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

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

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

Frogger, Arcade

Konami‘s Frogger was released into video game arcades in 1981 and was an instant hit with gamers.

The basic premise of Frogger is to guide a hopping frog over a road and a river, to reach a safe haven on the other side. The road is full of dangerous traffic that will squish the frog on contact. The only way of crossing the river is by jumping on a series of floating logs that move from left to right at varying speeds. It’s basically an amphibian assault course…

Get five frogs to their homes on the other side and you complete the stage. Bonus points are also awarded for catching and guiding other frogs home.

Every new stage sees the introduction of new and more dangerous hazards. The first stage is relatively easy, with a quiet road and fewer dangers on the river (there are diving turtles that you can only stand on for a limited time). By the second stage, the road is much busier, and there are now alligators to contend with on the water. Later stages also introduce otters and snakes as frog predators. There are so many ways to die in this game…

Frogger is a very simple game to play (requiring only a single joystick – no fire button needed), but feels very satisfying – the game is a masterwork of timing and design and is both challenging and absorbing. Frogger has seen a number of sequels over the years, plus the usual torrent of clones and tributes. It is undoubtedly one of the best and most fondly-remembered games of the early arcade years, and is still worth a play today.

More: Frogger on Wikipedia

Pac-Man, Arcade

Known as “Puck Man” in its native Japan, and renamed as “Pac-Man” in the West*, this 1980 video game is one of the most iconic brands ever created in the history of the human race. And I’m not being funny here – Pac-Man is actually seen by historians as exactly that: instantly recognisable to most people and indelibly fixed in our consciousness.

While not the first colour video game ever made, it was certainly one of the very earliest, and one of the very best.

The aim of Pac-Man is simple: move around the maze and eat all the dots to complete the stage. There are four ghosts, however, whose role it is to stop you, and they can do that simply by touching you. So avoiding them is paramount.

You can turn the tables on the ghosts for a limited time by eating one of four ‘power pills’, located in each of the four corners. Once eaten the ghosts turn blue, allowing Pac-Man to chase them and eat them for bonus points.

The maze has a useful ‘portal’ which allows Pac-Man to exit one side of the screen and come out on the other side. There’s a ‘pen’ in the middle where the ghosts come out (and are sent back to when eaten). There’s also a space underneath the pen where a series of fruits and other bonus items appear, which Pac-Man can eat for extra points.

As the game progresses the difficulty ratchets up ever tighter as the ghosts get faster, and the time power pills last gets shorter (until, at the highest difficulty level, they no longer turn ghosts blue).

Pac-Man was originally intended to have no ending, but a bug in the game meant that a so-called “kill screen” appeared on level 256, corrupting half the screen and making it impossible to eat the required number of dots to complete the stage (the kill screen is shown at the very bottom of this article).

Still great fun to play now, Pac-Man spawned a number of sequels and remakes, and an inevitable tsunami of clones. Check out Pac-Man Championship DX for a modern take on the concept.

* = When releasing the game into English language territories Namco were concerned that people might change the ‘P’ in the original title to an ‘F’, and therefore bring the game into disrepute, which is why they changed it to Pac-Man. 🙂

More: Pac-Man on Wikipedia

Pac-Man Kill Screen

Pac-Man Kill Screen

Three Weeks in Paradise, ZX Spectrum

The fifth and final Wally Week game, Three Weeks in Paradise was published by Mikro-Gen in 1986, for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC.

As the title suggests: this time there are three members of the Week family on this particular graphic adventure – specifically: Wally, Wilma and Herbert, trapped on a tropical island inhabited by cannibals.

Unfortunately Chris Hinsley – the guy who wrote this (and all the previous Wally Week games – except Herbert’s Dummy Run) – decided that only Wally would be playable. Wilma and Herbert remain only as motivation – you don’t get to play as them.

Three Weeks in Paradise plays similarly to Pyjamarama in that you can only carry two items at once, and that certain items do specific things (the bow and arrows let you fire an arrow, for example), which means having to think quite hard about what to carry and to where.

The tune that plays during the main game is quite jolly – a blatant rip-off of the theme from The Addams Family. And when the game slows down (which is quite often) the tune also slows down, which makes it sound unintentionally funny. Thankfully it can be switched on/off with a press of the ‘5’ key.

Something else that can be switched on or off is Wally’s infamous colour clash. The yellow attribute box that used to follow him around can now be switched off by pressing ‘3’. Funny that this feature would come at the end of the series. Oh well.

There were 48K and 128K versions of Three Weeks in Paradise made available. The 128K version had a small number of extra screens and an extra AY chip tune on the title screen. These grabs are from the 128K version.

The Wally Week series:
Automania (1984)
Pyjamarama (1984)
Everyone’s A Wally (1985)
Herbert’s Dummy Run (1985)
Three Weeks in Paradise (1986)

More: Three Weeks in Paradise on Wikipedia

Herbert’s Dummy Run, ZX Spectrum

Herbert’s Dummy Run is the fourth game in the Wally Week series and was published by Mikro-Gen in 1985. It was written by Dave Perry and features Herbert Week – Wally’s baby son.

