Pages

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge (Gremlin Graphics, 1990)


Developed by Magnetic Fields for the Commodore Amiga: code and music by Shaun Southern, with graphics by Andrew Morris.

Converted for the Atari ST by Magnetic Fields, with music by Ben Daglish. Converted for the Commodore 64 by Ashley Bennett. Converted for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC by Ali Davidson, with graphics by Berni. Also released on the Commodore Amiga CD32 in 1994 as part of the Lotus Trilogy.

---

GAME STATUS


As we're getting closer to another season of Top Gear, I decided to get into some driving games again. Yes, that means there's going to be at least two of your requests fulfilled within the next few months, one of them being really close to being ready now. But I'll start with a nice little classic Gremlin title from 1990, which at the time gave quite a shot of energy into an old genre.

When I started working on this entry, I couldn't believe I didn't know the author of the Kikstart series was also behind this game. Somehow, this had always escaped me, as had the fact that Magnetic Fields was basically the same as Mr. Chip Software with a new name. Then again, the Lotus series was so much a product of its time, and I was somehow blacked out of it back then. I never really played any of the Lotus games after 1994 or whatever, so it's about time I picked one up now. At the time, though, the game was highly praised all over the gaming press, and meanwhile, I was still happier playing Rally Speedway.

Currently, at LemonAmiga, the original version has a rather brilliant 8.46 from a total of 244 votes, and is ranked at #52 in the Top 100 list based on at least 100 votes. The Atari ST version has a rating of 8.1 from 29 votes at Atarimania. At World of Spectrum, their version has been given a score of 8.06 from 26 votes, while the C64 version has a surprisingly mediocre 7.3 out of 66 votes. Finally, CPC Game Reviews have given the Amstrad version an astounding 10 out of 10, although at CPC-Softs, the score looks to be a more reasonable 12.25 out of 20. So, it's time to see of whom to believe.

---

DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


At the time of its release, Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge was one of the most hyped games around, and I never understood why. You race a Lotus Esprit Turbo SE car against other Lotus Esprit Turbo SE cars of varying numbers (depending on the version) on various different imaginary tracks in various different countries. The tracks get gradually more difficult, with varying types of hills, corners, obstacles and petrol requirements. For this, you are allowed to make pitstops at the beginning of each lap. The game can also be played against a human opponent, which makes the biggest percentage of the fun that the game is all about, much like so many other racing games. Also, for the first time here, a Magnetic Fields game featured the parodied names of real-life racers of the time (such as Nijel Mainsail and Alain Phosphate), which must have added greatly to its charm.

Although I didn't get the connections back in the day, the pointers are so very clear now: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge is clearly a mash-up of games like OutRun (the point of view and the choosable music), Pitstop II (with a split-screen simultaneous racing mode and the ability to go to the pits), Enduro Racer (the obstacles), and Pole Position (20 cars on the track), just to point out a few. That doesn't mean I think it's a bad game - it's actually more like a tribute to everything that was great about all the 1980's behind-view racing games, only now presented with a turbo boost. If anything back then could be called an arcade-killer, it was precisely these sorts of games that brought the arcades to everyone's homes... although perhaps we still needed the racing wheels to get the full package. For a 1990 game, Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge has certainly earned its place as a classic among classics. In its own very effective way, it showed us the future of home gaming. Today, however, I'm not sure if it works as well as it could, really, because it doesn't have the same old game charm as really old games do, and it's still too old to be considered part of the new standard of home arcade gaming. It's definitely still worth getting acquainted with, though.

---

LOADING


There is no point in comparing the tape loading times here, since this is a 16-bit game at heart, and is very much a multi-loader. But I shall do a quick check on all the disk versions, how long you will have to wait until the main title screen has loaded.

