25 June 2008






































Indie Zone started life as a very small column called Free Play in the news section of PC Zone, covering freeware releases. After just two issues, it was incorporated into a proper regular section featuring commercial independent games as well as freeware, and ran for just under a year, until the magazine was bought by Future Publishing and your correspondent was summarily fired. Since it's basically just a bunch of small game reviews, the whole thing has been collected here onto a single page, with obsolete original links updated to the best available live ones at the time of writing.

FREE PLAY - ISSUE 138 (Feb 2004)

Achtung viewers! Welcome to Free Play, an excellent new regular section of PC Zone in which we bring you the very best in free PC gaming. It’s probably worth taking a minute to define our terms – for the purposes of this column, “free” is defined as a game you can obtain in its entirety without paying for in advance. Therefore, shareware games which come as a few levels, with the whole game available only when you pay for it, are NOT eligible for inclusion here. On the other hand, games which you can download/play in their entirety, but are invited to subsequently pay for if you enjoyed them, ARE allowed - naturally, we strongly encourage you to play fair with such games and make the requested donation if you feel the game is worth it. But what we’re mostly going to be focussing on here are games which are completely and permanently free, which some enormously generous soul has created and distributed for nothing other than the sheer philanthropic joy of sharing them with fellow gamers, and which fill Free Play’s heart with a warm and glowing love for humanity.

Such a game is our first offering, the glorious Warning Forever. An all-boss freeware shoot-‘em-up from Japan, Warning Forever does something that’s been sadly missing from shooting games ever since R-Type – giant enemy ships you can blow up piece by piece, rather than just having to pour fire into one weak spot for hours until the whole thing illogically explodes. There’s far more gameplay cleverness to discover in Warning Forever than we have space to tell you about here, so just dive right in, admire the aesthetic and design elegance, and then destroy it. With bullets.



FREE PLAY - ISSUE 139 (Mar 2004)

Atari’s classic Super Sprint belongs to a special category of games – the victims of technology. Like 2D platformers and football games you don’t need a degree in rocket science to play, racing games viewed from overhead where you can see the entire track all the time simply don’t get made in the 3D era. It’s a bit weird, because there’s no logical reason that people would suddenly stop enjoying that style of gameplay just because some completely different kind of racing games also became available – if a new limited-edition Mars bar comes out, you don’t stop liking roast beef, do you?

Anyway, where the games industry fails us, you can be sure that heroic bedroom coders will step into the breach, and so it is with Super Sprint games. GeneRally (Free Play is unable to ascertain if you’re supposed to pronounce it as “generally” or “Jean Rally”) is a simple and ultra-customisable engine for the creation of Super Sprint-type racing larks, and has spawned a huge mod community creating countless original and inventive race tracks, but also – and as far as Free Play is aware, this is a first for the genre – accurate mappings of real-life race tracks.

When you come to think about it, it’s kinda odd that nobody ever released a commercial Super Sprint-style game featuring real racetracks, but it doesn’t matter now, because dedicated GeneRally fans have mapped and translated Monaco, Spa Francorchamps, the Hungaroring and all your other favourites, all in a variety of styles (some, for example, just recreate the track’s basic shape to whizz round in a few seconds, while others use the game’s alterable scale function to implement realistic length, so that a lap takes a couple of minutes in real time). You can race in all manner of different vehicles, on street or rally tracks, against humans or computer opponents with individually-selectable skill ratings, and just generally tweak and tune everything until you’ve created the Super Sprint game of your dreams. Sweet.

http://generally.rscsites.org/ - central hub for new versions and extra tracks

INDIE ZONE - ISSUE 140 (Apr 2004)

As alert readers will have noticed, here at PC Zone we’ve been devoting quite a bit of attention recently to independent developers, that endangered species representing the last link to the legendary days of the “bedroom coder”. But after the big feature in PCZ137, we got to thinking “But what’s the use of us bigging-up indies if we never look at the scene the other 12 months of the year?” (Because as you’ll know as an alert reader, for magazine writers there are 13 months in a year.) And therefore – welcome to Indie Zone.

Here every month we’ll be reviewing games from indie developers/publishers which, in most cases, you won’t be able to buy in shops, only direct from the authors. They’ll be judged by the same standards as any other game – no “special treatment” for being independent – and hopefully we’ll find you a few gems hidden away down a different road from the somewhat generic “FPS, RTS, RPG, football” release schedules of the majors. If you’ve got any comments on Indie Zone (such as, purely for example, “Make Indie Zone bigger!”), feel free to forward them to the editor. So on with the show.

