Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Space Invasion II / Dodge Em / Galaxy Wars / The Amazing Adventures Of Harry Haddock (1995/Amiga)

Whilst I recall taking a greater interest in Amiga Format in my youth than Amiga Power, Amiga Action, and CU Amiga, one of the best-remembered Amiga magazines I had was a copy of Amiga Action. I was more interested in games than articles, and Issue 69 provided a great “Comic Relief Bonanza” in 1995, with no less than four floppy disks supplied. There was a demo of Turbo Trax, a demo of The Speris Legacy which I have to admit to never touching (even from a young age I’ve never been much for those RPG thingies), and a full version of the annoying but tuneful platformer The Blues Brothers as the comic relief fundraiser. All very exciting, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Who needs flashy menu screens?
Space Invasion II
Remind you of anything?
Disk 2 was what stayed with me, however. On this disk was a collection of four simple public domain games from Kevin Gallagher and his Towerbyte Software crew in Grimsby. Gallagher did some arcade game adaptations with AMOS for the Amiga, and the first of these to appear here was Space Invasion II, a much-improved, and no less cunningly disguised, conversion of the classic Space Invaders. While the original had been quite crude, this version introduces bases, and brings back Towerbyte’s favourite “in space but on the ground” background in more detail. There’s not much you can say about the gameplay, other than that it’s a realistic Space Invaders experience, save for the background. A third version in 1998 would see the black background employed with smoother movement, but where the original conversion was lacking, this was the version that essentially matched up in terms of gameplay. Evidence that some of these games were rushed is only evident in the menu here. The surprisingly long music clip (the length of the title music of the games appears to be what takes up so much of the space on the disk that decreed that there wasn’t enough room for a proper title screen for selecting the games) pumps ominously over scrolling text filled with mistakes like “scoreing” and “lazer”. I accept that some acronyms such as radar have been assimilated into the language as words in their own right, but the letters still stand for something, and “ztimulated” isn’t part of it.

Dodge Em
Dodge Em is the second game on the disk, and it’s a charming little action/puzzle where you have to navigate a “coarse” in your car collecting dots (akin to Pac-Man) whilst avoiding the evil “on-comeing” cars travelling in the opposite direction that try to crash into you and take one of your three lives (not shown). As well as more typographical errors, which I’ll avoid commenting on from now on, Dodge Em stands out for having a very limited canon of sounds. An effect for moving around the menu and picking up dots, an effect for changing lanes (tyre squealing), and an effect for crashing (kicking a metal dustbin) are all there are in this game, giving it a real barebones effect. Enemy cars get faster and more numerous as you beat levels to give an appropriate challenge, and you need to be a smooth operator to beat level 4.

Galaxy Wars
I've seen that background before
The third game on this disk sees us move from arcade-influenced gaming back into the territory of direct conversion, and Galaxy Wars isn’t even disguised with a name tweak. Certainly less famous than the Space Invaders franchise, Gallagher again gives a largely faithful conversion. Your white tracker shifts your white rocket missile that you need to guide through the white whizzing meteorite asteroid rock things to hit the white space saucers that are trying to drop zigzag-shaped bombs on you so you can take them out, score points, and beat that level, and get a high score with your three lives. If not for another very long piece of menu music and another iteration of the stock space/terrain background, you wouldn’t notice much difference at all. As with Space Invasion II, Galaxy Wars is another successfully addictive arcade conversion.

The Amazing Adventures
Of Harry Haddock
Harry's a real fish out of water,
with an irresponsible diet
Level 2 (of 2) takes place at night
The fourth and final game in this collection sticks out like a sore thumb for so many reasons. The Amazing Adventures Of Harry Haddock (labelled as Harry The Haddock on the disk sticker, presumably to save space) is not an arcade conversion or even as directly influenced by a classic arcade title as Dodge Em is. It’s a pure platformer that’s wrong on so, so many levels that it qualifies as pure madness. You load the game up, and once you’re there, you’re treated to an Amiga style instrumentation of the Baywatch theme tune. As if that wasn’t bad enough, while a piece of example level scrolls left and right, you get a face full of the titular character, with his lifeguard shorts, eyes that stick out the top of his head, enough bright red lipstick for the entire Baywatch cast, and a giant surfboard (not seen in game). So you press fire as soon as you can to get rid of this garish experience, and things get dark. The loading screen features another giant-sized image of Harry posing with a floppy disk. He seems to be wearing sunglasses that are apparently the colour of haddock hide, which is a bit weird. Then, when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, you hear the background music for the game itself. It’s another Amiga style instrumental, this time of Whigfield’s late 1994 hit “Saturday Night”, cementing the game’s musical score as not only a musical time capsule of sorts, but possibly the worst of all time.

Look at his skin, look at the shades
Once you’ve recovered from that shock, you need to play quickly. Harry has a time limit for completing a level, of which there are a whopping two. To score points, you need to collect all sorts of junk from multicoloured diamonds, stars and coins to presumably edible items such as burgers, cake, coke and canned apple juice, all of which come with various sparkling, swallowing or slurping sounds. You need to jump Harry across the level, and his rapid spring up and slow float down are an unusual quirk that needs a little getting used to. Harry can move so fast that he can’t walk down a downward slope, he just floats over the top, one of a few signs that the game was rushed. Most platforms are solid lumps, but you do get a couple of mobile ones and disappearing ones to keep the interest up. The main hazards are the birds, crabs and occasional octopus that move around a platform typically minding their own business, but are deadly enough to kill Harry upon contact. The other enemies are time (you lose the whole game if you run out of time, no life-losing mechanic here) and, bizarrely, water. Harry, a haddock, a fish, needs to stay out of water to stay alive. I accept that anything else would warp the idea of a platformer somewhat, but this makes absolutely no sense. The gameplay, like your typical Towerbyte game, is simplistic but lasting, and this playable game with all of its horrendous features makes it a shining example of the “classic for all the wrong reasons” category, which most prominently features Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker.

This little disk is far from perfect, but it is special. It brought arcade gameplay into the home in a spectacularly low budget fashion, and provided a huge amount of time-killing potential. Especially armed with a joystick, Space Invasion II and Galaxy Wars offer similar but acceptably different bona fide arcade experiences, and are a pleasure. Dodge Em has a slightly shorter shelf-life, but is an interesting spin on an all time classic. The Amazing Adventures Of Harry Haddock is, well, amazing. It’s wacky, it’s fun, it’s crazy, it’s outrageous, and by the time you’ve shaken yourself out of the mind-crippling shock that the sheer idiocy it throws at you, you’re already hooked. Even in a gaming age where not so many titles could be accused of glossing over substantial gaming in favour of neat graphics and sounds, Towerbyte Software demonstrated that if you gave them nothing more than a little beer money, they could give you hours of fun, but not in that way.