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Old 03 January 2010, 02:08   #1
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But... That's Crap! And Yet... It's Not!

Hey all, due to erratic sleep patterns, and eating Ice Cream at 5 in the morning, and post-Seasonal sadness, I came up with an idea for a thread that involved philosophy and nostalgia and the ennui of old age and a whole lot of other abstract things which really didn't look all that moving or meaningful after an afternoon's forced snoozing... So here's the shorter, more useful version!

As a challenge, and an act of sharing memories and experiences with each, I wonder what games from the past did you come across which, despite looking to be completely shambolic or just plain boring, did you find actually contained a gem of such pure game play that even now, even with our much more jaded modern eyes, they can still raise a smile and some genuine pleasure...? "Tetris" is of course the archetype, in that everyone when they first saw it thought some variation of "Is that all it is? What's so good about that?", right up until they played it and realised it was genius in it's simplicity...

But it's not enough to name the obvious classics, as we nostalgia freaks have probably played them all under emulation now. No, what are the obscure games that look like absolutely terrible bollocks that people normally wouldn't play, but in fact are actually rather spiffing? To start you off, I present to you....


"Xzap... it's crap, more like!"

Except you'd be wrong, oh so wrong to say that.

Originally coming with the Starter Pack for the Commodore C16, along with Punchy following it (Simple Fat Policeman Platformer) on Side 1 of the Cassette, and Rolf Harris Picture Builder ("Can yuh see what it is yet?" "Nope, because no one ever bothers with this!") and Starter Chess on the second side ("Stunted Chess, more like!" Although it does manage to beat a 30 (in 1985 prices) Chess Computer I had every time... yes I've rather sadly played them off against each other!) So of course, you started with Xzap. And you sat there and waited, waited, waited a monstrous 433 ticks on the cassette counter for it to load. And then! A deep, almost terrifying booming drone shattered your speakers... This promises to be interesting!

But then you saw it, and your heart fell. I mean, come on, after all of that we get ASCII characters?!

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It didn't even have joystick control for that matter, either. Keyboard only it was. Bet you're so glad Mother couldn't afford a C64 now, eh?! Yes, I just can't wait to get the friends round and say "Look folks, no sprites!" But then, as you forced yourself to play it on Christmas Day, because you'd got nothing else for the baby Commodore yet... slowly, slowly, it emerges... this is actually rather clever, and even quite nail bitingly tense game!

You see, the spinning hearts can be shot at any time quite safely. But the boxes with numbers on are actually timers, and as they count down to zero, they raise one of two types of shield. The ones with solid sides surround themselves with a small shield, which fries you; the ones with missing sides throw out huge shields which fry you from a curse word summoning distance, and if you shoot them from the empty side, they bounce your shots back at you. And that's before you get to the levels with Evil Otto's low resolution bastard child coming through the walls after you...

So what makes the game so interesting? Well it's that it really is like a Thinking Man's Berzerk; you need to maintain a constant awareness of your position with regards to the entire screen, and it truly gets nerve wracking each time the timers come around again, when you start praying you've left enough space for yourself amongst all those damnable shields... and it's with a genuine sense of relief that you remove each one from the playing field. And as you can't just fire off willy nilly without risking blowing yourself up, it makes every kill shot all that more satisfying. Even the momentary pauses as they wee machine, with it's early adopter spaghetti code, freezes on each kill animation, adds an almost zen like quality to the game, as you take each moment to rapidly reassess your situation.

It's also rather like R-Type in that, damned hard though it proves to be, memorizing the levels will eventually help you get through them, as the attack patterns, of not the bullets fired, are fixed. I never did beat it on the original C16 though... like most gamers, I quickly moved on to the shinier, more visually pleasing games for the system. And there was always newer temptations still in the shops (god bless you, Gremlin Graphics! And you too, Firebird!)... but I never forgot Xzap. And now, thanks to the wonders of emulation, you too can try it, and tell me that I'm not just a rambling old nostalgic fool when I say "go on, give yourself an xzapping today!"

Now then... let's see some more basic stories, about some of those old diamonds in their own much you've come across! Let's all get misty eyed and silly!
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