Small Rockets $14.99 (about £8.50 at time of writing)

In several ways, Kayak Extreme typifies what independent development is all about. A fairly sedate and technical game about downhill canoeing, it’s hard to imagine any major publisher ever greenlighting it. But that doesn’t mean it’s been produced to lesser standards than the average High Street PC game – the graphics, as you can see, are beautiful, and the turbulent streams you paddle down highly convincing. Where the game does let itself down, though, is in a needlessly complex control system, with a messy, unintuitive and non-reconfigurable keyset, and a pace that may be realistic, but seems a little ponderous when you don’t have the excitement of real showers of icy spray crashing into your face and the constant threat of drowning after having your head caved in by rocks. Still, the PC gaming market is one where people tend to lap up relatively dull and “accurate” simulations in preference to exaggerated arcade thrills, so if the idea of Kayak Extreme appeals to you the execution may well also. To Indie Zone, however, it seems like something of a missed opportunity.

PC ZONE VERDICT: Not nearly “Extreme” enough. 55%


You’ll come to loathe red “reverse” gates.

FREE PLAY - Super Mario Pac (Hermit Games)

WARNING: The following paragraph contains the phrase “self-referential cross-pollination”. Please note – this is not dirty. Don’t write us angry letters about it. Thank you. You may now return to your column. (Fnar!)

One of the reasons videogaming culture gets so little respect in the real world is that it has so few examples of self-referential cross-pollination like this. Super Mario Pac spans three entire generations of gaming – it takes the basic game design of classic Spectrum title Jet-Pac, the setting and aesthetics of seminal SNES platformer Super Mario World (by Nintendo, who would later go on to buy part of Rare, the company who made Jet-Pac), and the core gameplay mechanic of the Gamecube’s Mario Sunshine, and melds them together into a slick and professional piece of PC freeware. It’s practically a historical document. It’s also, however and more importantly, a fab little game. Adding a few simple tweaks to the Jet-Pac gameplay brings Super Mario Pac right into the world of the Mushroom Kingdom, to the extent that you could easily picture this game being given away with future Mario titles on the Game Boy Advance, like the original Mario Bros is nowadays. There’s no room to tell you more, so fire up your coverdisc and see for yourself.


A world where water kills turtles.

INDIE ZONE - ISSUE 141 (May 2004)

As Sega have recently shown by launching a lawsuit at Acclaim over the uncanny resemblance between Simpsons Hit And Run and Crazy Taxi, the issue of plagiarism isn’t dead in the world of videogaming, and nowhere is it more acutely felt than on the independent scene. A huge number of indie titles are still barely-concealed unlicenced clones of other people’s games, yet rather than condemn this intellectual piracy, the indie community often reacts with vitriolic defensiveness at anyone who raises the subject. Keep your eyes peeled for a full-blown Indie Zone investigation, but in the meantime, don’t expect to see any blatant ripoffs covered here.

Divo Games £11.06 (£16.58 with CD)

Min spec: PII-333, 64MB RAM, 3D card

The on-rails scrolling shoot-‘em-up is one of the genres that’s tragically fallen by the wayside in the modern era of PC gaming. While pyrotechnic 2D blasters like Shikigami No Shiro and Ikaruga still command niche appeal on consoles, and semi-3D titles like Zero Gunner fashion the same gameplay into showcases for modern graphics, the PC’s been largely bypassed in the new age of shmups. Thank Jeebus, then, for the likes of Airstrike 3D. Visually reminiscent of EA’s “Strike” series of games, this is a no-nonsense helicopter shooter set across 20 levels of implausibly-heavily-defended river valleys. (It’s weird when games like this put you in a helicopter, because the primary characteristic of a chopper is being able to hover in one place, which the game’s forced constant scrolling never lets you do. But anyway.)

Frankly, between that description and the screenshots, there isn’t much else Indie Zone can tell you about Airstrike 3D that you can’t see for yourself. (Don’t you miss the days when two screenshots and one sentence could tell you everything you needed to know about something’s basic gameplay?)

It’s beautifully executed, with a range of resolution settings to suit all manner of PCs, and at the top setting it’s gorgeous, with extravagantly-lit explosions filling the screen (never more impressively than when you offload your mini-nuke weapon). There are stacks of nice weapons to experiment with, too. (Tip: the best thing to do with them is fire them rapidly at stuff.) Indie Zone’s main quibble is that it takes a little while to get difficult, but then Indie Zone is a cold-eyed, razor-edged killing machine, so you probably won’t find it an issue. For a fraction over a tenner, this is value-for-money mayhem from the top drawer.

PC ZONE VERDICT: Give your brain a rest. 80%


My, what big rockets you have.

FREE PLAY - Maziacs PC (PeeJay’s Remakes)

The problem with unlicenced clones, as noted in the Indie Zone intro, is that all too often they not only charge money for ripoffs of other people’s games, but don’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge where they’ve copied them from. The burgeoning “remakes” sector is a different kettle of fish altogether. Here you have coders bringing old games up to date for the modern age, for free, and openly and properly crediting the original creators by admitting whose game it was in the first place. This is one of Indie Zone’s very favourite remakes, right up there with the fantastic Skool Daze update Klass Of 99 (which incidentally has recently been rereleased in a Windows version).

