Retrocomputing: 10 Memorable Amstrad CPC games and a Q&A with Andrew Oliver of the Oliver Twins!

Last week I talked about some of my memories of the Amstrad CPC and I briefly touched upon games. Like any gaming system there were both fantastic games and awful ones available, and I thought that for this post I would look at ten of the most memorable games I played as a kid, whether they were actually decent or not.

Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior (Palace Software, 1987)

I had to start with this as this was the first game I loaded up after re-acquiring an Amstrad. This game apparently caused some controversy on release just from the cover alone, as it featured a barely clad page 3 girl Maria Whittaker and Michael Van Wijk, better known as Wolf from Gladiators. Some deemed the image a little too explicit, but by today’s standards it really isn’t anything too shocking.
The game was fantastic, and very simple. Obviously inspired by Conan the Barbarian, you are pitted against a series of warriors in a one on one brawler.

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Graphically it wasn’t bad at all and though the controls were a little clunky using a keyboard, a joypad worked wonders. The thing that really impressed me though was that if you were lucky you could do an attack that would instantly sunder an enemies head from their shoulders. This was before Mortal Kombat, a game that is widely accepted as being one of the first titles to implement gore into the gameplay.

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If that wasn’t impressive enough, after you had slain your opponent; a small green goblin-like thing would walk on screen and slowly drag off the opponents body. If you had decapitated your foe then he would boot the head off-screen as well, which was just spectacular!

The game was two player though I don’t really remember playing it much with anyone other than myself.

Palace Software did a few other games that I enjoyed, most notably Cauldron (which may feature on a Halloween Countdown in the future), but this was definitely my favourite of their offerings.

Overall this is definitely a decent game!

 

 

Myth: History in the Making (System 3, 1989)

I don’t know why I remember this game so well. Perhaps because it had re-animated skeletons in it which is something I always appreciate.

It’s a typical 2D side scrolling game where you to have to navigate each level, killing enemies and collecting certain items until you can progress to the next.

 

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I don’t know if it’s just my memory acting up but I had a lot more fun as a kid than I did playing it recently. For one, the controls on the keyboard were a real pain in the ass. I struggled to do the things I was intending to, like kick a pot to break it open. I don’t know, I was probably doing something wrong, but it didn’t feel very fluid and smooth. I was constantly jumping off ledges that I didn’t want to jump off.

 

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This game was actually ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System and altered to become Conan: The Mysteries of Time, which didn’t really have many favourable reviews.

I did love this game as a kid so will probably try it out again, perhaps if I can find a working Amstrad joypad. But playing it now, the graphics seem barely better than the ZX Spectrum version, the controls are clunky, and it’s just not that much fun, even if there are evil skeletons in it.

 

Island of Dr. Destructo (Bulldog, 1987)

Destructo is a very simple game that I had a load of fun playing as a kid. You control a plane that must destroy various ships within a time limit. The way to do that is by taking out other aircraft that fly around it. When you hit them with bullets, they will fall from the air and damage the enemy ship. You also have one bomb per stage that you can drop to do some amount of damage.

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It starts off simple enough, but does get trickier having to avoid various oncoming aircraft that will cause you to lose a life if your plane collides with them.

Though I had a lot of fun playing this game, for the life of me I could not recall what it was called. The recesses of my mind  have since been filled with the names  Pokémon and lists of Kenner Predator toys and all sorts of other crap, so I had to call upon Chris Weatherley (The Pixel Empire) and his extensive knowledge of CPC games. After giving him a brief description he was able to tell me what it’s name.

I wouldn’t say it’s the best game on this list, but the fact it’s two player means a fair amount of fun can be had if you can get someone to play with you.

 

 

 

Super Cars (Gremlin Graphics, 1990)

I didn’t really have much appreciation for driving or sports games when I was a kid, but I did enjoy Super Cars.

Unlike most driving games I was used to, it was a top-view racing game. Something that struck me as different to other driving games at the time was that you could run out of fuel and your car would take wear from racing which you could fix up with prize money. You could also could also upgrade your car and fit things like missiles or tires with better traction.

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The game isn’t without it’s flaws. It does unfortunately suffer with some slowdown at times, the graphics are very basic and the sound effects are pretty dire. But the music is fantastic if you have 128K.

When I played Codemasters Micro Machines games a few years later, it reminded me of Super Cars a lot, because of the ability to fire missiles in some races as well as the top-down view.

Nowadays I quite like racing games, but this was the first one I actually wanted to load up and play instead of Ghosts ‘N Goblins or Harrier Attack.

 

 

 

Cobra Stallone (Ocean Software, 1987)

This is a weird game based on a shitty movie. The ’80s were rife with crappy action flicks, and Cobra was far from the best of the decade, but still a game was made based on it, but for some reason I remember playing it a lot as a kid.

