18/11/2016

SACHEN'S UNLICENSED NES GAME COVERS

Sachen. Thin Chen Enterprises. Joy Van. A Taiwanese company know by many names, but know for one thing: putting out dozens of unlicensed games, mostly for the NES and Famicom. Some of their games are bad, some of them are very bad and one of them has the wonderful title Worm Visitor. Good job coming up with a name that makes it sound like a game about what happens to your corpse once it’s buried, Sachen. Anyway, today’s article isn’t about any one of their games, because then I’d have to play through a Sachen game, so instead here’s a look at some of their game’s cover art. Hopefully I can come up with plenty of synonyms for “amateurish.”
Little Red Hood


So, not a game about the childhood years of the Batman villain, then? No, it’s about Little Red Riding Hood. It’s a cover made from clip-art, said clip-art being carefully composed to make it look like Red Riding Hood is kicking a goblin right up the arse. She looks like she’s having a rare old time, too. Are we seeing the origin story of B.B. Hood from Darkstalkers here? It’s a short step from kicking goblins to mowing down werewolves with an uzi, or at least it will be when I finally make my own RPG. Joke's on Red, that goblin behind her is about to get her with his invisible garotte.
Also, don’t overlook that weird neckless dog in the background, biting another goblin on the rump. The backside is a goblin’s weak point, apparently. Speaking of rear ends, cover the front end of that dog up and tell me you’re not now looking at the back end of a horse.

Pipe V


“Who is this year’s champion plumber” asks the game’s tagline… except there’s no question mark, so I guess it’s not a question and we’re being told that someone called Who is this year’s champion plumber. Congratulations, Who. I hope you’ve got a nice spot in your house to display your Golden U-Bend trophy. I’m going to assume that the deformed homunculus on the left of the screen isn’t Who, because there’s no way he’s a good enough plumber to win a championship. His oversized apron is a tripping hazard, his spanners are too small and all the pipes in the background are spraying water everywhere. No, he’s the regular, normal kind of useless plumber.

Pipemania


This is the same game as Pipe V, but renamed for the Australian market and given a new piece of cover of art. So, now we get to see the lost Mario Brother slowly drowning to death. Now, I’m not marketing executive – I have a soul, for starters – but I have to think that this image will do little to lure in prospective players. If my kid saw Pipemania and said “daddy, that’s the game I want!” I’d get the phone book out and start circling a few numbers for child therapists.

Double Strike


If you’re going to have your box art be a big picture of a man’s face, what’s the best angle to draw them from? Why, so you can see right up their nose, of course! It really hammers home the feeling that you’re looking at someone laying in a field, staring up at a nearby air show while he waits for the peyote to kick in.

Metal Fighter


Oh good, here comes the peyote now. What the bloody hell is going on here? Are these thing fighting? Are they even made of metal? That thing at the bottom appears to have seas anemones for hands, and they’re not made of metal. The top, erm, thing is presumably the metal fighter of the title, looking as it does like T-Bob from M.A.S.K. who was at least made of metal even if he wasn’t much of a fighter. I short, I don’t have a sodding clue what’s going on here apart from very poorly placed typography.

Pyramid


Hey, this one’s not too bad! I could see it being the cover of an officially licensed game, and unlike Metal Fighter the picture of a female pharaoh actually has something to do with the title of the game. I mean, it’s not a good picture. It looks too much like the d├ęcor in a shabby casino for that, but it’s appropriate and when it comes to the covers of Sachen games that really is the best you can hope for.

Silent Assault


It doesn’t looks very silent. Bombs tend to be quite loud.
I’ve written all about Silent Assault, and it might sound scarcely believable but this cover art is somehow less ugly than the game itself. You wouldn’t think much could be worse than a life-sized version of those shitty Chinese action figures from Poundland, the ones with names like “USA GI HERO FORCE,” but at least this artwork isn’t composed entirely in garish neon tones. Plus, I like that the soldier is going into battle with his medals pinned to his chest. He single-handedly repulsed the Glorganoid invasion fleet to get that medal, dammit, and he’s going to wear it all the god damned time. I bet he sleeps with it pinned to his pyjamas. Its presence comforts him, distracting the soldier from from the horror that is his own messed-up face. His head looks like a carrot with human features crudely carved into it, an effect heightened by the foliage growing on his helmet. However, if you think this face looks bad, check out the alternate cover to Silent Assault.


