The Snake Becomes The Key

Retro Gaming Humour

Friday the 13th: If you go down to the woods today, make sure you turn down the volume.

Words:Stuart Hunt

We take a quick trip to Camp Crystal Lake, disturb the infamous hockey loving weak swimmer, and then try and organise a Parish Council meeting.

When I was younger I distinctively remember only playing this game with the lights on, the volume rammed down and at least one other person being within screaming distance. To say this game scared the bejesus out of me is no slight exaggeration.

Domark’s trouser destroying retelling of the Friday the 13th story basically plays out like a game of, wink, wink you’re dead, but deployed with strange subliminal scare tactics. The game’s surreal use of the chirpy tune, the teddy bears’ picnic, suddenly shattered by a digitised, high pitched scream and an image of a horrific, pixel-loaded, mangulated, machete introduced face, was enough to turn even gang land bosses into blubbering pant peeing wrecks.

friday_the_13th.JPG
Another poor showing for service this Sunday

In the game, you took charge of one of the camp’s ten co-ordinators and ran around a bright looking Crystal Lake trying to determine which one of your friends Jason was deviously doppelganging. Occasionally (if you were really unfortunate) the aforementioned sadomasochistic screenshot would flash up, coupled with a horrific heart-hurting scream, that would shoot you up out of your seat and shatter every nerve in your body.

To save your friends, you had to find the ornamental cross, deposit it in the church and then run around the campsite telling everyone to head inside for an emergency meeting. Once inside, over sweet tea and malted milks, the doomed sprites brainstormed ideas on how best to stop the black pyjama killer. Stupid suggestions such as ‘bake him a cake’ or ‘buy him a pet’ get bandied around the church hall and there is always one cocky counselor that tries to move the discussion towards the lack of facilities around the campsite; one archery board.

Anyway, everytime I played the game the meeting always closed with the same answer:
Wield one of the many yellow weapons scattered around the campsite and put a stop to the pale-faced prowler before he reaches the church, kills everyone and you’re left the arduous task of running a whole campsite alone. Jerkfaces.

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February 14, 2007 Posted by | Movie Tie-Ins, Stuart Hunt | 9 Comments

BMX NINJA:”The Ultimate BMX Contest” – Apparently….

Words:Stuart Hunt

After the surprisingly enjoyable experience Chris and I had playing Ninja Scooter Simulator, I almost felt excited rummaging through our huge box of old tapes, looking for the next game to review. It wasn’t long before I discovered another title whose use of the term ‘NINJA’, rested debatably on its box. Oddly, it was another racing game – what’s the deal with that?

Now imagine if the kid from Paperboy still got his BMX for Christmas. Imagine he fell in with a crowd of two bit, 8-bit ninjas (who looked suspiciously 2-bit). Imagine, tragically, he looked and moved like he had been repeatedly run over by a truck and this whole scenario was crammed onto a cassette tape.

I’m beginning to realise that there’s a significant correllation between bad loading screens and bad games. In BMX NINJA, we’re treated to a picture of a guy on a bike, who looks like every jerk BMX owner that takes riding the thing a little too seriously. He’s sporting a paintball mask and a pair of red overalls – hardly the clothing a reputable ninja would be seen causing death in; but then again, assuming you bought this game believing ninjas actually ride around on BMX’s, I figure the games creators felt they could push against the boundaries of ninja preconceptions a little.

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Santa decided to ditch the sleigh this year

The menu screen is equally confusing, for reasons I can’t even begin to understand or would want to for that matter, the creators decided it would look cool to show a picture of a 1940s gangster holding a Tommy Gun. His presence in a game about peddle pushing ninjas makes no sense whatsoever. It’s so random that my brain is unable to generate a fictional occasion that would find two such characters crossing paths.

To accompany the ganster, whizzing across the top of the menu screen (intentionally fast so you can’t read it, probably) is some weird message outlining what to expect from the BMX NINJA experience. I have taken the liberty of repeating this wise ninja proverb to you:

BMX NINJA, THE ULTIMATE BMX CONTEST.USE YOUR CYCLE ‘NINJA’ STYLE TO FIGHT SKATEBOARDERS, BMX RIDERS AND SCOOTERS. A TEST OF ENDURANCE AND SKILL USING BUNNY HOPS, WHEELIES AND BACK FLIPS TO BEAT YOUR OPPONENTS.

They get four words right in that whole passage: “A test of endurance”. It took only one minute of this game for my endurance and I to fallout. After my first full peddle rotation he had packed his bags and was threatening to take custody of my confidence. Jerk.

So it’s at this point, feeling ill-equipped for the challenge that lay ahead, I made up with my endurance and we left our home, setting off on a spiritual journey to help prepare for our next encounter with skateboarders, BMX riders and scooters. We spent two weeks meditating on the top of mount Snowdon, four days uppercutting a waterfall and finished our training outside Halfords, sleeping as close as possible to the bike section. Enlightened, cold and wet, we then returned home for a test of might that would make snapping diamond slabs with bare fists look as hard as playing Deal or No Deal with a pair of X-Ray specs.

