The Top 50 Atari ST Games

I asked contemporary Atari ST gamers via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and atariforum.com to choose their top 5 Atari ST games. I then collected these votes, assigned scores to each game accordingly and collated the scores to create a list of the top 50 Atari ST games. My hope is that what follows is a handy resource for those looking to play the very best the Atari ST has to offer.

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who voted. A big shout out to atarimania.com for providing the info and screenshots. Happy reading!

If you’d prefer to watch rather than read the list, you can watch the YouTube playlist instead.

Use these quick links to navigate the list:

50 – Deuteros: The Next Millennium

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Developer: Ian Bird

Man has returned to Earth, rebuilt civilisation and forgotten about past adventures…

Deuteros is the sequel to the much-loved Millennium 2.2 and the plot picks up after the end of that game where the Moon colonists have been successful in recolonising the Earth. The nearby colonies were all called back to repopulate this blissful new Eden (hooray!), but the outer colonies and their mutant populations were abandoned and forgotten (oh no!).

Due to the struggle to survive on this new Earth, no one knew or even cared about what was happening in the far reaches of the solar system and space travel couldn’t have been further from their minds. That is until a Dr Trout laid out a brave new plan for space travel and the construction of a new base on Earth modelled on the old Moon colony that would serve as a first step towards the rest of the solar system. Operation Deuteros was underway.

You start by controlling this ‘Earth City’ and fans of Millenium 2.2 will be right at home, as it’s a very familiar interface whereby you click on various icons to access the different areas of the base and direct its inhabitants towards the jobs you decide are important.

I’m not going to explain what happens next in the game, as part of the appeal here is that you discover for yourself what happens next and it is a great part of what define both this and the prequel that a core of mystery, discovery and narrative is the driver for the overlying strategy gameplay.

Atarimania link

49 – Chaos Engine

  • Released – 1993
  • Publisher – Renegade
  • Developer – Bitmap Brothers

Select two characters and enter the World of Chaos to battle with the ultimate killing machine, THE CHOAS ENGINE.

The game boasts stunning graphics by Dan Malone (who also worked on the similarly stunning Cadaver and Speedball 2) and he uses a mix of organic and metallic styles with just a sprinkle of steampunk to create this hideous, malicious world full of weird monsters and mysterious locations. Into this nightmare you must thrust your choice of one of six characters: The Thug, Preacher, Mercenary, Gentleman, Navvie, Brigand and Mime (no, I made that last one up, there is no mime, thankfully). Each of these cut-throats have their own characteristics and special move (The Navvie was always my favourite – that Tom Selleck tash is just irresistible).

Primary amongst the games appeal is its excellent co-op play, and when matched with its challenging difficulty level, it really does feel like you are both venturing into a hostile land. Now, if you don’t have a friend, don’t worries: just hire one of the mercenaries to join you and they will be controlled by the AI. But be warned: there are fewer annoying things than having all the good stuff stolen by a light fingered computer controlled player.

The problem with the ST version is that the playing window is a little smaller than other versions, which combined with the push scrolling means that sometimes you can’t see far enough ahead of your character. The characters are so fragile, only taking a few hits before going down that you will find yourself edging yourself along inch by inch to avoid an unexpected death. This adds to the tension no end, but also slows down gameplay significantly.

Minor niggles aside, this is a complete package: the story, design, pixel art, music and gameplay all contributing to a compelling experience.

Atarimani link

48 – Treasure Island Dizzy

  • Released – 1989
  • Publisher/Developer – Codemasters

Can Dizzy eggstract himself from this desert island?

This is the second game in the Dizzy series originally developed on the ZX Spectrum by those legendary boffins, the Oliver twins.

Basically, Dizzy’s cruise holiday has gone pear-shaped (or should that be egg-shaped?) and Dizzy has found himself trapped on the titular desert island. So, he must collect stuff to help him overcome traps and creatures as he collects all the coins and finds a way off the island to be reunited with his beloved yolk-folk.

A lot of Dizzy’s charm comes from its super cartoon graphics and charming animations. It was the first game in the series to introduce the inventory puzzles now synonymous with the Dizzy series. Unfortunately, this early Dizzy entry does not feature the later additions of an energy bar or multiple lives, so Dizzy is as fragile as… well… an egg. Huh. Maybe that’s what they were going for. You also can’t juggle your inventory like you could in later games, meaning that it is all too easy to accidentally drop your snorkel while underwater and bring your quest to a premature end.

Still, if you are a fan of the puzzle platforming genre, then this is a must play, both for its own merits and its historical significance.

Atarimania link

47 – Operation Stealth

  • Released – 1990
  • Publisher – US Gold
  • Developer – Delphine

The name’s Glames, Jonathon Glames.

A beautifully presented point and click adventure game from the masters at Delphine Software, developers of timeless classics such as Another World, Cruise for a Corpse, Future Wars and Flashback (we won’t hold Shaq-Fu against them).

You play as a decorated CIA agent called John Glames who must investigate a stolen US stealth bomber. I won’t give too much away, as it could spoilt the experience if you haven’t played it yet to explain the tangled web of intrigue that follows. I will say however, that this adventure wouldn’t be out of place amongst Ian Fleming’s works: it’s basically as if Bond has been transposed over to the US. The protagonist is a suave, womanising secret agent with a briefcase full of secret tricks and although extremely capable, he soon finds himself in over his head in a series of ludicrous goings on.

Operation Stealth uses the same point and click engine as Future Wars which means that when you click the mouse button, you get a context sensitive pop up showing you the different actions you can take. It’s a neat solution and once you work out how to navigate through the game using this method, it becomes second nature and gets out of the way so you can concentrate on those puzzles.

As we’ve come to expect from Delphine, everything here is so polished and focused on delivering to the player an immersive, story-rich experience. It even links up with the Roland MT-32 to provide an excellent MIDI soundtrack.

Atarimania link

46 – Obsession

  • Released – 1994
  • Publisher/Developer – Unique Development Sweden

THERE IS A POINT BEYOND ADDICTION…

Here’s a pinball game for STe and Falcon owners that was a huge critical success, if not a commercial one due to the timing of its release. Indeed, Obsession was one of the last official releases available for our beloved ST and what a swan song it was!

The game features four tables all aesthetically beautiful but also well-designed from a gaming point of view. Pinball tables of yore are evoked nicely here with some innovative and left-field concepts such as the Paris-Dakar rally and a baseball game. The best thing about these tables, though, is how they differ from each other, both thematically and in gameplay, resulting in a fresh experience each time you boot up a different table, which adds to the long term appeal of the game no end.

With the amazing visuals and scrolling and sound effects, this really is a window into what the Ste was actually capable of when allowed to flourish. Add to this a cracking soundtrack from Per Almered (otherwise known as Excellence in Art) and it all adds up to being the best pinball experience available for the ST.

Atarimania link

45 – Lotus Turbo Challenge II

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher: Gremlin Graphics
  • Developer: Magnetic Fields

The best just got better. Or did it?

The original Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge was highly acclaimed for its smooth gameplay and sense of speed and this sequel sprinkles a little extra seasoning onto this race winning recipe. Not least amongst these extras is the ability to play a single player game using the full screen. That might not sound like much, but racing using only half of the screen was one of the biggest complaints about the original. But now look at how much sky you can see. Much better. You can also now choose between two Lotus cars: the classic Esprit and the then new convertible Elan (what do you mean they look the same except one’s got no roof. Shush). A nice addition are the new hazards and weather conditions that do genuinely keep things fresh for this sequel and it is genuinely atmospheric (no pun intended) to race during one of the games thunder storms or blizzards. Ooh, and you can also link two STs together for some 4 player action if you are a sociable sort.

Other changes less sought after by some include the loss of the fuel gauge and with it the need to enter the pits to refuel. I always liked the tactical element that added to the original and the tension of leaving it as late as possible as the car beeped frantically at you and then only pitting in for the briefest time possible, risking running out of fuel to save precious tenths of a second. But the biggest loss in my opinion is how the races in this game are no longer a simple race against opponents on a circuit, Magnetic Fields having instead opted to pit you against a stringent time limit. Because we all need more stress in our lives, right?

I’ll stop moaning on now, because the most important thing is that the thrilling sense of speed is still there and all the additions do outweigh the things they took away and the result is without a doubt one of the best racing games on the ST.

44 – F19 Stealth Fighter

  • Released: 1990
  • Publisher: Microprose
  • Developer: MPS Labs

The Air Force won’t even talk about it. Now it’s yours to fly!

Originally released for 8-bit machines in 1987 as Project Stealth Fighter, it was later ported to DOS in 1988 and then the ST and Amiga later in 1990. The F-19 is a fictional aircraft based on a model kit released in 1986. Later in 1988, the US would unveil the F-117 Nighthawk, a real life stealth fighter, which Microprose would later add as an optional extra for the Amiga and ST releases.

In this game, you pilot the F-19 on various missions in the Middle East and Central Europe, and was praised for its realistic AI responses and emulation of radar detection.

A nice touch is the different ‘scales of conflict’ that each zone can have. Ranging from ‘cold war’ where stealth is of the upmost priority for intelligence gathering but also international diplomacy to full scale open warfare where you must take down enemy planes and the like.

The game keeps track of the pilots in a roster, and deaths are permanent giving the game a nice, overarching campaign feel.

