Let’s go back… to the days of Informer & Rhythm is a Dancer…
The Last Amazon & its sequel, were originally produced in 1993 for the Psytronik label. Alf Yngve had already made quite a name for himself in the Shoot ’em up Construction Kit (SEUCK) scene, with playable games that often went beyond the usual expectations. But due to a lack of advertising budget, the Commodore 64’s dwindling market share, and a reluctance in the market to pay for ‘enhanced SEUCK games’, Psytronik’s business model was in real trouble. The Last Amazon games were never finished for commercial release. But instead of simply disappearing, they were distributed free on the front of Commodore Zone magazine.
Fifteen years later, emulation and the internet had both helped to re-invigorate the C64 scene, and Psytronik Software rose from the dead. CEO Jason ‘Kenz’ Mackenzie found the old Amazon games, and in late 2008, set to work on improving them. He added new loading screens. He asked ‘SEUCK powerup maker’ Shaun Coleman to add extra weapons to the Amazon games. (The Shoot em Up Construction Kit never included ‘weapon upgrades’). Richard Bayliss (of Sub Hunter fame) added fancy new frontends to the games, plus some music (in the style of Matt Gray).
If that’s not enough, Last Amazon creator Alf Yngve had another ace up his sleeve. He obtained a copy of Jon Wells’ Sideways SEUCK editor. This modification of the original editor allows the creation of horizontally scolling games. Alf utilised the sprites and background graphics from the first Last Amazon game and created a brand new sideways scrolling ‘Special Edition’. Thus, THE LAST AMAZON TRILOGY was created.
I’m going to review each game individually, starting with the original…
“In the early 1990s, an energetic young UNICEF worker travelled to the remotest parts of South America’s rain forests. Her job was to carry out a vaccination program among some isolated Indian tribes. She carried with her a rifle, a bulletproof vest, a bag of vaccines and syringes, and a small shortwave radio. She was lost without a sign for five years.”
This story is played out in a new (seperate) animated sequence – similar in style to the famous intro for Turrican 2. I must say I wasn’t overly impressed by this new intro; I think Alf’s in-game graphics are much better. But the intro does has an impressive ending… changing from black & white to colour, with a clever ‘zooming out’ effect… leading to a big portrait of the lady herself…
A bit more loading, then the game begins. You take control of the unnamed heroine, to save the villagers from the local drug lord. It’s your job to make your way through each level, introducing the drug baron’s many minions to the pointy end of your bullets. A second player can also take control of your trained Turkey ‘Buzzard’ (armed with vicious short-range attack claws) – or you can do so yourself, controlling it in the manner of ‘the cat’ from Wizball.
Your journey begins in a lush forest, and the first thing that hits you is the quality of the backgrounds. The Last Amazon outclasses many similar games in this department. It makes Commando look ‘tired’ and Rambo a bit too cartoony, in comparison. Making your way through the jungle, you come across well-pixelled buildings, and security towers, complete with machinegun toting goons. Due to the narrowness of the paths, it’s a game where you need to react perfectly in order to survive. You don’t have the room to just ‘dash about’ like you can in Commando.
(Psst! Digg.com users – any chance you could give us a little ‘digg‘ here? Don’t worry, it’ll open in a new window. Thanks so much)
One thing that disappointment me a little was the repetition of the jungle stage; you end up doing a large sequence three times, and soon I was hanging out to see something new. That said, the special effects in the areas that follow are quite effective, such as a flowing river, and a group of buildings that explode. The enemy soldiers are nicely animated, and there’s some great vehicles too. The ‘pull’ of wanting to see the next level – is quite strong.
The Last Amazon soundtrack sounds inspired by the sound of crickets chirping and jungle drums. It’s a great fit with the action as you make your way through the levels, slowly picking off baddies in their machinegun nests, and darting about to survive Commando-style ‘rush sections’. Shaun Coleman’s clever pickups raise the game from the one-weapon-only SEUCK doledrums, with a number of more powerful armaments to collect, and an ‘invulnerability’ armour to keep you safe.
But the game’s not perfect. It suffers that classic condition I call SUECKpathitis. That is, if some enemies aren’t killed quickly, they reach the end of their path, and ‘freeze’. This really breaks the atmosphere of the game. I know programmers can’t predict how far the player will move forward, but hopefully they could extend paths a bit longer, ‘just in case’.
Bottom line: If you can overlook the occasional path issue or ‘stuck on scenery’ bug, you’ve got a fun game here. There is some repetition in the jungle level, but this is compensated by some great backgrounds, and inventive scenarios.
