2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the Commodore Amiga 500’s release - and as many of you know, the machine was home to some of the greatest adventures of the 16 bit era. While the console-kids can talk for hours about their flagship mascots, Amiga owners have more than enough reason to shout about their time with the epic home computer.
From platformers to shmups, strategy sims to puzzlers – the Amiga had something for everyone. Some of the most important series to date started life on the Amiga, whilst many other fantastic exclusive adventures were just a floppy disk away. So join us as we take a look (in no particular order) at some of the best titles Commodore’s powerhouse had to offer.
Flashback (Delphine Software International – 1992)
If you owned an Amiga in the 90’s the odds are you had a copy of Flashback. It was one of those games that seemed to adorn every gamer’s collection, albeit also one of those that a lot of people overlooked – even though it remains the most successful French developed game ever released.
The first thing that strikes you upon booting up is the visual style of Flashback. It used a little known (at the time almost unheard of) process called rotoscoping- drawing animation cells over live action recordings (the original Prince of Persia used a similar, less advanced technique). What this helped to achieve is a sense of realism that Flashback perhaps wouldn’t have worked without – even today, the animation still looks superb. Our hero runs, jumps and reacts with an unprecedented amount of realism, and it all adds to the appeal of Delphine’s platforming gem. Aside from the character models – the stage artwork is also stunning. The grassy wastelands, metallic industrialist cityscapes and neon gameshows are all beautifully drawn, multi-tiered artistic showcases. You may have gathered this – the game looks fantastic.
The story of Flashback is suitably dark. You awaken having had your memory erased, and eventually (upon recovering your identity as an Interstellar Government Agent) uncover an alien plot to destroy the Earth. Characters you meet often die, and the whole experience has a very sombre tone. You begin with nothing – absolute zero – and have to scavenge, trade and kill to gain even the most rudimentary items. Our hero finds himself having to enter a Running Man style gameshow in order to win a ticket back to Earth, attempting to put a stop to the alien menace.Another point of note is the music – or almost complete lack thereof. The game very rarely implements a soundtrack of any kind, relying solely on the various footsteps, gunshots and wildlife to provide the bleak atmosphere of planet Titan. In fact, some of the only music featured is incidental. This is a good thing, as it all adds to the game’s appeal – and serves to remind the player that they are truly alone on an alien planet.
Cannon Fodder (Sensible Software – 1993)
Cannon Fodder is one of those games that I still find myself playing fairly regularly. And why not? It still remains one of a kind, with little to no similar titles before or since. It’s different, challenging and most of all a lot of fun – and oddly enough strives to convey a strong anti-war message through its dark humour.
Gameplay serves as a top-down point and click shooter, with the player commanding a platoon of tiny soldiers in their quest for glory. You are tasked with eliminating enemy forces in the area (although you are never actually told who they are or what it is they have done) with the promise of a promotion for successful completion. To begin with you only have access to automatic machine gun fire, but later levels grant grenades and eventually vehicles. Enemy vehicles, soldiers and strongholds must be destroyed, although actually finding that one last grunt on a huge map can be infuriating.And huge they are. Your missions can range from grassy marshes to vast snowscapes, each with their own themes and enemy types. Your squad will need to hunt for ammo crates as their gunfire alone cannot destroy enemy buildings, and this adds another element of strategy to the mix. You can fire upon said crates resulting in a massive explosion capable of completely destroying surrounding enemy strongholds – but choosing to not collect said ammunition can result in having insufficient firepower to complete your objective. Surrender is NOT an option, soldier!
One of the most interesting aspects of Cannon Fodder is the constant message that war is not a game. From the title screen’s (controversial) massive poppy, to deceased soldiers’ headstones adorning the recruitment screen – there is always something to remind you of the atrocities of the source material. Every single soldier you recruit into your squad has a name, and the end of each mission honours your fallen heroes in a suitably grim fashion. The player becomes attached to their squad, to the point of actual devastation at the loss of a veteran soldier. Many a “noooooooooo” have been grimaced through bared teeth.
War never changes, and Cannon Fodder is a reminder of that. Even with its cutesy visuals and emphasis on fun – at its heart it is still war. And it doesn’t want you to forget that.