The presentation is nice, as is the norm with Microprose flight sims, with well-drawn skeuomorphic visuals accompanying the pre-flight preparation scenes. The in-flight graphics are basic, but functional and it all moves pretty smoothly. In their review, Atari ST User said “F-19 Stealth Fighter is stunningly fast, and the ground detail scenery is so detailed it’s breathtaking. A classic to add to the collection of quality games from Microprose.”

43 – Bubble Bobble

  • Released: 1987 
  • Publisher: Firebird
  • Developer: Software Creations

Millions of bubbles, but not a single bobble.

One of the reasons I and many like me were so enamoured by the onset of 16-bit computing was because the games were a step closer to their arcade counterparts. Full colour graphics? Yes please! Samples and speech? Oh, go on then. 

Now I know that Bubble Bobble wasn’t exactly pushing hardware to the limits, but the upgrade from 8 to 16-bit was tangible and obvious. No longer did I have to tolerate the approximation that was the Amstrad CPC 464 port. No. I had a version at home that to all intents and purposes was arcade perfect.

Taito’s classic arcade features brilliant gameplay beats of jumping, collecting, trapping and popping enemies (which to be honest, if  that was all this game had to offer, would still make Bubble Bobble one of the best platformers available on the ST) there are myriad different hidden details waiting to surprise players. Hard to reach areas become accessible to those who jump on their own bubbles and learning the huge variety of pickups and what they do is a treat. At first, power up appearances seem random, but actually everything that happens in this game is controlled by what the players are doing, or what they did on the previous screen. Genius.

Bubble Bobble has the rare honour of being the only game I’ve completed and then wanted to play again straight away. My best friend and I would play this game religiously. We played it so much that we knew exactly where each of us should stand for each level, and exactly who was responsible for which group of enemies so we could rinse each level as quickly as possible, minimising risk to our lives bank and maximising the possibility of juicy power ups on the next level. And then once we’d defeated the game’s impressive final boss. We’d go through the game again to try to find even more secrets.

42 – Wizball

  • Released: 1987
  • Publisher: Ocean
  • Developer: Peter Johnson

A mindfulness colouring book.

Sensible Software would go on to dizzy, dizzy heights with huge hits later in their history, but here we have one of their earliest and boy, it’s a strange one.

You control a wizard who is determined to bring the colour back into the world stolen by the spectrum-hating Zark by transforming himself into a ball and taking his robot-piloting cat along with him. Laudable goal, questionable methodology.

There’s a nice power up system that see you collecting bubbles dropped by vanquished enemies and cashing them in for upgrades a very ‘Gradius‘ manner. Many of these upgrades are essential for you to be able to accomplish your task. The first two of these power ups stop you from bouncing about like a fart in a colander so you can actually dispatch enemies a little easier, and another calls into play your trusty feline friend, who is needed to collect the droplets of colour that will eventually revitalise this drab, grey, lifeless world.

It’s strange. It’s challenging. But it is compelling. Thanks to its unique nature and tight design, you will keep wanting to return until you’ve started to make some progress in this unique game.

41 – Gods

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher: Renegade
  • Developer: Bitmap Brothers

Any man through skill and courage may earn a single favour.

Gods is one of those releases that rightfully earned the Bitmap Brothers the reputation for creating stunning looking games (see The Chaos Engine from earlier in the list), Gods is gorgeous. The stone textures, the metallic sheen, every sinew of the hero, the gruesome enemies, the flashy effects and colourful sunset: all rendered in incredible detail.

Tighten your togas and strap on those sandles, because four particularly nasty pieces of work have invaded the citadel of the gods and you, playing as Hercules, must vanquish these nefarious ne’er-do-wells. Here’s a Brucie Bonus though: the gods will bestow upon the victor one favour. Being but a half god, Hercules quite fancies having the full kit and caboodle, so chooses immortality as his favour, much to the gods chagrin.

Unfortunately, this task is not going to be easy. The game is fiendishly difficult, which wouldn’t normally be a problem, but your so-called ‘demigod’ of an avatar is so unwieldy, so clunky to control at times that it can lead to some frustrating moments. In his defence, this lack of agility is at least completely predictable so when you take the time to adapt to his sluggish nature, you can minimise this frustration and begin to make good progress.

As a side note, this game also has one of the best shops ever seen in a video game. Selfridges has nothing on this cornucopia of commercial delights – those Bitmaps really knew how to design a 16-bit shop, didn’t they?

40 – Captain Blood

  • Released: 1988
  • Publisher: ERE Informatique
  • Developer: Metal Hurlant

Brilliantly bonkers space adventure from ERE Informatique.

Bob Morlock, a videogame developer otherwise known as Captain Blood has developed a natty little game about squiddly aliens and somesuch. During a particularly frantic crunch time (he really should get himself some union representation) he is zapped into the game, whereupon he is cloned 30 times. In order to get back to the land of the living he needs to collect the vital fluid of these clones. So far he has tracked down 25 of them, but you must aid him in his hunt for the final, elusive 5.

To do this, you fly through the game world in your living ship, visiting planets and launching a probe in order to have a good old chinwag with some aliens. Use the game’s unique iconography language UI to gain their trust and they might just give you some information that leads you to a clone.

Time, however is not your ally in this quest. In a brilliant twist of UI design, as your quest continues, Captain Blood’s health deteriorates and his hand will slowly start to shake, making the game more and more difficult to control. Disintegrating a clone and liberating those vital essences is the only remedy.

Captain Blood wears its influences on its sleeve. Giger-esque alien morphology, Kubrick-ish warp sequences, Mandelbrot-ian lansdscapes and Jean Michelle Jarre soundtrack are all front and centre. Any science fiction fan with an ST or an emulator owes it to themselves to hop onto this thrillingly atmospheric interplanetary ride.

39 – Rod-Land

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher: Storm
  • Developer: The Sales Curve

So cute… it will make you puke?

There are very few games that one could really say are arcade perfect on the ST. But this is genuinely one of them. It’s a spot on conversion of the single-screen platformer from Jaleco that harks back to the good old days of Taito’s arcade dominance with games like Bubble Bobble. Just like the games of that golden era, it has a ridiculously cute aesthetic, solid controls and secret gameplay elements that reward inquisitive players.

The graphics really are a treat for the eyes here: the sprites are all very cute and colourful, designed in the Japanese chibi style and animated with tons of character. The backgrounds are colourful and nicely detailed without being too distracting and the occasional cut-scenes are beautifully drawn.

Rod-Land has some nice, novel additions to the genre too. The village elder has gifted you a rather fetching pair of rainbow booties that can summon a ladder with a press of the fire button and your dear departed father has left you the Rod of Sheesanamo, a magic rod that can grasp enemies and repeatedly suplex them until they die. Each time you kill an enemy like this, a weapon will drop that you can use to dispatch the others: bombs, rockets and bouncy star things will all kill enemies for a nice juicy fruit bonus.

Each level also has a collectible that can be snaffled in order to turn the enemies into weird peachy things that can then be farmed for letters. Use these to spell out EXTRA for an extra life, and you’re going to build up a healthy stack of those the challenges coming later.

38 – Turrican II

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher: Rainbow Arts
  • Developer: Factor 5

The Final Fight

There are very few problems that a bio-mechanical suit can’t fix, and an alien invasion certainly isn’t one of those. So, as you are the last surviving member of your crew, you better don those metallic pants and get ready to blast those alien scumbags.

Your nifty Turrican suit comes with a few additional extras to help you in your quest. You can turn yourself into an invincible spinning ninja star to zip around and take out those xenomorphic shins or release a smart blast that causes a wall of fire to spread across the screen. Experimenting with these and the variety of power-ups to your main blaster constitutes a lot of the appeal of Turrican II and finding which weapon works best in each situation will see you progress a lot further.

You can basically think of the Turrican series as the west’s take on, and mashup of Metroid and Contra. The theme and main character feel very Metroid, whereas the power up system feels very Contra. The levels have a maze-like quality to them like Metroid, requiring you to blast your way through until you get to the big fella at the end, like Contra. There’s also a nice R-Type style horizontal shoot ’em up level that breaks up the action nicely. And it’s actually a lot better than many shmup’s entire game.

Turrican II is very difficult, but rewards patience and perseverance with some great set pieces and the amazing soundtrack throughout makes the game worth a play alone. The best run and gun action the ST has to offer? Maybe.

37 – Another World

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher: US Gold
  • Developer: Delphine

It took 6 days to create the Earth. Another World took 2 years.

Delphine at their cinematic best. From the moment the opening sequence begins you know what you are in for. Lester Chaykin turns up for another boring day at a hi-tech underground laboratory. Sipping his Mountain Dew and kicking back in his chair, he sets up another test run and… ZAP! He’s in… you guess it… Another World!

Eric Chahi was a visionary and Another World doesn’t just provide a unique gameplay experience. The atmosphere. Animation. Cut-scenes. Sound effects. I’m a sucker for a developer who shows the heart they have put into their work through delicate little touches and this game has them at every turn. The way the beast at the very beginning of the game is animated just exudes menace. The way little fangs pop out of the knee-slugs with a little flick of venom. The way the guard languidly removes his coat. And there’s many more that will mean so much more when you discover them for yourself. Just masterful. Anybody who cares about narrative design or animation really should have played this already.

