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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“What the hell? This has nothing to do with ninjas. MUUUUUMMM!!!”
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.
Simon Cowell and Pete Waterman have nothing on these bozos.
Championship Manager, as any gamer knows, is more addictive than chocolate flavoured crack. That feeling of being in complete control of your club and your players and telling everyone what to do is a magic formula. Rockstar Ate My Hamster is something of its spiritual predecessor, not in the addictiveness stakes, but in terms of the concept. Bossing people around, making decisions, acting the big man. In terms of addictiveness, it’s not so much chocolate crack as chocolate raisins. Great at first but becoming ever more sickly with each passing minute.
Cecil Pitt and Clive, his bumbling assistant, fresh from dusting themselves off from the disaster of their bankrupt theatre agency, decide to spend Clive’s £50,000 inheritance and move into rock star management. Having failed triumphantly at the theatre business it’s hardly a huge leap of imagination and remit between the two and doesn’t really seem advisable. Will the dismal pair’s lack of creative spark and originality hold them back? In terms of them making money, no actually, it won’t. In terms of your prolonged enjoyment of the game, it turns out that yes, yes it will. Very much so. Like toast flavoured chewing gum, or teasing lions about their appearance, the novelty soon comes to a sharp halt.
You play Cecil, the failed theatrical agent, a man whose appearance and business acumen are in constant competition with each other to see which is the worst. It’s your job to get his new enterprise off the ground and making money. Clive, your generous benefactor/dogsbody is along for the ride and there to carry out your every whim, as long as it is one of 5 pre-determined actions. His other duties it seems, are to absorb a barrage of abuse from Cecil and the blame for everything. The human embodiment of an over-excited puppy, Clive takes the torrent of 80’s style insults in his stride, deflecting them with his enthusiasm for making the band a success. He really doesn’t deserve to be told to ‘get stuffed’ or be called a ‘scumbag’ quite as often. It’s his money that is funding the company after all.
I don’t use the ‘F’ word often, but Rockstar Ate My Hamster is….fun. For about an hour that is. It begins brightly but soon tails off, like a passing comet or a Micheal Barrymore house party. This first hour of pleasure is largely derived from creating your band, training them, gigging and releasing records. I know what you’re thinking….and you’re right. What else is there left to do? Nothing. After this initial flurry you are left with nothing new and you’re free to go on autopilot. In this case I imagine the reading from the little black box would go something like this…….TOUR…….RELEASE RECORD……TOUR…..RELEASE RECORD…..TOUR…..RELEAS…WHY ARE YOU PUNISHING ME LIKE THIS? MALFUNCTION….. SMOKE HISS ARGGHHHH DIE HUMANS! …..TOUR…..RELEASE RECORD…..TOUR ad infinitum.
The schoolbus driver had a real bad attitude
The dredgery of day to day office life is recreated quite accurately once everything is up and running. You are left to stare at the same picture of the not-so-dynamic-duo as they schedule show after show after show. You feel like their captive, trapped in their tiny office with them as they perform the strange torture on you of helping them organise their dreary lives. Occasionally you are allowed out of their den and on to the bands’ tourbus, but always under the watchful eye of Cecil and Clive. The thing is, despite all this, you find yourself suffering from Stockholm Syndrome; feeling sorry for and even identifying with your captors. You find yourself willing them to succeed, or failing that, just put themselves out of their misery, whichever offers the quickest route out of the game.
If you dare, you may attempt a publicity stunt in order to break the monotony and perhaps eek out a few extra sales. By stunt, what I really mean, is a death-defying stunt. More often than not you get no publicity and if you do, it’s probably because one of your charges has died. That’s right, died. Usually in some bizarre orgy involving a vicar, sometimes a hamster and occasionally both. Evil Knievel and David Blaine would think twice about one of Clive’s publicity stunts. I’m sure that he’s acting out his frustrations against Cecil with his suicidal brand of promotion. No-one could remain that chipper in the face of such mental torture, not without some kind of breakdown behind the scenes.
To attempt a meta-metaphor (a first for this blog) Rockstar Ate My Hamster could be compared to this review itself. It starts amusingly enough and you’ve been entertained up to a point. Now imagine that you are forced to read those first few paragraphs over and over again. Like toast flavoured chewing gum, or teasing lions about their appearance, the novelty soon comes to a sharp halt. Like toast flavoured chewing gum, or teasing lions about their appearance, the novelty soon comes to a sharp halt. Like toast flavoured chewing gum, or teasing lions about their appearance, the novelty soon comes to a sharp halt.
Arthur gets jumped by the cast of Thriller!
