Depending on how long you may have been gaming, you might be familiar with the name Jeff Minter, you may be among the fab few that remember the craziness that he brought to some classic 8-bit titles, squeezing every ounce of power from vintage home computers like the Commodore 64, Vic 20 and Atari ST.
The good news is this, the Yak is back.
Over recent years Mr Minter has played mostly with Microsoft, his work is best seen in the form of Neon the xbox360 music player visualisation he also tried his hand at an original XBLA release, “Space Giraffe” which sadly didn’t find favour with many mainstream modern gamers. That was in 2007, before the world knew anything about iPads or iOS, 2011 has seen two original new titles launched through the iTunes App Store. Both titles have that trademark flavour of quirkiness and behind the purposefully simple retro style graphics sits a mountain of subtle playability.
Now he is devoting his time and passion to delivering a unique series of Minotaur theme retro games for the iDevices…
The Minotaur Project is an ongoing selection of titles that are ‘modern games’ with a retro twist, Jeff lovingly sets the universe for these games with entertaining backstories full of mythical consoles and an alternate Minotaur tinged history. His intention is to keep releasing these games and for a man with over 30 years of experience, innovation is never lacking. Today we are in March and the second Minotaur game of the year is already happily installed on my iPad, to be honest I can’t wait for more.
The touch devices are fast becoming the current handheld generation, the marketplace is a dream ticket for the sellers of impulse buys and the apps themselves need to be handy, quick to pick up and just entertaining enough for a quick blat between real world interruptions. In comparison I have many apps that have cost me more and I have consequently played less, they might look good, but there is often something lacking, something that $9.99 tech demos tend to make us forget – playability.
Let’s look at the Project so far:
Released in January this game sets out the Minter stall with no apology. We are immediately back in the 80’s as far as graphics are concerned, blocky 8-bit sprites that do their job and encourage a little imagination from the player. The title page has a beautiful glow that makes your HD iPad or iPhone retina display act like a thirty year old CRT Arcade Unit, this I can only imagine is partly due to the Neon influence.
The game itself – play it once and you may find yourself regretting the purchase, if this is the case I urge you to go back and try again. It is a physics game, it is a take on Asteroids, it is a frantic Geometry Wars style battleground, this is Minotaur Rescue.
In the centre of the screen there is a Sun/Star (a flashing block) depending on your astronomy, fly into the sun and you will lose a life, fly near to the sun and you will feel the gravitational pull. The gravitational pull will make you shoot faster and fly faster, allowing some strategy if you want to risk staying close to the area of instant death. Of course any point scoring for rescuing Minotaurs that have been freed from the asteroids you shoot, will also be dramatically increased the closer you collect them from being burnt to a cinder.
Did I mention Asteroids? Oh, yes each level is populated with Asteroids, very reminiscent of the classic Atari 2600 VCS version, chunky and colourful these floating rocks may contain Minotaurs. Shoot the rocks and save the Minotaurs, and avoid the alien spaceships that are trying to stop you…
I didn’t say it wasn’t crazy – but it is a lot of fun, there is a lot going on out there on that little screen and at times it can be overwhelming. There is however that good old fashioned urge to have another go and get a higher score, something I have been sorely missing with the overly cinematic games of the current generation.
Something else that makes the title stand out is the subtlety of the controls, while the ship shoots on automatic there are refreshingly no virtual thumbsticks. Moving your ship is a matter of making tiny gestures wherever you like on the screen. Somebody once said “it’s like flicking a speck of dust off the display” and they are right, if you gave up at the first taste it may be because you were dragging the ship around.
Not forgetting that the iPad can handle 4 players simultaneously, if your eyes and mind could cope.
In 1991 Jeff brought his homage of Robotron to the world of Atari St and Amiga owners, known as Llamatron and full of classic Minter references they lapped it up.
In 2011 Jeff has dropped a revision of his classic on top of his Neon engine, taken advantage of the power offered by current platforms and delivered another great game in the style of a classic retro title.
There is no getting away from the fact that the game is an old style arena shooter, clear the room, score some bonuses and move on. One of the attractions of the semi-original Llamatron was the sheer variety of enemies that were on offer over the range in Robotron and there is no change here. After getting a few levels in the player will be assaulted by all manner of creatures, even an 8-bit Willy from Manic Miner, the sound is full on and full of Minter humour complete with samples from 80’s classic ‘Bill and Ted’ and a required dash of Python.
The thing about Minotron is that it takes me right back to running home from school, waiting for my Commodore 64 to load up and eventually waste a few hours with ‘Revenge of the Mutant Camels’ another fine example of how to throw a catalogue of crazy sprites at the player.
Again it’s worth noting the control system, like he did with Minotaur Rescue Mr Minter has thrown the virtual sticks out of the window. Calling his system ‘temporal’ the controls can be anywhere, the first contact dictates the movement and the second touch controls the firing action. It is intuitive and natural. allowing the player to play how they want to without constraint.
Minotron is a worthy and fun addition to the project and given that it was put together in a matter of weeks, the days of the talented backroom programmer may well be on the rise again.
It is worth noting that both games support Openfeint and should you want to be measured against greatness look for ‘Stinky Ox’ floating around the top of the leaderboards.
Classic gameplay that offers subtlety and substance over glossy style, make a folder on your iDevice for anything Minotaur related and get down to the iStore. Then while you wait for the download make sure you visit www.llamasoft.co.uk to find out more about a programming legend that has always dared to be different.
Personally I’m keen for part 3 of the project.