Lasso, Arcade

Lasso is an obscure arcade game, developed and manufactured by SNK Corporation in 1982. In it you play a rancher/cowboy trying to round-up his cattle with a rope.

The game generously gives you an opportunity to practise throwing the lasso at the beginning with a “warm-up” screen. Then you have to catch loose sheep and shoot fireballs at attacking wolves… Ah, you can’t make this stuff up… Let a wolf or any of your cattle touch you, though, and you lose a life. Lose all three lives and it’s game over.

If you complete the sheep level, it’s then onto the cow level at a slightly harder difficulty; then the horse level. And so on. Extra hazards, like fire(?) breathing lizards, also become more frequent as the stages progress.

Lasso is basic at best. Like Food Fight and Domino Man it is a video game idea that doesn’t really work that well in practise, but probably sounded good on paper. It’s fun for a short while, though.

More: Lasso on arcade-history.com

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Megadrive/Genesis

Developed by Sega and released for the Megadrive/Genesis in 1990, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a masterpiece platform game that has stood the test of time extremely well.

The game itself is pretty simple: running, jumping, climbing, and swimming, with Mickey on a quest to save Minnie Mouse from the evil witch Mizrabel.

Mickey’s main weapon is his bounce, which he can perform while jumping and which helps him defeat enemies. He can also pick up items, such as apples and marbles, to use as projectiles to throw at enemies.

To defeat Mizrabel, Mickey must find the “Seven Gems of the Rainbow”, each of which can found behind a door, in a different realm, protected by one of Mizrabel’s henchmen. There are six different – graphically distinct – stages (The Enchanted Forest, Toyland, The Storm, Dessert Factory, The Library, and The Castle), with a boss battle at the end of each.

Castle of Illusion still looks and plays great to this day. If I had any complaint it would be that the Megadrive doesn’t have transparent pixels (like the SNES does), which means that the designers had to make do with using ‘stippling’ in the water sections (which is ugly and makes the game look dated). Otherwise: it’s marvellous (still).

A remake of Castle of Illusion was made by Sega Studios Australia in 2013 and is currently available on Steam.

More: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse on Wikipedia

Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Nintendo 64

Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a surprising 2001 release – on the Nintendo 64 – for British developer Rare, in collaboration with Nintendo.

What is surprising about it is that it is an “adult” game – meaning: it contains cartoon characters behaving in ways that you don’t normally see in a Nintendo game, like vomiting on people’s shoes, making sexual innuendo, and using mild swear words.

The game begins with a cinematic Clockwork Orange-style scene, with Conker (a squirrel) looking over the top of a glass of milk as the camera slowly tracks backwards while a pseudo Beethoven musical score warbles away in the background. You know – or at least should know – at this point what kind of game this is going to be… And that is: extremely satirical, and with maybe a bit of a screw loose…

When Conker’s Bad Fur Day eventually gets going the first thing you have to do is get rid of Conker’s hangover, which is an unusual way of introducing a player to the game. Then you go on a surreal 3D platform adventure, full of Pythonesque characters, toilet humour, silly and poor taste jokes, endless tasks and puzzles, tons of film references, and of course the occasional boss battle (including one where you fight a giant turd).

Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a game that will appeal to adults who like puerile humour, and also to children as a “forbidden” game that “must not be played under any circumstances”, but they all do… It’s actually not that bad in terms of its ‘adult’ nature, and doesn’t contain anything too contentious, which is why Nintendo allowed Rare to make the game in the first place.

More: Conker’s Bad Fur Day on Wikipedia

Pengo, Arcade

Sega‘s Pengo is an arcade classic from 1982 and is a block-pushing maze game starring a cute penguin called – you guessed it – Pengo.

Pengo must push the ice blocks around to squash the Sno-Bees, while at the same time avoiding any contact with them. He can also push the diamond blocks together, which stuns and makes the Sno-Bees vulnerable for a short period of time. And one other ability he has is to ‘push’ and the perimeter fence to stun any Sno-Bees chasing him (and once stunned they can be killed by walking over them).

Pengo is both visually and sonically appealing, and also very challenging. Like many early arcade games: it’s no kid’s game, even if it might look like one.

Another classic from Sega‘s early catalogue, Pengo and has been re-released and re-made a number of times, so remains popular to this day.

More: Pengo on Wikipedia

Mr. Wimpy, Oric

It could be argued that the Oric version of Mr. Wimpy is better than the ZX Spectrum version. It does look slightly better graphically, but I think that a more diplomatic solution would be to say that both are as bad as each other…

Maybe that’s a little harsh. Maybe it isn’t. It depends on your point of view.

Both games feature the same two-screen sections – fetch the food (times three), then a blatant BurgerTime rip-off. Both games have flickery sprites and colour clash. Both games have unremarkable gameplay. Both games have sketchy AI on the enemies… Need I go on?

The Oric version has a better attract screen and a more colourful Mr. Wimpy sprite, so is the best. There – that’s solved that one… 🙂

More: Mr. Wimpy on Wikipedia

Mr. Wimpy, ZX Spectrum

Mr. Wimpy is an early ZX Spectrum game from Ocean Software, first published in 1984. It is based on (and licensed from) the Wimpy chain of restaurants – in particular their mascot: Mr. Wimpy. Wimpy restaurants were more widespread in the 1980s than they are today, but this was still a surprising release from Ocean.

What is not very surprising is that Mr. Wimpy is a clone of BurgerTime, although it does have an extra level that you have to play through before getting to the BurgerTime clone.

That first level is a simple ‘fetch’ game where Mr. Wimpy walks from the left side of the screen to the right, picks up an item of food, then returns back to the starting point – the caveat being: if Mr. Wimpy is touched by one of the moving hazards he loses the item and must try again.