Now if you’re going to save a damsel in distress there’s a lesson to be learned from Ghosts ‘N Goblins: It’s probably wise to research the route your going to take before you set off. If you follow poor Arthur’s lead you’re going to get into all sorts of hot water. It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t a route planner available back in medieval England because the itinerary he’s working from takes him into graveyards, through haunted forests and into the pits of hell itself (probably). It’s a tad long-winded to say the least.
The games plot is the typical damsel in distress scenario, although there really is no actual evidence put to the gamer (bar one loading screen) to suggest why Arthur is running through a cemetery late at night, armed with an infinite number of knives. He could have been exercising a spot of late night grave digging before all hell breaks lose, we just don’t know.
Arthur’s adventure is made 1000 times more difficult by his pathetic suit, which is about as strong as a layer of tin-foil. A decomposed body, plant spit, transparent ghosts, probably even a heavy rain is enough to penetrate his in-arduous amour and reduce him to a pile of bones. In all honestly, you might as well be controlling a character being pushed around in a hospital bed, connected up to a intravenous drip.
Thankfully, this is a criticism that was addressed in the games sequels. You may remember the iconic images of Arthur running through a cemetry in a pair of heart covered boxers, like some kind of goth pervert – This was a humorous (to us) and discomforting (to poor Arthur) way of giving the player an extra life – and with this in mind, we can assume that it’s Arthurs pants that actually provide him with protection and not his wimpy suit.
Arthur is perhaps the unluckiest game character I have ever come across. He’s had a turbulent love life, look’s suspiciously like a baby when he climbs ladders and is the only game character, I can recall, who has ever had to strip down to his undies.
G’NG is one of the CPC greats. It’s so darn playable and annoyingly addictive. Graphically, it’s superb (for its day) with chunky, cartoon sprites. The character designs are original, if a tad random – ghosts with pitchforks! And you wont be able to remove its catchy theme tune from your head, Chris and I have been humming for about two weeks now!
Dang da dum dang dang dum dang dum dang dudum duummmm 🙂
Ghosts and Goblins shares the honour of not only being the first game that I ever played, but also, has without any question in my mind, the best soundtrack to any computer game ever. Ever. It starts off with a digitised fanfare that must fill Arthur, the knight you control in game, with a tinge of pride and also hope…. hope for the journey ahead. That is until the sickest 8-bit bassline you ever heard kicks in. Honestly, it wouldn’t sound out of place on a current drum and bass compilation. The sense of foreboding and menace is palpable. Arthur must be bricking it, even before the chaotic melody comes in. All in all, it’s enough to reduce most knights to the foetal position.
Our Arthur is made of sterner stuff however and perseveres regardless on his quest to save his damsel in distress. She must be pretty distressed by now, as this is another game that I have never got anywhere near completing. I doubt that she IS even a damsel anymore; I don’t know if it’s an age thing and at the age of 25 you then reach wench status? Having given up waiting for Arthur, I reckon that she probably married the big, ugly, red demon thing that carried her off and her broodiness gave way to the patter of little cloven hoofs. I digress. Arthur’s damsel in distress (for all he knows) has been kidnapped and being the brave knight that he is, Arthur must risk life and limb to rescue her.
Stage one in the quest: a haunted forest. Zombies appear from everywhere intent on turning Arthur into a pile of bones. I don’t know if zombies are just jerks and try and kill everyone they see or if they have been hired to stop our hero by the demon that kidnapped his damsel. If so, he must have pretty deep pockets, there are literally thousands of zombies on the payroll, respawning and respawning and respawning. If you have ever played Driver and know the suicidal lengths that the cops go to get their man, you will be familiar with the mentality of the zombies in this game. Like moths to a flame, flies to shit or Pete Docherty to Kate Moss they seem to have an irresistible pull to Arthur. The point I’m trying to make here is that this is another difficult game. Ok, the zombies themselves are pretty wimpy but they just keep coming and get in the way of your other knightly duties, jumping chasms, climbing ladders, shooting crows in the face with lances, you know, the usual. In traditional Amstrad style, these duties require pinpoint accuracy and feats of memory that would have pulled a good crowd at the turn of the century. “Roll up, roll up and see the fantastic Mr Recollecto! He remembers the exact jumping sequence needed to escape the level one forest on Ghosts and Goblins.” Yeah, they’d f**king lap it up.
I still remember the feelings I got when first playing Ghosts and Goblins: confusion, frustration and fear. Confusion in that what I was doing was controlling a little man on the screen, frustration at not being able to get very far in the game and a creeping fear, mainly due to the music. 21 years on and little has changed, perhaps with the exception of the damsel’s body clock. Maybe I’ll give her a call.
Blagger is a platform game showcasing all the genre’s stereotypes we have grown to love: Random enemies, unforgiving collison detection, all you can do is walk and jump and everything is out to kill you.
