Monday, 30 November 2015

Uridium (Hewson, 1986)

Developed and programmed by Andrew Braybrook for the Commodore 64, with music by Steve Turner. Published for the European market in 1986 by Hewson Consultants.

Converted for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum by Dominic Robinson. Loading screen by Stephen J. Crow. Published for the European market in 1986 by Hewson Consultants.

Converted for the Atari ST by Joe Hellesen. Published for the North American market in 1986 by Mindscape.

Converted for the Amstrad CPC by Neil Latarche, with music by Dave Rogers. Published for the European market in 1987 by Hewson Consultants.

Converted for the Acorn BBC Micro by A.I.M. (Angus Hughes has hailed himself as the "A." part of the conversion team on YouTube.) Published for the European market in 1987 by Hewson Consultants.

Converted for the IBM-PC compatibles by John Friedman and Joe Hellesen. Published in 1988 by Mindscape.

Converted for the Nintendo Entertainment System by Graftgold. Published in 1990 by Mindscape as "The Last Starfighter".



Andrew Braybrook is a name that continues to evoke waves of nostalgia-related emotions in retrogamers, particularly of the Commodore population. His influence in the latter half of the 1980's computer gaming industry was incalculable, with games like Paradroid, Gribbly's Day Out, Alleykat, Fire & Ice, and Uridium perhaps most particularly, since it spawned so many clones with varying success. He also worked on some of the better conversions of Rainbow Islands and Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart's Super Off Road, which could well explain their home conversion statuses. Sadly, after the fall of Commodore circa 1995-96, Braybrook quit the game industry and joined an insurance company - a sad loss to be sure, but his legacy lives on.

The reason why it has taken me so long to get to work on a comparison of a Braybrook game is exactly because my respect for his games is so great that I'm still unsure whether I can make a properly fair comparison - after all, he was a Commodore programmer, and it can only be expected that his original work would best the others quite easily. But, perhaps a comparison should be made if only for the sake of giving you detailed descriptions of all the versions, and not primarily for the sake of letting a certain group of retrogamers gloat in their betterness.

Of course, the original version has a reputation at being one of the best of its kind on the C64, and it has earned #93 rank at the Lemon64 Top list with a score of 7.9 from a total of 186 votes. Interestingly, the Spectrum version has a better score of 8.33 from 114 votes at World of Spectrum, placing it at joint #75 at their Top 100 list. The Amstrad version has a 15/20 at CPC-Softs, and a 7 out of 10 at CPC Game Reviews. For some reason, the ST version has only been rated 6.0 by no more than three Atarimania voters. For the DOS version, I had to look to MobyGames for some ratings, and from 8 votes, it has a rating of 3.2 out of 5. The Acorn version has no reliable scores whatsoever, although one MobyGames user had rated it with a round 4.0. Finally, out of the original run of releases, the NES conversion with the rather random movie licence has been rated with an unfortunate F-, but I have a hard time believing it so bad. Let's see what's what, then.



If there's someone who doesn't know where the name of the game comes from, the game manual quotes Robert Orchard, who invented the name as saying "I really thought it existed." He must have confused it with the metallic element iridium. Well, who knows, maybe there IS an element called uridium, but it hasn't been discovered yet.

Despite its genre, Uridium is not exactly an easy game to describe. Sure, it's a horizontally scrolling shoot'em-up, which scrolls in both directions at your command, but there's more depth to the game than you would expect. Not by adding a third dimension, though, although you do tend to get an impression of it by crashing into things rising towards the screen from the dreadnoughts you have to fly over. The basic idea is to clear the dreadnoughts of a number of enemy fleets and some destroyable objects on the dreadnoughts, before you are ordered to land your Manta spaceship on the landing zone somewhere near the end of the dreadnought, and initiate a destruct sequence via a minigame. One of the defining gameplay quirks is your ship's ability to fly sideways, if you can handle it.

This level of depth in space shooters was not very often seen, although certainly not completely unheard of. The variety and behaviour of the enemy fleets was something unusual for the time, and having to navigate through unfamiliarly placed obstacles instead of a cave-like environment was no less of a rarity. Still, what helped make Uridium such a well-regarded piece of game programming, at least on the C64, was its wondrously quick and glitch-free scrolling.

Uridium was among the first ten games I ever played on the C64, and to this day, I have never beaten it. Then again, I have never thought of playing it with cheats on, so I haven't had much chance to practice the latter half of the game's 15 levels. But even if Uridium cannot be called easy, it's definitely addictive. Or at least, it was in the 80's, and it has firmly remained as a favourite of mine among side-scrolling space shooters. But I'm a retro gamer, and I cannot really say whether or not a young gamer of the current generation would enjoy Uridium half as much as I did back then, precisely because of its difficulty. If, however, I had to pick a game to attempt waning the young gamers of today out of the unnecessarily easy modern games, Uridium would be one of my choices. The original at least, I can highly recommend, but what about the rest?



Loading times are always more interesting to compare, when there are plenty of releases to build the comparison on. As usual, I could only find one tape image file of the Amstrad and Acorn versions, but there were plenty of C64 and Spectrum tapes to check upon - and I'm fairly certain there are still many releases possible to find for all the platforms. Anyhow, these should give you a good idea of what to expect in general.

