Monday, 5 August 2019

Small Games Vol. 4!

All the games in this post are for the Epoch Game Pocket Computer, from 1984. Also, I'm going to at least mention all the games for the Epoch Game Pocket Computer, as there's only seven of them. And only two (maybe three) that are actually worth playing. Now, I'm not 100% on this, but while it definitely wasn't the first handheld games console, I think this might have been the first to have all the true hallmarks of what we think of as a handheld console: interchangable ROM cartridges, processing power in the console itself (as opposed to being inside the cartridges), and a pixel-based display (as opposed to a bespoke Game and Watch-style display for each game). If I'm wrong, please correct me, but I can't see any earlier handhelds that have all three properties.

The first game I'll talk about is Astro Bomber, which is mostly a clone of Konami's arcade game Scramble, though it does have a few of its own original elements, such as fuel-eating clouds, and a final bossfight against a ship that shoots giant snakes at you. It's fun enough, but it's both incredibly easy and far too generous with the lives: you start with six of them, and on my second play, it took until midway through the second loop to lose one of them. I guess that'd make it great for a long train journey, though? Oh, also when you beat the boss, it plays a little bit of Star Wars music, which gave me a laugh the first time.

Next up is Block Maze, which is an original idea, as far as I can tell: you play as a thing in a maze, and you have to kick four blocks from the middle of the maze to the four corners. There's also enemies to avoid, and balls to kick at the enemies and kill them. Plus, after the first stage, the blocks and corners get marked with letters, and you have to get each block to its matching corner. Unforutnately, it suffers the same problem as Astro Bomber: six lives that are way too easy to keep ahold of. Also, the scoring system relies heavily on a little roulette minigame that plays whenever you get a block to its corner, and you know I hate luck-based scoring systems.

The third game isn't even a game, it's the console's built-in art program! That's pretty impressive for a mid-eighties handheld, right? Of course, there's not much you can do with a 75x64 screen and 1-bit colour, but it's interesting nonetheless. I couldn't get much out of it, but I bet pixel artists who love limitations would have a lot of fun with it! The two biggest shames are that there's no way to save your work (on the original hardware, at least. Obviously in an emulator, you just take screenshots), and that every  time the cursor moves a pixel, it's accompanied by a hellish beeping.

As for the rest of the line-up, there's a puzzle game that's also built in, but it's unfortunately a sliding tile puzzle, which doesn't even make a picture, you're just putting letters in order. There's also Sokoban and Mahjong games (I absolutely hate sokoban, and I'm useless at mahjong), and there's an Othello/Reversi game, which might be okay, but there's not really anything to say about it. And that's the Epoch Game Pocket Computer! We hardly knew ye.

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