Today's game is Aidon - The Apocalypse, a vertical scrolling shooter that is heavily inspired by Jaleco's Valtric (1986).
Judging by the loading screen, this is certainly not your run-of-the-mill apocalypse. In this corner of the galaxy, the end times are heralded by giant metal faces and even larger translucent skulls sporting mechanical teeth. Our hovercraft looks suspiciously like a repurposed Roomba which is rather unfortunate because the ground is currently on fire. At least I think those yellow tentacles are supposed to be flames and not some spiky alien vegetation.
The title screen's music goes on for quite a while, even though it only takes a few seconds until the game asks me to press space to continue. The track is oddly laid back, almost as if the apocalypse were the perfect occasion to relax and take it easy. I guess, if you are in the right frame of mind, the final revelation might indeed be the ideal time to go back to bed. Everyone's existence is about to end anyway and you can't do a damn thing about it. But wait, I hear the game whisper, there is something you can do after all! Simply step into your trusty hover tank and try to save the universe all by yourself!
I don't know what Aidon means, but by looking at this screen I can surmise that Haip Creations stands for the coder's name, Hans Ippisch. This inspired me to use parts of my name to come up with Reanth Soft, the fictional software house that produced the equally fictional It's Harp Lifter.
The last two entries in the high score list strike me as a bit weird, as if the author included a slightly smirky send-off to his ex-girlfriend. But that's completely baseless speculation on my part, so let me just start the game instead:
"This is the Aidon Report! Road conditions are rough, signage is poor, and some aggressive oncoming traffic is to be expected!"
Every level begins with an info screen where your progress and some statistics are displayed. The arcade game Valtric does a very similar thing:
The music that's playing on this screen is, oddly enough, the thing I remember the most about Aidon. It's a very short, vaguely Asian-sounding melody, but for some reason it lodged itself firmly into my mind.
When I initially started playing Aidon via emulation, I mostly got a flickery mess. Just look at the first few seconds of gameplay:
As soon as there are a lot of moving objects on the screen, the sprite multiplexer seems to lose its marbles, causing the hover tank and various other sprites to become invisible. However, that's not how I remembered the original game to run. For lack of a better version to play, I put this review on hold for a while.
A couple of months later, I was directed to a new website, www.magicdisk64.com, which hosts fresh disk images of CP Verlag's diskmags. Lo and behold, this new version of Aidon runs significantly better, even though there are still some graphical glitches.
However, there is one issue even the most accurate disk image can't fix, and it made the game practically impossible to play on my original C64. On an old breadbin model, Aidon looks like this:
Due to the character color not being properly initialized, the level starts out completely black (for an explanation of this issue, see the Amateur Geekout insert in Space Ace). In the first level, I can eventually fill in the missing colors by shooting in all eight directions, but this does not work in any of the following stages, and I would have to navigate them completely blind. Needless to say, I never made it past the second level.
So now, for the first time, I have the opportunity to play the full game and discover if it is any good!
The aim of each level is to move upwards and reach the stage's end boss. On the way there are enemies to shoot, obstacles to circumvent and bonuses to uncover.
The player vehicle fires two types of projectiles: One is a straight shot that can take out any of the mobile baddies, while the second weapon is mainly used to target stationary turrets. It's some kind of grenade launcher that always fires upwards, with a yellow crosshair marking the spot where the next grenade will land. Both weapons are triggered with the joystick's fire button, but the secondary fire takes longer to recharge. It also comes with a remarkably annoying whistle sound that'll drive the player mad sooner to later.
Turrets may not look like turrets at all, but I named them as such because they're stationary objects that start shooting at you when you get close. They can only be destroyed with grenades.
Each destroyed turret reveals a floor plate marked with a question mark. If you treat it with another grenade, a comically voice-like sound is played and a semi-random bonus item gets revealed.
I say semi-random because the first bonus item you get always seems to be this one, THE FREEZER. It's actually the opposite of a bonus, as picking it up stops your movement for a couple of seconds. What's worse, the second bonus item you reveal is usually a Freezer as well. This is not the best way to introduce powerups, in my opinion.
This is RAPID FIRE, an actual bonus item. It increases the fire rate of your primary weapon. This also depends on how many of your shots are already on screen. If you shoot near a wall, the rate goes up rapidly.
TRIPLE SHOT extends your primary weapon with two additional bullets that shoot diagonally forward. If you pick up a second Triple Shot, you get a sextuple shot, with three projectiles emerging from the back. It's basic math, you see?
AUTOFIRE does what it says on the tin. It relieves you of the burden of having to keep the fire button pressed and just causes your hovercraft to shoot with reckless abandon for a brief while. This usually also results in the graphics glitching out due to the sheer amount of stuff moving on the screen.
