Monday, 19 December 2016

Disposable Hero (Amiga)

Disposable Hero Amiga logo
Developer:Euphoria|Release Date:1993|Systems:Amiga, CD32

This week on Super Adventures I'm finally getting around to playing classic Amiga shoot 'em up Disposable Hero! Not Disposable Heroes, that's a Metallica track from the album Master of Puppets (and a cartoony indie game on Steam).

This has been on my list of games to play since before I even had an actual list of games to play, so it's strange that it's taken me so long to get around to it. Oh right I remember now, I was trying to stick to playing games I haven't seen before, and I used to play the demo of this all the damn time back in the day. Well, probably more like three times, but that's still a lot for me.

You could probably call the game a Euroshmup, as it's by a developer from the Netherlands called 'Boys without Brains' (who were going by the name of 'Euphoria' at this point... I think), but I wouldn't because that's a horrible word. I mean it's ugly to look at and it's ridiculous when you say it out loud. Plus Shmups sound like something you'd find living down at Fraggle Rock.

The developers were also responsible for the platformer Hawkeye, which is one of the games that inspired me to make this site in the first place, way back in 2011. Well its title screen did anyway. All I remember about it now is that it wasn't great, but I'm sure this will hold up a lot better. For one thing it didn't start out as a Commodore 64 game.
  



You don't find many shoot 'em ups that start with a screen full of computer text, especially when they're meant to be set in the year 2879. Are they running the Zargon Defence Network off a 386?

Oh, well that's not good. They had one chance to send over the location of the prototype that can save humanity before the comms were destroyed, and then their cat went and jumped on the keyboard....

I feel like I should say something about the lower case 't' coming after a full stop, but with the amount of typos I make, I don't get to criticise anyone. If my HQ was under attack you'd be lucky to get "base keeps epxloding we're getting the fuck out, prototpyes in the hangar somewhere i dunno, fuck fuck" out of me.

Now I'm getting scrolling text to read as well? Scrolling background too.

I'm not really paying attention to be honest, because I know it's all irrelevant and the landscape's much more interesting to look at. I did notice that there's 70 years of backstory here though.

There you go, I stitched together the background and stripped away the text. You can click to view it at its correct resolution.

They should've just said that the prototype was stashed in the hangar with all the 7s written on it.

Wait, is this all the animation I'm getting? I thought the engines were going to fire up and was going to take off and fly past the camera. I guess sprite scaling isn't really the Amiga's thing.

It's taken a while, but I've finally reached the game's menu screen!

I hate it when games do this though: lock the later levels behind the harder difficulty modes. It's worse than locking difficulty modes until I've beaten the game once, because this means I may never beat this bloody thing. It's fine for arcade games to restrict late game content to the more godlike players, but when people buy a game it's usually with the expectation that they'll be able to see most of it themselves some day.

Though at least it has the decency to let players know ahead of time... if they leave the menu on long enough for the credits to finish scrolling by and this text to come up. By the way if you're wondering, the text on the bottom right is in a higher resolution to the text on the rest of the image.

I wish I could've shown the whole menu screen in action, with scrolling text and spinning spaceship, but would've needed too many frames. So I painstakingly removed the computer text from the 3D graphic instead. Amigas may not be so great at SNES-style sprite rescaling, but they can push a few polygons around if they have to, no Super FX chip required.

Weirdly though, this isn't the space fighter from the intro. Perhaps this is the prototype, and that other fighter is on a mission to find it. I'm starting to think I should've read that the scrolling intro story.

And this is what the actual game looks like! It's put me in the spaceship from the intro, with its cool red cockpit window and a bite taken out of the tail fin. One thing that's less cool is that I was shot at by a turret before it'd even scrolled onto the screen. It'd be nice if it let me see the gun before asking me to dodge the bullet.

Speaking of guns... my laser cannon has no gunfire sound effect! I'm firing in silence here. I can't help noticing that the background's missing as well. Amiga games tend to at least put a sky gradient back there, but here I've got nothing but pea green to look at. Shame really, as the rest of the graphics are pretty nice.