The best part of the game was the image as the screen loaded. Just look at the this picture of Sly poised with a machine gun, complete with match sticking out of his mouth.

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Playing it nowadays, I have some issues with it. It’s a typical 2D side scrolling action game, but for some reason I couldn’t figure out how to jump whilst playing. I’m wondering if perhaps the original game required the a joystick/joypad to play as well as the keyboard, as no button on the keyboard resulted in Sly’s feet leaving the ground.

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I did like some aspects of it, for example when you killed an enemy they exploded into little bits, but the same could also happen to you if you took too much damage.

The somewhat strange part of the game was that there were a lot of birds that seemed to have an immense dislike of Sly. You have to regularly avoid dive-bombing ducks, and parrots sat on some window ledges and would shit on you if you passed under them, which would cause you damage.

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Maybe there was a scene or something in the movie that explained these avian attacks, but I watched it a few years ago and I don’t remember anything like that.

Anyway, it wasn’t a bad game (providing that you can find a way to jump, as I couldn’t work it out) but there were better 2D side scrolling games on home computers at the time like Robocop. I probably did waste a lot of time playing this though when I could have been playing better games.

 

Star Wars (Domark, 1988)

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I love Star Wars and one of my biggest regrets is that I have never been able to play the original Star Wars arcade game on an original machine. But I did have the port of it for the Amstrad which was brilliant.

Like the arcade version, it uses vector graphics and there are three modes of difficulty and different ‘stages’ of attacking the Death Star.

The first is when you are making your approach and have to avoid TIE fighters and their incoming projectiles which you must shoot before they hit you diminish your shields.

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The second part is on the surface of the Death Star with the laser turrets/towers. You have to destroy the tops of the towers as well as their projectiles before you can proceed to the trench run.

 

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The trench run I find is the most tricky part as you have to avoid obstacles as well as incoming projectiles. If you manage to get to the end you can destroy the Death Star by firing your lasers into the exhaust port, after which the game begins again but on a higher difficulty.

 

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I showed a friend this game and they laughed at the graphics. Maybe it’s because I didn’t mind the graphics as a kid or maybe because the vector style look a little bit like the Millennium Falcon/X-wing targeting computers, but I still really like the graphics.

Hopefully I will be able to one day have a go on the sit down arcade machines, but for now this isn’t a bad alternative. Awesomely fun arcade port!

 

The Sacred Armour of Antiriad (Palace Software, 1986)

This is another game I seemed to remember a lot about apart from the name of it.

Antiriad is a post apocalyptic game and you play as a primitive warrior. After an alien invasion captures the rest of your race, it is up to you to go and rescue them by finding parts to an Exoskeleton anti-radiation suit that will help you to combat the aliens.

 

 

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Antiriad is awesome. The opening music is really good, the gameplay is fun although very challenging and the graphics are very vibrant. I hated having to go and find the parts for the suit as a kid as I wasn’t very careful and ended up dying a lot, having to start over again and again.

This game has been described as ‘Metroidvania’, meaning it is a similar style to Castlevania and Metroid (both of which were released the same year), though this was apparently released without knowledge of the other two games. It does kind of feel slightly like Metroid, but doesn’t feel anywhere near as bleak and desolate and when I finally got the Exoskeleton powered up and running, I didn’t feel as vulnerable as I did playing as Samus in Metroid.

A truly fantastic game anyway,  the only downside being that you need a joystick/joypad to play it.

 

 

Ball Crazy (Mastertronic, 1987)

 

This is a weird game and I have no idea why this sticks in my head so much.

In Ball Crazy you play as a bouncing ball that must bounce up and down on coloured blocks to change them to whatever colour block is at the top of the screen. After you have have changed matched all of the colours, the blocks go up a level and after you match them all again enough, you go to a new stage.

 

ball crazy

 

It’s a perfectly okay game I guess, but it isn’t particularly challenging. The enemies are pretty weird looking and I’m not entirely sure what they are supposed to be. The enemy in the screenshot above looks like a toaster or something.

As the game progresses you can pick up more ammunition (as ammo is finite), power-ups that protect you from dying, and green ticks which will get you a step closer to the next level.

So overall it really isn’t a bad game, but if you have a total compulsion to play as a ball with a face then you should check out Wizball, which is in my opinion a more fun and interesting game.

 

ball crazy4

 

 

Bangers & Mash (Bizarre Developments, 1992)

 

I never ever saw the 1989  cartoon that inspired this game, but I still had a whole load of fun playing this, and it is a game that has stuck in my head for many years as I never managed to finish it. The idea of this game is to collect all of the fruit, but it is very difficult. You must avoid ghosts, skeletons, hedgehogs, witches, ladybirds and more.