It’s a rewrite of a fondly-remembered Don Priestley game from the early days of the Spectrum , in which your intrepid adventurer searches a maze populated by creepy spider-like monsters in search of gold. The Speccy version was famed for the dramatic fight scenes when you encountered one of the Maziacs, and this remake adds its own twist, the surprise of which Indie Zone won’t spoil for you. The game comes with both original-style graphics and a whole range of other selectable “skins”, and offers both “classic” and updated gameplay options.

http://www.peejays-remakes.co.uk/ - more remakes by the same author

The original Speccy game, with a horrible Maziac.

In the remake, you’re a ninja bear. Cool!

INDIE ZONE - ISSUE 142 (Jun 2004)

As mentioned in Free Play a couple of issues back, one of the odd things about “progress” in gaming – and more specifically, gaming technology – is how certain things get completely left behind. It’s like never having another cup of tea in your life, just because you’ve discovered beer. Today’s modern graphics cards can display incredible textures and lighting and detail and all the rest of it, but the advent of CGI in movies didn’t stop people making cartoons, did it? The fact that odd French feelgood movies (say, Amelie) can be made in glorious real-life Technicolour doesn’t mean that muted-tones animation isn’t still a valid alternative way to express similar sentiments (as in, say, Belleville Rendezvous).

Major publishers generally lack the vision to create games showcasing anything but the latest technical state of the art, but indies are free to try more eclectic or abstract styles, ironically displaying a considerably greater level of artistic maturity by doing so. This month, Indie Zone looks at a couple of examples.

(Retro64, $19.99 – about £12 at time of writing)

Min spec: 300MHz CPU, Direct X 7.0, Direct 3D. Rec spec: none stipulated

The author of Platypus apparently modelled every single object in the game in real-life Plasticene before photographing them and turning the pics into sprites, and the attention to detail has really paid off in this uniquely good-looking shooter. Indie Zone isn’t really sure why more games haven’t used this distinctive and time-honoured technique (hey, if it’s good enough for Wallace And Gromit it should be good enough for PC games), but it’s good news for Platypus, as it means it gets to stand out from the crowd in a way that it perhaps wouldn’t if it relied on “standard”-type graphics to depict its straightforward shooting action. This is real old-fashioned stuff, with none of the fancy gameplay fripperies of rRootage (see Free Play) - you get a few basic time-limited powerups, a raft of baddies and some massive boss enemies at the end of each stage, and that’s about it.

But it’s beautifully executed and with an admirably challenging difficulty setting, both in terms of the resistance put up by the little Claymation bad guys themselves and in the fact that you only get a couple of credits with which to play through each of the five long stages (each with several sub-levels). In truth, the stages are slightly too long and a bit repetitive until you reach the splendid bosses, but marvelling at the graphics (even the explosions are rendered in Plasticene) will keep you distracted from that fact well into the proceedings. As a bog-standard space shooter you probably wouldn’t give Platypus a second glance, but its Play-School stylings are so loveable it’s a bargain at the price.

PC ZONE VERDICT Just £12? Put it on your bill. A-ha ha. Ha. 74%


A trouble shared is a trouble halved.

Not the safest way to transport mines.

FREE PLAY - rRootage (ABA Games)

Superficially reminiscent of the mighty Warning Forever (from the first ever Free Play column), this abstract shoot-‘em-up is in fact a very different game in play, and marks the pinnacle of a series of games in a similar vein from Japanese shmup-coder “Saba”. As you can see, the graphics are extremely minimalist, but they conceal a highly-sophisticated shooter which actually includes stripped-down versions of three of the most popular arcade/console shooters of recent years: Giga Wing, Psyvariar and Ikaruga.

rRootage takes the weaponry, enemies and fire patterns of those three games and transposes them into its own wire-frame world, in the form of 10 individual levels for each mode, played as score attacks. (There’s also a 10-level Original Mode.) It’s shooting in the purest form imaginable, and in the four game modes there’s a surprisingly wide variety of playing styles, from the reflect-shield-based Giga Wing levels to the Psyvariar ones, where you get more bonuses and firepower the closer you scrape against the enemy bullets. While the graphics couldn’t be any simpler, they have a real beauty of their own, and while it only partially comes across in screenshots, you now have no excuse for not admiring it in action.


I think you’ve got him worried.

INDIE ZONE - ISSUE 143 (Jul 2004)

One of the most dismaying things about the world of games as opposed to other forms of culture is the incredibly short shelflife of the typical release. While it’s easy to walk into a High Street shop and buy a 20-year-old Rolling Stones album, try getting hold of any game released more than three months ago and see how far you get. This is one of the greatest advantages of the web-distributed indie scene – as long as you don’t do something fat-headedly stupid like put a year, or inappropriately time-specific setting, in your game’s title, nobody need ever know that it’s ancient, and you can continue to sell it indefinitely as if it was the hottest new thing on the block. Hurray for those clever folks in the indie scene, eh?