NOTHING is another underwhelming bonus which, as the name implies, does nothing. Enemies can steal revealed bonus items by wandering over them and leave behind empty Nothings.
THE WARP is a bonus item very much inspired by a similar one in Valtric. Touching it warps you straight to the end of the stage where the level end boss awaits. In Valtric the warp is only temporary. It allows you to soften up the boss for half a minute and then teleports you back to your previous location. In Aidon the warp is permanent.
PARTIAL INVULNERABILITY causes your hovercraft to flash. For a short while it makes protecty you from enemy projectiles but not from enemies themselves. I discovered that important distinction when I foolishly steered my hovercraft into a boss, thinking I could kill it faster that way.
And those are all the bonus items in the game. I'm not very keen on their graphical presentation, as quite a few of them don't look like anything. The Warp's arrow is one of the few icons that actually represents what the powerup does, but the rest is pretty much a bunch of random pixels. Valtric uses colors to differentiate between the powerups, but Aidon doesn't have that option because it uses the same set of colors for the entire background. This is an easy way to optimize screen scrolling, since color RAM is more difficult to handle than screen RAM.
Speaking of scrolling, Aidon is mainly a vertical scroller, but it also moves horizontally for a about a quarter of the screen's width. All stages are a multitude of screens tall and just a bit wider than one screen. There are no diagonal controls, so you're either moving vertically or horizontally. Like Valtric, Aidon doesn't scroll downwards. So if you find yourself in a situation like this...
... then you can't destroy either of these turrets because you can't move any further back to make the grenades hit.
Valtric has the same "feature", but it's way less egregious there because the screen is vertical. This gives the player ample space to reach the question marks before they scroll too far to the bottom. In comparison, Aidon's visible playfield is very narrow which quickly causes turrets and question marks to become unreachable by grenades.
After traversing about half of the stage, you can't progress any further and have to defeat a mid-boss first. I'm not sure what I'm looking at here. I recognize tentacles with what appears to be a skull in the middle. The skull has a weird hole and seems to be wearing a sailor's hat? Is anyone else seeing that?
Whatever it is, it's pretty easy to defeat if you find the right spot where its shots can't reach you. And yes, sometimes, but not always, killing the mid-boss results in an immediate respawn of the same enemy just a bit further up. This can happen up to two times, and I'm not sure if it's intentional or not. There are quite a few things in this game that I'm not sure if they are intentional.
Notice the somewhat cheeky promotion of Danger Freak in the bottom text, also programmed by Hans Ippisch, but from a completely different publisher.
And now for the level's end boss. Compared to the tentacle monster from earlier, this one is rather easy to classify. It's a face. Most likely, it's the same face we saw on the title screen, although it seems to have gained some weight in the meantime. I'd be curious about any explanation why I'm fighting a huge severed head, but unfortunately there is no background story to this game.
The face's movement pattern is very similar to the previous boss. In fact, I think all the bosses move the same way and have the same blind spots. Curiously, if you defeat the face, you explode with it. I also gained a life, probably because I reached a score of over 30,000 points.
The second level's report screen contains a few puzzling details. For one, the tile graphics in the middle are displayed with incorrect colors. Despite what it looks like, we are not about to enter a snow stage. What confuses me more, though, is the font: The letter N (found in POSITION and HAIP CREATIONS) is slightly altered compared to the first stage's report screen. Why is it different? Beats me.
See? I wasn't lying: No snow in sight. You can also see that the first two bonus items that get revealed are again FREEZERS.
Apart from featuring a new tileset and different enemy sprites, the second level plays much the same as the first one. However, the screenshot above shows where I just got permanently stuck in the scenery for no apparent reason. I can still shoot, but any movement is impossible. None of the tiles I'm on should have any collision, so I'm not sure what is going on here. Good thing I made savestates.
Guess what, I got stuck again, just a few meters further up. You can also see that my shots started to alter the surrounding tiles. I guess that caused them to become solid matter, and thus my hovercraft got trapped between them. It seems to me the game has severe timing issues which cause bullets to erase the scenery. This could strictly be an emulation problem, though I've never seen it this bad in any other game. Let's move on regardless.
Level 2's mid-boss consists of a toothy mouth and a pair of evil googly eyes. It has the same movement pattern as the previous bosses and exhibits the same blind spot. It is taken care of pretty easily, especially if your ship's weaponry is fully powered up. I also had to kill two of theses monstrosities in a row.
Oh, hello! What a beautiful pair of disfigured terminator heads! Since they are slightly dissimilar, they look like a game of Spot the Difference. Unfortunately, the square blocks to the faces' left and right keep on shooting at me, so it's not a good idea to stay here for too long.
