Random Access Memory: Llamatron

Welcome to Random Access Memory, where we delve into our collective unconscious and extract recollections of video games from our dim and distant past. This time, Graeme Currie remembers the classic Jeff Minter game Llamatron from 1991. If you’d like to submit your own memories of a cherished game, get in touch via the Contact form at the top of the page.

I played Llamatron on the Atari ST, but there were also versions released on the Amiga and PC at around the same time, and they’re all very similar. It’s essentially a remake of Robotron: 2084, but done in Jeff Minter’s inimitable, chaotic, ungulate-themed style.

Llamatron has a simple objective – kill all the enemies on the screen to access the next level – but it has a knack of keeping you endlessly coming back for more. Playing as the eponymous Llamatron, you can shoot bullets in eight directions, and there are various ‘Beasties’ to collect on each level – like sheep, goats and camels – which provide more-powerful yellow bullets for a short time. There are many different types of enemies, some of which can’t be killed, such as the lasers, and there are various items to collect in addition to the Beasties, such as three-way bullets and the ‘Floyd bonus’, which is shaped like the cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover and gives you extra points. If you’re doing well, you have the chance to collect the warp, which skips you ahead five levels, and picking up the heart gets the animals to come towards you so you can collect them more easily. After every five levels you will come across a level full of sentient brains, which will try to turn your nice animals into zombies who will attempt to kill you. I used to think the brains looked like popcorn – that was probably before I started to wear glasses.

You have the option to play alongside a computer-controlled droid, and there are also two-player modes which can be team based or against each other. The sound effects are wonderfully quirky, too, such as the memorable ‘Oh yeah’ speech sample.

When I first came across this game as a kid, I couldn’t get too far: I remember getting to level seven and not being able to finish it. After a while I discovered that you can play the game with a droid to help you, and that helped me to get a lot further in the game. I remember laughing at the level where you have to kill a toilet, and once you do, the turds escape everywhere; killing each turd usually gets you an extra life. I remember thinking the creator of the game had a great sense of humour.

My brother and I used to love playing the team mode, where one controls the regular Llama and the other person controls the Camel at the same time, but if one of you dies, you both lose a life. The droid helps you big time by shooting enemies and collecting the animals; there are some levels where you must collect all the animals before you can complete the level.

Dad and I used to play each other a lot using the hot-seat game mode. I remember one time I got so excited I moved my chair, and the leg landed on my dad’s foot. He was in agony! Dad and I used to always like beating each other’s score: we had a lot of fun competing with one another.

In fact, I still play Llamatron and find it fun to this day. I’ve played this game so much that I know immediately what level comes next. There are 100 levels, but after you complete the final one you go back to the first level, although this time the game is harder. It gets to the stage where the enemies are so hard and fast that you can’t react quick enough to kill them.

Still, the more you play, the better you get: and in my opinion, this game never gets boring.

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