The best part of the game for me is the comrade you encounter and help free from the prison. I don’t want to tell you exactly what happens in case you haven’t played it yet, but this character provides some of the most memorable moments of pathos I’ve ever experienced in a video game.

36 – Prince of Persia

  • Released: 1990
  • Publisher: Broderbund
  • Developer: Broderbund

Mechner’s classic delivers some acrobatic, swash-buckling action.

So funny that this has ended up shoulder to shoulder with Another World on the list as it’s a game that occupies the same headspace in my mind. And that’s mainly due to the exquisite rotoscoping animation on show here. And I can’t help but think that Eric Chahi must have been a fan of Prince of Persia before developing his game. This is the second game that Jordan Mechner made using the technique, the first being Karateka. Mechner famously dressed his brother up in white and filmed him executing the game’s moves.

The game is set, obviously, in Persia. The sultan is away and his ill-intentioned vizier Jaffar is doing his best to seize power from the Sultan’s daughter. He locks her away until she agrees to become his wife, and it is up to the player to rescue her. The only problem is that he himself is trapped in the dungeons and must escape first.

The bulk of the gameplay comes from successfully negotiating the traps and hazards around the dungeon and defeating guards in swordplay. There’s definitely a trial and error element to the gameplay here, and progress is earned the hard way. But once you learn the game’s systems and perfect the control of the characters movement and combat you begin to inch through the game and there are some amazing moments later on which I won’t spoil here.

The ST version suffers from a little slowdown here and there, but does have a bit more colour than the Apple II, Amiga and IBM PC versions, so it is worth giving this a go on an ST if you can.

35 – Falcon

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher: Mirrorsoft
  • Developer: Spectrum Holobyte

Get set for the flight of your life.

The second flight simulator on the list is the seminal Falcon, a game that was lauded for its accurate simulation of the F-16 fighter that it is named after, while still being accessible enough for newcomers to get into.

Many features that would later become staples of the genre were first showcased here, and the attention to detail is astounding. There are three separate instrument screens to switch to if you want to see all of the dials, switches and furry dice on offer and although, EA’s Interceptor boasted an exterior camera, Falcon was the first to allow the player to view their plane from almost any angle. It was also one of the earliest flight sims to offer head-to-head dogfights via null modem link and there was also an innovative ‘black box’ feature which allowed you to analyse each flight after landing. Another nice touch is how you can pull too many Gs in a turn and cause your pilot to black out.

The difficulty level is chosen by selecting the rank of your pilot, with Colonel offering the most accurate simulation and steepest challenge, while 1st Lieutenant enjoys unlimited ammo and a plane that is more forgiving to fly and completely invulnerable to collisions. Another great addition to ease in players new to flight sims.

34 – Blood Money

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher: Psygnosis
  • Developer: DMA Design

First, there was Menace…

Pretty well received in the press at the time, but obviously well loved by many ST gamers to appear this high on the list, Blood Money was one of the earliest games developed by DMA Design, the creative force that would go on to create Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto.

Fire it up now, and you might be tempted to dismiss what seems like a pretty hum-drum shoot ’em up. In 1989, however, Blood Money was notable for many interesting and novel features such as its four directional scrolling and the ability to fly different vehicles on the different levels like helicopters and submarines. The game’s unique selling point, though, was the central mechanic of blasting enemies for cash and then spending that cash on upgrades. And upgrades you will need, because the ineffective pea-shooter you start with just isn’t going to cut the mustard. You can get spread shot, reverse fire, speed up your thrusters and a multitude of other upgrades to improve your chances of surviving.

To be honest, my absolute favourite thing about Blood Money is the manual. That might sound like damning with faint praise, but that’s where all the world-building takes place: there’s a letter from the game’s protagonist to his mum promising he’ll be a sensible captain and not join the Alien Safari and an Alien Safari brochure for ‘the folks back home’ to laugh about. It’s just delightful. Bring back manuals, I say!

33 – The Bard’s Tale

  • Released: 1987
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Developer: Interplay

They disbelieved my wind dragon… They possessed my greater demon… Now it’s up to the Bard and his magic fire horn.

The Bard’s Tale was originally released as Tales of the Unknown: Volume 1 on the Apple II in 1985 and was absolutely revolutionary. The unprecedented animated 3D graphical representation of the game world alongside detailed portraits served to hook players into this evocative adventure.

The evil Mangar has frozen the lands of Skara Brae with a spell of eternal winter and it’s up to you and your rag-tag band of wastrels and nobodies to save it.

Gameplay consists of you creating a group of six player characters and proceeding to level them and gear them up until they are strong enough to take on the dangerous enemies in three dungeons. Along the way you’ll be swiping important items and solving puzzles. If all this sounds familiar, that’s probably just a testament to how influential this game has become.

Bard’s Tale is one of those games that builds a fascinating world that’s a pleasure to exist in. So yes, you do have this over-arching quest that needs to be fulfilled, but to be honest, it’s such a treat just to explore, find new things, make progress and vanquish enemies you were previously unable to that it’s easy to get lost in the game and forget all about Mangar and his evil schemes.

32 – SunDog: Frozen Legacy

  • Released: 1986
  • Publisher/Developer: FTL games

Star freighter SunDog requesting emergency assistance… fuel low… shields failing… unable to make port…

Originally released on the Apple II a year prior, SunDog: The Frozen Legacy was to be the first of three astounding games that FTL would unleash on the ST. Not a bad hit rate, really, FTL. Only three games released, but all of them absolutely stonking.In fact, FTL originally planned to release more games in the SunDog series, but the success of Dungeon Master meant that they plowed all of their resources into that series instead.

You start SunDog as the underdog. You have been enslaved and forced to work in the glass mines. Your uncle has recently died and bequeathed you his ship. Now, that’s given you a little taste of freedom and you want more. If you can fulfill your uncle’s promise to start a colony you can earn that freedom. Unfortunately the ship he’d left you has seen its fair share of action and is currently being held together by little more than gaffa tape and rat poo.

At the beginning of the game you’ll be walking around your ship and interacting with the different consoles and systems to see what you need to repair. Then it’s up to you to travel to town in the buggy to buy the correct parts, repair those systems and then get busy living up to your uncle’s legacy. The game has such a great implementation of a mouse and window driven interface, before such things were commonplace. There’s a neat open-view ship graphic and it looks a lot like the recent indie hit FTL (that can’t be a coincidence, right?)

The attention to detail in the game is astounding. For example, if you park your vehicle in the street when visiting the bank, you will get a parking ticket. While you’re out and about in the town, you run the risk of being mugged by the local thugs, and losing the money you are carrying. You’ll have to look after yourself as well as your ship: you will become tired if you don’t rest and will get hungry if you don’t eat. I could go on and on about the brilliance of this game, but it will be best served if you just pick yourself up a copy and have a go for yourself.

31 – Rick Dangerous

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher: Firebird
  • Developer: Core Design

WAAAAAAaaaaaAAAaaaaHHHHhhhh!

I seem to be referencing historical significance a lot this week, so I won’t buck that trend when talking about a game from the team that would go on to make Tomb Raider flexing their plagiarism muscles again here to come up with another take on the Indiana Jones phenomenon with our friend Rick here.

I say our friend, but there is very little that is friendly about a game of Rick Dangerous. It’s an absolute git. Random, unforeseeable and unavoidable death stalk you around every corner in this game, right from the word go. I say random, but that’s not entirely accurate and the predictability of the dangers Rick faces is central to the game’s design. Things seem random until you’ve learned them. And learn them you must if you are to make any progress at all. Where was that hidden spike? When will that blow dart fire? Which direction will the bat fly in? I’m not a big fan of trial and error gameplay usually, and you will die and die again as you learn Rick’s secrets, but knowledge, as they say, is power and as soon as you know each level inside out, you will begin to rinse them. And that’s satisfying. Deeply satisfying.

The thing that keeps you coming back for more during all this punishment is just how tight the design is here. Rick is responsive and enjoyable to control, the collision detection is spot on and the game is chock full of charm thanks to the cheeky sprites and over the top samples. The game might have simply been infamous for its difficulty or just dismissed as a mere precursor to one of the most successful franchises of all time, but thanks to these deft touches the game has tons of heart and because of that, Rick Dangerous is a classic in its own right.

30 – Millenium 2.2

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher: Electric Dreams
  • Developer: Software Studios

Return to Earth.

You have witnessed a catastrophic event. As the leader of the Moon colony, you watched as a 20 trillion ton asteroid struck the Earth, making it completely uninhabitable. All that is left of humanity is you, your small group of colonists and a band of half-human mutants living on Mars. It is up to you to ensure the survival of the species by exploring and colonising the Solar System.

The game unfolds as you direct the inhabitants of the Moon Colony to mine the correct resources, research new technologies and construct space craft that will allow you to explore the solar system. Resources on the barren, rocky moon are limited, but there are untold riches to be found on far flung moons and microplanets.

Unfortunately those dastardly Martians are not happy to sit back and watch you dominate the Solar System planetoid by planetoid and declare that any craft seen leaving the Moon will be considered an act of war.

Most of the game is presented through static screens where your decisions are made via clicking on icons. This UI is so good, so intuitive that the manual does very little to tell the player what they must do. It tells you what each UI element does but then leaves you to explore the options and courses of action available for yourself. There are some live action sequences were you must hop into the seat of a defense fighter to blast the Martians to smithereens before they bomb the colony.