ACORN BBC MICRO: 4 minutes 35 seconds
AMSTRAD CPC: 6 minutes 2 seconds
COMMODORE 64, V1: 2 minutes 49 seconds
COMMODORE 64, V2: 3 minutes 17 seconds
4 minutes 50 seconds
ZX SPECTRUM, V2: 4 minutes 24 seconds

Regarding the two Spectrum loaders, V1 includes the Erbe releases, as well as the original Hewson release, and V2 is basically the Rack-It release, although the other alternatives alter very little from it. Regarding the two C64 loaders, V1 is any of the versions with the custom Braybrook loader, and V2 is the earliest version of the game, which was still using Novaload. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the ATARI ST version has to be loaded using TOS 1.02 or 1.04, else it will not work. That is, if you happen to be so lucky as to find a disk image of it from the internet.

Loading screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64 + alternative and Amstrad CPC.
Bottom row, left to right: Acorn BBC Micro, Atari ST, DOS, ZX Spectrum.

Here are all the official loading screens I was able to come across, with the exception of the inevitable additional briefly shown loading screen from the Spectrum ERBE releases, which are not very useful nor exceptional for any ERBE release. Funnily enough, while the C64 version had two distinctly different loaders, neither of them had a loading screen that would have had much to do with the game's cover art. In the case of the Novaload version, it's possible that the game loader was mastered for duplication before the cover art was submitted. In the case of the Braybrook custom loader, or whatever it's called, it seems like they must have thought that pixelating the cover art would have been such a boring idea that they went for something completely different in order to test their new custom-built loader system. Which works well enough, to be sure. The AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM loaders are also custom-built by someone at Hewson, but the featured loading screens feature the cover art, as you would normally expect. The ACORN loader is relatively boring and offers nothing new in addition to the game graphics, and the ATARI ST loader only features the Mindscape logo, who were the North American distributors of the game.



Everyone who has ever played Uridium will be aware of the game's serious level of difficulty. According to the Retro Gamer review of Braybrook (the "Making of Uridium" article), he had written some routines in the game specifically to make things less of a walk in the park for Zzap!64's Julian Rignall. So, if you never managed to beat Uridium, don't worry - not every gamer is expected to be a super-human. Having said that, it should be clear enough that this comparison will not contain information on every level - not even nearly, in fact. But we shall have to start from the beginning and end up where possible, or where necessary.

Your Manta ship can be controlled with any controller at hand, be it joystick or keyboard, or the joypad on the NES. The controls are simple: up and down move your ship up and down on the screen, while left and right control your velocity, and can turn your Manta into the opposite direction, when your speed becomes too slow to go in the former direction. The maneouvre for changing your direction has rarely been as useful as here: you can evade enemy bullets and the homing mines (Uridi-mines, as they seem to have been called) just by doing this. The designated fire button can be used for shooting, as usual, but also for aligning the Manta sideways or upside down, if necessary. Keeping the fire button down will make the Manta go sideways, which is helpful in tighter spots. No other controls are necessary, since you get no additional weapons.

The controls and other options can be chosen on the title screen. On the C64, you can only play Uridium with joysticks - probably an intentional part of the game's design, because you wouldn't play an arcade game on keyboard. So, using the function keys at the right edge of the keyboard, you can choose to play a one player game (F1), a two player game with a shared joystick (F2), or a two player game with two different joysticks (F3). F5/F6 adjust the music volume in the title screen, and F7/F8 toggle colour mode and a monochrome-supported mode, a rarely seen feature in any home computer game. In the SPECTRUM version, you can only choose from one and two players, as well as keyboard and joystick controls from keys 1 to 4, after the title logo effect has run its course; however, if you want to change the option again, you have to wait for the option to take effect and get the logo effect run again before you can make the intended changes. The AMSTRAD version supports both keyboard and joystick controls simultaneously, so the only thing you can do in the title screen is to start the game in one player or two player mode. That said, I couldn't get the two player mode working properly, because all it did was start a one player mode for the second player, no matter which numeric button I pressed to start the game. In a similar vein, also the ATARI ST, NES and ACORN versions only have options for one and two players, although in the ACORN version, you are required to choose your controls in the middle of the loading process. Uniquely, the DOS version allows to turn off the sounds completely from F7, although you can turn them back from from F6. The first five function keys change the number of players and their respectively used controls. F8 seemed to crash the whole game, which is odd.

So, let's move on into the game. Each level is basically shooting and going forwards and backwards while avoiding obstacles, until you are given the order to "LAND NOW!", which is when you must find the empty landing zone, align your Manta in its normal pose, and aim directly on top of the landing zone so that you will automatically land on it. In the original C64 version of Uridium, you get a fruit machine inspired reaction game for scoring some bonus points. This was converted for the ACORN, DOS, ATARI ST and NES versions, but left out of every other one, so naturally, those missing the bonus game could be considered as inadequate, if not incomplete. After having been given the bonus scores, the original version also lets you fly over the Dreadnought you just set to destruct, while it's getting destroyed, and there you can shoot for bonus points if you missed on some of the targets on your way to the landing zone, and for this run, you aren't even bothered by enemy vessels. A rather unique and nice idea, which was only converted for NES version for some reason.

