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Saturday, 15 January 2011

Ocean Software - Classic Games


Ocean Software were massive back in the day... and despite USGOLD, Gremlin and Codemasters chomping at the bit, the Manchester based firm held strong, and became one of the biggest publishers across Europe.

It seemed Ocean could do no wrong, John woods and David Ward, the founders of Ocean Software in 1984, produced some amazing games, and were largely responsible for one of the best original games ever conceived in 'Head over Heels'.

However; their games were mostly movie and arcade based conversions, with the likes of Paramount, Orion, Caroloco and DC Comics in on the act. Back then, Ocean were sleeping with everyone... and they must have been good, because Arcade giants the likes of Konami, Taito and Data East allowed them to convert games such as Arkanoid, Renegade, Chase HQ and Dragon ninja onto our beloved 8-bits.

Today, Ocean are but a distant memory, long swallowed and digested by Atari Inc. But that doesn't mean we can't still delight in some of the best games ever made. So without further ado, below is a list of not only their finest games, but the system it was best played on.

Addams Family:
Year: 1992

The Adams Family is a platform based game, and widely regarded as one of the best for the 8-bit computers. All three versions received a brilliantly programmed game for their respective system, with Amstrad Action awarding The Addams Family 'Master Game' status, and a lofty score of 97%. Your Sinclair awarded the game 83% and Commodore Format a 'Corker'. This one's a draw, and a fine example of how platformers should have been programmed back in the day.  

Arkanoid:
Year: 1987

You must pilot what remains of the mothership Arkanoid. Trapped in space, you must now find a way home. You basically have to bounce a ball against and around the colourful blocks in order to destroy them, and escape. It's basically a break out clone, but this time crammed with weapons of mass destruction, and lots of bad guys. There are around thirty three levels in total, music is authentic, and the whole thing stays true to the arcade. The Amstrad version would be the clear winner, if it were not for the occasional drop in frame rate, the Speccy doesn't appear to have frame rate issues, but does suffer from hit and miss collision detection on later levels... and not having a colour palette to support such a game hinders the experience. The C64 version is simply perfect, speed is excellent and the music some of the best I've heard on the system. The C64 is the winner!

Batman:
Year: 1986

Batman's first adventure on the 8-bits got off to a great start, and is up there as one of the greats. The C64 didn't get a release, but the MSX, Speccy and Amstrad CPC all play as good as the next. The Amstrad version looks the prettier of the bunch, and wins only on aesthetics. The MSX and Speccy owners should be equally proud of their versions.

Batman, the movie:
Year: 1989

My god, where on earth do I start with this one? All three versions are flipping excellent. The Speccy lacks colour, but makes up for it in every other area. The C64 is basically more of the same, but coloured in, with the amstrad version following suit. The Amstrad and Speccy both feature great spot effects and music, and the C64 as ever sounds a thing of beauty. I'm gonna have to go for the Amstrad, no C64 version, no Speccy version... sod it, its another draw.

Chase HQ:
Year: 1989

One of the best arcade racers finally made it to the home. The Speccy version is probably the best arcade conversion ever, and the Amstrad version a herculean effort also. The C64 version, although passable, is a real let down and should have been ten times better. The Amstrad has speed, colour and speech, but no music. The Speccy has speed, music and speech, but hardly any colour. I'm gonna go with the Amstrad version, only out of personal choice... the Speccy version is easily just as good.

Cobra:
Year: 1986

Cobra is the cure in the Speccy version, but unfortunately dies a horrible death on both the CPC and C64 versions. It's not like they haven't tried, the graphics look ok, the sound is good, but somehow the game play has been lost in translation. On the speccy, it's a great game to kill a few hours, and you'll keep coming back for more. The plot, level design and main character just shouldn't work, but somehow they all mix together and create one of the speccy's great games.

