The last Inter-magazine Challenge was held way back in Christmas 1986, when AMTIX! (they of the Amstrads) provided some of the worst competition in living memory. Two years later AMTIX! has sadly fallen by the way, perhaps out of embarrassment, but since then THE GAMES MACHINE has been launched and its staff make the 1988 Challenge once again a tripartite affair. Everyone’s favourite LLOYD MANGRAM investigates...
As organized by ZZAP! Editor Gordon Houghton the Challenge will begin at 2:45pm (way back at the end of a certain month beginning with ‘S’, but I’ll not ruin the illusion — Ed). Each challenger has nominated a game on which everyone will have ten minutes to get their highest score. The exceptions are the two-player games Atron 5000 (Amiga) and Match Day II (Spec), where points will be awarded after a series of play-offs. On each game the winner will be given six points, the runner-up five points and so on.
After lunch most of the competitors are still affecting an air of nonchalant disdain. No-one wants to seem too concerned. But the veneer of civilized behaviour soon disappears with the arrival of photographers Cameron ‘look at me not the screen’ Pound and Michael ‘I’m camera shy too’ Parkinson. Chaos ensues as the distracting duo jump onto tables, set off dazzling flash guns and yell out belittling comments. If a CRASH reviewer is again to win the Challenge, as in ’86, he’s going to need superb concentration. First of all, here’s a rundown of the competitors...
One of CRASH’s top wordsmiths, and forever borrowing my Long Word Dictionary, is this decidedly reticent young local. Asked about his interests, all he’ll admit to is role-playing games, intelligently avoiding providing ammunition for the Ed who has so far labelled Phil a ‘sheep farmer’ and underwater snooker enthusiast. (Who? Me? — Ed.)
Game: Match Day II. Phil has won a CRASH Challenge on this 3-0, 3-0. Upon hearing of Phil’s choice, ZZAP! and TGM staff were thrown into despair — unfortunately so was Nick ‘Mr Cruciality’ Roberts.
Tactics: chase every ball, never let anything go and don’t play Phil!
Why CRASH tipsters have to be such slaves to fashion I’ll never know, but Nick follows the tradition with panache. A part-time college student, sorry, a part-time CRASH writer Nick still finds time to D.J. his ‘supremely hip’ IMAGES — Disco Entertainment.
Favourite pop group: Pet Shop Boys. Most prominent office poster: Game Over II. Pet hates: Editorial comments linking him with an overconsumption of nutrients (esp. pizzas). For yet more information on Nick check out his Guide To Cruciality.
Game: Cybernoid, of course. Besides being Nick’s favourite game he’s also won the Cybernoid CRASH Challenge 3-0. Other challengers like the game as well, on their own machines, but showing a refreshing lack of sneaky tactics Nick picks it anyway.
Tactics: collect as many jewels as possible, then dash for the end of level bonuses.
A relatively recent addition to the ZZAP! team the Scouser from Flint distinguished himself at the 1988 PC Show as the most colourful, if not daftest, of the lot by covering himself with Olibugs. Prior to being drafted to ZZAP!, Maff was a member of an amateur pop group which used to make promo videos of themselves. Favourite pop group: Front 242 (who?). Most prominent office poster: Game Over II (again!). Pet hates: Spectrums and Match Day II (ah well, who cares?).
Game: Menace on the machine Maff adores, the Amiga. Menace is a Salamander-style shoot-’em-up, complete with awesome end-of-level nasty. Only one life is offered, but by destroying all the aliens in an attack wave a bonus icon is dropped which can provide extra points, weapons and shield power according to how many times it’s shot.
Tactics: learn enemy attack patterns, destroy last alien in wave as far from right of screen as possible — giving maximum time to blast points/weapon bonus icon into required add-on.
