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Desert Island Games

I wrote this article a few years for a feature in Edge, for all those who missed it, hereís your chance to find out which games I would take with me to a desert island.

Game 1 - 1980 Gravity LED Handheld by Mattel

Thereís a bit of a story behind this game for me. It was the first electronic game I ever had, and was a Christmas gift from my parents way back in 1981.

The game, as the title would suggest, is about the effect of gravity on LED lights. There are three games in total, the first is catch. In this there are three rows of lights, and they drip down the screen like an unpredictable leaky tap. You have to press the corresponding button below each row to prevent the lights reaching the bottom. The higher in the game screen you manage to stop them, the more points you get. Once the time is over, so is your game. I know, you think bash all the buttons all the time and youíll stop everything, but that just doesnít work with this one.

Game two is Juggle, this time three balls sit at the bottom of the screen, and you bounce them up into the air with the three buttons. Triggering a button as each one lands back in place makes it bounce again, itís height dependent on your accuracy. The idea is to keep all three balls/lights in the air at the same time. Infuriatingly simply, but really challenging.

The third game is a docking game, and relies on you having good enough reactions to stop a star of LED lights around a single light as they scroll ever faster down the screen. Itís the weakest game of the three.

At the age of ten I was simply blown away by the game, I played it night and day, forever hassling my parents for new batteries. By the time I got to my early teens Iíd started taking everything apart and making new things from the lights and wires. Gravity fell victim to my technological cull. It wasnít until I really started getting back into collecting handhelds and tabletops in my early twenties that I realised I needed it back in my collection.

A huge search ensued, and around six or seven years ago I finally picked one up in the US on ebay, for a staggering $400! Thatís how desperate Iíd become. Trust my parents to choose the most obscure handheld in the Mattel electronics catalogue; I can only imagine it was on special offer! Itís still an incredible game though, and thereís nothing else quite like it. It will no doubt remain my favourite handheld game of all time.

Game 2 Ė Highway Encounter Ė Vortex Ė Spectrum

I am a huge fan of all Costa Panayaiís early work, Android 2, Cyclone, TLL, Deflektor, all classics from the Spectrum era. However, Highway encounter was a league above the rest. It borrowed heavily from Ultimateís Alien 8, not only with its isometric viewpoint, but the whole design of the graphics. The game involves directing a bunch of robots that are pushing a bomb to a target twenty screens away. Each screen has a puzzle of blocks and moving enemies, and it takes thought, and speed to avoid losing members of your robot team. Some of the screens are devilishly tough, but once the art of each screen is learned, the proceeding turns get easier. This slow drip feed of progress makes it one of the most rewarding games there is, and one of only a relatively small number which I played until I had finished. The final screen, with the aliens all crowded around the sides of the highway as the bomb heads for the mother ship, is something that those whoíve finished the game will never forget.

Game 3 Ė Software Star Ė Addictive Ė Spectrum & C64

I am a sucker for management strategy; itís something Iíve raved about in the magazine for years, largely because, along with the text adventure, itís something of a dead genre today. There are loads Iíd like to include, Chris Sieveyís the Biz, Millionaire by Incentive, Kaiser by Ariolasoft. The one Iíve opted for is the long forgotten follow-up to Football Manager, Software Star by Kevin Toms. Itís incredibly simple, run a software house by making multiple choice decisions every month, then sit back and enjoy the reward as your games slowly push themselves up the charts.

Part of the enjoyment is naming your own games, and then releasing sequels in the following years. Iím sure itís just random, but sequel titles do seem to generate additional sales for poorly programmed games. For some reason itís always satisfying, having five games on sale, and getting them all in the top thirty. Watching each hot new title taking the place of the previous one. I realise that there arenít many people out there who would rate this type of game at all, so rest assured Iím aware Iím quirky.

Game 4 - Forbidden Forest Ė Cosmi - Commodore 64

Cosmiís Aztec Challenge was one of the first games to woo me away from my Spectrum back in the early eighties. Somehow there was a lot of atmosphere trapped inside the game, god knows how they put it in there, because on the face of it, it was a pretty frustrating and repetitive game. It certainly paled into insignificance compared to the atmosphere evoked by Cosmiís next opus, Forbidden Forest.

Set in a forest (strangely), you play an archer who has to kill the creatures that live there before they kill him. These range from giant spiders and bouncing frogs through to evil bees and fire breathing dragons.

After each wave of nasties you do a little dance to celebrate your achievements, youíll crave to hear that dancing tune again on later levels when it starts getting really tough. The last level features the Ghost Demogorgon, who is only visible when lightning strikes. Surely itís the most terrifying final level of the whole 8-bit era. The amazing this is, for me at least, the game is still just as terrifying today. I really canít see why there is so much atmosphere in the game, perhaps the programmer was possessed or something

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Gravity is strangely appealing. If anybody reading this ever put a Parker Merlin to their ear as if it was a telephone, Mattelís Gravity does the job far better. It looks like Buck Rogerís shoe horn.

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This ridiculously cool looking Gravity prototype is called Catastrophe, but was sadly never actually released, only ever appearing in a Mattel electronic games brochure.

In recent times, the joy of dealing with inertia in games has come back to life, with many interesting Nintendo DS games allowing you to push, pull and bounce objects around its screens.

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Another rare prototype called Hot Dots. Surely more of these games would have actually been released had Gravity had any commercial success.

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