One of the most remarkable pieces of music on the ST plays during the simple but effective opening sequence. David Whittaker’s excellent adaptation of the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. This stunningly beautiful piece of music, which was composed as a love song to his wife, is used as a bitter counterpoint the tragedy of a dying Earth.

29 – Super Cars 2

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher: Gremlin Graphics
  • Developer: Magnetic Fields

You like cars too? Super!

Magnetic Field’s second game on the list absolutely entranced me the first time I saw it. I was a huge Super Sprint fan thanks to the super tight racing on offer there, and had experienced the first Super Cars, which brilliantly utilised weapons and upgrades to add a little more spice, but it was a little lacklustre in the driving physics department.

This sequel however, nails the driving while retaining the fun power-ups and destruction from the first game and wrapping it all in a typically excellent Magnetic Fields sense of style. Fans of Lotus will be familiar with the premium wood and leather presentation on offer here.

In between races, the action is punctuated by entertaining and funny, almost RPG like, question and answers sessions. Where a journalist or driving inspector will grill you for the opportunity for some bonus cash to spend on your car. Be careful though, because you might just end up with a hefty fine.

The racing action is fast and fierce, especially after some engine upgrades, and your rival AI racers will really infuriate you on higher difficulty levels. This, combined with the randomness of these kinds of violent arcade racers can be frustrating, but the animosity that you feel towards your opponents just makes it all the more satisfying when you shove a missile up their jacksy.

28 – Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge

  • Released: 1990
  • Publisher: Gremlin Graphics
  • Developer: Magnetic Fields

Sometimes, the original is best.

Following on the heels of Magnetic Fields’ finest overhead arcade racer comes their finest vanishing point racer.

One of the things that really struck me when I first saw this game was the presentation. Now that sounds like a pretty shallow thing to appreciate in a game, but that swish opening sequence really sets the scene for this game. Sports cars are all about elegance and style, and this game did its best to emulate that. A beautifully rendered Esprit winks me while Ben Dalglish pours aural adrenaline into my ears and I’m ready to love this game before my feet even touch the pedals.

But what of the game itself? Racing games live and die by two things: the sense of speed and the thrill of overtaking. Lotus does both better than nearly every other racing game on the ST and as a result it is one of the best racing games on the ST. Indeed, Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge is one of the best of its genre on any system.

Many prefer the sequels, and the features and improvements that they added, but me, a purest? I’m happiest when playing the original. And judging by its position in the chart, I’m not alone. This was the only game in the series to have a straight race against opponents without a clock and it’s the only one to have a pits and a fuel gauge to keep an eye on and consider during races. And well, maybe it just has a special place in people’s hearts because it’s the first. And we all remember our first, right?

27 – Turrican

  • Released: 1990
  • Publisher: Rainbow Arts
  • Developer: Factor 5

Your struggle gigantic… your firepower gargantuan… your failure… genocide!!!!!!

Morgul, master of all the fears and nightmares of mankind is back to his old tiricks again and its up to you to don the metallic pants of awesome known as the Turrican Suit and show him the door.

Luckily, you have a few tricks up your silver sleeves to help you on your way. You can lob grenades, drop mines, blast out walls of death and turn into a living ninja star in order to despatch enemies, but that’s not all. Holding down the fire button projects a crackling bolt of lightning from the end of your gun that you can direct towards the oncoming alien hordes. Ooh, and let’s not forget the power ups you can pick up to apply new effects to your standard laser blaster. Now there’s useful.

Some people are not going to be happy that this one beat its younger sibling to a higher position on this list. On the surface, it seems that the sequel is the same game but better, but I guess people voted for the game they held most fondly in their memories just like with Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge, and its the original that won out.

26 – Starglider 2

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher: Rainbird
  • Developer: Argonaut Software

The Egrons strike back!

If you think of this game like Star Wars, but better, you wouldn’t be far wrong. The Egrons (The Empire) are trying to wipe out the Novenians (Rebels) by building a planet destroying Giant Beam Projector (Death Star). An ace pilot names Jaysan (Luke) agrees to join the fleet to try to destroy the evil weapon before it can be assembled. Great stuff. And not an Ewok or Gungan in sight.

From the banging reggae rock of the intro music to the little novella you get in the box, you can tell that Starglider 2 is a labour of love. But the real beauty of Starglider 2 is in its smooth filled polygon vector graphics. Argonaut really knew what they were doing here. It’s interesting to note that the 3D tech that Argonaut cut their teeth on here would help them to go on to develop the Super FX chip for Nintendo’s vector based brilliance seen in Starfox (known as Starwing here in the UK). Argonaut were certainly pioneers for gaming’s first forays into 3D, so it’s worth playing this game for its historical significance alone, but aside from all that, it’s a brilliant game in its own right.

25 – Civilization

  • Released: 1993
  • Publisher: MicroProse
  • Developer: Sid Meier

Build an empire to stand the test of time.

ST owners had to wait a long time for this classic 4X game. Now, the term 4X was coined in a magazine article written for the game Master of Orion, but the genre had existed without a name for at least a decade before that and it could be argued that Millenium 2.2 and Deuteros both belong in that stable. But few would argue that it is the Civilization series that would become almost synonymous with the genre. For those that don’t know, the 4 X’s are Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate, and you will do plenty of each in a game of Civilization.

You start by picking your tribe, naming your leader and deciding how difficult of a challenge you will face. Then you are presented with an uncharted map which your settlers must navigate around to find a suitable position for your first city. Cities will then begin to grow depending on the nearby resources. It’s up to you to choose what your scientists should research and what your construction workers should focus on building in order to nurture and help these cities reach their potential. Early on the game you will be focussed upon expanding your fledgling civilization and exploiting the surrounding resources to their fullest.

But then things will get very interesting when you encounter other civilizations. Will your relationship be a peaceful one, where knowledge and goods are traded to the betterment of both communities? Or will you crush them beneath the mighty weight of your military dominance? One of the very best things about Civilization is that there are many different win conditions, and you can decide which to aim for. Will you aim to exterminate all of your rivals, or by win the game by achieving cultural ascendancy and launching a space program?

The ST version is a little sluggish as the game relies on the operating system of the ST for display and mouse control, and the ST version is less colourful than other versions available, but it’s perfectly playable and we were lucky to get a version of this PC strategy powerhouse at all.

24 – Black Lamp

  • Released: 1988
  • Publisher/Developer:  Firebird

The reward for success is the hand of a princess and the price of failure is death!

One of the earliest games I ever experienced on an ST thanks to it being a part of the legendary Power Pack. Released by Firebird in 1988, the game puts you in the jingly bell boots of a jester called Jack, a lowly jokester who has fallen in love with Princess Grizelda. Now of course, the king is never going to allow his daughter to marry a jester, right? Well, he might just allow her to marry a dragon slayer, so Jack sets out to kill one of the scaly gits that have stolen the kingdom’s sacred Black Lamp, the absence of which has allowed all  sorts of googlies to run rampant in the kingdom.

The game is a fairly standard platformer with some light shooting elements, but most of the game’s challenge comes from circumnavigating the game world in order to find nine different coloured lamps. Imagine a trip to IKEA but in medieval times and your half way there. There are various items that can be picked up to help you on your way. Food regains strength, weapons increase your firepower and jewels and musical instruments can prevent you from getting hurt.

Black Lamp is a relatively early game for the ST, and it does show its age a little, but this can be forgiven thanks to the buckets of charm that exude from the game. It’s kind of like playing a brightly coloured, kinetic and kooky Saturday morning cartoon.

23 – Time Bandit

  • Released: 1985
  • Publisher/Developer: MichTron

The conquest of Time and Space awaits you…

Time Bandit was originally released for the TRS-80 computer in 1983 and it took a whole 2 years to grace our beige beauty in 1985, making it the earliest game on this list. In essence its a clone of an old Konami arcade game called Tutankham.

You play as The Bandit, a rogue traveller journeying through time and space battling evil guardians, collecting treasure and having a ruddy good time doing it. As in Tutankham, to progress the player must collect keys, open doors and find the exit. Fairly standard stuff, but a lot of Time Bandit‘s charm comes from its brilliant level design. Each stage has unique and charming scenery and enemies and some levels pay homage to classic games like Pac-Man and Centipede. There are even text adventure levels and card games to play.

A nice additional mechanic is how the game rewards bold gameplay. The faster you move through the level and eliminate enemies, the higher the game rates your degree of bravery. The higher your bravery, the more cubits you get for each defeated enemy. Cautious players may live longer, but the highest scores will only be achieved by the foolhardy.

22 – Populous

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Developer: Bullfrog

The power of light or the force of darkness? You decide!

It’s astonishing to think that one of the best strategy games on the ST was not designed, but merely happened by chance. Peter Molyneux was inspired by Virus to create his own isometric landscape and decided to populate it with people. When those people were unable to move of the small islands, he created a way for the mouse buttons to raise or lower land, shaping it to enable the people to move around and settle in houses. It seemed to Molyneux that shaping the land in this way and helping the people to find land on which to build was enjoyable in its own right, and this became the central mechanic for the game itself.