Taking the difficulty crown from the brow of Jet Set Willy and making his adventure seem easier then playing pong in slow motion, Blagger owns the precision platform genre. Armed only with an erratic, gravity discarding clunky jump in a world where everything is trying to kill you, the game perfectly recreates the level of difficulty you would expect to experience when trying to break into a Vegas casino wearing a penguin costume.
The game’s plot, from what I can gather, is based on a bank robbers worst nightmare, where, ferns, giant quality streets, mad hatters and even Mick Jaggers lips are all out to stop you from collecting the keys which open a conveniently labeled safe – about the only thing that can’t kill you in this game.
It would make sense that only one of the keys would open the safe, so you can’t help but feel the game would have benefited from the relevant key being randomly placed on the level, thus giving the player two possible strategies – the lengthy trial and error method or the strategy which is presented here – risk life and sanity to collect them all, then try out each one when you get there.
Blagger’s gaming ethos can be summed up in five words: ‘If you stop, you die’. Once setting foot off of that first, safe piece of platform, you’re literally signing your life away; carried off by a conveyor belt into a constant barrage of death dealing plants and telephones.
The game just feels like a bunch of end level screens, that’s how difficult it is. I don’t think the term ‘forgiving’ was invented at the time the game was programmed. If you die (which you can keep track of by blinking) the game empties your red headed hero’s pockets and conveniently places the keys back in the same areas you found them.
If this all sounds like fun… then you will probably get a kick out of Blagger. If anyone has successfully finished the game and could shed some light on its last level, please get in touch. I imagine it probably goes something like this: The room’s called ‘The Green Mile’, there are 100 keys to collect and each is guarded by an army of tanks, packed with state of the art red hair seeking missiles, while poisonous gas is silently emitted into the room.
Blagger is a classic Amstrad platform game in that all you can do is walk and jump and everything kills you. I’ve been playing it on and off for the best part of 20 years, only now as I sit down to write this review do I ask myself, why?Remember the kid at school who was always ill, smelt faintly of milk and was crap at football? Imagine if when reading his Friends Reunited profile you discovered that he was a career criminal. Blagger was that guy at his school, a pasty redhead; he has decided to embark on a life of crime despite being susceptible to death from almost anything. If he touches a tree, he dies, falls from the smallest of heights, he dies (try bending your knees when you land dude) ANYTHING, he dies.
His second major mistake after his career choice are the places he attempts to burgle. First off, level one, the bank. Fair enough you might think. In fact, with the only major security feature of this bank being a small collection of shrubs, it seems Blagger will get his robbing career off to a good start. Well, at least that would be the case if he wasn’t deathly allergic to shrubs. On successful completion of the bank blag, where does our hapless hero choose for his next hit? Where else? A sweet factory. Flush with success, next up is the Mad Hatter’s Den, I don’t know how much money there is in mad hattery but there can’t be much, oh, and there are shrubs everywhere. Planning doesn’t seem to be his strong suit.
Planning will need to be your strong suit however as guiding our redheaded robber through each bizarre level is excruciatingly difficult. Shrub security systems abound, not to mention flying sweets, teeth and hatters, each one hell bent on prematurely ending the worst criminal enterprise ever. Equipped with only five lives and each level’s strategy being the definition of trial and error, a Zen like state must be achieved to avoid coming within one pixel of anything that isn’t the floor or yourself.
Assuming you have the patience of Mother Theresa and the memory of Derren Brown you may well be able to play this game long enough to learn the patterns of the enemies and the correct jump sequences to progress further than level 5, something I haven’t achieved despite the best part of a quarter of a century trying.
I was going to say that the theme tune; “The Entertainer” was bitterly ironic but then I realised, this is actually a good game, if extremely frustrating. It is the level of difficulty and repeated challenge that have kept me coming back for more and more and more and more and….
- Where have we gone?
- International Ninja Rabbits: Rabbits in a half-assed game, rabbit power!
- Gregory Loses His Clock; we lose our marbles
- Nightbreed – Might breed: confusion, pain, smashed keyboards
- The ‘Grate’ Giana Sisters
- SBTK in 16-Bits. Issue 1. Prt2…Street Smart: MegaDrive.
- SBTK in 16-Bits. Issue 1. Prt1…Revolution X: MegaDrive.
- WTF! SBTK in 16 bits…
- Ikari Warriors Vs Gauntlet, the ultimate top-down show down.
- Gauntlet: Dungeons, Demons, DEATH and Divorce
- Meet super-spy Basildon Bond, with a license to kill….himself.
- Friday the 13th: If you go down to the woods today, make sure you turn down the volume.