Gameplay-wise, Herbert’s Dummy Run is similar to Pyjamarama, although it is bigger and more refined than its predecessor. In this, though, you are Herbert – lost inside a department store – and must find the “Lost Children Office” where Wally and Wilma Week are waiting for you.

The graphics are colourful and appealing, although they also have the same colour clash problems of earlier Wally Week games. There are some interesting shoot ’em up sections where you have to blast away to a timer, and survive until it reaches the end (otherwise you get kicked out and have to try again from scratch). Complete a wave and you are usually awarded an important item. There’s also a Bomber type minigame, where you drop bombs on buildings until you’ve levelled them all and can land, and a Breakout-style minigame in there too. These little games at least add variety and are better executed than those seen in Pyjamarama.

Frustration can set in, though, as you juggle items in your limited (two slot) inventory, but that’s what these games are all about: finding out what the key items are, and using them appropriately.

Wally’s only appearance in the game is at the very end, but Herbert’s Dummy Run does still count as a Wally Week game. It’s not a bad game at all, although it’s not really what I would call a classic.

The Wally Week series:
Automania (1984)
Pyjamarama (1984)
Everyone’s A Wally (1985)
Herbert’s Dummy Run (1985)
Three Weeks in Paradise (1986)

More: Herbert’s Dummy Run on World of Spectrum

Pyjamarama, ZX Spectrum

Pyjamarama is the 1984 follow-up to Automania, and features the same lead character – Wally Week. Which makes it the second game in the Wally Week series.

Wally, in this one, has forgotten to wind his alarm clock and is in danger of overlaying, and you play his subconscious on a quest to wake him up. And to do that you have to find his alarm clock key. None of which makes any sense whatsoever, but that doesn’t really matter because Pyjamarama is still a very good game.

Pyjamarama is basically a flick-screen adventure/puzzle game, with each screen representing one room in Wally’s house. Scattered throughout the rooms are various items, and some of these items have specific uses. Discovering what the items do is a key part of the game – as is item-juggling, because Wally can only hold two items at a time.

Graphically, Pyjamarama is iconic – it really does capture a distinct look and feel of ZX Spectrum games of the time; in particular the colour clash, which – while being pretty horrendous – doesn’t seem to mar the game in any way.

The Wally Week series:
Automania (1984)
Pyjamarama (1984)
Everyone’s A Wally (1985)
Herbert’s Dummy Run (1985)
Three Weeks in Paradise (1986)

More: Pyjamarama on Wikipedia

Dragon Quest VI, Super Nintendo

Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation was developed by Heartbeat for Enix and released for the Super Nintendo in 1995 in Japan. It is the sixth instalment in the Dragon Quest series, if you aren’t familiar with Roman numerals.

Again: the writers of Dragon Quest have made a pretty good story to fit into an RPG. And again: it’s simple but effective. Without giving too much away: you appear to die a short way into the game! Haha. It’s hardly a spoiler – more an attempt to entice you to play the game… but it is part of the plot. I think Japanese RPG-makers may be obsessed with death, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing… As J.R.R. Tolkien once said: love and loss are inextricably linked…

Graphically, Dragon Quest VI is a bit more interesting than the previous game, although you don’t seem to be able to walk behind certain objects in this (that you should be able to walk behind, according to the isometric viewpoint), which is a little frustrating. All the houses, towns, and cute characters are beautifully drawn in that inimitable, colourful SNES style though.

Combat is a bit more interesting than in Dragon Quest V. You have more options available to you, including a ‘Skill’ choice that makes individual character skills available as they unlock. It does take a while to assemble a party, though, which isn’t ideal. Something else that bugged me: you can’t see how much money you’ve got in the status menus! Which is quite an oversight… The only time you see your current money count is when you’re talking to merchants. Dragon Quest VI practically requires you to grind to afford certain armour and weapons (as most RPGs do), and not being able to see your money totals in the field is frustrating at best.

One final thing to mention – a good thing: Dragon Quest VI was the first game in the series to introduce the concept of a “sack” where you can store items outside of your usual limited inventory. That made a difference. It also has a fairly complex class system, which is unlocked at a key point in the game.

Dragon Quest VI was the best-selling game of 1995 in Japan, shipping over 3.2 million physical copies in its first year of release (of which 2.5 million were sold in December, it’s month of release!) – an insane number, and indicative of the series’ popularity worldwide.

In spite of its shortcomings Dragon Quest VI is still a great game. It’s been remade a few times (Nintendo DS, Android and iOS) and is still worth playing if you love Japanese RPGs.

Note: These grabs are from the original Super Nintendo version, having been fan-translated. An official English translation of Dragon Quest VI wasn’t released until 2011.

More: Dragon Quest VI on Wikipedia