Days of Thunder

In the 8- and 16-bit home computer era, movie license games were typically developed either as platform games with a tenuous link to the movie in question, or some sort of minigame compilation, with each major scene from the movie being represented as some sort of interactive challenge.

Mindscape’s Days of Thunder was different. Here was a game that took the basic concept of the movie and simply used it as a basis to create a fully fleshed out experience — one that complemented rather than attempted to imitate the original work. The subject matter — motorsport — was ideal for such a treatment, and, on paper, Days of Thunder was a great idea.

Sadly, less than stellar performance meant that the game wasn’t as good as it could have been — a lack of speed and responsiveness in a racing game is a bit of an issue! — but it remains an interesting proof of concept as well as an intriguing anomaly that broke with the conventions and norms of the time. So I salute the effort involved, if not necessarily the final product we ended up with!

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Ixion

Here’s an interesting one: an unreleased port of an unreleased game.

Yes indeed, Ixion never officially saw the light of day way back when, either in its original arcade incarnation or its home ports. And yet here it is, perfectly preserved in its Atari 8-bit incarnation, all thanks to the efforts of the filthy dirty pirates of the 1980s. Yar-har, fiddle-de-dee.

The game itself is an interesting combination of arena shooter, puzzler and collect ’em up, and I like it very much. If you have an Atari 2600, AtariAge even released an actual physical version of that port — check it out here!

Liberator

All right, Atarian. Are you man enough to join Commander Champion’s Atari Force and liberate the planets suffering under the oppression of the Malaglon army?

Described by some as the opposite of Missile Command, Liberator sees you taking to the skies and firing orbital strikes on enemy missile bases… while attempting not to get hit by the torrent of missiles that comes flying back in your direction!

It’s a fun game that didn’t get a very widespread release back in the day, but thanks to compilations such as Atari Flashback Classics, now everyone can enjoy it.

Castle Master

The “Freescape” games released by Incentive Software were all rather interesting for a variety of reasons.

Most notably, they represented some of the earliest examples of a multi-purpose, cross-platform 3D engine at work — Freescape was so flexible that it would run on everything from the ZX Spectrum up to Atari ST, Amiga and MS-DOS PC, though obviously with some limitations on the less powerful platforms!

Castle Master was one of the last Freescape games to be released on 16-bit platforms, and it’s also one of the most mysterious and intriguing. Let’s go for a little explore, shall we?

Hover Bovver

We’re back with another Jeff Minter classic, and a game that I like to describe as one of his most unusual but least “weird” games.

Hover Bovver is a game about stolen property, vicious canine attacks and… mowing the lawn. Playing as the personification of the middle-class curse-words Gordon Bennett, it’s up to you to mow an assortment of increasingly awkward lawns while attempting to placate your temporarily loyal dog and your less-than-happy neighbour.

Remember to stay off the flower beds!

Gravitar

We all know “harder than Dark Souls” is a cliche today. If you really want to show your hipster retro gaming cred, describe something as being “harder than Gravitar”.

Gravitar is indeed monstrously difficult, at least partly because of its “turn and thrust” control scheme, but there’s an undeniably addictive quality that keeps you wanting to play just once more… just once more and you might nail that level you nearly completed… just once more and you might beat that high score…

I may have a problem. And I’m pretty sure Gravitar caused it.

Batman: The Movie

A well-known name in the 16-bit home computer era here in Europe was Ocean Software.

Ocean had many strings to their bow, but one of their most reliable sources of income was movie tie-in games, many of which drew criticism for being somewhat derivative and unimaginative platform games, but which sold well regardless. A good example of a game where they tried something a little bit different from the usual formula was Batman: The Movie.

That said, the opening stage is a platform game, and is so monstrously difficult I’d be surprised if everyone saw the other things the game had to offer without making use of the cheat mode… I know I certainly didn’t!

Atari games, software, hardware… and memories