The speed of Uridium is one of the most important reasons for the game's existence, and surely enough, the original has plenty of it, when your Manta reaches its full potential velocity. In this aspect, the closest competitors to the original are, rather surprisingly, the BBC MICRO and NES versions, while all the others are considerably slower. Strangely, the ATARI ST version feels the slowest of the lot, although its playability has been altered very little otherwise. Also, the DOS version is nearly impossible to get to play at its proper speed with DOSbox, so the best option to having a proper-aged PC would be to use PCem, if you're keen enough to dabble on with minuscule virtual hardware settings.

It has to be said about the NES version, though, that there doesn't appear to be either a fully working ROM-file of it anywhere, or an emulator that would be able to run the game perfectly. Even with FCEUX, which is supposed to be the most accurate NES/Famicom emulator, you get a nice little scrolling problem when going left, as the Dreadnought below you gradually disappears as you move, but then comes back as you go to the right again. And that's your best option from the emulators at the moment, as far as I know. If you REALLY want to play The Last Starfighter on a proper machine, you would have to have a North American NES, or a modded one to support US cartridges. But it's not very recommended, since the NES conversion's playability isn't nearly up to scratch. You cannot move the Manta up or down if you are turning into the other direction at the same time, and landing the Manta seems to be more based on luck than actual controlling. For an additional grievance, the enemy vessels shoot at you with a quicker rate than they do elsewhere. Having said all that, it should be of little wonder that I couldn't pass level 2.

As for the other versions, there aren't all that many particularly horrible oversights in playability. For the DOS and ATARI ST versions, the "LAND NOW" signal has been removed, so you can now land whenever you have reached the landing zone - similarly to how it has been handled in Uridium Plus. The BBC MICRO version suffers from a slight unresponsiveness of throttle control, but otherwise it's surprisingly faithful to the original. The AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions are rather similar to each other - slow and sluggish, but then the lack of speed makes it easier to notice and navigate around the obstacles. Only the homing mines are ridiculously quick in the SPECTRUM version, and nearly impossible to avoid, but the AMSTRAD version has this issue fixed. The only really irritating thing about the SPECTRUM version is actually in the title screen - the URIDIUM logo features a visual effect that you need to wait through before the title theme tune starts to play, which is when you can actually start the game. This, I feel is unnecessary and takes away from the immediacy that arcade-style games usually require.

There is one more little thing that needs to be addressed: the level design. While it's not dramatically different in any version, there are some slight alterations in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, and then the BBC MICRO version has some more alterations, but since these sorts of games are mostly about trial and error, you can think of the different level designs as modifications to keep you challenged longer. The other three official conversions follow the original design.

Since the intention of Uridium was to have a home computer based arcade-quality game, you have to consider its merits as a basis for an arcade shooter. Since everyone has their own opinions as to what makes a good arcade shooter, it's Braybrook's vision we have to consider. On their own merits, the other 8-bit conversions in particular are very impressive, apart from the NES version. Strangely, the DOS and ST versions feel more than a bit lacking, even if some minor things have been changed for the better, due to the unnecessarily restricted speed and omitting the destruction sequence. And although the original omission of a keyboard control option was very likely intended, it can still be considered a loss. Anyway, this is how I see the versions line up:

5. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES (with joystick)
7. NES



One of Braybrook's goals in making Uridium was to get a gaming experience on the C64 as close as possible to the arcades, which meant that the main focus would be on creating a scrolling protocol that would display 50 frames per second. This meant some heavy cutting of other elements, but most of them aren't much of a problem, since you will be so heavily focused on navigating through the Dreadnoughts while avoiding and shooting enemies, that you will have a hard time seeing what's missing. But let's not get too much ahead of ourselves yet - we have the title screens to go through first.

Title screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Atari ST, Acorn BBC Micro.
Bottom row, left to right: Amstrad CPC, NES, DOS.

There is nothing too miraculous about the title screens themselves, as every version looks pretty much the same, apart from the NES version for obvious reasons. Some minor differences can be seen in the colouring of the logos and all the texts, but the only really interesting thing, at least in these exact screens, is shown on the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions, where the Uridium logo features a yellow-and-red line scroller. The SPECTRUM version shows this animation for a while before switching to a solid half-cyan and half-yellow logo, while the AMSTRAD version only has the red-and-yellow effected logo. Since the Last Starfighter screen on the NES looks completely different to all the regular Uridium title screens, there's not much that needs to be said. As a minor curiosity, though, the ATARI ST and DOS versions show some of the machines' specifications on both sides of the logo. 

Small bits of the large text scroller, left to right: Commodore 64, DOS, NES, Atari ST.

In the original version, the title sequence features a separate text scroller with gigantic metallic letters in the same bas-relief style that the Dreadnoughts in the game are styled. This didn't make it into all conversions - the ones missing out are the ACORN, AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions, and some versions view it only after the title theme tune has been played through. In addition to the large text scroller, the title sequence consists of a quick look at the high scores table, and in most machines, a brief game demo sequence to further simulate the feel of an arcade machine. But all that is a bit unnecessary, since they add nothing to the actual graphics, just arcade-like content that isn't all that imporant in the comparison, unless you consider the slow drop-down effects used for building the high score tables in the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions as pivotal. I find them merely annoying, as they only eat up the immediacy that an arcade-quality game of this sort should have.

The "Get Ready!" screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, NES.
Bottom row, left to right: DOS, Acorn BBC Micro, Atari ST.

