ROBIN CANDY concludes the saga of our favourite marketing tool — the contrived tie-in
BOOK TIE-INS have, not surprisingly, led mostly to adventures, which recreate the book’s atmosphere of textual intricacy just as arcade games can seem like fast-moving films.
Probably the most famous tie-in ever, and one of the first great games to emerge on the Spectrum, was The Hobbit, based on J R R Tolkien’s tale of dragons, elves and dwarfs. The game followed the short novel’s story line very closely and careful reading of the book could get the player out of most sticky situations.
The Hobbit (which appeared the year before CRASH and so was never reviewed) was revolutionary in two areas: graphics and interaction. In 1983 most adventures were text-only, so though The Hobbit’s graphics weren’t revolutionary in themselves, there was a novelty in pulling graphics to a quality game.
After The Hobbit, the big chain stores insisted that any game they stocked had graphics, and though the text purists complained that this resulted in a poorer game, graphics undoubtedly increased sales.
And The Hobbit features complex character-interaction through a parser system developed by its programmer, Philip Mitchell, called Inglish, the like of which had never been seen on the Spectrum. The player can communicate with the other characters using the SAY TO command, though most of the time all it results in is Thorin sitting down and singing about gold...
Later Tolkien’s great follow-on from The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, became two games which sum up many of the problems of book tie-ins (see below).
Quicksilva’s The Snowman (78% Overall in Issue 3) — one of its last releases before being bought by Argus Press — was based on the book of the same name by Raymond Briggs. The book relied on gentle cartoons without words — as did the film adaptation — to convey the delightful story of a snowman who comes to life for one chilly night. Beyond its graphic similarities, however, the game doesn’t have much to do with the original tale, so though it’s fun as a tie-in it is irrelevant.
H G Wells wrote The Shape Of Things To Come, but his prophecies did not include a computer game of another of his books; War Of The Worlds (46% Issue 7), released by CRL, adheres to Jeff Wayne’s famous musical rendition rather than Wells’s original text. Clues can be gleaned from knowledge of the album with the odd musical clue provided in the game. The first few graphics are atmospheric and beautifully drawn (for the time), but the game is a poorly-presented adventure with frustrating sudden death its main thrill. Considered as a tie-in, though, War Of The Worlds is one of the most relevant and basing the game on the best-selling musical score rather than the original novel was a sensible marketing ploy.
Sherlock (8/10 Issue 9), written for Melbourne House by the same programmers as The Hobbit, isn’t based on any specific book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but rather on the supersleuth’s character. It had taken many months to program and because of that and The Hobbit’s success, expectations were high.
Like The Hobbit, Sherlock is rife with bugs but nevertheless presents an excellent adventure centred on a murder which Holmes and trusty Watson must solve before Inspector Lestrade makes a goof-up of the case and convicts an innocent bystander. The SAY TO command — better used than in The Hobbit — is necessary to solve the mystery. And having played the game at length, I find it particularly close to its original source in atmosphere and characterisation — it’s also fiendishly difficult to complete.
Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe of 1719 — one of the earliest novels — must be the oldest subject of a tie-in, but Automata’s adventure version (5/10 Issue 10) is distant from the original. It’s a gentle satire, with Crusoe stranded on ‘a remote island in Yorkshire’ and trying to get home to sue his travel agent!
Hill MacGibbon’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s fable novel Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (63% Issue 19) centres on the five winners of the competition set up by Mr Wonker. Each of the winners is allowed to visit the chocolate factory as well as receiving a lifetime’s supply of chocolate, but there is a sinister motive...
It’s divided into five subgames: in the first four Charlie rescues one of the other characters, while on the final screen the object is to collect golden keys and gain access to the Glass Lift. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory relates only vaguely to the book and film, and the licence is little more than a way to sell an unsatisfying game.
In the same month, August 1985, Century Hutchinson released the game based on Frederick Forsyth’s bestseller The Fourth Protocol. It’s an adventure and, probably because of that, follows the book’s plot quite closely. John Preston, an MI5 investigator, is trying to foil a traitor’s plan to destabilise Britain and bring about the break-up of NATO by smuggling a nuclear device into Britain and detonating it on an American airbase.
The ensuing disaster would be blamed on America, and the consequent election of a hard-left Government would ensure departure from NATO. The Fourth Protocol (9/10 Issue 19) is played through use of windows, icons and pull-down menus — it was the first adventure to successfully use WIMPs in such detail. It’s an exciting game and a sensible tie-in which keeps closely to the spirit of the original, though reading the book gives away no major clues.