Donkey Kong:
Year: 1986
  
Arcade conversions don't come much better than Donkey Kong. It was one of the first platform and ladders style game to hit the arcades. The home conversions were all faithful, but the Amstrad CPC is easily the clear winner, and looks and plays just as good as the arcade original.   

Combat School:
Year: 1987

Combat School was basically Track & Field for men. You can play against the computer, or against a mate. You then have to beat them in a series of grueling events in order to move onto the next challenge. It's fast, relentless and possibly more tiring on the arms and trigger finger than anything the Wii could throw at you. There's music throughout, and the events consist of an obstacle course, a shooting range, iron man race, arm wrestling, and a show down with your instructor. Beat him and it's onto the final mission. All versions are great, but the C64 wins it, by an arm wrestle.

 Dragon Ninja:
Year: 1988

The Amstradblocky, but in a good way. The C64 version features big detailed graphics with smooth animation and good use of colour, and good scrolling. The Speccy version looks the worst of the three, but still holds its own in the scrolling and detail department. It's not a great game, but it isn't a bad 'en either. All three versions have their problems. But if a quick tear down will suffice, Dragon Ninja might just be up your street. This one's another draw.

Gryzor:
Year: 1987

 Infiltrate the alien headquarters, brave force fields, and bring down the invaders with murder and genocide. This excellent shoot 'em up is not just another run and gun affair, it's singled out because of its level design, graphics and unrelenting action. It's one of the finest arcade conversions that the 8-bits have ever seen. The Speccy version is excellent, and features full scrolling, as does the C64. However; you have to use the joystick and press the space bar to jump in both versions, frustrating to say the least, but you do get used to it. The Amstrad version has the better looks, and better control system, but lacks scrolling in favour of a flick screen. Despite this, it still gives a fantastic gaming experience. Anyway, all three versions are great, and I declare this one a draw!
 
Operation Wolf:
Year: 1988

This was one of the first on rail shooters that featured a story. You basically had to shoot your way through six levels of carnage whilst attempting to rescue five hostages. The C64 version brought the arcade experience home nicely. It moved at a slower pace compared to the other home conversions, but featured ultra smooth scrolling. The music and sound is at its usual high, but unfortunately the graphics were lost somewhat in the translation. I also noticed that bullets would sometimes pass straight through an enemy, despite having him directly in the cross air. The Speccy version, like the Amstrad, features better detailed graphics, but without the colour of the CPC. The music and sound is awesome for these machines, and the pace of the game is electrifying. Controls are tight, but the Speccy version does experience an ever so slight slowdown when the screen fills. The CPC wins this round, as the CPC version not only has the pace, but a high level of detail with an extensive range of colours.

Head over Heels:
Year: 1987

The Blacktooth Empire are an evil race. They have enslaved four worlds and captured Head and Heels. Our heroes must find a way to escape, and rescue the oppressed from certain disaster. The good news, all three versions received a fabulous adventure, with the Speccy and CPC version looking the more polished. Regardless of the system, you'll have fun playing this cuddly stuffed classic over and over again. The Speccy and CPC draw this round, with the C64 close behind.

Hudson Hawk:
Year: 1991

The movie isn't amazing, but it is watchable. However; the game is a completely different animal, and when I say different, I mean brilliant. You play as Hudson Hawk, a cat burglar who has just finished from a long stretch in prison. Now you're out, and on the straight and narrow, until a friend of yours is kidnapped by the mob. Against your will, you must steal some of the worlds most expensive art, in order to win back your pal. The CPC version features smooth scrolling, and detailed sprites, albeit everything moves really slow. For some unknown reason the graphics are finished in blue, and the screen tiny. The Speccy version doesn't scroll, instead the screen flicks. The sprites, animation and pace of the game are electric though, and it really is a joy to play. The winner though, is the C64... fast colourful graphics, with smooth animation and silky smooth scrolling. All versions are fun to play, but the C64 version should be the one you look to first. 


Next Up! Pang:
Year: 1990
      

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