Even the traditional "Get ready, player #" screen has its own particular intention, at least in the original version. Here, you can see the Manta ship spinning around, as a sort of reminder that you can actually perform these sorts of things with it. Wherever the Manta is used for these screens, it does the scrolling thing, even on the NES. However, when you see the Gunstar's (the type of spaceship used by the protagonist in the Last Starfighter movie) animation, it doesn't appear to be even nearly as useful in its ability to roll around, because the sprite used on the NES is almost the same width from all sides. Then again, the redesigned levels mostly take care of the problem that would have been created by this.

Starting a level. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Atari ST.
Bottom row, left to right: Acorn BBC Micro, DOS, NES.

At the beginning of each level, your Manta backs out of some sort of mothership, or more likely a transportation ship, and then turns around to face the peril. At least, it does so on the C64, ST and DOS versions, and even the NES version sort of attempts to imitate it - only with the necessary remade graphics to go with the movie licence. The rest of them start off straight into the action, without any preparation.

Random screens from level 1. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Acorn BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC.
Bottom row, left to right: DOS, NES, Atari ST.

Each Dreadnought has its own specific colour scheme. In level 1, named Zinc elsewhere but the NES and ACORN versions, the enemies are mostly sort of golden, and the Dreadnought is very greyscale. As you can see, the SPECTRUM version is largely monochrome, but at least the homing mine launchers are marked as flashing blue and red. The AMSTRAD version follows the Spectrum's style for the most part, but the enemy formations come in two different, alternating colours: red and green. Strangely, the ACORN version has a dark blue Dreadnought with cyan enemy sprites in level 1, and the metal name shown below the "Metal 1" text, which probably means "Level 1", has no actual relation to the level. I have seen the metal text change from Tungsten to Iridium or whatever in a rather random manner, and I have no clue why it does that.

Bonus game. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, DOS, NES.
Bottom left: Atari ST. Bottom right: Acorn BBC Micro (perhaps something wrong with emulation?)

For some reason, the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD conversions were the only ones left without the fruit machine portion of the game, which was really a big part of Uridium's uniqueness - there was always something to look forward to at the end of each level, and a good possibility to earn some much needed bonus points for collecting extra lives. Anyway, the five others have fairly similar renditions of the bonus game, just some colour differences, which on the NES and BBC MICRO are more drastic. Also, the timer looks quite different on the said two. Curiously, the picture above features no bonus indicators on the BBC MICRO conversion, which I'm guessing is an emulation-related problem. It is playable, though, due to the very clear sound effects. Also notable on the BBC MICRO version is that the bonus game only has five steps instead of six, as featured in the other four versions.

Level 1 Dreadnought getting destroyed. Left: Commodore 64. Right: NES.
One of the nicest things to look at in the original game was to see the big Dreadnought getting erased away underneath you, as your Manta flew back towards its mothership, or transportation device. It gives you a certain kind of satisfaction to see your work having some effect. Of course, this doesn't happen on all versions - in fact, only the Last Starfighter on NES has retained this feature. It might not come as much of a surprise that the original looks quite a bit better, as the disintegration looks properly disintegrative, while the NES version has a straight wall of fire erasing everything.

Random screens from level 2. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Acorn BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom row, left to right: NES, DOS, Atari ST.

Level 2 shows more differences between the seven versions, mostly concerning the background. The basis for the Dreadnought names is types of metal, so it would follow that the Dreadnought's colouring would somehow mirror its naming. Had there been no such context involved in the graphics, the random changes for the metal names on the BBC MICRO version are even more questionable than they would otherwise be. The level naming system is very much the same on the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions, but the level colours are not even nearly similar. My guess is, the conversion team had no clear idea to the purpose of the level graphics being as they are on the C64 and its two graphically closest conversions - DOS and ATARI ST. The NES game follows the original to a certain degree, but probably due to the movie licence (again), some things have been altered. Although it has been some cause for debate, I'm more supportive of the background colour changes in the original, because it offers some unusual sort of variation, and moreover, illusion of a completely new environment in deep space. 

The Manta's animations are some of the most beautiful ever produced for the C64, particularly its explosion. Even the C64 Animations website has ranked it as the 2nd best explosion animation of all time. That doesn't mean that any of the other versions fall much behind in this - in fact, all the versions feature pretty impressive Manta animations. Now, call me lazy or whatever, but I couldn't be bothered to pick out all the frames for every version of the explosion animation out there, mostly because some of the emulators I'm using don't feature slowdown options or even quick keys in order to make it easy to take screenshots of all the frames. You can see the original C64 version's Manta explosion here on the C64 Animation website, and a frame of the Atari ST version of the explosion above. Every version has this pretty nicely done, and I can't really say one way or the other about any order of preference.

Screenshots from other levels. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, DOS, Atari ST, Acorn BBC Micro.
Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, NES, Amstrad CPC.

There aren't too many things I can talk about in regards to the level graphics, so I could only include some further examples of different level colours and new obstacles from further Dreadnoughts, where available. With my skills, I couldn't get to look at all 15 levels anyway, so we shall have to make do with what we have. (Since I couldn't pass level 2 on the NES version, the additional screenshot is taken from the game's attract mode.)