FlyOrDie Software, $19.99 (approx £11 at time of writing)

Minimum/recommended specs: None given – any PC should run this.

The history of Peter Liepa’s rocks-and-diamonds puzzler Boulder Dash is a long and confused one since the released seminal 1984 original, and the game is one of the most unofficially-cloned designs of all time. FlyOrDie contributed their own bit of water-muddying to the story with their “inspired by” title GemJam a few years ago, but since then have ponied up for the official licence and made several officially-endorsed Boulder Dash titles. Adding to the mystery is the fact that GemJam isn’t much cop and their later “Treasure Pleasure” official BD sequel is rubbish, completely missing the point of what made Boulder Dash great, while this – released between the two - is by far the best game in the series since the first one. A genius piece of sensitive designing, it takes a perfect grasp of the heart and soul of the original game and adds only sparingly to it to create the most compulsively addictive thing this reviewer’s played in about a year. It deserves a wide audience, so if you have any complaints about the fact that Indie Zone’s reviewing an 18-month-old game, kindly go stick your head in a pig.

Offering 50 levels - plus 15 optional tutorial ones if, as is alarmingly possible, you’ve never played a Boulder Dash game before - BDX2002E (Indie Zone is sure that was the registration number of its first car) lures you in with a few quick and simple stages that can be completed in under a minute, but then steadily ramps up the difficulty until you’re faced with levels that you’re head-scratchingly CERTAIN just can’t be done, until in a lightbulb flash of inspiration you realise the solution. Helpfully, the map structure lets you go off and try different stages if you get stuck on a particular one, and only the slightly rubbish save-game implementation (just one too-easily-overwriteable slot, and idiotically saved to the bastard registry rather than a handy file) lets it down at all.

The levels are wildly varied in puzzle style, so it never feels repetitive, and so fiendish that the sense of reward for beating one is heartwarming. For eleven quid, no-one who fancies themselves as a lover of videogames should be without this. Think the graphics are too basic for such a score? Kill yourself.

PC ZONE VERDICT: Tremendous and compelling update at bargain price. 90%


Balloons are among the new features.


One of the very few games which can lay claim to being more ripped-off than Boulder Dash, of course, is Pac-Man. There have been literally hundreds, probably thousands, of Pac-clones, the vast majority of which are total rubbish. This one, however – despite presentation that’s just asking for a slap, like a teeny windowed mode and an always-default fullscreen mode that irritatingly screws up your desktop – takes the concept and extends it in a thoughtful and entertaining way, while maintaining the all-important game balance that so many clones entirely miss. It’s easy to imagine one of the official Pac-sequels taking this clever, more exploratory route away from the original game, with a handful of well-chosen additions like the “policeman” ghost who comes out and chases you if you use the turbo power-up in sections of the mazes marked by speed-limit signs.

Full background and instructions can be found within the game, the complete version of which is included on this month’s coverdisc, so find out for yourself.


Pac-Town, the game’s central hub area.

INDIE ZONE - ISSUE 144 (Aug2004)

One of the more disappointing things about the world of games is its lack of crossover with other forms of culture. Bar licenced games of big-budget movies, games exist mostly in a cultural vacuum, never referencing the worlds of music or art or literature or even the media. If games make a point, or a joke, it’s usually a point or a joke about other games, not about anything in the wider world. It’s odd when you think about it, because games are at least as of-their-time as other cultural forms, if not more so – good luck running the average four-year-old videogame on the hardware platform of the moment – so you’d expect them to be even more contemporary in their references. This month’s featured game doesn’t exactly come under that category, but it’s a start.

(Small Rockets, $14.99 – about £8)

REQ: P2-233, 32MB RAM, 4MB gfx) 

Lightgun games don’t tend to crop up on the PC very often, and for good reason – you’d have to be pretty sad to sit pointing a plastic gun at your PC’s monitor from two inches away and pretend you were being presented with some sort of a challenge. (Except, perhaps, the one resulting from the gun obscuring your view of the screen.) Sadly, this fact has robbed the PC of some of the finest arcade games to come to home gaming platforms, such as Namco’s fantastic Time Crisis and Point Blank series. The latter – a bright, fast-paced cartoon shooter stuffed with blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em mini-challenges – is the inspiration for Art Is Dead, a lightgun-style blaster (except using the mouse) in which you participate in a wide range of minigames set against the backdrop of classic works of art.

While the mini-challenges of Art Is Dead are neither as inventive nor as snappy as those in the Point Blank games, this is still a quick and entertaining shooting-gallery game, with “gallery” being used in a more literal sense than usual. It’s arguable whether a mouse and crosshair negates the entire point of this sort of game, but it’s certainly sent your Philistine reporter off to find out what some of the priceless works he’s been blowing holes in actually are, which automatically makes this the most edutainment-tastic thing since The Typing Of The Dead, and as ever the joy of indie games is that at the likes of eight quid, they don’t have to be mega-epics to justify their price. Indie Zone may not know much about art, but it knows what it likes.

