The Snake Becomes The Key

Retro Gaming Humour

Ikari Warriors Vs Gauntlet, the ultimate top-down show down.

Words:StuartHunt

So Chris recently opened up, bared his soul, and let you all in on his favourite top-down multiplayer scroller of all time, Gauntlet. I felt it only fair that I write a post about mine – the amazingly addictive, remarkably ridiculous Ikari Warriors.

We decided we would make this and our last post (Gauntlet) a bit of a playoff and ask you guys to decide which game you think was the better top-down shooter; in our first (and possibly last, if we get no interest) SBTK CPC PLAYOFF CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS 2007, OF CATEGORY:TOP DOWN SHOOTER. Exciting? Yes. Pointless? Probably.

So decide who puts up the best case for their chosen game, send us your votes via comments, and we shall declare the winner in a few weeks.

Imagine what might have happened if Mario and Luigi had been drafted into the army during the ‘80s and the plug was pulled from their aspirations of world plumber domination. What if, instead of getting warped into Mushroom Kingdom, they were mistakenly transported to an SAS training camp, pumped with muscle budding steroids, forced to train as mercenaries, and sent on a kamikaze mission to defeat an army of idiots. Well, thanks to the guys at SNK, for a jaw-dropping price, affluent NeoGeo owners could find out. For a far more modest £2.99, CPC owners were able to get quite a nice peek at the action too…

Ikari Warriors was a top down shooter that played out very similar to Capcom/Elites classic god-perspective war game, Commando. There were a plethora of inferior imitations doing the rounds after Commando’s release but Ikari Warriors improved on the formula. It had a fantastic two-player mode and a nifty variable control system which allowed your character to either fire in the direction he was walking or statically shoot in one direction while strafing in another. It was also the first game (I can remember) that allowed you to drive vehicles, and the earliest to give us THE ultimate gift from the god of power-ups: the tank; it might have looked like a bowling ball firing grey square but when it first encroached onto the screen, the firing and strafing soon became neglected for a mad dash to reach it, jump inside, and mow down militia. When inside, the play changed into a frantic plight to hold onto it for as long as possible by avoiding stray enemy grenades and filling up its moped sized fuel gauge, while trying to find the power-up to change its ammunition from bowling balls to explosive cigars.

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The fireworks display went down well with the pygmy policemen.

The Ikari twins weren’t the sharpest soldiers to ever grace a battlefield and ‘strategy’ is a word I wouldn’t advise using in their presence. I can visualize one of them would keep you talking, while the other started a war, commandeered a tank, won the campaign and then hastily raced back to repeatedly drive over your head for containing such a sissy brain. It seems all the pages containing the words tactics, fear, and bullet-proof vest, were ripped from the Ikari Art of War and burned from the heat generated from the brothers anger. When facing a 1000 mile barricade of missile launching, ninja-attired soldiers, land mines, grenades and tanks, their plan of attack is simple: stroll right through the middle of them, armed with a shaved chest and ONE gun.

To be fair, their blue enemies were never going to win the Nobel Anti-Peace Prize and should know better than to leave the keys inside a squadron of infinite missile loaded tanks, whose turrets are irresponsibly pointing in their direction. Your brain deficient foes seem to display the same bizarre attraction for tank treads as flies do for halogen light bulbs, appearing quite content to run under your tank like passive suicide bombers. They are also quite the performers; whether it be taking a bullet to the crotch or heading a lobbed grenade, their immediate reaction isn’t to scream in agony, flash, or annoyingly regenerate, but rather keep morale levels elevated with an entertaining pirouette for their band of brothers.

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The world’s largest staple brought a lot of tourism to the jungle.

The game had two main power ups: one increased the reach of your gun and the other the number of grenades in your inventory. These could be found by taking out an enemy building using a well-aimed grenade or callously shooting the poor green soldiers thrown into the battle without any weapons. These green berets were always surrounded by an entourage of blue soldier jerks, presenting them to the player like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter, circling him like a highlighter pen or a neat human dart board and making it easy to sap the poor sapper.

Many will argue that Ikari Warriors was simply a game of mindless violence that invoked tank kidnapping and bandana wearing. The bandana wearing I can’t excuse, there really is no defence for donning such stupid head attire – even if you can single handily win a war – but mindless violence! I don‘t agree. As I close this article however, my split personality is putting the finishing touches to a Nintendo Wii tank, which through arm jolts, hand waves, and somersaults, I hope to run over Gauntlets big wizardly head and win this war.

