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.

gregory1.jpg

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.

gregorrr.jpg

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.

Advertisements

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

great_giana_sisters_01c641.jpg

limahl2.jpg

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.

greatgianasisters3.jpg

etgilbert.jpg

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.

giana-picy.jpg

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

SBTK in 16-Bits. Issue 1. Prt2…Street Smart: MegaDrive.

Words:Stuart Hunt

And here’s the second part of the column:

Street Smart is what happens to a 2D beat-em-up when those two-animation video game extras, which stand behind normal characters in fighting games, jostle to get a better look at the action and start a fight.

Most of the primary characters in the game look identical to the people copied and pasted into its background. In fact, it’s best to play Street Smart with a friend, not so you can enjoy its odd Mario Bros’ style take-it-in-turn multiplayer option, but so you can ask them to kindly hold a finger against the television to help you see where your fighter is.

The game allows you to play a vast plethora of TWO characters: A wrestler called Crusher and the ridiculously named Karate Man – who looks sceptically like a cross between Street Fighter’s Ryu and Ken. With this in mind, you would hope that he would possess at least one pixel of those iconic brawlers’ fighting prowess but unfortunately, after pressing one button on your control pad, it soon becomes clear that Chun Li’s dad would probably prove a more effective fighting instrument, and he’s dead.

With only two main characters to worry about you would think that a lot of time and effort would have be spent making them look good and blessing them with an intricate fighting system offering some amazing special moves. Unfortunately, rather than a dazzling firing-uppercut or an acrobatic scorpion-kick we’re just given a few basic attacks and a lame sped-up flurry punch to yawn at.

Far more entertaining is Karate Man’s low punch, which looks a lot like he’s is trying to fondle his opponents nut sack. When doing this on the streets for real would surely get you beaten up or, at best, some funny stares, thanks to Street Smart, friends can do it in a virtual environment, in the comfort of their home and without the worry of anybody ever finding out.

With a name like Street Smart, the characters should at least look the part; unfortunately, it seems the costume department set about the streets of America to conduct attire-research and after showing people the conceptual drawings of what they were planning to create could persuade nobody to fill out their fashion suggestion questionnaire. As a result, all the people who come to watch the fights seem to have come dressed as American flags or wearing t-shirts with the words KIM on them. While this could be considered patriotic or affable to any owners of the game called Kim, to the rest of the world it just looks inanely stupid. But then, what do you expect from a crowd of onlookers who seem quite pleased to stand aside and allow young children witness a man get his face pummelled?

street-smart-1.jpg
You see that tram in the background? Oddly, it doesn’t travel down the track and run over all the characters. Shame.

Graphically, what can I say? It kind of looks like the night before his tournament, Karate Man slotted a quarter into the mouth of one of those wish granting Zoltar machines and asked to be small. Probably in a bid to re-live the time he could look up girls’ skirts without getting arrested, but unfortunately, failed to be precise with his wish. That idiot Zoltar managed to get the height part down but cruelly, left him with squashed, mushy, pixel-flesh explosion looks. He couldn’t get any swanky sponsorship deals, so consequently no shiny new wardrobe and was forced to make do with his now large, garish, orange outfit.

The game does offer a few interesting ideas, which in true Street Smart fashion are not realised as well as they could be. Your character is not on a fixed level, instead, like a scrolling beat-em-up, he can traipse up and down the screen and stomp around a bland fight area, which, oddly, is always positioned on a tram track, a dirt road, or any other impractical fight environment the programmers could easily draw.

However, in a cruel twist of irony, this causes all sorts of problems when it comes to that minor aspect of trying to actually fight. Because all the fighters seem to be one millimetre wide, unless you find the exact fighting plane your opponent is throwing wild jabs at you from, your attacks will miss their target.

zoltar-smart.jpg

‘Take back my wish or i’ll break your face!’

One of the more head-scratching options in the game is the ability to bet on the outcome of your fights. Yep, this means that you can bet against yourself….But what would be the point?

In the strange instance that you bottle out of fighting a computer character that can‘t actually hurt you (well maybe your eyes) and bet your fighters booze money on your opponent winning the fight, where lies the merit? So you can stand there, watching him throw his fists into your face while you smugly shout sucker at your Mega Drive??

Ah ha! I may have wasted a life but shrewdly I have walked away with some digitised money which I can spend on…hang on a second…let me flip open the manual…Mmm…absolutely nothing? Idiotically, there’s no section in this game that allows you spend a solitary dime of your fight purse, now were lies the street smarts in that?

April 12, 2007 Posted by | SBTK in 16-Bits, Stuart Hunt | 7 Comments

SBTK in 16-Bits. Issue 1. Prt1…Revolution X: MegaDrive.