So the game starts and in pedals your ninja. Confusingly, he isn’t wearing red getup, or even a paintball mask for that matter, so instantly, I’m left questioning who the militant looking dude on the loading screen was. Your guy is one colour: yellow, with some black detail used for his shading, spokes and tyre grips, all lazily burrowed from the darkness of the road. He also looks identical to the evil ‘Ninja’ BMX riders that you’re trying to fight, which turns out to be really helpful during a fight.

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We obviously find our ninja in the early stages of his training because so far he’s only manage to master one move – a ridiculous looking handle bar spin, which seems to randomly decide whether it wants to detect collision by rolling an invisible dice. If you actually succeed in hitting someone, they react by realistically vaporising into a cloud of dust; the only (and I use the term very loosely here) ninja stereotype this whole game displays. Ironic I think, as dust is something this game collects plenty of, I’m sure.

To put the experience into context; imagine if Capcom made Street Fighter 2, decided to base it around one character, clone him, have you fight him continually, then stingily give you one move to kill each other with, and not even a good move like the fireball or dragon punch; a shitty one like the light jab or the block. Welcome to BMX Ninja, welcome and goodbye.

February 9, 2007 Posted by | Racing, Stuart Hunt | Leave a comment

Ninja Scooter Simulator: 0% Ninja, 100% Scooter

Words:Chris Keeley and Stuart Hunt

Imagine if the kid from Paperboy didn’t get a bike for Christmas, he got a Scooter instead. Imagine that he was so disillusioned at his lack of bi-pedal, self propulsion system that he fell in with a gang of two bit, eight bit ninjas who thought that by wearing bandannas and jumping over Toblerone boxes they were somehow akin to Japan’s finest. Quite. Well evidently these ideas WERE Imagined and are alive (and not kicking) in Ninja Scooter Simulator.

As true today as it was in the 80s. Adding the word ‘Ninja’ to something makes it cool, even if the subject matter has less to do with Ninjas than almost anything else in the world. Just tack the word on somewhere for instant street cred, to the power of awesome.

“Ninjas? Cool!”
Purchase.
Rush Home.
Load.
“What the hell? This has nothing to do with ninjas. MUUUUUMMM!!!”

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                   MSMJA SCOOTER SIMULATOR?? UHH?

I can’t imagine any self respecting ninja parking his neon-ed up scooter in the shadows, before weightlessly hopping between roof-tops to silently assassinate a rival gang member or passing Japanese dignitary. Also, I think that your typical Shinobi’s attire is usually a bit more low key than shades, a brightly coloured bandanna and Bermuda shorts. Unless that is, he was attempting to assassinate the eyes of his enemies or infiltrate the 1987 World Surf Championship. Maybe his sense of style had its throat slit by a rival dojo. To sum up, this game has nothing to do whatsoever with ninjas and everything to do with being an enjoyable, side scrolling, jump and weave racer.

For those of you that remember playing California games; mix the BMX level with the roller-skate level and add the wardrobe of a Floridian beach tramp with aspirations to ninja-dom. On this weird, garish, pixelated plane exists Ninja Scooter Simulator. The game itself involves negotiating run down neighbourhoods, where, oddly, every corner sports a shiny new Ferrari. Perhaps the residents all sleep in their cars and don’t own houses. Your foot pushing friend must negotiate the blatant no scooter policy enforced by the homeless, luxury car loving locals and reach the finish line of each level. This must be done within a strict time limit, which can be increased by picking up the numerous watches carelessly strewn throughout the streets. Perhaps they were gifted to the scooter hating, cash-rich, common-sense poor fools who inhabit the neighbourhood, given to them by unscrupulous Ferrari salesmen.

All manor of randomness is called upon to prevent you from reaching your goal; aliens on skateboards, hovering skulls and even competitive policemen who seem to want to race you to the finish line. C’mon would it have been that difficult to add skateboarding ninjas, hovering shurikens and competitive dragons who seem to want to race you to the finish line. At least try and introduce some kind of Ninja element to the proceedings.

Despite these oriental deficiencies, the game itself is actually quite enjoyable. It’s always fun going over ramps, regardless of context. Even ‘Tax Return Scooter Simulator’ would probably prove quite entertaining, as long as it had its fair share of sweet jumps. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Amstrad game without a ridiculous difficulty gradient. The first few levels can easily be completed, even when ensuring you collide with every obstacle possible. However, from level six onwards, ninja like concentration and reflexes are required……. ahhhhhh…..I get it now.

February 5, 2007 Posted by | Chris Keeley, Racing, Stuart Hunt | Leave a comment

Cauldron 2: Ever wondered what pumpkins do for the rest of the year?