So the question we are debating here is whether Ikari Warriors is a better game than Gauntlet? Ikari had guns, tanks and ammunition-dumps loaded with playability. Gauntlet was a great game and the CPC conversion was awesome but you can’t deny it was like playing out the dream of a Dungeon and Dragons geek – without the hassle of changing soiled sheets… that sentence will sound harsh, especially to many Gauntlet lovers (Chris), but I’m taking no prisoners and backing Ikari all the way in this, our first, SBTK CPC PLAYOFF CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS 2007, OF CATEGORY: TOP DOWN SHOOTER.

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March 27, 2007 Posted by | shoot-em up, Stuart Hunt | 3 Comments

Gauntlet: Dungeons, Demons, DEATH and Divorce

Words:Chris Keeley

Gauntlet didn’t just cement my love of games; it scrawled its name in the wet pug with a gleaming broadsword. Battered yet still legible, I can still make out that cracked old signature whenever I catch a glimpse of an elf, warrior, valkyrie or a top down multiplayer videogame. My brother, my next door neighbour and I spent most of the 80’s huddled round a crowded keyboard, casting spells and throwing axes in my dad’s freezing cold study. Homework, Funhouse and the fall of the Berlin Wall all passed unnoticed, drowned out by cries of “Don’t shoot my food” and desperate pleas for covering fire as you neared death and faced the indignity of being turned into a ghost.

The format of the game is simple; Gauntlet plays like a 2D version of a football riot – manic, adrenaline-fuelled mayhem. Instead of fists, bike chains and rabid Stoke fans we have axes, magic, and fire-spitting demons. DEATH, clad all in black, an unstoppable law unto himself, represents a force stronger than an army of riot police made up of Ultimate Fighting Champions. Labyrinthine dungeons and armies of darkness stand between your hero and the exit and you must battle your way through the hordes, collecting keys and power-ups in order to escape. In a way, Doom has a lot to thank Gauntlet for, the premise is the same but the presentation is very different. Like the original, birds-eye view Grand Theft Auto compared to the virtual tour of violence that is San Andreas.

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Wogan watched Denmark’s Eurovision entry from the safety of the wall

Of course, there were similar dungeon based games around at the time but Gauntlet had two main features separating it from the herd. Firstly, a multi-player option so engaging that ‘Gauntlet widows’ began citing the game in divorce proceedings. Secondly, a terrifying variety of enemies each with individual traits. Researchers recently concluded that record y-front sales posted by underwear manufacturers at the time can be directly correlated to demon and DEATH related soilings.

Offering the chance for friends to become enemies and enemies to become friends, the multiplayer option allowed for up to four heroes to venture into the dungeons – shoulder to shoulder, squashed into a tiny area, two joysticks, two on the keyboard. Typically, an air of tension grew as you progressed. Your life force continually ticking down, each potion and portion of food becoming more and more important. Could Gauntlet be completed? To this day I’m still not sure and so the focus was on getting to the furthest level possible while amassing more points than your fellow adventurers.

The enemy/friend dynamic came into question depending on the way that you chose to play. You may have wished to unselfishly guard food for a sickly partner, maybe even provide a human shield or fight a path to it for them. Alternatively you could shoot it for a laugh, watch them die and then rob their dead bodies. Of course in the long run this sort of behaviour was never going to help you progress, but it was still undeniably enjoyable. Nowhere was this unchivalrous attitude more fun than in the treasure-room bonus levels, the aim of which was to run around a dungeon littered with treasure and power-ups and collect as much as possible in an allotted time. Pushing your unsuspecting partner into an exit and out of the room allowed you unfettered access to the goodies and also, most likely, a dead-arm. Totally worth it.

Standard sword and sorcery theory dictated the characters you could choose, the Arnie-esque Barbarian, the chick with the metal bra, the predictable old wizard and the sprite-ly young elf. Finding your player on screen was often the Amstrad equivalent of Where’s Wally, minus the stripy jumpered jerk. Grunts, lobbers, wizards, ghosts, demons and the occasional DEATH flooded the monitor, grunts intent on bashing you, lobbers – chucking stuff at you, wizards – using their powers to turn invisible and sneak up on you, ghosts – to provide an annoyance not unlike a swarm of wasps, demons – to look and act much like a Doom cacodemon and DEATH who instilled the fear of God into you and the kind of panic usually associated with getting your head stuck in something. If reading that last sentence was a struggle, imagine seeing that whole lot on screen, surrounding you, closing in on you and generally proving quite detrimental to successful dungeon navigation. Luckily, screen-clearing potions were at hand. At the touch of a button, a screen could be cleared with a satisfying flash in much the same way that a different kind of flash might clear a Girl Guides meeting.

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The quarterback was up against it

To continue the cement-aphor started in the first paragraph, Gauntlet not only left it’s mark on me, it also laid some pretty strong foundations for many games to come. If there were a gaming equivalent of the Hollywood walk of fame, Gauntlet’s star would feature prominently. Around it, four sets of handprints all vying for space.