Ha ha ha. Hahahaha! Incredible! He’s part human killing machine, part gurning champion and, if his independently-swivelling eyeballs are anything to go by, part chameleon. His sergeant ordered him to put on his war face, but he misunderstood and tried to capture the full horror, savagery and pointless waste of human life of war in one facial expression. He failed, clearly. The last time I saw a facial expression like that was when I tried to explain the plot of the entire Metal Gear series to a friend.

Tagin’ Dragon


I haven’t got a clue what “Tagin’ Dragon” is supposed to mean. Maybe he’s really into Moroccan cooking and it’s supposed to be Tagine Dragon.
Most videogames are pretty odd when you stop and think about them, but while “Italian plumber jumps on mushrooms” and “blue hedgehog runs fast, fights Teddy Roosevelt” are no more conceptually bizarre than “lounging dragon nibbles the tail of another, transparent dragon” there’s something about Tagin’ Dragon’s cover that’s weirding me out. Perhaps it’s the somewhat sensual way the dragon is acting, the way it’s gently tickling its mouth with the other dragon’s tail while staring directly at the viewer. He likes it when you watch.

Colorful Dragon


Well, okay, green is a colour, I guess? I think it’s more likely to mean “colourful” in the same way you might say someone has a “colourful past.” This dragon is a wrong ‘un, is what I mean. He’s probably been arrested a few time, did a bit of low-level dealing, that kind of thing. As punishment, he’s been trapped inside an Alchemy Gothic picture frame.

Jovial Race


It would be a damned sight easier to believe this was a jovial race if you hadn’t drawn this car with a grille that looks like razor-sharp teeth, Sachen. Stephen King’s Christine didn’t undergo the same inappropriate transition from adult material to kid-friendly cartoon that RoboCop and Rambo did, but thanks to this cover we now know what it’d look like if it had.
I can’t fault the game’s title, though. It’s like Mario Kart in an alternate universe where blue shells were never added to the game. Jovial Race is a name that’s almost as endearingly daft as Worm Visitor, and as such it deserves to be on a better game.

Hell Fighter


Hell Fighter is another game I’ve written all about before, so I already know that despite the promises of this cover art it’s not the story of a male stripper whose hand spontaneously transforms into a ghostly skull. I know, I know, I’m just as disappointed as you are. It’s a story that writes itself, too: stripper accidentally reads aloud from a foul grimoire of forbidden magic while researching sweet new dance moves and the spirit of a long-dead necromancer attaches itself to his hand. The stripper worries that this will ruin his career because his audience wants to see oily pecs and not grim reminders of their own mortality. The necromancer is furious that he cannot continue his sinister designs on the world of the living. But then, the skull and the stripper find that their different strengths make them a great team! The stripper helps the necromancer loosen up and have a good time, the necromancer teaches the stripper how to use black magic to increase his tips, and they become the best of friends. It’s the Magic Mike sequel the world is crying out for, so it’s with a heavy heart that I must reiterate that’s not what Hell Fighter is about.

2-in-1 Tough Cop / Super Tough Cop


Hey, I recognise this art style: it’s clearly a rip-off of Susumu Matsushita, the artist probably best known for their Famitsu magazine covers and the artwork for Capcom’s Maximo games. Whether this is merely a stylistic copy or a poor tracing of a Matsushita original is something I have been unable to determine.

Chinese Checkers


I’ve never played Chinese checkers, and now that I know it involves novelty condoms I probably never will.