Once this core gameplay was in place, everything else iterated from it. Games went on for too long, so they coded in an armageddon. An ingenious addition is the player controlled disasters that you can unleash upon your opponent. Have they got a nice piece of flat land bristling with well-equiped castles? Then turn it into a volcano with a click of an icon. Is your opponent’s land lower than yours? Then just flood the whole world and watch his followers drown.

Of course, all this power has to come from somewhere, and the currency that you spend to unleash these biblical disasters is the belief of your followers. The more followers you have, the more they pray to you, the more mana you have to spend ruining your opponent’s day. This gives the game an extra dimension. Small shacks offer high population density and more reproduction, but create followers with sticks and stones to fight with, whereas huge castles create followers with flails and swords, but are filled with people seemingly less interested in procreation. A balance is needed, then.

The endless replayability of Populous is boosted even further by the ability to link two computers (STs, Amigas and PCs could all link via null modem cable) together for some local multiplayer.

21 – Wings of Death

  • Released: 1990
  • Publisher: Thalion
  • Developer:  Eclipse

Thalion. What more do you want?

Thalion Software were a group of demosceners gone straight. Formed in Germany in 1988, their aim was to bring the coding prowess they’d honed in the cutthroat world of demos and cracking to bear on the gaming world and produce games of a high technical grade. A look through their software library tells you that they achieved this aim admirably, but maybe never quite achieved the commercial success that should have followed.

Arguably their best title, Wings of Death was a stylish shoot ’em up based in a fantasy world of dragons where you, a wizard, have been transformed into a dragon by the evil Xandrilia. Now, if I was her, I would have chosen a bunny, or maybe a newt. Something a little less formidable, but no, she chose a huge, fire-breathing dragon. Silly really. Her mistake enables you to fly through the witch’s seven enemy infested domains in order to defeat her and win back your bipedal form.

The game’s demoscene pedigree is always on display thanks to the incredibly well drawn sprites and backgrounds that animate and move around smoothly. A brilliant soundtrack by legendary Jochen Hippel absolutely propels you through the game and is so good, my first few playthroughs are usually distracted by the my own dancing.

20 – Sensible Soccer

  • Released: 1992
  • Publisher: Renegade
  • Developer: Sensible Software

Football, eh? Soccer, isn’t it? You know. Jumpers for goalposts, 22 grown men chasing a ball around a muddy field. Isn’t it? Marvellous.

Sensible Soccer was an event round my way. We had graduated from the school of hard knocks that is Kick Off, Player Manager, Kick Off Extra Time, and Kick Off 2 and we were ready for the next development in football simulation. Could anything possibly topple Dino Dini’s brilliant game from its pedestal as the best football game of all time?

I think Sensible Software might have been just as surprised as anyone, given that the game arose by chance one day when playing around with some sprites from Mega-Lo-Mania, giving them a football to kick around there tiny little island.

Picking Sensible Soccer’s black box up and taking it to the tills at WHSmiths remains one of the most enduring memories of my gaming youth. I’d played the game at my cousin’s house and had saved religiously until I could afford my own copy. The memory is so vivid, I can still feel the box in my hand as I looked down at the blurry picture of Ruud Gullit and waited patiently for my mum to finish the other errands she had that day so I could get home and play it.

And boy, did I play it. Hours and hours, days and days were spent perfecting my Sensi game. I think the thing that hooked me in most was the zoomed out view of the pitch. A far cry from Kick Off’s head down, sprint for goal approach, this view enabled you to see your players ahead and how the defence lined up against them, and you could plan out not just the next pass, but the one after that, and the one after that like some sort of real-time balletic chess match. And when those moves were successful and resulted in a glorious goal, it was incredibly satisfying.

19 – North & South

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher/Developer: Infogrames

Chargez!!!

A video game version of the Belgian comic strip Les Tuniques Bleues which is a parody set during the American Civil War, though to be honest it’s a bit more of a silly farce than a serious parody.

The game switches between strategy and action game sequences. The strategy portion of the game takes part on a map of North America upon which you will move your units to capture states and increase your influence. Capture a city on a trainline to increase your income, capture a port to receive reinforcements or advance on your enemy to take part in active battles. When you move a unit into a city owned by your opponent, a sequence plays out where you must beat the clock to capture the opponent’s flag. Move your unit to a state occupied by your opponent’s unit however will result in a battle. These battles are great fun, with you taking control of a battalion of infantry, a phalanx of cannons and a squadron of cavalry to take down your opponent. There is a ‘rock, paper, scissors’ element to the combat here, and it can feel utterly triumphant to take out the enemy troops with your last remaining unit.

The strategy can only be described as lightweight, but the different action sequences keep each playthrough interesting, and the different options that you can tweak going into each game (CPU difficulty, starting year etc.) keep you coming back for more, and the overall presentation is excellent thanks to the artwork being very consistent with the comic book. Little touches like the ability to pinch the photographer’s bottom and the safe opening to knock the soldier off the screen are great and add a lot of charm.

18 – Hunter

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher/Developer: Activision

Talk about ahead of its time. Hunter is a 3D open-world game with objectives that encourage exploration and lateral thinking. Or you can just forget the objectives and romp around in a tank for half an hour. Great fun.

You start the game on a small island with nothing to your name but a gun and a car and must gather the things you need to succeed at your mission. As you explore the map  you will find a raft of useful equipment to help you in your mission ranging from weapons to first aid-kits and radar mapping devices.

The real joy of this game, though is using the vehicles to explore its vast map. Finding a new vehicle to experiment with was a joy. Some were more useful than others, however. I mean, do you want to raid the enemy territory on a push bike or windsurf? Perhaps stick to the heavily armoured and armed tanks and helicopters, eh? The experimentation doesn’t end there either. Learning how to take advantage of the vast array of weaponry at your disposal is great fun. Can I take out an enemy tank with land mines? Or is it best to stand back and use an RPG?

The game is full of little touches to make you smile. Watch out for sharks as you swim in the water, and the game will deduct points if you accidently run over a duck in your tank. You can bribe suspect individuals with food and money, and the enemy AI is both malicious and believable.

There really was a sense of wonder when playing this game. That frisson of excitement that you got when discovering something new is something that I will remember for a long time to come. 

17 – Llamatron 2112

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher/Developer: Llamasoft

I cannot tell you how delighted I am that this game has made it so far up the list. Not only is it great to see a game released as shareware charting so strongly, but the amount of love weaved into this game by its creator Jeff Minter is evident for all to see.

At its heart, Llamatron 2112 is a clone of the brilliant Robotron, the seminal twin-stick arena shooter from the genius that is Eugene Jarvis . A lot of the appeal of the Williams arcades (think Robotron, Defender, Joust and Sinistar) was how bombastic, kinetic and loud they were. You couldn’t walk past one of those cabs without having your attention grabbed by the scruff of the neck. Llamatron emulates the feel of those games brilliantly. It’s loud and brash, but it adds a little dash of Great British silliness into the mix that is just delightful.

One thing that I’m thankful that Llamatron does not emulate perfectly, is Robotron‘s difficulty. Thankfully, Jeff is a little gentler to us than Eugene and progress is won a little easier than the arcade original. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a steep challenge to be found here, but it comes much later in the game, allowing new players to at least get their feet wet before being pounding into the sand.

It’s a little sacreligious to say, but I genuinely think that Llamatron is an improvement on Robotron. Who’d have thought? It is possible to improve on perfection!

16 – IK+

  • Released: 1988
  • Publisher: System 3
  • Developer: Archer Maclean

Only 16th? How dare you!

I’m kidding, of course! It’s actually a delight to see my favourite ST game poll so highly and given how simple it is, it’s a testament to just how well Archer Maclean executed this tightly focussed concept.

A sequel to International Karate, IK+ makes many improvements to the original, but perhaps the most exciting is the addition of an extra fighter. The slow, Bruce Lee style, chess match duels of the original are long gone, replaced by the frantic, heart-pounding brawls more often seen in Jackie Chan movies. And that’s right up my weapon strewn alley.

The control system here is great. Each direction of the joystick gives a move and then each direction combined with the fire button gives another, giving the player a huge repertoire of moves to choose from. And then each move has its own effective distance, too, which means to master IK+ is to master its moves and to know which move is best in which situation. Place this system into a frantic high speed brawl, and it becomes one of the best ‘twitch’ gaming experiences on the ST.

Add into all this the great sprite work and animation, a plethora of hidden secrets (T for trousers, anyone?), great sampled sound effects from Enter the Dragon, entertaining minigames and a great soundtrack and you have the best beat ’em up on the ST. It’s a must play.

But aside from all this brilliance, or maybe because of it, the thing I love most about IK+ is how it makes me laugh. Two player sessions will have both players properly belly laughing at the visceral, slapstick comedy played out on screen and that’s a rare delight in videogames on any system.

15 – Gauntlet 2

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher: US Gold
  • Developer: Domark

Red warrior shot the food.

Playing Gauntlet in 2 player mode on my friend’s ZX Spectrum was how my love for co-op games was forged, so when he upgraded to an ST, buying the sequel to that great game was a no-brainer. We were blown away by how similar to the arcade it was, and loved the sound effects and speech samples.

There’s something about this game that just captured my imagination. The back of my exercise books at school would be filled with imaginary dungeon layouts populated by grunts, lobbers, keys and dragons. The game felt like an adventure. What would we discover next?

