Instead, let’s fire up the remake, and dive right in…
Loading. Ready. Run.
Armalyte’s original “zooming spheres” title screen has been recreated/updated perfectly, with additional textures & a great ‘flaming plasma’ effect behind the logo. That ‘ominous drone’ from 1998 is back, doing very, very pleasant things to my subwoofer. And as the music kicks in, it’s clear ‘Infamous’ has done justice to Martin Walker’s epic intro.
The joy of sticks
Cyberdyne’s game featuring a number of title screen options (1/2 players, choice of superweapons) and SAS have expanded these further in the update. Whatever control preferences you might have (redifinable keys, joysticks) can be catered for, along with viewing options (windowed or fullscreen). If you’re like me and like to see sprites ‘at their original resolution’ you’ll stick with the former, or you can choose the latter to get the big screen experience, with a nice subtle ‘scanlines’ effect.
Sounds good to me
The original game only had sound FX whilst playing – no music. But this technical decision (leaving more processor time for fast moving enemies) actually gave you a greater feeling of ‘loneliness’ as you traversed the long levels. Jump forward to 2010, and Armalyte PC lets you turn on/off the effective sound FX, along with a new ingame soundtrack. I took a while to warm to the new music . My favourite late 80’s shmups (Slap Fight, Twin Cobra, Terra Cresta) all had catchy/cheesy soundtracks to hum along to, and propel you forward. ArmaPC’s new music is much more… ‘cool’ and subdued – but after a while, it all made sense. To go from no music (in the original) to a big cheesy soundtrack would have been too much.
Speaking of sound, SAS’ remake has yet another sonic surprise… spoken weapon prompts! Yes, just like the Gradius series, ArmaPC announces when you pickup the various armaments. “Missiles!”, “Forward fire!”…. It’s one of those ‘high tech robo female’ type voices and again, if you seek a ‘purer’ remake experience, this option can be disabled.
The choice is yours
The final two options concern gameplay, with the first addressing the all-important issue of STUFF BLOWING UP. Armalyte’s waves of enemies moved in a similar way to those in Salamander. The key difference, was that enemy explosions would keep moving along the same path as ‘living’ enemies. This was done to award the chance of ‘flicker’ on the C64 but the result could lead to frustrating deaths. The remake gives you the option to ‘retain’ the zig-zag explosions, or have them lose their momentum.
I am NOT an octopus
The last option relates to the superweapon controls. With only 1 button on C64 joysticks, Armalyte used a ‘tap for fire/hold for superweapon’ control method. If you wanted to change your superweapon (there’s a choice of 3) you had to hit the “?” or “Commodore” key. In the remake, you can stick with the ‘original’ control, or use a second button to fire the superweapon, with a third to change modes. This makes it much easier to ‘switch on the fly’ and the superweapons feel quite awesome.
Achievements are achieveable
Yep, it’s got ’em. You’ll get achievements for destroying ‘x’ number of each enemy, along with completing the various levels. Smila promised* me there’s “a nice surprise” when you get the whole lot, and as you saw in my achievements screenshot earlier, I’m not far off. Just have to kill another 7 bosses, AND convince Mrs JOMG to play a full level with me to get the ‘2 player’ achievement. (Hmm, the latter will be an achievement in itself!) *BTW Smila, if you’re pulling my leg, just remember it’s my WIFE you’ll have to answer to!
RIGHT – enough bloody menu talk.
Let’s start shooting things!
16,342 alien deaths later…
OK, I’ve finished the game. It’s been fun. (Oh, and I hope you enjoyed clicking on the above panoramas!) Once the first few weapons pods appear, it’s 1988 all over again. For the second time in my life, I’m desperately trying to cycle through to the right weapons. And avoid the scenery. And avoid the bullets. But if there’s one thing this remake’s taught me – it’s that first impressions can be very, very wrong. I’ve already outlined my changing attitude to the new music. Now – let’s talk graphics.
Yeah OK, so I was wrong
I remember seeing the Youtube preview clip a while ago, and thinking ‘hmm, scenery looks a bit too smoothed over’ – like a bad XBLA remake. But now that I’ve played Armalyte on my PC, I can see the graphics properly. I’d rate most of Smila’s updated scenery & backgrounds as ‘good’ (eg level 1’s blue pipes)… but some levels are really outstanding. Level 2 (famous for it’s Giger-esque landscapes) now has a superb ‘tunnel effect’ backdrop, and Level 3’s ‘skulls and columns’ are quite spectacular. Even the two ‘space’ levels (4 & 7) are now a lot more memorable, thanks to some superb nebulae in the background (with subtle parralax scrolling).
Enemies – took good to destroy?
