Kokotoni Wilf, Commodore 64

Of the three versions of Kokotoni Wilf released by Elite Systems, the Commodore 64 version is arguably the worst.

It was published in 1984 to a userbase already familiar with excellent games, and was viewed as something of an insult to Commodore 64 gaming, even back then.

Like the Spectrum original, the aim is to guide Kokotoni Wilf – a magician’s assistant with wings on his back – through a tortuous maze of dangers, in order to collect pieces of an amulet for his master.

Also like the Spectrum original; the graphics are pathetic. Even more so on the Commodore 64, which does have some fairly elevated capabilities over Sir Clive‘s humble machine, and fails to use any of the them to impress the player. That said: I don’t think it looks quite as bad as the Amstrad version

Unlike the Spectrum original, the Commodore 64 version has an in-game tune. A hilariously out-of-place rendition of “Consider Yourself” from the musical, Oliver. Let’s just say that it does little to enhance the game and swiftly move on…

Every version of this game has its own version of the flying mechanic and they all centre around trying to cheat gravity. The mechanic in this version makes controlling Wilf feel like you’re flying a bloody bumblebee at times… It certainly doesn’t look or feel very convincing…

Ultimately the main over-riding feeling you get from playing Kokotoni Wilf on the C64 is that you are wasting your precious time on a game that is not very good. 🙂

More: Kokotoni Wilf on Wikipedia

Kokotoni Wilf, Amstrad CPC

Compared to the Spectrum original, Amstrad Kokotoni Wilf is pretty ugly. The developers have chosen a dark blue background with green caves, and the odd splash of colour in the (very flickery) sprites and landscape decorations. The graphics are very poor in my opinion.

Controlling Wilf is more a matter of luck than judgement. He zips around the screen semi-uncontrollably, trying to pick up pieces of an amulet, and – rather annoyingly – getting stuck on the landscape all the time. So much so that you have to factor in getting stuck on the landscape as part of your survival strategy.

Gaps – through which you might never think you would fit – are seemingly the only way of progressing, and – when Wilf dies – the controls are so over-responsive (and the game so eager to continue) that you can easily kill him a number of times in a row if you’re not careful. So you have to quickly remember to stop using the controls when he dies…

These kind of dodgy “features” are from the primordial days of video gaming – ie. when everything was archaic and unfair, and no one knew any better at the time… Well, some did, but most fledgling video game designers hadn’t learned how to make their games fair yet…

So, is Amstrad Kokotoni Wilf worth a play today? No, not really. By the Amstrad CPC‘s standards it’s a pretty poor game. Whether it’s worse than the awful Commodore 64 version or not is open to debate.

More: Kokotoni Wilf on Wikipedia

Kokotoni Wilf, ZX Spectrum

A leading contender for the game with the silliest name of all-time, Kokotoni Wilf is an early platform action game with you in the role of the titular Mr. Wilf.

The back story is about a magician, called Ulrich, who is trying to reassemble a broken Dragon Amulet in order to keep some dangerous dragons in check. But Ulrich realises that he is too old to go out adventuring himself to collect the pieces, so he sends his assistant out to get them instead, and that assistant is you – Mr. Kokotoni Wilf.

To help ‘Toni’ (as his friends sometimes call him), Ulrich creates a pair of wings on his back, and these help him fly around. Which in turn makes it easier for him to reach these broken pieces of amulet. “Easier” being a euphemism for “near, but not quite, impossible”.

What Ulrich doesn’t tell you is that your journey to collect these amulet pieces is going to take you on an adventure through time and space, which is why later stages of the game appear to be set in ‘present day’ London (a very shonky 8-bit version of London, it has to be said), and also far further into the future (into a future with dodgy 8-bit graphic representations of overhead monorails and space ports).

The original ZX Spectrum version of Kokotoni Wilf is not a bad game, although – looking at it now – it hasn’t aged particularly well. Compared to, say, the atrocious Commodore 64 and Amstrad versions of this game, it still plays reasonably well and can deliver some fun.

In all versions of Kokotoni Wilf it is a matter of getting used to the rather dodgy and archaic control system. Flying Wilf around is more luck than judgement at times, and even if you think you’ve got a handle on it, you can easily bite the dust very quickly, lose all your lives, and end up back at the beginning again.

More: Kokotoni Wilf on Wikipedia

Menzoberranzan, PC

An RPG with a funny name, based on the AD&D Forgotten Realms campaign setting, Menzoberranzan is a 1994, first-person, party-based adventure game developed by DreamForge Intertainment for Strategic Simulations Inc.

You can have up to four characters in your party, but start with two, which you create at the beginning (via some fairly dodgy pre-rendered graphical screens). More characters can be recruited as you go along, including some unique monster race characters, which is somewhat refreshing.