AMSTRAD CPC: 34 seconds
ATARI ST: 39 seconds
COMMODORE 64: 25 seconds
COMMODORE AMIGA: 31 seconds
ZX SPECTRUM: 17 seconds

I'm not entirely sure if there is a point to this either, but I do recommend anyone to get a disk release of any of the versions if you happen to be looking out for one to buy. The tape versions are horrible with at least two long sides of data. Also, no point in showing any loading screens this time, since any of the versions that feature a loading screen has the same picture in the intro sections as well, which we will get into later on. So, just to be clear, the comparison is done this time by using only the disk versions.

---

PLAYABILITY


The idea that all the contestants drive a similar Lotus Esprit Turbo SE, gives the racing in the game some sense of equality. It's mostly in each driver's skills, how they find success in the end, but not just that. As with most racing games of the time, striving to have as much of a sense of realism as possible, Lotus requires lots of memorizing, particularly in later tracks, when you are faced with more and more obstacles and hills, which obstruct your view and make your racing life otherwise increasingly difficult.

As well as giving you the choice of computer-assisted (or automatic, if you prefer) transmission, you are offered two different methods of control. With the normal method, up and down make your Lotus accelerate and decelerate respectively, and pressing fire button when pushing up or down makes you change the gear to a higher or lower one. With the alternative method, pushing the fire button makes your Lotus accelerate, and pushing the joystick up or down while pressing the button will change your gear; just pulling the joystick down will make you decelerate. One thing needs to be mentioned about steering your car: it feels sluggish due to the need for performing a turning animation before your car can actually turn properly, and even then most of the time, it is a bit slower than you'd expect. The game features pitstops, but you only need to worry about pulling on them and taking off - you have no control over what happens at the pitstop, other than wait for the petrol to get into the tank, and get back into the race when you feel like it. There are three difficulty levels, which only give you an increasing amount of tracks (7, 10 and 15), but all of them are different. Fortunately, the game doesn't require you to finish in the top three - as long as you're in the top half, you will progress to the next level. Of course, winning requires some luck as well as skill, so it's still hard work.

Since I'm doing the comparison alone, I cannot write about the two-player mode, but I know that half of the fun gets lost without a human opponent, so keep that in mind while reading the rest of this. Also because I honestly suck at this game, I have only played the easy mode through - just taken a peek at the other two difficulty levels, so keep that in mind as well.

There are a few things that have always bothered me about this game. One of them is that you don't get to practice any of the tracks, and instead you are pushed straight into a race without a possibility to learn the tracks before racing. This makes even trying to play the later tracks a rather unattractive prospect. Another favourite annoyance of mine is that all the corners have been notified with the amount of signs laid beside the track, most of which are only shown DURING the corners, instead of giving you a fair warning with a simple sign shown above the track, like it is nowadays in practically every racing game. For a third one, you can bump into pretty much everything, but you have no way of making your AI opponents' lives difficult, because they don't seem to be affected by anything.

The list would go on for quite a while, were I so inclined, but the biggest problem in Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge is really how the AI drivers are made to drive. They can accelerate quicker than you, which is quite normal in any arcade racing game, but as they start the race, ALL of the AI drivers start to wave back and forth for the whole width of the track pre-programmed for their use, so for any segments in any track featuring obstacles (water, oil, roadblocks, rocks etc.), the computer cars take up practically the whole space of two lanes, which makes your life an utter misery, because bumping into other cars slows you down enough for usually 2 to 3 cars to make a pass, but crashing into rocks or roadblocks will make you stop altogether so that it's not much of an overstatement that you can drop down 10 places if unlucky. The AI cars don't even slow down in uphills as your car does, which is yet another example of unfair advantage, and which could be an overlooked problem in code, but since this is an arcade game at heart, I'm pretty sure all of this nonsense is intended. Some of the tracks in the game feature quite a lot of narrow passages, obstacles, hills and sharp corners, so if you start from the lowest spot, which you do if you win a round, you might consider destroying your game disk before you are ever able to win the game. Now, as I'm writing all of this,  I'm starting to remember why I never liked this game in the first place, and probably never will, even if I now understand it better.

