The Snake Becomes The Key

Retro Gaming Humour

Gregory Loses His Clock; we lose our marbles

Words: Stuart Hunt

How can you not at least be a little curious at a title called Gregory Loses His Clock? We lose things every day, but the last time I misplaced my keys the resulting search wasn’t quite exciting enough to warrant a video game.

The title tells you all you need to know right there in those four words. That’s right, you play a scientist who travels back in time, hopping into degenerates’ bodies and helping them prevent those regrettable decisions in their lives. No wait, that’s Quantum Leap.

Now there is some confusion to be had immediately from Gregory Loses His Clock. One that will have many of the less thinking-out-of-the-box gamers out there scratching their heads, swearing at their CPC monitors and generally trying to determine whether the game is actually the shortest and easiest game ever created. Our hero, Gregory, blatantly starts out on his adventure with the treasured timepiece right in his hands.

Yep, it’s there for you to see, pick up, put down, pick up, put down. As Gregory’s world, at that point in time, consists of one screen, his bedroom, decorated with gaudy wallpaper of goggle eyed freaks, a single bed and a chest of drawers. It is at this point one might ask themself how Gregory could actually lose such a item, especially as it’s the size of his head…and it’s bright red.

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Gregory frets over whether his head will fit in a single bed

So with this in mind the easiest way for you to complete the game is to slot the cassette into your CPC, do the key press malarkey, wait forty minutes, hit ‘S’ to start the game, pat yourself on the back, and if you’re that way inclined; waggle your CPC by the monitor handle as if you are shaking its hand, and then turn him off.

You see, this is first of many confusing parts in Gregory Loses His Watch. You start the whole adventure from the very beginning, so it’s up to you to help the Gregmeister lose his watch before you can actually make a start on helping him reclaim it.

Does this sound pointless? Probably, but hold those horses because the pay-off is actually a pretty enjoyable experience – as far a purposely losing things and then trying to find them again go.

So after four hours of picking up the clock, putting down the clock and staring at Gregory’s perplexed yellow head for answers, I accidentally hit up on my joystick at the point he was standing in front of his drawers, sparking him to place his red timer on top of the furniture.

As I had meticulously dropped the clock onto every other conceivable pixel on the entire screen, I felt it might be worth leaving it there for a while and allow Gregory to break away from the pressures of clock carrying to stroll around his bedroom unfettered.

Realising that the only other object in Greg’s life was a bed, I thought I would investigate it and by pressing down on my joystick, without the clock in my pocket inventory, the lemon headed one hopped inside.

Now, no sooner has our poor Greg nodded off, then one of those nasty Predators sneaks into his room, using that weird transparent camouflage trick, and loots his all his stuff. He makes off with his alarm clock, his strange wallpaper, his bed and even his body, leaving his large garish dome to float down into a strange dream world were it eventually gets reunited with its old pals: neck, torso, left leg and right leg. This is where the real adventure begins.

It’s a real struggle to brand Gregory Loses His Watch with any particular game genre. The beast is certainly a puzzler but it’s also a platformer with odd shooting elements. Doing the random, the odd and basically ignoring everything your brain screams at you is usually the key to success in the game.

The underlining mission is to collect the pieces of clock, which have been smashed up and scattered around the levels, and put them back together to return to your one-screen-world. To find each part, Gregory must collect objects and place them in certain areas to open up more screens and more objects to…place in certain areas.

The enemies that Gregory faces include infinite egg-pooing birds, demonic imp-looking monkeys and crocodile pits aplenty. By way of armament, Gregory can collect power-ups, which include a sausage that blesses him with a gravity ignoring jump, and a gun which looks and fires like one of those cup and ball toys.

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Gregory waits patiently for the pipes to finish with the shower

Both of these power-ups are a puzzle in themselves. Some jumps require leaping before looking. Greg must prepare for take-off a screen before the one he wants to land on. One of the shooting tasks requires picking-off all but two hovering shurikens (if you destroy them all, they regenerate). Such things are what we at SBTK lap up; puzzles that require complete detraction from brain and just random joystick jolts, fire-button slapping and tears – yes, there must be plenty of salty tears.

Now, while this adventure may sound like the creation of a sadist, it’s actually a cracking puzzler that holds much enjoyment. Sure, nine times out of ten, progressing will be thanks to complete fluke, but hey, you never see a gutted lottery winner – even one who’s bright yellow and clockless.

The game was programmed by Trap Door and Popeye creator Don Priestley, who was the don when it came to big and bright graphics. Gregory Loses His Watch is no different. You should also check out Trap Door, another CPC fave of mine. Anyways, check this out, it’s an enjoyable puzzler that you should really try and make time for.