Ah, now there's a bit more going on. Both in the background and in front of it. The water's even reflecting those beautiful ugly metallic enemy sprites. I made the mistake of trying to kill one of them with my pathetic firepower, then made a bigger mistake by ramming it and lost a third of my health. At least now I know that I have a health bar, and some post-hit flashing invulnerability.

Other than the health bar, the game's your typical horizontal scrolling shoot 'em up set up, with the camera constantly moving rightwards and my fighter along for the ride. Though right here I've been trying to stand still to confuse that turret underneath. It can't fire straight up so if I hold position like this it keeps rotating back and forth trying to draw a bead on me.

I killed something with bullets! I'm very proud of myself.

Oh damn, I just noticed the glass windows refracting the background. Other things worth noticing include that fuzzy blue dome, and the blue and red thing to the left. The mysterious object is one of those floating blueprints you often never find in real life, and the dome is a landing platform for my ship. If I touch down on that thing I get a bit of health back.
 
It also takes me to the garage, where I get to outfit my ship! The game has a bit of weird soundtrack, but this place likely has the weirdest music of all of it (YouTube link) It's really grown on me though, and it's a shame it was replaced on the CD32 version.

Those boxes on the left show the items I can slot onto my craft. Unfortunately it also shows I can't put any of them on just yet. I've got 24:41 seconds to wait until the blueprint I just collected has been converted. It's a 'gauss-eroder grenade-launcher' apparently, and the arrows on the top right indicate its firing arc. One red arrow shows that in this case all grenades will be delivered frontwise.

I've also got the power drain to consider. The red bar in the middle shows my ship's maximum power output, the yellow bar is how much power my current weapons require, and the green bar shows the extra power requirement of the weapon I'm lucking at. If the green + yellow is less than red, then I'm in luck. The fuzzy effect works better on a CRT television by the way.

I love the flash when things explode. Shame there's no benefit to shooting waves of enemies aside from points; they never drop anything.

I also like how it's running at a proper slick 50 frames a second (proper for a PAL Amiga anyway). Though when the background changes 50 times a second that's not so good for GIFs, so I've stabilised this animation. They thoughtfully avoided using parallax scrolling, so it was very easy for me to freeze the camera.

Well I screwed that up. Twice in fact. Turns out that walls are instant death even when I've got a full health bar. Seems unnecessarily cruel to me.

On the plus side, now I know that I respawn close to where I blow up. I've only got one life left now so I should try not to do that again... but that blueprint up there is really tempting. The game sometimes encourages me to do dangerous things in order to get the trickier pick ups and blueprints.

Wow, I still can't change my loadout? The gauss-eroder grenade-launcher is too overpowered for my power plant and the thing I just grabbed doesn’t even work on this fighter.

Hey, that's the spinning 3D spaceship from the menu screen! I think I like the ship I've got better.

Fortunately I have a new powerplant being produced from a blueprint, so I’ll be able to grab that at the next platform. Assuming I can hang on for 34 seconds before landing.

Uh... okay? The walker didn't even try to attack me, it just stomped off and left me alone.

Ignore the weirdness in the water by the way, that's my fault. I did the stabilisation thing again, and it had to use pixels from previous frames to fill in when the camera scrolled too far.

Another enemy who just showed up just to say hi and then bugger off again, weird. There's even a block there to make sure I'm safe from its bullets.

I appreciate the variety though. I'm definitely moving through distinct phases of the stage, not just fighting waves of the same enemies forever.

You know, this enemy ship might the closest thing in the game to the spaceship on its incredible box art:

Disposable Hero box art
Borrowed from Gremlin Graphics Archive
I mean look at that thing! That's the best Amiga game spaceship cover since Starglider II.

It was painted by an artist called John Berkey, who was known for painting a lot of things that look like this. He painted a lot of everything in fact, including book covers, and movie posters for films like Star Wars, King Kong, The Towering Inferno, Superman III and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The man would definitely be on the list of my favourite artists if I could ever remember names long enough to make a list.

Anyway, back to the the game and damn that was a sudden energy beam attack from the core of that thing. I bet that would've one-shot killed me as well.

I've got my grenade-launcher though! The grenades are the same size as the weapon itself, it's amazing.

