This is the second of an ongoing series of posts in which I list, in ascending order, the games that have most influenced me. This entry contains one NSFW image. Or at least, my mum said it was NSFW in 1987. You have been warned.
If you want to know how and why this project started, read this introduction.
Now, let’s jump right in shall we?
ZX Spectrum, 1986
Let me pitch to you the best game you'll ever play. You start in a jeep. You have to cross a damaged bridge, making daring jumps between broken sections while constantly under attack from enemy armoured cars and helicopters. Survive that challenge and you'll be able to steal a helicopter. You'll take the fight to the enemy air force in three different theatres of war - a Middle Eastern desert, across an ocean, and then… well it looks like Vietnam? Vietnam. Fight your way past waves of jets and surface-to-air defences to finally reach the jungle. You'll have to proceed on foot from here, picking a safe route across marshy terrain while beset by exotic birds and some dickheads throwing grenades. Eventually you'll reach the Nazi... erm, Nazis? OK fine, Nazi base. You'll pull out your trusty machine gun, infiltrate the compound, kill hordes of soldiers and steal some top secret documents from a safe - Trump's tax returns perhaps - thus completing your mission.
Army Moves was ambitious, pretty and polished, but it suffered by overreaching. It's essentially three games in one: Two variations on run-and-gun platforming, separated by a scrolling shmup. Each of them could and should have been expanded upon to become a decent game in itself. In fact it's not hard to find other games that essentially do just that: the jeep and helicopter combat was later refined in the excellent Silkworm, and the ground combat is like Green Beret with all the variety removed. The final stage, set inside the enemy base, has the most promise. You climb ladders, go through doors, shoot baddies... it has the makings of a superb exploration-based run-and-gun. But after playing through six earlier stages, and in a technical sense probably because of those stages, it lacks the depth and excitement it would need to become a truly worthwhile climax.
Although not a great game, the lesson of limiting scope and refining a core gameplay experience rings true even today. Army Moves, then, was influential mostly because of what it wasn't.
ZX Spectrum, 1983
Contrasting with Army Moves, Lunar Jetman is a great example of how limited scope and a core of fun mechanics makes for a great game. Playing as era icon Jetman, you shoot aliens with your trusty laser while using your lunar rover to transport a bomb to an enemy base. On arrival you carry the bomb up above the base with your jet-pack, drop it to destroy the installation, and repeat. Don't delay - you only have a few precious minutes to succeed before the aliens launch missiles that will destroy both you and the entire Earth, the assholes.
With simple controls done well, a long difficulty curve, and graphics that were attractive for the time and only as complex as they needed to be, Lunar Jetman was deservedly seen as a must-have classic on the Speccy. Annoyingly, however, I never did have it. I played it on my friend's computer, and I wanted it, but it somehow never made its way into my collection.
Incidentally, having checked the Wikipedia entry I find yet another reason why I should have owned Lunar Jetman: it supported the Currah Microspeech cartridge, which my dad had stupidly bought alongside my Spectrum. As it stands the only game I ever owned that used it was a crappy dungeon crawler thing that I couldn’t understand. I could make it say “bum” in BASIC though.
Jack The Nipper
ZX Spectrum, 1986
Jack is a toddler who makes behaving like a dick his only goal in life and no amount of Duplo is going to distract him. His story begins with him escaping the confines of his cot, whereupon he proceeds to wander out of the house in his nappy. He potters around the town looking for trouble to cause. He smashes up a China Shoppe, which was asking for it anyway. He visits the graveyard, presumably to weep at the grave of his mother’s dreams. He even goes to Just Micro, the real-world Sheffield base of developer Gremlin Graphics. And since it’s the 1980s, any adults (or animals, or aliens) Jack comes into contact with him give him a smack, resulting in him suffering nappy rash. If his nappy rash gets bad enough he dies at the hands of his abusers, though he does have five lives.
All in all this sounds like a fairly worrisome experience, but Jack The Nipper was in fact a rather tame graphical adventure cum platform game. It lacked some of the puzzle sophistication and graphical style of its contemporaries in either genre - Dizzy was released the following year, for instance - but it wasn’t a terrible game by any means. It had a sense of humour at least, perhaps being the Beano equivalent to How To Be A Complete Bastard’s smut. (HTBACB will be covered in a future post - not that much in the future, I assure you.)
I include it in my influences mainly due to the fact that I couldn't do it. I wasn’t clever enough. I failed. A child's adventure about a toddler. Christ.
ZX Spectrum, 1987
Game Over was perhaps less influential for its gameplay or graphics than for the fact that it was one of my formative sexual experiences. (It wasn’t. Just run with it OK?)
Game Over first popped up in the Speccy press in July 1987 - Your Sinclair issue 19, Page 73 (the one stuck to page 72). It was an astonishing sight. The game looked OK I guess, a sort of sci-fi action platformer that suffered for entering the market alongside Exolon. It also suffered from atrocious attribute clash, and although it did feature some impressively large enemy sprites the actual combat with them was woeful.
Game Over, however, had two particularly impressive things going for it. They’re called boobs, Ed.
The initial marketing campaign for Game Over featured what appears to be popular actress Anne Hathaway, from the future, with her knockers out. You can imagine the reaction when all the 12 year old boys’ mums caught sight of this. There were calls for the magazines to be withdrawn from sale. To be fair, Anne is pictured wearing a sort of see-through bra which really does lend an air of grace and dignity to the picture.
A month later - spot the difference - the adverts had been changed to more appropriately reflect the moral standards of a good Christian 1980s gaming press. But the damage had been done, millions of young boys, myself included, had been corrupted. We’d do anything to catch a look at a sexy lady picture. We called page threes “noddies.” We traded them in the playground. We all knew that the best source was the woodland behind the fire station. We all knew that Andrew Asquith had the best collection.
That's your lot. Only 450 to go and I'm sure it'll fly by.
Next: Ping Pong to Beach Head
Thanks for reading. Did you rate these games or hate these games? Hit the comments below.