Wingnuts logo AGA

On the planet Holy Doobie, the most popular combative sport is Wingnuts. Our Earthly representative there is the hapless Andy Smith...

Just imagine the characters from Wacky Races all dogfighting with each other in odd flying machines and you've got a pretty good idea of what Wingnuts is all about.

The characters aren't actually from Wacky Races as that would mean they'd have to have been licensed to be used in the game, but with characters called Dicky Dastardly and Smutley, I think you get the picture. The flying machines they get to control are pretty much right out of Wacky Races though, all flappy wings and odd attachments.

Wingnuts is an arena-based dogfighting game. Pick the number of players you want (up to four can play if you link two Amigas with a null-modem cable, with two people sharing an Amiga each), select one of the half-dozen characters, give them a flying machine and then pop along to the armoury.

Now this is an impressive part of the game. There are over 40 weapons to choose from here, although not all are available to all machines all of the time, and some of them are very impressive. The paint missile is a good example. Get an enemy in your sights, wait a couple of seconds for the cursor to change to a death's head to indicate that you've got a lock-on and then fire and forget the missile. If you get a hit then you can laugh at the other player who now has their screen plastered in red paint. Tee hee.

Unfortunately, it's not like some of the other missiles in that it doesn't do permanent damage. The best you can hope for is that the player will become so disorientated that they'll crash into the landscape and die.

If you get a hit then you can laugh at the other player who now has their screen covered in red paint. Tee hee.

Some of the other missiles are pretty devastating though, so evasive action must be taken once you hear the warning beeps telling you that someone else has got a lock on you. This is especially important when you're playing solo as the computer players are merciless. Even if you turn their intelligence down to 'none' you'll find they're quite a challenge.

And now onto Wingnuts' problems, starting with the mere annoyances to the completely wrong. First in the dock, m'lud, is the actual playing area itself. It's teeny-weeny. It wraps round but there's no warning when this is going to happen so you spend a lot of time chasing someone only so see them disappear in front of your very eyes and re-appear immediately some way behind you.

The designers reckon you can use this tactically to avoid incoming missiles and the like, but frankly I think they're stretching it.

Secondly, the game's scanner. The device is located in the top left corner of the screen and is almost impossible tor ead. You can just about make out that there are some coloured dots ( the colours being the actual colours of the other players' machine) but there's little chance of being able to tell whether they're above or below you, even though that information is supposed to be indicated. Quite simply, it just doesn't work very well!

The flying machines they get to control are pretty much right out of Wacky Races though, all flappy wings

A major accomplice, your honour, is the frame update. Even running on my A1200 with an '060 board the graphics are jerky and far from smooth. This has the knock-on effect of making it very difficult to fly any of the planes with anything approaching skill. I shake my head.

Finally, and possible the biggest single factor responsible for this game appearing before you today m'lud, is the curious choice by the games designers to have the ground the same colour as the sky. Ok, so we're on some alien planet, but you try flying around in a dogfight when you don't know whether you're up, down or sideways.

Thankfully, it doesn't happen in every arena. Some of them are flooded so the ground appears blue, which at least lets you know which way is up, but should you find yourself in an arena that isn't then you're going to be in whole heap of trouble before you even start.

The designers have made some attempt to make thing a little less confusing by including great lumps of flat white colour that must surely represent clouds. You can't see through 'em so tactically you should be able to hide in 'em. Erm, no, not really. The chances are, as soon as you pass through one (blink and you'll miss it) you'll hit the edge of the arena and then be transported to a cloudless area.

I'm really getting fed up saying this about games of late: Wingnuts is not dreadful but it's just such a wasted opportunity. The ideas are mostly fine and the weapons are certainly good - unfortunately, most of them seem to have been aimed directly at the programmer's and designer's feet.

Wingnuts logo AGA

Price: £14.99 Supplier: Skunkworks 01846 675453

What happens when wacky cartoon characters are given even wackier flying machines and duel to the death on an alien world? Wingnuts answers just that question.

