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.


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.


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.


May 30, 2007 Posted by | Hall of Fame, Puzzler, 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.

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.

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

Unlucky night for the unlucky knight.

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 🙂

Words:Stuart Hunt


Chris’s Review

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.

Words:Chris Keeley

January 20, 2007 Posted by | Chris Keeley, Hall of Fame, Stuart Hunt | 2 Comments