Words:Stuart Hunt

Ok, here’s the first part of our 16-bit column. Aerosmith fans, turn away now…

Set in a dystopian 1996, you must overthrow an evil Aerosmith hating government by ridding the world of one black and yellow solider who has the power to clone himself over and over and over again. It might sound like an election winning mandate to you and me, but back then it seems people actually paid money to save Steve Tyler…it’s amazing how much the world can change in 11 years.

Revolution X is the video game equivalent of a coconut shy, in that you’re given one brainless object to shoot at over and over again. Actually, on reflection, that statement is doing coconuts a great injustice because they actually prove a more enthusiastic to wave a gun at. The soldier you must continually destroy has been blessed with the ability to stand motionless, as he waits to get sapped, and lie on the floor smiling, knowing another forty copies of himself will pop up on the screen before his flashing corpse vanishes.

lost-level.jpg
An exclusive image of the game’s lost level

Now I don’t know if this is intentional but strangely the game gives you infinite continues from the point you die, yet it will still take you a few months to complete…it’s not because it’s a long game, it’s just that the human brain is incapable of enduring such a long drawn out repetitive experience in one sitting. The furthest point I have ever sucessfuly reached in one day is the games convoluted helicopter boss, which somehow manages to absorb an absurd amount of firepower and patience before it finally decides to play fair and blow up.

To play Revolution X through to its end, it’s best to finish a level, pause the game, and then return to it after a week – by that time I find its groundhog-day gameplay just begining to wear off.

rev-x-manual.jpg
Possibly the scariest thing ever written

During the game Aerosmith will appear and continually remind you why you’ve put 50p into the arcade machine, or, if you forked out the money for the console version, why you should dry your tears and get on with the mission at hand. The game is ungraciously pleased of its use of ‘music as a weapon‘, a feature which is more perplexing than inspired.

Your primary weapon in this game is blatantly a gun, your secondary option, a compact disc. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble here but I went to the trouble of picking up a dictionary and looking up the definition of music, just to be sure I hadn’t been fed a cruel lie over the years.

Music: The sounds of voices or instruments arranged in a pleasing way.

Strangely, when I put the radio on in my car I never notice my ears being repeatedly ambushed by a flurry of red bullets or CD’s being tossed at my head from my CD player, maybe things were a little different state side in 1996?

In its rawest form, Revolution X is simply an exercise of holding down a button and moving a cursor around a screen. Sending a text message while waving your phone in the air proves to be equally as entertaining – at least you can listen to your own music and not Feed the Rage on loop!

April 12, 2007 Posted by | SBTK in 16-Bits, Stuart Hunt | Leave a comment

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.

ikariwarriors.png
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.

fotoikariwarriors.jpg
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.

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

basildon_bond_1.png

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.

basildon_bond.gif
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

Friday the 13th: If you go down to the woods today, make sure you turn down the volume.

Words:Stuart Hunt

We take a quick trip to Camp Crystal Lake, disturb the infamous hockey loving weak swimmer, and then try and organise a Parish Council meeting.

When I was younger I distinctively remember only playing this game with the lights on, the volume rammed down and at least one other person being within screaming distance. To say this game scared the bejesus out of me is no slight exaggeration.

Domark’s trouser destroying retelling of the Friday the 13th story basically plays out like a game of, wink, wink you’re dead, but deployed with strange subliminal scare tactics. The game’s surreal use of the chirpy tune, the teddy bears’ picnic, suddenly shattered by a digitised, high pitched scream and an image of a horrific, pixel-loaded, mangulated, machete introduced face, was enough to turn even gang land bosses into blubbering pant peeing wrecks.

friday_the_13th.JPG
Another poor showing for service this Sunday

In the game, you took charge of one of the camp’s ten co-ordinators and ran around a bright looking Crystal Lake trying to determine which one of your friends Jason was deviously doppelganging. Occasionally (if you were really unfortunate) the aforementioned sadomasochistic screenshot would flash up, coupled with a horrific heart-hurting scream, that would shoot you up out of your seat and shatter every nerve in your body.

To save your friends, you had to find the ornamental cross, deposit it in the church and then run around the campsite telling everyone to head inside for an emergency meeting. Once inside, over sweet tea and malted milks, the doomed sprites brainstormed ideas on how best to stop the black pyjama killer. Stupid suggestions such as ‘bake him a cake’ or ‘buy him a pet’ get bandied around the church hall and there is always one cocky counselor that tries to move the discussion towards the lack of facilities around the campsite; one archery board.

Anyway, everytime I played the game the meeting always closed with the same answer:
Wield one of the many yellow weapons scattered around the campsite and put a stop to the pale-faced prowler before he reaches the church, kills everyone and you’re left the arduous task of running a whole campsite alone. Jerkfaces.

February 14, 2007 Posted by | Movie Tie-Ins, Stuart Hunt | 9 Comments

BMX NINJA:”The Ultimate BMX Contest” – Apparently….

