COVID 19 and my top 5 isolation games

COVID 19: Slowest. Apocolypse. Ever.

I hope this finds you safe and well during these unusual circumstances.

COVID 19 isolation has given me some much treasured time with the family (minus my eldest who is isolating with my Mum). We played board games. We played Wii games. Family time is great but being together 24/7 isn’t particularly healthy either.

I was starting to look a bit Catweazle so I had the Missus perform the “Quarantine Cut” on me by shaving my head all over with a Number 3. Boredom levels haven’t quite yet risen to taking a razor to it but they’re getting there.

There’s been some working from home, some sleeping, a lot of eating (proven in my blood sugar results). There’s also been some retro gaming.JoystickThese days a variety of tasks and responsibilities keep me from putting any substantial amount of time into retro gaming so this COVID 19 isolation presents me with a rare opportunity. Please don’t expect a review or a playthrough, there are countless of those already out there. This is just me talking about some old favourites and how I found out about them.

My top 5 isolation games goes like this…

5. Duke Nukem 3D

Duke Nukem 3D Logo

Duke Nukem 1 Duke Nukem 2
PC version

A late-comer to the Duke Nukem 3D party, I was introduced late ’90s/early ’00s by a friend. I find myself revisiting this game every 5-6 years or so. Back then I would rarely play solo. More often than not my friend and I would dial-in to each others PCs for solid hours of network play.

Duke Nukem 3D shouldn’t really need an introduction. A 1996 first-person shooter developed by 3D Realms Duke 3D is, most simply put, Doom with an attitude. The gameplay is simple enough. Shoot things, collect things, get to the end without dying. Simple, violent, fun.

Duke 3D can still be bought in some form today but for my COVID 19 isolation I went with the eDuke32 method using files from my original media.

4. Star Raiders II

Star Raiders II Logo

Star Raiders II 1 Star Raiders II 2
Atari XL version

Star Raiders II first fell into my lap via one of those cover tapes that used to be stuck to the front of computer magazines. In this case it was Your Sinclair, issue 36 released December 1988. Besides the Spectrum I owned this on the Atari XEGS which I bought from a second-hand shop on the Hawthorn Road in Kingstanding. Star Raiders II came as part of a bundle deal. Even though the Atari 8-bit was obviously the superior version I still go for the Spectrum version when I feel like a replay.

Originally developed by Atari as a tie-in with the release of the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter, to be released under that name, the tie-in never came about so the game was released for Atari 8-bit in 1986 under the Star Raiders II title as a sequel to the 1979 Star Raiders. In 1987 Electric Dreams would release Star Raiders II under licence for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and the Spectrum.

Star Raiders II 3

Star Raiders II sees you in control of the starship Liberty Star attempting to rid the Celos IV star system of the attacking Zylon empire. You must stop the Zylon ships, destroy Zylon bases and make sure the Liberty Star survives by refuelling and repairing at Space Stations. You’ll encounter Zylon Fighters, Destroyers and watch out for Motherships, taking a hit from one seriously drains your fuel. While enjoyable things get a little repetitive and the game is very short once you know what you’re doing, we’re talking <20 minutes to complete to a good ending, which is a shame.

What’s the difference?

The Amstrad has intro music while the Spectrum doesn’t, but graphics and gameplay are very similar. Intro music is nicely done on the C64 but the playing area feels narrow and stretched. The XEGS version is beautiful, the intro music is there and well done, graphically it’s the best looking of the lot and the gameplay is smooth.

3. Bomb Jack

Bomb Jack 1 Bomb Jack 2
Spectrum version

In 1986 my Dad came into some cash and with it he bought me a Sinclair Spectrum 128K +2 from Dixons in Erdington. Given to me on a copied cassette (naughty naughty) by a friend, Bomb Jack became a fast favourite. We eventually ended up buying an original copy of Bomb Jack along with Bomb Jack II.

Originally published by Elite Systems Ltd back in 1986 Bomb Jack was a platform game where by the goal was to collect bombs scattered around various well-known locations. Jack could jump between ledges which varied between levels in order to collect the bombs. Collecting bombs in ‘sparking’ order could earn you bonus points. There were a number of enemies including birds and mummies (they look like astronauts in the Spectrum version) which would turn into flying saucers and such on hitting the bottom of the screen. There were a number of bonus tokens that would come spinning down from the top of the screen to help you in your goal.

Bomb Jack 3
Arcade version -Did that bird just sneeze?

Bomb Jack was a firm favourite of both myself and my Dad. Many of my friends still tell me their most vivid memory of my Dad is him playing Bomb Jack. In fact, Bomb Jack killed my Speccy. Getting really far into the game, Dad and I had left the Speccy on for over a week, pausing when we weren’t playing. Eventually we noticed a burning smell and smoke coming from the back of the computer. It was beyond repair and off it went to silicon heaven.

So many choices

Bomb Jack has been released on a myriad of platforms over the years. Admittedly, I’ve not played every version, but of those I have my favourites are the arcade and the Spectrum versions with the latter being my platform of choice during isolation. The Amstrad CPC version was very much like the Spectrum version but with a lot more colour, meanwhile the Commodore 64 version had sprites that were far too chunky for the game to be playable although it does include background music which the Speccy and Amstrad are missing. The MSX2 version was as close to the arcade as you’re likely to get on a home system of the time though.