Strategist


Ah yes, Strategist: the game where you pick a side in the war between the military and the Formula 1 drivers and lead your chosen faction to victory! The F1 drivers have speed on their side, but the military have the guns and tanks and vast numbers of infantry. Unless the war is being fought over lap times at Silverstone, I think this is going to be a fairly one-sided conflict.
Okay, not really. Strategist is actually a bundle of two poker games, one war-themed and one racing-themed. Still, the cover provides us with a fine selection of bizarre attempts at drawing a human face. The racers get off lightly because they’re mostly wearing helmets, but the soldiers? Not so much. You’ve got a soldier in the middle who’s been issued a rifle despite having no eyes. Immediately to the right of him is a man with the face of a puppet from an “edgy” off-Broadway show, but best of all is the bloke in the officer’s hat, his face a cubist nightmare of nonsensical anatomy. Go on, try to figure out the placement of his eyes if that’s where his sunglasses sit.

Street Heroes


More art theft on the cover of the fighting game Street Heroes, with the central hero being traced directly from Boris Vallejo’s picture “The Eternal Champion.” He’s by far the least interesting of the Street Heroes, mind you. Who wants to hear about the adventures of Generic Cape-Wearing Hero when the Tinfoil Crusader and Egyptian Vega are much more exciting prospects? They appear to have the same face, so maybe they’re twin brothers forced into gladiatorial combat against their will. How thrilling! Other than that, the lady in the bikini’s fairly dull, but it’s nice to see a Scooby Doo villain appearing in the background.

Thunder Blaster Man


Now for a cover that combines copyright infringement with graphic design so brutally unappealing that the addition of Comic Sans could only improve it with Thunder Blaster Man, a game that stars an unlicensed version of a beloved videogame hero. If you can’t figure out who that hero is, I’ll give you a clue: this game is also known by the impressively ballsy title of Rocman X.
Yes, it’s X from the Megaman X series, but in a different timeline where his body was damaged in his latest battle with Sigma but the only replacement parts he could find were Lego Bionicle pieces and coloured craft paper. Also he blasts thunder, I guess, all while trapped in what seems to be a swirling vortex of existential misery. That said, I don't think this is even the most garish outfit that X has ever worn.

Arctic Adventure


“Seal clubbing” is transformed into “seal, clubbing” in Arctic Adventure, and I don’t mean the Kiss From a Rose singer is dancing the night away at a trendy discotheque. No, the seals have risen up and turned the very instruments of their destruction again any who would encroach upon their domain, although sadly they have been consumed by their bloodlust and are attacking innocent penguins. Unless the penguin stole that huge diamond and large seals are what passes for the local constabulary in the Arctic. And yes, I know they look more like walruses but the back of Arctic Adventure’s box definitively states that they’re seals, and if you can’t trust the box blurb on an unlicensed Taiwanese NES game then we are in a very sorry state as a society.

Jurassic Boy


Rolling around at the speed of sound and displaying a now scientifically-inaccurate lack of feathers, it’s Sonic the Hedgehog if he was was a pink dinosaur. Yeah, sure, why not. It makes about as much sense as a blue hedgehog. More so, even. Surely dinosaurs are faster than hedgehogs? I mean, I’ve never heard of a dinosaur being run over by a car while trying to cross the road, have you? I rest my case.

Lucky Bingo


Finally for today, something that immediately became one of my favourite ever covers the second I laid eyes on it. I feel enriched in body and soul just for having seen it. Is this what they mean when they say something’s beyond parody? There isn’t really anything you can say about a bingo game being promoted by a robotic donkey with a police siren on its head vomiting out a stream of number sevens. Well, there are phrases like “wow” and “incredible” and “find me the number for a tattoo parlour, I need to make an urgent appointment,” but nothing that can make the insanity of the piece any more apparent. Bless you, Chrome Donkey, for providing a shining light amidst the darkness of the world. I’m still not going to play an unlicensed NES bingo game, though.

12/11/2016

FIREMAN SAM (COMMODORE 64)

At the moment, my brain’s too fried to play a “proper” videogame, but that’s not going to stop me from writing these articles because there are enough – more than enough – ephemeral, barely-there home computer games based on kid’s TV shows to keep me going until 2032 or so. With that in mind, here’s one of them: Bizarre Developments’ 1991 Commodore 64 serial-arson-em-up Fireman Sam!