Sometimes it takes a newcomer to shake out the doldrums. It seems like everybody these days is obsessed with getting a realtime strategy game to market - they used to be obsessed with getting a 3D shooter out, but the release of Doom and Quake changed all that. Along comes the Skunkworks, newcomers to the Amiga games market, to try to shake things up with Wingnuts, an action flight sim with tongue planted so firmly in cheek it's causing lacerations.

Wings, take flight
Wingnuts puts you in the cockpit of one of six whacky flying machines, from a UFO to a bizarre rocketship to a flying car. Behind the controls, you can take on the persona of six different pilots, each a cartoon stereotype.

The plot, as it were, is that Wingnuts is the most popular contact sport in the galaxy and you're in a small arena on a small planet dedicated to the thing. When you strap in to the contraption of your choice, you face off against five other pilots, up to three of which can be human (if serial linking two Amigas together - otherwise you can play against one other person).

Once you've made your pick you're taken away to the arena, where each player gets a half-screen view from just behind the pilot, which means you see the cockpit and pilot as well as out the window. There are a wide variety of weapons to choose: guns, rockets, 'laser' weapons and defences.

Crash and Burn
Wingnuts looks like a great game up until you actually get to the flying around and fighting part. The 3D flight engine isn't very detailed even when set to 'very high' detail mode, but this is no big deal as it makes the game well suited even for slower machines, and given the game's dogfight nature they weren't going for professional flight realism. But so many corners were cut that the game is nearly impossible to play.

For starters, there is no artificial horizon of altimeter, and gauging distance from the ground is nearly impossible unless you switch to the external view, which involves a keypress and is hardly convenient.

The lack of a horizon means that you are not only never quite sure how high you are off the ground but whether or not you're continuing to climb. You do have a radar, but I am all but convinced that it bears no actual resemblance to the action around you.

The manual does a very poor job of explaining it and hours of flight time got me no nearer to understanding its mechanics, or how to locate an enemy. By 'locate' I mean get one in my sights - you can tell they're there because they shoot at you constantly, but I'm damned if I know where they are.

I tried to look past these glaring flaws and get on with playing the game. Getting a missile lock on an enemy contraption is not impossible, but is extremely difficult. On the other hand, the bad guys seem to be able to get locks on you whenever they feel like it, and you wind up depleting your store of missile decoys very early in a match.

Managing speed is easy enough to manage with the keyboard, but using the function keys to cycle through weaponry fast enough gets very harrowing. Support for CD32 joypads, or even two joystick buttons, would have been extremely welcome.

If combat gets to be too much for you you can seek haven on the landing strip and get repairs. Sounds great, doesn't it? Except that there's no actual way to tell where the landing strip is at any given time - there's no map! You can enable an autopilot mode to land you, and this may or may not take you to the landing strip. Sometimes it just sets you down on the ground.

The manual mentions that the average lifespan for novice Wingnuts is 42 seconds. This is funny, until you realize that it's absolutely true. The enemy buzzes around you and mercilessly pummels you time and time again. It's not really possible to play in a true 'novice' mode where your pilot is an ace - you can build up the mediocre starting stats of the 6 pilots but that doesn't do you much good if you can't win a single dogfight.

I found the most effective combat strategy was to buy the 'Blunderbuss', a machine gun you can fire form the ground, land and then just shoot away at guys from there. Unfortunately, I also found that I couldn't get back from the Blunderbuss sight to my cockpit. It's things like this that give Wingnuts that "not playtested by those who weren't intimately involved in development" feeling.

The Shame of it
The real shame is that I wanted to like Wingnuts. There's a lot to like. The manual, while produced on a very bare budget, is whimsically funny without being annoying.

The pilots hold up little signs, get ill, and panic and are quite charming in their way while the carnage mounts around them. And if Wingnuts got a few weeks of external playtesting and a retool by the programmer, it could be a very fun game. It's just not playable as it stands.