The Snake Becomes The Key

Retro Gaming Humour

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!!”

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                   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

Chase HQ: It’s not about catching buildings

Words:Stuart Hunt

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.

February 1, 2007 Posted by | Stuart Hunt, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

464 Launching Soon

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:

464 Issue 1

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.

January 29, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Rockstar Ate My Hamster: The XXXX Factor

Words:Chris Keeley

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.

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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.

January 29, 2007 Posted by | Chris Keeley, Wacky rockstar management games | 10 Comments

Pogostick Olympics: Says it all really.

In 1987, the gaming community was given its first and only pogostick simulator. The level of realism was staggering: You’d play with it for five minutes before getting bored, then leave it to fester in its box forever.

Have you ever looked through old school photos of yourself? It’s generally either an hysterical or terrifying experience, re-living scenes of friends parties and school discos, sporting a Donald Trump hairstyle accompanied by three conflicting pieces of clothing; a bright green shirt screwed into a pair of black tracksuit bottoms, finished off with a nice pair of scuffed shoes.
I’m digressing here because the same philosophy, I have recently discovered, also applies to computer games and this theory has never been more eloquently demonstrated than Pogostick Olympics, a game that having recently finished re-visiting, I’m seriously struggling to find any reason to merit why I wasted so much of my youth playing it.

The whole game is built around a stupid idea, which bravely, the game’s creators decided to embrace – emblazoning its theme over its box and title, demonstrating a brash confidence which I found myself respecting (rather oddly). It’s really a ‘get what you pay for’ scenario here. You should have only heard of this game if a) Your nan thought it sounded ‘cool’ and bought it for you for Christmas, or b) You have always had this weird desire to see pogo-sticking become an Olympic event. I can imagine the Olympic committee actually pondering with the idea of introducing the pogo-stick (a piece of equipment I have never actually seen anybody use in real life) in the hope it would inject some cool vibe into the precedings, but then after playing this game, killed the idea outright.

I would have loved to be in the boardroom when the programing team were brainstorming new ideas for their next project and landed on the idea of recreating an Olympic event that doesn’t actually exist. It really makes you wonder what other ideas had to fall to the cutting room floor, amid a background noise of tears, to make way for this game; such genre busting titles such as, Shopping Trolley Rally or Paper Aeroplane Foodfight…we can only guess.

The game hands out all the right clues that it’s going to be really bad experience. The loading picture is of a blonde guy in a white shell-suit, aloft a tiny winners podium. He is so largely out of proportion it would be scientifically impossible to get two other people on it. He’s also pulling the weirdest face – it kind of looks like he’s taking a big dump in his pants. This face, you’ll later discover, is the result of playing four seconds of this game.

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Welcome home spaceman!

Luckily, the game only takes around four minutes to complete, so here’s a quick rundown of the whole game:

The first event is balloon popping. Ok, so first off, controlling your pogo-pugilist is like trying to give commands to a piece of carpet. Jumping height, speed and trajectory, is generally up to the discretion of the computer, so commanding your little guy to do anything other then sporadic jumping proves very frustrating. Every event has the same garish head hurting primary coloured background. It appears that in videogame land the Pogo stick Olympics draw quite a crowd. Millions of different coloured pixels travel from all platforms and game genres to come and watch the day’s five events unfold.

The second event is the hurdles, this is the most pointless of all the events. It is mathematically impossible to get through this stage without knocking down at least thirty hurdles. The runaway mine train mentality of your pogostick superstar, coupled with the fact that the groups of hurdles are too closely packed together, means that the event becomes a simple case of hitting the space bar whenever you feel compelled to do so.

The next event, the triple jump, is the most ridiculous of all the events on offer as you’re not given a clear indication when the three jumps actually begin. There’s crap strewn across the track, which you have to avoid, and the genius programmers decided to place a large bush just in font of the sand pit, which, if you should collide or clip as you pass, reduces your speed, to that of a piece of carpet which has been stuck down to the floor, and your recorded jump will measure a silly two centimetres…great.

The next event is the target shot, the most amusing of the five on offer. Here your player must shoot tiny arrows out of his nut sack and pop floating white balls which look exactly like the baloons but without a blocky pixel string hanging from them.

