Back in the ’80s and ’90s, it wasn’t unusual to see developers for home computers take it upon themselves to make “sequels” to arcade games.
Hard Drivin’ II: Drive Harder… for Atari ST is a good example. It takes the basic format of Atari Games’ polygonal classic Hard Drivin’ and polishes it up with a better handling model, more tracks and a rather clunky track designer, allowing you to create your own challenges.
Hitting a thing back and forth across a playfield in an attempt to get it past your opponent is a fundamental of gaming — after all, Pong is one of the original video games!
It’s interesting to see the numerous twists that there have been on the formula over the years, though. One of the most beautifully presented is Broderbund’s Shufflepuck Café, a game that sees you descending the smoky stairs into a sci-fi cantina in the hopes of reaching a telephone. But between you and that phone are some of the meanest Shufflepuckers in the galaxy — and they want to play.
We’ve got it pretty good these days. Even if we haven’t quite mastered true photorealism as yet, we’re getting pretty close, and a lot of game developers have really figured out what is and isn’t fun for the player.
Back in Hard Drivin’s day, though, all sorts of things were still new, exciting and unproven. 3D polygonal graphics, analogue controls, simulation-style handling… all of these things still had to be figured out properly. But Atari Games had a good old crack at it, and actually came out with a decent — if somewhat limited — driving experience.
And, moreover, we actually got a fairly authentic port to Atari ST, too — albeit without all the fancy specialist hardware of the arcade version. But, again, it was a more than valiant effort…
Do you like dungeon crawling? Do you like shooting things? Do you like games that begin with the letter “X”, which are in unsurprisingly short supply? Then do I have a treat for you!
Atari Games’ Xybots — originally envisioned as a sequel to Gauntlet but reskinned to sci-fi because someone in a suit figured that a sequel to one of the company’s most popular games of all time would not, in itself, be popular — is an interesting game. And, moreover, one that was probably ahead of its time; turns out that making it sci-fi didn’t make it popular either!
It also features one of my least favourite mechanics from Atari Games releases of this era, but it’s not quite enough to spoil the rest of the experience. This ST port is remarkably true to the arcade version, warts and all…
Driving tanks has been a proud part of video gaming culture almost since the very beginning.
With 1988’s Vindicators, Atari went back to its Combat roots and tasked up to two players with infiltrating a series of space stations in their “strategic battle tanks” and then, naturally, blowing them up from inside.
It’s probably most remembered today as one of the games Tengen released for NES that was unlicensed, making use of custom cartridge hardware to defeat the NES’ “lockout” chipset. The Atari ST port is pretty solid too, though!
The futuristic racer subgenre tends to mostly be attributed to Nintendo’s F-Zero series these days, but there were a number of other companies experimenting with the formula too.
One such company was Atari Games, who put out the arcade version of S.T.U.N. Runner in 1989, a good year before F-Zero hit the Super NES. Running on a variation of the Hard Drivin’ hardware, its polygonal graphics and blistering speed impressed anyone who was lucky to come across a machine.
Its home ports… well, they did their best, and despite the ST version being what can politely be called “barely passable” I had a surprising amount of fun with it…
Whew, now there’s a mouthful, eh? As you may have guessed from the title, this one- or two-player arcade romp — originally developed by Atari Games — channels the very best of 1950s B-movies into a fun and satisfying isometric blaster.
Sadly, the home ports lack the arcade version’s “Hall Effect” joystick, which allowed movement and aiming in sixteen directions instead of the usual eight — a precursor to our modern analogue sticks — but the ST version seen here still plays well with a nice joystick!
Just remember to turn off Sticky Keys in Windows if you’re emulating to, say, record a video… you need that Shift key quite a bit in this game! Oh well, you live and learn, huh…?
To be fair, there is time for Klax whenever you care to make time for Klax. It is currently 2018, for example, and there is still time for Klax, so I always thought this particular marketing slogan was rather odd. But it was certainly memorable if nothing else, and few would argue that the dude depicted playing Klax on the cover of Tengen and Domark’s Atari ST release of this match-3 puzzler is not a quintessential example of a distinctly ’90s-looking gamer.
Anyway. Klax is one of the earliest puzzle games I recall having a good time with — I actually played it before I played Tetris for the first time, I believe — and it still holds up well today. Though I’m absolutely not as good at it as I used to be. And the Atari Lynx version is better. But this ST version is still worth a look!