The odd little world of Commodore 16/Plus 4 Llamasoft game ripoffs

Trawling through my emulator bin the other day I became aware of an odd little subcategory of games I had no idea even existed: C16/Plus4 games that are either copies of, or heavily influenced by, my own games on the Vic-20 and Commodore 64. So I thought it’d be fun to play some of those and have a little looksee.

First off we have XELIEN.

At first you may not recognise this as being directly a clone of any of my games, but if you look a little closer you’ll see that it is in fact a slightly more boring version of my old unexpanded Vic-20 game “Abductor”. Like in Abductor you have little people at the bottom of the screen, and there are some pink ships which will occasionally swoop down and collect your men. Unlike in Abductor though they don’t chuck skulls back down on you when the guys get abducted. To progress all you have to do is shoot all the little cyan Os. Game difficulty seems to consist of subsequent levels having more Os and the pink things dropping more full stops on you as you go on. At least in Abductor there were several different “attack patterns” of the enemy ships; in this it’s just a combination of the aimless wandering about of the pink things and diagonal bouncing of the Os, making the whole thing a bit more boring than the original Abductor, which was itself not dramatically riveting. At least in Abductor you could get a fat doubleship after a couple of levels; no such luck in this one.

Chap was obviously a bit of a Vic 20 fan as he seems to have got all his game concepts wholesale from other peoples’ Vic games (one of his others is basically a clone of the old Rabbit Software game “Myriad” (which I recall I rather enjoyed myself)).

Moving on then, here’s another by the same chap – “Hunter”.

And as you can see by “Hunter” he basically means “Gridrunner”. However (and this is a common theme with these odd clone-games) he seems to have omitted many of the bits that made Gridrunner Gridrunnery, namely the XY Zappers and the Pods that were left behind upon shooting a bad guy. Instead shooting the centipede causes a shot to be fired downwards. Leaving out the pods is a bit of a rubbish thing as they served (like the Mushrooms in Centipede) to create a more complex environment in which the snakes could twist and turn, as well as a bit of a threat as they’d turn into bombs. Without them the game just plays like a rather boring version of Centipede, without sufficient actual Centipedeness or Gridrunneriness to actually be satisfying.

If you’re going to go ahead and nick bits of other people’s games then at least leave the good bits in, I reckon. Why leave bits out, especially if they are the bits that actually help define the game and make it fun? It is a mystery.

Next up is “Zonex”, by the same dude.

As you can see upon starting the game this is something that is mostly Laser Zone mixed with a little bit of Hellgate. Crap doesn’t land on the rails and walk towards you like in Laser Zone, so there’s no diagonal firing (with the attendant possibility of shooting your own ship). It plays more like Hell Gate with two guns as a result. Baddies that look like little bits of that dried cat food, or perhaps Spaghetti Hoops, march towards you and you shoot them. Meanwhile a ball of some description bounces around in the playfield. Just like in Laser Zone a counter indicates how many baddies you have left to shoot until the end of the level.

In a staggeringly original twist subsequent levels introduce walls of bricks into the play area, which get in the way a bit.

Next up is “Spectipede”, not by the same dude, but by a chap who obviously loves him some Matrix.

This is a weird kind of full circle here. If you recall I deliberately changed the style for my own “Centipede-style” games away from actually trying to look like Centipede, in part to avoid the legal wrath of Atari and in part because everybody and his dog and all the dog’s fleas were bunging out Centipede clones on the old Vic at that time. This turned out for the good because it lent the games their own style which distinguished them from Centipede in terms of both theme and gameplay.

In this game the chap’s steered things back towards Centipedesville again, calling it Spectipede and bringing back the traditional mushrooms and insects and things. However he’s set his game basically inside a level of Matrix. Veterans of that game will note the scrolling grid pattern in the background, just like in Matrix (if it were me doing the cloning (well, if it were me technically it wouldn’t be cloning as the original is mine, but hay) I’d've had some different tile scroll pattern shapes and colours on different levels. Instead of the Snitch and the y-zapper at the side there’s just a single side zapper (that fires bombs that look like they generate mushrooms) and there’s the clusters of Deflex-bats out of Matrix just straight copied and plunked in there. The game is awash with the usual Llamasoftian tropes of that era, down to the style of the sound effects, level transitions and even the game over message.

