Ultra Violent Worlds logo AGA

Shoot-em-ups come and shoot-em-ups go. Unfortunately, Andy Smith's always around...

And the last thing we had that resembled a new shoot-em-up was the rather awful Powder a couple of months back. However, here's a new German outfit Vorlon's Ultra Violent Worlds to restore our faith in the genre.

New boys Vorlon have opted for a vertically scrolling blaster for their Amiga debut, allowing one or two players to take on the might of the alien invaders, the Zarnaxians. All well and good so far, if a little predictable.

Starting out with a basic ship with basic weapons, the player survives the oncoming waves of Zarnaxians for as long as possible, or until the shop appears at last.

At what seems like random intervals, Zarnaxian ships are in the habit of dropping blue credit discs. Collect one and you've earned yourself 100 credits to spend in the shop at the end of the stage.

Sadly, there seems to be little rhyme or reason as to which ships are carrying the credits. Despite the fact that there are very definite waves of enemy craft, you don't get rewarded for taking out, say, one wave of a particular kind of craft, or for destroying a certain number of different craft. The credits just seem to appear when they feel like it and this makes forward financial planning difficult.

The playing are's wider than one screen so you can wander to each side of the screen and have the playing area scroll for you. This adds a little something, although it's not quite as effective in two player mode because if your mate decides to stick in the right hand corner of the playing area then there's no way to shift him and get the screen to scroll unless you're really quick when he dies.

Even then he can simply scroll it back to the right unless you've had the foresight to go and hide yourself in the far left corner.

Survive the onslaught on the first stage, have a pop at the end of level boss (who appears, hangs round for a bit and then disappears, before popping up a few minutes later at the proper end of the level) and the chances are you'll have picked up a few credit discs and can't wait to spend 'em in the shop.

Here you'll have the chance to either buy yourself a new, harder wearing ship or a better weapon. Curiously, the second player in a two player game always starts with a better ship than you, but we'll not concern ourselves with that at the moment.

Don't worry about the aliens shooting at you as most just fire straight ahead in the hope that you'll be in the way...

All right, so you're perusing the long list of extra weapons available and want to buy something that's going to be a lot more effective than the weedy weapon you're given at the start. Prepare for some disappointment.

Money problems
Most of the good things cost thousands of credits and the chances of you getting to your first thousand on the first level are slim. The credits don't come nearly as often as you'd like and it's doubly frustrating when you destroy a craft near the edge of the screen (assuming you've scrolled as far left or right as the game will allow because there seems little point in hanging around in the middle of the playing area where the action's more intense but the rewards are just as sparse).

At this point, you get to watch that gold-dust blue disc skip off the side of the screen and intro oblivion. On later levels the credits come a little easier because you get more per disc, but then it's usually too late because your chances of reaching the second shop and indulging in some retail therapy are slim indeed.

Assume you have gained thousands of credits by saving them up over the first few levels. There's a large array of weaponry to choose from, which should make getting through the subsequent levels somewhat easier because the difficulty gets ramped up from level two onwards.

Ground-based installations make an appearance, the alien ships get tougher and the sneaky tricks become more frequent. Ships come at you from the sides, from behind and from below. Those Zarnaxians just don't play fair.

To be honest, neither do the programmers. Though everything looks nice and moves well, UVW fails to get the blood pumping. The alien waves follow the old 'weaver birds' pattern, whereby they lazily thing from side to side down the screen. And these are the interesting ones.

Most of 'em just come straight down the screen, firing away. Don't worry about the aliens shooting at you as most just fire straight ahead in the hope that you'll be in the way, which you inevitably are because there are so many of them.

I've been accused recently of single-handedly attempting to destroy the Amiga games market by not giving games super-high scores, whether they deserve them or not. I can see the argument - people want to feel that the Amiga games scene is still buzzing with great new games coming out all the time. The sad thing is that it's games like UVW that are killing the Amiga games market.