Since I haven't talked much about the parallax effect yet, I might as well do it now, since the level graphics do not offer much of other points to speak of anymore. According to different sources, the C64 wasn't apparently capable of proper parallax scrolling, which is why the parallax effect was simulated - the stars in the background stay still and randomly blink, while your Manta and the Dreadnought below move at the same time (on the same level, I suppose), and then there are the enemy formations that move in two different directions at a different speed. Sure, it's not proper parallax, but it sure saved some runtime to give a chance at performing 50 fps at a very high speed. But if Forbidden Forest didn't prove this claim false three years earlier, then Sensible Software's Parallax would have done so in 1986.

The same simulation of parallax scrolling has been translated to all versions, but some versions lack any sort of blinking or other star-related effect. Since it's not something you would focus on, unless you're suffering from a rare form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, I haven't bothered to give that much attention to this little detail.

Top half: Enter your initials for the high score table. Bottom half: high score tables.
Top rows, left to right: Commodore 64, Acorn BBC Micro, Atari ST, DOS.
Bottom rows, left to right: ZX Spectrum, NES, Amstrad CPC.

When the game is over, you get a very basic Game Over message, which doesn't really warrant closer inspection here. However, if you have played well enough, you might be able to enter your arcadely customary three initials into the Hall of Fame. All the versions have it done in the same manner, although on the NES version, you enter your initials straight onto the Hall of Fame, instead of doing it on a separate screen with a congratulatory message. 

The Hall of Fame itself is shown under the constantly shown top row of score indicators and such items on C64, ACORN, ATARI ST and DOS versions, while the other three have a completely dedicated screen for it. The AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions have it even built up - although I mentioned that earlier. It's still annoying, but it's also a graphical element not featured elsewhere. As low-budget as the ACORN version looks for the most part compared to the others, it's still funny to see "Hall of Fame" changed to "Hiscores", as if the original wording couldn't fit there. That said, it seems like they couldn't fit the normal eight entries for the Hiscores list either. The NES version, however, goes a bit overboard and has room for ten high score entries, most of which are practically unreachable.
Example of the black-and-white mode
(on a colour display)on the C64.

Many years ago, I thought it curious to have optional black-and-white graphics on the C64, because it would have been a bit boring to look at in the long run. Some brief time later, I was forced to use a black-and-white television for gaming for a year or so, where I understood the use of such a mode. But it still isn't as useful as it was probably supposed to be. You only get similarly greyscale Dreadnoughts and enemy vessels for every level, and yet the homing mine launchers are as colourful as they are in the normal coloured mode, as are the bonus indicators and every bit of text. But still, an interesting idea, and exclusive for the C64.

Of course there is a lot more to this game than shown above, but since it's about 99% just variations on similar structures and different bits of text, I thought this would be enough to give you a good impression of how the versions differ. If there are some bits regarding animation that you thought I missed here, read it through again and then comment if necessary. Regardless of how thorough my comparison of graphics actually has been here, it is quite clear how the seven versions should be ordered. Considering the overall quality of the graphics and colours, as well as layouts, fonts, animations and most particularly, scrolling, the list will fall quite easily as follows:

4. NES



Not until quite recently had I given much thought to Braybrook's games' soundtracks - I had always thought them nice but, really, mostly just adequate. Steve Turner's original soundtrack for the C64 Uridium has what could be considered the most recognizable theme tune of Braybrook's games, but that's the only actual tune in the game. Every other occasion is laden with very effective, if perhaps obscure sound effects. In essence, Braybrook's games were developed with playability as a priority, and everything else came in as well as they could, and the only way I would now describe Braybrook games soundtracks, would be "to the point".

The Uridium theme song is only about 35-38 seconds long, and as a composition, it has a similar quality and style of many late 70's and early 80's American TV shows, but with a distinct feel of a sci-fi epic. For some reason, this tune has remained one of my all-time favourite C64 tracks ever since I first heard it, even though it isn't particularly impressive in its execution. It's just so very stylish and appropriate. The sound effects are splendidly executed, though - there are plenty of swooshy noises along with smaller and bigger explosions, not to mention proper laser gun sounds and other very fitting sound effects for the genre. Easily my favourite sound effects of the game are played after you have landed the Manta and get through the bonus game. Very spacey, and quintessentially C64 in every possible way, but difficult to describe in words.

Going through the conversions in their most likely order of release, the first one doesn't offer much of a competition. The SPECTRUM theme tune is also somewhere around 35 seconds long, but it is much faster, and some of the elements, such as percussions and even some melody sequences have been left out due to the 48k Spectrum beeper's lack of proper synth capabilities, but the main melody bit is looped twice through before the theme tune's coda kicks in. At least the music has been made to sound like there is another instrument on top of the other one, creating a strange wavy sort of overall sound. As you would expect, the sound effects in the Spectrum version are not particularly different from any other 48k Spectrum space shooter - just tick-noises, splurts and other difficult to describe type of sounds that you can imagine the beeper producing.

One of the very few conversions to show a fair attempt at paying tribute to the original as much in graphics as in sounds is the ATARI ST conversion. The theme tune is, apart from the basic set of sounds, exactly the same as on the C64. Atari's AY-chip's capabilities to use sophisticated filters and effects isn't quite as high as the old SID's, so there are some things that will feel like they're missing. And truly, some are missing, but some have been replaced with less significant and less noticable sound effects, such as the Manta's shooting noise and the additional sound effect for new line of text appearing in the bonus screen. These kind of sounds just happen to be much lower in the mix than necessary. Also, there's a very different sort of a sound effect, since you cannot really call it an actual piece of music, that is played in the "Enter your initials" screen. It's just a very long chord arpeggio - the exact sort you hear a lot on the C64 - that just fades out after a few seconds.