There’s Sam now, holding his hose while his friend Elvis vigorously pumps it from behind. I’m too tired to play videogames that require skill and reflexes, but not so tired I can’t make double entendres, and for that I apologise.
Fireman Sam, then. It’s a game based on the venerable British kid’s show Fireman Sam, which is about a fireman called Sam. It’s set in Wales, it was originally stop-motion but later series were CG, and as the title screen and the show’s theme tune tell us, Sam is the hero next door (assuming you live next door to the fire station). I didn’t watch the original series much as a kid because I was too obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, but having regularly looked after my infant nephew I’ve seen a fair few of the newer episodes. It’s exactly the kind of show you think it is: there’s some mild peril or the occasional fire, the team deal with the problem in a calm, level-headed manner and everyone learns a lesson about not pouring water on chip pans or flicking cigarette butts at the cat.


Also, Fireman Sam’s catchphrase is apparently “Great Fires of London!” presumably uttered in the same shocked tones one might say “Great Scott!” or similar. Seems likes a bloody weird catchphrase for a fireman, though, it’s like a doctor reading your test results and exclaiming “holy smallpox epidemic, Batman!”


Always alert to the call to action, Fireman Sam is in fact so quick off the mark that I had trouble getting a screenshot of him sliding down his fireman’s pole. I hope there’s a crash mat at the bottom or something, the pole is providing so little friction that he might has well have jumped out of the second floor window to get to his fire engine.


Ah yes, the fire engine. I think Fireman Sam’s fire engine is called Jupiter? That sounds about right. Anyway, you’ll be sending most of the game in control of Jupiter, travelling the highways and byways of Pontypandy while responding to emergency calls. You drive and steer using the joystick, and while it’s viewed from a top-down perspective Grand Theft Auto it most certainly ain’t. There’s no other traffic on the roads and no pedestrians to introduce to several tonnes of metal, ladders and hosepipes. It’s all precisely as sedate as you’d expect from a videogame based on a kid’s TV show about friendly firefighters from rural Wales. It’s a good job there’s nothing to get in your way, too, because the fire engine is not the most nimble of vehicles. It can only turn at ninety-degree angles, you can see that it takes up both lanes of the road and you can’t go up on the pavement. This all makes turning around rather more of pain in the arse than it ought to be, and I frequently found myself getting stuck like that bloody scene from Austin Powers.


So, there’s a fire at the Old Lane. How unfortunate for them, a misfortune compounded by Fireman Sam not having a map and the game not telling me even a vague direction to be driving in. On the plus side, the game does play an incredible irritating “fire bell” noise the entire time you’re driving around town. Just what we all need to sooth our frayed nerves.
After some wandering around, much of it spent driving in reverse so I didn’t have to go through the rigmarole of turning the fire engine around, I made it to the Old Lane. It’s that thing at the bottom of the screen. The thing that looks like a pile of hay atop your nan’s old bathroom rug. The hay is suppose to represent fire, you see.


Once you reach the fire you’ve got to put it out, something that’s accomplished using the most Commodore 64-y control method of them all: waggling the joystick back and forth. However, it’s not just a matter of pure waggling speed – the faster you waggle, the harder Elvis pumps the water and thus the higher the water pressure, which affects the angle of the stream. This means you’ve actually got some control over your aim, giving the fire-extinguishing minigame slightly more depth than it could have had if it was a simple race to see how quickly you could wreck your joystick. It might be even easier if Sam could aim the hose instead of standing completely still, making you wonder why he’s being paid a wage when he could easily be replaced by a sturdy tripod, but even so it’s not a particularly difficult task.
Once the fire is out, (or you’ve failed and let the building burn to the ground,) you have to drive back to the fire station to get your next assignment. The problem with that was that I’d spent so long driving around looking for the fire I’d completely forgotten where the fire station was. Cue more aimless wandering, although at least that excruciating fire-bell noise has stopped. Usually this is where I’d complain about not being able to make a good mental map of the game world despite it being pretty tiny, but in this instance I decided to forestall those complaints and actually drew myself a map.


Maybe one day writing VGJunk will lead me to discover a hidden talent, but said talent is definitely not cartography.