Two issues later, Derek Brewster reviewed another adventure — The Rats (70% Issue 21) by Hodder And Stoughton (a rare excursion into computer-gaming by a book publisher, like Century Hutohinson’s with The Fourth Protocol), based on James Herbert’s grim horror novel about maddened rats taking over Britain.
The game roughly follows the book’s story line and gives options to choose from when input is required. The object is simple enough — annihilate the rats and save mankind — but it’s a tricky game to play, and documentation is poor, leaving a lot of points unclear. Still, it makes a good tie-in: the text descriptions have the same gory feeling as the book and generate a frightening atmosphere while maintaining the impression that time is of the essence.
Level 9 and Mosaic teamed up to let loose The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole on an suspecting public. It was reviewed twice, Derek Brewster giving it 9/10 as an adventure, the CRASH team 86%, both in Issue 23 — a curious departure from the normal treatment of reviews which possibly reflected an equally odd departure from style for Level 9.
Instead of being in Level 9’s usual text-and-graphics adventure format, The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole is more a decision-taking game (not unlike The Rats) where the player chooses an action from several options and the game then proceeds accordingly. It follows Sue Townsend’s humorous mock diary of adolescent tribulations closely enough with new twists added to familiar problems. Knowledge of the book is helpful but doesn’t make the game substantially easier.
Virgin snapped up the licence for The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole (88% Issue 39), Townsend’s sequel, but it was programmed once again by Level 9 and plays in the same style as the first game. It follows the book closely, so knowing it is certainly an asset, but The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole isn’t really very hard to solve. Level 9 managed to provide some of the book’s gently, realistically satiric mood, but, as Derek Brewster pointed out in CRASH, Townsend’s original is much funnier.
In March 1986 Melbourne House released the licensed version of The Lord Of The Rings (9/10 Issue 26). It’s worth looking at this in some detail, because it sums up the problems confronting any tie-in.
Following on from The Hobbit, J R A Tolkien’s epic trilogy tells the tale of four hobbits and their quest to destroy the one ruling ring of evil Sauron. The book is divided into three equally massive parts, but the game — itself split into two parts — only follows the plot of the first book (The Fellowship Of The Ring) from the departure of the hobbits from Bag End to the breaking up of the fellowship. Problems to be overcome include getting over Sam Ford and escaping from the Barrow Wights.
You can play any one of the four hobbits at anytime, while the computer controls the others. Though this widens the scope of interaction it also makes the game painfully slow to play. In the end I found it best to choose Frodo and leave the computer to control the others.
And what could have been a very atmospheric program is spoiled by the odd inaccuracy. For example, EXAMINEing the notice board in Bag End shows that there are some photographs pinned to it at a time when cameras haven’t even been thought of! It’s a simple mistake, but one that detracts from the adventure’s credibility.
I suppose it would have been hard to adapt such a complex tale in a way that would please everyone. Programmers asked to convert well-known books to games face a similar predicament to that of film directors — they have to decide what to leave out, and how to portray the characters. When someone reads a book they build up their own conception of a character’s personality and the importance of events.
That’s why countless attempts to adapt The Lord Of The Rings to the big screen as a live-action film have come to naught (and Bakshi’s dubious cartoon rendition doesn’t count). The programmers of The Lord Of the Rings game were doomed from the start in the same way; it was impossible to represent all the scenes of the books without turning the game into a rerun of the text and making it too easy to play, but leaving out certain parts and altering others seems like sacrilege to die-hard fans of Tolkien’s work.
As an adventure The Lord Of The Rings is (despite the many bugs) an excellent game, but as a representation of the book it necessarily leaves a lot to be desired.
In June 1987 Melbourne House, now under the wing of Mastertronic, released Shadows Of Mordor (93% Issue 41), the second game in the Lord Of The Rings series. It centres on the adventures of Sam and Frodo in The Two Towers, the second volume of the long trilogy, leaving out the separate goings-on of the other hobbits.
In gameplay it’s similar to The Lord Of The Rings, but the player can control only two hobbits — Sam or Frodo or both. Thorin (from The Hobbit) is resurrected in the form of Smeagol. It’s a relief that he doesn’t continually sit down and sing about gold, but instead Smeagol is continually sneaking off into the bushes.