PC ZONE VERDICT: Indie Zone likes this. 79%


Well, you’d shut your eyes too.


The Star Wars videogaming franchise is one that’s been increasingly devalued over the last few years by an avalanche of highly-mediocre titles, steadily pissing all over the legacy of much-loved games like X-Wing vs TIE Fighter and the original Atari vector-graphics coin-op (which is still Indie Zone’s favourite SW game by a mile). However, a freeware coder is attempting to fight back against the Dark Side of LucasArts’ licencing department, with a whole series of games taking Star Wars back to its roots.

The latest is The Battle Of Yavin, a highly-impressive 3D outing written with TrueVision3D, and styled very much in the footsteps of the original arcade game - there’s a space-battle section with massed ranks of X-Wings, B-Wings and TIE fighters, attacks on the Death Star surface, and then a climactic run through the famous trench. It’s a very simple game, with no fancy controls or weapons to get to grips with – you just fly around and shoot stuff – but with scores of fighters all pursuing their own private battles, and all sorts of attention to detail, it creates a more convincing sense of a real space dogfight than any of the official SW releases on the PC. It’s tough too, but you’ll keep coming back for another kicking, because this is purest essence of Star Wars. And it’s free.

http://www.bruneras.com/ - more info and more Star Wars games by the same author

Ooh, it’s like Piccadilly Circus up there.

FREE PLAY - ISSUE 145 (Sep 2004)

A couple of months ago, alert readers may recall Indie Zone railing against plagiarism in independently-produced PC software. The blatant unacknowledged copying of other people’s games is indeed a curse, but that doesn’t mean developers can’t take large slices of inspiration from earlier titles. This month, we look at a couple of releases which borrow heavily in one way or another from previous games, but bring more than enough of their own to the table to justify the pinching.

Mountain King Studios, $19.99 (approx £12)

Min spec: DirectX 5 Rec spec: None specified 

Seibu Kaihatsu’s 1990 coin-op Raiden is one of the most influential arcade games of all time. Many games have paid homage to it in the subsequent 14 years, and most scrolling shoot-‘em-ups can trace their history back to it in greater or lesser part, but never has closer tribute been paid than in Mountain King’s Demonstar series (of which SM1 is the second). Indeed, the game lifts the design of the Raiden spaceship, and the taking-off-from-the-carrier-deck intro to each level, almost pixel-for-pixel, but aside from such superficial nods to its inspiration (and the odd glance back at Amiga favourite SWIV) this is a game which follows the Raiden design template to a degree that verges on stalking, albeit that all the game’s eight actual stages are entirely new (and the graphics are somewhat sharper and lusher than Raiden ever managed).

What that means in practice is a tough, well-balanced, no-nonsense shmup that you can devote the odd blissful, brainless half-hour to for a straightforward but demanding test of your joypad skills. It’s a challenge - not least because of some slightly suspect use of colour causing enemy bullets to sometimes get lost in the onscreen mayhem, the game’s one noticeable flaw – that you’ll keep coming back to, because the only Continue option puts you all the way back to the start of the last stage you reached. There’s no lazy quicksaving your way through games like Demonstar, nor even the pump-more-cash-in option of playing Raiden in the arcade. To see the end of this, you’ll just have to plain old-fashioned earn it. This reviewer hopes that’s not enough to put the modern PC gamer off it altogether.

PC ZONE VERDICT: What are you, scared? 82%


(WoS note: the text below never actually made it into the magazine. PCZ were too uncomfortable with slagging off Half-Life with the sequel imminent, and I wasn't prepared to fudge the piece, so the editor totally rewrote the Codename: Gordon section himself.)

Indie Zone is about to say something slightly controversial here: Half-Life is crap. Yes it is. It had unrivalled atmosphere, great film-esque direction and a fairly compelling plot, but in gameplay terms it was an irritating 3D rewrite of Dragon’s Lair – walk along, have something happen that you couldn’t possibly have foreseen, get killed, quickload and try again but remember where the surprise is coming from this time – with the addition of totally inappropriate platform-game elements that meant you died almost as often by falling off ladders as by getting mangled by horrible alien space beasties. Seriously. It’s shit. Sort yourselves out. Still, Indie Zone realises it’s swimming somewhat against the tide on that one, so it’s entirely possible that you’re simply going to adore Codename: Gordon, which Indie Zone hates more than the last git who keyed Indie Zone’s car.

