Blue Lightning

Blue Lightning started life on the Atari Lynx, and is one of the most highly respected shooters on that system. Its kind of like Atari's answer to Sega's After Burner - you choose a fighter plane or a bomber and fly through missions taking out enemy ground and air units with guns, bombs, missiles, sharp sticks and harsh language. The Lynx game in particular impressed me with it's graphics, which are really quite good for a handheld system of that generation - massive sprites, smooth scrolling, fluid gameplay. All ingredients for a great gaming experience. So then, what of the (slightly) more recent Blue Lightning on the Jaguar CD? Blue Lightning CD was a pack-in game for the system, and I can imagine that it was used as a showcase for what the CD medium was capable of. In this respect, it really shines - there are lots of cool video clips (the picture quality of which is far superior to anything I've seen on the Mega CD) and loads of speech. To be honest, there is probably a little bit too much in the way of FMV - every menu advancement leads to a video clip...but these can be skipped if you get bored of them. Clearly, Atari were keen to promote the CD unit's ability to do video...and Blue Lightning is a very good advert for those capabilities.

FMV aside, how does Blue Lightning fare in other areas? Well...quite good if I'm honest. I had only ever seen static screens of Blue Lightning prior to actually owning it, and it does look a little ropey...but once you see it move I'm sure you'll agree that it does look impressive for the time. Granted, the engine is hardly dealing with polygons or complex visual effects, but what it does do (throw sprites around), it does very well indeed. The sprite scaling is smooth, the planes move well, the way background objects appear on the horizon and sort of 'grow' as you approach them is quite a cool effect. And even though the gameplay is rather basic in that you simply fly forwards into the screen shooting stuff, avoiding enemy fire and dropping bombs (and flying over and around buildings and mountains) it can get quite frantic as your health meter dwindles and you're getting close to finishing a stage. Music is the usual 'Top Gun' style guitar-heavy rock music...but it fits perfectly with the style of the game.

When it comes to actually playing, you can jump in 'instant action' style and just play random stages from the game, but in this mode you only get one life and is really only a way of sampling the game I guess. The main gameplay mode though, is a sort of 'career,' where you must first complete a selection of training missions and then be assigned to the blue Lightning squadron before being shown a world map from which campaigns are chosen. Successfully completing missions (which vary between escort missions or blowing up ground targets etc) allows you to unlock better planes which in turn have more abilities (for example you can unlock a Harrier which has the ability to hover on the spot). When I sat down to play Blue Lightning with a view to creating this article, I didn't expect to be playing for long as the game generally gets pretty poor reviews...but I found myself getting quite engrossed. It definitely has that rare 'one more go' factor, and the variety of planes and mission types, as well as a multitude of different environments in which to blow shit up helps to make it a pretty engaging arcade shooter. It's certainly not up there with After Burner, but as a free pack-in game, I've seen and played much, much worse than Blue Lightning. Oh, and it also features the voice acting of Rob Brydon. So that's two Jaguar games he features in, and counting...

RetroCollect FM: Defending the Atari Jaguar

I'm pretty sure most people reading this either don't know or simply don't care, but I also lend my vocal talents to a fairly popular podcast by the name of RetroCollect FM. Going off the name, you'd be right in thinking it had something to do with the highly popular and well established site RetroCollect. It's the podcast...for RetroCollect - where Retro Gamers...Collect! Now we've got that cleared up, how about going there (or to iTunes and searching for RetroCollect) and downloading RetroCollect FM: Defending the Atari Jaguar? It's hosted by myself and co-host Katsu (the regular, more professional hosts weren't available), and special guest and all-round Atari expert Kieren 'Laird' Hawken. You'd be mad not to Do The Math on this one, my fellow Jag fans!