Shadows Of Mordor is as slow as its predecessor and presents an untidy face. Still, as an adventure it’s highly complex and very enjoyable, though keeping to the atmosphere of Middle Earth rather than Tolkien’s story line.
Both The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit have been parodied, though oddly the later game was done first. Delta 4’s Bored Of The Rings (7.5/10 Issue 18) was based on the short Harvard Lampoon book which mocked Tolkien’s grandiose mythology, and the same programmers did The Boggit (9O% Issue 32) for CRL.
Gremlin Graphics’s Way Of The Tiger (93% Issue 28) was not adapted from a particular book but based on the Fighting Fantasy series written by Jamie Thomson (ex-Features Editor of White Dwarf magazine) and Mark Smith. All the books portray the player as a ninja warrior in a series of martial-arts adventures.
Keeping this in mind, the game could be said to be a fair representation of the books, but when it comes down to it Way Of The Tiger is a pure and simple beat-’em-up split into three levels. (The first features hand-to-hand combat, the second pole fighting and the third swordplay.)
And it’s one of the best beat-em-ups ever, with detailed graphics and smooth animation (the only letdown is the annoying multiload system) — but as a Fighting Fantasy tie-in it’s dubious.
In Issue 30 the eponymous hero of Biggles (63%), star of numerous boys’ adventure books and one recent — though heavily delayed — movie, finally kept his appointment with a Spectrum. The Mirrorsoft game follows the film’s plot very closely, and so only just scrapes into this section of book tie-ins — but the intrepid pilot of Empire is far better remembered as hero of Captain W E Johns’s many books than for the insipid movie...
It’s divided into several separate games based on film sequences, rather like Domark’s game of the James Bond film The Living Daylights. But this mishmash of subgames spoils the atmosphere.
With First Steps With The Mr Men and Word Games With The Mr Men, Mirrorsoft didn’t even attempt to follow story lines. Using the characters drawn by Roger Hargreaves, whose names (Mr Greedy, Mr Happy, Mr Grumpy, Mr Strong etc) reflect their caricatured behaviour, the programmers created two educational games for children aged four to eight years. A case of a popular name being put to good purpose.
The first program is a shape- and letter-recognition game, the second is concerned with teaching children to read. Rosetta McLeod reviewed both, and concluded that they were of a reasonable standard, though probably suitable for children younger than Mirrorsoft proposed.
Rupert Bear was given two Spectrum outings: Rupert And The Toymaker’s Party (54% Issue 22) and Rupert And The Ice Castle (50% Issue 32), both from Argus, but the first on the Quicksilva label and the second from Bug-Byte. Neither is wonderful — though to be fair, they are designed to appeal to younger children — largely because both suffer from blandness and little relevance to the inanely gentle Rupert of the comic strips.
Martech took a swing across the jungle with Tarzan (73% Issue 36), the character that made Edgar Rice Burroughs famous. The story has Tarzan rescuing Jane from Usanga, chief of the Wamabo. The action is viewed from the side — a jungle full of vicious panthers, lethal quicksand and natives who aren’t too keen on Tarzan’s intrusion — with monochromatic graphics, beautifully-detailed but a bit repetitive.
There was some ambiguity in the CRASH review, one comment stating ‘Tarzan is very slightly based on the film’. But there have been many Tarzan films, the most recent being Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes. It’s probably the closest to Rice Burroughs’s original story, but the Martech game bears no resemblance to it. The reviewer was probably referring to the TV series starring Ron Ely which featured Tarzan running around a lot rescuing Jane, Ji, Cheetah, missionaries and anyone else who needed help — and, apart from the name, they bore even less resemblance to the Rice Burroughs stories!
Spectrum tie-ins are not the only guilty ones...
The last major book tie-in (though probably most associated it with films rather than with Bram Stoker’s little-read novel) was CRL’s Dracula (89% Issue 37), which Derek Brewster found ‘well-written and a good read’. Rod Pike’s controversial adaptation got a 15 certificate from the British Board Of Film Censors, just as CRL’s Jack The Ripper (reviewed this issue — a celebrity tie-in?) is rated 18.
TYING IN a celebrity is essentially done to get an endorsement from the famous person for your product, even though the game involved may be called anything (or be about almost anything); but there can little doubt that Ocean would have sold far less copies of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon (82% Issue 10) if they had called it, say, Sports Special. It was the first endorsed game of any note, and it was something of a coup for Ocean to have secured the favour of Thompson when he was at the height of his fame so soon after the Olympics.