 

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Luckily you can shoot mud pies, which will either kill enemies or at least make them back off enough for you to get away from them. The downside is that it only takes a small touch of one of them and you have lost a life. The controls are fairly easy and the graphics are quite nice and vibrant.

 

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I don’t know if I ever really wanted to watch the Bangers and Mash cartoon back then. I was quite content with playing this game. The fact it had a graveyard,  ghosts, and skeletons made me really love it. Testimony to my appreciation of animated skeletons, I just realised that this is the second game on this list with them in it!

This was a fun if pretty difficult game. I still haven’t finished it, though I did try a few months back on an emulator. And I still have never watched the cartoon. Maybe one day!

 

 

Dizzy- The Ultimate Cartoon Adventure (Codemasters, 1987)

 

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I have talked about my love of Dizzy quite extensively before in a separate post about how the series is one of my favourite of all time, so obviously a Dizzy game was going to feature on my list of ten memorable Amstrad CPC games. The only decision that I had to make was which one? They were all great games but I thought I should probably mention the first one, ‘Dizzy- The Ultimate Cartoon Adventure’.

This game did not hold your hand at all but with a bit of patience and trial and error it was beatable. This game rewarded logical thinking and as a kid I was so damn pleased when I figured something out. For example there are rain drops that fall from a cloud, killing Dizzy if he is touched by one of them, but if you find the rain coat the droplets will disappear from the game as soon as they touch Dizzy.

 

diz1

 

It was these kinds of puzzles and rewards that made the series so addictive to me as a kid as I wanted to figure stuff out and feel pleased with myself for for doing so.

There is little that I don’t love about this game. Though the graphics are simple, they are interesting enough. The music is really catchy and doesn’t feel annoyingly repetitive, and the controls are really responsive. Just booting it up and playing it to take some screenshots, I forgot how much Dizzy feels like he has weight and is a tangible, rolling thing.

 

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Overall, this is an awesome game that gave rise to an awesome series. I thoroughly  recommend anyone try any of the games out.

 

Now, there’s a reason why I saved a Dizzy game ’til last, which brings me to the second Q&A on this site so far!

 


 

 

“The Oliver Twins”. I had seen their name on a bunch of games as a kid. I often wondered who exactly they were, the fact that their original games didn’t specify that they were Philip and Andrew Oliver made me think of them as an entity, not two people.

Just in case you are reading this post with no knowledge of who the Oliver Twins are, they were developers who made many awesome games throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s for home computers and consoles. Some of their best games include the Dizzy series, Ghost Hunters, Super Robin Hood and Ghostbusters II.

For the 30th Anniversary of Dizzy I knew I wanted to do something commemorative on this site, just to acknowledge it. I wondered if perhaps I could get hold of one of the Oliver Twins, just to ask a few questions or something. But in my head they were still akin to some mythical being, like Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny.

Still I knew I should try and I eventually heard back off Andrew Oliver who agreed to answer a few questions. So here’s the second Q&A on The Forgotten Starship!

 

 

Me: In this day and age, I am of the belief that games made today are a lot easier than games made in the past. Once upon a time games took a lot of skill, patience or careful timing (or for me, a lot of sulking at my lack of these things) but nowadays many games tend to ‘hold the hand’ of players, giving detailed guides and prompts on how to play from the onset along with an overall easier difficulty level. Would you agree that games have gotten easier, and if so why do you think that is? Does the difficulty of older computer/console games relate to the arcade where games would be challenging so that people would put more money into the machine?

 

Andrew: You have the answer yourself. Home computer games, often copied Arcade games.  They were the professional games that people aspired to. And it was an accepted practice by all ‘professional’ games to kill you in a few minutes. Arcades had good reason for this, but we fought against this with Dizzy. Arguing that if it took 15 minutes to load the cassette, surely let the person keep playing the game, without resetting them back all the time. We were very frustrated by all the platform games that required pixel perfect jumps, when people just wanted to ‘get to the next screen’. And so many games were so hard. Now-a-days its changed a lot more, we don’t want people to re-trace steps at all, and with game saves there’s no need. Actually we want the player to just continue the story and ensure that it’s fun through the experience, ensuring that the story will play out over several hours, but then giving various re-playable areas/modes. There’s just no need to kill our heroes anymore.

 

According to statistics, at one point 7% of all UK video game sales were attributed to the Oliver Twins, which is just crazy. Obviously your games were well received, but of all of your titles, which are you the most proud of?

