GEK Collection CD
Dafyd McFlanders and Toby Mackenzie get nostalgic with this latest games collection from APDL and ProAction.
It's not often that we have the opportunity to review a new games release in RISC World, but when we do it's nice - even if that games release happens to contain a number of games which form part of the software libraries of individuals associated with RISC World. As such, to ensure impartiality, this review of the GEK Collection CD-ROM is formed from three reviews originally published in Archimedes World, then a roundup follows at the end.
Within Emotions, you play a character called Henky Penky who is a rather plain sort of guy. One morning, he wakes up, looks in the mirror, and decides to do something about his problem. His search for emotions leads him towards great danger, mortal combat, bizarre monsters, weird puzzles and stacks of midgets.
On loading the game, a nice colourful animation is displayed. It lasts for quite a while, showing how Henky Penky wakes up in the morning and sets about searching for emotions. This may of course be skipped past if you so require. All of the graphics have that comical effect, which I like very much. However, it is unfortunate that the introductory graphics are so much better than those in the actual game.
When the introduction has finished, the main menu is displayed. Moving the mouse scrolls down a list of six options which can be selected by clicking Select when Henky Penky is pointing a gun at it. The six options are; play the game, skip to a level using a password, set the preferences, view the high score table, receive basic help on a number of subjects (including what the keyboard controls are for the game) and quit back to the desktop.
The preferences option allows you to set Emotions up to your specific requirements. Options include; turn on-screen instructions on or off, set the volume levels of sound effects and music, switch between a stereo or mono output from the speakers, set the screen resolution, alter the key controls, and set the levels of blood which pour from either the bizarre monsters or yourself (useful if you wish to tame the game down to suit a younger audience). This is a relatively good range of preferences which can be set for a game such as Emotions.
Behind the fancy introduction and the smooth menu of options lurks a less impressive game. The graphics are not particularly inspiring and could benefit from enhancement. However, to accommodate for this loss, there are also a number of good quality sound effects which help contribute to the game play. Along your travels, you come across many weird and wonderful things spiky haired and fire breathing monsters, chainsaws and guns which you can use as weapons to defend yourself, and sticks of dynamite to blow your way through the obstructing walls. The comical appearance stops you from losing interest, but the overall quality of the in game graphics are no better than of what Id expect from a shareware game.
On a better note, Im glad to see that Henky Penky is very easy to control. Far too often do I find characters in platformers that move too quickly making them harder to control. GEK have got this right, which is a major plus point I feel.
Henky Penky getting used to his world
As Im sure youve gathered, I have mixed thoughts about Emotions. I believe that GEK have put too much effort into the introduction of the game, and not enough in the graphical areas of the game play. However, the control aspects are perfect, and I cannot fault them in the slightest. I feel the price is a little too high, and Emotions is nothing new, which the Acorn games market could seriously benefit from. But... generally a good effort, and if youre looking for a challenge, Emotions could be for you.
Those of you who've been Acorn users since the days of the BBC will probably remember Frak, a relatively quiet release from Ardleigh Green Road based Aardvark Software. (I went to visit where they were based, and found it all happened from a flat above a doctors surgery in Honchurch!). With Frak!, GEK and ProAction have come together to bring the game up to the modern day standards, whilst maintaining the original look and feel of the classic.
Frak!: the game which sent a whole nation of BBC Micro users to work... late...
Frak! is a 2D platformer. The basic idea of the game is to travel from level to level by collecting a certain amount of keys. However, do not be put off Frak! yet - gameplay is not as easy as it sounds. While collecting the keys, you need to be aware of a number of things: flying knives and hot air balloons which kill you if you come in contact with them; cute but deadly animals which dont move, but love getting in your way; and fading light which can only be cured by you collecting light bulbs. And to top it all off? Crystals need to be collected for bonuses, clever moves need to be performed so that you dont fall off the platforms, and youre equipped with one weapon only. A yo-yo! Surprisingly enough, it has the power to kill the Gribblers, and knock the flying knives and balloons for six.
The in-game music and sound effects really give the game some lift. Although fairly basic, the effects are meaningful, and symbolise the actions extremely well.
If I still havent whet your appetite, Frak!s user-interface is extremely stylish and easy to use. It consists of six buttons which allow you to: play the game, set sound and in-game music levels, design your own set of levels, customise the control keys, and view the hi-score table. Its nice to see that when you customise the control keys, they stay customised until you decide to customise them again (no matter how many times you quit and re-start the game) - a feature which seems almost non-existent in any other game Ive seen.