Daley Thompson’s Decathlon followed a spate of releases that were firmly based on the arcade hit Track And Field, and typically it’s played by furiously waggling the joystick to achieve maximum speed. It’s a niggling point, I know, but as a tie-in the game on the Spectrum failed by making the playing character white, when, as we all know, Daley is quite black.
Exactly a year later Ocean followed up the hit with Daley Thompson’s Supertest (76% Issue 22) — but it looked like mortis celebritis had set in. The sequel features eight events, all of which had appeared elsewhere, and none of which has anything to do with Daley Thompson. While most events are well-presented, the unendorsed Hypersports is the better sports game.
Pool and snooker had always been popular subjects for the Spectrum, and following the success of two earlier computer versions of pool CDS released Steve Davis Snooker (77% Issue 12) in time for Christmas ’84. The Steve Davis connection is really pure endorsement — the game doesn’t have anything to do with Davis other than the obvious snooker link, though CDS managed to drag the star to The PCW Show to be seen playing it on an Amstrad. And it’s certainly the snooker game to surpass all others.
Novelty is all-important, especially with sports simulations, so New Generation was lucky to happen on one sport which hadn’t been played to death by the software houses — and as far as I know the personality tie-in Jonah Barrington’s Squash (87% Issue 17) is the only game that deals with the high-speed sport. Viewed from behind the back wall of the court, the game keeps faithfully to the rules of squash and, just as in the sport, it’s hard to get the feel of things. Jonah Barrington not only lent his name to the game but also his voice — it can be heard calling out the scores (with a little amplification).
Some sports naturally lend themselves to the computer, but perhaps the oddest is Alligata’s Jack Charlton’s Match Fishing (74% Issue 18 — ‘rating from a fisherperson’s viewpoint’, said CRASH) which, frankly, didn’t. The great Charlton is apparently a mad-keen angler, but the game has nothing to do with him other than the endorsement and not a lot with fishing either. Its one noteworthy aspect is that up to eight can play, all waiting for a randomised fish to appear — in silence, with sandwiches and raincoats, presumably.
After Track And Field and snooker/pool, golf has ever been a Spectrum software favourite, so it was inevitable that after Daley Thompson and Steve Davis a golfing star would get the treatment. Nick Faldo kindly obliged by lending his name to a simulation by Argus Press Software. Nick Faldo Plays The Open overcomes many problems encountered in earlier golfing games through the use of icons. Selecting clubs, for instance, always a pain before, is made quick and simple. It was the best golfing simulation of its time, surpassed now, perhaps, by Leader Board.
Sports games were all the rage during Christmas ’85 and Martech, not be left out, released Geoff Capes Strongman (78% Issue 24). It features six events typically found in The Strangest Man In The World competitions in which Geoff Capes regularly takes part. Icons were also all the rage then, and here they are used to control the strength levels of individual muscles — but even this innovative approach fails to elevate the game above other sports simulations.
Sports-celebrity endorsement continued with Graham Gooch’s Test Cricket (65% Issue 25) from Audiogenic. There are two ways to play it: simulation and arcade modes. In the former you make tactical decisions rather than actually control the movements of the players, in the arcade game you control batting and bowling. It was the best cricket simulation at the time, but its lukewarm reception didn’t say much for its predecessors.
A spate of boxing simulations ended when Activision topped out with Barry McGuigan World Championship Boxing (88% Issue 25). More than just a bash-out in the ring, the game allows you to train a boxer to your own requirements, an aspect to be taken seriously if you want to become world champ.
Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes (42% Issue 38) combines computer with board game. The computer performs calculations while players move round the board. Like Addictive’s famous Football Manager it is a game of strategy, borrowing from Clough’s career. No-one was impressed with the use of the computer as surrogate dice, and the game is a boring management simulation.
Most real-life celebrities in computer games are sports stars, but there are a few interesting exceptions.
It is August 1985 and Frankie say: ‘Welcome to the Pleasuregame’, and set the software world ablaze with talk of icons and windows. A pop group isn’t the most obvious subject to base a game on, especially a group notorious for its provocative, not say blatantly sexual, behaviour. But Denton Designs was commissioned by Ocean to write a game to fit their unusual licence. The programmers’ only brief was that Ocean didn’t want a game with Frankies running around in it.