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May 30, 2007 Posted by | Hall of Fame, Puzzler, Stuart Hunt | 3 Comments

Nightbreed – Might breed: confusion, pain, smashed keyboards

Words: Chris Keeley

Straight off the bat, Nightbreed does little to instil you with confidence that it’s going to be an enjoyable gaming experience. The bewildering plot, which was difficult enough to fathom when spread out over an entire film, is garbled at you in a matter of seconds before you start. Like the opening of Star Wars the prologue scrolls upward before you, only here it tracks at the speed of light. Despite this, it seems to take light years to read. Unless you’re an autistic savant, at this point I’d advise slamming your spacebar with authority. Failure to do so may result in your brain actually paining to decipher its convoluted, scatterfuck plot…and your body spontaneously combusting.

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After Rainbow, Zippy went off the rails

For those of us who haven’t succeeded in tapping that rarely used part of the brain, the ‘intricaplot cortex’, the story centres on Boone, a fugitive who you control and must lead deep into the Midian, an underground labyrinth which is home to the Nightbreed, an ancient and mystical race. This cramped, confusing, fiery hell seems a strange place to live for a bunch of immortal, shape-changers with powers beyond belief, but hey, at least the rent must be pretty good.

So anyway, Boone must venture into this hellhole/deathtrap/affordable monster living space in an attempt to protect the Nightbreed from a neo-Nazi gang, seek redemption for murders he believes he has committed, save his girlfriend from the real killer, battle berserkers, avoid getting shot, flame-throwered or crushed by boulders, duck gigantic eyes, return The One Ring etc etc etc. Perhaps most galling of all for him is the fact that he must achieve all this while riding an invisible space-hopper, or at least that’s what it looks like. The main character graphics portray a man so bow-legged that it looks like you could drive a car under his balls.

If you thought that following the storyline was a challenge, try pigeon-holing the gameplay – perhaps the World’s first avoid-em-up/insanity-simulation. Nightbreed plays like filling a wardrobe with claustrophobic wasps, necking acid and then trying to negotiate your way out of the wardrobe without screaming. Impossible, pointless and painful. Having your brain ravaged by the platoon of panicky picnic-ruiners would probably be the more enjoyable option.

The game begins in the Necropolis, the city of the dead and the gateway to the Midian. Unexplained floor flames flit around our hero’s feet, randomly deciding whether to inflict pain or not, while machine-gun toting Nazis drop from the sky showing little concern for logic or Boone’s lack of weaponry and t-shirt armour. Avoiding the fires and beating-up the free-falling Fuhrer fanciers is a painful process. Boone is generally about as easy to control as a drunken bear; he possesses a less-than-paper-bag-worrying punch and a move which looks like he’s trying to show his enemies the colour of his shoes – I later discovered that this is actually a kick.

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Oh go on, it’s only waffffer thiiin

Once inside the Midian, hordes and hordes of monsters try and thank you for your attempts to save their race. No, not ‘thank’, what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yes, ‘KILL’, that’s it. Hordes and hordes of monsters try and kill you for your attempts to save their race. Assuming you manage to avoid these ingrates, their underground lair also wants to have a go at you. Crumbling rocks fall seemingly at random but usually when you’re trying to gauge feedback from a Nightbreed on whether your black loafers would look better beneath a pair of dark grey corduroys. All in all, Boone must be wondering if it’s all worthwhile and if he wouldn’t be better off just letting his girlfriend be killed, take the blame for numerous unsolved murders and let an ancient civilisation die.

On the plus side, Nightbreed’s graphics aren’t too bad, there are quite an array of enemies all with different attacks and the game manages to stay relatively true to the film. One thing I don’t recall from the cinematic adaptation however is Boone’s duck sidekick who lurks just out of sight and quacks whenever his master jumps or lands a punch or kick on an enemy. Thankfully there are few other sound effects because judging by the ones that do befoul your speakers they were produced with the explicit intention to annoy. There is no music apart from the opening sequence but again this is a blessing in disguise. The computerised cacophony that greets you could easily be used as shock therapy for music addicts or as an alarm clock for the hearing impaired.

It would be way too easy to compare the nightmarish scenario on which the game is based to the experience of actually playing it, so I’ll spare you that lazy simile and just end with a succinct: “this game sucks ass.”

May 25, 2007 Posted by | Chris Keeley, Lame, Movie Tie-Ins, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The ‘Grate’ Giana Sisters

Words:Stuart Hunt

The Great Giana Sisters, CPC’s biggest letdown. Look, somebody had to come out and say it.