The latest man at the helm of Newsfield’s noisiest magazine (that’s ZZAP!), Gordon has presided over an expert restyling of the 64 owner’s favourite organ. Favourite leisure activity: attending German beer festivals. Most prominent office ornaments: Kati Hamza and a giant fish. Pet hates: software house lawyers.
Game: Hunter’s Moon on the C64. A choice widely regarded as a work of political genius since this is a ZZAP! Sizzler written by ZZAP! diarist Martin Walker for Newsfield’s favourite software house, Thalamus. Hunter’s Moon is made up of systems, each divided into levels which contain up to three star cells. Collecting cells in this eight-way scrolling shoot-’em-up involves blasting through the maze-like hives which contain them. Unfortunately the hives continually rebuild themselves via a cursor which circles through them. Obviously a life is lost if the cursor rebuilds the bit of blasted hive you’re passing through.
Tactics: know where the starcells are hidden, be patient so as not to rush into cursor’s path and either make sure your name’s Gordon Houghton or you’ve practised for at least six months.
Robin C has worked for CRASH almost from the beginning, making his first appearance as a model (for CRASH T-shirts) in Issue 6. Since then Robin has become increasingly obsessed with style and is never seen looking less than totally fashionable. During his days at CRASH he’s designed a level of Micronaut One, the title screen for Sweevo’s World, as well as boasting a rare Elite badge. Currently studying at college for a career as an Army officer Robin now works part-time for TGM — but at least his tips no longer clutter my desk as in the old days. Favourite pop group: Propaganda/Act.
Game: Thunder Blade on the Sega console. A choice heavily influenced by the Machiavellian scheming of fellow TGM reviewer Robin Hogg. According to the latter’s reasoning, a Sega game would be an excellent choice since none of the other magazines would’ve had a chance to play it — but then again Robin C hadn’t played it much either. The actual game is made up of stages divided into three levels; overhead, vertically scrolling shoot-’em-up, more of the same in 3-D with the helicopter flying ‘into the screen’ and back to an overhead view.
Tactics: move about a lot and learn attack waves. In fact, practising on it wouldn’t be a bad idea, PHIL!
Having worked on TGM virtually from the beginning Robin is one of the most experienced reviewers and it’s obvious he intends to win. Besides running TGM’s Info Desk and Confrontation: Coin-Op arcade series, Robin is interested in all things military.
Favourite pop group: Def Leppard/Bon Jovi. Most prominent office poster: Red Storm Rising. Pet hates: derogatory comments about his black and white Fiat Panda. (The only man to add ‘rust’ to his four-letter- word vocabulary! — Ed.)
Game: Atron 5000 on the Amiga. This graphically mediocre two-player light-cycle game is incredibly playable and Robin’s been practising on it since TGM first reviewed it.
Tactics: collect special feature icons before your opponent, use features (like speed-ups and walls) at correct time.
By the time you read this you’ve probably already played CRASH’s Spectrum Thunder Blade demo, but as the Challenge begins none of the CRASH team have, so they’re happy to let Robin H take first go. The headbanger with a US Marines haircut takes hold of the small, Sega joystick with a self-confident smirk. But no sooner than he’s pressed fire than the media pack pounce. Michael crouches down to photograph the deepest recesses of Robin’s nostrils while Cameron leaps onto a table to flashgun any developing bald spots. With riotous ZZAP! reviewers gathered round as well, Robin gets off to a shakey start. After just four minutes he’s lost two of his three lives and is looking decidedly unnerved. Rather than persist with only a single life he resets the game.
Unfortunately just as he starts again the TGM Cheerleading squad turns up with a ‘who do we appreciate’ chant and energetic ‘star’ jumps. The squad, in matching cycling shorts, is led by Group Promotions Executive Richard Eddy. A member of the notorious ’86 AMTIX! team, Richard was then quoted as saying: ‘I just don’t play games — that’s all there is to it!’. Initially it seems he might again sabotage his favoured magazine’s chances, but Robin struggles on, urging the cheerleaders to hassle someone else. When his time runs out his score is a massive 817000. Who can follow that?