The result, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, was one of the best games of 1985 (94% Issue 19). Designs blended ideas from its previous hits Gift From The Gods and Shadowfire to introduce a new concept in games design. As a tie-in the game wasn’t based on any particular member of the group but rather on elements from the music and the images projected by record company ZTT.
You control the impressionist figure of the Frankie ‘Equation’, living a humdrum existence in Everydays-Ville... except nothing is quite as it seems within the shadow of the Pleasuredome. Magic is everywhere... inside the TV, at the back of the refrigerator, and who really knows what secrets the back of a sofa holds? By collecting pleasure points and becoming a well-formed character Frankie can enter the very centre of the Pleasuredome and Maximum Joy!
Frankie Goes To Hollywood is divided into subgames which are in some way connected to the Frankie ethos. For instance, one scene features Reagan and Chernenko fighting it out — the theme of the Two Tribes video. If nothing else, Frankie Goes To Hollywood proves just how rich a tie-in can be in the hands of programmers with fertile imaginations. Through a synthesis of arcade and adventure elements Denton Designs created one of the most enjoyable and imaginative games ever.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood wasn’t the only group featured in a game — inevitably, the Beatles eventually popped up. In Beatle Quest (7/10 Issue 27), marketed appropriately enough by Number 9, you don’t actually play any of the Beatles but rather a futuristic observer who must return objects to specified places. It features lyrics officially endorsed by the fab four, and the adventure manages to create a Sixties atmosphere. But the product only really appealed to those wanting a trip down Memory Lane (and probably Penny Lane too).
The appeal of Sam Fox Strip Poker (72% Issue 28) isn’t exactly universal either, and the Martech game caused some mixed feelings in the CRASH office. The endorsement of Sam’s body is gradually revealed as she sheds her clothes in blurry digitised pictures. If you play the game just for the picture it works out a lot easier (and cheaper) to pop round the newsagent’s and buy The Sun. Still, behind the endorsement is a very good poker game — and the pixelated pin-up is about to strike again with the imaginatively-named Sam Fox Strip Poker II. We’ll see whether programming advances match advances in what a girl can reveal.
Arguably it’s a book tie-in, but Virgin Games’s How To Be A Complete Bastard (73% issue 45) drew its, uh, inspiration from the eponymous Adrian Edmondson’s gross-out humour in general as well as his Virgin book. The player gate-crashes a yuppie party and earns points by being as obnoxious and malodorous as possible; the CRASH reviewers felt right at home with it.
Finally, there’ve been a few odd appearances by celebrities in games. Spectrum inventor Sir Clive Sinclair was reduced to a hapless sprite in Scorpio Gamesworld’s obscure C5 Clive (65% Issue 17) — the player guides Sir Clive through the streets in the unsuccessful electric vehicle he invented in real life!
A month earlier in 1985, the hero of British industry had been stuck without a C5 in Micromega’s A Day In The Life (59% Issue 15), where the object is to get Sir Clive through hazard-filled London to be knighted by the Queen.
And the Queen? There’s no tie-in we know of (‘your task is to keep up the victorious, happy and glorious levels, shown by an indicator at the top of the screen’), but Prince Charles did appear as a robot in Ocean’s Head Over Heels. CRASH was quite amused.
DANGERMOUSE got his own game, Dangermouse (In Double Trouble) (75% Issue 10), from Creative Sparks. As in the cartoon series Dangermouse is up against his old adversary Baron Greenback, who has created an android Dangermouse to help his plans for world domination. Creative Sparks managed to achieve considerable likeness to the cartoon characters, and the wacky scenes fit well the atmosphere of the original series. Naturally, the game’s best suited to younger players.
The mouse returned in Dangermouse In Making Whoopee (56% Issue 32) on the Sparklers label together with Baron Greenback. Again the graphics resemble those of the cartoon series, but this time the limp gameplay fails to capture any of the TV series’s atmosphere.
Not so the first Spy Vs Spy (93% Issue 19) from Beyond. It more than lives up to the anarchic antics of the crazy spies Black and White from MAD magazine, who spend their entire cartoon lives laying wild plots to do each other down.
It’s set in an office building, where the spies compete against each other and the clock to recover a set of top secret plans and escape in an aircraft. The game features ‘Simulvision’, a split-screen technique allowing two players to see what each other is up to. In visual presentation, actions such as the laying of spy-traps and the chuckling when one spy obliterates the other, Spy Vs Spy sticks close to its source and is one of the better comic tie-ins.