It is, as the URL somewhat gives away, essentially Half-Life interpreted in 2D, and while it started off as a bootleg “tribute”, it now carries the official seal of approval. It includes most of the original game’s design features, and even – despite being a 2D platform game – retains the mouse-and-keyboard control method. The action is depicted in cartoonish, beautifully-shaded graphics that bring to mind the nicer parts of Metal Slug, and while Indie Zone can’t bear to play the horrible thing, the chances seem favourable that you’re going to like it. You freaks. The game can be downloaded via Valve’s innovative Steam network, or if you’d prefer to have your download finish before the sun cools and a new Ice Age dawns, the file is now widely spread across all the major P2P filesystems.



FREE PLAY - ISSUE 146 (Oct 2004)

Indie Zone may have mentioned this before, but one of the joys of the indie scene is the keeping alive of game genres which the mainstream has long since abandoned. During the war, when Indie Zone were a lad, it was all cute platform games around here, but when did you last see one on the PC? And yet, the form didn’t suddenly stop being entertaining, did it? Of course, sometimes revival can go too far. Ask Dr Frankenstein.

Arcade Labs, $19.99 (about £12)

Min spec: Direct X 

A few months ago, Indie Zone expounded at some length on the issue of plagiarism in independent games, and specifically the blatant remaking for profit of old games with no acknowledgement to the original creators. Which puts your reviewer in a bit of a spot when someone remakes one of his all-time favourite games of the 90s, does a lovely job of it, but shamefully fails to admit that that’s what it’s actually done. The game in question here is Team 17’s budget-price 1993 Amiga platformer Qwak, and Superstar Chefs is an absolutely unabashed clone of it. Made up of 64 single-screen platform levels where your object is simply to clear the screen of fruit, Chefs adds a few minor new elements and changes to the original design, but to all intents and purposes this is Qwak 2004, except that the player’s avatar is now a cook instead of a duck.

The graphics, like the original’s, are small but beautifully packed with colour and character, and the wraparound levels are simple but fiendishly designed. At first it seems overly-easy, especially on the default middle difficulty setting, with enemies that just do their own thing rather than chase you and a plentiful supply of extra lives to add to your generous initial allocation, but it’s all too easy to lose four in about 20 seconds if you’re not giving a level your full attention, and with no continues it’ll take a lot of skill to get through every stage. There are also two different two-player modes – a co-operative game and a best-of-seven-stages highscore battle mode, and generally there are many hours of fun to be had for the money, though 12 quid seems a little steep for a game whose setup file is only 1.7MB big.

So how to solve the reviewer’s dilemma? Well, since this is essentially the same game your reviewer played in 1993 he’s going to give it the same score he did then, except with 20% deducted for the flagrant theft of someone else’s work without so much as a nod of credit. (Adding insult to injury, the website describes Superstar Chefs as “similar to Bubble Bobble and Mario Bros”, two games which the game is nowhere within a mile of as similar to as it is to Qwak.) It’s a super little game, but this kind of thing really has to stop.

PC ZONE VERDICT: A good ripoff of someone else’s genius. 69%


You just don’t see colours like that anymore.

An odd situation for a chef to be in.


Well, after all that wibbling we haven’t got much space left to tell you about this month’s Free Play game, so it’s lucky that it doesn’t take a lot of explaining. The PC’s seen a fair few attempts at Mario knockoffs, but this one from a Polish outfit Buziol Games is easily the most accomplished one to date. Borrowing graphics and music from the SNES Super Mario All Stars and Super Mario World, but creating new and original level designs in the style of the original Super Mario Bros, this hybrid is almost as captivating as the real thing, though the scrolling and controls could both stand a little extra smoothness. Every bit as much a clone as this month’s commercial indie effort, of course, but this one doesn’t try to either disguise its origins or profit from them.


“How do I keep getting into this?”

INDIE ZONE - ISSUE 147 (Nov 2004)

This month, Indie Zone encountered something of a dilemma. (Have we ever mentioned what great cars they are?) This column was set up specifically to give coverage and encouragement to independently-produced games, so what do you do when something comes out that’s interesting, yet not actually very good? After much soul-searching, Indie Zone decided that the best thing to do is offer constructive criticism, on the grounds that online-distributed games are a lot easier to update and release improved versions of. Hey, we’re here to help.

Mucky Baby £7.99 

Min spec: P600, DirectX 7.0, 100MB disk space

Skools Out (sic) is a pretty transparent attempt to recreate the magic of the legendary Spectrum game Skool Daze, while transporting into the modern three-dimensional era. Developers Muckybaby have partially succeeded, which is to say they’ve got the “3D” part down pat – the game is set in a very nicely-rendered environment, incorporating (briefly) the hero’s home, and then a sizeable school with playground, sports field, outbuildings and suchlike. Pupils and teachers scurry around, occasionally muttering pithy comments, and objects can be examined and manipulated.