The role-playing aspect of the game might have been minimal, but still, it was there. My friend always played the bit burly warrior, so would charge in on point, and I, who always played the wizard would hang back like the coward I was, but always making sure to grab the potions for those screen clearing magic blasts. The other characters had their strengths too, with the super quick firing elf and the great hand-to-hand combat of the valkyrie.

Games stick in your memory for a long time when they illicit strong emotions, and one of the strongest emotions I remember feeling in a video game was the terror we would feel upon being assaulted by a Death and that truly excruciating sound effect.

One of the greatest cooperative arcade games was given a truly great conversion on the ST.

14 – Frontier: Elite 2

  • Released: 1993
  • Publisher: Gametek
  • Developer: Frontier Developments

Space, the final frontier… These are the voyages of Commander Jameson.

My love of science fiction grew exponentially in my early teens. I would get lost in novels written by Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, would watch Red Dwarf and Star Wars obsessively, and it was games like Frontier: Elite 2 that would let me feel like I was living out those fantasies for myself. The gorgeous big box that it came in was crammed with information that I devoured. The gazetteer and novella so perfectly set up the world that I was going to spend hour upon hour in for the foreseeable future.

A lot of Frontier‘s appeal is in the freedom afforded the player: do what you want to do and be what you want to be. You start on a habitable moon that orbits a gas giant in the Barnard’s Star system, given a ship and a few credits and… that’s it. The rest is up to you. Become an interstellar postman, a miner, a courier or taxi driver or just join the navy: the choice is yours. As your reputation improves, more career opportunities are opened up to you, more dangerous, less honourable career opportunities maybe, but a lot more lucrative and exciting. I wonder if being a hitman comes with healthcare benefits?

A lot of the fun in Frontier comes from learning its systems. How can you maximise the profit of your limited cargo hold? Is it best to take on the most well-payed jobs, or do they just bring a little too much attention? How much can I get away with bending the rules before the fines become unprofitable? How can I tell where this ship has hyperspaced to?

There isn’t a ‘story’ here to speak of, but that’s one of the reason this game shines. It gives you a galaxy, the tools to survive and thrive in that galaxy and with a firm slap on the back, says “off you go, lad.” You make your own story in this game.

13 – Rainbow Islands

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher: Ocean
  • Developer: Graftgold

Happy end!

Bubble Bobble was a fantastic game, and it’s often difficult for a sequel to live up to such a legacy, but Rainbow Islands is an absolute delight. Cute, colourful cartoon graphics are suitably matched by a wonderfully whimsical soundtrack, both of which suit the theme of the game perfectly.

Fans of Bubble Bobble may have been disappointed to see hide nor hair (or should that be scale nor tail) of the dinos that were such a joy to control in the original. Fear not, Bub and Bob may have lost their theropod form, but have lost none of their effectiveness. This time around, instead of blowing bubbles at their enemies, our cute heroes can conjure rainbows that can trap or knock out the googlies and act as makeshift platforms to reach higher areas.

Skilled players will be looking to kill enemies by dropping rainbows on their heads. Doing so will make them drop one of seven different coloured gems upon death, all of which must be collected in release a big, fat, juicy gem. Collecting all seven of the big gems before finishing the game will unlock the ‘true and happy’ ending.

12 – Kick Off 2

  • Released: 1990
  • Publisher: Anco
  • Developer: Dino Dini

A new dimension in soccer simulations.

Well, it seems we’ve answered the age old argument, at least for Atari ST football fans. Sensible Soccer came in at twenty and here we have Kick Off 2, a whole eight places above it at number 12. There you have it. Conclusive. Kick Off 2, Sensible Soccer nil.

As far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t pick between them. They are without doubt the two greatest football games available on the ST. Both have merits, and both achieve different things in their attempts to emulate the noble game. Whereas Sensible Soccer is about the build-up, the delicately directed passing and intricate shots, Kick Off 2 is a heavy-octane, pedal to the metal race for the goal. When it comes to their approach to the game, Sensible Soccer is the Lotus Elan, whereas Kick Off 2 is the Dodge Viper.

It takes a huge amount of skill just to hold on to the ball in Dino Dini’s masterpiece. It’s not stuck to you like in other football games, meaning you must position your player perfectly, or time your turn perfectly in order to take the ball with you when you do turn. To see an expert Kick Off 2 player achieve mazy dribbles is like watching a kung fu master.

As a result, every single goal in Kick Off 2 must be earned through skill and graft, making it all the more satisfying when you do eventually score. Few football games before or since have matched the euphoria you feel upon scoring, and that for me is one of the key elements of a real game of football.

11 – Carrier Command

  • Released: 1988
  • Publisher: Rainbird
  • Developer: Realtime Software

It’s a cruise to the islands. But it’s no vacation.

In the not too distant future, the Earth’s resources have been completely exhausted. But mother Earth’s generosity is not yet completely spent as luckily, somewhere out to sea, a volcanic eruption has caused the formation of a group of islands rich in valuable resources. Two unmanned aircraft carriers have been sent to colonise this archipelago of islands, but unfortunately, the second and superior carrier has been usurped by the terrorist organisation STANZA.

Due to the unstable volcanic activity in the area, it’s been deemed unwise to bomb the carrier remotely, so it’s up to you to take command of the first carrier and weaken the carrier’s grip on the area and eventually take it down. You’ll be doing that by making decisions on how to best deploy the resources available on the carrier using the 3D view from the carrier’s bridge and a group of icons adorning the edges of the screen.

The carrier isn’t the only vehicle at your disposal. Decoy flares. Launch flying drones to identify targets, or deploy aquatic drones in a protective formation. Walrus tanks can be used to attack the enemy and launch a virus that will take over the enemy’s island. These can then build a command centre that can mine, build upon or defend the island that you control. You can also launch Manta aircraft to bomb the enemy and soften them up before you send the Walruses in.

The strategic depth on offer in a game of this age is remarkable. What I really appreciate is the fact that aside from the scenario and objective, the game doesn’t give you any direction at all. You are free to explore the capabilities of carrier and work out the best way to take over the islands and achieve your goal.

10 – Super Sprint

  • Released: 1987
  • Publisher: Electric Dreams
  • Developer: State of the Art

Super Sprint was an overhead racing arcade game released by Atari Games in 1986. The game was a successor to the Gran Trak 10 and Sprint series of games and built upon the excellent gameplay of those black and white machines by adding high resolution colour graphics. This capability was thanks to the Atari System 2 arcade board, a board that had previously powered Paperboy and 720. The arcade cabinet also featured a free-spinning steering wheel for each player along with foot pedals for accelerating. So how on Earth would the ST host such a game? With no way to emulate the hardware or recreate the high resolution graphics, the developers here worked nothing short of magic in scaling everything down to fit in the ST’s 320×200 resolution as well as making sure the gameplay remained intact after being translated to digital input methods.

In Super Sprint, four cars are pitted against each other over eight tracks, each progressively more complex. The players must finish ahead of each ‘drone’ car in order to qualify for the next race. The game starts incredibly easy with a straight forward track and very little competition from the AI racers. However, it doesn’t take long for things to heat up as the CPU cars gain speed and hazards start to hinder your progress. These hazards include whirlwinds and oil spills that spin you wildly, water puddles and cones that slow you down and moving barriers and gates that will crush your car.

It’s not all bad out there on the asphalt, as you can also pick up point bonuses and spanners to help you along. These spanners are an absolute must if you are going to keep up with those ever quickening drone cars. Collect the requisite number and you’ve earned a trip to the local Kwik Fit for an upgrade. But then… what do you choose? Better tyres for increased traction? Or a nitro boost for that acceleration? And ooh, those furry dice look very fetching.

One of the overriding memories I have on Super Sprint is on one track in particular where you can smash your opponents into the side wall and they don’t respawn as they normally would, allowing you to explore the track at your leisure. Me and my cousin would do this and then make up our own minigames to play on this level for hours. Be the first to get the spanners and bonuses, or even play a game of in-car tig! It’s a testament to the game’s appeal that beyond racing or progress, we just wanted to play the game for the driving’s sake. It is just so much fun to control those cars: they handle perfectly, and mastering when to let go of the accelerator to drift around the corners is an absolute joy.

9 – Oids

  • Released: 1987
  • Publisher/Developer: FTL

When rock stars die young, they become legends. That’s helped in no small way by the fact that we never got to see them grow old, live through the eighties or have an embarrassing dalliance with electronic music. FTL are the video game development equivalent of rockstars for me. I mean, they were only making games for a short time before moving on to other pastures. About ten years or so is all we got from ‘Faster Than Light Games’ before they ceased operation. But boy, what a ten years we had. They released banger after banger after banger. Their back catalogue is all killer, no filler. SunDog, Dungeon Master, Chaos Strikes Back and Oids. Whoo! Pure gold.

Oids was released on the ST in 1987 and would become one of the few games we could throw at those pesky Amiga owners in the playground, as they never got a version of this brilliant shoot ’em up. I say never, but some git did reverse engineer it and released it for the Commodore machine in 2014, so yeah… we haven’t even got that boast any more. I mean, what are we supposed to use as ammunition now? Enduro Racer?

In Oids, those fiendish Biocretes have been at it again, enslaving the poor Oids and using them as vending machines and household appliances (at least that’s what the box says… How exactly do you use a person as a vending machine?) Anyway, I guess it’s down to you to do something about it. And that something is blasting. Lots of blasting.