Sam’s next mission is… to find a kid’s skateboard. Is that really an appropriate use of the fire service? I suppose in a town as small as Pontypandy, where fires – although far in excess of the national average – are relatively rare, the fire brigade has to look like it’s doing something. So, off we go to find a skateboard. The fire bell is constantly ringing during this section, too, so you know finding this skateboard must be important. They wouldn’t subject the player to such a god-awful racket if it wasn’t important, surely?
I did think the red thing in this field, pictured at the top of the above screenshot, might have been a skateboard, but apparently not. Is that thing supposed to be a tractor? It’s hard to tell, this game has messed up my sense of scale.


See? That’s far too big to be a skateboard, it looks more like one of those fancy, expensive go-karts that I’m definitely still not bitter about never owning as a kid. We made our own go-karts out of stolen pram wheels, stolen construction site lumber and youthful stupidity and we liked them that way, by gum. Of course, we rarely managed to build anything that would move and we certainly never built anything with brakes, so all this reminiscing is less childhood nostalgia and more the after-effects of head trauma.


After another identical mission spent looking for a lost hammer – a mission that made me very glad I took the time to draw a map – a fresh call comes in. There’s a kite stuck on the roof of the grocer’s shop! I bet this is Norman’s doing. You know, the same Norman that lost his skateboard. If you’ve never seen Fireman Sam, Norman is one of the characters, someone I’m sure that official Fireman Sam merchandise would describe as “a mischievous young scamp” when in actuality he’s a cheeky little shit whose complete disregard for authority sees him getting into situations that require the fire service to attend roughly three times a week. Norman is a blight on the town, and if he didn’t exist then Fireman Sam would have very little to do with his time.


Sam arrives on the scene, and is immediately beset by killer rollerskates. Okay, maybe not killer because Sam’s a big lad and a simple rollerskate is unlikely to finish him off, but touching them does make him fall over and fail the challenge. Jumping over the rollerskates is key, then, but for a while I didn’t know what else to do beyond that. I really wanted to know, because jumping over rollerskates repeatedly using the game’s slightly awkward controls is the computer game equivalent of re-grouting my bathroom tiles: hardly likely to send me into a spiral of emotional misery, but tedious and unfulfilling.


Oh, that’s a ladder, is it? Good job putting it in the exact spot where it will most thoroughly blend in with the pattern of the brickwork, I hadn’t felt like enough of an idiot recently so it’s good to get my simpleton-o-meter topped up.


There’s a banana peel on the roof. A banana peel that’s been placed for maximum slipability, even. This must surely be Norman’s doing, the nasty little toerag. Oh well, Fireman Sam can simply jump over the banana peel, because hopping around on slippery rooftops is a great message for a show that supposedly teaches kids how to respond in a crisis.


Sam reaches the top of the roof, only to discover that there is no kite, only a crude painting of one that someone’s daubed on the chimney as part of a cruel prank.


Then the chief fire officer manages to lose the keys to the fire station, because the Pontypandy Fire Brigade is an absolute shitshow. Guess what? Sam, being the only halfway-competent person in this entire backwards-ass village, has to drive around until he finds it. Why isn’t Sam in charge around here? Is he just waiting for the Chief Fire Officer to die or retire? Well, I can see that the kite is flying around again, so next time it gets stuck on a roof maybe the Chief should go and recover it. Maybe he’ll have an unfortunate rollerskate-related “accident” and Sam can seize the big chair.


Next up: Norman gets his head stuck in some railings. Oh Norman, you great tit.
There’s a theory about Norman and his near-constant need for the fire brigade to rescue him, and that’s that Fireman Sam is actually his absentee father. Norman – whose “real” father is never seen or mentioned – somehow senses the bond of family between him and Sam, so he gets himself into trouble just to spend time with the man who might be his dad. Take note that both Norman and Sam have ginger hair. Is this theory a complete load of horseshit? Absolutely, but like I said I ended up watching more Fireman Sam than I ever expected and I had to find some way of getting through it.


