SIMIS is the latest cartridge from hobby developer Bastian Schick (and Matthias Domin). I've been looking forward to this cart for some time, because it includes a set of games instead of just one -- Snakebyte, Invaders, Mines, Isolation, and some "Special" demos.
The appearance of the cart is decent but not outstanding; it comes on a green EPROM board. However, one advantage of this form factor is that it does have an EEPROM to save high scores (something Atari should have figured out how to do a long time ago). A double-sided instruction manual is included, and gives you a quick summary of what you'll find on the cart. As a side note, it mentions that there is a hidden game somewhere in there, too... I have no idea what this is or how to reach it. Care to clue us in, Bastian? :-)
The intro screens use the same impressive "morphing" font found in the Native demo for the Atari Jaguar. This is a nice touch and really polishes the credits and intro, but at the same time the cart is strangely silent. A simple background tune would have gone a long way in rounding out the otherwise high-quality intro. The actual title screen is also silent, but very attractive visually with some rotating letters and aliased fonts.
Snakebyte is a familiar rendition of the classic "eat food and avoid your ever-growing tail" concept. This is a favorite game concept of mine, and Matthias has come up with a decent version. The gameplay is definitely there, and there is even a timer that causes additional apples to appear if you meander for too long on the screen. There are some simple audio clips when you eat an apple or crash into something, but that's about it, thus the game is mostly silent.
Invaders is a very impressive (and tough!) port of Space Invaders for the Lynx. Everything is there, even the disintegrating barriers above your cannon and the occasional mother ship that flies overhead. The game gets tough fairly fast, but I was able to beat several levels after just two tries, so I think the difficulty is set to a reasonable level. This game also boasts the most sound effects of any game on SIMIS and is IMHO the most polished offering on the cart. If you enjoy classic games and the Lynx, this game alone makes the cart worthwhile, and it even supports comlynx!
Mines is a variant on the Minesweeper / Capture the Flag theme, where you need to guide your player across the screen to the opposing corner. Along the way, you are informed (via a digit in the corner) how many mines are adjacent to you, but not which exact squares they are in. This is a decent, no-rush strategy game in concept, and Mines is a completely functional game in that regard. However, the aesthetics are somewhat lacking, with virtually no sound effects and very simple graphics with little to no animation. The small Lynx screen and relatively large size of the grid will also limit the variety of this game. Mines is the least impressive finished game on the cart, but still good for the occasional diversion.
Isolation, on the other hand, is a wonderful surprise. The concept is amazingly simple: move your icon one square, and then take away a square. The goal is to isolate your opponent, and the first one trun out of squares to move on loses. This ends up being a relaxed strategy game, like Mines or Shanghai. The opponent AI is also quite smart; the Lynx won a best of 5 match (3 games to 2) at the normal difficulty level. The graphics are sharp with sufficient animation, and there are some likewise functional sound effects. Some background tunes would have been welcome, as well as some "end of game" effects, but the presentation and fun factor of this game overcome any minor lackings. The game does support comlynx play as well.
The Specials are an interesting pot-pourri of demos by Bastian and Matthias. They are partially playable, but mostly just demonstrate what could be done if the games were actually improved substantially. The one I will mention is the Wolf 3D demo. This is really impressive! Even though it only runs at 6fps, the speed is no worse than Steel Talons or Hard Drivin'. It's a shame that this game isn't finished up, even just as a comlynxed "hunt each other" game with no AI or levels. Such is life, however...
Overall, I highly recommend the SIMIS cart. Invaders and Isolation are the most impressive games, but Snakebyte and Mines are also fun diversion games. The most overall disappointing aspect of the cart is the lack of sound effects and music. Invaders clearly shines in this area with ample effects and even title screen music, but the other games are lacking and since most are strategy games, audio effects and music could have gone a long way in making the decent games into very polished games. Nonetheless, it's hard to complain very much when you're getting such a large quantity of games and demos all on one cart.
Rating (scale of 1-10)
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