It's not a complete dog, it's just so lacklustre. Everything in UVW has been seen and done before and there are no new tricks or twists to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The gameplay is hardly inspirational and all in all you're left with a very average, very mundane shoot-em-up. There are more enjoyable PD shoot-em-ups and just because this is new doesn't mean it's worth spending your money on. Sorry Vorlon, there's a lot more work needed here.

Ultra Violent Worlds logo AGA

Price: £14.95/AUS$39.95 inc. P& P Publisher: Vorlon, 133-135 Alexander St, Crows Nest, NSW 2065, Australia http://www.vorlonsoftware.com

One of the most enduring game genres makes a comback, but do we really want it back?

Just because a game genre has come and gone doesn't necessarily mean that new entries aren't welcome. After all, most of the new waves in gaming in the 90s have come from extrapolating and expanding on the themes of the 80s. Real-time strategy like Napalm comes from turn-based strategy. First-person shooters come from old wireframe classics like Mercenary.

In that vein, a new development/publishing label returns to the vertical shoot-em-ups of old with Ultra Violent Worlds, self-proclaimed to be light on fluff like background but heavy on action.

True to their word, there's very little in the way of background. A passable intro sequence, viewed through what might be some sort of futuristic portable Amiga, out-lines the impending demise of all life as we know it at the hands of an alien force bent on mindless destruction.

Only you, or you and a friend, can save the Earth in your single-seater space fighters (wake up at the back!). A few nice rendered stills are ruined by the bad job they did of reducing the resolution of the images, but what the heck, I've played countless hours of Galaga with less to go than this.

Once you get past the intro sequence, it's just a few seconds from blasting time. True to their minimalist design, there's not so much as an options screen to contend with - just pick the number of players and go. UVW includes the obligatory set of "earn money to buy better weaponry and bigger ships" powerups and the game teases you by bringing you to the store screen before you start the game - useless. Since you don't have any money at all yet!

All you get is your ship and a weak little three-way gun that's hardly up to the task. And then all you have to do is blast away until you win the game or the bad guys eat up all of your extra lives, whichever comes first.

Comparisons with the Shoot Em Up Construction Kit (SEUCK) game of your choice are inevitable. UVW is not actually a SUECK game, but it's on similarly rocky ground when it comes to speed, scrolling, variety (what variety?) and so on.

The graphics are very detailed and rich, very reminiscent of Super Stardust's design. There are a couple of nice details, such as the directional thrusters that fire on both player ships and enemies when "turns" are made, and the progressive explosions of certain larger enemy vessels. The ability to change ships to play shield protection against speed is a bonus as well.

Unfortunately, that's where the positive comparisons with Super Stardust, or any other good game, must end. Super Stardust was one of those games which took an old concept - Asteroids - and brought it into the 90s with tremendous flair and skill. After just a few minutes at the UVW controls. It's very clear that it has brought the old vertical scroller kicking and screaming towards the turn of the century.

The most fundamental aspect of a shoot-em-up, the collision detection, is extremely poor in this game. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw my bullets pass straight through enemies without registering a hit. Not just once, or occasionally, mind you, but repeatedly. If you can't shoot the proverbial "em" up, there's not much point in playing.

If a game can't win on technical merits sometimes it can be salvaged by great atmosphere, but there's little help here. Aside from the graphics, which are quite nice, there's nothing else to praise. Sound effects are adequate and there is no music aside from the rather scratchy tune that plays in the intro (although you do get a load of audio tracks on the CD).

They wanted to skip the fluff and get to the gameplay, but they didn't make it. Compound all that with a game that essentially requires you to boot without startup-sequence and is questionable for 060s, and you have very little to commend in UVW. I was excited by the layout of the opening level, sort of a cross between 1942 and Xevious, but my excitement turned to frustration and disbelief in very short order.

I must conclude that this entry is decidedly vegetarian. There's no meat to it. Take a look at Trauma Zero this issue for an example of how a traditional shoot 'em up can, and should be done.