It’s a pity the same can’t be said of its sequel Spy Vs Spy, The Island Caper (53% Issue 41) by Databyte. Here the spies are stranded on an island where they search for the parts of a secret missile. It was fine on the Commodore 64 but was converted dreadfully. Bad programming and a poor choice of colours ruins a game with potential.
The spinach-swallowing sailor Popeye was featured in a game of the same name by Don Priestley for Dk’Tronics (90% Issue 20), later rereleased by Piranha. The screen area looks like a scene from the cartoon strip, with large and colourful graphics that somehow manage to avoid the worst of attribute problems. The game features elements from the cartoon series and is a successful tie-in not so much to any story but to the characters themselves.
Roland’s Rat Race (66% Issue 20), programmed by Denton Designs for Ocean — one of the team’s less notable games — is a sort of double tie-in. Not only is there the egregious cartoon/puppet rodent, but there’s also the plot, which sends Roland on a mission to rescue his friends and still have time to reach the TV AM studios.
But Roland’s Rat Race was a big letdown; colour clashes confuse the eye, it lacks gameplay and purpose, and has little connection with Roland Rat.
BC’s Quest For Tyres (46% Issue 23) was licensed by Software Projects from the widely-syndicated comic strip BC. You play the part of Thor who has to rescue Cute Chick from the Hungry Dinosaur. It’s a poor conversion of a poor Commodore 64 game, and suitably comic-strip graphics fail to recreate the original’s slapstick humour.
Indeed, most tie-ins with humorous cartoons have been disappointing, perhaps because the comedy of cartoons is based on hapless characters getting into disastrous situations rather than a player getting them out again!
Quicksilva had a go with TV’s The Flintstones in Yabba Dabba Doo! (81% Issue 26). Playing Fred Flintstone, you build yourself a snug cave in order to woo Wilma and live happily ever after. The graphics manage to recreate the cartoon’s prehistoric atmosphere (and helped its high rating), but the game’s humour suffers in comparison with the TV series.
After a long wait and several scrapped versions, Scooby Doo (91% Issue 33) finally made his debut on the Spectrum, released by Elite and programmed by Gargoyle Games. It’s probably the best Spectrum realisation of a cartoon character.
The canine hero makes a daring rescue mission into the castle where his friends are held captive. Nasties inhabit each level and can be sent to another dimension when Scooby socks it to ’em with a punch. The graphics are as good as those of the TV series, and so it’s both a great game and a good tie-in.
Having established a nice comic style of graphics in Popeye, Don Priestley put them to even better use for Piranha in Trap Door (88% Issue 33). The game, string Blu-Tack Berk, sticks faithfully to the TV series in graphics and style. The sequel, Through The Trap Door (70% Issue 47) is every bit as playable, but offers nothing significantly new and, like its predecessor, can get a bit monotonous.
The ever popular Roman-kicking Gaul Asterix made his games debut thanks (or no thanks) to Melbourne House in Asterix And The Magic Cauldron (61% Issue 34). The diminutive Asterix and his huge but stupid sidekick Obelix are out to recover seven pieces of a magic cauldron so that a strength-giving elixir can be brewed and their village kept safe from marauding Romans. The graphics are fair representations of the cartoon books but the programmers forgot to insert a game.
There was quite a long gap before someone else tried out a cartoon character, and then it was US Gold with Road Runner (73% Issue 43), a tie-in with the arcade game and the elderly cinema cartoon series. It’s not a bad representation of either, but colour clash on the Spectrum make the cartoon-quality graphics ugly. And there’s not much gameplay.
Just last month, two more cartoon animals hit the Spectrum screen from TV and film respectively.
Though it’s aimed at a young market, Piranha’s Yogi Bear (62% Issue 47) is harder than the average reviewer could manage; you control the furry hero in a simple 3-D arcade version of Jellystone park as he searches for food and fellow bear Boo Boo. The difficulty is the biggest drawback.
Gremlin Graphics’s Basil The Great Mouse Detective (73% Issue 47), also intended for young players, is much easier, with good graphics derived from the Walt Disney movie.
Tintin and Snowy may be next on the list of cartoon tie-ins — the licence to the daring boy adventurer of Hergé’s books and his absurdly intelligent white dog is now up for grabs, as CRASH exclusively reported earlier this year.
FOR YEARS American adventure programmer Scott Adams had been renowned for the quality of his games, but as they were written with disk access and far more than 48K in mind, Spectrum-owners had to content themselves with reading about them till Adventure International began some conversions.