Anyway, time to move on to the comparison itself. All of the text above is a vagueish description of how the original AMIGA version plays, so now I move on to the other 16-bit version - the ATARI ST. All of the basic gameplay elements are the same here, but one unexpected difference makes an even more unexpected amount of difference. I'm speaking of the missing lane markings here. Because the lanes are figuratively missing, the game has been also made less strict about the collision detection as well as the placements of all the road blocks and other obstacles, which makes the game just slightly easier to play. This also makes it easier to see all the darker obstacles, meaning oil puddles and rocks better. Sometimes, graphics do make a lot of difference, and this is one of those cases. That said, it's still not as easy or playable as it could be, but it's a small step up from the AMIGA original, which is a small miracle.

I remember the occasion when I loaded up the C64 version of Lotus for the first time ever, because it was two years ago. Back then, it seemed sort of exciting to find out about it, but while I was having a go at it, it simultaneously felt completely alien as well as somehow boringly familiar to me. Playing the C64 version now for the second time in my whole life, it feels even more alien than it did back then, and if possible, nothing like it did two years ago. This likely has a lot to do with the fact that I've just been playing the two 16-bit versions of the game, and the step back to the 8-bits this way is like falling backwards down a high mountain ledge with a parachute that doesn't open. You know what it is going to feel like even before you give it a try, because we have passed the point in time in which the 8-bits still ruled the markets and everyone was still giving their best shots at making good games for them. Now, this is what happens when the gameplay depends almost entirely on the graphic capabilities of each machine.

The playability itself isn't as bad as you would expect - the screen moves rather well, and zooming past the other cars is almost as easy as it is on the ATARI ST. However, due to the simplified graphics, it is a bit difficult to notice the pitstops, which you should notice by a slightly wider bit of road, but you necessarily don't always. Also, the hills and corners on the C64 give less time to react to other cars because of the restricted view. Come to think of it, all of the tracks seem to be somehow minituarized in some way, as if all the corners were coming at you more quickly, and there were less obstacles than in any other version. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it just requires some adjustment for gamers familiar with the 16-bit versions. I know this should be mentioned in the Sound section, but sadly, the C64 version even lacks certain sounds - namely the warning signal for your petrol tank getting empty, in affects the gameplay in such a way as to require you to be looking at the meters more than you should. So, while most of the minus points come from departments that usually are unrelated to playability, the C64 version is still rather playable. But I wouldn't call it particularly enjoyable.

Naturally, the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions have their own problems, even though admittedly, they are rather impressive considering the hardware. Both versions have clearly been made by the same team, which probably means that the AMSTRAD version was ported straight from the SPECTRUM (again). This shows in the slight drop of framerate, which in itself affects the gameplay a bit. I mentioned the sluggish turning method earlier, which already requires some more thinking ahead than you would expect on the 16-bits, but on these two 8-bits, while the same feature exists, you haven't got the luxury of steering in advance, because the framerate is so much lower, and for an inordinate amount of time, you aren't able to see far enough ahead. Happily, these two versions have a slightly more forgiving collision detection, so you can make progress with a bit of luck. Unlike on the other versions, though, the AI contestants on the first 4 places are more difficult to pass than the ones at the bottom, so it's very difficult to win the game even on the easy level, BUT... and this is a big BUT: the AI drivers don't wave around constantly as they do on every other version, which could be considered somewhat of an advantage. I suppose it could be also considered of some vital importance, that the Spectrum and Amstrad versions have completely different levels than the others - featuring hills and steep turns already within the first easy track... but the only thing it really affects is the gamers' need to be more alert to everything from the beginning - in other words, it's a bit more difficult, even with the more sensible AI. But if you're a Lotus game fanatic, you'll be happy to know that these two versions are that much different from the original.