Getting Norman unstuck sees the return of the joystick waggling. Once the firefighters have placed the rope around Norman’s neck, you have to hang on, is that really the best way to get Norman free? A sideways hanging? Did you not at least try smearing butter around his head first? It’s almost like you don’t want Norman to get free. Oh. Oh, I see. Nice work, Fireman Sam. The hero next door, indeed.
Anyway, waggling the joystick does make the firefighters pull the rope and it must be the correct thing to do because my score was going up, but there must also be another aspect to this that I’m missing because try as I might I could not get Norman free. Maybe there’s a certain rhythm you need to find, or a button needs pressing at the appropriate time, but I couldn’t figure it out because I was too busy violently thrashing the joystick back and forth like some terrible masturbation metaphor. Then I ran out of time. “That will not do at all,” said the Chief as the firefighters gave up and went back to the fire station, leaving Norman stuck in the railings where the villagers can pelt him with all the rotten fruit he deserves.


After this, Fireman Sam rolls around and starts repeating the same tasks over and over again, mostly the driving around looking for lost property ones, until you run out of time three times. At that point, Sam is presumably drummed out of the fire brigade, leaving the smouldering ruins of Pontypandy and Norman’s imprisoned skeleton in his wake.


Well, that sure was a computer game. Just about, anyway. Perfectly acceptable for the kind of very young people who watch Fireman Sam, I suppose, and unlike so many other licensed games based on kid’s TV shows it didn’t suffer too much from feeling like a shallow, cynical hack-job. There’s some attempt at including varied gameplay, at least. It’s not good by any stretch, and becomes boring astonishingly quickly, but frankly that’s what I needed at the moment: a game that even I, a man who recently put his television remote in the cutlery drawer, can cope with. Still, Sam’s no Thomas the Tank Engine, is he?

08/11/2016

ROLLERBLADE RACER (NES)

I can’t really think of a good way to begin this article, so I’ll just come right out and tell you it’s about rollerblading. “But VGJunk,” a hypothetical pedant might shout, “I think you mean it’s about inline skating because ‘rollerblade’ is a trademarked brand name,” but that’s where you’re wrong: this game is fully licensed and officially sanctioned by RollerBlade, Inc. themselves. That’s right, if you want the real, authentic rollerblading experience, you’re going to have to play Radiance Software and Hi-Tech Expression’s 1993 NES falling-over-em-up Rollerblade Racer!

Here’s a title screen with all the thrill and excitement of a letter from the bank informing you of their updated terms and conditions. I suppose title screens don’t have to be interesting or look good, really. You’ve already bought the game, and you’re not going to be looking at this screen for long unless you really like the registered trademark symbol. The word “SUCKER!” flashing on a blank background might be more appropriate but would be a little too on-the-nose, so instead we get this.


This is Kirk, star of Rollerblade Racer. Hi, Kirk. Let’s be blunt, Kirk looks like a massive dork, with his colour-coordinated safety gear and his rumpled socks. Mind you, I wasn’t expecting the star of this game to look cool. Despite rollerblading’s attempts to cast itself as a hip and radical means of personal transport, it certainly never felt that way when I was a kid. There was a very clear hierarchy when it came to the coolness of wheels you attach to your feet: skateboards were by far the coolest, rollerskates were extremely uncool and considered to be just for girls and rollerblades were only slightly above that. Then razor scooters came along and muddied the waters, but fortunately by then I was into my teens and thus beyond the age when such things are important. I was too busy trying to get hold of trainers that weren't from the market and made by companies like Adodos and Mike to worry about the trendiest way to fall over and graze your elbows.


Speaking of coolness, I feel like “bladegear” is too cool a phrase to be used in this context. As a name for all your hacking tools in a futuristic cyberpunk dystopia, sure, but not to describe plastic knee-pads and your mum’s old bicycle helmet.
Anyway, Kirk’s got a mission: he wants to participate in the Super Rollerblade Challenge, but before they’ll let him in he needs to earn 5,000 qualifying points. Fortunately for him the eyes of the Super Rollerblade Challenge Observation Team are everywhere, tireless and unblinking, so he gains those qualifying points simply by skating around his neighbourhood. Let’s go and do that, then.


