Game Review: Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story (PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, XBox, PC)

The early 1980s, at least in the UK, were often considered to be a special time in the games industry. Most games were developed by small teams or even lone programmers, and creativity and originality was at an all-time high. Experimentation was rife as coders weren’t restricted by the need to bend to the will of corporate control and shareholders. It’s this era that allowed developers like Jeff Minter to shine through his company Llamasoft with his unique blend of arcade action, mixed in with a generous helping of farmyard animals!

Now, as part of their Gold Master Series, Digital Eclipse are paying tribute to this industry legend with the release of Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story. It’s a hybrid between an interactive documentary and games collection, documenting the history of the company through video, text, and photos along with over 40 of his games across a range of 8 and 16-bit platforms all running under near perfect emulation.

What’s In The (Digital) Box?

For the £24,99 asking price you get a huge bundle of content in this release. Right from the opening screen it’s clear that the interactive documentary is intended to be the main focus of this. Split into several section, each looking into different eras of the company, it takes you on a step-by-step timeline of Llamasoft, from their inception and early games right up to their latest releases.

It’s presented as a timeline with text, photos, documents that can be read including scans of magazine reviews, the old Llamasoft newsletter Nature Of The Beast, photos and over an hour of video clips. At different points where games are discussed, you can stop to play the games mentioned under emulation. As with their previous retro releases, the emulation system developed by Digital Eclipse is flawless so you’re playing the games exactly how they were intended.

Llamasoft Games Collection

If you don’t want to go  through the documentary (and I have to be honest and say that I spent my first few hours doing this rather than playing the games) then you can go to the games menu instead. A total of 43 games are including spanning 9 different formats. It has to be stressed that these aren’t 43 different games but instead features different ports of some of the titles so the number of unique games is far less. For example, one of Minter’s best ever releases Gridrunner is featured for the Vic 20, Commodore 64 and 8-bit Atari.

Out of the 43 titles, two are also seen here for the first time ever. First up is Attack Of The Mutant Camels ’89 which is an unfinished port that was scheduled for release on the ill-fated Konix Multisystem console. The second, Gridrunner Remastered is a brand new console exclusive of the classic game based on the Commodore 64 version bringing it up-to-date with all new visuals and sound.

Timeless Classics?

We often talk about many retro games being classics and having timeless gameplay that we can go back to over and over, regardless of their age. Certainly that’s the case for a lot of arcade releases. But looking back on many of the games on this collection, I had to ask myself as I played through them just how many of them had actually stood the test of time. While my first games system was a Pong clone back in the 70s, my first computer was a Vic 20, and most of my games collection consisted of Commodore cartridges, and games Anirog, Mastertronic and Llamasoft. And despite being a huge Llamasoft fan, I was in for a surprise…

Some games are not only as good as I remember but if anything they feel just as fresh and are even more addictive and as hard to put down. Llamatron 2112 is still a stunning tribute to Robotron 2084, Gridrunner doesn’t feel as if it’s aged at all and one of my all time favourites –  Metagalactic Llamas Battle At The Edge Of Time – still has me captivated (well, at least the Vic 20 version does). One of the other highlights is what many regard as one of his best works, Tempest 2000 for the Atari Jaguar (which paved the way for TxK and Tempest 4000.

But in stark contrast, others are showing their age and truth be told were never that good first time around. It’s either that or some of the included ports really don’t live up to the originals (many Commodore 64 versions of Vic 20 titles miss the mark completely) for example. Granted, Minter himself admits that in the documentary part of the title about some of his games not being for everyone, but it’s frustrating at times. It’s this lack of consistency that left me wanting more…

Missed Opportunity

Despite the huge selection of games on offer, I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the selection available. On his own site, Minter has made a vast number of his old games available for free download for use with emulators. Now this isn’t my concern paying for these again as I’m only too happy to support developers whose work I appreciate. What did bug me is that of all the games he has written over the last 40+ years, is that so few of them are featured on this collection.

In some cases, there are several versions of the same game which is great to see how different ports compare to each, but then there are instances where a large number of ports are missing. While the files exist, it would have been great to have seen every version included to have made this as comprehensive a collection as possible.

Notable Gaps

I appreciate that some of the more modern releases couldn’t be included for technical reasons (TxK for example) or relatively new games such as Polybius and Tempest 4000 as their inclusion could potentially harm sales, but beyond that the only issues I could see would be that of copyright. None of the games developed for Arc (the games division of Atari UK) are featured so Photon Storm and Defender II are absent, Tempest X (the PlayStation version of Tempest 2000) and none of his PC releases, iOS or PocketPC games are included although it should have been possible to feature those as well.

But the sheer volume of missing 8-Bit and 16-Bit titles is astronomical. For example, 3D3D on the ZX81 and City Bomb and Headbangers Heaven on the ZX Spectrum all have versions available for the Vic 20 but none are featured. Given Minter’s love for Commodore’s machine, you would have expected to have seen them included. Even more so when his early Vic 20 games were often superior to the other conversions.

Heart Of Neon

At the heart of the package is footage from Heart of Neon. This is a full length video documentary about Llamasoft that has been producted by film maker Paul Docherty. With a background in the games industry (Paul worked on countless games as an artist in the 80s under the pseudonym Dokk), it covers diverse aspects of Llamasoft’s history and features interviews with Jeff himself, along with industry veterans, fans, and journalists working in the industry at the time of his 8-bit peak.

These alone make for fascinating viewing and certainly generate plenty of enthusiasm for the full documentary which is set for release later this year. Probably the highlight for me of all of these are the interview segments with Steinar Lund, the artist who produced all of the stunning covers for their games who rarely featured in magazines at the time apart from receiving a cursory mention.


I’m a HUGE Jeff Minter and Llamasoft fan. The pride of my 8-bit collection are signed copies of three of his rarer Vic 20 games so when this was first announced it was added to my wishlist on the PS5 straight away. If this were just a retro games collection I’d say it was one for Llamasoft completists only, purely because of the hit-and-miss nature of the choice of games featured here. But this is one of those releases that is far more than the sum of its parts…

The games are accompanied by an incredible insight into a man and company that has endured far longer than almost any other publisher in the industry today. It’s a snapshot of the entire games business from the perspective of the UK, a look at how attitudes changes towards independent developers and a peek inside the mind of one of the most creative programmers the UK has ever seen. That, and some true gems amongst the rough, make this a worthwhile overall package.

About Simon Plumbe 205 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee:

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