C64Gems : Mega Apocalypse

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If there was ever a paragraph to get a teenager to buy their game in the 80s, this was it:

“Five channel sound which utilizes two separate speech channels with sampled dialogue and effects. Super fast 360 degrees fire power. Collectable pods to enhance your spacecraft´s shield, fire power, manoeuvrability and speed, Hi-Score, ultra score and galactic hall of fame.”

Yes, we are talking about Martech’s Mega Apocalypse.

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Released in 1987 on the C64 (with Spectrum and Amstrad versions not long behind), it had built up a considerable amount of hype. Little nuggets of information were constantly drip-fed to the press including the “5 channel sound”, “two-player allies or enemies game modes”, “140 sprites on screen at one time” as well as “pulsating starfields”, it was sounding too good to be true. Add to that music by the maestro Rob Hubbard and graphics by Bob Stevenson (of stunning loading screen fame), how could it fail?

Mega Apocalypse was actually the sequel to Simon Nicol’s previous game Crazy Comets. Crazy Comets was supposedly based around the 1983 Gottlieb arcade game Mad Planets. However, Mega Apocalypse was actually closer to the Gottlieb arcade game in the way it played (and looked), allowing you to rotate your ship through 360 degrees, unlike Crazy Comets where you simply shot up the screen. Implementing this rotation mechanic on the C64 however did have it’s issues …

Whilst Gottlieb’s original had a joystick and spinner, the C64 had to rely on the standard 8-way, single button joystick. This meant that the only reasonable way to implement rotation of the ship was to keep the fire button pressed whilst moving left or right (depending on which way you wanted to rotate). This had the unfortunate downside of leaving you stationery whilst rotating. Not ideal in a high-speed shoot’em up I think you’ll agree.

Although this can be a tad frustrating at times, don’t let that put you off what is one of the best pick up and play shooters for the C64. It is simple to play. Round after round of planets to shoot, getting faster and more frequent. That was about it. It also had a simultaneous 2 player option along with the ability to simply watch what is called “star mode” – the ability to watch the background star field all by itself (press the CBM-Key and “Q”).

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Graphics are of a particular high standard. The planets look fantastic as they grow larger and larger and zoom around the screen at a very high speed. A special mention must also go to the star field which rotates and pulsates constantly, incredible when you consider this is all happening with 2 players on-screen from an 8-bit machine somehow developing 5 channel sound (using the “Non Mask Interrupt” according to Nicol).

Which brings us to the sound. Not only must a special mention go to Rob Hubbard’s excellent 7 minute Crazy Comets remix but also the speech. Not only did it contain multiple samples during the game (on power-up pickup) but also at the start of each round. All this at the same time as the music; no dropped channels or pauses in game-play (just take a look at the Spectrum AY version to see what I mean). Quite a technical achievement.

Personally I could not resist buying it, even at nearly £9 (!).

Supposedly Nicol developed a SNES version back in 1997 which looked great but alas was never released. Take a look on YouTube under “Apocalypse SNES Prototype”. Might even try and dig it out myself …

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