Have you slimed an Ameboid today?

Despite the miraculous invention of emulation and freely distributed disk images, some promising lonely, unloved games still fall through the cracks and land on the wayside.

It’s a shame and surprising considering even the downright terrible ones tend to get their moment in the sun, often more so than the legend-building variety since people enjoy ranting and beating their chests so much. I dunno, maybe it’s our simian lineage leaking into modern life. Oooh-ooh.

Tron clone, Wipe Out – published in 1990 for the Atari ST and Amiga – is one such curio that’s been ignored for several crippling reasons. To be clear, it aims to reimagine the top-down, 2D light cycle sub-game of Bally Midway’s 1982 arcade game, Tron. It comprises four in total.

 

That title surely doesn’t help what with it being shared by a more mainstream, multi-format, anti-gravity, futuristic racing game produced by Sony, making it awkward to find information on Gonzo Games’ earlier offering. A game that not only translated Tron the coin-op to 3D, but made it feasible to change the elevation of our viewing angle (try toggling the + and – keys). Yours for £19.99 and you can play as long as you like.

Incidentally, Sony’s unrelated high octane racer was launched in 1995, the name having been inspired by The Surfaris’ instrumental song, Wipe Out. Gameplay and vehicle design, on the other hand, was influenced by Powerdrome and Matrix Marauders. It was finally made available by Blittersoft for next-gen PPC Amigas in 1999.

 

Burying Gonzo’s game further into obscurity, it’s such a pain to run in its more commonly available format that people give up and move onto something else that involves less aspirin. A cracked Wipe Out ADF is out there, it has been since day one, as you’d expect.

…introduced with a screenful (and a bit) of instructions explaining how to juggle the two disks required to execute the game. It’s so ridiculous you might initially assume it’s a joke. It’s not, unfortunately.

 

While the game itself is contained on a single disk, to get the most out of the souped-up Tron/Worm revamp you’re required to generate a league disk yourself from within the menu system. If you’re running Wipe Out via WinUAE, to get started you’ll need to feed it a blank ADF file made using the ‘create custom disk’ function found within the ‘floppy drives’ menu. Using this for storage, the program then creates the league disk structure in its own proprietary ‘GonzoDOS’ format; it’s this idiosyncratic aspect the crackers struggled to work around back in 1990.

Even if you can be bothered torturing yourself with all that screen-flashing, synchronised disk-swapping malarkey, the game is liable to fall over on its back like Father Jack on Christmas day. Any day come to think of it. Drenk!!!!

No, there’s no hard drive install option, and no WHDLoad has been created since. One has been a WIP for many years now with progress documented on the English Amiga Board, however, it would seem that progress stagnated due to the buggy code with which they have to work. It’s estimated to be 40% complete at the time of writing.

What makes all this seem crazier still is that original, non-cracked copies of the game don’t demand any disk swapping at all once the league disk has been created. It’s possible to run it entirely from a personalised floppy containing any custom-made characters and all data storing our progress in the intergalactic competition, allowing the original to be stowed away for safekeeping.

Getting hold of an original boxed copy of the game from eBay or wherever is an option, as is downloading an uncracked, 100% authentic duplication of the disk. These are known as IPFs, ADFs’ lesser-known cousins. A little bit trickier to run with WinUAE due to the necessity to install an extra plugin (refer to the Software Preservation Society site), though certainly not impossible. Nevertheless, they’re nothing like as widely distributed as cracked ADFs so most people don’t take advantage of them. Plus, being untampered with originals, they include any copyright protection check routines, which may require the possession of a manual, code wheel and so on.

Even once you overcome that mini hurdle it’s not plain sailing since the game’s menu is so cryptically inaccessible, having been constructed entirely with indecipherable symbols. That ‘A’ icon represents a return to the game controls section, for instance.

“Of course, no gameplay is perfect. Wipe Out has several flaws, the most major of which is a completely incomprehensible front-end. Lots of little meaningless icons lead to numerous incomprehensible screens. You end up frantically clicking here and there on the little metallic grey shapes until the game gets around to starting.

By making the program a touch more user-friendly, the considerable manual could have been halved in size. But when I’m heading at breakneck speed towards an energy wall with an alien on a Scorched Earth special board intent on sliming me, the only thought in my head is whether or not I can pull off a high speed banked turn and still survive.”

Amiga Computing (81%, July 1990)

Without the manual to decrypt the hieroglyphics, we’d be up the creek. A just-about legible copy of this is today available from Hall of Light so that’s another obstacle kicked to the curb.

What now emerges is a seemingly simple split-screen, hoverboard-centric duel affair. Curiously, Zero magazine referred to our means of transport as a ‘skateboard’, whilst Amiga Format deemed it necessary to explain that hoverboards are “like skateboards that float on air”. This was a year after Back to the Future II first hit cinemas. Weird.

Zero did also later call our ride a hoverboard, suggesting that they were being whimsical earlier. Still, as that tramples all over my clever social commentary, I won’t mention it.

Overall, they loved the style and execution more than anyone else on the planet, so it’s doubtful they cared one way or the other what kind of device they were standing on to play…

“Wipe Out is deceptively deep, has rather a nice sound, a smooth scroll and is easy to learn, hard to master. Even the manual is humorously written in a style reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide.

Gonzo aimed to produce an original game with the emphasis on playability – a return to the classic games of the past. Let me tell you, they’ve come pretty damn close with Wipe Out. ‘Nuff said.”

Zero (90%, June 1990)

We can opt to play against a range of AI-controlled alien creatures (77,340 of them!), or better still, another human. Our goal is to harangue them into colliding with the snake-tail-esque trails our hoverboard leaves in its wake, whilst simultaneously avoiding colliding with it ourselves.