And the “S” in SCORE is all stretched.

Now let’s go back to New Era Dianetics… er, I mean New Multisoft again, for a look at the informatively-titled “Droid”.

This is probably the least Llamasoftian of the lot of them in terms of the actual gameplay, which is far more heavily based on Omega Race. But it’s Omega Race done in character mode and mashed up with Gridrunner yet again. And on some of the levels you get snake-enemies like in Gridrunner. And there are Deflex bats in the corners too. I probably enjoyed playing this a bit more than the games more closely based on Llamasoft titles (not really surprising, who likes playing shit versions of their own games after all). It’s kinda fun moving around the levels zapping stuff, although being character mode you lack the fine control necessary for that kind of thing really. Still, one thing I do like about this guy’s designs, he does believe in giving the player lots of bullets.

Now let’s look at “Diagon”, by S. R. Kellet of Bolton.

I don’t know why it’s called Diagon, because there isn’t much that moves diagonally at all, and in fact I felt the game could have used some extra firing patterns, possibly including diagonals, to help overcome the feeling of constriction that pervades the game. It’s very much like Gridrunner (the little ship is near identical, although the grid is grey) and instead of the XY Zappers there are 4 little ships that traverse the edges, occasionally firing through gaps in the walls. Areas of the main grid are blocked off. This is both an advantage (as you can hide behind the walls) and a pain in the tits, since it means in certain parts of the screen your motion and the range of your shots is quite severely constrained. This is where I think some extra fire patterns (possibly side guns as well as a straight-ahead one) might have improved matters a bit. Level transitions and message styles are all very Llamasoftish.

I have to award this one some points for at least trying to add some novelty to the Gridrunnery style, but I think they could have done more to make things better, particularly with regard to having extra shooting angles the better to be able to shoot within the constraints of the mazes, and doing more with the pods that are left behind when you shoot something (as it is they just kind of get in the way a bit).

Finally let’s finish off with something silly by taking a look at “Hoover Boover”.

I really don’t know what’s gone on here to be honest. Guy starts well by picking a good game to copy, and puts a fair bit of effort into getting together a comprehensive set of menus, options and hiscore tables – fair enough. Then you get into the game and it’s a complete and total dog’s breakfast. The introduction is boring and rubbish (just some scrolling text, no more nice little animation of going to nick your neighbour’s mower). The garden looks dreadful (the flowerbeds are just two little mud patches off to one side, and where are the flowers? You could have done really nice flowers on the Plus 4 given that it had a lot more colours than the C64. What are those round things on the lawn? And the black lines to the right?)

Now Hover Bovver was a humorous game in which part of the fun was being chased by the Neighbour, using the Dog on him, having to pay attention to the mower state and the level of annoyance of the Dog, incurring the wrath of the Gardener… I mean if you removed the dog, neighbour and gardener you’d just be left pushing a mower around an empty screen, which would be about as boring as mowing in real life.

So what do you think they did? They removed the dog, neighbour and gardener, and now the game literally is just moving the mower around, trying not to hit the round things (whatever they are), the lines at the bottom right (whatever they are) and the flowerless flowerbeds. You can see they have obviously seen some of the humour of the original game (the dog is actually in there, but only as a thing that does you damage, completely missing the point of the dog in the game; and some of the messages are obviously attempting to be humorous in a similar style) but in terms of their implementation they have more or less entirely and completely missed the point.

I got frustrated in the end. I can’t see why anyone would go to all the lengths of actually cloning a game, stealing the name and everything, making a bunch of fancy menu screens and then not even copying the game properly. 2/10 for effort really.

Well that’s about it for this week! Who knows what’ll come next. But whatever it is hopefully it’ll be fun taking a look at some more gems from back in the day.

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