Minotaur Arcade Volume 1 is a collection of two arcade-inspired games from Jeff Minter’s Llamasoft. After an early release on Steam, it’s now available on Playstation 4 as well, with optional Playstation VR support included.
Netflix fans may have seen Jeff Minter make his surprise acting debut as Jerome F. Davies in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, but his legacy in the videogame industry goes back a lot further, with Minter’s first games dating back to the early 80s. He more recently released Polybius and Tempest 4000, and with Minotaur Arcade Volume 1 he’s bringing back Gridrunner and introducing Goatup to Playstation users – both games were previously released on iOS as well, but have been enhanced for the Minotaur Arcade collection.
I first played Gridrunner about thirty years ago on an Atari ST computer, but the original game dates back to the early part of that decade, when it was developed for the Vic 20 computer. Almost forty years later, the Gridrunner we find in this Minotaur Arcade collection looks remarkably similar to the original vision of the game, which was a take on the classic arcade shooters of the time.
The shoot ’em up action still takes place on a colorful 2D grid, though it’s been built up with voxels this time around – allowing for tons of fancy explosions that look especially good through that other novelty that was added: VR support. Gridrunner isn’t as immersive a VR game as Polybius was because the action is viewed from a stationary point of view (rather than Polybius’ insane journeys through tunnels), but it’s definitely a nice feature to play such a retro-inspired game in VR for a change.
Speaking of Polybius – Gridrunner, on its casual setting, also includes the option to restart the game just past any level you’ve previously completed, while keeping the score and life count you had during your best playthrough instead. It’s a great way of pushing past those moments where things get just a little too frantic to survive, although it might be a good idea to retreat for about two levels just to get your multiplier and firepower ratings back up before the big push.
In addition, “pure” mode reflects a classic arcade experience with limited lives, whereas “endurance” doesn’t even give you the option of unlocking extra lives as you complete levels, making it the de facto option for real die hards – my advice would be to start on the casual setting (which is way more challenging than it sounds) and work your work up from there.
Since I associate Llamasoft so much with arcade shooters, Goatup was certainly a surprise, being a fairly traditional platformer (though infused with the usual Minter brand of crazy colors and visuals). Playing as a little goal, you jump up a tower that rotates as you traverse it – a bit like a combination of Escape Goat and Hewson’s Nebulus, which came out on the Atari ST just before Gridrunner did. For a more mainstream/modern reference, “that last level in Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse” works too.
As you head up, you constantly eat grass and grow your family of baby goats in the process. These babies are immortal, and form a protective trail of goat babies behind you – a bit like your tail in the arcade shooter Saint Dragon (I’m on a roll with obscure references today). And although I called Goatup “fairly traditional”, it is of course also filled to the brim with strange pickups, explosions of color and obscure references and puns. It also, like Gridrunner, supports VR, allowing you to look up and down the tower for a better sense of scale.
Gridrunner is the star of the show here, and has stood the test of time well. Despite the inclusion of VR, both titles do show signs they were developed for a mobile platform first, lacking the kind of polish that Tempest 4000 and Polybius have. They are, nevertheless, fun additions to any retro gamer’s library provided you’re fond of Minter’s previous work.