Ok, for those of you that keep returning to the site reading the updates we post, Chris and I just wanted to update you on what we’re doing now – because it’s obviously meant we don’t have the same amount of time as we used to to spend writing for SBTK.
This isn’t to say that we’re not going to keep adding to it, it’s just the last few months have been mega hectic – we finished our college course and then went out into the big wide world to get jobs.
Chris now writes for a golfing website called In Golf We Trust, here’s a link: http://www.ingolfwetrust.com
And I now write for Retro Gamer magazine, where I’m able to continue to push the greatness of the CPC but on a much bigger scale.
Anyhow, we just wanted to thank anyone who’s ever left a comment, read a post, and allowed us to be linked from their websites.
All the best
Stu and Chris
What is it that the video-game industry has against ninjas, particularly 8-bit ones? I’m slowly realising that if an Amstrad game has the word ‘ninja’ in its title then it must be avoided like shampoo soaked contact lenses. We’ve reviewed two ninja ‘themed’ games so far on this blog: BMX NINJA and NINJA SCOOTER SIMULATOR. Both of these titles rolled with the ridiculous ninja-extreme-sports hook. However, reality sussed out that classifying these games as ‘extreme’ was like saying that a tattoo of Gene Simmons on your tongue is both tasteful and painless.
OK, so we can pretty much guess what happened here. Seeing those ‘heroes in a half shell’ and the impact they were having on the eyes and vocabulary on impressionable young minds, Microvalue felt they could achieve a similar success story. They substituted four dynamic, pizza-loving, sewer-surfing turtles, with one lethargic, carrot-chomping, hutch-dwelling rabbit and this was the less than remarkable result.
Perhaps so as not to be sued for false advertising, the creators of International Ninja Rabbits were meticulous in making sure that every word in its clusterfuck title earned the right to be there. It’s ‘international’ in that you traipse around the world. Beginning in China, the game sends you jetting across to America before taking the convoluted, fuck the planet, flight back to Japan. Cultural stereotypes proudly greet you in the airports. Touching down on American soil you’re met by graffiti-strewn walls and two buildings on loop that constantly change their signage from ‘Movie’ to ‘Food’, and the oriental-themed levels are littered with dojos and trees, giving the impression that everyone in Japan is either a karate expert or a tree surgeon. However the impact of these stereotypes is somewhat deafened by an odd yellow haze which swathes the game’s graphics. This means that if you’re more than two feet away from your monitor every stage looks like it’s taking place on the toilet floor of a nightclub, with a white bunny sloshing around like it has just contracted myxomatosis.
Aquamarine isn’t even an official karate belt!
The ‘ninja’ aspect in the game comes from the fact that your character is wearing a baggy pair of bright white pyjamas (don’t ninjas usually wear tight black suits for concealment and agility?) He’s also wearing a headband to tie up his big floppy ears – useful hearing devices which would otherwise hinder his ability to blend into any environment other than a rabbit hutch or the Playboy mansion.
The controls and action in this game are painful – painful to watch and painful to execute. You’re given three measly moves, yet forty minutes to decide which one you want to use against an enemy coming at you with what can only be described as crippling arthritis. They waddle towards you with their robotic, two-animation movements and invoke about as much immediacy into the game as pressing the pause button in slow motion. Enemies range from bloodhounds with their cubes out, turtles that transform into crocodiles when they get hit and creatures that look like nothing your eyes have seen, or will ever see again. They are God’s creations however, so we must love them all – even if we’re eventually projecting a pixelated paw into their freaky faces.
Wow a rabbit fighting a Rabbi, how feckin awesome is that?
To dispose of these circus freaks requires the infuriating method of pushing the joystick in a direction while simultaneously hitting the fire button. Forward, while batting fire, results in the bunny doing a kick which fells most enemies with two goes. To punch is back and fire, and usually results in your character walking backwards to the start of the level before an actual hit is achieved. Salt adding, most of the enemies will absorb a colossal six punches before they work out they’ve been hit and fairly collapse, so only the foolish Shinobi will ever opt for this ridiculous attack method. As for the jump kick, with such teeth grating collision detection, trying to land an ice-cube onto the surface of the sun while holding back an army of mountain gorillas would probably prove less taxing.
If you’re ever find yourself hankering for a side scrolling kick-em-up with weird visuals and strange premise, that looks suspiciously like it’s been caked in rabbits piss, here’s £2.99 well spent I reckon.
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.”
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.
Buckle your seatbelts, flick on that nitro and lets smash up some perps.