And Adventure International was therefore one of the first companies to release a tie-in with a popular comic-strip hero. The Hulk (8/10 Issue 8) formed the first part of the Questprobe series which would feature various Marvel comic-book characters. The game doesn’t follow any particular comic or TV programme’s script, but stays rather with the atmosphere created in the comics.
Controlling Bruce Banner, you are to recover some valuable gems, but many of the problems encountered require assistance from your alter ego The Hulk. Derek Brewster said it was good but became repetitive on successive plays. The Hulk’s greatest strength lies in the large, colourful comic-style graphics.
Spider-Man (8/10 Issue 14) was the second in the Questprobe series from Adventure International. The object is similar to that of The Hulk; collect all the gems and overcome your foes in the process. Scott Adams created an adventure that didn’t need to rely on the reflected glory of its source, for Spider-Man is excellent as a game. It captures the attributes of the arachnoid hero perfectly, and again the superb comic-style graphics enhance the textual imagery.
The programmers of Electronic Pencil Company made a name for themselves with Century Hutchinson’s The Fourth Protocol (see the section on book tie-ins), and Zoids (96% Issue 25) for Martech only improved their standing. The scenario follows the eternal battle between the malevolent Red Zoids and the heroic Blue Zoids as described in brochures and comic strips given away with the mechanical self-assembly toys.
It could have been an awful licence, but Electronic Pencil Company capitalised on the toys’ do-it-yourself element and the strategy/adventure notions of The Fourth Protocol accessed through icons and windows representing a mind-merge with the electronic brain of the Zoid you control, creating an original game of high quality that uses its tie-in source as a sensible departure point.
Mikro-Gen tried its hand at a comic-strip (and TV-series) tie-in with Battle Of The Planets (71% Issue 26). The cartoon series pits five members of G-Force against Zoltar and the forces of Spectre. The game’s scenario based on this notion, but bears absolutely no resemblance to the TV series, looking more like a version of Battlezone or Elite.
An issue later, Ocean released Transformers (60%), diving into the continuing battle between the autobots and the decepticons with a licence that nobly tied up with its source series in scenario style and some of the animations — but provided a poor game.
But then Ocean promptly made up for it by releasing Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond’s Batman (93% Issue 28) with the caped crusader making a timely entrance in dramatic style. When Boy Wonder Robin is kidnapped, it’s a fine time to discover the Batmobile in pieces. You explore the Batcave to find and assemble the Batmobile’s parts or Robin is done for.
Batman is derivative of other 3-D isometric games but manages to improve on the formula by including many special effects. The connection with Batman, however, lies only in the graphic character of the hero, and even so there aren’t any of Batman’s traditional foes to overcome.
2000AD characters ought to be ideal for computer games, but they haven’t fared at all well (yet) — Strontium Dog (42% Issue 13) from Quicksilva is a confusing and tedious example, and Nemesis The Warlock (61% Issue 40), released by Martech, though blessed with suitable graphics, lacks excitement.
Piranha’s Rogue Trooper (79% Issue 36), though programmed by Design Design, hardly helped. The game — his unit betrayed and systematically wiped out, Rogue Trooper embarks on a mission to recover the vital evidence needed to convict the traitor — is far too easy to get through.
But Piranha did much better than Melbourne House did with another 2000AD character. As the hero of Judge Dredd (42% Issue 38), you go through the futuristic city capturing — or eliminating — unfortunate perps. The graphics are well-drawn but spoiled by a host of attribute problems, and the game itself is extremely boring — a great licence opportunity ruined by poor implementation.
There’s another 2000AD licence reviewed this issue — Martech’s strange Sláine — and there was a feature on the comic’s tie-ins last issue.
US Gold’s Masters Of The Universe (28% Issue 38) must be one of the most abysmal tie-ins ever. Controlling an ill-defined He-Man you enter Castle Greyskull, rescue Orko the Wizard and overthrow evil Skeletor. Presentation and gameplay are simply appalling.
And then there’s Challenge Of The Gobots (37% Issue 43) from Reaktör, yet another dreadful tie-in. Controlling Leader-1 you embark on a dangerous mission to rescue your friends. Whatever one might have imagined the game could look like, no-one could have been prepared for something faintly reminiscent of the ancient Commodore 64 hit Sheep In Space. Poor content, poor programming and steep price resulted in an extremely disappointing product.