23/05/2015

SOOTY AND SWEEP (COMMODORE 64)

British people of a certain age, brace for a possible attack of The Nostalgias. Everyone else, prepare to learn a little about British children's television. Every one of us should buckle in for a bumpy ride, though, because today's game is a Commodore 64 platformer based on a beloved children's character and we all know how well that can pan out - it's Enigma Variations' 1989 izzy-wizzy-let's-get-busy-em-up Sooty and Sweep!


There are Sooty and Sweep now, throwing a chocolate eclair back and forth. Well, you have to make your own fun when you're trapped in a featureless black void. Their pastry-based game of catch isn't nearly as weird as seeing Sooty and Sweep with legs, mind you, because usually they're hand puppets.


Sooty is the yellow bear, and Sweep is the grey dog. Sooty is yanking on Sweep's ear because he can be a nasty little shit sometimes, and poor old Sweep is too gentle to retaliate.
A regularly-recurring fixture of British kid's TV for over sixty years now, Sooty was created in 1948 by Harry Corbett, although I and many others are more familiar with seeing Sooty operated by Harry's son Matthew Corbett during the eighties. Corbett played the father figure role to Sooty, a bear whose disposition flits around a scale ranging from "cheeky" to "hurtful." Sooty never speaks, but people can understand him if he whispers in their ear, a behaviour that comes across as sort of creepy now I've seen it written out. Also in Sooty's extended family are Sweep, the dopey dog pictured above. Sweep can talk out loud, although you might wish he couldn't because he speaks in high-pitched kazoo noises. There's also Soo, a female panda with the rare power of intelligible human speech, who occupies the slightly stern and sensible "older sister" role that female characters in kids TV seem to get saddled with a lot of the time. Sooty and his friends get into the usual scrapes and comical mishaps, like soaking people with water pistols and accidentally bashing thumbs with hammers, and most of the time Sooty himself the sweet and loveable face of a more gentle era of children's programming.


This is not the case on Sooty and Sweep's loading screen, where Sooty's face has taken on a disturbing expression, especially around the eyes. He looks like a different puppet wearing a mask made from Sooty's flayed face. Sooty also has a magic wand that shoots out tiny crucifixes (not sure the Church will approve of that, it being witchcraft and all) and Sweep's ears are strangely ragged, as though something has been gnawing at them. Oh, wait, we just saw Sooty pulling his ears, I guess that explains that.


Sweep's character portrait isn't much better. If you're trying to draw a cute puppet dog-face, then beady red eyes are probably not the most appropriate aesthetic choice. He looks like Cujo Junior.
You can play as whichever puppet is your favourite, unless your favourite is Soo. She is in the game, but as a non-playable... I was going to say "character", but "character" implies at least a line of speech or something rather than standing motionless in the background, staring out at the player with her dead panda eyes, which is her role in this game. I'll be playing as Sooty, mostly because I don't want him to get angry and zap me with his Magic Jesus Beam.


Okay, here we go. The game begins, and Sooty has a problem - Sweep has left his "dirty old bones" scattered around the house. That kind of behaviour is more acceptable when you're a cartoon dog than if you were, say, a human drifter with a hook for a hand, but still, no-one wants rotting bones down the back of the sofa and so Sooty takes it upon himself to clean up before Matthew returns home. To achieve his goals, Sooty must run and jump through the house, grabbing all the bones and keys he can find. It was mentioned in the instructions that once you have the bones you have to give them to Soo, who then unlocks more rooms of the house, but because it's impossible to get anywhere without walking right past Soo it's a moot point.


You know what I hate? When you set up a romantic candlelit dinner for two and your idiot dog friend has put a bone on the curtain pole and a frog jumps on the table and the frog is a highly toxic rainforest tree frog that paralyses you if you touch it. It doesn't kill you, though, at least not on the easier difficulty mode, and touching any enemy just causes Sooty to be stunned for a moment. You can still run out of time and get a game over that way, but if you're playing on easy then the worst the enemies can do is make you stand still for a couple of seconds.


What a lot of enemies there are too, most of them insects. This is to be expected in a household that has bones laying around all over the place, and you can't even get rid of them. You can render them temporarily harmless, though, because pressing the fire button makes Sooty launch paralysing sprinkles from his magic wands. It has barely any range and won't hit anything that's even slightly higher up than you, but it's helpful none-the-less. There is no speech sample of Sooty's famous sorcerous catchphrase - "izzy-wizzy let's get busy" - but that doesn't mean Sooty isn't saying it. You just wouldn't be able to tell, because he's Sooty and his enslaved Renfield-style human host isn't around to transmit his soundless words. On the audio front Sooty and Sweep does include a fairly accurate rendition of the theme song from the eighties Sooty TV show played on a loop, which is notable for two reasons: the incredible speed at which it becomes agonisingly repetitive, and the section where the SID chip bleeps in such a way that it starts to sound like it's saying "mammy, mammy, mammy" after enough loops, turning the Sooty theme into the soundtrack for an all-Irish re-imagining of Friday the 13th.