Words:Stuart Hunt

Take one pumpkin, one castle, a dash of frustration, one protractor and a whole heap of playablility, mix well, simmer for 20 years….. sit back and enjoy (Serves 1)

You could argue that the Cauldron series was a great ancestor to the survival horror genre, in the loosest sense of the term of course. The game may look a few thousand miles away from the foreboding streets of Silent Hill or the action riddled horror of the Resi series, but even after almost twenty years, Palace’s pumpkin platformer still offers its fair share of shocks – just not the ones you might expect. I still feel those familiar nerves re-tighten in my fingers as I witness a misguided pumpkin, miscue yet another jump, into yet another re-generated bat or another re-generated hand or a…you get the idea.

Countless platform games from the 8-bit era generally played out to a mutual composition. Jet Set Willy, Blagger. They all required nerves of Superman, against arduous odds and teeth snapping collision detection. However, by replacing man with pumpkin, the genre took on a whole new dimension.

Palace Software’s Cauldron 2 – Pumpkins Revenge, allowed you to play the yin to its prequels yang, by asking you to undo all the hard work from the first game. This time out, you have ditched the witch and play as a chipper pumpkin on a mission to reclaim his throne and restore the balance of pumpkin/witch castle leasing. It seems the old hag has been too pre-occupied with her witchly duties to notice the hopping orange squash slip under her radar; so this time it’s down to the Hammer Horror special effects crew to crank up the difficulty. Bats, floating pig heads and annoyingly tall, death-proof skeletons are all deployed to make pumpkin soup out of our hero.

Thankfully, the orange one is armed with a pretty nifty jump (for a pumpkin) and can collect and fire magical spores, which clumsily, have been left scattered around the levels. It’s probably no surprise to hear that to progress far in the game will require incredible precision; posting yourself on the edge of a platform to make a crucial jump is difficult enough, even before you make your death defying leap. In order to rest on that perfect launching pixel you will typically need to spend a considerable amount of time and patience adopting a trial and error approach, bouncing off the walls in order to land in the right spot.. It’s this trial and error that gives Cauldron 2 its charm, offering an odd mix between a subtle puzzler and a quirky platformer to create an addictive and enjoyable game.

Even today, Cauldron 2 still feels deftly original. A trait it earns from being a simple concept drowned in playability. There’s a strange element of team work that forms ominously between you and the pumpkin and it’s this emotion that wills you to lead the little ball of orange sprites to the end of his adventure.

Realism in games has become so governing, it’s refreshing to dip a toe into creative arbitrariness once in a while. At a period when ideas were seemingly snatched from everything and anything, nothing seemed safe from having a platform game dedicated to it – not even a pumpkin.

February 1, 2007 Posted by | Platform, Stuart Hunt, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Chase HQ: It’s not about catching buildings

Words:Stuart Hunt

Buckle your seatbelts, flick on that nitro and lets smash up some perps.

It’s very rare to see a pristine Chase HQ arcade cabinet nowadays. Its steering wheel will be worn and loose, its decorative stickers scratched and yellowed from acidic coins and cigarette smoke. Perhaps more fatally, the little red nitro button is permanently stuck down or requires almost unbearable thumb pressure to get it to kick in; hell, the one in my local kebab shop is sun bleached beyond recognition and the Porsche fights to steer itself left onto the grass. As frustrating as it is to slot a 50 pence into a broken arcade machine, it’s the battle scars that prove a games quality and authority. Machines, like Chase HQ, have been well feed over the years and it’s for good reason.

In 1988, Taito released a game to recreate the excitement of being in your very own high speed pursuit. A winning formula that proved so powerful, its playability literally poured out from its arcade speakers. The idea was simple, you were to flush out, chase and run down a criminal escaping in a sportscar, with no guns and no weapons; just a tough front bumper and some nifty driving skills. Sure, Chase HQ was a flawed concept – I’m sure ramming into car at 100mph would at least cause yourself severe whiplash, if not engine failure. But if video games were governed by realism, then shelves would only home Championship Manager and tennis sims surely?

Chase HQ quickly collected fans and coins in equal measure, so creating a home version was inescapable. Thankfully, in 1989, it was Ocean who stepped up to do the job and to their credit, not only created one of the most accurate and faithful arcade ports ever made, they amazingly managed to squeeze every ounce of attitude and flair from Chase’s cabinet counterpart and cram it all into one solemn looking cassette tape.

It had everything I hoped it would; Nancy’s flirtatious banter and bullocking , the ‘push, push harder’ motivational squawk I used to smirk at immaturely. The tunnels, the shortcuts, the tumbleweeds and more importantly the rush. There is no better sense of excitement than dodging traffic to ram ten shades of green bubbles from the back of a speeding car, with the intention of altering its next destination to the scrap yard. You feel like Steve McQueen playing it so close to the wire, having achieved this with no nitro’s to call on and only 4 seconds left on the clock

I have always felt Chase HQ showcased some of the finest graphics ever seen on my beloved 464 and swear that her high pitched loading wails seemed to almost fade subtly into excitable squeals. Some of our best times together were spent chasing Ralph the Idaho Slasher in that bloody blue British sports car. And, perhaps as stupid as this probably sounds, my 464 felt it too.

February 1, 2007 Posted by | Stuart Hunt, Uncategorized | 1 Comment