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.
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….
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