Do you remember the Mad Max game that came out in 2015? It sold quite well and seemed to find an appreciative audience, despite the fact that critics at the time felt it to be fairly average. The divide came down to one thing – reviewers had played plenty of those Ubisoft-style open world games in quick succession, and had become a bit bored of them. But even if you’re not reviewing games, if you play enough of them you may find that boredom with staple genres is a real threat. That’s why I find myself attracted to oddities and unusual genre fusions. If you can sell me a combination of “Genre A meets Genre B” that I haven’t encountered before, I’ll probably give it a try.

That’s why I love games like Nitro Ball. I like to imagine the pitch meeting at Data East, where the higher-ups sit dumbfounded as a developer presents pinball as the one thing that would have improved a game like Mercs. That’s what Nitro Ball is – a vertically scrolling run-and-gun, with the game show presentation of Smash TV and plenty of stage furniture inspired by pinball. Enemies can be knocked back into holes for bonuses, spinners dispense prizes – and what do prizes make? (“Points!” – you, presumably.) There are bonus sections where you have to knock down all the targets in a certain time limit, and you can even turn into a giant ball and rampage around the screen, crushing everything in your path. It’s great fun, until the first boss starts rolling into you for some payback. There are some excellent presentational touches too, as each stage is themed like a pinball table, with the end of level scoreboard featuring cool artwork representing the stage.

Nitro Ball is a very good game which is a little bit unconventional and chaotic, and sometimes that can work against it – it can feel pretty overwhelming at times. But it doesn’t feel quite like anything else out there, and when you’ve played hundreds of games, sometimes that’s just better than another competent take on something you’ve played to death.

gryzor mainAs an Amstrad owner you were used to receiving hand-me-down ports. The ZX Spectrum was far more popular in the UK, so you’d often have to put up with terrible ports of classic arcade games. Sure, efforts like Midnight Resistance and R-Type played well enough, but they didn’t make use of the Amstrad’s graphics and simply reinforced my friends’ opinions that it was a terrible computer.

Of course, even when you did have a developer code a game specifically for the machine, there was no guarantee that it was going to be any good. Take the US Gold conversion of OutRun for example, it’s a conversion so bad it kills any joy you may have had for the original game. Go through the stone bridges and it actually looks like you’re going backwards, it’s that painfully slow.

Thank goodness then that every now and then a game would come along and prove that not only could Lord Sugar’s machine deliver great-looking games, it could actually make its rival Spectrum and C64 ports look weak. Gryzor was one such game and even now it’s a great conversion. Many of us will actually know it as Konami’s Contra, which was a popular arcade run-and-gun from 1987. Ocean’s home conversions were released the same year, and the Amstrad version was particularly impressive. In fact it was amazing, probably the best possible port it could be.

Coded by John Brandwood, it features the same fantastic sprite design that he had also used in Renegade (which was published under Ocean’s Imagine label). It’s only flick-screen compared to the Spectrum and Commodore 64 versions, but it’s arguably a much tighter game to play. The controls are superb, with jumping and dropping between levels handled by pushing up or down on the joystick, while holding the fire button locks you into firing and enables you to crouch. It’s a solid system that really comes into its own on the into-the-screen sections that appear on every other level.

It effortlessly captures the style and gameplay of the arcade original, and ultimately that’s all you can ask of any 8-bit home computer. Play it today – you won’t be disappointed.