I don’t really like the whole “old games=hard” thing games has a tendency to default to assuming, mainly because there were a lot of old games and amongst them, a lot of kinds of old games. From the humble text adventure to the platformer to the shooter, difficulty and approachability tended to be rather all over the shop!

So, you know, not that different to now really. Saying old games were all hard is a bit like saying new ones are because Dark Souls exists. It’s silly.

That said, some of them are absolute monsters and I had forgotten quite how monstrous Space Cruiser was/is. My main recollections of the game shrouded in the mists of a lot of life having been lived since it sat in the cafe at the local swimming baths alongside Hunchback and Scramble, and I don’t think I ever really consciously paid it much attention on MAME in more recent years – not out of any particular dislike or concern, just I hadn’t really thought about it in a lifetime.

Partly out of necessity (a dude needs his old games) and partly after finally letting the wisdom of Yak from a few years back sink in after one of my more grumpy moments about the Arcade Archives range (“if we won’t pay a fiver for an arcade game, who will?” and as ever, man has a point), I’ve been grabbing some stuff from the all too tiny bunch of old games you can buy on the PS4 and trying to not just stick to another copy of Scramble or I, Robot either.

I definitely wish the games had more pleasing bezel artwork instead of whatever that is.

So yeah, that’s kinda meant if I’ve got a fiver spare or whatever, taking a punt on some half remembered thing because, well, why not? The worst a game can be is not to my tastes. As I’m going through a bit of a space shooty (and in particular, space shooty with a simple coloured scrolling pixel starfield if possible) phase I figured why not eh over Space Cruiser.

Oof. I know my reflexes and co-ordination are far from what they used to be but still, oof. I’m definitely spending more time losing lives than progressing on this one. Enjoying myself, mind!

I have no idea what the term du jour for this sort of thing is but it’s a bit Moon Cresta, even down to having a ship docking sequence. Think one screen at a time, bunch of aliens flying around in some formation – not rigid like Space Invaders, more chaotic like the latter parts of a Galaga stage. A very dawn of the eighties blast.

Coloured pixel starfields are the best starfields.

It’s got some lush presentation going on, some definite showy-offy bits. A short animated sequence of your spacecraft launching opens the game, your progress is marked in an on-screen map at key stages and my personal favourite thing – the colour cycling asteroid blasting stages that start off fairly reasonably paced but quickly descend into a glorious nightmare of, like, a whole few colours cycling pretty fast.

It’s as effective a simple trick here as it is in today’s games, though obviously needs a hefty epilepsy warning just in case.

There’s definitely the occasional thing here where I’m like “Ref! Ref! Come ‘ed, that was a foul, easy” (the first time I got wiped by the first stage’s high speed red ball, I swear I swore swears no-one should swear) but in space, no-one can hear you appeal to an imaginary referee so I just had to get on with it.

You can try Space Cruiser for yourself through MAME or on a bunch of consoles as a title in the arcade archives series. It’s pretty good.

Here’s me failing repeatedly to make any sort of decent progress. Like I say, this game is hard.

Ye Olde Videogame is a once a month-ish (or more if I’m feeling fruity) retro game recommendation.

Please sir, I cannot tell a lie, Alchemist is one of a number of videogames I’ve bought over the years for no other reason than it had a big wizard in it. A few weeks back I tried counting up exactly how many games I’d bought for this reason alone and I needed more fingers than I have! So, out of necessity, I stopped counting after ten.

It’s a thing, sorry. I’m trying to deal with it.

It's the poster art for Alchemist. An old wizard in purple garb rests upon a sceptre with a skull on top, the logo is smeared across the screen like a prog rock album left to grow wild. There's also a massive golden eagle hovering over a witch and cauldron. The tagline says "experience the visible adventure!"
I’d hate to experience an invisible adventure so good call, Imagine.

Anyway! Overdelivering on the promise, the big wizard (the eponymous Alchemist) can turn into an even bigger bird. How good is that? I’ll tell you, it’s seven good. That’s the best number of good.

Thinking on, I’m not sure what this means in turns of scale. Like, is the big wizard really a small wizard that turns into a perfectly normal sized bird? Is that it? Have I gotten things all wrong? I’m not sure I could take that right now so let’s just keep believing big wizard, even bigger bird. It’s a videogame and we can have a bird the size of Uranus if we want to.

Playing it now and I’d politely describe it as “compact” – there’s a relative handful of baddies and slight few tasks to be done, all of which can be cleared in a relatively brief amount of time once you know your way round the map. I still like it a lot! My only complaint is the exact same one as I had at the time – the push scrolling can be kinda painful, but you know, 1983 so cut it some slack.

The one thing I absolutely love about Alchemist – and it’s far from alone in doing this at the time – is how well each screen feels like a distinct elsewhere. With only a small map, the game has a lovely sense of place with the castles and caverns making it feel way, way, way more expansive than it is. Using a few screens for each ‘room’ is an especially neat way round achieving this.

Alchemist reminds me that I never needed a massive open world to feel like I’m truly exploring a place and Alchemist is a lovely, early, example of a game world I enjoyed getting lost in, felt present in.

Also, you can shoot lightning from your fingers in it and that’s always a win in my book.