Unlike many level editors in games, Frak! is particularly easy to use - youre given the items to place in your customised level, and all you have to do is decide where to put them. I particularly like the test level facility, allowing you to try before you buy, if you get what I mean.
Ive spoken quite highly of Frak! so far, and to be honest, I cant say much bad about it. However, I would like to see more sets of levels supplied with the game, and a manual explaining the game in some detail - theres no file on the disc, nor printed documentation contained within the Frak! folder (except for brief notes on installation, default control keys, and loading instructions).
To finish, Frak! is fun for all the family, and for the amount ProAction are asking for it, its definitely a must have game. Theres even something for those of you out there who still own BBC computers - ProAction are selling the original 8-bit version as well! What more can we ask for? Keep the conversions coming, ProAction...
Joust is one of those games which Acorn users have had access to for some years. Superior Software released a version for the BBC Micro back in 1985, and although some versions have been a little too close to the original for comfort to the main most versions have had their own identifying features.
The aim of the game is still to go through screen after screen jousting your opponents off of their ostriches, causing them to fall off - but to add an extra element you must now pick the gladiator up before he recovers, otherwise hell be caught by another ostrich and hence be back in your pursuit. However, GEKs version adds some rather nice graphical touches, including gradual fades to black and nice graduated backdrops.
Additionally, should you find the in-game music annoying you can play a CD of your own choice through the game (which will automatically detect if a CD is playing) meaning that you can be jousting to the sounds of the Mortal Kombat theme tune ... great!
As far as gameplay goes, Joust is a consistent game where you joust people on ostriches, and do little more. Unfortunately, thats about the main idea of the game and thats why it gets boring after a little while. Despite the addition of various stages, and short but meaningful sounds, Joust doesnt have many built-in incentives to drive you towards completing level after level; hence very little atmosphere is built.
Euroblast is, quite simply, space invaders. Weve had versions of Space Invaders on past magazine cover discs, Beeb users have had five, six or maybe more different interpretations of it over the years.
The aim of Euroblast is to survive through waves of increasingly hard aliens which take progressively more hits to destroy. Initially, the game is slow to get into but as you play further and further the levels become much more hectic. There dont seem to be any ways of souping up your firepower, or any special features, but the trademark GEK high-resolution graphics are there; waiting for you.
Euroblaster has a catchy tune running alongside the title page, to get you into the game and then build atmosphere as youre playing the game. This worked wonders for me, as in no time I achieved a score of 70,000 and level 15. The sound effects are minimal, but adequate, and seem to depict exactly how I would imagine an alien-ridden landscape to sound.
The title page for EuroBlaster... shoot-em-up mayhem is just around the corner!
To conclude, I found Euroblaster great fun to play and a good way of losing hours in the day. After all, if you cant spend minutes ... hours ... days playing a game on your Acorn before doing work; what else can you do?
Balloon Invaders, No Windows, AstroSmash and Joop
In addition to the four commercial titles, this CD-ROM also includes Balloon Invaders, No Windows, Astro Smash and Joop; various freeware titles developed by GEK within a variety of different genres. Given that this CD-ROM is targeted exclusively at users of machines with RISC OS 3.5 or later, all of the patches to enhance the games for the faster machines have been applied, and No Windows particularly looks quite impressive.
Balloon Invaders and Astro Smash are variants on a similar theme - you essentially have to shoot something, or stop something from getting shot. No Windows requires that you blast the Windows logos out of the sky, and Joop is an attractive little platform game which is deceptively simple in appearance - even now, three years after having first played it, I've yet to progress much further.
One of the major criticisms applied to Emotions upon its original release was the price: it was rather expensive for what was, at that time, a run of the mill platform game. Frak, Joust and EuroBlaster were each pretty well received, but if you had've bought all of the titles at their original prices it would have set you back just short of £50.
With this new release, APDL and ProAction have brought together four commercial titles, plus for the sake of completeness the four public domain offerings, all for a little under £10. At a price of approximately £1.25 a game (or £2.50 when you only count the commercial offerings) what you have here is a good software selection at a fraction of its original cost. For my money, that's got to be worth considering!
Special Offer - See the Index page for a Reader's Offer on the GEK CD.
Dafyd McFlanders was games editor at Archimedes World, until his retirement at the age of 21. He currently lives by the seaside, in the hope that his ex-girlfriend will wish to join him in holy matrimony. Toby Mackenzie was the owner of Bajorasoft, and has recently spent time developing his career in the radio field. He lives near to The Data Store, and used to work there.