The AMSTRAD version of the theme tune starts off from the same spot as the Spectrum tune, but features as much of instruments as the original tune, and is played in the same tempo as the original. However, there is a completely new sequence in the song, in which a modulation is performed, and the overall duration has been increased to about 50 seconds. That is not the only completely new thing in the Amstrad version - there is also an actual tune for the "Enter your initials" screen, which is a loop of 5 chords that are played within six fast 4/4 bars. Compared to the strange stardusty effect loop that fades out on the C64, this feels a bit out of place, but is preferable to having no sounds whatsoever. The sound effects are strangely melodic, with only a couple of shooting and exploding type sounds, and the other one of them is a bit faint.

What the ACORN version has in graphics and gameplay, it slightly lacks in sounds. All the sound effects are fairly bulky, sort of what you would expect from an Atari 2600 game circa 1981, and there aren't too many of them in here. The music at least has been adapted almost as faithfully as you could expect, although it is now a few steps higher and the phrasing is straightened out a bit, and it only gets played in the middle of the loading process, after having chosen your controls. The overall quality of the sounds in this conversion falls somewhere between the Atari ST and Spectrum conversions, but there are some things missing, such as the weird noise in the "Enter your initials" screen and the end level bonus sound section.

Then, we have the DOS version, which of course uses the basic PC speaker for sound output. Strangely enough, although it only beeps all the way through the game, the overall result is closer to the original than the SPECTRUM version. Whether this is a good thing or not is a matter of taste, of course, but since the title song is very faithful and well-made for what it is, and it does offer a more complete set of sounds than the Spectrum version, I have to consider the DOS version better of the two.

Finally, there's the NES version, which has to be thought of in a different way due to its movie licencing deal. The main theme from The Last Starfighter, the movie, has been rearranged for the NES surprisingly faithfully, and it plays not only in the title screen, but during play as well. It can be a bit distracting and, frankly, irritating to have the music playing all the time in the back, while you should be concentrating on the game. A game, mind you, that didn't originally have anything to do with any movie. The sound effects are louder than the music, which is a bit strange, and the library of sound effects is rather pitiful compared to the original, not to mention a bit unexceptional, not only compared to other NES shooters, but compared to the better versions of the game.

Being a space shooter, the sound effects will have to be something very unique for the most part to be worth noticing. The original C64 version does that rather nicely, I think, but the other versions just barely do it adequately. So, the focus for this section's results is on the music, and some props are given to effects where appropriate. Thus, the list for this section looks like this: 

4. NES



As I predicted, comparison of a Braybrook game could only result in a win for the C64, but that wasn't much of a surprise, was it? Granted, one would have supposed a 16-bit computer could have done a much better job at a conversion, but then, even some Amiga conversions from the C64 fall short in playability if not anything else. But the ST conversion of Uridium didn't have much of a chance, really. Considering the hardware and their knowledge at the time, the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD conversions turned out much better than expected, and even Braybrook himself said they were little short of a miracle at the time to get as good as they were. Still, we're not comparing hardware here, but the versions of the game in spite of the hardware they were released on. Anyway, I shall take a break from this endless stream of babble, and move on to the inevitable mathematical results:

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 7, Graphics 6, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 20
2. ACORN BBC MICRO: Playability 6, Graphics 4, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 13
2. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 5, Graphics 2, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 13
3. ATARI ST: Playability 2, Graphics 5, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 12
4. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES: Playability 3, Graphics 5, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 10
5. NES: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 8
6. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 4, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 6

Yeah... I'm not in complete agreement with the above either, but it's not too far from the truth. Really, the BBC and CPC versions are really the closest competitors to the original, and the list goes down from there, but based on playability alone, I would certainly recommend the SPECTRUM version much more than it seems to deserve. True, its graphics and sounds are the worst around, but it's still pretty good to play, and that's what matters, is it not? But the original definitely deserves its throne here.



Fans of the game will undoubtedly be aware of what Uridium Plus is, but those of you who didn't pay much attention to such details at the time, this might come as a surprise: it was an alternative version with 15 completely new dreadnoughts, some readjusted gameplay elements and an in-built NTSC compatibility mode not included in the original game.

Uridium Plus screens. Left: ZX Spectrum. Right: Commodore 64.
As you can see, there are very little in terms of graphics that differ from the first Uridium, but again, the Dreadnoughts are completely new for both Spectrum and C64 releases - the only two machines the Plus version was ever made for. The two versions do differ in a few ways, as you would expect: the new Dreadnoughts are very much different in both versions, and the take-off animation, while now quicker on the C64, has still not been included for the Spectrum conversion, and neither has the bonus game. The biggest gameplay adjustment has been made for the landing zones, which I mentioned earlier - in Uridium Plus, you do not need to wait for the "Land Now!" signal to be able to land your Manta, just land whenever you want to, once you've reached the landing zone.

Uridium 2 (Commodore Amiga)

Later on, Graftgold released the only official sequel for Uridium exclusively on the Commodore Amiga, probably to make up for the lack of a conversion of the original game. I wrote about it in one of my earlier Unique Games entries, if you want to refresh your memory on it.