Smila’s done an even better job in updating the original sprites. The many, many different flying craft are highly detailed & colourful; the walkers look great, and the weapons have a nice glow about them. Interestingly, (for a game famous for its candy-colour sprites) my favourite new baddies are actually the monochrome ones. Maybe, like black & white photography, they just look… ‘more arty’. Maybe. Speaking of monochrome, Robin Levy’s distintive ‘tumbling metal shard’ bullets have been nicely brought up to date, and once again, they’re quite easy to see without being garish.
WHAT ABOUT THE BOSSES??
OK, ok… no need to hold the shift key. The bosses are all shinier, and more detailed. In some cases, they don’t look so good in screenshots, as it empasises a kind of ‘rendered model aeroplane plastic’ look. But ‘onscreen and moving’, they look a lot better. One personal fave is a mid-level boss that looks like the offspring of a Gradius mothership mating with a pod of peas. Yes, really. (You’ll know it when you see it!)
One of the few complaints I had about the original was that the bosses’ explosions were fairly anticlimactic. Fret no more, the bosses (& minibosses) now explode with a very satisfying shockwave… obscuring the whole screen. Even YOUR final death (in a series of multicoloured firework shells) is attractive enough to be somewhat entertaining, the first few times. Speaking of death, once the main boss in each level is exploderised, you’ll go to a bonus screen. Scores are added up, and any earnt achievements will float around the screen. It’s a chance to have a breather, rest your trigger thumb, and prepare for the next onslaught.
The remake is a bit easier than the original. Not by a great amount, but enough to make a difference. In the case of level 1, there are 3 places where I often die on the C64. In SAS’ version, these 3 areas don’t seem as dangerous. I did a few measurements, and estimated that the PC version’s scrolling is about 5% slower than the 8 bit version. (Maybe that’s the difference.) I must say, Smila’s done a great job in making the alien attack patterns closely replicate the orginals. But comparing the remake to its ‘grandad’, it seems that some of the ‘trigger points’ occur a bit earlier. That is, ‘closer’ to the right hand edge, giving you more time to react. And the enemies move a little more slowly, as do their bullets. It makes for a slightly less hardcore game. Please – note the word ‘slightly’ there. It’s still Armalyte. It’s not Peggle.
I found a few ‘features’ that were a bit annoying, and hopefully they’ll disappear in the final release. Sometimes when I’d died… my superweapon would discharge as I reappeared, despite me not holding the firebutton down. At least I don’t think I was holding the firebutton. I might have been holding the baby… hmmm. Another issue was that sometimes, my temporarily invisible replacement ship would collect a powerup, even though it hadn’t fully didn’t appeared yet. Sure, that’s ‘nice’, but it doesn’t feel right. My other complaint relates to the ‘continue’ menu. It always defaults to ‘back’ instead of ‘the latest level’ that you’re likely to continue from. When you keep dying & continuing, you don’t want to have to jump down the list to the correct level each time.
Something you haven’t read anywhere else yet
As I’ve hinted here, I’m playing a ‘reviewers’ version of the remake, so I haven’t experienced all the ‘extras’ you’ll receive if you buy the official release in April. But now, for the first time, I’m excited to unveil the full list of extras in the retail release: A fancy “Nintendo Wii-style” box, a brand new PC “remix-e-load” demo (inspired by the C64 Delta “mix-e-load”), a special artwork “making of” presentation, an Armalyte Jukebox music demo, a previously unreleased 1 hour episode of “One Man & His Mic” (A Psytronik Software special), some Psytronik Software Promo Videos, AND the full C64 ‘Competition Edition’ version of Armalyte (as emulator-compatible .D64 files).
Time to wrap it up.
Armalyte PC is a great remake of a C64 classic. Visually & sonically it ticks all the boxes, and there are many moments where the remake goes way beyond a simple ‘2010 update’. All the extra options add some nice ‘modern conveniences’ if you want them, and yes it’s somewhat easier than the original (due to changes in speed). Some ‘hardcore C64 shmup purists’ may be unhappy, but the vast majority of old-school shooter fans will love this title. And the new ‘achievements’ are there for those who enjoy them.
And… add a nice bow on top
It’s important to remember though, what Armalyte PC is – and isn’t. They haven’t turned it into a modern ‘bullet hell’ shooter. They haven’t added complexity or AI to the bosses. But SAS have made an outstanding ‘commercial debut’. Considering all the bundled extras, £16.99/US$26/EU$19/AU$29 is good shmupping value. If this sounds like ‘your kind of game’, please vote with your wallet so the SAS boys will be encouraged to do it again.
After all, there’s a stack of C64 classics still waiting…
(Even a Druid would know that. 😉 )