It’s very rare to see a pristine Chase HQ arcade cabinet nowadays. Its steering wheel will be worn and loose, its decorative stickers scratched and yellowed from acidic coins and cigarette smoke. Perhaps more fatally, the little red nitro button is permanently stuck down or requires almost unbearable thumb pressure to get it to kick in; hell, the one in my local kebab shop is sun bleached beyond recognition and the Porsche fights to steer itself left onto the grass. As frustrating as it is to slot a 50 pence into a broken arcade machine, it’s the battle scars that prove a games quality and authority. Machines, like Chase HQ, have been well feed over the years and it’s for good reason.
In 1988, Taito released a game to recreate the excitement of being in your very own high speed pursuit. A winning formula that proved so powerful, its playability literally poured out from its arcade speakers. The idea was simple, you were to flush out, chase and run down a criminal escaping in a sportscar, with no guns and no weapons; just a tough front bumper and some nifty driving skills. Sure, Chase HQ was a flawed concept – I’m sure ramming into car at 100mph would at least cause yourself severe whiplash, if not engine failure. But if video games were governed by realism, then shelves would only home Championship Manager and tennis sims surely?
Chase HQ quickly collected fans and coins in equal measure, so creating a home version was inescapable. Thankfully, in 1989, it was Ocean who stepped up to do the job and to their credit, not only created one of the most accurate and faithful arcade ports ever made, they amazingly managed to squeeze every ounce of attitude and flair from Chase’s cabinet counterpart and cram it all into one solemn looking cassette tape.
It had everything I hoped it would; Nancy’s flirtatious banter and bullocking , the ‘push, push harder’ motivational squawk I used to smirk at immaturely. The tunnels, the shortcuts, the tumbleweeds and more importantly the rush. There is no better sense of excitement than dodging traffic to ram ten shades of green bubbles from the back of a speeding car, with the intention of altering its next destination to the scrap yard. You feel like Steve McQueen playing it so close to the wire, having achieved this with no nitro’s to call on and only 4 seconds left on the clock
I have always felt Chase HQ showcased some of the finest graphics ever seen on my beloved 464 and swear that her high pitched loading wails seemed to almost fade subtly into excitable squeals. Some of our best times together were spent chasing Ralph the Idaho Slasher in that bloody blue British sports car. And, perhaps as stupid as this probably sounds, my 464 felt it too.
The two (questionable) brains behind this blog have been working on a new secret project. We’ll give you a clue. It rhymes with quagazine and contains all the best bits from The Snake Becomes The Key and much more. Here’s a sneaky peek:
We want to thank everybody who has viewed the blog so far, but come on guys, post us some feedback. We would really like to hear your thoughts and suggestions for the site.
All the best, Stu and Chris.
It started with a hiss….
Welcome to The Snake Becomes The Key – a retro gaming blog for archaic Amstrad computer games. A partnership by Christian Keeley and Stuart Hunt who, from a kinship for life depleting load times, a weird appreciation for shoddy movie tie-ins and probable permanent ear damage from dolphin language loading sounds, decided to visit every jumble sale over a period of two years to unearth a plethora of ancient Amstrad cassette tapes to re-live that pocket-money programming period.
You may wonder why we called this blog ‘The Snake Becomes The Key’ well, for any of you that check out YouTube, you’ll see that as well as clips of people wearing condoms made out of glass and Polish street fights, there’s quite a funny selection of computer game themed videos, be it a parody, online review, or just an angry rant. By some strange chance, we accidentally clicked on a video showing a walkthrough for an old Atari 2600 game based on Indiana Jones – by far the most dog-sick looking game we’ve ever encountered. The guy doing the commentating took the whole thing deadly seriously and narrated it in a portentous knowing tone….Jerk.
It wasn’t until we finished watching his 15 minute master class that we realised the guy was actually a gaming genius. Amazed were we by how illogical the puzzles were and how he had somehow managed to crack the ingenious solution of walking in and out of two screens 8 times, like an OCD sufferer opening a door, to find a key, which, unless you spend weeks deliberating over every minuscule pixel on your television like a mental person, you would never find yourself. Why? because it’s a f***ing snake, something, which by video game convention, written into the syntax of perhaps every other video game, is something that will usually kill you. It’s like the programmers were literally trying rough you up for playing a video game. It’s kind of like the equivalent of keeping frozen food inside a DVD player – it makes no sense whatsoever.
This experience had us thinking about the games we used to play when we were kids and how we could never finish them. Was it because we were shit at video games? Quite possibly, or was it because we didn’t have the insight and open minded approach which enabled us to consider that the snake becomes the key?
Anyways check it out, post us your comments and suggestions. We really hope you enjoy stepping back in time with us as we replay some old gaming gems from yester-year.
Stuart and Chris.
- 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.