“After her ordeal in the Amazon jungle, she left her adopted tribe. She moved to a small desert town in Arizona, USA and found new friends who she came to call family. Finally she had peace in her life… But a South American drug lord, whose drug factory she had destroyed, wanted revenge. He sent an army of mercenaries and hit men to raze the town to the ground and kill her. Now she must defend the town and herself as The Last Amazon … One last time?”
Alf Yngve’s sequel starts out inside a large building. It’s a big change from the first game, and somewhat frustrating, as it’s very each to get stuck in doorways or behind furniture. The Last Amazon is accompanied this time by her faithful dog, controlled in the same way as the turkey from the original game. Besuited bad guys arrive immediately, and it’s kill or be killed. Soon, you’ll rescue a hostage (for a health boost) and exit the building to start the game proper.
Amazon jungle greens are a distant memory, as you emerge into the harsh brown hues of Arizona. Enemies peek out from behind buildings, before swarming towards you. Some drive across the screen, or pop up through open windows. Unfortunately, the default machinegun from the original game has been replaced with a short-range pop-gun in TLA2. This means you need to be much closer to a baddie in order to kill them. So you can either risk the frustration of an unavoidable bullet, or steer clear of enemies until you can upgrade to the rocket launcher. The desert sequence is a long slog… whilst the enemies and backgrounds are above average, the sequence does overstay its welcome a little.
Soon, you’ll take on an enemy helicopter, then star in one of Alf Yngve’s trademark clever sequences; a ‘horizontal’ battle on a boat, despite SEUCK being a ‘vertical only’ game maker! It really drives you to keep trying to get further, to see what other surprises are coming up.
TLA-2 is quite challenging, and the creators have included a few tips, such as: “Hide behind cactuses to avoid the fast-running mercenaries”, “Sandbags in the landscape will stop bullets” & “Timing your shotgun blasts is essential to success”. You’d be well advised to check the tips if you find yourself dying too often.
Bottom line: A faster, more open game than it’s predecessor, but the short range of the default weapon is frustrating. I can see many C64 gamers preferring this game, and… just as many wanting to stay with the original.
If you think this is going to be simply a ‘horizontal’ version of the original ‘vertical’ game, you’re overlooking one key fact. Fifteen years have passed. That’s a long time for a programmer to learn new tricks, and add layers of polish to the original template. The lush forest of TLA have been improved even further, and there’s much less repetition in the level designs.
This time around, your companion is not a turkey, but a native tribe member (armed with a blow-pipe). Interestingly, the instructions warn that “the native is unreliable and may go into hiding at any time.”!
The short-range bullets of the 2nd game have been replaced. This time around, your machinegun’s ammunition can traverse the entire width of the screen! This reduces your frustration, and gives you a much better chance of taking on the many enemies who peek out of foxholes, or fly around in jetpacks, a la Midnight Resistance.
One thing that sets TLA-Special Edition apart from almost every other horizontally-scrolling game on the C64, is it goes in the opposite direction! Yes – you’re moving left, and it’s just a simple example of creator Alf Yngve’s inventiveness. In one sequence, forests are suddenly razed by huge logging machines, against a background of driving rain. In another, you’ll tumble over a huge waterfall, and fall downwards… despite being running in a ‘sideways scrolling’ game engine!
Native animals, quicksand, hostages to rescue & drug lords in helicopters… they all await in this game that’s less of a remix, and more of an inspired semi-sequel. The repetitive levels of the original title are long gone, and instead of a singular narrow path, there are often multiple paths to follow. Long distance bullets mean that the frustrations of unavoidable close-range death (from the 2nd game) are no longer an issue.
Bottom line – My favourite ‘Amazon’ game, with lots of inventive sequences, and very few of the path issues that appeared in its predecessors.
Summing up the entire compilation: There’s lots of great gaming to be had here. My initial fears of ‘SEUCK simplicity’ soon gave way to smiles of delight, thanks to inventive levels and impressive graphics. Despite similar looks, there are enough differences between the 3 games to give you a big variation in actual gameplay styles. Psytronik have done some amazing work with presentation (loading screens, title screens, etc), and for those who still use their original hardware, the packaging looks superb.
The Last Amazon Trilogy is the first game to be awarded the JustOneMoreGame ‘seal of approval’.
Potential buyers have a choice of formats:
Emulator users (like myself) can grab the 3 game pack for just £1.99.
Gamers using a real C64 have many more choices:
C64 tape or disk – £6.99 + P&P
Or – a special ‘premium’ disk version – £10.99 + P&P, with a classic-style clear plastic case (as used by Ocean & System 3 ‘back in the day’).
…which includes 3 free glossy ‘collectors prints’ of the original concept art for each game.
All are available from The Last Amazon page in the Binary Zone retro store.
JOMG hopes to bring more ‘new’ C64 reviews in the near future… if you know a title that we should cast our eye over, please send us a note via ‘suggest a link’ above…