving family, particularly my Dad, who was an amateur computer programmer and vector artist. He didn’t do much with his skills, he was already retired when he got his first computer, but he spent most of his time at the keyboard from then on. There was only one catch. Dad wasn’t into Macintosh or PC, but spent most his time with the small british company, Acorn. Starting out as the BBC Micro, Acorn was Britain’s answer to Apple, with an operating system far in advance of Windows in the early 90s. Unfortunately, Acorn was a victim of Microsoft’s massive success with Windows 95, and went bust shortly after.
However, there was an Acorn in my house my entire life, and in that time I played a lot of games. Some of them you might recognise from other platforms, others you’ve probably never heard of before. I’ve included vids where I can, and in some cases, links to flash remakes. Now, with the power of your mind, travel back to the distant past of the Nineteen-eigtiiiiiiieeeees:
Dating back to the BBC Micro days, Repton is an essential part of any Acorn gaming discussion. The game sounds a lot like Boulder Dash, this is because it’s author based the game on a review he’d read of the game. However, he hadn’t played it, and so in action it’s quite difference. Repton is best described as a maze and puzzle type game. The goal is to make your way through the level without blocking your way to the exit. You need to collect all the diamonds in an area before you can leave, however the level is also loaded with giant rocks. The trick is that the rocks don’t move until dislodged from their current place. Collect the wrong diamond or move the wrong object and you might find your exit blocked, or worse, a boulder might crush you. It’s a tight, taxing game that requires precision and some trial and error to work your way through. It’s easily one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played, but it’s also a laid back experience that lets you take your time. (Until you dislodge a monster egg.)
The original publisher sells an inconceivably hideous remake on iOS and PC now, but I wouldn’t even bother with it. Instead, visit here where flash emulated versions of the original Repton games can be experienced completely.
Chuckie Egg will be familiar to more of you as it was on quite a few platforms. The Acorn version is easily the best, with smooth gameplay and clean, colourful graphics. It’s a pretty old title now, but has aged quite well. Clearly inspired by the old Mario Bros. Arcade game, this is a really fun platformer in which the player has to jump platforms, climb ladders and avoid giant birds. Collecting all the golden eggs moves the player on to the next stage. It looks primitive, it sounds even worse, but the gameplay here is still rock solid. It’s a really fun little game that I still play today. It can also be played here:
Starfighter 3000 was an incredibly ambitious game on a platform that was far too simple for it. It was also available on PC, I believe, though it doesn’t seem to be too well known there either. A 3D space shooter on a system with almost no polygon graphics ability that was also free roaming, open world and with the ability to fly out into the atmosphere. This was accomplished by using incredibly simple models the became simpler the further away you were. Draw distance wasn’t bad, but anything far enough away would just be a box, becoming more defined as you approached. It was a lot of fun and in 1994, it blew me away. Honestly, I have no idea where you could get a copy of this.
I’ve had to include footage from the Amiga version of Magic Pockets here because, like I said, the Acorn was obscure and the only vid I could find was terrible quality. This looks about the same though. I don’t even know how to describe Magic Pockets. A platformer in which a very 90s kid attacks monsters by throwing grey raspberries at them, at on point he floats with a magic gum bubble, pedals a tiny bike and collects a very large quantity of coins. This game sticks in my memory because the art assets were just so beautiful. It was a fun game, it had a sense of humour in its style, and everything just looked so good. Another that was really challenging when I was a kid, I must have played that first level a million times, but I still remember finishing it in the end. That was a big day for me.
High Risc Racing
This game is seared into my mind for two reasons. Firstly, because we got it as a free gift for subscribing to “Acorn User” magazine and we had to chase it up when it didn’t arrive after months of me chasing down the postman for it. Secondly, that theme music was AMAZING. I hadn’t heard it for years when I looked up the vid and I still had it memorised. The game itself wasn’t so great, a top down racer with really obnoxious driving physics. I sucked at it. I could just about place in the first race but never earn enough money to buy a better car. Loved that title screen though.
I’ve left Cataclysm until last, because it’s the game that I really think stands out from the list. A lot of the entries on here are dated, or flawed, or early cousins of more famous games, but there isn’t anything really like Cataclysm. The game is, in some respects, like Repton. The goal is to overcome obstacles in order to open the exit to the level, however, the mechanics of Cataclysm are all about directing the flow of simulated water. Each level contains tanks of water (or acid) which can be released manually, or may be triggered by something else. Switches, pressure pads, destructible blocks and other kinds of obstacle fill the level and you must direct the water to the right interactive elements in order to get enough into a tank at the end of the level. This was a really taxing, often unpredictable game that really sticks in my mind as something that capture my imagination and my attention as a child.
Looking back on these games, one thing that strikes me is just how difficult they all are. I probably couldn’t finish any of these games today (or then, I bet) but I spent years of my life on some of these just trying to clear the first few levels. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, but with games like Repton and Cataclysm, they were actually teaching me valuable skills about logic, deduction and solving problems. Games aren’t like that anymore, they’ve largely gone down the path of imitating cinema. That’s sad, but at least I can still go play Repton.