Jag Star

Before he was entertaining the masses in such highly acclaimed TV series as Gavin & Stacey and The Trip (which I think is absolutely brilliant and hilarious in equal measures), it seems that Rob Brydon was earning a living as a voice actor. He's obviously a very talented impersonator (his impersonation face off with Steve Coogan in the aforementioned The Trip is testament to that), but I'm guessing very few people know that Mr Brydon starred in an Atari Jaguar game:

Yep, the introduction sequence, menu screen and mission debrief voice-over in Battle Morph is done by Brydon...who seems to be effecting a Sean Connery-esque Scottish accent. At first, I thought it might be the same voice actor who portrays Carrington in Perfect Dark on the N64, but a quick look at the manual and in-game credits told me otherwise. Kind of reminds me of when I spotted a rather young David Walliams in the cut scenes of passable Dreamcast submarine shooter Deep Fighter. I guess all actors start somewhere, it's just a bit surreal when you discover that they starred in games of yesteryear!

EDIT: I was on Twitter the other night and Rob Brydon popped up doing one of his Q&A I asked him about Battlemorph:

So there we are. Case closed. And kudos to Mr Brydon for replying to my rather blunt enquiry...although the bit about the studio being in a field only adds intrigue to the whole affair!

Virtual Light Machine

Jeff Minter's association with the Jaguar is well documented and his seminal Tempest 2000 is always mentioned when we talk about the best games on the Jaguar...and likewise with the recent TxK on the PS Vita. What a lot of people may not know is that Minter also had a hand in the Jaguar CD (not literally, although I guess he could have technically put his hand inside one at some point. I digress.) as he was instrumental (geddit?!) in the development of the VLM, or Virtual Light Machine - a light synthesiser that plays on the screen whenever you put a music CD into the Jag CD. These days, random colour generators are pretty commonplace - there's one in iTunes, there's one on my Xbox, there's one in my BlackBerry for drokk's sake...they're everywhere. Back in the early 1990s though, they were a pretty new thing. Here's an excerpt on the history of the VLM from Llamasoft's website:

One day I got a phone call from a couple of engineers working at Inmos, the UK firm responsible for the Transputer, one of the first commercially available CPUs intended for parallel computing. They had been thinking about making some kind of realtime graphics generator to accompany music, and then had been surprised and impressed when they stumbled across Trip-a-Tron, so called me to ask if I'd be interested in doing some work on Transputer hardware. This appealed to me and in due course they came to visit and installed a Tranny system in my PC.

The whole VLM story is very interesting if you're into this kind of thing and is well worth a read. Go here for further information.

Of course, me blathering on about the VLM is all very well, but what does it look like in action? Happily, I've made a little video showing the thing in full swing on a real-life Jaguar CD:

The CD player interface is pretty good to be honest - there are plenty of controls and the usual functions (FF, RW etc) and a handy on-screen volume control, as well as support for CD+G (which is something I've only ever seen once and it looked like a really bad Teletext screen so I wouldn't get too excited about that).

The only issue I have found so far with the Jag CD being installed in my Jaguar is that I can no longer mess around with the Jaguar cube on the boot screen...but it's a small price to pay for being able to enjoy the VLM.

The Jaguar CD Has Landed

Something I haven't really mentioned here on Do The Math is the Jaguar CD,  the peripheral Atari released late in the Jaguar's life in order to make it appear more like a viable alternative to the Saturn and PlayStation. It was a little too late to save the Jag, and should probably have been made available long before it actually made an appearance, but that's ancient history now. The reason I've seldom mentioned the Jag CD is that I never thought I'd realistically be able to afford one, and everything I review or write about here is stuff I actually buy/own. This changed a few days ago when I managed to bag an unboxed Jaguar CD unit on eBay for a very reasonable price, complete with two games and a power adapter. 