There is one thing that will redeem the C64 version some worth back here - the two-player mode. On the two other 8-bit versions get a heavy framerate drop when you play a multiplayer game, while the C64 scrolls just as nicely in multiplayer mode as it does in single player mode. So, because the game is clearly more focused on the multiplayer experience, the C64 version earns to be placed as high as the SPECTRUM version. And I have to judge this by considering all the parts of the whole anyway, and so the ATARI ST version wins. Had the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions had a better framerate and more view distance and all that stuff, I would have gladly given them higher spots, but as they are... here are the results:

1. ATARI ST
2. COMMODORE AMIGA
3. COMMODORE 64 / ZX SPECTRUM
4. AMSTRAD CPC

---


GRAPHICS


What more natural way to start a Lotus themed game than showing the gamers the Lotus logo. For those of you who don't know, the four letters in the middle of the logo stand for the initials of company founder, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman. Apart from the C64 version, you also get some different sorts of (loading) screens of mentioning the game's presenters.

Loading screens and title screens. Left: Commodore Amiga / Atari ST. Top middle: Amstrad CPC.
Bottom middle: Commodore 64. Right: ZX Spectrum.


If you were a betting man, you wouldn't be far off, if you were to suppose that the title screens tell a lot about the game's graphics overall. The lack of polish on the C64 is clearly evident already, and the lack of colour is clearly evident on the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions... but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

One of the features in Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge, that could be called a more notable show-off compared to other racing games back in the day, was the bother that the development team took to create a digital "handbook", showcasing the Esprit Turbo SE's properties. You get detailed descriptions of the car's interior and exterior dimensions and features, performance as well as general specifications.

Showcasing electronic handbooks. Top row: Commodore Amiga / Atari ST.
Center row: Commodore 64. Bottom row: ZX Spectrum / Amstrad CPC.


Although it's not that much to look at, unless you're a car tech nerd, there is that spinning 3D-model of the car on the 16-bit version of the dimensions page. This little detail already makes the game feel like it was clearly made for the 16-bit machines. For some reason, this starter bit seems to have been a bit too much for the C64 team to complete, as one of the pages is missing, and a lot of information hasn't fitted onto the pages that are there. It doesn't perhaps come as a surprise, considering the loading screens, that the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD handbooks are completely monochrome. At least half of the pages are in a different colour, but it feels like the conversion team was still thinking in greyscale, as if gamers in 1990 still had a black-and-white television.

Esprit from the front. Animated version featured on the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST versions. Unanimated on the C64.


The 16-bit versions and the C64 one even feature a full-screen image of the car's frontal. The 16-bit versions go even as far as giving it a show-offish animation bit, where the Esprit's headlight open up and they are flashed three times, before they get closed down again. The C64 picture only shows the car with its headlights closed, but at least it's there.

Game options and music selection screens. Left: Commodore Amiga / Atari ST. Middle: Commodore 64.
Top right: Amstrad CPC. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum.


Here are the screenshots of the Game Options screens, just to show you a basic look of the game's menus and other text-based screens on each version. Up to this point, the AMIGA and ST versions look exactly the same, as do the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions - apart from the joystick bit down the menu. Another exclusive feature on the 16-bits is this OutRun-like car stereo soundtrack selection screen. The C64 has a very simple text version of this, and the other two 8-bits have the track selection integrated into the main menu.

Track information screens. Left: Commodore Amiga / Atari ST. Middle: Commodore 64. Right: Spectrum / Amstrad.


Okay, I couldn't resist showing you a comparison of the track info pages. This is most likely the first time any first-time gamer will be seeing one of the pun names of famous racing drivers, like Nijel Mainsail here. The C64 version doesn't feature half of the info it's supposed to, which shouldn't come as a surprise anymore, and curiously, the track description and hazard notes on the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions don't correspond very well at all with what is actually coming up.

Screenshots from Stage 1. Top left: Commodore Amiga. Bottom left: Atari ST. Middle: Commodore 64.
Top right: Amstrad CPC. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum.


I will only be showing you screens from the first three stages, since there is not much else of interest here than the background graphics, once we have dealt with all the basics. And as you can see, from now on, all five versions will have to be dealt with separately.