If you’re going to try and improve an existing computer game, the last title on Earth you should probably have a swing at is the biggest selling of all time. I’m guessing that as you’re reading this review, there’s a better than probable chance you’ve played Super Mario Bros, so the premise of The Great Giana Sisters will be familiar and relatively simple for me to sum up. Just omit the plumbers for sisters, and growth-spouting mushrooms for mullet growing circles.

After the world went Mario mad, Nintendo announced they wouldn’t be porting their portly protagonists to home computers. This created a rather attractive gap in the market for a platform game to rival Mario and Luigis’ pipe warping antics and cause the cocky pair to sob into their flat-caps.

There are many people in this world who cite The Great Giana Sisters as one of the finest home computer platform games ever created. If I’m honest, the Amiga and (it kills me to say this) C64 versions were actually pretty good games; however, for us poor CPC owners, the whole Great Giana saga was about as pleasurable as stopping a bullet train with your balls and about as pretty as the impact.

Let’s begin with the difference in the game’s loading screens. The first screen we have here is taken from the C64 version. Although the character looks a lot like Limahl in a denim skirt, I think you’ll agree it’s a billion times better than the CPC loading screen (below), which to this day still causes me to wake from sleep screaming ‘why’ at my ceiling.

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Top: A wack 80’s novelty
Bottom: See Above

I’m confused as to why any developer would select this particular image to represent their heroines, or, when I think about it logically why they would settle on two hideous harridans with sporadic hair follicles in the first place? Out of all the cool things in the world they could have chosen to play siblings, they went with two cheese-eating sisters who get warped to the weird Dream Kingdom in their sleep.

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Top: E.T and Gilbert
Bottom: See above

I guess after launching in with the visual child of garish and hideous the game’s creators felt the only foreseeable way graphically for the project would be up, even if they delegated the job of crafting the rest of the CPC conversion to a cat in a pregnancy suit – which it looks like they went and did.

When you start the game, the first thing you will notice is how unbelievably slippy your character is. You will probably spend the next 10 minutes staring at the foot of the screen trying to work out whether your character has started out in some kind of strange, frozen, orange world where snow and ice is oddly substituted with sunlight and bricks. It hasn’t, it’s just the game’s piss-poor controls introducing themselves to you.

Now, in a platform game, precision is the most important skill that must be channelled. With this in mind, making your character about as easy to control as a Mig-fighter does an enjoyable platform game not make. The sisters are blessed with the ability to jump high, ridiculously high, which the manual says has something to do with low gravity in Dream Kingdom and absolutely nothing to do with shoddy programming. In fact, the Sisters jump so high in the air that you find yourself swearing when you do it unintentionally, as you sign away another precious cheque of life-minutes to the game, minutes which could be better spent doing any number of things: writing a bestseller, teaching yourself to play the piano or licking the back of a cinema chair while you repeatedly smack the retractable part of the seat against your temple.

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On the Left is the C64 version, on the right the cat in a pregnecy suit translation

Before you begin playing The Great Giana Sisters, it’s best to make sure every electrical appliance in your house is turned off, your Amstrad leads are welded into their ports and you’re well practised in the art of seeing into the future, because the time between pressing down on your joystick’s fire button and seeing your character’s reaction shares an odd correlation to the intermittence of reported basketball-playing werewolf sightings.

This pre-empting ability will also prove invaluable to you when trying to uncover the game’s secret areas. In Mario Bros, you collected coins and 100 of these awarded Mario an extra life, making it worthwhile hopping onto a green pipe and pressing down on the D-Pad. This same extra life for coins scenario exists in The Great Giana Sisters; however, instead of coins Gianas collect gems. Instead of pressing down on green pipes the Gianas have to fall into death pits and prey that instead of a game over screen they drop into a secret area containing gem booty. Deft? No, Improving on Mario Bros? No, Idiotic? Yes.

Ok, the Great Giana Sisters is by no way the worst game on the CPC, but it’s a hefty kick in my nuts when there’s a superior C64 version in existence. I remember my first play of the game on my mate’s Commodore after school. I was so impressed, I tried everything I could to get my hands on a copy for my Amstrad and when I finally got one I was giddy as Willy Wonka on Easter Sunday. I was stockpiled with so much unbridled excitement I didn’t even acknowledge its horrible loading screen and when it finally booted up I couldn’t believe I was playing the same game. When my friend came over to my house after school I made damn sure I hid the tape so he couldn’t compare graphics. I continued this odd ritual until one day I hid it, forgot about it and then lost it. Probably to my dad’s Datsun Cherry, were I imagine it now exists as a psychedelic rock compilation for long car journeys.

May 21, 2007 Posted by | Questionable Conversions, Stuart Hunt | 3 Comments