While Nick stays in the background, Phil bravely steps into the media hoopla. Suffering advice from Robin C along the lines of ‘collect that fireball for extra power’ Phil’s first turn gets off to a rocky start, and quick a reset (sic). On his second attempt Phil gets to the 3-D section to earn 95000 before heavy anti-aircraft fire from the tanks bring him down. On his third attempt Phil fights through the first section without losing a life, but once again flak proves lethal — 126000. A final go in the few minutes remaining betters that score to provide a respectable 133000.
Having closely watched Phil’s problems Nick decides to give it a go himself. His turn gets off to an inauspicious start with a life lost on the first, relatively easy section. Rather than reset Nick persists only to lose yet another life on section two — when dodging a wave of jets puts him in the way of a fireball. Nick shrugs it off though, and successfully completes Stage One. The bonus gives him 605000 and the TGM hecklers are momentarily silenced.
Stage Two is set in the countryside and Nick skillfully pilots his copter through a barrage of enemy fire in the first valley section. Even Robin H begins to look worried. Section two is in 3-D, with the copter trying to fly between stone pillars in a tunnel. Nick misjudges one by a fraction and goes down in flames, after six minutes and forty seconds. His final score: 713000.
Robin Candy looks distinctly uneasy when he sits down to beat Nick’s score on a game which is supposed to be his own. Nevertheless, he survives a hail of flak to complete Stage One. In Stage Two he doesn’t progress much further than Nick — just enough to edge him into second place with 774000.
The ZZAP! team take their turns next and, despite the encouragement of Front 242’s ‘Head Hunter’ pounding from Maff’s ghetto blaster, suffer from not having played the game before. Gordon manages fifth place with 124000 while Maff takes last place on 116000.
The next game, however, is Maff’s own choice and his first go is a suitably impressive demonstration. Making excellent use of bonus icons, Maff builds up a formidable array of weaponry to power through his ten minutes without ever looking vulnerable. This masterful display takes Maff to the end-of-level monster on Level Three and 119740. Gordon plays next and shows off his own practise with a respectable 102490. Robin C follows with 101940, agonizingly close to Gordon’s score but not quite good enough. In the meantime Phil’s been helping time some other games and comes to Menace unprepared. He does fine avoiding the alien attack waves, but hasn’t quite got the knack of collecting the add-on weapons. The unfortunate consequence is that when he reaches the end-of-level nasty he’s woefully underarmed. After several long seconds of dodging the monster’s bullets, Phil’s laser has made little impact on the monster and it unleashes a fatal onslaught of homing missiles — 28700. A second attempt is much the same as the first, but at least improves his score to 33300.
Nick takes his turn next, and once again shows he’s been watching other people’s tactics. Level One, the Sea of Karnagh, is completed almost effortlessly through good use of bonus icons. Level Two, the Vanguard Warzone, is begun after Nick asks 242 to be turned down. With sampled speech informing Nick of the weapons he picks up, the tips expert smoothly completes the level. Carnage Rift seems little harder, until Nick fails by about two laser hits to turn a bonus icon into extra shield power. Nick bravely battles on a little longer but the mistake proves sadly fatal. Nevertheless his superb score of 102940 puts him, for the moment, in second place having beaten Gordon’s score by just 450 points. Finally it’s Robin H’s turn. He’s reviewed the game for TGM and his performance is predictably slick, scoring the first major upset of the Challenge by beating Maff’s score. His 126390 win on another magazine’s choice, together with his victory on Thunder Blade, clearly puts him in the lead with a maximum of 12 points — and Atron 5000 has yet to be played. But in second place Nick certainly isn’t doing badly either and has eight points through two good third places on two ‘away’ games.