The most obvious differences are the road marking differences on the AMIGA and ST, and the colouring on the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM. It also looks as though the active player's screen is bigger compared to the inactive player's on the AMSTRAD, whereas the SPECTRUM has both screens of a similar size. Both 16-bit versions have their own plusses and minuses - the AMIGA version features slightly more details and colour than the ST, but the ST version is less messy due to exactly that, and is easier to play for it. I do like the track progress meter's placing on the AMIGA more, though, as it's more visible and doesn't take your attention away as easily as the more hidden one on the ATARI. Unfortunately, the C64 version suffers from very sloppily pixeled graphics, and even the amount of colours doesn't save it from its ugliness. It lacks detail, but at least it scrolls better than the other two 8-bits.

Screenshots from a two player mode, from left to right: Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.


Speaking of scrolling, when you try the two-player mode on either SPECTRUM or AMSTRAD, the framerate drops drastically, to being almost unplayable. Particularly on the AMSTRAD. On the C64, no such problem occurs, but it's still ugly. Rather ugly and playable than colourless, but prettyish, and still nearly unplayable. Of course, the 16-bit versions have no problems whatsoever with this sort of thing.

Screenshots from Stage 2. Top left: Commodore Amiga. Bottom left: Atari ST. Middle: Commodore 64.
Top right: Amstrad CPC. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum.


In the second track, we begin to see the dimensions that the original game is all about - heights, distances, latitudes... it's all shown perfectly well on the 16-bit versions, while the 8-bits struggle to show even the nearby events properly. As you keep on playing the C64 version, you realize that the necessities-only basis for the graphics works surprisingly well in the end, even if you still can't enjoy anything pretty. Also, if it didn't occur to you during the first stage, comparing the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM screenshots of stage 2 shows us very clearly that the AMSTRAD version has more colour than the SPECTRUM. Which is probably why it scrolls worse.

Screenshots from Stage 3. Top left: Commodore Amiga. Bottom left: Atari ST. Middle: Commodore 64.
Top right: Amstrad CPC. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum.


The reason why I chose to show screenshots from only three tracks is, because the 8-bit versions only have three different backgrounds, which will only vary in obstacles and roadside ornaments in the later tracks. One might easily compare this lack of graphics to the 8-bit home conversions of games like Enduro Racer, OutRun and Power Drift, but you have to remember, Lotus is the only game featuring a split-screen two-player mode, and so the programmers have had to prioritise things into other areas. Sure, the 16-bit versions have more backgrounds and all that, but they do have more power and memory to deal with them.

Effects of altitude. Left: Commodore Amiga. Top right: Commodore 64. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum.
Now would be a good time to talk about the effects of altitude, or more precisely what will happen on screen, when you drive uphill and downhill. But I admit to being incapable of talking about the finer points of this matter, which it requires, so I'll just say what I can. The 16-bits are capable of showing the hills as they come, as you drive on them, and as you come back on a flat surface in an impressively realistic way, and I was even capable of taking screenshots of these events without much of a fuss. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions look awkward, like you were driving over emptiness when going uphill, and like you were driving in a big hole in the ground when going downhill, and during these bits, you will have no idea whatsoever, what will be coming up afterwards. The C64 version isn't much better, but at least you can see something.

Pitstops. At the top: Commodore Amiga. Middle left: Atari ST. Bottom left: Commodore 64.
Middle right: ZX Spectrum. Bottom right: Amstrad CPC.
As I can come up with nothing more interesting concerning the actual racing graphics, here are the screens for when you are making a pitstop. And it is exactly the same screen as you see from the inactive player screen all the time, but with a fuel gauge added to the other end of it, which fills up automatically. Even though SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD are pretty much monochrome again, at least they are able to mimic the setting from the 16-bits which are made to look as authentic as you would want from this sort of game. It's not as clear, but it's close enough. The C64 pitstop just looks plain ugly and boring, having no mechanics around, nor equipment or anything. Just a couple of signs on the wall, the car and the fuel gauge. Again, only the absolute necessities, which is a bit boring.