But for whatever reason, Hewson didn't release Uridium for as many machines as they could have, so because of the game's impact, third-party developers have tried their hands at making their own games inspired by Uridium...


- Mirax Force (1987, Tynesoft) - 7.4 (53v)
- Thunderfox (1987, Atari) - 4.8 (29v)
- Oxygène (1988, The Atari Team) - 7.3 (3v)

These three titles for the 8-bit Ataris bore the most resemblance to Uridium, with the main criteria being that you could fly in both directions in a similar setting. Surprisingly, no one has yet attempted to actually make a proper conversion, but at least there are some attempts at cloning.

Screenshots from Oxygène

The only comment for Oxygène at the game's comment page at Atarimania said that it is better than Uridium made me chuckle a bit, but then who am I to judge. Having tested it myself, I can say it's definitely easier to get into, as it's less difficult to begin with than Uridium. Similarly, the basic idea is to destroy alien ships and reach the landing zone to initiate the Dreadnought's destruction. And the creators have even copied Braybrook's Manta ship here, so it's really as close as you can get to a Uridium clone on the 8-bit Ataris for the moment.
Screenshots from Mirax Force

Mirax Force is the most highly rated Uridium clone on the Atari, but I cannot imagine it being for the playability. Don't get me wrong, it's not bad - it's just a bit impossible. The idea is to destroy massive alien motherships, with your main target being a power reactor. My problem with the game is that it has way too much graphical detail, to such extent that it's hard to tell what are you supposed to avoid and what to shoot. And there's so much of everything, that I had developed a headache before finding my first reactor to blow up. The main attraction of the game, in addition to the colourful and fast graphics, is the few very good speech samples that are as clear as something you would hear on Amiga.
Screenshots from Thunderfox
The worst of the lot I found was this little curiosity called Thunderfox. Its big design fault is the problem of having two different weapons, which are needed for different purposes, and you need to switch them around by either using the keyboard (I think it was slapping the Space bar) or keeping the fire button down for a couple of seconds. It also has another design fault, which is that you have no knowledge of your relative position to the area below you, and only a little less more idea of what forms in the background are to be considered as lethal. But if you keep at it, you could find a mildly enjoyable game there. It's just not much of a Uridium clone, to be honest.

ACORN ELECTRON: Syncron (1990, Superior/Blue Ribbon)

Although Acorn's BBC Micro had its very own official conversion of Uridium, its little brother - the Electron was left out of the party. Granted, its inferior hardware wouldn't have had much of a chance at recreating a proper Uridium experience, but a bloke called Gary Partis thought differently.
Screenshots from Syncron

For Syncron, he rotated the screen 90 degrees, which must have somehow made all the difference, because it works well enough for what it is. At least it doesn't really attempt to be Uridium in all possible manners, but some depth would have been nice in addition to all the shooting, turning and avoiding obstacles. As it is, it's just a seemingly neverending segment of random looking objects. The only speciality Syncron has is the number of landing platforms, which is rather large, and they act as sort of checkpoints - if you die, you start from the previous landing platform you visited.

TEXAS INSTRUMENTS TI-99/4A: Titanium (2013, Rasmus Moustgaard)

Moustgaard being one of TI-99/4A scene's most profilic game programmers of today - if not of all time even, certainly knows what he's doing. Titanium isn't exactly a straight Uridium clone per se, but it is heavily inspired by it, and it certainly displays this well enough.
Screenshots from Titanium

The main idea in Titanium is to blast all the shootable targets on the Dreadnought-equivalents to move on to the next level. Of course, you can move in opposite directions, as in Uridium, but the scrolling happens vertically here. As in Uridium, you have to avoid getting shot by enemy ships or crashing into obstacles, but you don't need to look for a landing zone - all you need to do is shoot all the targets. So while it's a rather simplified version of the idea, it's not a bad one. For a first assembly game programmed by Rasmus Moustgaard, it's definitely an impressive feat, and a highly recommended title for the TI.

MSX: Uridium (2014, Trilobyte)

This one's more of a remake than an unofficial conversion, even if it is unofficial. Although it claims to be faithful to the original, it only goes to a certain point with being faithful, which is why I decided not to include it in the main list of conversions. Sure enough, it is a remarkable effort, and a very impressive conversion for the MSX. In terms of speed, it falls between the original and the Spectrum/Amstrad conversions, and in terms of graphic detail, colouring and scrolling, it's at least as good as the original, and in certain aspects, much better. The soundtrack is as close to the original as you could wish for, considering the hardware, but it's the gameplay that really sets this far enough apart from the original set of releases not to be included in that lot.

Screenshots from Uridium by Trilobyte

The new gameplay elements start from the beginning, really: you can choose one of three difficulty levels in the title screen - normal, easy and bradypus. Every time you start a level, you get launched from your mothership, and a surprisingly lengthy warp sequence is played. This takes away from the game's flow. Another, more important redesign thing regards your Manta's movement: you can actually stop its horizontal movement completely, if you wish to. Although it's a nice idea that helps the gameplay somewhat, it's really the defining element here of this remake not being a straight conversion. Also, you can now witness two enemy fleets flying on screen at once, if you choose to play on normal level - something that would never have happened in any of the earlier versions. And then, of course, the Dreadnoughts have again been altered a bit, although most of them are modeled after the Spectrum and Amstrad versions' Dreadnoughts. Finally, the bonus game has been left out, but that's not much of a surprise. What is a surprise, is that the destruction sequence has been kept in, and it plays straight after having landed.