 

I’ll let the ’emergency’ manual take care of the space-race scenario from here…

“Wipe Out has been described as an Intergalactic Hoverboard Challenge. However, anyone who’s hawked a board halfway across the galaxy and back will tell you, it’s just not that simple. The basic elements are: you, your board, the arena, and a hostile opponent. Your board leaves a trail which crystalises into a force field wall. To win you must force your opponent to make a mistake. Contact with any wall is a big mistake. Surround your opponent and you give him no chance to escape, or rip across his path with a quick slime! This wins you a bout. Simple isn’t it?”

Helpfully, a compass and proximity to target metre are offered, allowing us to track their movements. In the post-match summary, these trails can be seen mapped from an overhead perspective revealing how closely we managed to tail our rival.

Now that doesn’t seem like too complicated a concept to wrap our grey matter around, yet that’s only the bare bones of the immediately apparent action game that operates on the surface. Just beneath it’s more convoluted than a mile-long boa constrictor; totally unfathomable without the supremely comprehensive tome marked “read the manual if all else fails”. A reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I believe.

Our ultimate goal is to reach its centre – the galaxy, not the book – as well as entering our name in the hall of fame for posterity. This entails winning an endless series of bouts to earn money, allowing us to upgrade our hardware, and travel between the 1100 planets. Betting on the outcome of matches (or chicken run challenges) achieves the same end, even without competing ourselves, adding an extra dimension to the proceedings.

“Working your way up through the ratings will take weeks of play, and just when you think you are getting to grips with an arena and can take on all comers, along comes a better computer player and you have to rethink your tactics all over again. And if you are playing with another human in your league things can really hot up.”

Amiga Format (85%, July 1990)

With speed-boosters, a slicker engine, brakes, the ability to jump over trails and walls or dissolve them, turn more sharply etc. it becomes easier to ascend through the ranks. Earning points is our reward, enabling us to visit new planets, then even solar systems, where we face tougher opponents. This only being an option should we accrue more points than the lowest-rated player on the destination planet.

One common complaint levelled at Wipe Out is that the handling is poor, though this can be attributed to initially having to work with an untweaked hoverboard. The controls improve as we do, which is quite an advanced mechanic by 1990 standards. Speaking of which…

Up – forward fast
Up and fire – forward even faster, if turbo option is fitted
Fire – jump
Left – slow left turn
Right – slow right turn
Diagonal left – fast left turn
Diagonal right – fast right turn

How we triumph in the once in a millennium All-time Greats Tournament, again, demands careful study of the documentation because nothing is spelt out. Bouts consist of three sets and each of these is split into three legs. To defeat an opponent, the final set must be won by two bouts. There are 15 matches in a season, whilst star ratings range from 0-8. So you can see why there’s no longplay to be found on YouTube!

“It is a very tactical game. Not only will you have to have a quick joystick hand for those tight turns, but you will need your wits about you constantly if you are to win because this is not a game for cowards. Chances have to be taken and you have to go out there and force your opponent into making mistakes, rather than just waiting and hoping he messes up. A good game and a great start for Gonzo – let us hope they keep it up.”

Amiga Format (85%, July 1990)

Wipe Out’s multi-lingual manual even includes several pages worth of exposition detailing each special manoeuvre, making the ‘simple’ Tron ’em up sound like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Have you mastered the Coffin, Futon Flip or Swiss Roll yet? Me neither. I’d love to see a real connoisseur document the techniques for YouTube though.

If you’re interested in learning about the heritage of the characters you intend to pummel into submission, each race also has their own imaginatively weaved biography, helping to suffuse them with personality.

In-game we use the function and number keys to activate items stored in the menu, and rather bizarrely, access this by pulling back on the joystick and pressing fire twice. It’s as if everything was designed to alienate people not in possession of the manual, possibly as an elaborate anti-piracy measure.

Whatever the intention, this would likely have the same effect on buyers of legitimate copies. That’s the dilemma since people who enjoy apparently pick-up-and-play action games don’t want to have to wade through what must seem to a kid like the equivalent of the bible.

At the time of release, some critics complained about Wipe Out’s poor graphics, weak sound effects and erratic scrolling, yet were sufficiently swayed by the fun factor to adjust their scores in a generally positive direction. Always refreshing to see gameplay being prioritised over flashy visuals and gimmickry, as nice as they are assuming all the other ducks are in a row.

“When it comes down to the technicalities of the game, the graphics might be a bit naive. The sounds might even be a bit simplistic. Does this worry me? Naw, not a lot. And the reason is that the game is fun. F, U, N, fun. The two-player version is terrific. Look upon the single-player version as a way of practising until your mate agrees to play again.”

Amiga Computing (81%, July 1990)

Other critics didn’t have to overcome the primitive visuals because – in complete contrast – they won their seal of approval from the outset. CU Amiga, for instance, in their 81% review (June 1990) felt that…

“The graphics are quite attractive, due to the use of different sprites for each character and the many varied backdrops.”

Summarising their equally negative – though positively graded – assessment, CU Amiga declared…

“It plays well. The controls are a little clumsy to begin with, but that is really down to the beginner’s hoverboard you are graced with. Wipe Out is really nothing more than a few well-worn ideas presented in an interesting way.”

Superficially, Wipe Out shares the immediacy of titles such as Speedball with the engine beneath more akin to Sensible World of Soccer. It yearns to be a blend of the two while only really pushing the former into the limelight.

Alone, neither aspect would be enough to carry it. Embraced in unity, Wipe Out becomes a different prospect entirely, on the proviso you’re willing to invest the considerable time and effort it demands.

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