Words:Stuart Hunt

After the surprisingly enjoyable experience Chris and I had playing Ninja Scooter Simulator, I almost felt excited rummaging through our huge box of old tapes, looking for the next game to review. It wasn’t long before I discovered another title whose use of the term ‘NINJA’, rested debatably on its box. Oddly, it was another racing game – what’s the deal with that?

Now imagine if the kid from Paperboy still got his BMX for Christmas. Imagine he fell in with a crowd of two bit, 8-bit ninjas (who looked suspiciously 2-bit). Imagine, tragically, he looked and moved like he had been repeatedly run over by a truck and this whole scenario was crammed onto a cassette tape.

I’m beginning to realise that there’s a significant correllation between bad loading screens and bad games. In BMX NINJA, we’re treated to a picture of a guy on a bike, who looks like every jerk BMX owner that takes riding the thing a little too seriously. He’s sporting a paintball mask and a pair of red overalls – hardly the clothing a reputable ninja would be seen causing death in; but then again, assuming you bought this game believing ninjas actually ride around on BMX’s, I figure the games creators felt they could push against the boundaries of ninja preconceptions a little.

bmx_ninja-load.png
Santa decided to ditch the sleigh this year

The menu screen is equally confusing, for reasons I can’t even begin to understand or would want to for that matter, the creators decided it would look cool to show a picture of a 1940s gangster holding a Tommy Gun. His presence in a game about peddle pushing ninjas makes no sense whatsoever. It’s so random that my brain is unable to generate a fictional occasion that would find two such characters crossing paths.

To accompany the ganster, whizzing across the top of the menu screen (intentionally fast so you can’t read it, probably) is some weird message outlining what to expect from the BMX NINJA experience. I have taken the liberty of repeating this wise ninja proverb to you:

BMX NINJA, THE ULTIMATE BMX CONTEST.USE YOUR CYCLE ‘NINJA’ STYLE TO FIGHT SKATEBOARDERS, BMX RIDERS AND SCOOTERS. A TEST OF ENDURANCE AND SKILL USING BUNNY HOPS, WHEELIES AND BACK FLIPS TO BEAT YOUR OPPONENTS.

They get four words right in that whole passage: “A test of endurance”. It took only one minute of this game for my endurance and I to fallout. After my first full peddle rotation he had packed his bags and was threatening to take custody of my confidence. Jerk.

So it’s at this point, feeling ill-equipped for the challenge that lay ahead, I made up with my endurance and we left our home, setting off on a spiritual journey to help prepare for our next encounter with skateboarders, BMX riders and scooters. We spent two weeks meditating on the top of mount Snowdon, four days uppercutting a waterfall and finished our training outside Halfords, sleeping as close as possible to the bike section. Enlightened, cold and wet, we then returned home for a test of might that would make snapping diamond slabs with bare fists look as hard as playing Deal or No Deal with a pair of X-Ray specs.

So the game starts and in pedals your ninja. Confusingly, he isn’t wearing red getup, or even a paintball mask for that matter, so instantly, I’m left questioning who the militant looking dude on the loading screen was. Your guy is one colour: yellow, with some black detail used for his shading, spokes and tyre grips, all lazily burrowed from the darkness of the road. He also looks identical to the evil ‘Ninja’ BMX riders that you’re trying to fight, which turns out to be really helpful during a fight.

bmx_ninja-game.png

We obviously find our ninja in the early stages of his training because so far he’s only manage to master one move – a ridiculous looking handle bar spin, which seems to randomly decide whether it wants to detect collision by rolling an invisible dice. If you actually succeed in hitting someone, they react by realistically vaporising into a cloud of dust; the only (and I use the term very loosely here) ninja stereotype this whole game displays. Ironic I think, as dust is something this game collects plenty of, I’m sure.

To put the experience into context; imagine if Capcom made Street Fighter 2, decided to base it around one character, clone him, have you fight him continually, then stingily give you one move to kill each other with, and not even a good move like the fireball or dragon punch; a shitty one like the light jab or the block. Welcome to BMX Ninja, welcome and goodbye.

February 9, 2007 Posted by | Racing, Stuart Hunt | Leave a comment

Ninja Scooter Simulator: 0% Ninja, 100% Scooter

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.

“Ninjas? Cool!”
Purchase.
Rush Home.
Load.
“What the hell? This has nothing to do with ninjas. MUUUUUMMM!!!”

 ninjasc.gif

                   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.

February 5, 2007 Posted by | Chris Keeley, Racing, Stuart Hunt | Leave a comment

Cauldron 2: Ever wondered what pumpkins do for the rest of the year?

Words:Stuart Hunt

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.

February 1, 2007 Posted by | Platform, Stuart Hunt, Uncategorized | 2 Comments