As you can appreciate, I have looked into the Jag CD and know all about it, but was reluctant to put anything here on the site until I'd actually been able to play on one at length. As mentioned previously several times, I had a brief play on Iron Soldier 2 on CD at Play Expo last year but apart from that my experience with the unit has consisted of videos on Youtube and reading negative propaganda smeared all over the internet. This usually comes in one of three flavours (or a combination of the three):

  • The Jaguar CD is extremely unreliable
  • Most Jaguar CD units do not work
  • The Jag CD has no decent games

I've read these things over and over again on various sites but I was unperturbed and made the purchase. And now I've had it for a day, and managed to play on it quite a bit, I feel I am able to throw my hat into the ring.

Firstly, upon slotting the rather lovely looking Jag CD into my Jaguar base unit, I found that the system instantly sprang to life. Not bad for a system that doesn't work (and one that the Angry Video Game Nerd tried two of, only to be confronted with Red Screen Of Death on both occasions). Secondly, the system loaded both of the games up with no issues, and I played them both for some time with none of the issues other users have reported (freezing or resetting systems etc). It's actually quite interesting that my Mega CD 2 - a system that isn't really singled out for being buggy - has all sorts of issues with freezing and crashing etc, even when the CDs are perfectly clean and scratch free, and the lens has been cleaned.

The second issue I mentioned clearly wasn't an...erm...issue, as the thing worked perfectly. I've also read about certain Jaguar CDs making cartridge games not work either (there's a slot at the back for carts so you don't have to keep removing and replacing the Jag CD), but again I found this to be in perfect working order. I tried it with Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Dragon, Cybermorph and Attack of the Mutant Penguins (shudder), and they all played perfectly. I then went back to playing a CD game, and it loaded up with no hitches at all. I'm not saying that not one person has ever had a bad Jag CD unit experience, I'm just saying that this particular unit, that was manufactured almost 20 years ago and was sent to me in a box filled with polystyrene and delivered by Royal Mail (who are notoriously and meticulously careful with all the parcels they handle...) works as if it just popped out of the Philips factory yesterday. So take from that what you will.

The last point I mentioned up there (that there are no decent games), I can't really comment on as yet. The two games I got with my unit are Vid Grid and Blue Lightning, both of which were pack-in games for the Jag CD. They're both perfectly fine as far as pack-in games go and will be reviewed separately so I don't want to give too much away as far as my opinions go. There were only 11 official games released for the Jag CD which is pretty meagre by anyone's standards, but as for them all being shit...I'm not sure. I certainly want to play Battlemorph, World Tour Racing and Iron Soldier I guess time will tell.

So my initial impressions of the Jaguar CD then. Well, it looks really good for a start. It sits on top of the system in a really nice way, and even though it does look a little bit like a toilet and cistern when the lid is up and there's a cart in the back...a Jaguar with a CD unit installed is a thing of industrial-brutalist beauty. It also feels quite solid, as if it's made from quality parts, and there's not really anything inside it in the way of moving parts other than the drive less to go wrong (touch wood!).

You can probably tell I'm really happy with the Jag CD thus far and I'm not going to lie - getting one has been an ambition for a long time so my views are probably a little skewed at the moment. It's like I've met a childhood hero or something and I'm a little star struck...but once I get more games (or manage to burn some homebrew stuff that will actually boot), I'll let it be known how I feel about the gaming side of things...and that's what counts.

Virtual Jaguar

There was a time when it was pretty difficult to get emulators to run on anything but the most hi-spec of rigs, but these days most mobile phones can run emulators of even the most powerful retro gaming systems - just look at Reicast, it's a Dreamcast emulator that will run on pretty much any modern Android device. With desktops and laptops being as powerful as they are today, emulating consoles that you simply cannot afford to own in their original guise is pretty straight forward - just download the software and some roms and you're away. Of course, you're meant to own the original games and store 'backup' roms on your computer/phone/whatever...but in some cases owning the original software would be just as expensive as trying to source the original hardware too...especially if you're into Jaguar stuff, like me. I do have a pretty decent catalogue of games now and I've also just got a Jaguar CD unit too (a full review will be done as soon as it arrives!), but some Jag software is just too damn rare or expensive for me to actually own. Enter Virtual Jaguar, a rather excellent Jaguar emulator that runs on both PC and Mac (I use a Mac, so this is pretty important!).