Starting in a village you realise that you must first put out a fire in a nearby building to continue the introduction to the story, which then leads into open fields populated by monsters. Combat is by frantically clicking the mouse cursor on opponents and hoping they die before you do. By fighting off enemies and gradually exploring you will eventually find better weapons, armour, and magic spells.

The way you memorise and learn magic is identical to all the other AD&D adventures published by SSI at the time – you Memorize wizard (offensive) spells and Pray for priest (healing and defensive) spells.

Moving around and manipulating objects is easy enough and playing Menzoberranzan is reasonable fun. It doesn’t take long to reach the tougher monsters and to lose your first life, but – like any good RPG – gaining a foothold is possible with careful play. There’s a good automap, which helps. Ultimately your quest is to find the underground city of Menzoberranzan itself. The place where the Drow live.

Graphically, Menzoberranzan does look a bit dated in places – especially with regard to the 3D sections (the 2D graphics are beautifully drawn), but then so do many of the classic SSI RPGs from the ’90s, but most are still good to play today. I remember reviewing this for PC Player magazine when it first came out through US Gold in 1994. And I recently bought it again on GOG.com. It’s still an interesting and playable game. Not a classic by any means, but decent enough on its own terms.

More: Menzoberranzan on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Menzoberranzan on GOG.com

Magic Carpet 2, PC

The full title of this 1995 sequel is Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds, and it is an excellent continuation of the series.

Magic Carpet 2 features exterior and interior (cavernous) levels that are more dense than the original, with more new monsters, secrets, and evil wizards to defeat. It also has a multiplayer mode (which the first game didn’t have).

Graphically, Magic Carpet 2 is more impressive than its predecessor and the use of night and day in the game results in a more varied colour palette – and a more interesting landscape – than previously. Again: the landscape is deformable to some degree by shooting it with fireballs, and various locations hide triggers that spawn monsters, new spells, and bosses. Unlike the first game, Magic Carpet 2 features a useful ‘Help Mode’, that points out what everything is – until you get sick of it and turn it off. It helps get into the game quicker, and not miss any important gameplay features.

The gameplay in Magic Carpet 2 is pretty much the same as before: build a castle; collect mana with your balloon; build your castle up; collect more mana; rid the landscape of monsters; complete any quest objectives.

Most monsters are pretty tough, so the best tactic is to lure them away from groups to deal with them one at a time. The killer bees, for example, will kill you quickly if a number of them swarm you, so it’s best to split them up if you can, which you can do with your deft carpet skills. Mastering the carpet is key to beating the game, and the controls work extremely well, allowing you to perform very tight and precise manoeuvres with just a modicum of skill. You can also fly backwards and sidewards, which helps a lot. The controls are very responsive, though, so do take some getting used to.

There are 25 levels to play through in total – all of which can be completed quickly (by completing quest objectives), or can be scoured for more spells and mana, and a higher completion percentage, if so wished.

Magic Carpet 2 can also be changed to SVGA mode (640×480) ‘on the fly’, meaning: you can switch between the default VGA (320×200) resolution, and SVGA resolution by just clicking an option in the menu, although I couldn’t find a way of making SVGA the default (every time I restarted the game it ran in VGA, and I had to manually change the resolution). The game also crashed quite a bit for me in SVGA mode (usually preceded by graphical glitches), and I had some problems saving the game (and having to restart from the beginning – four times so far). Playing in VGA proved to be more stable (no crashes). And this is the bought GOG.com version I’m talking about… In spite of that I really enjoyed playing Magic Carpet 2 again – it is better than the first Magic Carpet, and it is also a superb game in its own right. Another classic DOS game from Bullfrog.

More: Magic Carpet 2 on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds on GOG.com

Tales of Phantasia, Game Boy Advance

This 2003 remake of Namco‘s SNES classic Tales of Phantasia was the first time the game had been officially translated into English.

While much of the game remains the same, there are a few differences. Firstly, the screen ratio has been changed from the 4:3 of the SNES original to the ‘widescreen’ 240 x 160 of the GBA screen. Which makes it look more modern, even if the resolution is actually lower (the resolution of the SNES version is 256 x 224). The lower resolution of the GBA is not an issue though as many of the in-game characters have been re-drawn to make them look bigger in the play window. This becomes most apparent during combat, when all the figures appear significantly larger than in the SNES version. This is not a problem, though, because most combat is fought horizontally, and not vertically, so making the main characters larger has not had a detrimental effect on gameplay. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The only real criticisms I’ve read about this game are that the random battles are too frequent (didn’t seem too bad to me), and the combat system is “unrefined” compared to the ‘Tales‘ sequels. Well… No sh*t, Sherlock. That’s bleedin’ obvious. And a bit unfair.

Tales of Phantasia is a lovely game that still has a lot of appeal now and is worth a play if you can find a copy. With this GBA version being an official translation, and with its updated graphics, I’d give it a higher rating than any of the fan-translated versions of the SNES original.

More: Tales of Phantasia on the Game Boy Advance on Wikipedia