What we’ve got here is an isometric skate-em-up, which is pretty much what I expected. Up and down on the d-pad control your speed, left and right do their usual thing and the buttons either make you jump or duck. What’s missing from this rollerblade race is the racing aspect, because there are no other competitors and it’s not even much of race against the clock: you can run out of time, but you get a fairly generous allotment. No, the real goal is to earn points, which you do by jumping (and receiving a bonus based on your remaining time). You don’t even have to jump over things, and any successful landing will net you points so you might as well be jumping all the time.
In fact, I’d strongly advise you to be jumping all the time, because Kirk lives in a blasted urban hellscape. Rabid dogs, open sewers, cracked pavements – all these thing and more conspire to keep our plucky young hero away from the Super Rollerblade Challenge, and jumping over them is the best way to avoid them.


It was at this point that I realised Rollerblade Racer is essentially Paperboy, probably because Paperboy also features hazardous children on tricycles. It’s Paperboy without the newspaper-delivery bits, then. So, erm, Boy? Yeah, let’s go with that. Paperboy was almost a decade old by the time Rollerblade Racer was released, which is possibly why it feels trite and over-familiar even in these early stages, and the inclusion of the hottest skating trend of the nineties isn’t doing much to elevate it. Still, we can all enjoy Kirk’s splay-legged jumping pose. I particularly like the way his hands have been replaced by small plastic spoons.


After one stage, Kirk has already amassed over half the points he needs. The spies of the Super Rollerblade Challenge, lurking in the bushes near his home with their telephoto lenses, were suitably impressed by the way he jumped over all those dustbins.


Just like Paperboy, there’s a bonus round after each main stage. In this case it’s what I would describe as the crappiest version of Donkey Kong, if I hadn’t played so many unofficial home computer ports of Donkey Kong. Skate forwards and jump over the barrels, that’s all you need to do. The only problem you should have is getting over the first barrel, because it’s right in Kirk’s face and you haven’t had time to build up any speed. Once you’re past that (literal) hurdle it’s easy going, although that didn’t prevent me from contorting Kirk into whatever this pose is supposed to be. Maybe he’s a big fan of The Specials. There's definitely some level of ska music involved in this stance.


Do we have to, Kirk? Can’t you just save your energy for the big day? I know I’m only two stages in but I think I’ve already extracted the maximum amount of fun I can from Rollerblade Racer. It’s relatively competent on a technical level, with decent collision detection and controls that are heavy and sluggish but not to a hugely frustrating degree, but it’s also extremely boring.


The next stage takes place downtown, and I think it’s actually easier than the first stage because there’s less stuff in it for Kirk to trip over. It’s just as run-down as the suburbs, though, and just as packed with wild dogs. Dogs are your constant harassers in Rollerblade Racer, appearing in every stage and lunging at Kirk with such ferocity you have to assume he’s using Pedigree Chum as cologne.


And they look so innocent when they’re waiting for Kirk to pass by, too! I’m certain that all dogs are fundamentally Good Boys, but in this universe there’s just something about rollerblading that sends them into a frenzied bloodlust. Maybe they’re from an alternate timeline where their wolf ancestors were hunted by primitive men wearing inline skates.


Bonus stage 2: the traffic cone labyrinth. Kirk’s arms continue to atrophy, having now withered away to the shape of udon noodles. As he collapses to the ground, his enfeebled arms unable to break his fall, I’m finding it extremely difficult not to fill this paragraph with jokes from the traffic cone scenes from I’m Alan Partridge.


I fell over one too many times and got a game over. See, this is why you should have just waited for the main event once you’d collected the requisite amount of points, Kirk. You just had to push it, and now night has fallen and you have to make you way home in the dark. You saw how bad the city was in the daytime, right? There’s no way Kirk’s going to make it before he’s devoured by the roaming bands of toxi-mutants and the feral dogs with a taste for human flesh.


Having survived the night by hiding in one of the many dustbins left haphazardly in the middle of the road, Kirk resumes his skating odyssey with a trip to the beach. Oh look, he’s getting some sunbathing in. Well, you’d want to look your bronzed best for the Super Rollerblade Challenge, wouldn’t you?