In most old games, the saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is nothing if not subjectively true. As much as I have tried to contradict this by often adding the often overlooked factor, that in order to become graphically acceptable, the object of admiration must be functional as well in the case of games, everyone always has their own opinion on the matter - even going as far as having their own terms of what is functional. In this case, I would perhaps argue that the game must be as playable as possible in order for us to be able to call the graphics functional for the game, but although the C64's graphics render the game playable enough, it is just too ugly for the game's requirements. The dynamic duo that are SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD have it the other way around: the graphics are pretty enough even without much of colour, but too much prettiness causes the two-player mode to be almost unplayable. So, I'd say, avoid the C64 version, and only play the single player mode on the other 8-bits, but you'd be a fool to choose anything other than either of the 16-bits for a proper Lotus experience.

1. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
2. ZX SPECTRUM / AMSTRAD CPC
3. COMMODORE 64

---

SOUNDS


Like many other games from Magnetic Fields, the original AMIGA version starts off with the famous sampled excerpt from Richard Wagner's "Siegfried's Funeral March" from Götterdämmerung, the last of the four Ring operas. Here is a link for a version I found on YouTube of the real deal. Since it's a sample, it should come as no surprise that you can't hear this legendary sound bite in any other version.

While Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge isn't exactly one of the earliest examples of having a very hard rock soundtrack, it is one of the earliest examples of having a fully utilised set of sampled rock instruments on every song - apart from the Magnetic Fields intro, obviously. The title track starts with a bass guitar line (judging by the sound, played with a pick), followed by the drum set (which consists of a bass drum, a heavily 80's-type gate-sound influnced snare, and a few tom-toms) and finally a couple of heavy-distorted guitars. It's an instantly recognizable track to those of us who lived back then, even if we didn't play the game all that much, because one might load up the game just to listen to the tunes. There are also four different in-game tunes, all of various styles of rock music, which you can choose from the pre-game music selection screen, but for those of you who like to play with manual gears, an effects-only option is also available. If you choose to listen to some in-game music, you will still hear some scarce sound effects on top of the tunes, such as crashing into things and driving over the edges, but when these effects are played, some of the musical instruments are left out for the duration of the played sound effect. For this reason, I tend to choose to play with sound effects only. The title tune will also be played between levels during the loading sections, just to ensure that it will stick in your mind permanently.

Just for completion's sake, I have to mention the 48k SPECTRUM version, which only has the sound effects, and no other sound options. This is also notified by the game, if you load it in 48k mode, that the music is for 128k computers only. Here, the sound effects consist only of the engine's choppy running sound, made to vary by the revs, the gear changes and inevitable collisions with obstacles and other cars. Well, yeah, there are the countdown beeps at the beginning of every stage, but that's it. The 128k version features music, but strangely, the music has been left to be played only during the menus and other text screens, and there are only three of them now. Considering that the tunes are supposed to represent the whole scale of a rock band, the AY rendition is sorely missing the low end of the aural spectrum. The racing bits only feature the same bleepy sound effects that are in the 48k version, so it's definitely a missed opportunity.

The AMSTRAD version has the same problem of having no in-game music, but it does have the instrumentation changed to one octave lower register, so it works slightly better. The sound effects are also slightly better here, since the engine droning sound isn't nearly as choppy as it is on the SPECTRUM, and you can now also hear crashes and tire squeal.

As usual, the C64 soundtrack is an improvement over the AY versions, but not as much as you would perhaps expect this time. There are still no more than three tunes in the soundtrack, but at least you actually get to hear your selected tune during the game. So it's either music or sound effects. And this time, I shall happily choose the music, because the sound effects are rather boring: a very muffled engine drone, surprisingly quiet crash noises when bumping into things, and a strangely fluid-sounding tire squeal. At least, by choosing an in-game tune for being other than the title theme song, you get to hear two different tunes - the title tune for the between stage bits, and the other one for the races.

Finally, the ATARI ST soundtrack is something of a mixture between every other version. With the YM-chip being a close relative of the AY-chips on the Spectrum and Amstrad, the basic sound is quite similar to those, but the YM-chip has been put to a slightly better use here, having more low end and slightly more expression in all the sounds. The sound effects, at least, sound nicer than the ones on the C64. The ST version also contains all the tunes from the AMIGA original, but they have their YM-chip renditions too, so in that way, it's a mixed bag. Still, I would definitely rather listen to this one than any of the 8-bits.

