Sensible Software/Ocean, 1986
This month in 1986 saw Sensible's first big title reviewed in Zzap!64, scoring a very respectable 93% overall and receiving a Sizzler.
Over the past few days I've tried to remember where I first saw "Parallax"... I want to say it was at my friend Neil's house, but did he even have a C64?? I know he had a Spectrum and later an Amiga... Maybe it was someone else.. I'm certain that whoever it was owned an actual legit original, on disk no less (I, like most of my friends, was stuck with cassettes). I seem to recall the friend raving about it, loading it up to show me only to watch my rather unimpressed reaction. What was up with that weird title music?!
But at some point I got to spend quality time with it. The title music that I had found weird and annoying quickly became my favourite piece of game music ever, as it remains to this very day. It's incredible. I think it took Galway a whole two weeks to write, which was considered a long time back then. Crazy. Years later I chatted to Martin over email and it sounded like "Parallax" was a turning point for him as he realised he was making music that he enjoyed while kicking back at home, rather than music suited to computer game store displays to attract buyers. Personally I don't think that was a bad thing...
I loved the filmic intro - I don't really think I had seen many examples of that before. And I loved the fact that these Sensible blokes seemed like right characters who liberally sprinkled humour throughout the game (also, was the "Your a real man now!" grammatical error intentional??).
As for the game itself, well, I don't recall ever making it past the first level back then. I found the whole thing quite baffling, and was more than happy to just leave it sitting on the title screen.
Today I set out to rectify that. I knew I wouldn't have the skill or patience to get make a meaningful dent in the game, so I leant on some handy trainers. The funny thing (well, wasn't quite so funny at the time) is that even with trainers it is entirely possible to instantly die and go straight to game over if you make the mistake of trying to progress to the next zone without having shutdown the system first (and there is no indication that I could see that a particular route would lead that way).
The game is hard. Like, really hard. The whole bouncing-your-ship-off-buildings/barriers/etc can quickly make it feel like you're not in control and therefore frustrating. And don't get me started about landing. The system with the scientists and key cards was initially confusing (particularly since the key card dropped by a scientist is random, and not specific to that spot as I would expect) - I should've spent some time up front experimenting with it all. Or maybe read the instructions.
For the final steps of completing the game I admit I had to resort to double checking a youtube video due to it not being clear where to go, with the constant threat of a sudden unexpected game over event hanging over me.
Now, what happened next was astonishing... astonishing as in a bizarrely bad and highly confusing game complete "sequence". I think this may be one of the worst I've ever seen. I literally had to look up whether what I had just seen was the actual end. I get the feeling Sensible just ran out of memory and/or time.
At any rate, 30 years on I've finally completed one of the most memorable games I've played. The game is good and worth checking out, but the music continues to be absolutely stunning - a masterpiece, and the gold standard as far as I'm concerned.
Zzap!64 scored it:
Great title screen and many neat in-game features
Competent sprites and backdrops with effective parallax scrolling.
Good FX and jingles, and a weird but wonderful piece of music on the title screen.
The instructions need to be read, but it's easy enough to work out what to do without them.
Tough, demanding, and very playable.
Value For Money 92%
A worthy buy - if you've got a tenner you can still buy another copy ZZAP! [sic] with the change.
A neat mix between a shoot em up and an arcade adventure, with a few other things thrown in for good measure.