The beach is much the same as the other stage. The puddles of water are patches of sand now, but there are still dozens of killer dogs patiently waiting for their chance to rise up against their human masters. One new thing are the frisbees, which you have to duck underneath. Anything that adds a bit more complexity to Rollerblade Racer is welcome, I suppose, although once you’ve built up enough speed you’ll be past most frisbees before they get near you.


The next bonus stage is a trough. That’s it, you ride through a gutter that’s got ideas above it’s station. You might think it’s a gnarly half-pipe that you can do all kinds of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater style tricks on, but no – approaching the lip of the pipe will cause Kirk to fall over just like he does when confronted by small puddles, grass, kerbs and slightly uneven tarmac. All you need to do, especially because you’ll long-since have collected the 5,000 points, is hold up on the d-pad until you reach the end of the stage. It’s not so much Skate or Die as it is Skate and Die of Boredom.


Boring in a different way, mostly because it forces you into repeated attempts and rote learning of obstacle locations, is the final stage before the big challenge. It’s a park, with narrow pathways, bridges over rivers and staircases to contend with. There are also multiple unattended babies just sitting around, so if you’re looking for a free baby, perhaps one that you can raise as a warrior who will avenge your death when the hordes of rabid dogs finally overwhelm you, then I suggest you get down to this park.


Most of the things that try to ruin Kirk’s day are fairly innocent. The dogs are simply acting on their animal instincts, the beach balls and frisbees are unfortunate mis-throws, the children on tricycles don’t really know what they’re doing… but then there are these guys. They see Kirk skating towards them and they purposely stick out their legs to trip him up. There’s nothing accidental about it: they saw a kid rollerblading along the path and thought “it’d be really funny if I legged this child up.” I think that makes them the most evil villain I’ve ever faced in a videogame, and I’ve completed Wolfenstein 3D.


At last, Kirk has reached the Super Rollerblade Challenge. It might look like the first bonus stage, but that’s only because it is the first bonus stage. But wait, there’s more! It’s also the other two bonus stages! You play the three bonus stages as one consecutive stage, then they repeat a couple of times. That’s it. That’s what I needed all those points to participate in, despite having already played the constituent parts. The developers are showing the kind of innovative thinking you usually only see when the Royal Family needs to come up with a name for a new baby, and honestly it’s about what I expected. I had imagined there might be some other people here - a crowd, even - but there’s no evidence that the Super Rollerblade Challenge isn’t all a product of Kirk’s fevered imagination and he’s set the whole thing up on his suburban street.


Best of all, if you move over to the left and jump onto the pavement, you can stay on the pavement for the whole stage, completely avoiding all the obstacles. Amazing, truly amazing.


The game ends with the same screen as when you get a game over, except now Kirk is waxing lyrical about the quality of the final course. Kirk is easily pleased, isn’t he? Well, as long as he had fun, that’s the main thing. Wait, hang on – further reading implies that Kirk wasn’t actually competing in the Super Rollerblade Challenge and the organisers just let him on the course to piss about for a while. Next time he’s going to compete? Oh no, I’m not falling for that. The game restarted and as far as I could tell it was identical, so there’s no way I’m going through all this again on the off chance there’s another ending. I’ve had enough of that sort of thing, what with playing Ghouls ‘n Ghosts recently. As far as I’m concerned, Rollerblade Racer ends right here, right now.


Some games are bad because of awful design choices, or a lack of budget, or thanks to offensive content… but some games are just a bit rubbish, and that’s the category into which Rollerblade Racer squarely falls. I’d like to think I try to give all the games I write about a fair shake, but sometimes a game just rubs me the wrong way for reasons I can’t really explain. I think in this case there’s an air of laziness that hangs over proceedings, a lack of ambition that’s hardly surprising when you consider it’s a rip-off of a decade-old arcade game. It’s not that terrible to play – I’ve certainly played worse – but the stodgy controls, ugly graphics and lack of anything unique means it’s destined for that great grey void where all the uninspired and forgotten console games end up. So why did I bother writing about it? I haven’t got a clue, pal. Maybe deep down I’m bitter about never learning to rollerblade as a kid.

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