March 22, 2007 Posted by | Chris Keeley, Hall of Fame | 3 Comments

Meet super-spy Basildon Bond, with a license to kill….himself.

Words:Stuart Hunt

I only played this game a handful of times when I was a kid. It never made any sense to me then and after revisiting it at 25, I can honestly say, it makes even less sense to me now. I wasted an hour of my life on the internet yesterday trying to find out what exactly you’re supposed to do. I can’t accept that your only job in this game is to run around like a spaghetti man inside a TV studio, picking up and putting down random objects and avoiding recording equipment…I just can’t.

The Adventures of Basildon Bond invites the gamer to explore the exciting setting of a desolate television studio and play the alter-ego of granny-magnet TV comic, Russ Abbott. When you fire up the game you are presented with a loading screen of our protagonist, Basildon Bond. It’s obvious that the programmer has spent a lot of time drawing the face of the character, as his pixel painted mug actually looks pretty accurate to the picture on the box. What isn’t clear is why he chose to undo all the hard work by positioning his remarkable caricature onto a repellently miss-proportioned body, which looks like he’s asked a dog to draw using an etch-a-sketch.

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Also, I couldn’t help but notice that the character that you control in the game looks nothing like the image of Bond splashed across the games box art and loading screen. On the cover, he’s depicted wearing an army jacket and a pair of tights. In the game, he’s a faceless, black and grey tracksuit wearing jerk that moves around like the wavy-armed robot from Lost in Space.

During the game there are a number of different useless objects that can be picked up and umm… can be…put back down again. These include items such as; a key, a television remote control, a jumper or a magnet, the list it seems, is endless – in fact, every time I’ve played the game there’s at least one new object I hadn’t seen before. It’s just a shame that the game’s designers didn’t apply the same level of effort towards the number of enemies which Basildon must face. Trying to avoid the same poltergeist operated video camera in every single room soon wears thinner than size zero nappies on a burger addict.

Self Destruct

It seems that Basildon must have been sent on a training course for lifting correctness on the day of his combat training at spy school, because he can’t actually fight or do anything useful other then pick up ONE object and KILL himself. That’s right; the game actually gives you the option of suicide. Pressing the fire button while hitting up will cause your character to act like he’s having a nasty heart attack, and then depart from his cruel camera-crazed world. This means that if you want to actually try and progress in the game it’s probably not a good idea to control Basildon using a joystick, as an in-advertant tap while brushing against the fire button will spell a shocking end to Bond, and your nerves, as you witness him shake around like an electric chair mime artist and get whisked back to the start of the game.

To stop the cameras you have to summon one of Basildon’s ridiculous Cooperblasters. This is Bond’s ‘highly hilarious’ attack function where he can summon two jerk superheroes to fly around the room and destroy anything they come into contact with. They appear in two forms: the first will fly from one side of the screen to the other and can be controlled to go either up or down by the player. The second hero cannot be influenced with key taps and will simply fly agonisingly slowly around the screen and generally prove to be as helpful as having radioactive dogshit rubbed into your eyes. Which one you get seems to be random. Use them sparingly, you’re only given ten for the whole game and each camera annoyingly regenerates when you nip in and out of rooms. Logic commands that it’s impossible to progress any further than ten camera-besieged screens before the game leaves you holding a magnetic disk and staring hopelessly at a whirling tripod with no way of escaping.

To help make the game slightly more frustrating, your Cooperblasters don’t get replenished when you die. If you get touched by a camera with 5 Cooperblasters in your inventory, it’s a good idea to spend your next life wasting them on the first screen and then opting out from the world of TV studio espionage with Basildon’s stupid suicide shake.

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Superman had trouble finding his desk.

Now there is a clue which suggests a possible task exists in the game. At the bottom of the screen are the words ‘jokes matched’ so I imagine that you’re supposed to collect the random objects and match them togther to create some sort of gag…maybe? Although, I struggle to find how any element of humour could co-exist between a wellington boot and a VHS cassette tape – It just seems like a way of tying to clumsily amble a comic element in to the game and prevent it from just being just another walk-em-up with haunted video cameras.

I fail to understand where the target audience for this game exists. I can only suppose that the focus panel for Basildon Bond was conducted inside an old peoples home for the terminally unfunny. It’s the type of game that your Nan would buy for you because it had Russ Abbott grinning on its box and not one iota of excitment. I guess we should all be thankful that Nans don’t generally play video games, or we might have seen more of these TV based gaming abominations appear – Last of the Summer Wine Bar Billiards or Terry and June on the Ropes, perhaps.

March 10, 2007 Posted by | Stuart Hunt, TV Studio Espionage | 4 Comments