Virtual Jaguar is a really impressive emulator and features the ability to also run Jaguar CD iso files. The interface is clear and intuitive and you can store rom files in a sort of cartridge library and then 'plug' them into the virtual system via the little cartridge icon in the dialogue box. There's a graphics filter which smoothes out the pixelated look of some games, and there are various screen-size modes, a PAL/NTSC switch and also a pause function. A nice little touch is that the Jaguar CD bios is present, so if you activate CD mode without an iso loaded (by clicking on the handy CD icon in the toolbar), the screen is filled with the Jag CD 'no disc' attract mode. A nice touch. Another nice touch is the way you get a 'red screen of death' if there's a problem with a rom you are trying to load.

I initially downloaded Virtual Jaguar to try out the superb Downfall homebrew game which was created by Reboot, but I also downloaded a few roms of games I just know I'll never own - things like Iron Soldier 2 (cart), Zero 5, Sky Hammer and Phase Zero. Overall, the emulator works great. There are a few issues with some games not loading for whatever reason, or issues with framerate, sound or graphical glitches but more often than not, most Jag roms work just fine.

Here are a few screens of Virtual Jaguar v2.1.0 running on my MacBook Pro (OSX Mavericks):

If you're interested in giving Virtual Jaguar a whirl, you can download it from the Virtual Jaguar website. Roms, as ever, are down to you to find but you can download the excellent Downfall for free from Reboot here.

Wolfenstein 3D

One of the most influential games of all time, Wolfenstein 3D on the Jaguar also happens to be one of the better console ports. Many people would be right in thinking that Wolfenstein was the game that came before DOOM in id Software's library of first person shooters, but probably don't know that it is actually based on an older game called Castle Wolfenstein for the Apple II, Commodore 64 and, ironically, the Atari 8-bit machines of the 70s and 80s. Castle Wolfenstein was a totally different type of game where the player would move around 2D screens trying to avoid being spotted by guards, but obviously it was par for the course back in the early days of gaming. Wolfenstein 3D is similar to Castle Wolfenstein in that you are again trying to find your way through a large castle but in 3d you are actively encouraged to shoot German soldiers, steal hoards of Nazi treasure that's just left lying around the place, and ultimately find and kill Adolf Hitler himself. Well, Adolf Hitler housed inside what looks like a Titan from Titanfall, anyway. As the '3D' part of the title suggests, the game is a 3D first person explore-a-thon where you simply tear around the castle shooting any guards or dogs that see you and look for the exit to the next level of the castle. There are few puzzles and only a handful of different enemy types, but you really shouldn't mark it down for this as at the time of original release, there was very little else quite like Wolfenstein 3D out there.

DOOM is where id really found their way with the FPS, so you should look at Wolf 3D as if it was a trial run...which is exactly how it feels. That being said, the Jaguar version in particular looks very good - the frame rate is silky smooth and the castle decor looks great. The sprite-based enemies are also surprisingly large and well drawn. There's not really anything in the way of complex architecture in any of the stages (it has an Alien Vs Predator-type feel in the way all the environments are just flat walls), but there's quite a lot of stuff just littered about to make the castle feel more 'lived in' - tables, chairs, barrels, statues and suits of armour...and the walls are all adorned with suitable Nazi-esque tapestries of swastikas and portraits of the Fuhrer. This, of course led to the game being banned in Germany...but happily we still get to play it. I've only really played the Apple Mac version of Wolfenstein 3D so I can't say how well the Jag port holds up against the other console versions, but having seen screens of the heavily edited SNES port, I'll happily state that this is probably the definitive console incarnation. It plays really well, moves smoothly, has some nice music and sound effects ("Achtung!") and is a generally decent FPS. It's not really up to the same standards set by DOOM and AvP, but it's a great game and one you should track down for your Jaguar.