Being a gamer these days is hard work.
As well as actually playing games in the first place, you then feel obliged to go online and offer/defend your opinion about those games in skank-packed forums that frequently get all heavy and toxic, like a blancmange made of polonium.
So shall we remind ourselves of the good old days, where no one cared what your opinion was and – sans internet – you couldn’t tell anyone you weren’t stood next to anyway, by reviewing an 8-bit game?
And better still, an 8-bit game that literally no one else but me has ever played, so no one else CAN have an opinion on it? Sounds like a plan to me.
Why is this game so rare, I don’t hear but am going to assume you asked for purposes of exposition?
Well, because I wrote it when I was 10, and I found it in a box in the loft last week.
The cassette has degraded and I don’t have a Speccy these days anyway (hence no screenshots, but I have done you a nice drawing of roughly what it looked like, on a novelty Post-it note), but here’s what I remember – give or take 30 years of near-constant forgetting.
As you might have guessed from the quite frankly wildly overenthusiastically punctuated title, this is a beat-em-up.
In fact it’s as pure a beat-em-up as you can get, as due to the not-unrelated facts of (A) I programmed it in BASIC, and (B) Because I was terrible at programming in BASIC, there was no AI to fight back. Essentially, the player just bludgeoned their opponent repeatedly until the end of the round.
While obviously this is horrifyingly violent and should have earned it an age rating that meant I, the programmer, was banned from testing my own game, I justified it narratively by saying on the cassette cover that you were trying to save ‘the town’ from a ‘bomb’.
Essentially, I pre-empted the hit TV show 24’s casual approach to appalling torture being an acceptable means to and end by about 20 years.
At the time I didn’t say which town or who was trying to bomb it or why, but from what I remember of the graphics it was pretty bland, square and horrible so let’s assume it was Milton Keynes, and the protagonists don’t like roundabouts.
Your person moved from stage to stage – station, docks (do they have docks in Milton Keynes? Well they might have had in the 1980s, so let’s assume so), shopping mall and so on – until they got to the final boss.
Who was as unresponsive as the other enemies combat-wise, but just bigger. In fact, he was more or less a sphere, as that was the best I could manage to his imply daunting size. So possibly an evil version of Pac Man? Let’s say no, he wasn’t – if only to avoid lawsuits from Namco.
Hang on, you say, if the enemies didn’t fight back, what was the ‘game’? Ah, well that’s the true work of genius (by which I mean shoddy bodge job).
On each level you could either kick, punch or headbutt your opponent. Kicks made your lower limb extend in a frankly disturbing manner to impact with your opponent’s torso, not entirely unresembling the sort of appendage they extend to do in-flight refuelling between jets.
A punch did much the same, only higher up your body. A headbutt, to avoid the illusion-shattering appearance of decapitation and/or ‘giraffe neck’, moved your square head graphic one block forwards so it was effectively on the character’s shoulder.
It didn’t connect with your enemy, because - again - I was a lousy programmer and couldn’t render this in pixels. It counted as a hit nonetheless. Each blow took down your opponent’s health, but the ‘game’ was thus that on each stage you could only use each move a certain number of times. This varied from level to level.
Overdo it, and the ‘GAME OVER’ screen would come up, telling you you’d sprained your wrist/ankle/neck, and your enemy had won. Why no modern beat-em-up has taken this purist approach is mystifying.
In another remarkably ahead-of-it’s-time move, your protagonist could be either male or female.
Not because I was a surprisingly right-on 10-year-old, but because I was so poor at creating graphics in BASIC that the gender of the player character was essentially undeterminable.
It could equally have been a rendering of your violent Uncle Pat, a deranged Grandmother off her face on sherry, or Nude-O 4000 – a genital-free android from space who really likes duffing stuff up.
In summary: while I was about as convincing a programmer as a length of hose tied to your belt with a shoe on the end is an artificial limb, it wasn’t too bad for a second game.
My first effort had been a boring text adventure about a giant evil lorry (no, really – I think I probably nicked the idea off of an episode of Knight Rider), so it was certainly a step up from that. Albeit a fairly uneven step strewn with vomit, man wee and fag ends, like you’d find outside a city-centre Wetherspoons at 3am.
Alas, my planned third game – a real leap forward that would have seen you play a character trapped in a 3D maze – never got off the ground, because I realised I didn’t have the slightest idea how to make any of it happen onscreen.
I learned everything I knew from a vast and stupefyingly dull partwork magazine called Input, which I only had 1 volume of, and if they did 3D graphics it certainly wasn’t in Volume 1.
So being sensible I immediately gave up my blossoming career as a coder and went back to trying to do wheelies on my Raleigh Grifter. Which was equally impossible because, as any fellow former Grifter owners will know, the frame of the bike was made out of unrefined pig iron and it weighted around 50,000 tonnes.
I think it’s probably a bit late for a programming comeback now, especially as I can’t even remember the feeble amount of BASIC I used to know.
But as the Wu Tang Clan demonstrated recently by releasing an album as a single copy and getting some buffoon to pay a load of money for it, there might still be a chance to cash in on my previous work thanks to people being really stupid.
So if there are any particularly rich idiots who’ve bought a ZX Vega thingy who want a unique and almost certainly unplayable urban combat experience, let me know – we’ll start the bidding at £1 million?
In the meantime, did you ever quite wrongly see yourself as the next Shigeru Miyamoto and write anything equally terrible in your youth? Let us know in the comments, love.
MR BIFFO'S GAMES OF MY YEARS