Sadly, however, the gameplay hasn’t had anything like the same care lavished on it. There’s barely a skeleton of a game here, with most of the player’s time occupied in simply wandering around the school, looking in cupboards. Unlike Skool Daze there’s no need to actually attend classes – if you fail to show up, nobody bats an eyelid, and you can have free run of every room in the building. All classrooms are empty except the one you’re supposed to be in, and even if you do decide to be a model pupil (attending classes and answering multiple-choice questions is the only way to reduce your lines tally), you’ll have a job finding the right room before the end of the lesson, given the absence of any maps, signposts or helpful arrows.

It’s a shame, because there are undoubtedly the beginnings of a really neat game here. As it stands, however, it’s barely more than a tech demo. Indie Zone’s recommendation, then, is that you keep a close eye on the website and hope for revisions. A-ha ha.

PC ZONE VERDICT Could do better. 44%


Good luck finding where “Art” is.


Of all the games we’ve brought you since this column started nine months ago, this is the one that’s occupied most of Free Play’s own time, and the one that’s been most popular with all of Free Play’s friends. It’s a (loosely) snooker-based game, and it’s a work of genius. On each of the game’s 20 levels, you’re set a particular task – say, pot two red balls and two coloured balls – and given a time limit to do it in. Potting the wrong ball or the cue ball, or not hitting any balls at all, knocks four seconds off your time, and that’s pretty much it for rules. The control system is incredibly simple (aim with the mouse, hold down the left button to set power), the implementation of the laws of snooker is extremely forgiving (you can hit any ball you like at any time, you’re only penalised if you pot them), and there’s all sorts of potential for setting up clever stuff like combo shots, whereby you can save time by sinking several balls at once.

As you move through the levels the challenges get more inventive and more cunning, culminating in Level 20’s challenge to score a 147 break against the clock. (Don’t worry, it’s not as daunting as it sounds, thanks to the lax rules and the big pockets.) The game keeps average and high scores both for individual levels and the whole game, and if you’re anything like Free Play, you’ll be playing it constantly for days, first to work through all 20 stages (after 20, the levels repeat with tighter time limits for extra challenge) and then to better your scores. Lightning Break is a work of art in 300K of Flash code, and if you have more fun with any PC game this month, free or otherwise, you’re probably lying.


Do you love the sound of this level? Ho!


One of the things that’s been most sadly lost in the games industry’s transition from a million bedroom coders to half-a-dozen global corporate megabusinesses is the distinct flavour of Britishness in videogaming. Dear old Blighty was once a huge creative force in the world of games, pushing back both the technical and artistic envelopes in a way that US or Japanese developers never seemed able to do. Tragically, all the legendary innovators of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras have now been either marginalised or driven out altogether (see last month’s interview with Sensible Software’s Jon Hare for an example), and only the indie scene remains as an outlet for the UK’s inventive gaming minds.

Redpoint, £5

Min spec: Anything more powerful than a ZX81.

Alert readers may have noticed this column’s fondness for old-school arcade-style shooting games, but even Indie Zone’s never gone quite this retro before. Deadeye is an unashamed homage to the classic single-screen coin-op shooter from the age of Galaga et al, but in gameplay terms this is no simple remake. As the name suggests, Deadeye is a game all about precision – if you blast away like a redneck with a chaingun, you’ll get through the game’s 50 levels, but you’ll end up with a score that will make six-year-old girls point at you and laugh. Deadeye rewards players lavishly for two things – not wasting bullets, and taking risks. Wait until the enemies are almost on top of your ship before you zap them, and shoot without missing, and you’ll rack up enormous bonuses, as well as other goodies like score multipliers and shields, which can be used to glean even more bonuses, and so on.

This is a game designed for true aficionados of the Galaga-style form, and as well as being disturbingly addictive in its own right, it’s packed with secret things to discover and unlock even if you can’t get near the colossal scores on the online high-score page. Only the presentation lets it down slightly – the unadorned, non-resizeable game-screen looks a bit forlorn on desktop resolutions higher that 1024x768, and there’s no full-screen option – but this is a game with hidden depths that it’ll take you weeks to get anywhere near mastering, while still being simple and friendly enough not to crush you like a bug if you aren’t totally hardcore. At five quid, not giving it a go would be not only stupid, but frankly offensive.

PC ZONE VERDICT For the purist, the purest. 90%

http://www.wayoftherodent.com/gd101/bs_deadeye.htm - homepage, with 15-level demo

So old-school it’ll give you lines if you’re late.

FREE PLAY - WILD WEST HERO (Skyclad Monkeys)

Only the British could look at the seminal Williams coin-op Robotron and decide, “Y’know, the problem with this is that it’s too complicated and intellectual”. So in 1983, Spectrum coder Paul Holmes came up with a game that - like Deadeye - stripped the concept down to its absolute rudiments and chucked away all the frippery, leaving only the Zen-like core at the heart of the gameplay. Wild West Hero presented just one type of enemy, in ever-increasing numbers, and a little robot dude whose gun fired automatically, leaving nothing for the player to do but enter a trance-like state below conscious thought, and endlessly slaughter the bad guys until being finally overwhelmed.