1. COMMODORE AMIGA
2. ATARI ST
3. COMMODORE 64
4. AMSTRAD CPC
5. ZX SPECTRUM

---

OVERALL


I can now honestly say that there is probably no racing game in the world that I absolutely hate with more passion than I do Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge at the moment, particularly on the 8-bits. The amount of luck needed to have any success in the game is astonishing, since the AI drivers cannot bump into any obstacles, much less collide with your car from behind and slow down from it, but you, the gamer, will have to suffer all kinds of crap in order to finish in the top half. If the visibility is of the calibre that it is on the 8-bits, the amount of luck you will need, as well as the amount of memorizing you will need to be doing, will raise exponentially from the 16-bits.

That said, it's nothing if not a product of its time, and a clear indication of the direction we as gamers were about to be taken - graphics over playability. Still, this game manages to bring out the elements of arcade gaming as it was supposed to, and I have to applaud it for that. You just need to give it much more time than you would like to in order to be very good at it. This is something you would expect from a game like Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport now, but not a simple arcade racer. So I cannot honestly say Lotus 1 has stood the test of time very well, but it needs to be said that the game can only be properly worth any time spent in two-player mode.

Now, here are the wretched mathematical end results...

1. ATARI ST: Playability 4, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
1. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 11
2. COMMODORE 64: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 6
3. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5
3. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5

That doesn't look right, does it? I will agree with the duo at the top, but the bottom three are arguable. To be honest, with this game, I don't give a toss, so it's up to you to decide which one is the least worst.

To end on a happier note, the original Amiga versions of all three Lotus games feature a bonus game, which can be accessed by entering certain codes as the names of players. In the first Lotus game, you would have to enter MONSTER and SEVENTEEN as the names, and you would access a simple vertical space survival-shooter. In Lotus 2, you would access a rendition of Shaun Southern's early VIC-20 game Kwazy Kwaks by entering DUX as one of the names. In Lotus 3, the password for the hidden game is CU AMIGA, and the hidden game is an enhanced remake of a C64 game called POD.

Screenshots from the hidden bonus games from all the original Amiga Lotus games.

Oh, and some of you might wonder, where did I leave the Sega versions. The thing is, the 16-bit Sega only had the two latter Lotus games converted for it, only they were titled rather confusingly "Lotus Turbo Challenge" for Lotus 2, and "Lotus II: RECS" (referring to the game's course creation feature) or "Lotus II" for what was originally Lotus 3, depending on the region of release.

So that's it for now, hope you enjoyed it more than I did. If you didn't, blame Shaun Southern and Andrew Morris. If you feel like I've missed out on something important with the game, you're welcome to leave a comment, but I won't guarantee that anything will change my opinion of it. Anyway, thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. The CPC & Spectrum versions are obviously similare AKA "speccy port of death".
    While as often the CPC is a slightly bit slowlier, I would say the screen is also a slight bit larger, and the fact the different elements in the playfield manage to have different colours without attribute artefacts/colour clashes, this quite renders the game better looking (just a little bit) but also more playable.
    Quite hard to identify what's going on when everything is in the same colour.

    while they may be terrible compared to other versions, especially 16bit, this game was a bit fun to play on CPC (so I guess speccy as well) but main issue was that the playfields don't have enough vertical space... you would often see nothing, C64 version has like 8 more pixels, 16bit versions like 24 more pixels in height for playfields.
    Also CPC version really suffers from a "they didn't even make any effort" speccy port syndrome.
    The menues or intro pages could really have been more coloured and betterly done.
    Even on speccy.

    Saddly the game was a rare one having split screen so it was enjoyable anyway.

    Also CPC and ZX spectrum don't have Hard-sprites so it is really a lot of work to run dual screens on those.

    Wec le Mans was really really better as a one player game on CPC, despite using the "same" Mode1 (320x200x4) graphic mode.

    ReplyDelete