There were two different versions made of Trilobyte's Uridium, a regular one for the MSXdev'14 competition, and a special version designed for real hardware and CRT monitors, featuring three-coloured sprites. Of course, the special version is more recommendable, but they both come in the same package if you care to download and have a go.

TANGERINE ORIC-1/ATMOS: Oricium (2014, Defence Force Games)

Although Oricium was released little more than a year ago, it currently stands at #2 spot in the Top Games list at the Oric International website. The spot is well deserved, too, since it's easily the most impressive game I've seen on the machines so far, but then I'm not perhaps the best judge to say much about it.
Screenshots from Oricium

It's not a direct port of Uridium, although the name would sort of suggest it. Instead, while the basic gameplay concepts are very much the same, the basic goals and the additional bits are quite different. There are two kinds of levels in Oricium: basic missions, in which you need to turn on four light switches by flying over them, and then the special in-between missions, in which... well, you are given some special mission, which seems to be different each time. You can also collect bonus items from destroyed enemies, although I have no idea if the bonus items have any actual purpose in addition to giving you more score. Oricium also happens to feature the most music of all the games listed in this article, as well as a passcode system... and as if all that weren't enough, your ship has been given a shield system, for which you can collect extra hit points. It's all very evolved and quite far from the original Uridium. Highly recommended.


Yes, there are plenty of Uridium clones for the machines it was originally released on, but the list could go on for so long that I'd be still writing this blog entry two years from now, since some of them are nearly impossible to locate from the midst of all the thousands of games from the archives that aren't necessarily the most user-friendly to browse through at the moment (I'm looking at you, still unfixed WoS!). At least the Gamebase64 website offers a nice sub-genre specific list for Uridum clones, if you want to take a look at some C64 alternatives. If any of you readers want to throw in a good word for other Uridium clones that I have failed to mention, do leave a comment. As always, other comments are welcome as well.

Thanks for reading, hope that made up for the relative lack of other comparisons this month!


  1. The Braybrook/Graftgold loader was actually the first variant of Freeload - Uridium being the first to use it (Paradroid, when it was re-released as the "competition" edition, was probably the 2nd - the original used Novaload (and a custom loader in some releases)). Here is some info about Freeload from its designer himself, Paul Hughes -

  2. Uridium Plus on C64 shows some hardware specification too, in that case, because C128 CPU is faster (2 MHz) and game utilises this additional power to display more objects on screen, maybe some additional effects that I'm not aware of. Perhaps ATARI ST and DOS versions are similar and also able to detect and use some enhanced hardware?

    Thank you for great article!

  3. Hello, I think you have been too harsh with the Spectrum version, although I must say I could be somewhat biased becaused it was the one I grew up with; but I also experienced the original C64 one, and while reckoning it's an overall better experience, I think you should have taken into account the fact that Uridium on the Spectrum has objectively clean, fast and smooth graphics and scrolling despite being it all done on a machine without any aids (e.g. hardware sprites), so assigning a mere 1 to the Spectrum version's graphics and sound is way too severe in my opinion.

    The way you put it, it seems the Spectrum version is absolute garbage (6 vs. 20), which is not. I do not agree with judging "the versions of the game in spite of the hardware they were released on" because a) they are objective factors which cannot be overlooked and b) successfully coping with hardware limitations is the sign of good programming. Which is precisely what Dominic Robinson did - up to the extent that even Braybrook himself said they were "little short of a miracle"

    If we were to judge, for instance, a coin-op conversion for the C64, Spectrum, Amstrad etc., without taking the target machines' limitations into account, they would all be garbage in comparison with the original.

    Just my 2 Euro cents!

    1. Indeed. You just said in your last paragraph (before your 2 cents) what I was about to point out: this blog is NOT about the machines the games are on. It's about how the games compare against themselves regardless of the machines. If I have been too harsh with the Spectrum version, it's because it's how I experienced it held up against all the other versions. I don't know anything about hardware sprites or software sprites, I'm not a programmer - I'm a gamer, and I judge things as I see from the point of a view of a gamer, and I'm not - I repeat, I'M NOT interested in how well a game is programmed, if it works to its advantage. And once again, the scores are literally based on their placing on each section's results, and don't tell the whole truth - they're only there for lazy readers, but since you're a long-time reader, you should know that by now. I guess I'm doomed to repeat myself forever.

    2. Oh, and I forgot to add: I guess my scoring method is just something we have to agree to disagree on. Perhaps in the future, I shall dispose of scoring altogether.

  4. I'm not seeing any problems with the NES rom in FCEUX 2.2.2. Maybe the mirroring bit is wrong on your copy? The iNES header (first 16 bytes) should be 4E 45 53 1A 02 04 31 with the rest all 00, and the MD5 of the file should be AB2BEAFB0C71D58F9B08A0A8C005B254.

    1. Could be. I'm using the same exact version of FCEUX, so it could be a bad rom file, but I did try multiple versions and all of them had the same problem. I have no idea how to check either the iNES header or MD5, can you give me some guidance there?