The game’s only problem was that the Speccy’s technical limitations rendered later screens unfathomable, as the enemy sprites XORed each other out of existence, leading to the player being unfairly killed by what looked like empty space. Luckily, an alert historian has solved that problem with this splendid PC remake, almost indistinguishable from the original except with baddies who don’t disappear from sight if two of them are standing on the same spot. This is a game you can play without employing your higher brain centres at all, and if you’re a competitive gamer seeking that elusive mental place known as “The Zone”, in which most victories are found, then Wild West Hero is the best training for finding it that you could ever hope for.

http://www.geocities.com/wildwesthero2004/ - updates and other games from the author

Don’t think about them. Destroy them.

INDIE ZONE - ISSUE 149 (Christmas 2004)

Atari’s Occasionally, viewers, Indie Zone does wonder if anyone's actually reading this page. After all, month after month we feature games of types that never usually show up on the PC. This month, for example, we've got a game about a hamster rolling down slopes, and a game about jumping on arrows in time to music. Neither of them feature realistic simulation elements, foot-thick manuals, or World War 2 scenarios. Do you even care about them? Are you even reading these words, or have you all skipped excitedly forward to news of the latest mods to make all the walls in Doom 3 dayglo pink so you can see WHERE THE BLOODY HELL YOU'RE GOING in it? Is there anybody there? Hello?

Raptisoft, £7.14

Min spec: none specified

Marble Madness. Let’s just get it out of the way nice and early, shall we? Hamsterball is an unofficial remake of/sequel to Atari’s legendary 1984 coin-op, copying the “roll a ball down a chequered 3D pyramid thing” exactly but replacing all the level designs with new ones. You get 12 geometric mountainsides to traverse here rather than the original five, you’re a hamster in one of those perspex exercise balls rather than a marble, and there are a couple of new features (such as the Escheresque “Odd Race” where the perspective changes from one floor tile to the next, and the circular saws which suddenly slice half the floor away from under you), but basically this is Marble Madness 2004.

It’s a beautifully-executed job, though – gorgeous to look at and fiendishly designed. Almost too fiendishly, in fact, as it gets quite staggeringly difficult by around the halfway mark, and Indie Zone suspects that a large percentage of PCZ readers will simply never see the last few tracks, which seems a terrible shame given the effort that’s clearly gone into designing them. Even in the game’s “Pipsqueak” mode, which boosts your time limit and does away with all the moving enemies, and is great fun for young kids, time gets absurdly tight later on, and the mode doesn’t unlock the various courses for time-trial races anyway. Turn the enemies back on and a few of them (including the aforementioned saws, and the seemingly arbitrary and unavoidable giant mallet) seem a tad unfair too, which is a bad flaw in a game where every second counts.

On the upside, there are multi-player battle modes to discover, though to make the most of them you’ll need a full complement of control devices (mouse, joypads and for one unlucky sap who might as well just give up at the start, keyboard), and Hamsterball is so loveable as to allow most of these faults to be forgiven. For those up to the challenge this is a fantastic game, and the asking price is an absolute bargain. Once again, though, Indie Zone has to sadly deduct 20% for the shameful way that the developers of a blatant remake have failed to even passingly acknowledge or credit the original game whose ideas they’ve copied. Tch.

PC ZONE VERDICT Did anyone say “hamsterrific!” yet? 66%


My rats live in a setup not dissimilar to this.


Konami’s arcade dancing game Dance Dance Revolution (aka the much less snappy Dancing Stage over here) has been one of the company’s greatest-ever moneyspinners, largely due to the fact that each iteration of the series features only a couple of dozens songs, of which you’ll only ever have heard of a small handful (the rest being made up of in-house Japanese Eurodisco soundalikes). By this simple but cunning measure, Konami can keep releasing pretty much the same game over and over again, in a manner that makes EA Sports look like models of artistic restraint and leaves dance-loving gamers frustrated at the need to load up eight different versions just to get all the songs they like in one session. Thank goodness, then, for Stepmania.

A stupendous collaborative work, Stepmania is a PC remake of DDR which implements every feature of even the latest incarnations of the real thing, and which is produced in an open format enabling anyone to create “step files” (the sequence of arrows you have to dance to in time to the music) from any piece of music they feel like. Every track from every version of DDR has been converted, but also countless hundreds of other songs, and you can compile playlists comprising only your own personal favourites.

Contributors have also created background pictures, commentator files and every possible other addition necessary to make precisely the DDR game you always wanted. Oh, and incidentally, if you can’t bring yourself to entertain the idea of leaping around on a plastic mat in front of your PC, Stepmania played with the cursor keys is actually a brilliant old-school arcade-type reaction and co-ordination game. You don’t need to dance to enjoy it.


Only try this with a chaperone. Ideally one who's also a paramedic.
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