Now I don't think that was very sporting.

He pinned me against the ceiling with his Gatling gun fire, then launched a missile the size of my fighter right at me! It'd be nice if I had a bit of room to manoeuvre here. Not that I get to try again, as I threw all my lives away against that ceiling earlier and there's no continues.

At least I got Game Over'd by something that looks awesome. Though it's only now that I'm watching it as a GIF that I can see all the splashes from the falling shrapnel and shell casings.

Amiga CD32
I figured that this would be a good time to switch to the CD32 version, and it's amazing just how identical it looks, despite the more powerful hardware. It hasn't been updated at all, but then it didn't really need to be. Game looked great to start with.

This is level two by the way, which wasn't all that difficult to reach this time. I beat the boss without losing a single life in fact. It seems like there's more enemies on screen sometimes, but the game's overall easier than the original version. Plus there's CD music and the sound effects seem a lot beefier, even though my own gun's still entirely silent.

Amiga CD32

Damn, it clipped me with its last shot! Well there goes life #1, though at least I didn't lose it by flying into a wall this time.

The game restarted me a short distance back and I had to fight him again, but I didn't lose my weapons. Everything I've collected and put on my ship is on there permanently unless I choose to swap it out, and that's way better than the game making me weaker each time I fail. Like I wasn't struggling enough to begin with!

Amiga CD32
Cunning game, luring me into the spikes with a health bubble. I knew what it was up to though, I saw it coming even before the warning spikes shot up. What I didn't expect was to be insta-killed for being close to one of them.

Again, ignore the graphic glitchiness, that's my fault.

Amiga CD32
Hey, it's the level 2 boss! And he just kicked my ass.

I'm starting to think that switching my grenade-launcher out for bombs may have been a mistake. It's not my fault, I was hoping they'd be homing missiles!

But it's fine, because I'm done with it now.


CONCLUSION

Disposable Hero is probably one of the prettiest games on the original Amiga, with fantastic artwork and flashy effects. Well, maybe pretty's not the right word considering all the gross biotechnology it has you flying through, but what the artist managed with the pitiful amount of colours available impresses the hell out of me. Sure there's no parallax scrolling, but there's limits to what the developers could get out of what was basically 8 year old hardware and this seems like it's pushing them as it is.

It's just a shame the game itself is so cruel. I mean the health bar's helpful and I appreciate it not taking your weapons away on every death, but it gives you like three lives and no continues! I realise that the game only has six levels and they wanted to make them last (you can finish the whole thing in 30 minutes if you're good enough), but there's got to be better ways to make people feel they've got their money's worth out of something! Different game modes for instance, or challenges.

I gave the game a try with cheats enabled to see what the later levels are like, and it's much like this all the way through. All the levels are entirely flat, all the graphics are entirely awesome, the gameplay's always kind of slow, and the difficulty scales up from tricky to bastard hard. The CD32 version's a little easier though, which means you're far more likely to ever see the strange surprise ending cutscene.

The floppy disk version of Disposable Hero is being offered as a free download on Gremlin Graphics World


I doubt anyone going to be guessing the next game from this crappy picture, but here's some clues for you anyway: it came out just a few years ago, it takes place around Christmas Eve, and the title always makes me think of oranges.

Thanks for reading, and double thanks to everyone who's about to write me a comment underneath.

3 comments:

  1. 1) The green bit in the top-right of the menu screen looks like it fell out of Syndicate.

    2) The egg-laying animation on that wasp-skeleton enemy boss thing is a bit stomach-churning in its level of detail.

    3) I have no idea what the next game is.

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  2. If I'm not mistaken, there was a special edition of this game that was easier, and not only for the CD32.

    The problem with these game was the same I had for the other top Amiga Shmups (R-Type II, Apydia, Project-X): Too Hard.

    Disposable Hero(s), Fade to Black, Eye of the Beholder. All were songs by Metallica released in the 80's and Video games released in the 90s. Coincidence?

    Yes.

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    Replies
    1. There's also Seek & Destroy and Sanitarium! I could've had a whole month of Metallica games, if I hadn't gone and ruined it by playing Eye of the Beholder five years too early.

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