Wed. May 29th, 2024

[Review] Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story – Nintendo Switch

By Elly Oak Mar18,2024
Developed and Published By: Digital Eclipse
Categories: Retro, Compilation
Release Date: 03.13.24
Price: $29.99

It’s a new year and Digital Eclipse has released another title in the Gold Master Series. Releases that I struggle to call a game proper and more an interactive documentary or digital museum. And much like last time, Llamasoft has managed to get me into a developer and plenty of games I frankly had no interest in at all.

Jeff Minter was the creator of what many could say to be the Atari Jaguar’s magnum opus, Tempest 2000. This is how much I knew about Jeff and his company beforehand. And just getting this out of the way, yes it’s the best game in the collection. And there’s 42 of them here. But lets rewind again. Not everything here is a game. Jeff Minter on top of being a game developer had a hobby for developing visualizers. Something of which he still works on. The inclusion of these in the collection is something of a curio, but a fascinating one, just to see how wild you could make these old computers and consoles display colors and shapes. In addition to that, there’s even the unreleased (and unfortunately unfinished) Attack of the Mutant Camels ’89. Snuck away outside of the exhibit is a new remixed, remastered version of Gridrunner as well.

Getting this out of the way again. I have never and honestly still don’t really care about British microcomputer games. It might be an age thing, it might be an American thing, but they all just seem beyond rudimentary. However. I am fascinating by the history of these games, how they’re developed, all of the pitches, the advertisements, the influence. This is why The Gold Master series has really struck a chord with me.

So how about them games? Well, at least early on, there is a lot of for lack of better words “rip-offs” or unlicensed ports of arcade games like Centipede, Robotron, or Defender. But it soon ends up building on those. Gridrunner took what Centipede was doing, constricted some movement, and then made obstacles that weren’t there before. There are original games like Hover Bovver (it’s supposed to be like a bothersome lawnmower). It’s a lawnmowing game, and it’s quite fun. But, like near everything else here, if you can’t handle how old the games are, it might be an issue.

Vic-20, C64, ZX Spectrum, even the ancient ZX-81. If there was an old micro, Minter probably programmed for it. At one point, he was even working on a game (AotMC89) for the ill fated Konix Multisystem. If a game was released on multiple formats, chances are they’re available. Enjoy your three versions of the original Gridrunner. And yes they all feel different and I prefer different aspects of each.

Despite being in the same series of The Making of Karateka, Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story takes a bit of a different angle to how this story is preserved and shown. Karateka was more on Jordan Mechner’s quest to finally get a game released and published. Majority of the collection was old, rejected prototypes, and on top of that, games had commentaries and auto plays to them. This is something sorely missing in this collection. It’s a bit of a quality over quantity issue, you know? However, I do appreciate a separate menu just to show *everything* Minter worked on, even releases not in the collection.

This brings up another way to think about things however. Jeff Minter kinda just made whatever they wanted. Made games look as wild as he wanted, about what he wanted. Hell, the game opens up with a big epilepsy and photo sensitivity warning, and good lord almighty does it need it. If not for the visualizers included, but for how wild those game over and death screens in the old games got. Christ.

Final Thoughts

Is Jeff Minter a madman? Probably, but in an endearing way. Needless to say, this set got me interested in playing his modern work, and I did enjoy finding the diamonds in the rough of early programming and game dev. Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story is a masterclass in how to showcase the history of the British independent microcomputer scene through one of it’s more prolific solo developers. I can’t wait to see both what he makes next and what Digital Eclipse does for the Gold Master Series.

We Think You'll Like