This blasting all occurs in a rather pleasant mix of Asteroids, Gravitar and Lunar Lander gameplay. See, you must make your way across the planetoid’s surface, ridding it of its defences (repulsor towers, turrets, missile silos, trees) and then destroying the prisons that hold our lovely Oids captive. Then you can land on the nearest flat surface and Bob’s your Mum’s intergalactic alien overlord, you’ve saved the day. Of course, it isn’t as easy as all that. You have to master the inertia of the ship, get the rotation just right and then there’s that twat gravity who comes along just to muck everything up. The git.

The aesthetic of Oids was an absolute feast for my young eyes. I loved stuff like this. Even before I even knew this game existed, the back of my school exercise books were riddled with little alien landscapes populated by ships blowing seven shades of snot out of each other, all drawn with appropriate sound effects: pew, pew, pew! It was like FTL had somehow got hold of my year 4 science book and made a game of it. And then they gave me a level editor so that I could make my jottings become a reality! Incredible stuff.

8 – Formula One Grand Prix

  • Released: 1992
  • Publisher/Developer: Microprose

I’m not sure why everyone is so keen on building churches, synagogues and gurdwaras, when really we should just be exalting at the shrine of the Grand High Geoff Crammond. I mean, there must be some kind of devine intervention going on in that man’s back catalogue. Have you seen it? I mean, turning water into wine? Pah! Nothing compared to getting REVS running on a BBC Micro, mate!

Geoff would go on from REVS to build a stunning career in digital representations of motorsports, stopping off to make Sentinel on the way. Which, incidently I have never really played properly due to a deep seated terror the game inspired in me as a youth. Is he watching? Oh no!! After REVS and Sentinel he moved on to Stunt Car Racer (brilliant) then Formula One Grand Prix (also brilliant). After this he pretty much stuck to Grand Prix games and was one of the last developers to maintain the honour of having his name affixed to a game. Which is quite an honour when you consider that by the time of Grand Prix 4, games were being worked on by teams of scores of people.

So what makes Formula One Grand Prix so special? Well, the devil, they say, is in the detail. And F1GP was the most comprehensive Formula 1 simulation to date. Nothing even came close to the lavish detail on offer here. It was a motorsport geek’s wet dream.

The game is fully 3D with gorgeous filled vectors, implements ‘real world’ racing physics, has accurately modelled cars and tracks, adjustable camera settings, realistic TV style replays, driving assists that could be slowly turned off to help noobs learn how to drive and the really juicy bit: a plethora of options to tune the car to your own driving style and demands of the track that would actually make a difference to how the car handles. Ooh! Suits you, sir!

The game was so good, it inspired one of the earliest examples of online community. Huge competitions were organised via Compuserve, and a healthy modding community grew out of that passion. Absolutely seminal.

7 – Vroom

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher/Developer: Lankhor

Another racing game, but quite a different beast this one. The only real criticism that could be leveled at F1GP – that it was a tad slow – certainly could not be leveled at Lankhor’s incredible racer. It absolutely flies. I’ve said in a previous entry (for the much revered Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge no less) that a racing game lives and dies by its sense of speed. Well, if it’s sense of speed you are after, look no further. High speeds and smooth framerates make Vroom absolutely electric. There really isn’t anything that comes close to this on the ST.

And this isn’t the kind of game where you can just floor it and forget it. Oh no. Do that and you’ll be in traction for the remainder of the racing season, son. The speed that Vroom offers must be tamed like some mythical beast. If you let it, it will chew you up and spit you out. No, the speed is there, tantalisingly within reach, but you must learn to control yourself. And control is quite a consideration here. I’ve heard people say that the mouse is the only real way to control this game, and although I am utterly terrible at using the mouse in this game (or any racer for that matter), I tend to agree. For me, as I’ve alluded to with these ridiculous analogies and hyperbole, it’s the control of the speed that is most important, and with the mouse (and no small amount of skill), you can get just the right amount of throttle or braking to really master these tracks.

Another thing that Vroom nails, appropriately enough given the name, is the engine sound. The ST is pretty terrible at engine sounds. Other racing games either fart at you relentlessly, or noisily and obnoxiously buzz continuously. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Vroom‘s engine sounds are realistic, but it certainly adds to that feeling of speed and control. And there are other great touches that all play into this sense, this feel of break-neck speed. The way the sound changes when you are in a tunnel, or the way track side objects ‘whoosh’ past if you get close, and the way the cars suspension reacts to accelerating and braking all add to the experience in their own, subtle ways. It’s definitely one of those gestalt things going on here.

Now it’s not often that the ST gets the definitive anything in the 16-bit era, so let’s enjoy it while we can. The definitive 16-bit racing experience, right here. Come and get it.

6 – Lemmings

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher: Psygnosis
  • Developer: DMA Design

Originality is a rare and beautiful thing, especially in the gaming world where any success is sure to be iterated upon both legitimately and illegitimately until we are all sick to death of it. But Lemmings is one of those ideas that must have sounded utterly bonkers when said out loud or written down on paper.

It’s crazy: lemmings pop out of a trap door and you must guide them to safety by giving them jobs to do. Simple. Except it isn’t, because these little bastards are really good at getting themselves killed, and will walk happily towards their doom unless you do something about it.

The jobs you can give your little band of blue and green idiots are many and varied, and it’s up to you to select the most apposite in order to save enough of the buggers to pass the level. You can tell them to dig, build bridges, block other lemmings, climb or even, if you are sadistic enough, just explode.

Now, I’m not proud of this, but hey, I could have been outside ripping the wings off daddy long legs like the so called ‘normal’ lads, but one of my favourite things to do in this game was use blockers to get the lemmings packed into the smallest space possible and then press the nuke to watch the rodent fuelled explosions bore down deep into the earth. And it never did me any harm…

So we’ve already got the ingredients for a tip top game right here, but where Lemmings gets really good, and I mean world beating, spanktasticly good is in the level design. The start of the game is quite tame in a really excellently designed way. No tutorial handholding here, just a simple level with a single obstacle and the lemming skills you need to overcome it. Bam, lesson learned, bring on level 2. A bit later on, these puzzles will get combined in devious ways, or the puzzle will look easy, but the game hasn’t quite given you the lemmings you need that would make that level easy. Later on you’ll be tearing your hair out and cursing the name of every last person who worked at DMA Design for the utterly disgusting levels they came up with. But you’ll keep playing. The solution never feels out of reach. You know you have all the tools you need to find the solution right there in front of you. It’s just a matter of finding the right combination. Ingenious.

5 – The Secret of Monkey Island

  • Released: 1991
  • Publisher/Developer: Lucasfilm Games

Guybrush Threepwood has dreams of becoming a pirate. He is the least pirate-like protagonist in the history of pirating, and the way he bumbles through this adventure is wholly appropriate for the appeal of this game. The fact that you are allowed, nay encouraged to bumble is a key feature of The Secret of Monkey Island, and for me, it’s the first point and click game that addresses this problem with the genre. Apparently, Ron Gilbert was really annoyed with how every wrong turn would kill the player in myriad different ways in contemporary adventure games so made it next to impossible for the player to kill Threepwood. Instead of worrying about death at every turn, the player can relax and enjoy the exploration and discovery of solutions to puzzles.

Monkey Island uses the SCUMM engine used in previous games like Maniac Mansion, but modifies it and streamlines it, making it a much more pleasant UI to use. Most of the gameplay takes part on beautifully rendered backgrounds upon which Threepwood must find the solution to various puzzles by talking to the inhabitants of the islands or interacting with certain objects. It’s all mouse driven, and the inventory system is iconic in more than one sense of the word. The real stroke of genius with the SCUMM system though is with the way you select a verb and then click on the object in your inventory or in the main window to complete a sentence action that Guybrush will execute. It is much more accessible than the old typing and parsing methods seen in older adventure games and would go on to become the gold standard.

The charm inherent in the game manifests in many ways: the superb animation, the clever writing, the great pixel art cut-scenes that all ape and honour the great traditions of high adventure cinema classics. However, I think the biggest contributor to this sense of charm are the characters. Guybrush himself is a lovable idiot, and the main antagonist is a mad fool that true to tradition has all the best lines, but it’s also the cameos and bit-parts that really shine in The Secret of Monkey Island and some of the characters that only appear on screen for the briefest of scenes remain in the memory to this day. My own personal favourite is the blind as a bat lookout you meet at the very beginning of the game who can’t pronounce your name properly.

The great thing about this game is that it isn’t just ‘funny for a videogame’, but is genuinely funny, with many set-pieces that are still fondly remembered to this day. I think insult sword fighting is my personal highlight.

The Secret of Monkey Island has gone on to spawn many sequels, but arguably, the very first game represents the very best of what the series has to offer.

4 – Speedball 2

  • Released: 1990
  • Publisher: Image Works
  • Developer: Bitmap Brothers

The Bitmap Brother’s sheen is present and correct in this sequel, the presentation is superb throughout. Everything is solid, metallic and oh, so shiny. We came to expect great graphics from Bitmap Brother releases, but even by their standards, Speedball 2 is a looker. Everything has received lots of attention to make sure it looks the business, even the little buttons you press to train up your team between rounds are magnificent. The typically lavish intro sequence sets the scene for a brutal future sport game akin to a lawless game of handball.