 

This was a press release that went out mid ’86.  When we had several games in the top 10.   But, things continued to go up, and we got hold of official market data for the entire year.  We actually worked out that there was a point later in ’86, that we had 15% of all sales, and we have the prove. This was one of the things we worked out while helping write the recent RetroFusion book ‘Let’s Go Dizzy – The Story of the Oliver Twins’.   Well, we have to be proudest of Dizzy, as we made so many games, they were all our own creation and still fondly remembered now.  In fact, we’re holding a 30th Year anniversary party for Dizzy at the National Video Game Arcade on 8th April.  But, our fondest Dizzy game?  Probably Fantasy World Dizzy (3rd Dizzy game), as we wrote it at home, and it perfected the formula and introduced the family and introduced a lot more story.  Although, a few years later, we created Fantastic Dizzy for the N.E.S.  our first Console game, and priced at $50 (£45)  so we spent a year making that game which was based on Fantasy World Dizzy, but then incorporated all the threads, characters, even mini-games of all the Dizzy games to date.

 

I asked Roger Kean (Crash and Zzap!64) a similar question to this, but did you ever envision that gaming in the 21st century would be how it is today? We have high definition graphics, VR, games on demand, and you can play a game with your friend who could be located halfway around the world. Did you ever think technology would come this far?

 

We know Roger well, he wrote our biography! We grew up in a time, when every 6 months a better computer came out. In fact, it can now take a few years for a new console. We always imagined a time when playing a game, was like making you James Bond, and the visuals, characters etc. were all re-active and you played out the story. We said this to a newspaper journalist back in ’88. And he laughed at us, as his only reference point was games like Pacman or Dizzy.  But, we never imagined how on earth that would be possible, because the implications are enormous. Whilst technology has good incredibly clever, we’re still some large steps away from the Holodeck, which was first seen in Star Trek, Next Generation around the same time. We saw that as the extension of video games but its seems many didn’t. Whilst visuals are impressive now, V.R. feels clumsy and only works with simplified graphics.   A.I. is clever in games, and voice recognition and voice synthesis is impressive, we’re a fair way off approaching characters in game and having meaningful game lore conversations with them, that they can deliver looking and sounding convincing. And we are still interfacing games with controllers although Kinect was just getting interesting when it was completely dropped by everyone.

It all feels like we’re moving technologies in the right direction for the Holodeck, which is the holy grail of video game immersion in fantasy worlds, but you can also see reasons why we are many years away.

 

One of my favourite video game series has to be The Legend of Zelda. I think I initially enjoyed it because there were elements which really reminded me of Dizzy, the whole having to trade one item for another in order to fulfill the quest. Are there any game series you play or have seen over the years that you admire or wish you had come up with, or been a part of?

 

One of our main regrets, is having to leave Dizzy behind. Due to the falling out with Codemasters (see book for more details). We believe we could have taken it so much further. Luckily, recently we’ve been giving the opportunity to go and build out big Fantasy World game ‘SkySaga’ and it’s coming on really nicely. But we could have done so much more, so many years ago. Obviously, we admired Zelda, although we were particular pleased to Win ‘Best Graphic Adventure’ on NES back in 1990, by the official Nintendo Magazine with Fantastic Dizzy and 2nd place was Zelda!   But Both Zelda and Mario have really perfected the arcade graphic adventures so well. Obviously, you look around and see Tomb Raider, Uncharted and Assassins Creed have taken the formula in a more realistic, film style direction and they are incredible games.

 

I have had a play around on Pico8 and it seems a very malleable programme for creating games that hark back to the 8/16bit era. Is there any software or an IDE that you would recommend for beginners who want to develop their own games?

 

Scratch and Blockly (Hour of Code), I think are an absolute must. In fact, I believe they are on the National Curriculum now, and I feel this is exactly right.  They are easy, accessible and teach you how to write code and you can easily recreate 8 bit games. In fact, I’ve written Pacman and Dizzy in Scratch. Just for fun.

 

Retro games and reboots and are all the rage these days. I have already mentioned Dizzy once but as it was one of the first games I remember playing as a kid, I need to ask this. Will fans ever get a brand new official Dizzy game, perhaps in a 3D environment?

 

I assume you’ve played  the Wonderland Dizzy   release last year. There have been a few attempts to reboot Dizzy, into 3D, but sadly failed. You can read about these in the book and see us talk about it on the Oliver Twins Youtube channel.

Should you ‘follow’ Dizzy on Facebook, he may have some ‘egg’citing news for you soon, and if you loved Dizzy, then you’ll love our new game, SkySaga.

 

 

 

Many thanks to Andrew for taking the time to answer a few questions, and to both Philip and Andrew for providing us with many great games over the years.

You can find The Story of the Oliver Twins at: https://fusionretrobooks.com/products/the-story-of-the-oliver-twins

And finally a big Happy 30th Birthday to everybody’s favourite little egg!

 

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