Worms (Team17 – 1995)
Is there anyone left in the world that hasn’t played Worms? Team17’s fusion of massive artillery and ridiculous humour is a strategic masterpiece. It featured an expansive single player mission mode, and the unique ability to randomly generate level maps – making no two games the same. Your team of custom worms (you can choose their mannerisms and voices, as well as their names) are randomly strewn across your generated landscape and your mission begins; destroy the opposition! From the offset you have access to various bazookas and grenades, with weapon drops granting more advanced (and ridiculous) weaponry. Banana (actual) bombs, fireballs and exploding sheep are all at your disposal, but various defensive items (girders, blowtorches, teleportation devices, etc) are available, also. All in all it’s a great single player blast.
But it is in multiplayer that Worms comes into its own. Imagine your friend’s reaction as you decimate his last worm, catapulting him off the map to an early watery grave. Throwing an inch-perfect grenade across the entire map to take the lead. Finger poking your nemesis over a cliff.
Worms is the kind of game that invokes fierce rivalry and determination to win at all costs, even within the most composed individual. It harnesses a type of competitiveness so pure that some games can last for hours. You plan your attack meticulously – strike – and then retreat to the safety of that bunker you spent so long excavating. But it isn’t safe anymore, because the enemy just started digging straight towards you. And in that respect it is also the kind of game that induces sheer panic as your last worm slowly becomes cornered. And now the water level is rising.
Later instalments offered even more varied weaponry and up to four teams on a single map, but for me the originals are often the best.
Although four player Xbox Live is a blast…
Syndicate (Bullfrog – 1993)
Who wouldn’t want to be in charge of a multi-national mega-corporation? Especially one with a team of cyborg enforcement agents? As head of said corporation, it is your job to establish a global dominance by any means necessary. Territories have to be acquired one by one, and you will have to deal with other syndicates striving for the same goal. Your team of super-agents are at your disposal to order around the city, completing various missions as they go. These can involve simply killing all opposing agents, rescuing captives or assassinating executives from rival companies. You also have an extensive R&D department (for researching new weaponry and technologies) – but all this comes at a price. Territories you have taken over can be taxed – ask too much and you may have a revolution on your hands.
The point of Syndicate is to give the player access to absolute power. There are no rules in business and it’s dog-eat-dog. Sometimes you will be presented with a task that you may not like the sound of – but if you don’t do it, someone else will. You may find yourself in the midst of a firefight with the police – a hailstorm of bullets and explosions – only to have the realisation that innocent citizens now line the streets, screaming in the fiery rain that you just created. What have you done?
The game itself garnered a lot of controversy on release (for its time it was very violent), mainly because of the civilian aspect – you could cruise down the street and just mow them down endlessly. This was always going to rub some people the wrong way, but that’s not an integral part of the game and you’re never tasked with doing so. Your super team require frequent drugging to keep them loyal, and this was frowned upon also. All in all this is a game about ruthlessness, and the player must stop at nothing in their desire for power.
Business as usual.
Sensible World of Soccer (1994 – Sensible Software)
If you’re looking for a realistic football sim then SWOS is not for you. Although it features a comprehensive selection of teams (both national and division) from all over the world, this is very much an arcade affair. There are around 1500 teams and 27000 players present!The game features surprisingly deep customisation such as player names, team names and various kit options, and championships and tournaments also. There are management modes, spectator modes, career modes – as many modes as you could ever want.
But it’s at the kickoff that you really begin to understand the game’s appeal. It is blisteringly fast football chaos. There are players sliding left and right, and the ball bends to quite ridiculous levels. It is upon this basic principal that players of SWOS can turn the game into an art form. Seasoned veterans will score past you from the half-way line – multiple times – and will seemingly dance around your efforts to subdue their attack. It is within this carnage that the heart of the game becomes apparent – pure, unadulterated fun. You can deal with all the fineries and leagues and such if you choose, or you can dive face first into a game (and break the buttons on several joysticks in the process). Although its control scheme is simple (one fire button and eight directions), mastering the game is anything but. We all thought we were great until we had friends over.
And that’s the point – even when you get absolutely trounced by the AI – or a friend - it’s still great fun because the whole thing is so charming. Surely this is how football was meant to be played?
So there we go – some of the best 16bit titles of the era, courtesy of the Commodore Amiga. What were some of your favourites? Let us know in the comments!
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