Competition now moves on to the second ZZAP! game — Gordon’s esoteric shoot-’em-up Hunter’s Moon. If the choice seems designed to please ZZAP! contributors it doesn’t do badly for Gordon either. Without any apparent effort he scores a huge 46275. Little intimidated Robin H plays next, but can’t repeat his earlier successes and must be content with just 20100. Maff has never much liked Hunter’s Moon and after just four minutes has to abandon his go in disgust. While Maff leaves for a grumble Phil once again has to tackle a game he’s hardly played. Despite a determined effort he can manage no more than 8000. When Maff returns he gives a hint of how the game should be played scoring 15825. Robin C doesn’t watch, however, and pays the price of inexperience, only just beating Phil with 9875. When Nick takes his turn he loses a life in practically the first second. He resets, changes joysticks and has another go. The cruel irony of the game is that the more Nick learns about the importance of patience in playing the game, the less time he has to practise it. Nevertheless his final score of 11200 is enough to give him a respectable fourth place.
Gordon’s first place here has boosted him to joint second with Nick, each on 11 points. Robin H, however, is even further in the lead with 17 points. In fourth place there’s Maff on ten points, in fifth Robin C has nine points, while Phil trails on five points in sixth position. On the next game, however, CRASH must surely do well.
Clearly pleased with his crushing victory on Hunter’s Moon Gordon chooses to be first on Cybernoid, a game he enjoys on the Amiga. The Spectrum game plays faster though, and at the end of his ten minutes Gordon has to be satisfied with 11800. Maff plays next and mumbling unrepeatable comments about the Spectrum manages a derisory 10900. Next one to take the Cybernoid challenge is Robin Candy. Having practised the game quite heavily on the Spectrum he seems a formidable opponent. He’s decided to spend a lot of time on the jewel collection screens before dashing for the end of level bonus. Unfortunately he keeps dying while collecting jewels and is forced to reset. On his second turn he does a little better though, final score 6440. Robin H plays next and is soon in the lead again, finishing with 32670.
Possibly a little put off by watching Robin C’s attempt Nick makes a terrible start, quickly losing two lives collecting jewels. He resets, only to lose another life in the jewel section. Wisely changing tactics he lays some mines to form a barrier behind which he blasts the aliens for jewels. A huge score is built-up and Nick finishes Level One with 31055 and only two lives lost. On Level Two he battles his way to another jewel screen and amasses 67752 before time runs out.
Can Phil now restore his games credentials? He too makes a shakey start and has to reset. But on his second go he’s far more self-confident and his fingers flicker expertly over the Spectrum’s keyboard. Unfortunately due to a lack of communication with his timekeeper he spends too much time on the Level Two’s jewel screen and can’t get to the second end-of-level bonus. His final score of 63157 gives him a well-deserved second place.
CRASH’s ‘Maradona’ puts on a virtuoso display here beating Gordon 6-0, Robin C 2-0 and Robin H 4-0 to become undisputed champion. Robin H’s narrow 2-1 victory over Robin C gives him second place and the latter third place. The final three positions see the two ZZAP! reviewers, and in particular Maff, mumbling over attribute problems as they see the Challenge going to Robin H. Despite their complaints they still beat Nick, (who considers the game beneath him), putting Gordon fourth and Maff fifth.
The final game is something of a formality, but Robin H is unable to relax and apart from a close game with Gordon never looks threatened. Maff, despite hating the game, somehow comes second with Robin C in third place and Gordon in fourth. A close, 37-28 match between Phil and Nick gives the latter victory confirming his joint second-place finish with Gordon — both on 20 points. In fourth place, just one point behind it’s Maff, then Robin C (18) and finally Phil on 17. Compared to such surprisingly close points Robin Hogg’s victory on 32 points is all the more astounding — and leads to him being firmly put in his place in the after-match photo session.
Next month (or perhaps the month after — Ed) finally sees the return of Robin Candy in the eagerly-awaited The Empire Strikes Back Challenge. Different time, same place and all the fun of the fair. And let’s wish Robin the very best of luck! He’ll need it.