This is everything a sequel should be: it maintains everything that was great about the original while evolving it and adding a ton of interesting embellishments around the periphery. The core game is still very similar to Speedball in that you and your team of hard knocks must grab the ball and chuck it downfield in order to score a goal. Rules are minimal, so you can punch and kick your opponents into submission in order to do so.

So what does Speedball 2 add to the mix? An absolute shedload, as it turns out. Let’s start with the pitch you are playing on. There are many strategic spots adorning this metallic arena, most of which can be exploited for points, or help in the pursuit of points. There are stars that give you a nice bonus if you light them all up, a looping ramp that will multiply any points you earn and these little nipples that turn the ball into a red hot sphere of pain that your opponents can’t bear to touch. Strewn about the arena floor you will find money to pick up and spend on upgrading your team as well as power-ups to give you an advantage for the current match. There are further additions: Each player has their own individual statistics for things like stamina, pace and throwing strength and if you are playing in a tournament, you can spend money to train them up for the next match, or just drop them and raid the transfer market for your next star.

Speedball 2 is one of those games that uses the single fire button of the ST to great effect and you can tap the fire button for a low throw, or hold it for a lob. Pressing a direction just as you are about to release the ball has an ‘after touch’ effect further modifying the trajectory of the ball. All of this gives the player a good impression of control over proceedings.

The future sports sim genre was a little oversaturated in the 90s, but this game is the very best of the lot.

  • Atarimania link
  • Atari Legend link

3 – Xenon 2

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher: Image Works
  • Developer: Assembly Line

Our second Bitmap Brothers game in a row! But this one wasn’t coded by them, instead being farmed out to the excellently talented Assembly Line. It has an iconic, bombastic intro with the brilliant Bomb the Bass delivering a rendition of their track Megablast, which tells of the cool British hip-hop scene that the Bitmaps were attempting to tap into in order to give their games cachet. And the British gaming press lapped it up, with Zero, The One, The Games Machine, ACE, CVG and ST Format all giving the game their top award.

Xenon 2 isn’t so much an originator in the genre, instead choosing to refine everything seen in the genre so far all buffed up to a nice shine. It’s pretty much a standard vertically scrolling shoot ’em up, albeit a very ‘western’ feeling one (think Tyrian rather than Taoplan). You travel up the screen and try to ruin the day of the squiggly aliens you meet along the way. Where Xenon 2 shines, however is in it’s visual design. Your ship looks uber cool, and so do the enemies it was made to destroy. The first level has you flying through a deliciously organic looking cave, with a smooth parallax scrolling seaweed background accompanying you as you blast strange anemones and disgusting worms. This level is also the first time you are  introduced to the stunningly huge bosses. You’ll struggle to find a more lovingly rendered nautilus tentacle monster on any system. The next level is some sort of insectile hell that climaxes with the most terrifying eight-legged nope that you’ll encounter this side of the Australian outback.

Further volcanic, crystalline and metallic worlds await, all populated by beautifully drawn enemies and astounding bosses and each one even more beautiful than the last. But that’s assuming that you get that far. You see, Xenon 2 is really difficult. Its an absolute bast.

Luckily, you aren’t just left with your bog-standard vanilla ship with which to blast these xenomorphic horrors. Along the way you will find various power ups to help you on this monumental journey and a rather charming alien has set up shops half way through each level in which you can purchase these upgrades.. The great thing about Xenon 2 is that these power ups don’t just power up your ship, but physically bolt on extra bits and bobs to your ship that drastically alter the way it looks. By the end of a playthrough your pristine, elegant ship will have become more akin to a hastily patched together rube goldberg machine spitting out a random assortment of rockets, lasers and missiles.

The Bitmap Brothers are sometimes accused of style over substance, but what if that style is itself substantial? That’s Xenon 2 in a nutshell, right there.

2 – Stunt Car Racer

  • Released: 1989
  • Publisher: Micro Style
  • Developer: Microprose

I waxed lyrical about the paranormal abilities of Geoff Crammond last episode in the F1 Grand Prix section, so excuse me if I save myself the embarrassment of gushing about his brilliance all over again, and instead get on with describing this unique racing experience. You see, Stunt Car Racer is quite a novel racing game where the tracks are less race tracks and more rollercoasters. As you career around these tracks you will be constantly battling your car, the track itself and that git gravity (ugh, not him again) to try and keep your vehicle on the road.

These tracks get ever more challenging, starting with the rather tame Little Ramp and progressing to the nightmarish Ski Jump. The great thing about Stunt Car Racer, and the thing that will keep you coming back for more, is how you must learn these tracks inside out in order to master them. Similar to how a Formula One driver must know the perfect speed and racing line at which to attack each corner of Monaco or Silverstone, you must learn the ideal speeds to attack each ramp on the Stepping Stones or Draw Bridge. Too slow and you won’t make it, but too fast you will overshoot and land too heavily. And you’ll want to avoid these heavy landings at all costs, because they could scupper your chances of success over the season.

You see, damage is a central mechanic in Stunt Car Racer. As you race, each little bump and scrape will cause a crack to progress along the top of the chassis. Reach the end of the race before the crack reaches the end of the screen and you’ve done well, as the crack will reset ready for your next race. Take a more significant prang, however, and this will put a gaping hole in your car’s chassis. Not only does the crack travel much quicker through a section with a hole, but also these holes are not reset for each new race, instead remaining a part of your car like some kind of war wound throughout the whole season. Get too many of these and you might not be able to finish the season at all, as it is necessary to take some crack damage in order to go fast enough to compete on these wild tracks.

This risk/reward balance is what great games are made of, and Stunt Car Racer has you teetering on the edge of that balance the whole time you are playing. Whether that’s you trying to eke out every last drop of speed from a corner without careening off the edge, or knowing that your current speed going into a ramp will improve your time but cause you a significant amount of damage. You have to weigh all these factors up in order to succeed at the highest level of Stunt Car Racer.

1 – Dungeon Master

  • Released: 1987
  • Publisher: Mirrorsoft
  • Developer: FTL

It’s an understatement to say that Dungeon Master revolutionised the computer role playing game genre when it was released in 1987. It sounds glib to say it was the first real time RPG with mouse control and a 3D view, like that’s somehow the grand total of what the game offered. Those statements are true, but it’s the rich detail of the world and how evocative an experience that this model of user interface allowed that makes Dungeon Master shine. This game has a ton of imitators with better graphics and more features and yet here it is, still sitting at the number one spot and that really testifies to the brilliance of Dungeon Master.

First of all, consider the context: Dungeon Master was released in 1987. This is a particularly important year for fans of the RPG genre. It’s the year that saw the western release of The Legend of Zelda on the NES and the release of Final Fantasy in Japan. Now, these were games that wanted the video game experience to be deeper and broader than the usual arcade inspired blasters. They would take their inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons and previous role playing computer games such as Ultima, but attempted to present there adventures in a way that was more accessible to your average games player. Dungeon Master goes much, much further than these games and looking at them side by side gives you an impression of how that was achieved.

For a start, Dungeon Master presents the environment from your protagonists’ point of view. This made the game so immersive. You felt what your adventurers felt. That first encounter on the first floor of the dungeon with a mummy behind the portcullis is forever burnt into my memory thanks to the pulse-quickening fear I felt. I have never been so reluctant to press a button in the whole of my gaming history! Other role-playing games had you staring down upon the action from above like some kind of detached deity and they just couldn’t evoke the same visceral connection to the events of the screen.

Add to that a brilliant and intuitive icon driven mouse interface and this golden balance of strategic depth combined with ease of accessibility was achieved. But that’s just the foundation of what makes Dungeon Master so brilliant. Using these systems, FTL have constructed a compelling quest. Your mentor, the all-powerful Grey Lord, upon discovering the power gem has vowed to use it to create a peaceful, utopic world in which all that is good can thrive. Unfortunately he made a grievous error when executing the incantation, resulting in a catastrophic explosion that rented the world and the Grey Lord in two. Now, the good side of the Grey Lord, Lord Librasalus, is stuck in limbo and his dark side, Lord Chaos, is free to wreak havoc upon all reality. So it is down to you to enter Mt. Anais to find the firestaff and return it to Librasalus so that he can halt this catastrophic turn of events. The only problem is, the cataclysm destroyed your body, so your spirit must enter the Hall of Champions and resurrect those who are worthy of this monumental task.

And herein lies the brilliance of Dungeon Master. There isn’t a step-by-step tutorial explaining what you must do for the first couple of levels of this dungeon, there isn’t a handy hint system advising you on how to build your party. All there is, is a fantastic interface, a dungeon full of nasties… and you. You are left to figure out the best way to proceed. You must experiment with different characters, abilities and equipment to find the best way to progress. This learning journey is integral to what makes Dungeon Master so appealing. The first time you play, you might succumb to hunger on floor 4, so next time you make sure to stock up on food at every opportunity. The next run-through, you might get horribly lost in a devious maze section, so resolve to draw a map next time. Let’s not forget that you couldn’t just pull up a walkthrough on GameFAQs in 1987. Progression in Dungeon Master is hard earned, and all the more rewarding because of that. But here’s the rub: every time I fail in Dungeon Master, I don’t feel frustrated, I just feel steeled and determined to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes next time.

And that’s your lot. The Top 50 Atari ST Games according to you lot. Are there any games you feel have been overlooked? Let me know in the comment section below!

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