I picked up a Warp shortly after and got teleported to the stage's end boss. It's yet another face, though this one looks like it's got a scrawny guy trapped in it. Am I the only one seeing that? Here, I've separated the distressed fellow from the rest of the face:
In any case, the boss eventually exploded without the guy getting released. On to the next level!
Once again, the report screen makes the upcoming stage look like it's going to be icy and/or snowy. It is neither of these. Also, this level is called NATURA, just like the previous one.
This is more like hell. Even the floor seems to have eyes! Apart from its garish color scheme, this tileset isn't all that special. I'll just skip ahead to the mid-boss:
It's a... it's a four-legged bug? That says "BO" repeatedly? Not "BOO", just "BO". I assume it's underlined because it's important. Or it's the spellchecker not recognizing the word.
The insect theme continues with the stage's main boss which is a deformed beetle. The thing looks so sad with its weirdly misplaced wings, it's probably thankful to be put out of its misery.
We're still stuck on NATURA, and the preview graphics still show the wrong colors. What's more, white stray pixels are starting to invade the report screen. It's as if the game is slowly falling apart at the seams the further I get.
Oh, hello, Terminator lookalike! This rather baffling sight got me thinking: Why would anybody want to put their portrait on the top of a building where it can only be seen from a bird's eye perspective? Is there a lot of air traffic that makes this sort of advertisement viable? Am I overthinking things?
Look, there he is again, his face neatly wedged into the space below the turret! I must say, as nondescript as most of the level graphics are, those occasional faces lend the game some character.
Speaking of nondescript, this stage's mid-boss is sadly somewhat uninspired. It looks a bit too random to me, like arbitrary graphic fragments got cobbled together and embellished with some wiggly parts. I can vaguely make out some long teeth and a single eye. Let's hope the subsequent end boss flaunts a more original design...
Oh, come on. This is obviously just a slightly modified version of the previous boss. Still, I like this version a bit better. That gaping mouth looks like it is sparking with electricity. Either that, or there's a rotating fan inside.
Even on the final level, the report screen still insists we're playing NATURA. At least the white pixels have disappeared.
Of all the levels, this one probably sports my favorite tileset and color scheme. The subdued, metallic look works quite well and it doesn't come accross as garish as some of the other stages.
Ha, that's a good face! The series of weird mughots concludes with this gloriously hideous example. If nothing else, witnessing this monstrosity makes playing through the game almost worthwhile.
You know what isn't worth your while? This mid-boss being a rehash of the fourth level's end boss. Apart from the different colors, the mouth is exactly the same, and only the upper half has been adjusted. I get the impression the creator eventually ran out of ideas while designing these sprites.
A bit further up, the game starts acting up again. This line of black holes was created by my shots, and they have the potential to block my movement entirely. I hope I can still make it to the final boss without getting stuck.
Luckily, I made it. Behold, the final boss! It's got tentacles! It's got very similar eyes like the bosses in stage 3! It's also trying to shoot me without landing a single hit!
A couple of shots later and the squid is history. I stand victorious! I have saved the world from the apocalypse! At least I think that's what I just did? So... is there an ending sequence to crown my accomplishment?
Of course not! All I get is an entry in the high score table. The game doesn't even acknowledge that I've finished the final level, it just dumps me back to the title screen.
Aidon is hard for me to judge for several reasons. For one, there are the numerous bugs and glitches that I'm not sure if they're all caused by the emulation. I definitely know that the game doesn't run on old hardware where the level background is completely black. On my original C64, I never got past the second level, thus my overall impression is only marginally fueled by nostalgia.
Graphically, Aidon can be a bit uneven: Some of the bosses look intriguingly strange while others are just variants of the same thing. The level backgrounds boast some nice 3D effects, but they all look rather monochromatic, due to the same 4 colors being used throughout an entire stage. I do like the occasional weird faces that adorn the landscape, though.
The music by Christian Scholz is quite good, though not really something I'd want to listen to outside of the game. The sound effects would also be all right if it weren't for the constant whistling noise caused by the secondary fire. This is such a bad design decision that it marrs the whole experience, unless you turn the volume down significantly.
When it comes to gameplay, I managed to squeeze quite some entertainment out of Aidon. When the hovercraft is fully powered-up, it's fun to simply shoot in all directions at once. The narrow playfield can be a bit frustrating, especially when turrets or bonus fields scroll into view and you can't go back far enough to actually hit them with a grenade. The controls are fine, although I'd have liked diagonal movement as well.
Do I recommend the game? I'm not sure, honestly. Valtric never saw a release for home computers, so if you want to play something very similar on your C64, especially with a lot of bizarre faces, you can give Aidon a try. If you play on emulation, expect some glitches, though.