The final event is the obstacle course and allows you to hone all the skill you’ve acquired in the art of slapping the space bar at random intervals. It’s actually the best of all the levels, so the game does kind of finish on a high note; although confusingly, none of the different surfaces you land on seem to affect the speed of your character, so there’s no real point to it, you might just as well be a competing on a piece of carpet.

When you finish the game, which you can do about ten times in the same time it has taken to read this review, you are greeted with a pathetic congratulations screen – blue text on a black background. Sums up this whole brain bruising experience.

January 24, 2007 Posted by | S**t Sports, Stuart Hunt | Leave a comment

Barbarians Reunited

Words:Stuart Hunt

It was the first time I had ever played a beat em-up and witnessed video-game violence. Many argue that it was this very game that started it all. A pre-cursor to Midway’s Mortal Kombat, Capcom’s Street Fighter series and Satan’s Rise of the Robots.

Revisiting Barbarian after almost ten years was like bumping into an old girlfriend, who looks annoyingly good now as she did back then. Barbarian looks well for its age, surprisingly well infact. Perhaps the only wrinkles on show is its cassette tape body, encased in ridiculous box art.

The Mills and Boon cover shot of a very bronzed Michael Van Wijk (Wolf from the Gladiators to you and me) having his shiny leg fondled by scantily clad page 3 pouter Maria Whittaker caused controversy when the game was released, as worried parents deemed it too subversive to use on the cover of a game about killing people.

barbarianpalacecover1.jpg

Today however, the picture feels about as risqué as a Michael Parkinson interview. I’m sure back in, whenever the hell this game is set, hairspray, makeup and bronzer hadn’t been invented and if it had, I would imagine it would have cost a fair penny. I don’t know what the going wage was for a barbarian back then, but considering their wardrobes seem to consist of one bright coloured t-shirt and a pair of black pants – I’m led to believe it wasn’t a great deal.
For anybody that has never seen, played, or even heard of this game until a few minutes ago, I’ll give you brief rundown. It’s a 2D sword-em-up programmed by Palace Software. It came out around the time those ten-a-penny Conan films were released, starring Arnold Schwarzeneger and a group of actors no one has seen or heard from since.

In the game you take the role of a barbarian who is trying to obtain the perfect gift for his girlfriend to celebrate their five year anniversary. He must fight his way through a number of strange coloured clones of himself who are protecting an evil old man called Drax, who guards the last remaining tin of hairspray in the entire land… the guy doesn’t even have any hair, that’s the level of his evilness.

The first thing that impressed me when I re-played Barbarian was the visuals. The characters move fluidly and respond to your commands without looking like they’re pondering about it first. You only have a sparing number of moves at your disposal but the ones on offer, such as ‘The Web of Death’ more than make up for it. The simplicity in the controls is actually a comforting characteristic that makes the game more accessible.

Barbarian also has one of the coolest moves in a video game: The swinging decapitation – a slash of genius which is easily up there with Ken’s flaming dragon punch, Sub Zero’s spine pull and running at zombies with a parasol in Dead Rising. When the computer character resorts to the screen screaming tactics of continually hitting you as you pick yourself off the floor, there is nothing more rewarding than coming back and lopping the head off of your tormentor, especially if he boasts a full bill of health. It allows the balance of a fight to turn on a pin head, invoking a strong strategic element into the game. The down side of course is that it could always happen to you. There is nothing more frustrating then having rolled and defended a barrage of sword slashes and taken 5 of your opponent’s red health circles away from him, to witness him retaliate with a sneaky head from neck seperator at the very last minute. To add insult to injury a gargoyle, who is dispatched to clean up after a fight, will disrepectfully toe-punt your head off the floor like a football!

To accompany the fantastic visuals the game’s programmers realised that less was more when it came to creating the soundtrack. The game’s Casio-esque ballad, which rings out over the menu screen, is grand enough to join me in battle but leaves at the first sign of trouble. When the fighting begins the sound is substituted for the satisfying tones of sword clangs and grunts.

To sum up, Barbarian is a great piece of balanced gaming. It demonstrates that making something very simple, very well, is sometimes all is required. A game can look the part, but if isn’t enjoyable to play, the cracks soon appear and the ugliness escapes. If I have to suffer looking at ridiculous cover art and suspicious graphics for a great game, I will. C’mon, you can’t tell me we love playing Tetris for the realistic looking blocks and picturesque backdrop?

January 22, 2007 Posted by | Fighting, Stuart Hunt | Leave a comment