Mr. Wimpy is neither a particularly great game, nor a particularly memorable release from Ocean, although it is an interesting curiosity from the mists of time. Is it still worth playing today? Of course it is! 🙂

More: Mr. Wimpy on Wikipedia

Amidar, Arcade

Konami‘s 1981 arcade classic, Amidar, is a maze game with a difference.

Rather than moving through a maze (a la Pac-Man), you instead move along the edges of a series of interconnected boxes, trying to ‘paint’ them a different colour (or pick up coconuts, depending on the level). If you manage to paint around all four sides of a box it fills itself in, and the ultimate aim on each level is to fill every box on-screen. Which is not easy because there are a variety of chasing monsters and they are tricky to avoid.

The key to getting anywhere in Amidar is to learn the movement of the enemies. They move ‘deterministically’. Meaning: to set, recognisable patterns. The game calls this “Amidar movement”. Regular enemies are called “Amidar” and these move left and right, and up and down the screen. A single enemy, called a “Tracer” moves around the outside of the maze at the same time. If you watch enemy movement carefully you can avoid them and go about your painting duties. That is, however, until the Tracer has done a certain number of ‘laps’, after which point it starts to chase you.

You do have a ‘jump’ ability to help you, although pressing jump makes the enemies jump – not you. They jump, and you move underneath them. Which is weird, but it works well enough and can save your skin when in a tight corner. You start with only three jumps but can be awarded more.

Another useful thing to remember is that you can attack the Amidar if you colour all four corner boxes in the maze. The Amidar change colour and you have a short space of time in which to touch them to kill them for a bonus.

As the game gets harder the mazes become more complex, and more enemies are added. And if that wasn’t enough, the time it takes before the Tracer starts chasing you reduces – to the point where it only has to do one lap before homing in on you.

Amidar is another classic Konami arcade game that takes a simple idea and turns it into a challenging and compelling video game. And for that it should be fondly-remembered.

More: Amidar on Wikipedia

Horace and the Spiders, ZX Spectrum

The third and final Horace game on the ZX Spectrum, written by William Tang and published by Sinclair/Psion in 1983.

Horace and the Spiders is yet another ‘clone’ game, this time copying Space Panic and also elements of Pitfall.

The game is split into two distinct stages. The first one sees Horace walking along a side-scrolling cavern and jumping over spiders that come his way, then climbing moving spider silk strands to cross a ravine. The second stage is a single screen platforms and ladders game where Horace must stomp holes in the web platforms so that spiders fall into them, and when they do he must stomp them again to kill them.

Like Hungry Horace and Horace Goes Skiing, Horace and the Spiders is a game that many see through rose-tinted spectacles – the memory of playing it as a kid is stronger than the game itself. In truth: it hasn’t aged well, and isn’t much fun to play nowadays.

But at least Horace himself has become iconic among Spectrum fans.

A further ‘official’ Horace game, called Horace in the Mystic Woods, was released for the Psion 3-Series palmtop range in 1995, but it wasn’t written by William Tang. Further to that, a ZX Spectrum conversion of Horace in the Mystic Woods was released by indie coder Bob Smith in 2010. Other fan-made Horace games exist too, including Horace Goes to The Tower, released in 2011. It seems that our love for Horace continues ever onwards, in spite of his rather chequered past…

More: Horace and the Spiders on Wikipedia

Horace Goes Skiing, ZX Spectrum

Hungry Horace author, William Tang, also produced this sequel – Horace Goes Skiing – the same year as its predecessor: 1982. It was again published by Sinclair/Psion.

This one is part Frogger clone and part skiing game, and is slightly more playable and enjoyable than its predecessor.

Horace starts off having to cross a busy road to get to the ski slope. The traffic is fast, relentless and deadly, and finding a gap to make it through is not easy. Get hit by a vehicle and Horace must pay $10 for an ambulance. And – since he starts with $30 – that gives him three lives to begin with.

Survive the road, and the scene changes to a horizontally-scrolling slalom course. Horace skis down the screen and his speed is dictated by how much you turn him left and right. If Horace is facing directly downwards he’ll accelerate to top speed. If you turn him left and right he’ll turn and slow down. The route to success is lined with coloured flags, and only by carefully controlling Horace‘s speed and direction will you make it between them. Bash into a tree or a hill and Horace‘s skis will cross and he might break them. If he does, it’s back to the road for another pair (or game over if he doesn’t have the cash).

While Horace Goes Skiing is definitely better than its predecessor, it’s still not what I would call a “classic” game – even for the Spectrum. Sure: it’s steeped in nostalgia, but that’s not good enough on its own. If you were going to play it today, you’d probably be tired of it in 15/30 minutes.

More: Horace Goes Skiing on Wikipedia

Hungry Horace, ZX Spectrum

This ZX Spectrum Pac-Man clone is a legendary early title from Beam Software/Melbourne House, and was published by Sinclair/Psion in 1982.

Hungry Horace is probably as well known as it is because of Horace – a cute blue blob with eyes, arms, and legs – and who is somewhat memorable. It certainly isn’t revered for its sparkling gameplay, which is limited at best (and banal at worst).

Four mazes, repeated over and over; supposedly representing a ‘park’ – Hungry Horace isn’t even a particularly good Pac-Man clone. The faces that chase you have weird AI; the mazes have dead ends; some mazes have corridors; ring the bell and the faces get scared for a limited time and you can ‘kill’ them by touching them…

Describing Hungry Horace any more will just cause me (and you, probably) to yawn, so I’ll just say that this is a game that is fondly-remembered because it was the ‘birth’ of Horace – a character Spectrum owners grew to love immensely. The game itself has unfortunately degraded over time…

More: Hungry Horace on Wikipedia