Two points of interest here. One, the staircase in Sooty's house is made from fish fingers. Two, that grey thing on the right of the screen is an umbrella stand made from an elephant's foot. I don't know whether this is common knowledge or not, but making umbrella stands out of an elephant's foot used to be a thing that people did, because nothing says "class" like a severed animal appendage parked next to your front door.


Bloody hell, they've got another elephant's foot umbrella stand? How many umbrellas does Sooty's family own that one elephant's foot is simply not enough to contain them all? Oh well, on the bright side it means that Sooty didn't butcher an entire elephant just to get one umbrella stand. Maybe he even used all of the elephant in various places throughout the house. Now that I think about it, he does have a grey leather sofa.


I should probably talk about the gameplay a bit. Umm, there is some? That's about all I've got. Sooty and Sweep was obviously aimed squarely at a very young market, and as such it's incredibly basic. The enemies all move along very clearly defined left-and-right paths, so all there is to it is timing your movements or wand attacks to get past them (or not, if you're playing on easy and can't be bothered). That said, the controls are above average for a licensed Commodore 64 platformer, with consistent jumping arcs and and responsive movements, and even the collision detection is decent if a shade ungenerous. Overall, better than I expected but my expectations were so low they were in danger of being melted by the heat of the Earth's core.


At last, the age-old question of just where bears shit has finally been answered. They use the indoor toilet, they're not animals. Aside from being bears, I mean. They haven't quite mastered the human rules of bathroom etiquette yet, though. Standing just outside the open bathroom door while I'm in here is a bit weird, Soo.


Sooty and Sweep is a little bit weird all around, if I'm honest. For starters there's the basic premise, with Sooty walking around on his little bear legs that you never usually see, collecting bones instead of getting up to his usual array of mischief and unimpressive magic tricks. Along with that is the slightly creepy vibe that permeates the game: the stark black backgrounds, the off-kilter music, the unpleasant renditions of Sooty's face, it all adds up to an experience that don't feel quite right.


For example, why does the Sooty family own more than one hand sickle? Just how much reaping are they doing, that they would require multiple sickles? Is Matthew going out to work in the garden and dual-wielding them or something? I have so many questions.


Questions like "where did you get this chest full of treasure from, Sooty?" You're probably thinking that it's the proceeds from Sooty's sixty years of working in showbiz, but look closer. It's all grey. That's right, it's more elephant parts. Sooty's just waiting for the right time to turn them into a shower curtain or a set of occasional tables.


"Now the police will never find the evidence."
It did not take long to find all the bones, thanks to a combination of Sooty's invincibility and Sweep's inability to hide them in places less obvious than "right there, right in front of your face you dope." Speaking of Sweep, I suppose I should take him out for a spin.


Hang on, I'm sure I selected "play as Sweep", where the bloody hell is he? Oh, right, he's camouflaged against the sofa. That's not very helpful, especially now that I've turned the game up to hard mode, where there are more (and much faster) enemies and you can actually run out of lives. Sweep plays exactly the same as Sooty - he uses a water pistol instead of Sooty's magic wand, but it's only a cosmetic difference - so I'd suggest you stick to playing as Sooty because there's a lot of grey in this backgrounds and it's pretty easy to lose track of Sweep.


Sooty and Sweep is a computer game, of that much I am certain. Beyond that, what can I say about it? For adults and semi-adult man-children like myself, it offers such a slender, brief gameplay experience as to be almost non-existent, but looking at in context - as a game to be played by five-year-olds in 1989 - it's definitely passable. It's probably hypocritical of me to defend it's simplicity when I have complained about the contempt shown towards the young 'uns by other children's games in the past, but it works well enough and isn't completely without challenge when played on hard mode, so if you were a very young child with a Commodore 64 (or one of the other home computer formats this game appeared on) then Sooty and Sweep would not have been a terrible place to start your gaming career. There's even a simultaneous two-player mode, making it perfect for parents who had more than one child to keep quiet at once. I'm certainly not suggesting that you actually play Sooty and Sweep, I hasten to add; life is short, and there are better ways to spend it than guiding a small bear puppet through a house decorated entirely with bones and elephant parts.

4 comments:

  1. After reading this I wanted to make some sarcastic comments about some of the more oddball irregulars not appearing in this game like butch. Not wanting to state any incorrect facts on the internet I figured I should check online for information. This led me to an incredibly comprehensive sooty wiki.

    Thanks to that, I lost more time than I should admit reading about various nonsense from the show, as well as rediscovering and watching a childhood favourite episode https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi5bzLjVIZo

    Cheers for the genuinly heartwarming round of nostagia.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, you weren't kidding about the Sooty wiki being comprehensive! Glad you enjoyed the article!

      Delete
  2. What's with that dog's forehead? I've seen mad scientists with less brow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've no idea, it's definitely not brains in there.

      Delete

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